Tuesday, November 3, 2015

COVER REVEALS AND OTHER SURREAL THINGS

I think the second coolest thing to holding one's actual completed book in hand is getting to see the cover for the very first time.

It's been absolutely exhilirating to watch the design team at Sourcebooks work to create the perfect look, and I think they really nailed it. I was also lucky enough to be included in the process, which is rare.

Every writer has some idea in his or her head before the book is even queried what that cover might look like. For me, I had always pictured the title written in sparklers on a night sky background. When my editor asked if I had any ideas to throw into the mix, not only was I excited at the chance to share my vision, but elated when I saw that Sourcebooks loved the idea too and it stuck. The cover has endured many permutations to make sure it holds interest for the widest audience possible and also being so eye-catching that the reader is drawn to pick that one off the shelf because they want to know what that book is all about. That old saying – "Don't judge a book by its cover" – is so true, because like it or not, readers do just that, so it has to be spot on.

The day I received the final cover image and was given the green light to reveal it was a really cool day. In fact, you'd imagine I would have posted this then, but I really wanted to take in that moment.The first breaths the book takes out in the world in any way. Now that it's settled in (as much as it ever could because it's still all so surreal) I am so excited to share my beautiful cover with you.


You can read about the cover reveal and a sneak peek at the opening of the book over at YA Highway.

Also, my publisher is running a giveaway of (5) copies of MY KIND OF CRAZY on Goodreads if you want to check it out. As is my life philosophy: "You can't win if you don't play."

Next step: Awaiting ARCs and proofread pages, which are my final opportunity to make any changes to the book before it goes to press. T minus five months and counting. Crazytown. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Post In Which I Do The I've Finished My Line Edits Happy Dance

Last night was huge. After weeks of revising MY KIND OF CRAZY, I reached the final few chapters and that's when I blasted the AC/DC and ABBA and Alanis Morrissette and took this bad boy to the finish line. As I reached the final sentence, it was one of the most cathartic experiences of my entire life.

I cannot stress the importance of a great editor. I happen to have an amazing one. She pushed me further at every opportunity and knew these characters as well as I did, if not sometimes better. Through our experience of working on this book, she gave me a master class in editing. Until you are deep in the thick of the text, you don't realize how many things you miss on the surface that can make all the difference in a tight story with scenes that pack an emotional punch. Overuse of filler words, flowery language, repetition of mannerisms and information: these are the things that can take a story from good to great. And as much as we can think we know our stories, that second set of eyes is invaluable. And now, as I go back to working on my next book, I benefit from all that I have learned and will hopefully have a stronger richer manuscript from the get-go. Or at least, here's hoping.

My editor and I traded notes and chapters back and forth for weeks. Each time the next bunch of chapters arrived, it was admittedly overwhelming to see the hundreds of comments in the sidebar. It seemed impossible that I could ever address all her points and make all these fixes. But she also wrote little love notes in the margins, whether it be in reference to characters, scenes, or lines of dialogue, and they were everything to me. They kept me going, snapping things back into perspective that she wasn't just telling me all the things that were wrong, but also what was really hitting the mark, and that we were working together as a team to make this story even better. Hopefully, the end result we have created together is something readers will love and it will touch their hearts. It's hard to imagine that people will walk into a bookstore in just a few months and see my book on a shelf and choose to buy it. People I don't know will be reading it. Some will love it, some will hate it, and frankly, that's a little terrifying. But at the end of the day, this book is the story of my heart, and I'm beyond grateful that it will have a chance to live in the world.

Next step is copy edits, where all the fact-checking, spelling and grammar are cleaned up. Thank goodness for copy editors, because they make writers look like they can English with ease. And then . . . ARCs. An ARC is an advanced reading copy, which looks like an actual book, though it is not proofread. It will go to bloggers, reviewers, be used in giveaways, and sent to other incredible writers who are kind enough to take the time to read and blurb my book. It's where the word of mouth begins. The fantastic team of designers at Sourcebooks is hard at work designing the perfect cover, and I look forwrad to being able to share that in a few weeks as well.

I cannot wait to hold this book in my hands and share it with all of you. It's been quite a journey, and I am so grateful for all my incredible friends, family, and of course, my amazing agent Leigh Feldman and superheroine editor Annette Pollert-Morgan, who have been there cheerleading every single step. I raise my Starbucks to each of you and say thank you from the bottom of my heart.



