Exciting things!

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!

How the deal went down

I said I’d give a more detailed account about how my publishing deal came about. Honestly, I couldn’t do it right away. It was one of the most intense things that’s ever happened to me. It was scary. It was surreal. I had become pretty accustomed to coming thisclose, or not close at all. I understood rejections. I had solid coping mechanisms in place for them. I did not expect “yes” to be as stressful as a really bad “no.” So I needed some time to pass. For a shocking wave of oh-my-god-someone’s-going-to-PAY-me-so-if-my-book-flops-I’ll-be-failing-all-these-publishing-people anxiety to pass. I have since gotten a grip. Sort of. I’m still scared, but hopeful, too. I love my book. I am tickled fuchsia that the team at Egmont USA loves it, too.

Now, every publisher has different procedures. Some move faster. Some move slower. Two writers at the same publisher may have an entirely different experiences.  There’s a lot of factors involved that affects the pace of a publishing deal. This is how it went down for ME.

3/14/14: The Black Bird of the Gallows goes on submission to nine editors. Silence.
5/1/14: Add three more editors to the submission list.
5/15/14: I send a slightly ranting email to my agent, wondering why I haven’t received a rejection yet. I want a rejection, damnit!
5/19/14: Agent replies with soothing, reassuring words. Then mentions that it’s going to an editorial meeting at Egmont. I relax a little, try not to get excited. Editorial meetings are just step one.
5/22/14: Book passes muster at editorial meeting. It will be discussed next at the marketing meeting the following Tuesday. Now, I begin to get hopeful. I also make the error of thinking this “marketing meeting” is the acquisition meeting, so when Tuesday comes and goes, I’m convinced it got shot down. Agent reminds me that this is BEA week and they are likely focussed on that. I suddenly hate BEA. The. Suspense Is. Killing. Me.
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6/10/14: Message that marketing liked it and it will be presented at the pub (acquisition) meeting the following day, but not to worry, it “will go through swimmingly.” We are told the P&L will be done ASAP. Oh My GOD!!!!! My agent begins to alert the other publishing houses who have it that an offer is coming. I do obsessive and repetitive google searches on what a P&L is  (profit and loss statement––YOU look it up). I start to experience night sweats.
6/16/14: I again harass my agent for news (which she doesn’t have) because I cannot help myself.
6/18/14: Confirmation that an offer is coming. Hopefully by Friday, which is in two days. Plus, there is interest from another editor. Aaaah!
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6/20/14: Email from agent that she needs to talk to me but can’t reach me. Yes, technical troubles after I’ve worn my phone like an extra limb for the past month. Finally, THE CALL. The actual call. There is an offer. (Wow, writing this, reliving that moment, is making me tear up.) I actually leaped into my husband’s arms. If it hurt, he didn’t tell me.
6/26/14: Offer accepted, after some negotiating by my intrepid agent.
7/10/14: Deal announced in Publisher’s Weekly. I cry a little, seeing it there. I’ve gazed at countless weekly “Deals” page, longing for the day my announcement would be in there. And now it is. I feel like I could totally do this:
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For the rest of my life, I will remember getting that call. There are only a few times I recall being that happy. That unbelievably over the moon. I’d achieved a milestone I was beginning to think would never happen. BTW, the other editor ultimately stepped aside because my book has paranormal elements and her house is only seeking contemporary. Rereading my stress-fueled emails to my agent just now was painful. Gad, I sounded like a nut. But I learned about myself and will implement the next time I am on submission: I do not want to know what is happening every step of the way. I thought I did, but all that happened is I went bat-shit crazy for about a month. My family didn’t enjoy that. In the future, I will tell my agent to tell me nothing, unless we have an offer. Ignorance is not bliss, but in this case, it is sanity. So there it is. The highlights and the lowlights and everything in between. Live well, write on! And do some of this:
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My querying odyssey

When I began seriously pursuing publication, I decided then and there to aim impossibly high (because I’m just masochistic like that). I wanted the same thing that many (but not all!) writers want: a big publisher, an amazing editor, a pretty book.  But in order to get through the door at those big houses that don’t accept unsolicited material, I needed an agent.

