Saturday, December 28, 2013

It's Been A Good One, 2013

Oh what changes a year can bring.

January 2013
- At the start of the year I am an aspiring author, following some crazy idea I had to try and get published.
- Got picked (by random number generator) for Miss Snark's First Victim Secret Agent contest
- Met two incredible writers in said contest who would change my life: Ms. Tatum Flynn and Ms. Lori Goldstein. I couldn't have done this year without you, ladies.
- Was praised by peers and the Secret Agent but ultimately, no further pages requested of the YA fantasy I was querying at the time.

February 2013
- I switched projects. Had a YA cyberthriller sitting around unfinished; decided I'd better finish the thing. Polished it up. Sent it to CPs.

March 2013
- Tatum emails me at 3 AM to say she hasn't stopped reading yet, then again later that morning saying she had to wake up and finish it before she left the house. I cried reading her emails.
- Similar praise from Lori, during saner hours ;)
- I lost my grandmother. She knew I was writing a book, and my grandpa (who passed four years ago) had always wanted to be an author, but never seriously pursued it. I wish I could tell them where I am now.

April 2013
- Began querying my cyberthriller project to little success. Agents who had just the query requested pages. Agents with pages rejected the project. After the praise from my CPs, frustration sets in.
- Entered a critique contest for my 35-word pitch and first page. Judge says pitch is good, says protagonist is completely unlikable and unrelatable.
- Much chocolate binging is had as I vent about 250 words being too short to judge anything

May 2013
- Perspective change. I face the fact that it's not just a jaded, vindictive judge out to crush the dreams of every aspiring writer in existence. My first chapter isn't working.
- I rewrite it and send it to my CPs.
- CPs say, "Eh. It's okay, it's different." I rewrite it again.
- CPs say, "Better, but not sure that's the one." I rewrite it again.
- I meet an amazingly kind and giving writer, Chelsea Bobulski, on Twitter. Our mutual love of Tomb Raider, Buffy, and peanut butter fudge brings us together. I send her yet another version of my first chapter, which is then characterized as AMAZEBALLS with much other capslocked praise and again, I'm crying over my email at how mind-blowingly awesome the writing community is.

June 2013
- Not actually sure what happens this month. Summer things. Possibly a lot of rocking in corners saying I never want to write a first chapter ever again please don't make me.

July 2013
- I enter my cyberthriller's shiny new chapter into two contests: Like A Virgin and Xmas In July.
- I win finalist places in both contests.

August 2013
- I get multiple offers of rep from three excited and impressive literary agents.
- I accept Brianne Johnson's offer. I want to send her cake, but I refrain.
- Begin floating on clouds.

September 2013
- Bri sends me an editorial letter. I make the changes to my manuscript.
- Bri approves the changes.
- My little cyberthriller goes out on submission to 13 houses, including all the Big Six.
- My grandpa on my mother's side passes unexpectedly. Another person I had so hoped to share the good news with if my book sold. Will have to trust he knows anyway, even if I can't be the one to tell him.

October 2013
- Submission silence.
- I start working on a new idea for a YA horror.

November 2013
- OFFER. Oh my GOSH a real offer from an editor at a Big Six house!!!
- Realization that my little dream is going to be a reality. I will have a book. On a shelf. I will be able to hold it in my hands and smell the pages and sleep with it under my pillow.
- I decide it would be okay to write first chapters again, no matter how many tries it takes to get them right.

December 2013
- The deal is finalized. There's a PM announcement. I have a Goodreads page. I'm still not sure it's sunk in yet.
- I want to send my editor cake, but again I refrain. Next year.
- PITCH WARS. I'm on the other side of a contest. I meet hundreds of fabulous new writers, and from this choose three shiny mentees - Alison Green Myers, Julie Dao, and Jerilyn Patternson, who I'm hoping can be writing similar blog posts by this time next year.
- I think about December 2012, when I had no CPs, no agent, no editor. And yet, 2013 was about to be a very, very good year.

Thank you to everyone who took a chance on me, who believed in my work, who kept me going when I swore there was no light at the end of the tunnel. I am truly blessed.

So, 2014. Let's see what surprises you have in store.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Why Pitch Wars Is Not Your Last Contest

First, I want to thank everyone so much for trusting me with their words. I received 88 submissions from 88 very brave writers, which gave me a lot of amazing options, and a lot of hours fretting that I could only pick three. As I mentioned on Twitter, it's like being handed a box of 90 chocolates.

I will be sending feedback to most everyone who subbed to me, but in the interest of taking my time and doing it right, you might not hear back until January. You will not receive a response if you were chosen as someone else's mentee or alternate - 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 some 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. This time last year, 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, November 12, 2013

On Perseverance and Rejection

This little story from MindBodyGreen tells it best. I thought of it often while querying, and it still comes to me from time to time:

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Each day, ten-year-old Miranda put on the pink tutu that Aunt Amelia had lovingly created for her, and danced around the house. She was a beautiful and graceful dancer, and she was determined to play the role of Sleeping Beauty.

