Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Baby Author Resolutions: What I Learned From 2014

So, last year, I did this post on how 2013 changed my life. I'll admit I'm snickering a bit looking back on it, especially the part where I declared I never wanted to write first chapters again (like that would be the hardest thing I encountered in my next draft hahahahahaHAHAHA) and am slightly disappointed in myself that I didn't send cake to my editor. But then, 2014 has been a feisty year.

I won't do a month-by-month breakdown like I did last time, because last time I wanted to show how very quickly things can change in the writing business - how you can be cursing your decision to ever write a book one day and have a call with a top-notch literary agent the next. This year I wanted to share the things I learned about being a full-time author. Both the amazing freedom of it and the guilt that comes with setting my own hours. And with that in mind, I have resolutions for next year:

Give Myself a Break
I love being a full-time author. I love having full days to dedicate to writing, reading, and networking, and I realize how fortunate I am that I can even do this, because many (most) writers juggle day jobs along with their books. When I first switched from a 40-hour day job + writing to just writing, I felt like I had to use every second of the day, even when that surpassed 8 or 9 hours. I had all this time! I needed to finish another book ASAP! And it stressed me out. So I'm going to shake myself this year, any time I feel the non-writing guilt creep in, and remind myself it's okay to not be writing.

Set Goals ... and Re-Set Goals
At the beginning of the year, I had one goal: sell another book. A problem when 1) I hadn't yet written said book 2) I have no control over the actual selling part 3) I have no control over the timeline of the selling part, even if I had a completed book. If you've been following me all year, you know how evil my second book was to me. Needless to say, I did not sell a book this year, and I'm STILL working on revisions for the book I hope to sell next. So I'm making smaller, more realistic goals that don't depend on so many steps ahead of them to be complete. I may not have sold a book this year, but I finished one. And with this finished one in hand, my 2015 goal will be to get it submission-ready (meaning, it's ready to be seen by my editor/publisher). And if I can do that, THEN my goal will be to sell it.

Enjoy Every First
With Duplicity releasing this coming March, 2014 was full of exciting first things. Copy edits! Cover reveal! First pass pages! Advanced reader copies!! I met my publishing team in NYC, which was amazing, and still a surreal experience when I look back on it. (I shook hands with brilliant people. I toured the Flatiron building and grabbed R.L. Stine's newest book OFF HIS EDITOR'S SHELF.) And in 2015, I will hold my book for the first time as an actual hardcover. I will see my book on the shelf in a bookstore. I will have at least one signing. I've been stressing about the steps between now and release - the promotion part of it, the setting-up-of-a-million-things, the interviews, the OMG-my-book-is-in-the-world - but I don't ever want to forget this time when everything was new, when everything was possible.

Learn To Dance
Because life is more than just writing, and I think people who can dance well are the most fun people, and I don't want to be THAT PERSON anymore at weddings.

What are your resolutions for 2015?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Queries: What Not To Do, From Someone Who Did It Wrong

Recently, I was cleaning out my email and happened upon an old folder called "Queries." A folder that used to inspire fear and panic every time I clicked on it (and used to be called, "Do Not Open Without Chocolate"), as it holds all of my rejections from agents whom I had asked to represent me and my books.

It holds 125 emails.

But the point of this post is not to go over query numbers or how many of those were for my very first, very unready book, or that I know that folder is missing more than a few "no's." The point is, I couldn't NOT blog about being "that person" after I read one of the very first queries I ever sent:

Dear Ms. [redacted],

I am a new author seeking representation for a fantasy adventure novel I've completed at 74000 words. I am targeting a young adult/adult audience, and after reading that you represent fantasy and young adult fiction, believe that my work may interest you.

THE AETHER STONE: DARIEN'S SECRET takes place in a parallel world where wielding one of the four classic elements (Earth, Fire, Water, or Air) is as natural as breathing. That is, for everyone except 18-year-old Water elemental Trey Reaver, who has somehow managed to get the short end of that deal. If that wasn't enough, he's spent his entire life in the shadow of his exceptional sister Andi — an elite Secondary who can use both Earth and Fire — who makes even the most competent wielders look foolish. And despite his parents' encouragement that he is defined by more than the ability to dry off without a towel, Trey struggles to find purpose in a society built around a skill set he lacks.

