Monday, March 31, 2008
Unlike my other blog-partners-in-crime here, I haven't written much for older teens. I've always worked in the younger end of the teen spectrum. Actually, I feel like, with every work-in-progress, my characters are a little younger than the last. If you asked me what kind of novel I'm writing right now, I'd call it a tween novel.
Tween's sort of a new word in the writing world for upper Middle Grade that you might not feel comfortable reading to your 10-year-old. If I had to make up a definition--oh, and I am--I'd say it covers topics that are more mature than middle grades, and yet the protagonists don't have the independence or experience of YA novels. Hmm, my definition is confusing and possibly ill-informed, just like my own years in middle school.
I think I'm drawn to writing for this age group because it was such a horrendous time for me. 7th and 8th grade were a complete mess. I had no idea what was going on around me. Why were girls being mean to me? How was it physically possible to make my wavy hair feather back and why was it so important? When did boys get cute and why wouldn't they talk to me? Why did my parents work all the time and suddenly expect me to do so much around the house? I think I was also supposed to get some schoolwork done, but it wasn't homework that made me cry. Reading books got me through some emotionally trying times.
Odd as it seems, writing about these horrible years is fun for me. There's something about that absolute cluelessness that's fun to assign to someone else. Older teens have a better idea of their classmates: everybody has it rough, people have been known to change, nobody's perfect, there are two sides to many stories. My tween characters don't know any of these things. They think they're always right or they think they're always wrong. Unlike many middle grade characters, the world for them has often become "every man for himself."
More than any other time of my life, my middle school years were when I made the decisions that influenced my life the most. Considering how ignorant I felt about the world, that's really a major statement, and I think it's a true statement for many kids. Clueless, ignorant, and making the decisions that stick with you for life. But these were the years where I found friends I still have and discovered what interested me in life. In 7th grade, I decided to write my first novel. It was an older YA mystery, something that feels too sophisticated to me now. I wonder if my years writing tween books has ruined me for older YA forever. No ... I'm still mature enough to pull it off ... right? (I know, I'll ask my Spongebob Magic 8 Ball if I'm still mature!)
OK, maybe all these words are an effort to mask the fact that I still have the maturity level of a 14 year old. Maybe that's why I find tween books so much fun to read and write. Does anyone else find them fun? Or do you see tween books as working through a difficult time of life?
-- Kate, Miss Apprentice Writer
Friday, March 28, 2008
Have you been watching American Idol?
Come on, it's okay, you can admit it.
I watched for awhile, and then I lost interest. I didn't watch for a few weeks. And then, on the radio one morning, they were talking about one of the contestants and how he did an amazing rendition of the Beatles song, Eleanor Rigby. Fortunately, we still had the Tivo set, so I watched the show, and I was blown away by David Cook.
I watched the next week, and liked him a little more.
And then I watched him this week, and when he did the most awesome version of a Michael Jackson song, I became a true blue David Cook fan, and I will tell you right now, I will be absolutely heartbroken if this kid from Missouri doesn't win.
I love that he takes a song and puts a new spin on it. He is unique!
I love that he knows who he is and stays true to that.
And most of all, I love that he is working really hard to make each performance better than the last.
As writers, is there something we can learn from David Cook?
Write something unique. If it's a story similar to one that's been told before, turn it upside down and make it something new and fabulous. Editors don't want the same old, same old. They want something fresh, something great, something that makes the heart beat faster as it's being read, just like my heart beats faster as I watch David Cook perform.
Know who you are as a writer and stay true to that. To me this means - know your strengths and play to those! I think sometimes we admire those writers who are different from us, and then we want to be like them. For example, I love writers who make me laugh. It's such a gift. But I just don't write funny very well. As much as I might like to read it, it's not my strength as a writer.
Finally, you have to keep working at it. Strive to make each sentence better than the last. Each chapter better than the last. And of course, each book better than the last.
It's not easy. In fact, it's freaking hard.
But hopefully it will pay off for David Cook.
And hopefully, for you and me, too. :)
~Lisa, Miss Pinch Me I'm Pubbed
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Tip of the Day: Freeze a bunch of your Easter candy so it will last longer (and you won’t eat it all!).
Remember that old Color Me Badd song? In case you are DYING to remember—here it is on you tube.
(Pausing for a brief 90210 flashback—anyone remember the episode when Brenda, Donna, Kelly, and David snuck in to see Color Me Badd at their hotel? Bonus tip of the day: 90210 is supposed to have a spin-off coming in the future.)
I thought it was the perfect lead in for today’s topic of SEX. More specifically, sex in books. How do you feel about it? Yay or nay? How do you feel about writing it? Me personally, I haven’t tried yet. I’m not sure if I even can. Ok wait, once I wrote a synopsis for a book mentioning that there could be some sex in the book. But I never actually sat down to write it. Maybe sex is too serious of a topic and I like to keep more towards lighter, funnier stuff? I’m not sure. Even when I go back and read scenes where I have my characters making out or something I get embarrassed. Am I the only one who feels like this?
And then, how do you handle it in a YA book? I don’t want mobs of angry parents beating down my door screaming that I’ve somehow corrupted their children. Which totally happens. I still remember an article I read in the Chicago Tribune (July 9, 2006) called “Gossip Girl books put parenting skills to the test” where a parent was furious because she had bought the entire series for her 12-year old who then passed them out to all of her friends and all the mommas were way ticked off. Others obviously agreed since the Gossip Girls series was listed as one of the “10 Most Challenged Books of 2006” by the ALA. And I’m sure by now everyone has seen John Green’s vlog about how he was called a pornographer for the sex scene in Looking for Alaska. Which really, was handled pretty well and actually more of a funny scene than anything else.
But this all makes for a good topic—how much sex, if any, can you write in a YA book? I’ve read some YA books full of sex scenes—like the MTV book, Bling Addiction comes to mind. But for me, I don’t think I’m ready to go there yet. Maybe I’m not “edgy” enough. What about you? Do you have sex scenes in your books?