On the day of the audition, Miranda set off with her mother. When they arrived at the studio, she took her place alongside the other girls.

She would be the first dancer to perform for Monsieur LeBrun, the famous dance teacher from Paris. Miranda’s heart fluttered as she walked to the center of the stage. When she looked out into the audience, she was reassured by her mother who blew kisses.

Miranda waited for the music and then threw herself into the role of Sleeping Beauty. After barely a minute, a male voice shouted, “Enough. Next.”

The music stopped and Miranda stood frozen in place.
   
“But I haven’t finished dancing!” Miranda said.

“You’re wasting my time,” called out the voice. “Next.”

Miranda’s mother rushed to the stage and hugged Miranda. “We’ll go to Dairy Queen and treat ourselves.”

Miranda looked up and saw tears flowing down her mother’s cheeks. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. And then it dawned upon her. She wasn’t good enough. She ran toward the door.

Her mother followed and caught up to her. They didn’t go for ice cream. Instead, they went home. Miranda went straight to her room and pulled off the tutu. She changed into her pajamas and crawled into bed. For three days, she stayed in her room, refusing to go to school or join the family for meals.

When she finally came out of her room, she kicked a large box outside into the corridor. In it, she had neatly packed all her dance clothes, slippers and gear.

Her mother gasped, “Miranda, what have you done?”

Her father shook his head. “You can’t give up just because one rude guy didn’t like you.”

“I will never ever dance again!” Miranda said. “Never!”

She threw herself into her school work and extra-curricular activities. She went on to win scholarships and pursued a career as an elementary school teacher. She married her high school sweetheart and had three lovely children, two boys and girl.

While the boys enjoyed their sports, her daughter Emily dabbled in art and drama. One day, she went to Miranda and said, “I want to be a ballet dancer.”

Miranda’s heart stood still. Almost thirty years had passed, but the memory of that spring afternoon still haunted her. She tried to distract Emily with outings, but Emily was adamant that she wanted to be a ballet dancer.

Miranda gave in and watched from a distance as her lovely daughter embraced the world of dance. One afternoon, Emily came home waving a poster. “I made the final cut! Mrs. Clarke said I could audition for the summer ballet in Toronto.”

On the afternoon of the audition, Miranda took a personal day and accompanied Emily to the studio. While watching Emily practice with the four other girls, her mind raced with negative thoughts. She jumped when she heard a familiar masculine voice.

“Is this seat taken?”

Miranda turned and came face to face with an older, grayer Monsieur LeBrun. She gasped.

“Are you all right, Madame?” Monsieur LeBrun asked.

Miranda took several deep breaths. “I don’t imagine you remember me. It’s been a while since I danced for you.”

Monsieur LeBrun shook his head. “I’m sorry but I don’t remember…”

“You didn’t let me finish dancing.”

“And you took it to heart.”

“Why wouldn’t I?” asked Miranda. “Dancing was my life!”

“If you quit so easily, then you weren’t a real dancer.”

“How could you even tell after barely 60 seconds?”

Emily appeared and sat next to her mother. “Good afternoon, Mr. Brown.”

“It’s Monsieur LeBrun,” Miranda whispered.

Monsieur LeBrun focused his attention on Emily. “What is your name, child?”

“Emily Davies.”

“What if I don’t like your dancing, Emily?” he asked. “What will you do then?”

Emily shrugged. “I’ll dance for someone else.” She turned and ran back to the stage.

Monsieur LeBrun nodded in approval. “Now there’s a ballet dancer.”

Saturday, October 26, 2013

First Page Critique Winners!

The random number generator has spoken (and frozen, and tried to choose the same person more than once RAE), but here are the critique winners!

#6 - @kathleea
#9 - @RaeAChang
#13 - @cattorresv

BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE! My super generous agency sister, Alexandra Sirowy, has volunteered her time to give two more critiques! (Thank you so much, Alexandra!) Alexandra's winners are:

#1 - @summywins
#16 - @Abigailswriting

If you won a critique from me, please follow me on Twitter (it can even be temporarily) so that I can send you a DM with submission instructions. If you won a critique from Alexandra, please email your first 250 words as a Word doc to Alexandra.Sirowy[at]gmail[dot]com (replacing the [at] with @ and the [dot] with a period, of course). Please include the title of your work and genre. You can send at your leisure - we will do our best to get back to you within a week of your sending it.

A huge thanks to everyone who helped spread the word about the giveaway! I'm sorry my current schedule won't allow me to take on more crits, but remember you can always find fellow writers to look over your work at places like AgentQueryConnect and CPSeek. Miss Snark's First Victim also has some awesome year-round opportunities for feedback, many that involve agents.