Things start to change when Secondaries begin to disappear in surrounding towns, and his family is ordered to evacuate for Andi's safety. After a rough journey to their assigned safehouse leaves them questioning who to trust, Trey will get the chance to prove he's more than what he seems, and Andi will come face-to-face with a dark secret that changes all the rules.

THE AETHER STONE is a fresh look at a familiar but magical world, and combines elements from both contemporary and high fantasy. DARIEN'S SECRET is intended as the first book in an open-ended series (I have planned out at least four books; as the story evolves, that may increase).

Thank you so much for your time and consideration. I hope I have the opportunity to discuss the project with you further.

In my defense, here are the things I did right:
  • Addressed the agent by name, and got the spelling of it, and her gender, correct
  • Sent one email per agent (no mass emails)
  • Researched enough about this agent to know she represented YA AND fantasy
  • Included my word count and genre
  • The format of the query is pretty standard - though it needs a bio at the end

And here are the things you now know not to do, because I messed them up first:
  • Don't say you're a new author. 
    • Not a huge deal, but unless you've been published, it's best to just say you're seeking representation.
  • Don't say you're targeting more than one age group. 
    • Either you've written a young adult book, or an adult book, or a middle grade, etc. Of course the hope is that your book might appeal to more than one group, but the agent is much more interested in where your book will sit on the shelves at the bookstore. The category your book belongs in largely depends on the age of the main character. If you're not sure what kind of book you've written, research the requirements for each category or confer with your critique partners.
  • Personalization is NOT "I read you represent young adult fiction so I think this YA book will interest you."
    • The agent expects that any queries he/she receives will be in the categories and genres he/she represents. Go deeper. Find an interview the agent did where she mentioned she was looking for books with some specific quality that only your manuscript and a few others would meet. Or mention you enjoy her blog posts and that [this blog post title] was particularly of interest/helpful to you. If all else fails, check her Twitter or her agent profile and find out if you share the same favorite movies (if you can relate it to the book you've written, even better!). You don't have to personalize your queries - the story wins over all - but if you're going to do it, do it better than I did.
  • Vague book pitch is vague
    • And has some rather awkward sentences, to be honest. I'd had a little help from the writing community at this point, but clearly not enough. Also, sentences like these need DETAIL: After a rough journey [What made it rough, specifically?] to their assigned safehouse leaves them questioning who to trust, Trey will get the chance to prove he's more than what he seems [How does he intend to do that?], and Andi will come face-to-face with a dark secret that changes all the rules. [What dark secret? What rules? And most importantly, what are the actual stakes? What happens if Trey or Andi fails?]
    • Basically, add details. And stakes. Stakes are good.
  • Don't use words like "fresh look."
    • Just don't.
  • For the love of all that's holy, do not say you are writing an open-ended series.
    • Unless you are George R.R. Martin, and you are not. (Yet.) Agents are much more concerned with seeing if this single book you wrote even qualifies to stand on its own - series talk comes after you sign with an agent and mention that you have grander schemes. Those grander schemes might include two or three or five books, or an open-ended series, but in a query ... I feel like it made me sound very new (which I was) and unrealistically ambitious.
  • Just thank the agent at the end for her time and consideration.
    • Looking back on it now, I feel like "I hope I have the opportunity to discuss the project with you further" is kind of ... forward. Not a deal-breaker by any means,  but anything you can do to keep from sounding overly eager is a good thing.

The other point of this post is to show you we've all been at the beginning of the line. I clearly needed to learn a few more things before this query was ready. And that's fine - it all comes with time. With sending out queries and being rejected. With realizing it's okay to get those rejections because each one is teaching you something new. As I scroll through my old "Queries" folder, I see this query morphing. Slowly I tick off each of the problems I listed above until I start entering a sea of titles that are no longer "Query: THE AETHER STONE" but "Requested Materials: THE AETHER STONE." And when I finally switched projects to DUPLICITY, I start seeing "Offer of Rep".