Kristina, Miss Soon-to-Pub
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Some days I need to remind myself of this.
NO -- not what people look like after they are processed into soylent green.
What I need to remind myself is: "Editors is people!" As unbelievable as it might seem, us kidlit writers are not that different from kidlit editors.
But, even knowing that....
As if my spring fever writing laziness wasn't already bad enough, now I know the names of the first round of editors who are reading my book! Ack! Gah! Bah! Names mean ACTUAL PEOPLE have the book! Not just some amorphous "editors" at some "publishing houses" even if they ARE just humans like me.
Welcome to the freaky mind of the Recently Repped whose fab agent has sent out her first subs.
Yes, I am THRILLED with the info, but also more anxious and nervous -- though in a good way. I mean really, it IS all good, but the thoughts and possibilities going through my head right now are huge. All along my writing journey these past three years or so, it's been The Possibilities that have kept me going -- now they just seem closer and more tangible than ever.
When I got my sub list, my writing productivity dropped and my email quotient soared. So did my Googling efforts as I looked up the books these editors bought and the conferences they attended and the interviews they did -- as if that would make a difference in whether or not they want to buy my book.
And hello Deena, you got an agent so you WOULDN'T be spending all this time online researching agents, but alas, my curiosity and the ease of Google as opposed to the difficulty of writing the last two chaps of my novel have made me give in to the stalling. The good news is my agent did free me of the time I would've used to discover which agents at which pub houses to sub to, so really I AM saving time.
Maybe now instead of refreshing my email every few minutes, I need to open my novel's Word document and interject thoughts of "Editors is people!" and remember that I, too, is.
What about you people and your people? Do they like Soylent Green?
Deena, Miss Recently Repped
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
People write for many different reasons. Some people write for the love of it. Some people write because characters chase them around begging to be written. And others write thinking it might bring them fame and fortune like J.K. Rowling (though I suspect most of those people that write merely for this reason probably aren’t reading this blog).
I wish I could be the writer that writes for love. And loves every second of the writing process, from beginning to end.
But I’m not.
And instead of getting mad about it, I’ve come to accept it.
Because writing for me is exactly like my view on exercise.
Which is very much a love/hate relationship.
I’m more the writer that writes because I have to. If I don’t, I’d never get any sleep or get anything accomplished with all these stories and thoughts in my head. Writing is something I have to do. Just like exercise…
I know I need to do to function, but at the same time the mere thought of it most days doesn’t excite me at all. And you’d have to drag me kicking and screaming to the treadmill, because I simply don’t want to do it or even think about it.
Then when I force myself to sit in front of the computer or get on the treadmill because I’m feeling sluggish and feel I’ll bust if I don’t get any exercise, instantly, I feel better. My mind starts to switch, thinking this isn’t so bad. And wondering why on earth I have such ill feelings towards exercise, since it’s actually quite fun and relaxing and almost enjoyable.
Then when the treadmill program gets a mind of its own and makes you go up hill after hill and it gets hard and becomes more work than fun, I’m instantly reminded why I don’t like to exercise. But I push and challenge myself forward, because I must. And the satisfaction of doing so is so great that I can’t believe I ever had bad feelings towards exercise at all. I can’t wait to do this again, to get this amazing feeling.
And the cycle continues as soon as I leave the gym.
Some days it’s worse than others and others it’s not so bad. But always it feels like it’s going to be the worst thing in the world and it never turns out being as bad as I imagine.
I’m not quite sure why this happens, or if I’m alone in my delusional exercise/writing thoughts. Or even if there’s a cure for this. But what I do know is that for me, I’ve done some things in the past that have helped make this process slightly less horrible to think about.
Such as exercising with friends. Or doing sports, which to me feel much less like exercise than, say running. Or the time I joined the gym and went religiously every day in the afternoon merely because Newlyweds was on the TV and I didn’t have cable at home. (Hey don’t judge. While it might not be conventional it was the best motivational tool I could find, and it worked.) Getting it not only into my schedule, but giving me something to enjoy going to every day.
With writing I do the same thing. Such as finding a writing friend to share the journey with. Writing in a genre and writing characters that get me the most excited. Or doing things out of the ordinary to keep me writing every day. One excellent piece of advice I was told was that you should stop writing for the day in the middle of a scene, because you are more likely to want to return to it the next day to finish it. And once you are working, it’s easier to keep working. This really works for me. Other people give themselves word count or page count goals to reach every day, feeling the sense of accomplishment that propels them forward and makes it more satisfying.
Whatever you do, I think it works to grab onto something to make the work and exercise just that much more fun. It gets you through the challenging aspects of writing and the loathing of it, for those of us that seem to face that more than others. And it makes it easier to get back at it every day.
--Emily, Miss Awaiting an Agent
Monday, March 24, 2008
Last year at this time, I was waiting to hear whether I had a scholarship to the Highlights' writing conference at Chautauqua, NY. This is an annual weeklong retreat in July for children's fiction and nonfiction writers, from picture book authors to YA novelists. I was terrified about leaving my kids for a week and wondering if they'd forgive me. Plus I figured, hey, I'm just starting out as a writer and I don't have any credits. What are the chances I'll get a scholarship so I can afford to go?
It was a longshot, but I had to try. When I got the email that I got the scholarship, I was ecstatic. And terrified. It's hard to explain what that week did for my writing. Mostly I learned to try to have faith that I can write something great someday and not just something.
I need a lot of reminders of that, though! Fortunately the wonderful people at the Highlights Foundation sent me a CD brimming with pictures of my July week. I'd like to share a few here so you can decide if this retreat is right for you.