Thank you everyone for your interest, and best of luck to you with your query endeavors!

Friday, October 25, 2013

250 Words That Will Make Or Break You

With Pitch Wars coming up, I'm taking a small break from the "After The Agent" series to talk about first pages!

Every good lesson starts with someone who learned it the hard way:

Once upon a time, a writer wrote a book with a quirky premise. With the help of her superhuman critique partners, she mashed together a query letter that other people could actually understand. And they all agreed over virtual pumpkin lattes that this would be The One That Worked.

So the writer sent a round of queries. The first response, to a query letter with just the query, was a "YES, please send me pages!" And the writer cackled because she was one step closer to world domination getting an agent. She sent off the pages and waited to hear from the other queries.

But the rejections trickled in, one by one. All the other letters she'd sent, you see, had the first five pages included. "Nope," "Sorry," "Not for me," all came back. And eventually the requested partial came back as "No thanks" too. Which meant something in those opening pages wasn't working.

So the writer rewrote her first chapter until her eyes watered and her fingers bled and she'd eaten all the dark chocolate in the land. A month later, she had new stamps of approval from her CPs. She entered the pages into two contests to see if her work had made any difference at all.

It had. She won both contests, eleven requests for pages, and a fantabulous agent.

Said writer had changed no other part of her manuscript between querying and the contests. That's the terrible difference first pages can make. As readers, I think we're willing to give a book a few pages—sometimes a few chapters—to really get started. But agents and contest judges, who consider hundreds of pitches in a single sitting, must make a snap decision if they hope to keep up with their inboxes. That's the harsh reality of traditional publishing. If you want to stand out, you have to start standing from line one.

Now, as a Pitch Wars mentor, I do promise to read past that tricky first page, because that's what I would have desperately wanted as a writer in the query trenches. But I would challenge you to go through this checklist as you're polishing your manuscript, whether it's for a Pitch Wars mentor or an agent. Make sure your first 250 words:

  • Have a delicious first line. Does your opening raise a question that must be answered?
    • "There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife." (The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean)
    • "The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don't got nothing much to say." (The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness)
    • "Victor readjusted the shovels on his shoulder and stepped gingerly over an old, half-sunken grave." (Vicious, V.E. Schwab)
    • "There is one mirror in my house." (Divergent, Veronica Roth)
  • Don't bait-and-switch. Don't tell us there's a dead body just to hook us, then delve into a scene about the weather. (Unless, of course, it has to do with said body.)
  • It's uniquely yours. Could your chapter be the start of any other book? For example, I've seen a lot of YA/MG in contests (and I'm guilty of this too) that start in a classroom. The scene is doing nothing more than introducing us to the MC, maybe establishing a bully or a best friend, etc. But what makes your book different? Start us in a place where no other book could start.
  • It brings the tension. Your inciting incident doesn't have to happen on page one, but there should be an immediate sense of conflict, even if you're opening with two friends eating ice cream.
  • It gives us context. Let us know where we are and give us a few breather sentences before throwing us into a conversation or an action scene.

Honestly, even if you're nodding along with these checklist items that you've done them, the best advice I can give you is to surround yourself with your favorite books and read the first two pages of every one. What about them draws you in? What keeps you reading? How does yours compare?

You have one chance to impress a potential mentor or agent. The rest of your manuscript could be out-of-this-world-amazing, but if that first 250 isn't your best work, there's no way we can know. Give yourself your best chance and make sure your first page knocks us out!

ALSO, FREE STUFF IS SCRUMTRULESCENT. Think your first page has what it takes? Prove it! I'm giving away three first page critiques this weekend. Leave a comment below saying you'd like a critique and include your Twitter handle (or email address, if you don't tweet, to which I'll only slightly judge you). Sometime Saturday evening (Mountain Standard Time), I'll use a random number generator to pick the winners. Open to all genres and these categories: MG, YA, NA, Adult. CLOSED TO ENTRIES - WINNERS FORTHCOMING!

Friday, October 11, 2013

From Zero to Hero: The Awesome Stressfulness of Multiple Offers

A fabulous Monday in July. Lunchtime. I'm on the phone with an agent who just said the magic words: I want to represent you. Angels are singing. Trees are smiling. Birds are draping flowers over my head. The agent on the phone asks if I'll accept? And I say, after years of dreaming about this day ...

"Can I get back to you on that?"

I KNOW. Even my mother said, "You told her what?" and seriously, it was one of the hardest things I ever had to say, ever. Here was an agent holding open the door to my dream, and me asking for more time. And I liked the agent, quite a bit. I didn't say it because I wanted to dangle her offer in front of other agents and see how many would bite. I said it because that moment was so important, and it was everything I'd worked for for two and a half years, and I didn't want to dive in heart-first. This would be the one chance I had to interview the person who could be representing me for life.

