Saturday, August 30, 2014

Why Pitch Wars Is Not Your Last Contest

First, I want to thank everyone so much for trusting me with their words. I received 71 submissions from 71 very brave writers, which gave me a lot of amazing options, and a lot of hours fretting over my final picks. As I mentioned on twitter, it's like being told to pick two cookies from a giant box of new flavors.

I will be replying to almost everyone who subbed to me, so look for my email the week following Brenda's announcement of the mentees. My reply might be questions I had for the pitch, or my reaction to your opening page, if I found the pitch to be solid. You will not hear from me if you were chosen as someone else's mentee or alternate, as I don't want to conflict with your mentor's advice. Apologies for that, but please accept a huge smile and a handshake from me right now, because I'm so very glad to see you move on!

Remember that this business is highly subjective. That sucks, but it also doesn't, because many of you just need to find the right person—you're doing everything right. There were a lot of solid submissions that I could see someone falling in love with, but that weren't quite a match for me. Heck, I'll admit right now that I could never get into Hunger Games (though I do enjoy the movies). Should Ms. Collins have stopped writing because I passed on it? I think you know the answer to that.

I also want to impress on you how quickly things can change, and how this contest is a stepping stone, not a barrier. A year and a half ago, I was sitting exactly where you were, chewing-my-sleeves-off anxious to hear back from the mentors I'd so carefully selected. I'd been polishing my manuscript for months. I had a query that was getting a thumbs up from everyone who critiqued it. A freelance editor had raved about my latest revision, and I had a few contests under my belt, so I knew how to prepare. I was so ready for it to be "my time."

I was about to find out I didn't make it. It stung, yes. Rejection always does. But I had some positive feedback from the mentors I'd subbed to and a growing feeling in my gut that this story, as much as I loved it, wasn't "the one."

I shelved the manuscript. I went back to an idea I'd played around with the year before. I finished it. I entered another contest. I ... well, I lost that contest. But I went back and ripped my first chapter to shreds, and the next contest I entered, I won not only an place among the finalists, but my amazing agent who sold me to a Big Five dream house.

This could be your story in a year.

Don't give up.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


At long last, I'm finally able to share Duplicity's cover! It debuted on last week, and is basically the most awesome thing ever. A million billion thank yous to the super talented Kerri Resnick for this design.


Here it is!!

You guys ... I think it might be a real book soon...?!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Pitch Wars - August 2014

(What is Pitch Wars? Click here for the deets!)


For these obvious qualifications:

  • Impeccable taste in dark chocolate.
  • Love of mountains, the ocean, funny people, sarcastic people, random thoughts and fireplaces.
  • East Coast survivor (lived in MA and NY). I now ride a horse to work in CO.*
  • Video game savant.
  • Swoon-worthy husband who is a marathon runner, expert hunter, and Forensic DNA Analyst. He has a flashy agent badge, a conceal-to-carry permit, and has literally caught us dinner before. If zombie apocalypse survival is a priority to you, well. I think you know which mentor to choose.
  • Part hacker I mean... in my other life I used to program stuff.

For these actually relevant qualifications:

  • In January 2014, my Pitch Wars mentee and I tied for second place overall with nine full requests. (To read her entry, click here.)
  • Represented by the incomparable Brianne Johnson of Writers House, who found me in an online writing contest much like this one.
  • Bri is also one of THE Pitch Wars Agents. Am I conspiring to find my next agency sibling? Yes. Yes I am.
  • My debut, a YA cyberthriller called DUPLICITY, releases from Macmillan/Thomas Dunne Books on St. Patrick's Day (3/17/2015).
  • I write both boy and girl POV. I have a YA fantasy on the shelf and am currently polishing a YA horror. I have helped many a critique partner with world-building.
  • My own work has been through many developmental edits by critique partners, my agent and my editor. I know what to look for, what to leave alone, and how to present editorial notes in a constructive, encouraging fashion.

And the super important stuff goes in paragraph format:

I have done full manuscript critiques for several fellow writers, almost all of whom I'm happy to say are now agented and/or have book deals. Should I be lucky enough to work with you, expect that I will be 100% honest about the strengths of your work as much as its weaknesses, though always in the interest of preserving your vision. You will have full creative freedom to address my concerns as you see fit. As long as you're willing to address them, we're going to get along just fine.

Please With A Cherry On Top, Send Me:
All genres of YA (with the exception of those in the "Not A Best Match" list below). Horror, thrillers, fantasy, contemp, magical realism, etc. I'm drawn to boy POV as much as girl. I love quirky, flawed characters and wacky, unique plots. I have a soft spot for anti-heroes, unreliable narrators, creepy things, humor, Twinkies, and psychological anything. Some of my favorite authors are Patrick Ness, Laini Taylor, Maggie Stiefvater, and V.E. Schwab. For titles I love, click here and check out my Recommended Reads. You can also find out more about me on my official bio page and on Twitter. To submit to me, click here!

