Since I entered the strange Universe of Publishing, something I always wanted to do (but never thought I would do) is attend BEA (BookExpo America). It’s massive. It’s in New York City. It’s the ultimate publishing convention. And this year, I’ll be there. *Deep breath.*
My publisher, Entangled TEEN has a booth there for the first time ever, and invited me to sign advance reader copies of my upcoming debut, Black Bird of the Gallows. On Thursday, June 1 at 3 p.m., and again on Sunday, June 4 at 11 a.m., you’ll find me at the Entangled booth, a fresh pack of sharpie pens and a stack of ARCS. I’m nervous. I will be much more nervous then. So please come by and say hi. Everyone who does will get a free signed ARC and some Black Bird swag. Cheers!
It’s there! The first chapter of Black Bird of the Gallows, that is. You can read it on Young Adult Book Central: http://www.yabookscentral.com/blog/spotlight-on-black-bird-of-the-gallows-meg-kassel-giveaway
I recently passed a new author milestone––I turned in my first round edits of Black Bird of the Gallows to my editor. I thought I’d be relieved to hand over the revised version, but no. I chewed the hell out of my nails and scowled so much, my kid started cranking out paintings of flowers and smiling stick-figures, then taping them to my computer. (See exhibit A)
My edit letter (if anyone is curious) was one page, but included the words: we need to add 15K words, but don’t panic! Okay. Yes, I panicked. And then I got to work. My editor outlined the issues that needed to be addressed and in the end I wound up adding 16K words (ha!). The book is better, stronger. But the truth is, every time I read it, I find something to tweak, adjust, revise. It’s unsettling for sure, and oh-so easy to fall into the trap of tweaking, adjusting, revising forever, because it’s never perfect. Never as good as it could be. It’s a dark spiral that can ensnare a writer into not submitting, into holding on to the precioussss. (See exhibit B)
So it’s this: At certain point, we have to let go of the things we make. There will be good responses. There will be silence. There will be, Oh sweet heavens, I have never read such tripe in the whole of my life. I know this is all part of the process. I’ve never had difficulty letting go of a manuscript that wasn’t selling and moving on to another. However, letting go of a manuscript to be presented to the public will be a new experience for me and THIS sort of letting go IS nerve wracking. The day is approaching when there will be no more edits. No more chances to read it for the ninety-eighth time and catch that weird inconsistency that I missed in the previous ninety-seven reads. No more new eyeballs to say, “this part could be better…” Gulp. Scary? Hell yeah. But kind of exciting, too.
I’ve put off this post because, well, I was overwhelmed, I guess. When bad things happen, your mind gets sad and your body gets in on the act and makes the rest of you feel terrible and aching and sore in the heart. But when really great things happen, it seems like the body sometimes gets confused and throws all the brain chemicals at it like too many medicine for a mystery illness. I’ve had really great things happen lately, so I waited until I normal (for me) to post this.
Good thing #1: I signed a 2-book contract for The Black Bird of the Gallows and The Beekeeper to Entangled TEEN. I don’t have a release date yet, but it’ll be either Fall 2017 or Winter 2018 for the first book. Print and e-book will release simultaneously and I can’t wait to hold that baby in my hands! I will write more about this later on!
All this made me think about how unpredictable life can be. I had spent so much time building callouses to the negative, so I wouldn’t be too hurt by the “no’s” that kept coming, I hadn’t dabbled in the hope of a positive outcome. True, I had zero nerves going into the awards ceremony, but I was also unprepared. I forgot to thank my parents, for example, who definitely deserve thanks, or acknowledge my sweet little daughter, who doesn’t deserve thanks, per se (I’d be writing much more if not for play dates and Candy Land and misplaced lollipops), but my love for her inspires my life, and therefore my writing. My big takeaway was this: Balance. Consider the positive. Don’t assume the negative. Be prepared for either. Something to think about when good things just might happen.
I’m so pleased to announce I have a new literary agent. I am represented by Beth Miller of Writers House. See? That’s me, above, jumping. Mentally, that is. I don’t jump around in my general life. Have a baby and you’ll find out why. But anyway, that’s all the news I can share right now…
So. It’s been a while since I blogged. I’m aware of that. I smack my hand. A few interesting things have happened.
1. My poor, orphaned manuscript, The Black Bird of the Gallows, (the one that lost its contract when my publisher closed) now has over 1000 adds on Goodreads! And a couple dozen reviews, even though no one’s read it, including one delightful .gif animation that makes me smile despite the expletives. This is exciting because I’ve done nothing to promote it. It has no cover, no release date, no nuttin’. It got the adds based on the blurb, so I guess that’s one thing I can write well. Ha! But seriously, it’s the things like this that get you through the times when nothing is happening, which is often in publishing.