I'm not going to tell you that's definitely how you should do it, because there are plenty of people who said "YES!" to their first offer and have wonderful relationships with their awesome agents and things worked out just fine. (But I will say that you can always tell First Offering Agent "YES!" if you get to the end of the week and she's still your favorite.) Instead, I thought I'd gather a few observations from that week:

  • It's a bit stressful. Have chocolate at the ready. Every offer opens a new path for your career and every agent is going to be passionate about your work, complimentary, and eager to hear a "yes" from you. It can be confusing, especially if you have offers from agents at similar agencies. You're going to be thinking in a lot of What Ifs. 
  • Keep your poker face on. Ask all your questions. Follow up on all references. Don't hint to the agent that she has nothing to worry about or that she has no chance. You might have a change of heart after another call or after checking with her references. Just say Thank You and I'll Be In Touch. You can gush later when you're accepting her offer.
  • Be prepared at all times. Usually an agent will email first to set up The Call, but sometimes she will call as soon as she's finished reading. I kept my interview questions on my Gmail account so I could access them from any computer or from my phone if I needed to.
  • The agent isn't going to tell you all her revision ideas. This one I found a little hard to swallow, even though it makes complete sense. On one hand, an agent doesn't want to spill all her great ideas just to have you steal them and run off with another agent. On the other hand, how could I know the agent and I shared the same vision for the book without knowing everything she wanted to change? But the agent should be willing to share her Big Ideas with you: the overarching things she'd like you to revise. From there you'll have to go with your gut. 
  • Writing rejection letters sucks. This was my least favorite part. I knew how it felt to receive such letters, and all the agents I'd talked to were so lovely, I hated to think of them seeing that email and knowing what it meant. I kept my letters brief and complimentary. One tip: include the name of the agent you signed with in your email. All the agents replied to ask.
  • You will get responses to your rejection letters. In most cases, it will be a short-n-sweet "Sad we won't be working together, but good luck to you!" - but the agent might also ask you to elaborate on why you chose someone else.

AgentQuery has some great information about offer etiquette, including how to nudge agents and what questions to ask on The Call. It was my bible during that very exciting week. Good luck to you, and I hope this helps you during your Exciting Week!

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Stay tuned for the first "After The Agent" series post to come: The Eye Of The Storm

Friday, October 4, 2013

It's Coming - Pitch Wars 2014!


Brenda Drake puts on some of the best contests ever. From Pitch Madness to Trick or Treat With An Agent, Brenda's got aspiring authors covered with year-round opportunities to get their work in front of powerhouse agents. In my completely biased opinion, her best contest is Pitch Wars, where winners not only receive a full manuscript critique, but have their pitches posted on Brenda's blog for agents to make requests. AWESOME, right?

YES. YES, because I'm one of the mentors this year! And I know insider secrets - like, sometimes you get feedback on your entry even if you don't win. And that you'll make all kinds of connections with other writers in the process. The one thing I've found with contests like Pitch Wars is you always get something good out of it - a new critique partner, a fresh outlook on your manuscript (whether that's "this needs more work" or "you are so, so close"), or twenty new Twitter followers who are in the same place as you. And that's if you don't win.

Submission day is December 2, so get that WIP a'polished. My official bio and wishlist will appear here November 20. Keep an eye on Brenda's blog and the #PitchWars hashtag in the meantime. See you soon!

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Call They Never Warn You About

The Call: [n] A life-changing 45-minute phone conversation during which a literary agent—a real live publishing professional—calls YOU to talk about representing YOUR BOOK.

If you want to publish a book traditionally, The Call is the light at the end of the tunnel. An agent has read your work. An agent LOVES your work. So much so, that of the 16,000 queries she's received that year,* you're one of eleven (eleven) people she's offering rep to.** It's an extremely exciting achievement preceded by emails from said agent like "I'm really enjoying this - please send me the full!", then "I'm in LOVE. Can we chat?" and possibly a lot of chocolate binging in-between.

The purpose of this post is to prevent you from binging on anything stronger than chocolate if, say, your first call with an agent doesn't exactly go as you dreamed. Because here's the thing: your first call might not be an offer. But it will be OKAY, really. Here's how it went down for me.

A few days after I emailed off a round of partial requests from a contest win, I got an exciting response: one of the agents wanted the full and was so thrilled about it, she was moving me to the top of her list. Two days after that, another note: she hadn't quite finished, but was really loving it and wanted to know if I'd be available the next evening to speak. I was ecstatic. This was finally "it"! After years of doubt and hard work and more doubt and more work ... an agent wanted to call me. An agent. Call me.

I tried to stay realistic. "It might not be what you think it is," I warned myself, without wanting to believe that at all. I had strong evidence she'd offer, didn't I? She'd read the whole thing in a couple of days. She'd emailed to arrange the call before she'd even finished. Surely she'd offer as long as I didn't come off as a crazy person. Still, I paced the whole day, worrying over what I needed to say while practicing the questions I'd ask if she offered rep. When the phone rang, I took a deep breath and tried to keep my voice within hearing range when I answered.