Many of the photos on the CD show the beautiful lake scenery. I'm not sharing any of them because I didn't actually see any beautiful scenery while I was there. Due to the amazing number of classes, lectures, lunch and learns, critiques, and manuscript trades, this is what I saw:
This is editor Patricia Lee Gauch in a Writing for Young Adults class. The schedule was so exciting at first, with lots of classes to choose from and opportunities to learn even during meal breaks. I tried to do everything. By the end of the week, I was drained and brain dead and ready to sleep for days.
In fact, the only scenery I saw was on the many occasions me and my roommate got lost on our way to lectures.
There's a little scenery. I'm all the way to the left in the pink shirt, where Paula and I are probably wandering around, lost in an extended conversation about our favorite novels, half a mile from where we're supposed to be.
It wasn't just scintillating conversation, though. There was also the incredible food. Every meal, I'd sit down thinking, OMG, I can't believe they're serving us this. Here's a picture of us applauding a typical dinner:
Actually, this is us applauding a thought-provoking speech about boys and reading from the phenomenal Bruce Coville ... my Chautauqua mentor!! Yes, I was that fortunate. He was amazing. He taught me a lot about using every object and interaction in my manuscript, which is so crucial to YA and MG writing, and he also upped my self-confidence.
Here's my favorite picture. Notice I'm wearing a sweatshirt in July. You gotta love upstate New York:The writing friends I met in Chautauqua have been remarkably supportive. I keep in touch with them online all the time and their help in my writing journey is definitely the best thing to come out of the conference. I can only hope I've been as helpful to them. Hey, I feel close enough to them to post a picture of them online! But they're wonderful people who can always complain in the comments, right?
In summary, if you're thinking of going to Chautauqua, ask yourself these questions:
1) Are you a writer?
2) Do you like food?
3) Are you willing to consume tremendous amounts of caffeine?
If you answered yes to these questions, I'm gonna urge you to consider the conference. I'll never forget it. http://www.highlightsfoundation.org/pages/current/chautauqua_top.html
-- Kate, Miss Apprentice Writer
Thursday, March 20, 2008
This has been a great week with some fabulous advice and samples of query letters that have worked. I'm also going to share the query letter that landed my agent. I've been thinking about what tips or advice I could give, and I don't know that I have anything to add to the other great advice.
But I do want to reiterate the fact that so much of this business is luck - right place, right time. You absolutely need to have a polished query letter and a fabulous manuscript, but most of the time, that isn't even enough. I've seen writer friends get so discouraged as they query and get rejected, query and send partials, and yes, query and send fulls. After a few rejections, it's easy to think - that's it, my novel sucks, I'm done.
Now, if you are getting form rejection after form rejection and the only people who have read your manuscript are your mother and your Great Aunt Pearl, you may need to take those rejections to heart. But if you have run the manuscript through your critique group and done everything you can to make it sparkle, it may just be that you haven't found THE ONE yet.
I was rejected like a million times before I got my agent. Okay, maybe not a million, but a lot. When she sent an e-mail letting me know how much she loved it and that she would be "the most enthusiastic of advocates", I literally stood up and backed away from my computer as I clutched my chest, like I expected to have a heart attack right then and there.
I think agents, and editors too, are faced with a daunting task each day, and there are probably a hundred reasons at any given moment why they turn down a manuscript, and it's not always going to be because it's bad writing. I know it's hard, but you can't take rejections personally. Sure, if you get five, and all of them are saying the same thing, then some revisions are probably in order. But I really think most of the time, it just comes down to taste, and you have to keep going until you find one who clicks with your writing.
So here is my query:
Dear Fabulous Agent:
Fifteen-year-old Ava is heartbroken over the death of her boyfriend, Jackson. But it isn’t long after his funeral when she discovers while he may be dead, he definitely isn’t gone.
At first she’s thrilled to know his spirit has stayed to be with her. He lets her know he’s with her by playing particular songs on the CD player, appearing in the mirror occasionally, sending her brief mind messages, and visiting her in her wildly intense dreams.
And then, one day, when her parents whisk her away to the beach, she meets Lyric, who reminds her what it’s like to laugh and flirt and talk with a real, live boy. She begins to realize that having a ghost for a boyfriend is neither easy nor fulfilling.
How can she ask the love of her life to leave when he seems unable to leave her behind and when she is harboring some guilt over the accident that killed him? Will he leave peacefully, or is Ava destined to be haunted by Jackson forever?
I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME, is a 13,400-word story of life, death and love told in easy-to-follow, yet engaging verse. I think Sonya Sones has proved that teens will read poetry and ask for more.
I am the author of BABY CAN'T SLEEP, which Publisher Weekly calls "...a charming tale about luring baby off to dreamland." Because the picture book market is tough right now, I decided to write something different. And I have to say, I loved writing this book. Now I want a good agent to help me sell it.
I would be happy to send you all or part of the manuscript. Thank you for your consideration, I look forward to hearing from you.
To all of you on the agent hunt, may the luck o' the query be with you!
~Lisa, Miss Pinch Me I'm Pubbed
Tip of the Day: If you cross your fingers REALLY hard while you hit send on that e-mail query your chances of an agent requesting a partial or full goes up by 33%. (Note: Findings based on a study conducted by one person. Me.)
This being luck o’ the query week and all has made me think about my own querying process and how much luck was involved. I do think there was a certain amount of luck involved—I mean, trying to hit the right agent at the right time with the right idea is pretty tricky. You can send the same query to one agent who will say it is fab and another who will say it is horrible. Well, they say it much nicer but you know what I mean. And you only have like 30 seconds to catch an agent’s attention and get them to want to read more. Some agents get 300 queries a week so yeah—this can be tough.
Writing that first query is a serious task—especially if you aren’t sure of what you’re doing. Which I totally wasn’t. But I knew that it was vital to figure out how to be querylicious if I was going to get anywhere. So the first thing I did when I was getting ready to write my query was a google search for query writing tips. I found a lot of hits but one specific site that helped me was Robyn Schneider’s article, Defeat The "un's": How to elicit interest in your first novel because she is a) a YA author so writing similar stuff and b) she gave a breakdown of what should go into each paragraph. Things like starting with a hook etc. I won’t summarize the whole article here but it is pretty good so go check it out.