What are some early query mistakes you've made?

------
For examples of successful queries, check out Amy Trueblood's Quite the Query series!

Want another set of eyes on your query? Comment on this post with your manuscript's age group and Twitter handle, and I'll pick 3 people to win a query critique! Open to A/NA/YA/MG queries. Winner to be chosen by random number generator end of day 7/24. Turnaround time: 1 week from receipt.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Great Bookmark Giveaway... + Win Signed DUPLICITY Copies!

I HAVE BOOKMARKS.

A lot of them. And they're pretty happy here in their box but they'd prefer to travel, you know?



To celebrate their existence, I'll be signing some and giving them away. All you have to do to enter is use the Rafflecopter below! US addresses only please. 

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE: Your new bookmark would look fabulous inside the pages of a signed advanced reading copy of DUPLICITY, which you can enter to win on Goodreads using the link below. The Goodreads contest is open to entries in both the USA and Canada.

I'm excited to share these with you. Thanks for stopping by, and good luck!

UPDATE: Bookmark winners have been announced and emailed! If you won a bookmark but didn't get an email, please send me your mailing address via this form.



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Duplicity by N.K. Traver

Duplicity

by N.K. Traver

Giveaway ends December 01, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, November 7, 2014

Pitch Wars August 2014 - The Aftermath

I briefly went over my Pitch Wars numbers before the finalists were announced in August, and have finally had the chance to post something a little more detailed. You might recall I got 71 lovely applications. Of those 71, I agreed to give feedback to anyone who was not chosen as someone else's mentee or alternate.

That meant I sent 64 responses. It took me an average of 30 minutes per entry to give feedback, meaning I spent 32 hours on these emails alone. (In case you were wondering why agents do form rejections. And why you should keep your critique partners close and keep entering contests like Pitch Wars if you're getting said form rejections.)

I had a few trends in my inbox*:

Dreams that become real: 5
Demons: 7
Tarot cards: 4

And the reasons I passed:

Not right for current market: 3
Not right for me (was on my "Not a Best Match for..." list): 8
Started in the wrong place: 5
Writing not ready: 13
Liked it, but wasn't my perfect match: 33
Confusing pitch; stakes not clear and/or no stakes: 7

And just because:

Highest word count**: 100k
Lowest**: 39k
Coolest comp titles: Dracula meets Don Quixote
SCBWI members (yay!): 14
(Hmm, just realized 5 of the 7 the entries I requested more from were SCBWI...)

I learned a few things from being in the slush:

  • Your query letter really is all about the story. Whether this is your tenth novel or your first, whether you have a hundred publishing awards or none at all, all that matters is your pitch and your writing. One of my favorite entries was just the pitch and a "thank you for your time" - no personalization, no credentials. So basically: don't stress over these. Your awesome story won't be overlooked if you haven't been published before. DO add personalization when possible - but it won't be the reason you're rejected or asked for sample pages, either. 
    • Reader taste is ridiculously subjective. This is something I knew before, but I went in expecting epic battles over the top picks and that I'd have to defend my choices Zombieland-style. But most everyone's tops were different, and something I passed on in my first cull got snatched up as someone else's first choice.
    • Great pages can outshine a so-so query, but so-so pages will sink a great query. If you're getting all thumbs-ups on your query, but agents seem to be rejecting after they request pages, take a hard look at your first chapter. I went through this too. Sometimes it's a matter of starting in a different place. Sometimes it's a matter of polishing your manuscript as much as you've polished your query.
    • A lot of you are SO close. Holy cow, y'all brought your A-game this year. I was practically driven to tears by the quality of the stories in my inbox, because I was having to pass on things that were really solid and that I'd normally request.

    I'm ready for a month-long nap now, but I can't wait to see all the "I have an agent!" announcements that are sure to follow, whether or not you were chosen for Pitch Wars. Remember, I didn't get picked as a mentee or alternate when I entered.