She introduced herself. She commended the novel's voice, humor, characters ... and that she wasn't sure about a section of it. She asked about my writing process. About my day job. She mused again over the section she wasn't sure about. She assured me she didn't normally invest this much time in a writer she wasn't really interested in.

Oh.

It wasn't an offer. And even though I knew that was a possibility, I wasn't ready for it. After so much planning for the other type of call, I wasn't sure what questions to ask, or what the next steps would be, or if I should even ask questions about what the next steps would be. At the end of the call, I just knew I was at the same place I was before.

The next morning, I shook myself off and thought more about what had happened. Yeah, okay, I had really, really wanted it to be The Call and it hadn't been. But I had an agent—an honest-to-goodness literary agent—who'd fallen in love with my work and thought I was almost there. That was leaps and bounds above form rejections. I just needed to address the concerns she had, and I had a feeling if I made the right changes, the next time we spoke really would be The Call. I pulled up the notes I took from our conversation. I started brainstorming.

I sent the agent an email with a proposed solution for one of her concerns, admitting I needed a bit more direction in regards to the rest. She replied right away to set up another call. Now firmly prepared to speak about revisions, I told her I'd be free over lunch.

And three sentences into that phone call, she offered rep.
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Stay tuned for next week: From Zero to Hero: The Awesome Stressfulness of Multiple Offers

*Actual agency numbers from Nelson Literary Agency, divided by two (as there are two agents at Nelson Lit).

**Guesstimation. The Nelson Lit blog post says that, between both agents, they signed 16 new clients in 2012. An author can receive multiple offers of rep, so in trying to account for the possibility an offer was extended that wasn't accepted, I've bumped the number.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Writing From "The Other Side"

It's been a little over a month since my writing world flipped a 180. I'm using words like "career" instead of "hobby." I'm introducing myself as an author, not just a programmer. I've pitched my book to chatty strangers who've asked me to write down my name and the title after I mention that I write. (Which makes me suddenly glad for all the hours I spent rewriting/memorizing my query letter ... and that I don't write erotica.)

It also made me realize the road map gets blurry after you sign with an agent. When it comes to researching query letters, agents, or how to get published, the Internet is a blizzard of information. You can find a hundred links on how to write a query letter. You can find examples of letters that worked. You can find agent interviews, online courses, forums to get your work critiqued, and writing contests that will put your work in front of agents. But as another recently-agented CP of mine and I were discussing, there's not much on what happens after.

So, as I start this (insanely exciting) next leg of my journey, I thought I might share with you some of my post-"Getting An Agent" experiences. Feel free to suggest a topic in the comments, else I'll be adding things as they come up, starting from the day I received my first phone call.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Day It Got Real

I HAVE AN AGENT.

I can't believe I'm typing this post right now. This entire week has been surreal, from the first agent phone call to this incredible announcement. I'm feeling a lot of this --> !!!!!!!!!!!!!! and this --> OMGOMGOMG and this --> THANK YOU.

Before I reveal my fabulous new literary BFF, I thought I'd let you know how this whole crazy thing happened. If you're a writer who met me in the last nine months, I probably told you at some point that I kind of really intensely disliked writing contests. I didn't always - especially for my first few contests, I understood I had some growing to do and would go back and revise and hope to do better next time. But when you keep revising and you enter more contests and you revise again and you enter more and you keep losing ... eventually it gets a bit frustrating. It seemed no matter how hard I worked, nothing I did made a difference.

Until it did.

After an abysmal contest loss - one where the judge practically told me she hated everything she'd read in the first 250 words of my newest manuscript, a YA cyberthriller - I put my head down and started my first chapter over. I rewrote the same 6 pages for a month, trying to figure out where my story really started. When I came up again for air, I still wasn't sure it was the right place. I needed a way to test the effectiveness of my new chapter before I started querying. Unfortunately the best way to do that ... was through a contest.

Two, actually. I know, I went crazy. The first was Like a Virgin, the pitch contest I blogged about below, where 10 entries would be chosen and posted online for agent review. The second was Xmas in July, another pitch contest in which 30 winning entries would be chosen and posted for agents to make requests.

Somehow, by some miracle, I made the cut. For both.

For someone whose past experience with the query trenches was one or two requests per 20 queries, getting 11 requests between these two contests blew me away. And while winning doesn't guarantee representation - I still received a few rejections in the weeks following - something very different was happening. I was receiving personalized and complimentary feedback from the agents who passed. And then one day I got an email from an agent who said she hadn't finished reading the book yet, but she was loving it. Did I have time to chat that weekend?

YES. YES I DID.

