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.
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.
This poor blog has been neglected this year. But 2015 hasn’t been kind to this writer. Last year this time, I was celebrating. I had just sold my debut novel. I was staring in wonder and bliss at my deal announcement in Publisher’s Weekly. I was gearing up for my first phone chat with my editor. “My” editor. The sound of that is just lovely. I was ecstatic. Jubilant. All the words there are for happiness. The remembering is painful, because I sold to Egmont USA, and anyone who’s involved with publishing teen fiction knows they closed down early 2015. Contract void. No book, no debut. Sorry about all those dreams come true; have fun back at square one!
“You’ll see: This will all work out for the best.” Continue reading Hard things and good days
I don’t want to write this. I’ve put it off for over a month, though, and it’s been hanging over my head like a piano on a rope.
So. My publisher closed it’s doors. I could end the post right there, because that’s the end of it. No book. No book to hold and smell and dance around the house with. I am heartbroken. The road to this contract was a long one and to have it taken away is, well, heartbreaking. There’s no other way of putting it.
What’s next? Well, I’m on submission with a new book. The canceled one is being set aside for now, and that’s fine. I love the new book with its unusual hero, Reilly. I took a risk with him, but he turned out amazing and beautiful and wonderfully imperfect. It’s possibly the best thing I’ve written and I’ve never been so anxious about a manuscript being out there. This book is being considered by editors of the best YA books published in recent years and I’m sitting here in Maine with a space heater and safety pins holding on the zipper of my sweatshirt, typing this while my toddler naps in the next room. It all feels impossible. Like trying to break through a wall. I may scratch at the mortar for the rest of my days and never dislodge a single brick.
Yeah, so did I, Blake. So. Did. I.
But no, the psychosis simply shifts from: No one is ever going to buy my book. I should quit. Clearly, I’m not a good enough writer. I saw Taco Bell is hiring. I’m probably not good enough for them, either. To: Holy sh*t, my book sold. It’s going to be OUT. THERE. What if no one buys it? What if everybody hates it? Oh no, this means I have to do Twitter. And WORSE, Facebook. I don’t know any NYT bestsellers to get a blurb from. And I’ll have to blog in a timely manner. How do I do marketing? My publisher is going to think I’m not savvy enough for this. I’m NOT savvy enough…
It goes on and on. And on. Then again, maybe it’s just me. I am good friends with Anxiety. We go way back. But, as days go by, and it sinks in that my book isn’t coming out for like a year-and-a-half, I’m a little less worried about those things. I DO worry, but I mean, this book’s release is like a full-term pregnancy AND the months of nursing-through-the-night away, and those periods in my life felt like an eternity. I have time––time to stress and time to enjoy this next stretch in my publishing journey.
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.
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!
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:
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: