Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Sucess Story

Once upon a time there was a hopelessly hopeful writer with a hopefully-fantastic manuscript on her hands. She polished and revised and sent to a few beta readers. When she was finally ready she began submitting to literary agents.

Step number one for many writers with a finished novel is finding representation, a professional with the ability to sell the book to a big time publisher. But this feat seems impossible for someone on the outside looking in. And this timid little writer was no stranger to rejection.
Her last manuscript, a YA fantasy, had a few close calls, but it never worked for the poor dear. So imagine her surprise when she was picked for the very exclusive, very fantastic , Pitch Madness contest (by  Brenda Drake, the pitch contest queen herself ,and her equally  amazing host Erica Chapman.  See the entry here ).  The hopeful writer walked away with a few agent requests but something even more important—confidence!

The query process was slow and gruesome, very few requests trickling in and a lot more rejections. But more contests made the whole thing almost bearable. She was picked for Query Kombat and received some fantastic feedback, she garnered a few new requests from the occasional twitter pitch contest. But months and months went by and none of those things amounted to anything.

Come summer, another pitch contest caught her eye. #PitchMas they call it. She entered and…. was rejected. You see they only pick so many pitches to go up on the blog, and she wasn’t one of the lucky ones. That’s okay, though. Rejections are a part of a writer’s everyday life. She just had to pick herself up and move on to the next opportunity. In this case, there was still the #pitchmas twitter pitch contest. She’d already tried twitter pitching 3 times before #pitchmas came around and always walked away with a request or two, but hadn’t all the agents already seen her pitches? She didn’t want to look utterly pathetic. But… the draw was too much to take so she threw her hat in for one more try.

Here was the pitch: Anna's busted for prostitution + shipped home to the suburbs to be 'normal' again. A geeky boy named Arney becomes her only friend.

And looky there! A request… from a publisher.

This publisher was one she’d admired from afar for a long time. A small press only around for a few years but already with numerous New York Times and US Today best sellers. Higher royalties than big publishers, fantastic editors and a great marketing team, and a distributor contract with a big publisher! *passes out* Does it get much better than that? And while her agent hunt wasn’t over, it was slowly fuzzing out. So she sent. The publisher said she’d hear in 30 days and she did, with a request for more time. “I loved the pitch you gave during #PitchMAS, and I'm intrigued further by reading your manuscript. I will need some more time to make a decision.” What did THAT mean?

Here’s the thing about writers, you see, they have over active imaginations and uncontrollable passion. This makes for some ridiculous thought processes. And after tons of rejections, a lot of those assumptions are negative. This nearing-hopeless writer’s assumption was that he hadn’t read very far, and just hadn’t had time to get far enough to hate it yet. A few more weeks went by and *ding* went her phone, announcing she’d received a new email to her querying account. She looked at enough to see it was from Stephen, the editor reading her humble little manuscript. But she was right in the middle of a fantasy football draft and didn’t want that heartbreak feeling to plague her just yet. She finished her last few picks, all the while staring at her blinking phone but refusing to pick it up. Once everyone was gone, she settled down to read the email.

“I'm sorry it's taken me this long to get back in touch with you about your book. I think NAKED has amazing potential and would like to discuss with you what revisions would be necessary to make it the right fit for Entangled. Would you have some time to chat on the phone this week?”

Whoa. Now that was unexpected.

THE CALL, you see, is infamous in the writing world. Writers know this to be “THE MOMENT”. The moment when an Industry professional professes their love for your work and tells you they want to work with you (think of it like a proposal, getting down on one knee). Does it always work out? No. But it’s big. Like huge. Most of the time, though, it’s an agent asking to talk on the phone. Publishers don’t always do this. This writer didn’t know exactly what to expect. They scheduled the time for the next morning, and thank goodness because the writer thought she’d explode if she had to wait to hear what he had to say.

Stephen said he loved the writing, the voice, the concept, but the plotting/structure needed some work. He wanted to work with the little writer to make it the best it can be. WITH HER. Not “fix this and I’ll look again”, more of a “if you’re willing to put in the work, I’ll help you hand and foot”. 


He also asked for an exclusive (meaning you can’t submit to other publishers.)This made sense because of the work he’s planning to put in. So the now hopeful (again) writer sent out some emails to the agents reading letting them know of the situation before she agreed to the exclusive. She had a couple close calls, one of which said she would have suggested her own R&R (revise and resubmit, something many writers would kill for) were there not already a publisher interested and she didn’t feel she could add enough to the deal to earn a commission (a class act, that one). So the writer went on, all on her own.

Then the hard work began. Emailing the editor back and forth, some things they agreed on, some they didn’t. But after a while, they got on the same page. Then came another phone call. The editor talked for about an hour about the book, about the new plot they were still putting together. When the writer agreed to the proposed changes, the editor suggested she write the new first three chapters and fill in the full outline with the new changes and he would send it off to the acquisitions board.