I'm Not Your Best Match For:
Novels in verse, high/epic fantasy (elves, kingdoms, etc), dystopian/apocalyptic (incl. anything with a central government/entity the MC is working to join or overthrow), retellings, historical (time travel still OK), war/political themes, half-human characters or romance, though I enjoy romance as a subplot.

If you subbed to me last Pitch Wars: You are welcome to resub, provided the manuscript doesn't fall in the "not a best match for..." list above.

In summary:
You have an amazing story to tell. I have a foot in the door.


*Part of this sentence is a slight exaggeration.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Second Book Syndrome

Here's one of those evil little surprises you don't hear about until you're smiling over your first contract, blissfully unaware of what you've just contracted from it—Second Book Syndrome.

I'm not talking about the second book you'll ever write. You might already have ten manuscripts under your belt, and in that case, you might have built up your immune system against Second Book Syndrome already. But if you're like me, and your shelved manuscripts need to stay firmly shelved, or maybe you really are writing your second book ever because the first is the one you sold—be warned now that Second Book Syndrome might be on the horizon.

Symptoms include:
  • Inability to focus, indecision
  • Hatred of all words written
  • Pacing
  • Paranoid thoughts: you are a one-hit wonder, readers who liked your first book will hate the second, you'll never have another good idea
  • Drafting letters to your agent asking if it's normal for writing to be this hard, then deleting that letter, then drafting it again, then deleting, etc
  • Panic that you left your day job too early and will have nothing to show for this time you took off to focus on writing
  • Internet surfing/bingeing on kitten gifs

I got Second Book Syndrome bad after DUPLICITY sold. Despite having started a new book before the sale (that had the approval of my both my agent and my very picky husband), doubt was creeping in like allergies. This book had to be better than what I'd done before, or at least as strong. What if it wasn't? What if it was too different? What if it wasn't different enough?? I decided I didn't like the direction the already written pages were going and scraped them. I rewrote them and scraped them again. More rewriting. More deleting. I deleted about 60k's worth of words before I admitted to my agent that I wasn't as excited about the book as I used to be.

She suggested I outline the story, which, as an improvisational writer, is something I'd never done before. So I tried it. I wrote up a very loose, most-important-plot-points-only synopsis that was about 5 pages long, and it helped me see the MC's character arc and how the book would end. I started to think maybe things would be okay. I even got a little bit excited about it.

But as soon as it came to making it happen, I locked up again. I spent more time writing and panicking and deleting. The voices in my head kept saying, this isn't as good. This main character is boring and stupid. This plot is too complicated. None of this is going to make sense.

It had now been eight months that I'd tried to write that book, and I only had 30 pages to show for it.

But I'm here to give you hope. There IS a cure for Second Book Syndrome, and it comes in two forms: 1) A supportive debut group, where you can read about the other 65%+ of your peers who are suffering from the same syndrome 2) Writing, writing, and more writing. Hate the words all you want, but keep making them. Rewrite. Delete. Punch a pillow and do that scene, AGAIN, for the 59,000th time.

I told myself even if I scrapped that book, I would make myself finish it if only to say I had.

And it wasn't until I finished the first draft, almost a year since the idea was born, that I recognized how badly I'd let Second Book Syndrome get to me. When I reread the pages, I discovered maybe it made a little more sense than I thought. And actually I liked the MC. And the plot was still complicated, but I could fix that in revisions. And holy cow, I had another book.

So, friends. The moral of the story is, if Second Book Syndrome happens to you, it will be okay. (Actually, that pertains to everything in writing—querying, being on sub to publishing houses, cover design, edits, etc)

Have you ever suffered from Second Book Syndrome or something like it? How did you push through?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Pen Names and How I Became N.K. Traver

From the first day I got serious about writing, I knew I'd be using a pen name. I wanted to separate my personal life from my writing one, and I also thought my married name might be a difficult one to remember or retype since it's spelled differently than it's pronounced.

So began much Googling of cool names and mixing and matching to find the perfect one. I had possibilities like Jordan Gray, Raven Hollow, and even Ty Traver, which is my brother's name, but I liked it - it's short and easy to remember. Except I have two brothers and then I would feel like a terrible person for leaving the other one out. (Sorry Brent, your name gets mistaken for Brett too often)

As with many important decisions, I called my dad to see what he thought. I listed all my creative combinations and said I was leaning most toward Jordan Gray. What did he think?

Flashback: My Grandpa Traver's house, several years before. I'm in college. I do not yet know I want to be an author. I write online a lot, I start and stop books. But I'm going to school for programming because that's what pays and that's what I'm doing with my life. Grandpa is telling me how he wants to write an autobiography. He's telling me how he's started and stopped writing several books. This goes completely over my head, though I do make note that it's cool both Grandpa and I write.
He passes away a year before I get serious about writing. He never finishes the autobiography.

Back to the phone call with Dad on the other end. He says, "Oh, I was looking forward to seeing 'Traver' on the shelf."

And I thought about Grandpa, and that was that.

To avoid a family feud about using one brother's name over the other, I settled on my current initials for the first name. I had some degree of separation from my personal life, and I think it's pretty easy to remember if heard in conversation.

But most importantly, Grandpa, we did it.