My first query for my book PASS BOOK was lucky I think. It wasn’t perfect (though I thought so at the time) and it was LONG (page and a half). Note: Long isn’t what you should be striving for. But at the time I thought I needed all of that information in the query to get the point across. So I was pretty hardheaded and never shortened the query. Luckily, my agent looked past my long-windedness and offered to represent me anyway. It wasn’t until I read her summary of my book (which was, you know, the appropriate 3-4 sentences) that I realized you COULD get my point across in a shorter version. Go figure.
I have to say I did much better lengthwise on my second query for THE ESPRESSOLOGIST though. I didn’t query very long with Espressologist because my agent offer came for book #1 only a month or so after I started querying book #2. But I think I did a better job on it. And the majority of the agents that I did query requested either a partial or full and I got a second agent offer from this one. I’ll let you be the judge and copy it below.
Dear Ms. Agent:
The Espressologist is In
Fridays 6-10 p.m.
Come in for a little latte and love.
That’s the sign outside of a local Chicago Wired Joe’s every Friday night when jerky boss Derek Peters finds out about 17-year old barista and high school senior Jane Turner’s unique talent to match couples based on their favorite coffee drink (which she calls Espressology). He decides to capitalize on it—turning Jane into the holiday promotion for the month of December. She’s never been wrong, sales are through the roof, and the line of people each Espressology night wraps the block. But can it be too much of a good thing? During an interview with a talk show at the height of Jane’s fame, she is faced with a dilemma, lose her love or lose her credibility? Or possibly lose it all, including her best friend.
Light and a lot of fun, my young adult novel, “The Espressologist” is complete at 42,000 words.
In addition to my love for writing fiction (specifically YA), I am also a freelance writer and writing instructor at DePaul University in Chicago, IL. I received my Master of Arts in Writing from DePaul and I've also written for Writer's Digest magazine as well as a number of Web sites (including AbsoluteWrite.com, Writing-World.com, pregnancyandbaby.com, sheknows.com, CoolChyck.com, and a weekly 'Net Love column for the former Relationship101.com for over a year).
I came across your name in my search for an agent with experience in the young adult market and I feel that you would do a great job representing my novel. Would you be interested in seeing a full manuscript?
So what do you think? I start out jumping right into the hook of my book and give a quick summary. Then I give the 411 on it (genre, title, word count) and the blah blah blah about myself, ending with the big question—do you want to read the book?
Ok, maybe querylicious is too strong of a word here and this query is just ok. I’m still not even sure and I could probably rewrite it over and over again but eventually you have to consider it good, stop, and send if you are going to get somewhere with it right?
What do you guys think makes a query querylicious?
Kristina, Miss Soon-to-Pub
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
If my agent hadn't just happened to be diving into more kidlit at the time I queried her, would she still have signed me?
I hope so! :)
But sometimes if you have what an agent/editor is looking for and don't even know it when you query them, then yes, you can totally chalk it up to luck when they jump all over your work.
But your work ALSO must deliver in its pages. A kick-ass query is all well and good, but you're done and rejected if you follow it up with a not-so-hot novel. I should know. That was what happened with my novel #2. Ooops.
But I'm older (don't remind me!) and wiser (lay it on thick!) now! Actually I think now my novels are better than my queries -- ha! What do you think? Here's the query that snagged me my agent -- I think it's OK, but between my pages and what Chris was looking for at the time, it was also partial luck.
Because of your interest in historical and YA fiction, I thought to query you on my 48,000-word YA novel, SOMETHING STRANGE ON STAFF ROAD.
When 13-year-old Joanie Patcherson’s doctor Dad is fired from his job, the family is forced to move to the grounds of an insane asylum. While exploring the creepy community, Joanie, her brother, and their new neighbors discover Anna, a telekinetic healing girl who’s locked in the hospital. Anna’s doctors and mother are determined to make her “normal” and they prescribe a lobotomy as her cure, but Joanie can't let that happen: she needs Anna to use her healing powers to save Mom and her unborn baby. Joanie must break Anna out of the asylum, but she can't get caught – or else Dad will be fired, Mom's baby could die, and their family will be homeless again. And Anna won’t have a mind to save.
I have a BS in creative writing, an MLS with a focus on YA materials, am an active member of SCBWI, and look forward to a career in writing for kids and teens. My WIPs include a contemporary paranormal YA, and a contemporary realistic MG. Please let me know if you would like to see additional materials, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Deena, Miss Recently Repped
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Even though I haven’t landed the agent right for me yet, I have written my fair share of queries and had some luck of my own on getting requests.
At the beginning it was a bit shaky, but once I compared writing queries to something I was more familiar with: employment cover letters, fundraising letters, and any other basic business letter I’d written in my marketing and public relations career, the process became a whole lot easier. Because I figured out selling myself and my book was no different when writing a query than selling myself for a job or selling a product.
Here are some of the tips I’ve learned that might make some sense to you when writing query letters:
In the letter itself:
- Tell the agent why you wrote to them and why you want to work with them. When I was part of a new employee search and had to read hundreds of cover letters, it was obvious who sent form letters and who took the time to customize it just a smidge. And to be honest it was very hard to want to put people with form letters through to the next round. If they didn’t take the time to personalize the letter just a bit (and it doesn’t take much with queries. A simple I saw your listing on XYZ and saw you are interested in XYZ genre…I like your clients XYZ books…etc. Just be honest and truthful in why you picked them.) then it makes it look like they didn’t want to work there. And you don’t want an agent to feel that you don’t want to work with him or her, do you?