2. A different manuscript is a finalist in the 2016 Golden Heart® contest in the young adult category. It’s a big deal, in some circles, namely RWA circles, and I’m proud to be a finalist with The Beekeeper. It’s basically a dark, deranged re-imagining of the beauty and the beast tale, which I loved as a kid and still do as an adult.
So, these two things inspired me to polish up The Beekeeper and query it, as I’m without an agent at the moment. Querying is about as fun as sitting in rush hour traffic, but the right agent is so worth it when it comes to negotiating, submission and the occasional pep talk. Hoping the stars align for a little luck!
After a challenging (to say the least) 2015, I’m making changes to my writing life! Between writing and the publishing world, writers face and must learn many things––perseverance, patience, courage, and blind belief that your work doesn’t stink on a fundamental level. I guess you could say I’m taking charge, although that sounds as if I know what I’m doing––ha! I do not. I’m finding a new way forward. In January, I made some very hard decisions. Hard decisions, professionally, that are translating to better conditions, creatively.
Five things I learned over the past year:
1. The people in your life are more important than anything that happens professionally. Or anything else, really. So be nice to them.
2. It’s okay to mope around a while then things don’t go your way, so don’t be an ass to yourself––you’ll just extend the moping.
3. In order to get where you want to be, sometimes you have to take an unexpected path to get there.
4. Risks are unavoidable on any path you take. So get over yourself and take them.
5. Making loads of money writing books doesn’t make you any more or less of a writer than one who makes no money writing books. Writing books makes you a writer.
This year will be full of announcements. Yes, I’m afraid. No, I’m terrified! But if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be going anywhere. I’m going to keep moving forward. Thank you to all of you who have cheered me on this past year! I’m grateful to each and every one of you.
I’ve been thinking a lot about resilience lately. After this Ask Polly post and an interesting exchange on Twitter between an agent and an aspiring writer. The agent had put up a link to an article of hers about the low odds of signing with an agent (the number of queries vs. spots on the client list) and the writer replied with something about how publishing folk should be doing more nurturing and mentoring of writers so there’s not so much fear in writing. The agent replied simply, saying that anyone who is easily discouraged has no business being a writer, an artist. Basically, if I’m interpreting correctly, the difficulty of publishing thins out the weak.
And I thought about my path, which hasn’t been easy. It’s been much harder than it appeared it would be on the outset. I got an agent fairly easily, but the book-in-my-hand has proven elusive. Four manuscripts. One sale, but the publisher closed. A number of very close calls. A maddening cacophony of crickets from editors. Yet, I’m still writing, still working, still dreaming, and somewhere in there, factors resilience. I’m not sure where the line between resilience and stubborn stupidity lies. I’m not sure there is a line, or if it’s a some mushy gray space that shifts around depending on how insane the writer is.
Sometimes, I think the near misses and fatal errors that have marked my publishing career is the universe trying to tell me to give up. “You’re a talentless hack who will NEVER be published,” whisper the stars. “You’ll never be more than what you are. Your words will never touch anyone.” But then my imagination conjures a scene of me telling the tale of this long, difficult journey I took before being published. Of the many nights I went to bed contemplating my failure. Of the countless times I imagined quitting writing to do something else. Something easier. But no, I kept going, kept writing stories that pushed me, challenged me, made me doubt my ability to execute them properly. I kept going, and I published. I made it to that’s-my-book-on-a-shelf and succeeded at the hardest job I’ve had aside from parenting (which is harder). It’s a great story and one I will never be able to tell if I don’t keep at it. So I guess my resilience comes from a story I yearn to tell. One I cannot tell, until it becomes the truth.
For a long time now, I’ve been itching to visit Seguin Island (pronounced Sae-gin), a rocky blip off the coast of Bath, Maine, about 3 miles out to sea. Last week, we finally went. A thirty-minute ferry ride from Fort Baldwin will take you to this tiny island. There’s really nothing to the place. It has a lighthouse on it. It’s a nice lighthouse. We didn’t visit it. We walked the trails, which is a quick thing to do, but when you stand on the southern end of this little island, the only thing you see is the Atlantic and the curve of the Earth. You feel like you’re on the edge of the world.
Seguin hasn’t changed since colonists arrived. And those folks didn’t do much to it for the brief time they were there, so when you walk the rocky shoreline, you walk someplace not messed up by people. An overlooked place. An isolated place. Writing is an isolating endeavor. The longer I live this writers life, the more I seek out the overlooked, lost things in this world. They make me feel things out of the everyday set. They make me just a little bit better at what I do when I sit down to write. I looked at the other people on our tiny ferry and couldn’t help but wonder what brought them there. I know what brought me.