Again, whoa.

Basically, he was sending a proposal. Not a finished novel, but the first three chapters and an outline of one. Not exactly a usual situation for a new writer. The rest of the book would still need to be almost completely rewritten, AFTER a contract was signed.

So she sat down to write the outline, taking some of his suggestions and the things they’d talked about and twisting them to what she wanted for her book. That was the easy part. Then it came to writing the first three chapters. Honestly, that should have been pretty easy too. But the pressure was on. She had to make it some of her best writing, fitting the new vision for the book but keeping the heart of the former version. But also, because they were cutting some of the beginning, finding a way to do all of that plus writing it in a way that a brand new reader could be introduced to a character and world they’ve never experienced before.

It. Had. To. Be. Perfect.

This happened to fall right into the beginning of November, the time of the year she wanted to be writing something new (NANOWRIMO!). When she was finally done and happy she sent it off and tried to jump into writing something new, which wasn’t easy. She ended up not finishing nanowrimo (the goal is 50,000 words in a month) but did start a brand new WIP (a middle grade, which is where is random voice of this success story comes from)

She heard back from Stephen within a week saying he was “blown away” by her revisions. EEP! And he would be sending it off the acquisitions. Which basically means, even though HE was sold on this novel, he now had to pitch it to the rest of the team (and his bosses) and convince them they need to publish it. A lot was riding on this, and now all she could do was wait.

And wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Holy cow the waiting.

Good thing was, Pitch Wars, the contest of all contests, was right around this time and she entered with the Middle Grade novel she had just finished revising (not the one she was working on in November.) Contests are a life saver for a waiting writer. It means making new friends, and showing off their writing to the awesome twitter community and working on pitches and revising some more and reading some other writer’s novels. All in all, it’s FUN. And, yes, a fantastic distraction from the acquisitions board reading her baby behind the scenes.

Then pitch wars ended and she was still waiting.

And waiting.

She spend two months waiting for the acquisitions board. TWO MONTHS!!

Until finally, she got an email.

(Yes, she was even reading into the exclamation points now. Hmm, he seems happy)
“Can you spare a few minutes to talk tomorrow? Couple of questions it'd be simpler to discuss over the phone”

Could this be it? She tried to think of all the things it might be besides an offer, because if she assumed it was an offer and it wasn’t… 

 But it did seem likely. Would he want to call her to tell her they were rejecting her? Probably not. But it could be some more changes. A new title? Changing a character name? She considered all of those (and came up with backups, just in case) But no, the only “question” he had for her was “Are you sitting down? It’s good news!”  (All the while, the writer was super awkward. Her response: “What?”)

(Yes, a whole lot like Katniss)

After some fun contract business, she signed and sold her debut novel to Entangled! 

But this isn’t the end. No, no. There is still a whole lot to come for this hopeful writer. There is still an agent to found and a MG novel to find a home and a ton more books to be written.  But this a HUGE step and that deserves some serious celebrating!

So that's it, my news! My YA contemporary novel will be published by Entangled in 2015. Before I can end this post I've got some people to thank. I'll try not to make this a full on acknowledgement page but, well, no promises.

A big THANK YOU to my editor Stephen. Thank you for all your hard work and thank you thank you for believing in me! 

Stacey Nash for being an awesome friend and great Beta. My friends at Unborn Writers for the help and support. Naomi Hughes for beta reading a very early version of this novel. All the contest organizers and hosts, especially Brenda Drake-- I'm a better writer because of all that you do. THANK YOU! Rebecca Yarros for your help on the query and first chapter. Laura Timms for reading the revision before I sent it to Stephen. And all the people who helped with the pitch.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I love this community of writers. You guys are awesome!

But most of all, and I know this will sound cheesy no matter how I say it, but it needs to be said: I owe the thanks of all thanks to my God. This passion has been the most incredible gift I’ve ever been given, even better than an outlet to share said passion. So THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!! You are truly amazing.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

My Writing Process!

All writers are different, we all do things differently. That’s totally cool. But there’s something interesting about hearing how writers do their own "thing." 

I’m currently about 20k into both my 4th and 5th novels. In the time I’ve been writing I’ve developed a process that seems to work pretty well for me (okay, sometimes.)

Step 1. Idea’s
                This deserves a post all its own, so I won’t get too in depth. Really, this is only a step here because it’s necessary. Right now I have 5 novel ideas I want to write right now. Not everyone has so many ideas at once--  It’s not necessarily a good thing. But it does mean I don’t have to make a point to come up with ideas for a new novel. I’ve got a damn waiting list.