In the hook or book summary:
I’m not exactly an expert of these things. I’m still learning how to write queries, just like many of you are. But here are a few tips I’ve learned so far:
- Be specific. When selling a product such as a vacuum you’d never put “it sucks up stuff” would you? We’ll yeah, pretty much every vacuum does that. But the more specific and to the point with your pitch it’s going to make it sound more interesting and make it so the agent won’t want to resist it. For example, instead of saying: “After Nicole moves to a new city her life turns upside down,” I’d use specific examples from the book that feel out of the ordinary and could cause a life to “turn upside down.” Plus, I’d use specific city names, people names, store names, etc. The more specific you get, in my opinion, the better the pitch sounds. Plus, you can explain what your book is about in fewer words.
--Emily, Miss Awaiting an Agent
Monday, March 17, 2008
This week, we’re celebrating the Luck of the Query. Sure, a good query has nothing to do with luck. It’s all about writing and research: write a killer hook and research your targeted agents and editors. Or is it?
I’ve only queried one novel, my very first novel. When I started writing it, I knew nothing about the market. I had as much chance of explaining the difference between middle grade and young adult as I did of explaining the difference between the governments in two former Soviet Union republics. Plus my story fell in that gray “tween” area. I didn’t know this was a gray area when I wrote my novel, of course.
But I got lucky. I found a fantastic critique partner—Deena, our Miss Recently Repped—at the annual Rochester Teen Book Festival. She introduced me to blogs, websites, Verla Kay’s message board, and the teenlit group on Yahoo. I read interviews with agents and noted who was looking for boy-oriented middle grade/young adult. Now I had some people to send queries to. But how would I ever write a query letter? What the heck was a hook?
I got lucky again with a downtime at work that coincided with a burst of hook contests online. I read hundreds of hooks on Miss Snark’s website and the Fangs, Fur, and Fey community. Eventually I wrote my own hook. Looking at it now, I think it’s too long. But in January of 2007, I sent out my hook in highly personalized query letters. I mentioned it was my first novel, not knowing I “wasn’t supposed to do that.”
I didn’t query widely before I decided to put the book aside. I received a few responses for partials, though, and one request for a full, which encouraged me to no end. The personal comments I got back on the requests were remarkably similar, hinting that I needed to work on the plot. I feel like I have a stronger sense of story now than I did on that novel. I look forward to the day I finish my WIP and worry about querying again.
Did I do things wrong querying the first novel? Definitely. Why did I get requests for partials then? Beginner’s luck?
Maybe. I think it helped that I wrote in each query letter why I sent it to the agent specifically. I found agents interested in what I had written. I think there was an element of luck in that people were looking for boy-centered, humorous stories at the time, which I certainly wouldn’t have known while I was writing the book.
And maybe the next query letter I send out won’t get as many requests as early. But I’ll have the faith in myself to know this is a better novel, one worth querying widely instead of putting aside. Sending out query letters is a scary endeavor. But I learned so much from my first experience and I’ll learn more next time. Eventually, I’ll find out how much of my positive experience was luck and how much was writing the best query I could at the time.
So, what do you think? Does luck exist, or is it superstition passed on through my Irish ancestors? Is writer’s luck an oxymoron? Do we always have to make our own luck?
-- Kate, Miss Apprentice Writer
Friday, March 14, 2008
You wait and wait and wait for that BIG sale. And then, when it happens, you start to realize there a million things to worry about that you never thought of.
Can I revise the way my editor wants me to?
Will I like the cover?
Will people like the book?
Will reviewers like the book?
Will it sell?
Will it sell well?
And if it doesn't, what can I do to help that?
I could easily add ten more things to the list, but I'll stop there.
I've been fortunate in that most of the worrisome questions on the list have ended up with a positive answer this time around. Reviews have been very positive. It's selling well, and in fact, has already went into a second printing. I even learned this week we had our first foreign rights sale. It's going to be translated and sold in Poland!
But about the point where I breathed a sign of relief about all of that, a new set of worries appeared. About the next book. Mostly I wondered, will there BE a next book?
I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME is a very unique book. And I think that's a good thing. But as the author, it's also difficult because when people say, please write more books just like this, I secretly go - okay, I'll try, but I don't know if I can!
Fortunately, I had already started another novel-in-verse before I started getting e-mails telling me they wanted "more books just like this." Otherwise, I may have gotten too caught up in trying to have all of the elements from the first book in the second book, and I don't think that's necessarily what people mean when they say that. I think people just want a good story. Okay - more than that. Something that touches their heart so strongly, that the next day, they're still thinking about the book. I think sometimes we get too caught up in worrying about plot points and character traits, and forget that crucial element. The book has gotta have heart.
So, this past week, I got the news that I've sold that second verse novel, tentatively titled FAR FROM YOU!! Yes, I'm extremely excited! And I hope my editor and I can create a fabulous book that people will love, love, LOVE.
Still, when I should be happy and dancing with joy, can you guess what I'm doing now?
Can I revise the way my editor wants me to?
Will I like the cover?
Will people like the book?
Here we go again - wheeeeeeee!!!
~Lisa, Miss Pinch Me I'm Pubbed
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Tip of the Day: When you attend your first ever book club meeting and you offer a recommendation of a great women’s fiction author, make sure to get the name right and not send everyone off looking for the main character of your last novel.
I think I’ve mentioned it on A2A before but if I haven’t, I’ll tell you now. I do all of my writing in cafés. Really. I have tried to write in other places and it just doesn’t work out for me. Home=No. There are three super adorable distractions there that keep me from being very productive in the writing sense. Although, I have managed to get some line editing done at home. Go figure. Library=Nah. I tried it once and it was just so uncomfortable. And it is like, a mob scene in there on the weekends with people lining up for the Internet access. Hotels/B&Bs=No. The reason? I don’t get to go anywhere! :-) Refer back to the three adorable distractions I mentioned above. I did go on one writing retreat for a weekend last year and managed to get a good chunk of writing done. So this one could also be a yes if I could figure out how to get away more. But back to writing at cafés. Sometimes I wonder why I can get so much work done there. Because I really do get a lot done with my trip or two to Starbucks a week. It’s like every minute of my three hours is jam-packed with productive writing. Never mind the constant noise from the music they always have pumping or the chatter of all the other customers. For some reason that stuff doesn’t bother me.