Tuesday, July 7, 2015

What Happens After The Book Sale (i.e. The Real Work Begins)

So an editor makes an offer to buy your book. He/she loves the characters, he/she gushes about all the things he/she loves in your story, and now it's just a matter of signing a contract, cashing a check, waiting for release day and hopefully Hollywood to come a'knockin, right? Ummmm . . . not exactly.

No matter how much an editor loves your work, the odds are that it will undergo several rounds of intense revisions before it ever hits the shelves. The first stage is that your editor will read through your manuscript several times and then send you what is known as an edit letter. An edit letter is a very daunting, usually single-spaced, multiple page document that highlights in a general way what is working and not working in your manuscript. It may include some specifics, some potential fixes, or it may leave it entirely to the writer's judgement as to what is needed. When mine arrived, it was seven single spaced pages and I may or may not have momentarily forgotten to breathe. It looked like this:


Surely if it's seven single spaced pages this book must totally suck, right? I'd heard horror stories from friends who received fourteen page single spaced edit letters, so then again, maybe I was lucky. Fortunately, I have an AMAZING editor, and after spending half of that first page praising all the things she loved, she gently eased me into the pieces she felt were still working but could work even better. And she was completely spot on. Things that just made scenes pop off the page, a moment of heartbreak all the more gut-wrenching, or a tender moment even more feel-the-butterflies-in-your-stomach-ish.

We talked on the phone the next day after I'd had a chance to let her suggestions marinate, and then I set to work. It took me close to three weeks to make that initial revision, following her notes and suggestions like a road map of sorts. After I finished that initial pass, I then did what proved to be the most mundane and eye-opening part of the revision, which was a search and destroy for overused words. I found an amazing website called http://tagcrowd.com that allowed me to plug in my document and it would then generate a word cloud with my 200 most frequently used words. I could then formulate a list and go in to decide on a case by case basis which to keep, which to change to another word, and which should be eliminated entirely. There were over 25 words that demanded my attention in this way, and as such, I had to go through the manuscript another 25 times. Once I finished, I gave myself a break for a few days and then went back and reread the manuscript from start to finish, and the end result of all that work was a much more polished, cleaner, tighter story. My editor was absolutely right, and I sent it back to her, hopeful I'd hit all the marks.

Now I sit and wait for another couple of weeks as she reads my changes and then she will send me her next round of edits, which are called line edits. This is exactly what it sounds like - a line by line edit of the entire manuscript that details more specifically what is working, what is not, what should come sooner, what should come later, words to lose or change, etc. I will be given a few weeks to implement those changes and then it gets sent back to her again.

At that point, it will go to a copy editor, who will check things like grammar, spelling, and make sure I got all the facts and timelines right. Then the book will be turned into what is known as an ARC, or an Advanced Reading Copy. This will look like the actual book, it will have a cover, though it may not be the final cover, but it will not yet be proofread. These ARCS are used to send out to reviewers, bloggers, and sometimes for Giveaways to generate buzz and interest in the book.

The book starts to actually feel like a real book once first pass pages arrive, which are the proofed and typeset pages that look like what the actual pages of the manuscript will appear like. It will also be the last opportunity for me to make any changes to the manuscript before it actually goes to print.

Simultaneously, I have to start thinking about creative ways to get the word out about its impending release. I have to start thinking about things like building a website, blog tours, and trying to set up book signings or interviews with local media sources, and different fun, creative (and hopefully inexpensive!) ways to promote the book.

It's actually quite a mental and emotional journey, and each step is so exciting. It's all one step closer to actually holding my published book in my hand, the fruition of a lifetime dream. This whole process can take anywhere from 6-18 months depending on how much work the manuscript needs and the release date planned for the book. For me, MY KIND OF CRAZY is slated for publication in early April, 2016, so I have nine months to watch it all unfold. Ironically, the same amount of time it takes to have a baby, and for both of these undertakings, a comfortable pair of elastic waisted pants are highly recommended. :)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Post Where I Get To Share News Bigger Than A Gilmore Girls Reunion

I haven't updated this blog in a while, but not because there was nothing to say. In fact, there was SO MUCH to say, but I couldn't say any of it!! So I'll bring you up to speed.

Back in late November, my amazing rock star of an agent, Leigh Feldman, sent my book out on submission to editors. Back then it was called REBEL WITHOUT A CLUE, and it was met with a lot of interest. Publishing moves at somewhat of a glacial pace, so I basically bit my fingernails to nubs and drank a lot of coffee (and sometimes things slightly stronger) as we waited to hear back. We'd gotten an offer of interest from one publisher, and although they would have been an absolute dream to work with, the offer wasn't quite what we were hoping for as a debut. Several other publishers had it too, but we still hadn't heard further.

And then, in mid-February, right when I'd decided to throw myself a pity party of one and climb back into bed and stream Gilmore Girls all day on Netflix because I was sure nothing was going to happen, my cell phone rang. It was Leigh, and said that Annette Pollert-Morgan, an Editor at Sourcebooks Fire, loved my book and wanted to set up a conversation with me that morning.

OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

An hour or so later, I was on the phone with Annette, who just completely "got" this book, and told me she wanted to make an "I Heart Hank" t-shirt. She told me all her favorite lines and scenes, and the ways she wanted to help me make this an even stronger book where the scenes and characters would just pop off the page. It was surreal to hear someone talk about my book this way who seemed to understand every nuance and detail of it as well as I did.

After we hung up, I took a picture of my caller ID, mostly because I'm a noob but also becase I wanted to remember that moment in time forever. The moment my lifetime dream to be a published author came true as an amazing editor offered to buy my book. I made it the background screen on my phone!


Over the next couple of days, the details of the offer were ironed out, and Annette sent me a beautiful note along with a box of books she had previously edited with personalized post-it notes on each one, saying why she thought I'd like each in particular. (Oh, did I mention we share a mutual love of office supplies??!!)


But then....silence. This is, of course, the norm, as I've come to find out. In this time period the publisher goes back and forth with the agent to sort out the contract, the Editor is typing up her edit notes, and the author is making her way through a Costco jar of milk chocolate covered almonds. I wasn't allowed to say anything until the publisher gave me the thumbs up, because they wanted to announce in Publishers Weekly, and it couldn't have been announced elsewhere in order to do so. However, in the interim, some concerns grew over my title. While REBEL WITHOUT A CLUE was fun and certainly captured the humor of the book, the publisher worried that teens might not get the reference to REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. Annette and I put our heads together over the next month until we came up with the truly perfect title: MY KIND OF CRAZY. And then, with all green lights in place, this happened!!!


So now I'm back in the revision cave, armed with Annette's amazing edit notes, and having a blast. Once I send this draft back to her, she will send me her line edits, and once she signs off of my draft of those, MY KIND OF CRAZY is well on its way to becoming a real book. Sometime in the Fall, there will be Advance Reading Copies (or ARC's as they are called) that will be sent to reviewers, bloggers, etc. and most of all, I will get to hold my actual book in my hand, albeit not the final version. That comes in April, 2016, just in time for my birthday, which is pretty much the best present ever, am I right??

This morning I discovered the book is already up on Goodreads, so I hope you'll check it out and consider adding it to your reading list!

Six years, three books, two agents, and hundreds of rejections later, it finally happened. There are SO many times I wanted to give up, but at the end of the day, that's not who I am. This is what I love to do, and this book is truly the book of my heart. The delay is never the denial. And it takes a village to make it happen, for sure. So many incredible people I've met along the way that are part of helping make this happen. I'm pretty excited to share it with the world! (And also, not gonna lie, also slightly terrified!!)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Why Do Agents Take So Long To Answer My Query and Other Burning Questions You Always Wanted Answered: A Behind-The Scenes Q&A With Lit Agent Brent Taylor From TriadaUS

The road to publication is long and twisty and not for the faint-of heart, but along the way you may meet some incredibly cool people who help make the journey all the more fun and exciting. One of those people for me is Brent Taylor, who is an amazing, enthusiastic, up-and-coming literary agent with TriadaUS Literary Agency, Inc. (Follow him on Twitter @NaughtyBrent)! Although he is not my agent, from the moment we became friends, we have each been cheerleading each others' successes along the way. Brent has provided me with incredibly helpful insight into all the ins and outs of publishing, and I told him that when I was first starting out querying, I wish that I had been able to find more information that helped de-mystify the whole process and answers to all the noob questions about the things most authors are dying to know. Being the awesome person that he is, he graciously agreed! So without further delay, Brent Taylor gives you all the answers you've been waiting for.


Hi Brent! Thanks so much for visiting my blog and offering to help shed a little light on the mysteries of the agenting world! Top of the list, of course, is once a writer sends off that query, why does it take so long to hear back? (I know TriadaUS is pretty fast, but speaking generally for most agencies) Aren’t you all sitting by your computers hitting inbox refresh, just waiting for that hot new idea?

You’re right—it generally doesn’t take that long at all for a writer who has queried me to hear back. The longest I let a query sit is two days, but I typically respond within 24 hours. A response time that quick is understandably rare, and it will change once I have a heavier list. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t necessarily all about that “hot new idea” that will make editors line up outside the door with cash. I get a lot of queries that I’m on the fence about, so although I do take a peek once a new email comes in, I almost always file it away for later.

Describe a typical day in the life. What sorts of fires do you have to put out on a daily basis?
I wake up around 6:30 a.m. and drink coffee as I do damage-control on my email. I like to clear everything pressing off my desk before I start going through queries. After that and through lunch time, I’m usually editing client manuscripts, on the phone with editors or my boss, or doing miscellaneous emailing. The wonderful thing about agenting is that there is no “typical day,” however, so sometimes this routine is shaken up by a book deal or the signing of a new client.

Do you read manuscripts at home in the evenings and on weekends?
This is the only time to read manuscripts. There are just too many phone calls, emails, and distractions during the day.

How many queries do you get a week? On average how many of those turn into full or partial requests, and ultimately into offers?
I get roughly 20-25 a day, so a minimum of 140 queries per week usually. I’m awful at math, so I can’t even begin to comprehend what it would take to calculate a conversion rate, but I will tell you the following two things:
I do tend to over-request. My philosophy is when in doubt request the manuscript and take a closer look, because I don’t want to miss on the opportunity to work on something that could be great with one extra push. I started taking unsolicited submissions in September 2014, and I have 4 clients as of February 2015. My first client was a writer I’d worked closely in a handful of other capacities, the next two were from the slushpile, and the last was a referral from a colleague. So of the thousands of unsolicited queries I’ve read in the last months, two turned into offers of representation.

What is the number one thing with a bullet that makes you fall in love with a story?
Writing that resonates. It’s a very magical feeling when a novel invigorates you and you’re able to reflect or grapple with a personal issue in a new light because of that novel.

So many authors complain that an agent passed because they loved their writing but didn’t connect to the story. In those circumstances, would you ever consider signing that client anyway because of the potential you see? If not, why not?
Here’s the thing: it’s hard enough for us to sell the books that we love. So offering representation to a writer we can’t get fully behind isn’t only a drag for us, but it’s a huge disservice to the writer. You really deserve nothing less than an agent that will fight to the death for your writing career, and I would have such a bad conscience if I represented someone whose writing I couldn’t get passionate about. I’ve passed on a ton of books that other agents represent and I know will sell—because they just weren’t books I gravitated toward as a reader. That’s something I remind myself a lot when making important decisions: I’m an average reader first, and a literary agent second.

Once you get a query that interests you and you request to see more, what happens next? What is involved before you would actually offer representation?
I read the manuscript, and if about 50% of the way through I’m really loving it, I ask for a second opinion on the pitch and first few pages from a friend or colleague. Once I’ve finished reading and still feel confident about offering representation, I make an exciting phone call.

Once you have signed a client, how often should they expect to be in touch with you? What sort of role should an author expect of their agent in getting a manuscript ready to go on submission?
This is so tough, because not only is every agent different, but every client and novel is different too. Like in every business, you have clients and projects that need more attention than others. For me, it’s less about giving each client X amount of my time, but instead striving to constantly assess and meet their needs with 110% effort.

What are the key things a writer should and should not do when reaching out to agents to ensure they do not induce involuntary eye rolls and make them feel stabby?
I’m so grateful for anyone reaching out and sharing their novels with me, so I try to keep eye-rolling to a minimum. But just a few things that come to mind…Be polite and don’t assume too much. Phrases like “I know you’ll love this” and “you said this is what you’re looking for, so you’ll love this” don’t work in your favor. A concise query is a good query. If it can’t fit onto one page, it needs some strong reconsideration.