Commence the past week's flurry of activity, emailing the agents who had sample pages to let them know I had an offer of representation and ask if they'd like to consider me too. There was much dancing around the kitchen and exchange of animated gifs/ALL CAPS between myself and my amazing critique partners who had pushed me to keep going, and - bless them - read multiple renditions of my chapter 1 rewrites. I don't think I'll ever be able to repay the genuine kindness, support, and enthusiasm that TashLori, and Chelsea provided to me and continue to provide. (Read: If you don't have them already, get some amazing CPs)

I was lucky enough to receive multiple offers for my little book, and am absolutely thrilled to announce that I have signed with Brianne Johnson of Writers House. There are so many things about working with Bri that excite me and I can't wait to see what the next few months hold!

**The book herein referenced is my third novel. It was polished to a shiny finish with the help of three CPs before going out on submission. I'll be the first to admit that I was often insecure about whether or not I could "make it" with my writing, but I had some amazing support from family and friends, and this awesome little quote from Earl Nightingale to keep me going: "Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway." Read: You can do this too.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Madonna Stuck In My Head

I hereby interrupt this blog hiatus with a bit of fun related to a contest I'm entering. It's called the "Like a Virgin" pitch contest - and if the song's not already stuck in your head, YouTube it and get it there, because this post just won't be the same otherwise.

The "Like a Virgin" contest is named such because it's only open to manuscripts that have never been--ahem--involved with any other contests. And though that doesn't mean the competition will be any less (trust me, I've seen the competition, and they are James Bond amazing), it does mean I might have a chance to squeak into the consideration round, since entries are taken on a first-come-first-served basis. So keep your fingers crossed. I was up at 4 AM to email my entry.

At any rate, one of the things that really drew me to this contest (besides the knock-out agent list) was the blog hop! It involves a list of questions about "firsts." It gets a little personal but I love things like this.

How do you remember your first kiss?
My first kiss was actually my husband. Um, yes, before we were married, not like ... at the wedding. Anyway, I remember being surprised. Yes. Surprised. (Love you, hubs)

What was your first favorite love song?
It would have to be "Iris" by the Goo Goo Dolls.

What’s the first thing you do when you begin writing for the day?
Coffee. With chocolate in it.

Who’s the first writer who truly inspired you to become a writer?
Patrick Ness. I admire a lot of writers, but the way I click with his voice and the way he tells his stories is something surreal. I was writing before I found Ness, but the way I approached my work radically changed after I finished his brilliant novel A Monster Calls.

Did the final revision of your first book have the same first chapter it started with?
Nope. In fact, it went through four completely different beginnings before I found the right place.

For your first book, which came first: major characters, plot or setting?
Plot. So did my second book, though for that one I knew exactly who my main characters were before I started writing. Setting just kind of happens on the way (I'm definitely a write-by-the-seat-of-my-pantser).

What’s the first word you want to roll off the tip of someone’s tongue when they think of your writing?
Hmm, that's tricky. Honestly I'd be happy they're thinking of it at all! But if I had to pick something ... original. I would want them to feel like they've experienced something new.

And that's it for the questions! Looking forward to reading the other entrants' answers. Good luck everyone!

Update: I managed to win third overall in this contest, nabbing an awesome chapter critique from agent Sarah LaPolla. So grateful to the contest organizers, author judges, and agent judges who volunteered their time to give feedback and dole out cherries. Congrats to the other winners as well!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Blog Hiatus!

With some other (exciting!) things at work in my life right now, I need to focus my energy away from the blog for a bit. It should be a temporary hiatus, however, so don't forget to check in every few months! Or stalk me on Twitter (@Nata1ieK). I've finally learned how to use the thing.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Review: The Scorpio Races

There are books you read and think to yourself, "That was pretty good." Then there are books you read that you wish you could crawl inside and live.

Such was Maggie Stiefvater's bestseller, THE SCORPIO RACES, for me. The premise: Every November, wild horses emerge from the sea onto the shores of a tiny island. Many of them are captured for the annual Scorpio Races, whose winning purse is enough to move off the island. The main character, Puck, needs the money to save her family's house, and is the first girl to ever enter the races.

Oh, and the horses--kelpies, actually--like to eat people.

My mother is rolling her eyes right now that she knew there'd be some violent aspect to it if I liked it. But really, it's so much more than that. The man-eating perspective adds to the stakes and the suspense, but Maggie has a thousand other hooks in you before you've finished the first chapter.

First: phenomenal voice. You follow two characters through the book, Puck Connolly (who I'd consider the main main character) and Sean Kendrick, the returning champion and mysterious stable hand for the island's biggest stable. Maggie really lets you get to know these two, holding back no thought as the characters deal with the problems handed to them. Good things, bad things, things in between - you know it all.

Second: I-want-to-visit setting. Maggie brings the fictional island of Thisby alive in every way possible, from the hard-working locals to the colorful, out-of-place tourists, to the damp, cold ocean air and the whispering sea. You can smell the hay and dust in the stables. You can feel the salt on your skin by the shore.