A couple of months ago my friend and fellow YA writer Amanda Morgan blogged about how writing at Starbucks was difficult for her. This gave me the idea for today’s post. Since I’m there so often, I figured I’d share my tips for writing in a café successfully.
1) Scope out the place first.
Does this sound weird? Maybe. But it gives you an excuse to stop in for a coffee anyway. Before you try to write in a café you need to know it a bit. So try a few different Starbucks/Caribous/Paneras or whatever. Get a coffee and sit down. Evaluate the room—Is there good seating? How big of a table will you need? Does the sun stream in right at your perfect writing spot? If so, look at the shade and figure out how to close it (yeah, I really do this kind of stuff. And note: Starbucks people do not care if you close their shade where you are sitting.) And MOST importantly, where are the outlets to plug in your laptop? You’ll want to know exactly where to go the first time you go there to write.
2) Go to the bathroom first.
Now I sound like your mother right? But you should go to the bathroom before you ever get there or as soon as you enter the café. Like, before you even order your drink. This will avoid situations like the one Mandy mentioned in her blog on what to do if you have to go the bathroom while you are writing. And if you do have to go to the bathroom then definitely bring your stuff with you. I don’t pack things up—I just pick up my laptop (still open), my wallet, and keys and carry everything with me. I leave something like my jacket or empty bag to hold my spot.
3) Pick a seat.
Having anyone read over your shoulder will drive you nuts. And it is creepy. So pick a seat at a table where preferably your laptop screen is facing you and a wall.
4) Bring your own water.
This is me trying to maximize on the most time possible here. You should still buy a coffee or whatever when you get there (and leave the empty cup on your table. A sorta hey—I paid to sit my butt here sign to the world.). But it won’t last the entire three hours and who can afford to keep buying coffees? I always bring my water bottle with me when I write.
5) Be nice to the baristas
I still haven’t run into a mean one and I’ve written in a number of cafés. But once you pick out your favorite café to write in you’ll be seeing the same baristas a lot so make friends. If they are anything like mine, they’ll even be supportive and promise to buy your books and give you yummy samples.
That’s it for my tips on what works for me. Did I miss anything? Any of you other café writers want to pipe in if I did? If you aren’t a café writer, where do you do your writing? And are you going to try out the cafés now? :-)
Kristina, Miss Soon-to-Pub
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Ah, NaNoWriMo. Every good writer knows that stands for National Novel Writing Month. And that it happens in November and you have to reach 50k words in one month. So why am I writing about this now?
Because I'm revising my first ever NaNo novel -- and loving it! So to prepare you NaNo-slackers for what you should join in, uh, 8 months, here's my Top Ten List On Why To NaNoWriMo:
1. It forces you to write [almost] every day. Which keeps your story and your characters in your mind every day -- sometimes when you don't even know you're thinking about them.
2. You're allowed to ramble. If you know me in person, you know I do this a lot. I try to keep it at a minimum on A2A so that you loyal readers won't abandon me on Wednesdays, but alas, it's something I have to work on in my writing -- except during NaNo! I'm SUPPOSED to keep rambling in order to reach 50k words! YES!
3. You can't write anything boring for too long. If you do, you'll bore yourself and not be motivated to write. So when you hit the point of describing the color of someone's brown, auburn, mahagony, burnt sienna hair for the eighth time -- WHAM-O -- throw in a prophetic nightmare, a pit bull attack, or a forbidden tattoo. Instant action, baby!
4. You can neglect your housekeeping duties. Laundy can pile! Dustbunnies and tumbleweeds unite! Goshdarnit, you have a novel to write!
5. You're so busy cranking out words, you don't obsess over your email so much. Waiting to hear back from that editor or agent on your last masterpiece? Chances are you'll cut down on refreshing your email from 5000 times a day to a mere 500!
6. You'll make friends galore. Everyone who registers on the NaNo website can form their own networks and make new friends, all of whom will understand your emails that contain, "I just wore out my dash key -- damn those run-on dashed sentences!" [For the record, I currently have to really wail on my -- key to get it to work. See (2) above.]
7. You're forced to get your story out before you overthink it. No time to rewrite yesterday's work; only time to crank out that novel that's still fresh, new, and exciting in your head.
8. You can force the story forward. Like (3) above, if you get stuck, don't stall -- just jump forward to the next scene where something happening happens.
9. It's free to join, a good trial in self-motivation, and even if you don't "win" (aka hit 50k words), you haven't lost as long since you wrote something. And when you go back to your words after November and maybe December, you'll realize you have a lot of really good salvageable stuff. Boo yeah!
10. At the end of the month, you have a plotted novel ready for revision! For me, getting the story out the first time is the hardest part. I always wish I could just download my brain into Word. But after a month of solid writing, that's almost what happened.
So now I've got a novel that I really like and that is revising up nicely! It's a very satisfying feeling to know I can work this well and this efficiently if I push myself to do so. Go NaNo!
So, who's gonna NaNo with me this November?
Deena, Miss Recently Repped
P.S. Stay tuned for Luck 'O the Query Week on A2A next week!
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Somewhere between college and now, I transformed from:
I’m still unclear as to how this transformation took place. Or why this lack of organization only applies to tracking my personal life and not my work life.
In a short period I will be ready to query agents again and I’m getting ready by whipping out my trusted electronic spreadsheet and starting to create a sheet to track all my queries. Not only am I hoping it helps combat my inner unorganized self and be a much better system then my last one which resembled the scribbles above, but that it will help me to start treating querying more like I treat my other organized business activities. And for some reason it just feels like being organized with my writing will make it feel more professional.
Here’s to hoping anyway!