    And last but certainly not least, please congratulate my mentee Marisa Hopkins and alternate Alex Brown when you have a chance. They did #TeamTallahassee proud, with Marisa scooping up nine requests for more pages (eight regular requests + 1 ninja agent) and Alex nabbing six in the alternate showcase. They worked SO hard the last two months, and I'm excited to see where these stories take them!

    *I still requested pages from multiple entries containing these themes, but you might consider what you could do differently with yours if your request rate isn't high.
    **Word count alone is not a reason to reject unless it is way under or way over the expected averages here. However, it's always a good idea to check your word count against those expected averages before you query, and try your darndest to get inside them.

    Saturday, October 18, 2014

    DUPLICITY Advance Reading Copies: 15 Book Giveaway!

    St. Martin's Press is giving away 15 advanced reading copies of DUPLICITY on Goodreads! You could be one of the first to read it, five months before it releases. It's also proven to increase your awesome points. So get on it:

    Click here to enter!

    One of these could be YOURS

    Giveaway window closes October 27.

    Wednesday, September 24, 2014

    Interview: Chasing the Crazies

    I'm honored to be over at Ms. Amy Trueblood's blog today, talking about queries (shudder), how I knew my agent was The One, and what kept me going when the rejections were rolling in.

    http://chasingthecrazies.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/w-o-w-writer-odyssey-wednesday-with-n-k-traver/

    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

    MY BOOK HAS A FACE

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

    Ready?



    Here it is!!




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

    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 my brother's name, which is 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.

    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.

    Monday, June 9, 2014

    Writerly Things Update and Whispers of Cover Art

    What I've been working on the past few months, and DUPLICITY happenings!

    On the writing front:

    I'm currently drafting a new teen horror novel unrelated to DUPLICITY. I've just passed the 37,000-word mark, which means it's about 2/3 of the way done. I hope to finish it this month or early next. My agent has already approved the premise and outline, so it's a matter of getting it written. Once the first draft is finished, I'll go back through and polish as best I can, then it will be off to my brilliant critique partners.

    On the reading front:

    I've finished six books in the last two months - Cracked, Doll Bones, Noggin, Dreams of Gods & Monsters, White Cat, and Unwind. I'm currently reading The Winner's Curse and enjoying it immensely.

    On the DUPLICITY front:

    I have a cover. OMG I HAVE A COVER. It's striking and unique and awesome and edgy and can I say that it's one of THE coolest things to have an artist read your book and make a picture out of it?? Unfortunately it's not yet final, so I can't share, but you will know as soon as it's ready!

    Copy edits will come this month. Copy edits are the kind that fine-tune the book - the content and story is done, and all that's left is for an editor to comb through and make sure the grammar is correct and the sentences are smooth. I will review each change she suggests and apply it. This will also be my last chance to tweak anything, which is rather panic-inducing, to be honest. Dedication and acknowledgements will also be added at this stage. I tear up every time I read them.

    I have two new blurbs from two fantastic authors I adore, Kendare Blake and Lindsay Cummings. You can read what they said at the bottom of this page. I'll be over here fangirling.

    On the contest front:

    I'm participating in a cool little pitch contest called Query Kombat this month as a judge. The first round is over, so I'm looking forward to seeing how my picks do in the agent round. Rounds will continue weekly until only one book is left standing.

    I'm also looking forward to mentoring again in Pitch Wars! The past two years, Pitch Wars has taken place Nov-Jan. This year it will be Aug-Nov, so I'm polishing up my mentor bio and looking forward to meeting my next winning teammate ;)

    And that's a small snapshot of what's been keeping me busy.

    Monday, May 26, 2014

    Writing Process Blog Tour

    Blog tour time! Fellow Fearless Fifteener Michelle Levy tagged me last week for a post on writing process (you can read her answers here). She has a beautiful little book releasing next summer about two broken people who help each other mend called NOT AFTER EVERYTHING. She's also a casting agent. Like, for movies. So yes, you should probably stalk her on Twitter if you aren't already!

    Now for the questions ...

    1) What am I working on?
    I'm currently drafting a YA horror, which means I am flashing back to horror movies and thinking about Scary Things all day, which means I am sleeping with the lights on again.