Third: girl knows her horses. As someone who rode for years, I would be incredibly surprised to learn if Maggie has never been on a horse. The way the horses are handled, and the scenes where Puck or Sean are riding, are so expertly done that I know she's writing from experience*. The bond between animal and human is also very authentic, with nothing over or underdone.

Fourth: emotion, emotion, emotion. I felt for these characters as I rarely have in other books. I cried at the end over a horse. Only one other author, in all of history, has been able to make me cry tears down my face (twice, in two different books) and that is Mr. Patrick Ness.

I could gush for hours, so I'll just tell you now to go out and get the book. Even if you're not a horse lover, this is a fantastic read.


*If anyone can find an article to support or disprove this, can you comment? I'm very curious!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Emotion: Not Just For Movies

The Husband and I had lived in Massachusetts for a year and a half when I got the dreaded JURY DUTY notice in the mail. My initial reaction was typical: a groan, a statement that I'd act as crazy as I needed to, and going off about how new residents always get targeted for jury duty. The Husband said not to worry - I'd be free and clear from any criminal cases since he was a DNA Analyst at the MA crime lab, and that would certainly be a conflict of interest. So, I had a strategy. I'd be back at work the next day, no problem.

There were three problems.
  1. The case was a civil trial.
  2. After 8 hours of questioning, they still hadn't picked enough members for the jury, so we had to come back the next day if we hadn't been called yet.
  3. Once I got called that second day, I couldn't think of anything crazy enough to sound crazy, and got selected.
Four problems, if you count that they'd assured us most trials last one to three days, but this trial would last three weeks.

I thought I would hate it, to be honest. I thought there would be a couple interesting pieces, and the other fourteen days would be an exercise in staying awake. Then we learned the premise of the case: a Harvard professor's wife was suing two very esteemed doctors, an oncologist from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a radiologist from Brigham and Women's Hospital, for malpractice in the death of her husband. She claimed the lesion that took his life was visible in an X-ray taken 10 weeks prior to his death.

I thought I could deal with that for three weeks.

What I wasn't prepared for was the sheer amount of emotion packed into the end of the trial. While we deliberated, everything was pure fact - could we see the lesion on the X-ray, did we have any evidence of malpractice, etc. Then we went into the court room, and when the judge read the verdict of "Not Guilty," the first defendant let out a gasp so loud you couldn't help but feel it inside you; all her relief and her joy and her gratefulness as she sank down in her seat, that this trial--that she'd no doubt worried over for five years--was finally over. It took me three weeks to get there, but I finally realized jury duty is so much more than a trial. It's real people's futures. It's closure for the past. It's moving on.

Have you ever served on a jury? What was the case and what are your lasting impressions of it?

[For full details on the case, click here!]

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

My (Tiny) Editor Hat

A couple weeks ago, I had the privilege of reading a fellow aspiring author's manuscript. Her first page caught my eye at a contest for its awesome premise and voice, and I told her as much via Twitter (yup, I'm one of the hip kids now). She asked if I'd be willing to take a closer look as a critique partner and of course I said YES!

Which meant I got to play editor, kind of. Saying that is like saying I've run a mile so now I'm a marathoner, but my manuscript's been through enough critiques at this point that I had a pretty good feel for what I needed to point out, and maybe more importantly, what I didn't. She sent me her ms, I said I'd try to get back to her in two weeks. I couldn't wait to start. I cracked it open that night.

I finished the next day.

Part of that was because the hubs was out of town and I really needed a lazy day to just stay in and relax. Don't get me wrong—I'm not a super fast reader—and between the night I opened it and the time I sent her my notes, I probably spent 11+ hours on it. Also helped that I really liked what I was reading and that my CP had clearly spent time polishing beforehand. But the coolest part was seeing this part of the process from the other side, because it's completely changed how I'll view criticism on my own work.

As I wrote my notes, I thought about when I'd seen similar comments in my own ms, and how—unlike what I'd been thinking—those suggestions took away none of my love for the story. I was still hooked on the characters, the plot, the potential. Sure, some things could be tightened and I had some questions after I finished, but my overall impression stayed the same: love it.

Manuscripts like hers make me realize why agents become agents and publishers love their jobs. And while I still prefer to create over editing, I can go forward knowing criticism is no big deal. It's easy to focus on the "bad" and think the rest of it made no difference. Now I know it did.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Liebster Fever

I've been feeling rather uninspired as of late when it comes to blog topics. So I'd like to thank Michaele Stoughton for her impeccable timing in presenting me with 1) a fancy little image I'll soon shamelessly flaunt on its own award page 2) an opportunity to write about something I didn't have to make up!

Ta da!

