Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Getting Published the Slow and Painful Way

Ten years ago, I did a thing. I wrote a book. I decided to get it published and life happily ever after. If you’re shaking your head or laughing at me by now, you probably know what I’m about to say. I wish I could tell you I emailed my story to an agent who immediately offered to represent me and landed a million dollar deal with a big name publisher within a week and the movie will be in theaters next year. Heck, I wish I could tell you I got an agent, a publishing deal, and my book is available nationwide right this moment. That's not what happened. Not even close.

The truth is, it took three years to get an agent for that book and nothing happened. A year later, I signed on with a different agent and still nothing happened. I wrote a second manuscript and we started over with submissions to editors. Life threw me a couple of vicious curve balls and I had to shift my focus away from writing for a few years. Things crumbled down around me and I hit a low point that I never want to see again. Ever. I had a mental and physical breakdown that almost ended everything. But I lived. Somehow, I crawled out of the rubble and dusted myself off. I polished up my manuscript pitch and got it ready to email to my agent. My confidence was shaken and I panicked when it was time to hit send. I didn’t know if I still had an agent after all that time, or if our contract dissolved after a few years of being in the void. Even worse, I didn’t know if I deserved an agent at all. The story that I queried to get representation in the beginning was on indefinite hold and I was working with a totally new project. It hadn’t really been field tested and I was still a nobody. I tried reaching out to a friend to see if the new piece was worth bothering with at all. I finally just wrote a painful email that said something like “I know it’s been forever and I’m totally okay if you’re not my agent anymore…” and sent it. Miraculously, she was still on board. We’d had our eye on a certain publisher before my giant writing hiatus and officially submitted the pitch for The Saline Solution in November of 2018. January, 2019, we got an offer. A decade after my first query, I signed a publishing contract.

Ten years. My kids were 11, 9, 6, 4, and 2 when I set out to get published. They’ll be 22, 20, 17, 15, and 13 when The Saline Solution is released. I had kids in elementary school, preschool, and my youngest was being potty trained. Now I have two adult kids in college, two teenagers in high school, and a middle schooler. I went from 31 to 41. It’s been a long time.

What I’m learning is that most of us have very different experiences on the road to publication. So many famous authors were rejected hundreds of times before they got a break. So many. Sure, you’ll find plenty of success stories from authors who were picked up fast and sold their first books to major publishing houses. You’ll also hear about authors who gave up on querying or skipped it altogether and went straight to self-publishing. The factor that I see more than any other—the common element in most of these stories—is perseverance. With few exceptions, most of us have read rejection letter after rejection letter. We’ve been turned down more times than we can count. It takes querying the right agent at the right time, and having that agent pitch to the right editor when the market is right. It takes the stars aligning. The time might not have been right for my book when I wrote it, but it is now. I drafted The Saline Solution before the #metoo movement. It’s more relevant now that it was when I wrote it. The right agent, the right editor, the right time. If I’d given up after letting go of my first agent, or after shelving my first project, or even after my world collapsed, I would’ve missed that window.

When you finish your manuscript, polish it. Polish it again. Get it as clean as you can before you query it. Have other writers read it and really listen to their feedback. Polish your query. If you’re not getting submission requests from your query, figure out why. Go back to the drawing board again and again until it works. Don’t stop writing. Write while you’re waiting. You might find yourself at a dead end like I did and a second manuscript could save your career. Write often. Read often. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t listen to people who tell you no one can teach you how to write. There’s always more to learn. Take classes, read books, find your voice. There are patterns and formulas to all of this. There are rules. What I’ve learned in the last six months of research between rounds of editing has helped me see where my first manuscript went off the rails. I know how to fix it.

When it comes down to it, a great manuscript and a well-written query are more important than a thousand Twitter followers and a professional website. Those can come later. All the flash and glitter in the world won’t make up for a crappy manuscript.

You got this.

Recommended resources in no particular order;

Verbalize by Damon Suede: A unique approach to crafting characters and scenes that really drive your story through creative use of verbs. Activate is a thesaurus of verbs that’ll help you really get the most out of Suede’s advice.

Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig: This one’s fun to read even if you’re not a writer. Wendig practices what he’s preaching.

On Writing by Stephen King: Always inspiring, King should be on every writer’s shelf. This is one of my favorites.