    2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
    I love unexpected settings and genre mash-ups like Cowboys and Aliens and Stephen King's Dark Tower series. So, it's my hope that this book will differ from others of its genre because it crosses into so many others. There are supernatural forces running amock, but also hover cars. There are old rituals and superstitions - and smartphones. It's a bizarre combination at times, but I love how they juxtapose.

    3) Why do I write what I write?
    I write to explore situations I would otherwise never experience, some I'm grateful I never will. One of the biggest draw of stories, for me, is to see how a person becomes stronger through the obstacles she overcomes and the people around her. I guess to remind myself that bad things happen in life, but good people will be there to lift me out.

    4) What's my writing process like?
    I've just settled into a routine where I try to write at least 1000 words a day. Beyond that, I don't really ... have a process. Yet. For two of the three manuscripts I've finished, I started with a plot and some important points, then wandered from A to B until I had characters and a story. For DUPLICITY, I started with characters and a premise and hoped they played nice together. I didn't know it was a cyberthriller until I was a third of the way in, and I didn't know how it ended until I got there, got stuck, spent a week wondering what I'd got myself into, then had an epiphany driving home and bam, shiny ending. For my current work-in-progress, I started with the premise, wrote some of it out, got stuck, panicked, then outlined the rest. Which, for this particular book, was critical for staying on track. Lord knows what random alignment of stars will be responsible for my next book.

    And now for the fun part, where I get to tag two suspecting victims to post their own Writing Process posts:

    Agency sister and writer friend Alexandra Sirowy, whose drool-worthy thriller THE CREEPING is one I cannot WAIT to get my hands on.

    And newly pubbed novelist Ryan Hill, whose humorous paranormal THE BOOK OF BART debuted last week and is scooping in reviews about its fun, mischievous tone.

    Check 'em out! They'll be posting their answers next week, June 2.

    Friday, April 25, 2014

    Cupcake Stickers and Surreal Moments

    I'm pleased to be with Ms. Amy Newman today for an interview, wherein I discuss cupcake stickers and my publishing journey.

    http://amymnewman.com/2014/04/18/interview-with-author-n-k-traver/

    Thursday, April 17, 2014

    Madonna Stuck In My Head: Homecoming Edition

    As many of you know, one of the contests responsible for my finding an agent was Like A Virgin. (You can read all about my first time here.) A year later, the contest is back - and I'm incredibly honored to be participating from the other side of the fence as a Critique Angel. I look forward to working with one of you on a 5 page + synopsis crit!

    (BTW, if you follow me on Twitter, I do random query/first page crit giveaways - so even if you don't win now, you could win later...)

    (Also, I'll confess I'm reusing some of my answers from last year.)

    How do you remember your first kiss?
    I remember being surprised. Then panic-admitting that I'd never kissed anyone, then freaking out because I was a freshman in college and thought that was probably a weird thing to admit and that I'd scare him away. Impressed by my overflowing confidence, said boyfriend later went on to marry me.

    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. Two cups, sometimes with chocolate mixed in.

    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. Also, I will never forgive him for Manchee.

    Did the final revision of your first book have the same first chapter it started with?
    Nope. It went through four completely different beginnings before I found the right place. Which is still a trend, even though I'm on my fourth manuscript.

    For your first book, which came first: major characters, plot or setting?
    Plot.

    What’s the first word you want to roll off the tip of someone’s tongue when they think of your writing?
    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. Fun fact: this is last year's answer, before I had an agent, before I had a book deal. Recently, I was lucky enough to receive praise from author Roland Smith ... who used that exact word. (See? SEE?)



    And that's it for the questions! Looking forward to meeting the rest of you and learning about your "firsts." Good luck everyone!