The Liebster is for blogs with fewer than 200 followers*. The rules require me to answer 11 questions, nominate 11 more bloggers, and make up 11 questions for them to answer.

Michaele asked:

1. What inspired you to start writing?
I can't remember a time I didn't write. It's the way I de-stress, it's the way I get outside myself and become someone I can't be. But honestly, I started writing novels because I saw an advertisement for [insert terrible reality show name here] and thought, if THIS can make it, I can.

2. What are your all-time favorite books?
Some of my childhood favs are Goosebumps, Animorphs, and The Heavenly Horse from the Outermost West (yup). Presently, I love, love, love A Monster Calls and The Scorpio Races. There are a ton of others but those are tops.

3. What would be the best thing about being published?
Knowing my words are reaching an audience. Having the platform to help others get published.

4. What is your greatest achievement in life so far, and why?
By far, finishing my first novel! I'd never done anything like it and had so much fun in the process. Suddenly I felt like I knew what I was supposed to be doing with my life. Yeah, I know that sounds cheesy, shut up.

5. Tell me about an embarrassing moment
Oh. Lord. It would have to be pitching to agent Evan Gregory at the Pikes Peak Writer's Conference last year. I wasn't ready, I told myself I wouldn't pitch, I pitched anyway. DON'T DO THAT.

6. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I'm rather restless when it comes to place--I'd love to live in New England for fall and spring, in the Colorado Rocky Mountains in the summer, and someplace tropical for the winter.

7. What is the most exciting thing you’ve ever done?
Met Tim Tebow! Oh, and got married. That was pretty exciting too. [Should I have put that first...?]

8. Who would you be most excited to meet in person?
Jesus. I have a bazillion questions.

9. Fur, feathers, or scales. Pick one and tell me why.
Feathers so I can fly.

10. What are your biggest pet peeves?
People who don't listen and people who don't shower. And that sound wipers make when your windshield is kind of dry.

11. What are your hopes for 2013?
That I'll find a home for my little YA series and balance for everything else (life/work/play).

And here are my lovely nominees!

[I would like to add, there are no Liebster police that I know of. You are under no obligation to repost. I just like you.]

1. Rachael Dahl because she is one of the reasons I'm still writing and one of the toughest cookies I know.

2. Kevin Pech because he has the most fantastic sense of humor.

3. Girl Friday because she likes flamethrowers and Calvin and Hobbes.

4. Stacey Lee because she made time for me when she didn't need to. And because you're going to be reading her books in the very near future. (*Stacey I know you have more than 200 followers, but I'm going to consider Liebster rules more like... guidelines)

5. Kathryn Purdie because her name is awesome and we are BLOG DESIGN TWINS. Crazy!

6. Stephanie Scott because she is always encouraging her fellow writers and she and her hubs make up songs about their cat. (Also has over 200 followers. Guidelines, I tell you.)

7. Stacey Trombley because we've both blogged on voice (er... at least, how no one anywhere can actually say what it is) and she's working on a book called Naked.

8. Beau Barnett because he ALSO loves Calvin and Hobbes, and Jesus, and is just pretty darn awesome in general.

9-11. ....I'm breaking the rules again :) If you have a blog you'd like nominated, reply in the comments and I will add it! Doesn't have to be yours.


And finally here are my Eleven Questions:


1. Where's your perfect writing spot and why?

2. If you could be anyone else, who would you be?

3. What is your least favorite thing to do?

4. When did you write your first novel? Why?

5. What is the best part about writing/pursuing a writing career?

6. What freaks you out?

7. Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

8. Batman or Superman? Explain.

9. Tell me about an embarrassing moment. (yeah, I stole this question...)

10. If you could live in any book (or movie), which would it be and why? Can't be one you've written.

11. Whose blog do you follow that you really, really love? Doesn't have to be an author.

And that's all! Thanks again Michaele for nominating me!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

January Secret Agent

Besides writing and revising like there's (another) apocalypse coming, I've been spying on writer's blogs like Miss Snark's First Victim to see what kind of trouble I can get myself into. I've known about her Secret Agent contests for a while, but have really hesitated to enter because it entails posting the first 250 words of your manuscript (essentially, the first page) online for public execution. So I lurked for a while to get a sense of the community, and slowly built up my courage, and this week... took the plunge.

If you'd like to read my first page, you'll find it here:
http://misssnarksfirstvictim.blogspot.com/2013/01/january-secret-agent-6.html

You're welcome to critique it if you like; pretty sure I have metal for skin at this point, so be honest. :)

And if you'd like to get a sense of my competition, and why it's so darn hard to get published, just browse the other entries. There are a lot of strong writers out there with amazing premises. I think luck might be the name of the game at this point.

UPDATE: I didn't end up getting a request from this contest, but the comments left are incredibly encouraging. Ten out of eleven would keep reading? Yes please. I also managed to catch the eye of two potential critique partners. That's quite a prize in itself!
 

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