What made you interested in being an agent?
I’m a natural leader and I have been since I was a kid, so taking charge and being an authority is what I’m good at. Being an agent in this day and age requires this amazing balance between business-savviness and having your finger editorially and artistically on the pulse. That’s precisely why agenting is the only job for me.

What types of manuscripts make you jump the couch that you’d love to see but aren’t seeing right now? What’s the best way to get in touch with you?
No one’s sending me this generation’s Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, perhaps because I’m a man, but I’m trying to put the word out there that this is something I desperately want. Beyond Sisterhood, I’m very open to all sorts of YA. For some reason, I’m also having a hard time getting diverse submissions to come through my inbox. All flavors of diversity are welcome, but LGBT characters and storylines are of a great personal importance to me. I would go crazy for a literary MG or a novel written in verse. The best way to reach me is at brent@triadaus.com. Querying writers can send me their query letter and first ten pages pasted into the body of the message.

Thanks so much for all this great insight, Brent! Good luck everyone!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Self-Imposed Roadblocks And Other Hazards of The Writer Life

I had a deep realization yesterday, and I realized that I am probably not alone in feeling this way, so I decided to be open and blog about it. I am struggling with writing my next book, but not because of a shortage of ideas, or because the words won't come (though they are coming slower than I'd like), or because life is pulling me in too many other directions. I'm struggling because I'm scared. Of what exactly? Glad you asked.

Yesterday, I spent the day at my friend's beach house at a writing retreat. There were six of us, all in various stages of our publishing careers from trying to break in to a NYT Bestselling YA author. We all sat in our respective seats, armed with our coffee and tea, and spent our days in (semi) silence, working. It was inspiring to be an a room so infused with creative energy, and I wrote two new pages of content, but still I could not let myself completely embrace this new story. I allowed myself to begin another idea, just to see what came out, and immediately 175 words tumbled out that felt funny and fresh and I felt more natural writing it, so I started to wonder if maybe THIS is what I should have spent more of my day working on. And then I talked to my friend about the dark, twisty third project that is so unlike the book I have on submission that keeps drawing me to it to write but it's scary to me because it makes me have to reach into some pretty dark places. She said "Write what scares you."

The truth is, ALL of them scare me, and in different ways. I wrote the book of my heart, and it flowed out of me effortlessly, and it landed me my dream agent, and now it's on submission. Frankly, it feels a little like wondering if lightning can really strike twice. Hoping that I can write another story that feels as solid and twisty-turny, with rich characters and humor. As I've started several different stories, all of which I believe do hold that potential and could be fun to work on, I am my own worst enemy. I am constantly comparing it to the work I have already finished but still, on some level, feel connected to because it's out there on submission and if it sells, I may need to return to it and those characters at any time. And they are like family. A new story is like meeting friends for the first time, having to go through getting to know them and figuring out who they are and what their deal is, and while that's also very exciting, it is also daunting. But as we all know, comparison is the thief of joy.

The fear that I'll never write anything this good again is unfounded, if not ridiculous, of course. History has shown me that with every book I write, my writing has only gotten stronger: the stories are more intricately plotted, the dialogue is more natural and the characters are more vivid. Plus, this is my true passion. I can't think of many things I am this passionate about, except maybe coffee and great chocolate, but I digress. I have been writing since I was three years old, and no matter how many times I have been frustrated by the process, I always return to it because it is as much an essential part of me as the oxygen in my lungs. So where does this self-doubt come from? Fear. Pure, raw, unadulterated fear. While the possibility remains that I can't write something wondeful ever again, the truth is the evidence is stacked in favor of the fact that I can. So I have discovered that more than meditating on which story to write, I need to work on breaking down the fear. It's like a giant, self-imposed road block that is standing in my way of reaching my goals, and I am the only one who can tear it down. It helps when you are battling your enemy to know who your enemy is, and I have discovered that most of the time, it is me.

For me, this discovery feels very freeing. So today, I am starting my Sunday morning with my mug (okay, pot) of coffee and a silent meditation, letting go, best I can of the fear and allowing in the positive energy of believing in myself and my dreams, which at the core of me, I truly do, or I wouldn't keep on keeping on with this. At the end of the day, we are solely responsible for the thoughts our mind produces, and the key is to learn to take control over them and create moments of peace for ourselves. So I raise my coffee mug to any of you who are feeling the same way, and please excuse me while I attempt to go ninja on that bastard fear and show it who's boss and write the hell out of what scares me.