    Friday, March 14, 2014

    Sub Club and The Greatest Moment EVER

    Okay, I know I've hyped up Sub Club like it's some super secret thing that might result in my disappearance if I'm caught talking about it. The first rule of Sub Club is still that you do not talk about being in Sub Club ... while you're on sub. For those of you asking "What the heck is Sub Club?", it's a term coined for that special stretch of time after you have an agent but don't yet have a book deal. It's when your manuscript is on the desks of 7 to 15 editors and you start to think, "Wait, this feels just like querying." (You might be thinking other things too.) (But you already know how I feel about the comparison devil.)

    There are some differences. You'll still have to wait to hear back from editors who have lives, other responsibilities, and other manuscripts ahead of yours to read. You'll still get rejections. There will still be stretches of silence you can do nothing about. But this time around, you have a superstar agent who's got your back and knows exactly when she/he needs to nudge and exactly the right things to say. AND, if you're a huge chicken like me, you don't have to SEE your rejection letters if you don't want to. Your agent can store them away in an Excel sheet, a file you'll tuck away on your computer in a folder called "This Business Is Subjective."

    I'm not going to talk about the anxiousness that comes with being on sub. I think you can imagine it comes with some inherent nerves, and the longer you're on sub, the stronger those nerves get. I'm here to tell you what actually happens.

    First, your agent should send you a list of the editors and houses she/he has in mind for your book for the first round of submissions.* If you've met an editor at a conference or workshop that you think would be a good fit, now is a good time to bring that up. If your agent sends you a generic "We're on sub!" email without this list included, request one for your records. (If nothing else, you deserve to freak out over the names on that list.)
    *This submission strategy will vary from agent to agent. Many agents do "rounds" of submissions. If you don't sell to the first ten editors, you'll regroup with your agent, make changes based on your rejections, and then sub to a second set. And possibly a third.

    Then your pitch goes out. Depending on your agent, how long she's been in the biz, and her relationship with each editor, your full could be attached to that very first email. I've also read cases where it's more like querying: the agent sends the pitch and waits for a request. Either way ...

    ... You wait. Sometimes you wait four days. Sometimes you wait more than a year and go through several rounds of editor submissions. Sometimes you don't sell and you write another book that possibly becomes a NYT bestselling series, like Marie Lu and LEGEND. Really it doesn't matter which path you take, because in the end you glance at your phone during lunch and see a missed call from your agent and an email with the subject line: CALL ME CALL ME

    And you call. And it's an offer.

    After you Gangnam Style down the hallway, your agent will gleefully nudge any editors who are still considering your manuscript, and you could potentially go to auction if more than one house wants you. Alternatively, the offer could be a preempt, meaning the house puts up an attractive advance and gives you a short time frame to accept - sometimes as short as an hour - with the goal of snatching you up before other houses have a chance to offer. Your agent will negotiate your advance, royalties, and rights (i.e. audio, translation, etc). Agent Kristin Nelson has an amazing post series called Agenting 101 that explains the different rights and key clauses in your contract, if you want to read more. That link will take you to just the first post; others are listed in the dropdown on the right-hand side of her blog.

    And that is a tiny snapshot of what happens behind the scenes between revisions and Your Book Deal.

    ----
    This concludes my "After the Agent" series. New posts to follow in seriesless abandon.

    Saturday, March 1, 2014

    (Not So) Guilty Pleasures

    Story addict and blogger Kelly Johnson asked, "What are five of your guiltiest pleasures?"

    Over on her blog, My Countless Lives, I declare my unabashed love of neon socks, DiCaprio, and other things I may regret admitting publicly down the road.

    http://countlesslives.blogspot.com/2014/02/not-so-guilty-pleasures-nk-traver.html

    Wednesday, February 12, 2014

    The Comparison Devil

    I read an article some time ago wherein the author said she knew she wouldn't be a bestseller as soon as the offer came in on her first novel. Because it wasn't a six-figure advance and she wasn't going to auction.

    This bothered me a lot.

    First, let's roll back to a not-so-happy place in my past, last spring. To be as brief and honest as possible, I'd let some things get out of control in my life and had lost all focus of the good things going on. I realized I was in a bad place. I sought the help of a counselor at work. And he tricked me.