Step 2. The first chapter
                If an idea is really stuck in my head I usually sit down and write a little bit of it. A first chapter, 2 maybe 3, but no more than 10k words. The novel isn’t completely developed nor am I ready to commit to drafting at the moment but the passion is too strong. It’s too much of an opportunity to waste (So far, what the things I just sat down and wrote when the idea was super fresh and exciting I’ve kept in the final draft, though of course tweaked and twisted and polished (with the exception of my YA contemporary which through R&R ended up cutting the first few chapters of one of these. I managed to keep the first paragraph though, just in a slightly different way). The first chapter gives me a very grounded idea of some of the basics of the story. Who is this character? What do they want? Where are they? 

Setting is a big one. I didn’t know Darcy Darkling was going to be based in a future society until I started writing about the wall around her city. I didn’t know A Sea Of Treason was going to start out in Carolina, or that Whitely had just moved there from NYC. Those things came out naturally, which is the way I like to do things. I don’t like mapping everything out for my characters. I like to feel them through my writing. But I also don’t like to go into a new draft completely blind. Which is why I write a little bit before I plan. This way, when I start getting the full plot lines in place, I already feel like I know these characters and where they should be headed. I also have a basic idea of the rules of their society.

Step 3: Day Dreaming (aka plotting)
                Some people plot out a book meticulously, mapping out every twist and turn to the T. I don’t. I’m not much of a plotter, to be honest. Yes, making a plot structure for the book is important, and I do plan things out a little, but some of that I do after I write a first draft. Before drafting, I plot by day dreaming. Sometimes I’ll jot down a logical plan or two, thing I know will have to happen, but mostly I just like to play with the characters in my head. Think about what they’ll do, where they’ll go. Some books only take a little bit of planning. Others I think about a whole lot. Like my pirate book, I know just about every scene that I will write for that book. Partially because I love the romance in it, that is a fun one to live out in my head. Can’t wait to get that stuff onto paper!

Step 4: Space
                After I write first part of the novel, I leave it alone for a while. I put it down and go about my business. What comes next totally depends on my mood, what’s going on in my life, and the story. I’ve often had more than one story fighting for time to be written (like right now). So sometimes one story has to take a back seat. Which one I choose might not have anything to do with one idea being better than another, or me liking one more. Sometimes it’s just what I’m in the mood for, or what my brain needs at the moment. For example, I was working on some big revisions/rewrites on Naked when nano came around this year. I was emotionally/mentally drained because I was putting so much time and effort into making the changes work, that I couldn’t get myself to pick my pirate book up and finish it like I planned. So instead I wrote something new. The MG I’m working on ended up being the quickest transformation from idea to drafting I’ve ever done. And I only did it because I needed something new, something fresh, something fun. Something with low expectations.  I do think this MG has a fantastic concept for the market, but I’m not writing it hoping to query. I’m writing it for me. That’s what I needed. Something light and fun that could help me let go of the stress of writing for publication for a little while.  So sometimes I wait a month before I start writing. Sometimes a year. It totally depends. But I almost always wait at least a month to get going for real.

Step 5: pitches
                I actually usually do this AS I’m writing. It helps me get excited about potentially pitching this book one day, about querying it. It also helps me keep the same kind of inspiration through the months I’m writing it. For Darcy Darkling, I had a pretty full query written out while drafting that I pasted to the top of my WIP document and would read every time I opened it. Helped me know where I was going next in the story, what the overall idea/feelings/goals of this story was. It kept me inspired. It kept me passionate about Darcy and her journey. Some stories are easier to pitch than others. My pirate books, I have a fantastic pitch that I doubt I’ll change of word of if I enter a contest. But the query was tough. Darcy was the opposite. That query came easy, and though I definitely changed it I didn’t have to change it much. But the pitch was HARD. 

Step 6: goals.
                It’s time to sit down and actually write. YAY! This is the exciting part. This is the sucky part.
Some people love, love, love drafting. Some people hate it. I’m kind of in between. Sometimes I love it. Sometimes I hate it. My biggest problem is having the discipline to get the story down consistently. I can’t write a book in one day. If I could, I’d probably do that every time. But in a month, you go through so many ups and downs. Things get in the way. Some days you are just tired and can’t focus. It’s just… hard to make yourself do work at every spare moment you have. So I make goals. Five thousand words a week or two thousand words a day (nano style). It depends. Having these concrete goals helps to keep me in check. Not that I don’t fail at them. I do. A lot. But it helps. Sometimes, I end up writing half and stopping for a few weeks to take a break. It’s important to know when something is getting to be too much. There is a fine line between discipline and pushing yourself too hard. Writing is hard work. Mentally taxing stuff. So don’t feel bad about taking breaks. Even longs one. But at some point you’ll have to get yourself back up and finish the story or you’ll never forgive yourself. Do what’s right for you, but don’t make excuses (believe me, I’m good at excuses)

Step 7: Finish the damn book
                Just do it.

As soon you write “The end” that starts a whole new process. REVISIONS!! Whoa there buddy. That’ the big stuff, and I’ll write a post on my editing process as well. I’d love to hear about your processes, leave some love in the comments! (though if you’re going to get as long winded as me, maybe write your own blog post and link it to me)

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