Agents are a capricious bunch. They have ever shifting wish lists and impossible-to-pin-down interests. What is an original voice, anyway? And do they really want “fresh and original?” They smile at conferences and send form rejections two weeks later. And then there’s the crush of other writers who are also querying, making the odds of signing one statistically improbable. Don’t research those numbers. You may begin to think you actually could win the Powerball Jackpot.

Despite all that, I was determined to get one. In fact, I didn’t allow myself the option of not getting one. I set my mind and decided that sooner or later, I would have an agent of my very own. If it wasn’t this book, it would be the next (or the next). Whatever. It was inevitable. It was fate.

But, fate needs help. First, I made sure my book was the Absolute. Best. Thing. I’d. Ever. Written. For real. I revised and revised and revised until I knew in my heart I could not make it better. I’m glad I took the time and did that, because those first rejections hit hard, and they hit low. It’s easy for little doubts to spiral into, “oh, why am I even bothering? This book sucks.”

It happens. That’s why “good enough” isn’t at all, good enough.

Next, I put serious time and effort into my query letter. I can’t stress this enough how important this is. It’s not fair that our entire novel is initially judged by a half-page letter, but it just is. I knew that I was increasing my odds of getting a read if I made that half-page shine. I don’t have a formula for writing these things. I still loathe query letters on a deep, fundamental level, but since they are inescapable in publishing, I was determined to write the best one possible. I started by writing one I though was good, and offering it for critique on the forums of querytracker.net and agentconnect.com to get feedback (lesson learned: not all the advice on there is good. Be choosy).

Next came the actual querying part. I also had a fairly complex method for querying so I didn’t query all my favorite agents with a query letter that wasn’t effective. Querytracker.com was invaluable. They have data for everything––query and manuscript response times, what genres an agent requests most frequently, the percentage of fulls/partials an agent requests and links to their websites/blogs. There’s a useful comment section, too, where users post their experiences, often pasting in their rejection letters so you’ll know if you’ve received a form. I set up a free account and began my list. Using the search fields, I added all the agents who repped YA, were looking for clients and were in the U.S. I researched these, checking out their blogs, looking up what books they sold, and chose my favorites. I set them aside. I didn’t want to query all my favorites straight off. What if my untested query was awful? From the whole list, I took note of the ones who replied quickly, the ones who only responded if they were interested and those who requested often. I sent out five at a time, making sure there was at least one quick responder and one frequent requester. I generally included one that I liked, too, and yes, I bombed out on a few top choice agents because they got substandard query letters. The “Rs” came hot and heavy in the beginning, so I knew I needed to tweak my query. I reworked it numerous times, and finally found a version that began getting requests with every round I sent out. That’s when my top-top choices got my query. I ended up with three offers and signed with Sara Crowe of  The Harvey Klinger Agency. Now, on to surviving the submission process!

This is what worked for me in my agent search, but it’s not everyone’s best method. The only part of my process that I think everyone should definitely follow is the part about not accepting defeat. Ever. Remember: (corny phrase alert) rejection doesn’t mean you’re losing the game. It’s proof that you’re playing it.

Here are my final query stats:
Query Statistics
Sent = 54
Requests for material = 12
Rejections = 30
(The remaining were non-responders.)

I offer free pep talks to anyone feeling down and/or considering giving up their or is confused by querytracker.com, so don’t be a stranger!

My meat computer is a Mac

The Meat ComputerNot too long ago, I wondered if maybe it was time to give this stupid dream of being a writer and go back to a snug, secure cubicle. I understand cubicles, having spent nine years in one. Rejection letters were coming every day, hot and heavy: “While your writing shows promise, your project isn’t a good fit…”, “Thank you for querying me, but your concept just didn’t grab me…”, etc. Rejection hurts. It just does. Anyone who tells you otherwise isn’t a human being.

It was during this time of self doubt that I ran across this article on the existence of free will. Neuroscientists claim that our brains are essentially “meat computers,” and any decision we make is simply the result of the wiring of our brains. We can’t make choices. We simply execute commands issued by the synapses in our brains. I have to say, the science guys made a compelling argument. Compelling enough to make me really upset.

By this reasoning, every stupid, cowardly and just plain bad decision I’ve ever made was the output of my meat computer. I stayed in that cubicle for nine years, in a state of static self-loathing, until electrical impulses in my brain lit up and said “now, we go.” That’s just depressing. Nine years of knowing I was doing the absolute wrong thing with my life but too afraid to change anything.

I figured, if I gave up and quit writing for publication, my meat computer truly was defective. I’d come so far. I’d written a book I was very proud of, revised it until I couldn’t stand looking at it and really, the rejections weren’t killing me. When it came down to it, I simply wasn’t going to stand for a substandard brain that said it was okay to quit when things got difficult––I’d done this before. It never got me anywhere.

So, I kept going. I recorded my rejections in my querytracker.com account, tweaked my query letter––again––and sent out another five. And one day, when I least expected it, an agent who I thought was miles and miles out of my league, emailed me. She loved my book. She stayed up ALL NIGHT reading it. She couldn’t stop thinking about it and wanted the chance to convince me that she was the best agent for me. Yes, that was in the email. I nearly peed myself.

So maybe there isn’t free will. And maybe there is. it certainly felt like a choice to push on, slog through all the “no’s” to get to the “yes.” Either way, I have new respect for my meat computer. I wouldn’t be here without it.

First person or third person?

So, I’m working on my new work in progress. It’s young adult, of course, because I’m a “first love” addict and can’t get enough first kisses and first hand holding and oh! My heart beats faster just thinking about it. My last book, which is out on submission at a handful of literary agencies (fingers crossed, people!), is a first person narrative, has a crazy high concept and is pretty intense all the way around.

This book is more…sensitive. True, it’s about mermaids who hibernate and there’s a dead body and a love story, but at it’s core it’s about a boy who comes to realize he’s not a loser pothead, after all and falls in love with a girl who spends six months of the year sleeping in the mud on the bottom of a frozen lake. I’m writing in the third person, and struggling with it, frankly. The book feels like it should be written in the first person, but the main character is a seventeen-year old boy, and I honestly don’t feel qualified to write from that deeply inside the brain of boy at all, let alone a teenaged one.

Because really, it’s no big secret what dominates the brain of a teenage boy, and there’s not much of a story to it. As of now, I’m not sure if I should just go ahead an switch to first person, or keep slogging along in third. I feel like I’m hammering a round ball into a square hole. One thing I’ve learned about writing is, a solution always comes. Usually in the shower or in the moment just before falling asleep, unfortunately, but that’s a rant for another post.

Submission fail

So today, this post is inspired by my own idiocy. I spent a ton of time writing my book. Revising it. Editing it. Revising it again. And again. The query letter took weeks. I sent out the query to five agents, and lo and behold, I got a request to read the manuscript. I was very excited, so what did I do? I wish I could say I took my time, went over a checklist detailing everything that should be included in my submission, but no. I did not do that. I sent that submission out as fast as my little fingers could click. Not my best moment.

Guess which one of these fails occurred when I sent my submission:

A. I sent the whole thing in 16 pt. Ariel font
B. I left my name, contact info and book title off the submission pages.
C. I sent an old, angry version of the book riddled with swear words wherever I couldn’t find an appropriate adjective.
D. I sent the submission to the agent one down in my inbox, from whom I’d just received a form rejection.

They’re all great and terrible submission fails, but if you guessed “B,” you’d be correct! left my name, contact info and book title off the submission pages. The title is the file name, however, and both the query letter and the accompanying synopsis has all that information, so I decided (after several agonizing hours) not to resend it. I thought it would be more annoying to send a “oh, I’m resending this because I’m a dumbass and am already proving myself a pain to work with.”

Still, I feel like an idiot. Lesson learned: Slow down, breathe. And make a damn checklist.