And for those that don’t like spreadsheets, I’ve heard www.querytracker.net has a wonderful system to help you keep track of queries. I’m sure other systems of organization work as well. I used to be a fan of note cards back in the day, too, and organized many things that way.
I know there has to be tons of other ways to organize who/when/how/what/response on querying. Any suggestions for blog readers?
--Emily, Miss Awaiting an Agent
Monday, March 10, 2008
I’ve been feeling really run down lately—sick as a dog, actually—and it’s impacting my writing. When I’m sick, I just don’t have the energy to write the next chapter. Or at least I tell myself I don’t. How much physical energy does it take, right? I’m sitting my butt in a chair. You’d think I could manage that much.
But when I’m sick, the ideas don’t come. Nothing seems funny or interesting. My mind gets sort of mushy. Even a crossword puzzle feels dangerously close to thinking.
It’s not really the lack of energy from being sick, even combined with the full-time job and the kids who insist on eating on something ridiculous like a daily basis. It’s the negative thoughts. When I get sick, I’m 100% percent convinced that I have no talent and writing is a waste of my time.
Fortunately, I have enough experience to know that illness affects my self-esteem big time, so I can tell myself this is only temporary. I’ll feel better and I will once again be inspired to work through my plot problems. I will drive to work thinking of my characters instead of wondering if I remembered to bring decongestant. But in the meantime, the negative thoughts are hard to fight. Why am I trying to write a book? Am I enjoying it, or is it only drudgery that I’m not particularly good at? Now that I’ve figured out I’m not particularly talented or tenacious, shouldn’t I go back to bed?
Writer friends certainly help! This weekend we had a visit from an out-of-town writer friend and the special treat of a dinner out. I coughed through the whole thing, but it definitely lifted my spirits. So thanks ladies! And sorry about the coughing.
So take a break, right? Breaks sometimes make me feel worse, though. Like I’m saying I really can’t write, or worse, that I shouldn’t write. What I need is someone standing over me reminding me that I have no power of judgment when I’m sick. Does this happen to everyone? Misery loves company, but I’ve never heard anyone else say they think they should quit writing every time they catch a bad cold. Is this a common problem in the writing world?
Friday, March 7, 2008
I used to think the best kind of e-mail I could get was good news from an editor or an agent.
I've changed my mind.
The best kind of e-mail I can get is from a reader who takes the time to look me up and writes me to tell me how much she enjoyed my book.
I'm sharing a couple here, because I want all of you who may be wondering, as you try and try again to find an agent and/or editor, if it's worth it. Read these e-mails. How can you wonder, after reading them, if it's not worth it? I spent years writing book after book until one finally got noticed by an agent, and then an editor. How many times did I wonder if I was cut out for this? If I should just put down my pen and take up knitting instead?
"Hi Lisa, I just got done reading I heart you, you haunt me and I just had to let you know that it amazed me. I'm usually into books about vampires like Stephenie Meyer's book Twilight and the sequels but when I picked your book up in Border's today, I instantly wanted it just because the name intrested me. When I started reading it I realized it was kind of like a poem through-out the book and that caught my attention even more. I'm a Freshman Jock at a small school and no one but my older sister understands how much books can mean to you. Every minute after practice's I have a book in my face and I hope you continue writing books like these."
"Lisa, My name is K. I'm 15 years old and I just read your book, "I heart you, you haunt me." I just wanted to tell you that it's such a good book and I LOVED it. I really couldn't put it down. As soon as I got home from the book store, I went up in my room and came down about an hour and a half later because I finished the book. I usually never like reading, but your book got my attention and it made me want to go back to the store and get a new book. So I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed your book and I hope you continue to write books for my age group because I'd really like to read some more."
I hope everyone reading this blog gets to experience an e-mail like one of these someday.
Don't ever stop believing!
~Lisa, Miss Pinch Me I'm Pubbed
Thursday, March 6, 2008
TOD: For giggles, report any e-mails your e-mail provider sends to you back to them as spam.
No! Not THAT first time. Though if you want to swap horrible first time stories you can e-mail me on the side. Ha! No, I’m talking about that very first query letter that you sent to an agent. What was it like for you? Were you nervous? Scared? Excited?
I sent my first query at the end of July 2006. And I was SO nervous. Really. I had just written this book—my very FIRST book and I had no idea if it was any good. And no one—not a single other person—had read it to tell me yay or nay. This was before I took Lauren Barnholdt’s YA chicklit class, and before I met my wonderful critique partners, and before I joined LiveJournal and Verla Kay’s. So yeah, I knew squat. What I did find online was Robin Schneider’s blog and later her awesome querying experience chronicled. What can I say? I was inspired that she was selling books at like 20 years old so I thought maybe I could do it too.
So I made up a short list of agents to query (and this was before I discovered Agentquery, which makes life a million times easier when querying) and I looked at it for about a week. I wrote my query letter, which turned out to be a WEE bit too long (like a page and a half), and I tried to mentally prepare myself to start querying. But I was SO scared! I think I imagined these super powerful, smart people sitting in uber-tall NY buildings reading my letter and laughing—“Ha ha ha! She thinks she can write!” (That doesn’t really happen, right?) When I actually got up the nerve to e-mail that first query, I literally had to hold my right hand with my left to click Send. And then I just sat there staring at my e-mail because you know, the fabulous agent would write me back immediately of course.
Well, if you’ve sent out one or a hundred queries you know this generally isn’t the case. But I was totally in shock because this super sought after agent e-mailed me back in thirty minutes requesting a full! I couldn’t believe it! Of course I called my husband right away and told him this whole agent hunting thing was a snap. I should be agented by the weekend and a sale probably the following week. Alas, that did not happen. The very next day I received a very nice, long rejection from this agent. And I was SO mad. See, now I went from scared to even query to how dare she reject me in just 24 short hours. I’m talented like that. It took me like, 10 more rejections to realize that the first rejection I received was the nicest and most helpful one. She had even offered to look at it again if I revised.
Ok, now came the time where I slowed down a bit, joined the YA class, met great critique partners and worked more on the book. And wrote another one. I was still slowly querying (and started querying my second book near the end of the search)—and actually I queried for almost nine months before finding the right agent. But I was a whole lot smarter about all this stuff by that point too. Rejections Shmections—they just rolled off my back. I believed in my writing a lot more by this point and I knew it was just a matter of time before I got an agent and sold.
Your turn now—what was your first time like?
Kristina, Miss Soon-to-Pub
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
It's a rampant problem.
Especially in YA literature.
Dun dun DUN!
What do you do with a novel that has a college-aged protagonist? Instinct would tell me to sell it to a YA publisher. After all, kids read "up," so in theory high school kids would want to read about teens in college. Right?
But then we hear that YA publishers don't want to put out books with kids out of high school -- or at least that they are a "hard sell." Is this because they don't think that HS teens can relate to the lives of college teens? Or does the "reading up" theory stop applying at a certain age, say 18? And is it assumed that college kids don't have time for leisure reading so they won't read about teens their own age either?
Suppose we come to terms with the fact that our college-aged protag won't come out in YA form -- would the adult lit world be ready for her? Apparently the answer is similar to the YA answer: sometimes.
Diana Peterfreund's IVY LEAGUE series that follows a college junior came out with the adult publisher Dell. Lauren Barnholdt's REALITY CHICK about a college freshman came out with the YA imprint Simon Pulse. Caridad Ferrer's IT'S NOT ABOUT THE ACCENT features an MC who goes from HS senior to college freshman and is published by the YA imprint MTV Books -- or is it a crossover imprint? I'm still not sure.
So it IS possibly to sell books about this age group, but I know and have heard of many writers who were asked to change the age of their MCs from 18-19 to 16-17 -- just bc they were told by agents/editors that the younger age would be an easier sell.
Gah! It's enough to make my head spin! The benefit of having an agent is that you can run these questions by her to get her professional opinion -- but what do YOU all think? Would you even bother writing a novel that takes place in college, or skip it to make it an "easier sell?"
Deena, Miss Recently Repped
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Now as an aspiring writer, I’m sure we don’t field nearly as many questions as published writers, which is why when making a FAQ page of a Web site you might have to revert to your fiction skills and make many of the questions up yourself.
But there is one question I get with some frequency: “What do you write?”
Apparently, answering “Young Adult” or “Teen fiction” doesn’t mean anything to 90% of the people out there that aren’t writers or avid readers of teen fiction. Who would have thought?
So in follow up, I either get “What’s that?” or “Why Young Adult?”
In answer to “What’s that?” I’ve found the easiest way to respond is by saying, kind of like Harry Potter, since everyone’s heard of Harry Potter. And despite the fact I don’t write fantasy that usually does the trick.
In response to the “Why Young Adult?” question, that’s a little trickier. Merely because there’s tons of reason why I write young adult books.
Sure it’s because I loved my teen years and like to relive them. I love anything teen related (Bring it On, She’s the Man, 10 Thing I Hate About You, Veronica Mars, anyone?). My writing voice seems to fit YA. It’s one of the main genres I read and love. I love working with teens in my day job, so it would be natural I would gravitate towards teen books. Yadda yadda yadda.
But I think more than anything it’s the fact that with YA books, you get more freedom to be creative than with adult books. Not saying adult books aren’t creative. But I don’t think books about Magical Pants, a normal girl that finds out she’s a princess, and books about a secret spy school would sell in the adult world. Sure adults read them (like me and you), but still even if they had adult protagonists and you take out all the defining teen factors, the underlying teen themes (basically the entire book itself), I still don’t think they could ever be marketed for adults. Merely because with teens you can stretch things to include magical pants and it’s okay and fun. And I personally really don’t want to be in a genre that can't handle spy schools, princesses, and magical pants. Plus, with teen books there seems to be more openness to creative formats, like diaries, IM messages, blogs and the like. And I love reading creative formats and experimenting with putting some aspects in some of my novels.
What about you, why do you write YA? Or read YA? And if you don’t write or read YA, then why do you write or read the genre you do?
--Emily, Miss Awaiting an Agent
Monday, March 3, 2008
I’m considering applying for the SCBWI Work in Progress grant, but that means I need to write a synopsis.
A synopsis! Arrggh, anything but that! Help me!
Aaah, I don’t want to do this, I can’t do it!
Okay. Breathe in, breathe out. I have an outline. I’ll start from my outline. I’ll just read this baby for the major conflict points and … OMG, this isn’t an outline! I thought this was an outline? This is a series of sentences unconnected to each other by any cause and effect whatsoever! Seriously, this is direct quote from my so-called outline: “Are they watching a game? Should Vinny act like he likes Celia here? Also—earlier.” I don’t know what I meant by “earlier.” Possibly this means I should move a section of the outline to earlier in the book, possibly it means I want an additional, earlier interaction between Vinny and Celia, or possibly it means I should have started writing this book before my kids were born.
My outline describes little chapter files all over the place. I need to run a disk defragmentor over it. An outline defragmentor. Of course, that would be my synopsis, wouldn’t it? D@mn, d@mn, d@mn.
Here’s something else to stress about: I got lost trying to articulate the spot where my main character think she’s solved the problem but she’s made it worse. I know where, towards the end, she thinks she’s solved the problem. She has a power she doesn’t want and she gets it taken away. It turns out she’s going to need that power to save her friends. So far, so good. But wait … how exactly does her power save the day? Is her nemesis too powerful for this to logically work? Does she use the element of surprise? The more I stare at this, the more my plot is falling apart.
Anyway, send your synopsis advice along if you think I’m strong enough to take it. Or chocolate. Yeah, maybe you should just send chocolate.
-- Kate, Miss Apprentice Writer