    In the best way, of course. During one session, he targeted my writing dream and made me list everything that was bothering me. Every fear. Every rejection. Every disappointment. Then he made me write down the good things that had happened. Actual words from people who had read and responded positively to my work. I tried to counter with, "Yeah, but if I was any good this wouldn't be so hard." He pointed to my fears, which were things like, I'll never get published. I'm not good enough. I don't know if I'm even supposed to be doing this. Then back to the Good Things list. "Which of these has actually happened?" he asked.

    (See? Tricky.)

    Which brings me back to the article about trying to read into your publishing future based on what's happening to other people. We're always wanting to compare our experiences to try and figure out what's normal. Is it supposed to take this long? What if I don't get multiple offers from agents? What does it mean if I didn't get a three-book deal? And I'm telling you (and also telling me):

    STOP.

    There is no magic formula. There is only one example I need to give here to prove it: J.K. Rowling received a £1500 advance (or about $2400) for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Couple that with her own editor's advice that she get a day job because she "had little chance of making money in children's books,"* I think you're starting to get my point. And for heaven's sake, if you're sitting there worrying your five/six-figure advance means they're overconfident and you're doomed not to sell because how could anyone really KNOW what the bestsellers will be, I'm shaking your shoulders right now. SHAKING THEM.

    I don't know the future. But if you're in that place right now where the comparison devil is whispering in your ear, using all your "failures" and "shortcomings" to bury all sense of hope, trick yourself like my counselor tricked me. There are two sides to every story, and you are not allowed to block the good side out. "I'm getting a lot of rejections ... but I know so much more than last year." "A top-choice agent just told me my book made her cringe** ... but another just requested the full." Capiche?

    If you're going to do any comparing, that should be it.

    *These quotes/numbers pulled from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._K._Rowling
    **Yes, this was an actual rejection I received.

    Saturday, February 1, 2014

    Pitch Wars January 2014: The Aftermath

    I briefly went over my Pitch Wars numbers before the finalists were announced in December, and have finally had the chance to post something a little more detailed. You might recall I got 88 lovely applications. Of those 88, I agreed to give feedback to anyone who was not chosen as someone else's mentee or alternate.

    That meant I sent 70 responses. It took me an average of 30 minutes per entry to give feedback, meaning I spent 35 hours on rejections alone. (In case you were wondering why agents do form rejections. And why you should keep your critique partners close and keep entering contests like Pitch Wars if you're getting said form rejections.)

    I had a few trends in my inbox:

    Dystopian (or anything with a central government/entity that MC must join or fight against): 8
    Post-apocalyptic or apocalyptic: 3
    Peter Pan retellings: 3

    And the reasons I passed:

    Not right for current market: 11
    Not right for me (was on my "Not a Best Match for..." list): 8
    Started in the wrong place: 11
    Writing not ready: 10
    Liked it, but wasn't my perfect match: 22
    Confusing pitch; stakes not clear and/or no stakes: 8

    And just because:

    Highest word count*: 103k
    Lowest*: 24k
    Coolest genre: YA Weird Western
    Queries that mentioned chocolate: 19

    I learned three major things from being in the slush.

    • Your query letter really is all about the story. Whether this is your tenth novel or your first, whether you have a hundred publishing awards or none at all, all that matters is your pitch and your writing. One of my favorite entries was just the pitch and a "thank you for your time" - no personalization, no credentials. So basically: don't stress over these. Your awesome story won't be overlooked if you haven't been published before. DO add personalization when possible - but it won't be the reason you're rejected/asked for sample pages, either. 
      • Fun fact: my mentee mentioned reality TV in her query, and I was thinking, "Girl, I don't know about this, I am a big NOT fan of reality TV..." - then BAM, her pages blew me away. In case you were wondering if personalization could ever hurt you.
    • Reader taste is ridiculously subjective. This is something I knew before, but I went in expecting epic battles over the top picks and that I'd have to defend my choices Zombieland-style. But everyone's tops were different, and something I passed on in my first cull got snatched up as someone else's first choice.
    • Ya'll eat a lot of chocolate.

    I'm ready for a month-long nap now, but you can bet your Twinkies I'll be back again next year to see what crazy-creative things will fall into my inbox. I also can't wait to see which of you will be joining me on the mentor side, whether or not you were chosen for Pitch Wars. Remember, I didn't get picked as a mentee or alternate last year.

    And last but certainly not least, please congratulate my mentee Alison Green Myers when you have a chance. She knocked off all kinds of agent socks in Pitch Wars, landing us in a tie for second place with nine full requests. She worked SO hard last month, and I'm excited to see where THAT NIGHT ON BLOSSOM HILL takes her. Keep an eye on that one.

    *Word count alone is not a reason to reject unless it is way under or way over the expected averages here. However, it's always a good idea to check your word count against those expected averages before you query, and try your darndest to get inside them.

    Tuesday, January 21, 2014

    Welcome to the Alternate Showcase!



    Today I have the privilege of hosting some of the awesome writers who participated in Pitch Wars - a six week boot camp where published/agented authors and industry interns mentored a team of writers to help them polish their manuscripts for agents. The mentors picked one to go into the agent round on Brenda’s blog (http://www.brenda-drake.com/) and two alternates in case their top pick dropped out of the competition. 

    The alternates were amazing, so we wanted to do a showcase of their talent to reward them for their hard work. Following this post you’ll find the pitches for the writers I’m hosting. 

    This is not exclusive to the agents signed up for Pitch Wars. All agents are welcome to make requests in the comments of the posts!

    This is not open for critiques. So if you’re not an agent, you may comment only if you want to show some love to the writers. Again, please do not critique in the comments.

    Thank you, and good luck alternates!

    UPDATE 2/27/14: Entries have been archived. Congrats to those who got requests!

    Friday, January 10, 2014

    The Eye Of The Storm

    There's a perfect little patch of heaven reserved for the time between accepting an agent's offer and your baby manuscript going out On Submission (OMG, don't panic, more on that later). Enjoy this little patch of heaven. It's filled with:

    • Random happy breakdowns that someone besides your mother thinks your work is worthy of publication
    • The urge to use animated gifs to explain your emotions, because for all the words you've ever written, none of them are adequate to describe what you're currently feeling
    • Completely blank looks from non-writer friends who didn't even know a literary agent was A Thing
    • An undeterable level of joy. Seriously, I could've been pulled over by a cop and I would have 1) smiled the entire time like a psycho 2) thanked him for keeping me at a reasonable speed because HI DID YOU HEAR I HAVE AN AGENT AND I MIGHT HAVE A REAL BOOK SOON

    But I think you know all that's coming. Some of you are reading this right now and your heart is aching to be there. Hey, if you're here, you're on the right track. Not because I'm any kind of popular or have all the answers, but because you're active on Twitter and/or Goodreads and that's how you found this post which means you're chasing your dream which means someday you're going to catch up.

    I think I'm supposed to be writing about the business side of what happens after you get an agent. Yes. Ahem.

    Okay, so after you've come back down to Earth (and often before you have), things will start happening. The first possible thing is an editorial letter. If you followed my advice about interviewing your agent, this letter shouldn't contain any surprises. Depending on the intensity of the changes and your personal writing speed, you should expect to spend anywhere from 1-60 days on round 1 revisions. Mine took about three weeks, including time for CPs to review. You might have a second and third round of revisions to get it sparkly clean. My second round added about a week to the timeline.

    The second thing you'll get, after a surreal email from your agent that says "We're ready to send this out!", is a list of the editors/houses your agent intends to send your manuscript to for round 1. Most agents will have several rounds of submissions planned for you, meaning they will send you to 5-15 houses at a time, then typically wait for a pass from all those houses before sending to editors on their round 2 list. This allows you to make changes based on their feedback. If you have questions or concerns about the list, that's the time to ask.

    The third thing is Fight Club. No, really. The first rule of being On Submission is you do not talk about being On Submission. Except I AM going to talk about being On Submission. Next time.

    What were/are some of your expectations of what happens after you get an agent? What stage of the process are you in now?

    ----
    Stay tuned for the next "After the Agent" series post to come: Sub Club
     

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