Find Your Writer’s Voice by Bria Quinlan and Jeannie Lin: Stephen King has a sharp and unmistakable one. Shirley Jackson’s is breathtakingly beautiful. This book can help you find and develop your own voice. A subscription gives you access to amazing courses from big names in the industry like Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, James Patterson, and Judy Blume. Well worth it.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Cold Truths & Warm Fuzzies

It's okay. It's all going to be okay. I promise.

I'm littering this post with pictures of fuzzy things to make it happier. You're welcome.

I've learned a lot in the last year. I learned how to drill a stripped screw out of an iPhone. I learned how to do the flick with liquid eyeliner. I learned that breast implants explode in crematorium ovens. And I learned that the WRONG literary agent is a real thing. So this one night, I'm checking my email with one hand and stirring spaghetti sauce with the other when I was caught off guard by a very serious question. Is it time for me to find a new agent? There's a lot more to this question but trust me, you're not missing anything by skipping ahead.

Why I make phone calls from my car.
Suddenly, I was sitting in my car in the dark (playing Candy Crush Saga at the back of a parking lot outside a coffee shop because it's the only place far enough away from the kids to have a quiet phone conversation) talking to the RIGHT agent about the right things and realizing I should've thought about those things a year ago. I was also realizing I probably looked like a meth dealer or a psycho to any police who drove by, but it was the night of the homecoming bonfire and the cops had more important things to do than harass minivan moms who are just looking for some alone time.

A BAD dog.
There's a very important distinction here: the WRONG agent isn't necessarily a BAD agent. It's easy to get crazy excited, query every agent on the planet, and sign with the first one who offers representation. I know. I've been there. I get that. But you wouldn't walk into a dealership and buy the first car you see in your price range. You'd want to take the time to make sure you're making a wise investment. Do you want a manual transmission or an automatic? Something that gets you there super fast or something that you'll still be driving twenty years from now? What's right for one person isn't always right for someone else.

Okay, there's a really sucky part I need to mention before I get too far into this. Remember when I said "the first car you see in your price range?" Sometimes there are no cars in your price range and you need to work harder so you can get something better. When you find yourself hunting for obscure agents because you've been rejected by everyone else, you might want to consider going back to work on your manuscript so you can get someone reliable instead of a clunker. Don't settle. Seriously.

Let's say you're on the lot, cash in hand, and you're trying to decide which car to buy. Have you figured out what features matter most to you? This is where I went wrong. I had offers from several agents but I didn't know how to make my decision. It just happened all at once and I wasn't prepared. I made an emotional decision without doing any research. I ended up with an amazing agent who just happened to be the wrong agent for me. I was like a mother of four who buys a two-seater convertible, or a guy with a long commute who buys a gas-guzzling SUV.

Because I care, and because I love making lists, here are some suggestions to help you start your own list of questions for that all-important phone call. As usual, these are in no particular order--just like my thought process.

Likes to be left alone.
1.    Ask about your manuscript. Find out if it's going to need an overhaul or if there are just minor changes to make before it can go out to editors. This usually isn't a deal breaker question, but it's nice to know what you'd be up against if you sign with that agent.

2.    Discuss communication. This is a really important one for me. You should know up front how often you two will be checking in with each other and how to get in touch when needed. Some people like to be left alone, others want lots of hand holding. Some agents prefer email, others would rather talk on the phone. Is it better to send a quick text or is she quick to respond to letters? Loners don't want to be smothered and hand-holders don't want to feel like they've been left in the dark.

Likes hand holding.
3.    Research recent book deals. Check to make sure the agent is actually selling manuscripts before you hand yours over. Find out who they're selling them to. If all their sales are to tiny publishers who only do eBooks, it's likely that'll be your future as well. You might also want to look at the genre of those sales. Has that agent been selling books in your genre? If they are, they might have a better idea of where to pitch your manuscript.

4.    Look at their client list. Compare the number of published clients (with sales brokered by that particular agent) versus clients who are still working on it. If their client list is mostly newly signed, unpublished authors, your manuscript could be sharing office time with all the others. If their client list is full of unpublished authors who have been with that agent for a while, it's not a good sign. Either the agent's dropping the ball or they're choosing clients with unpublishable manuscripts.

Totally loves your other stuff.
5.    Talk about your other projects. If the agent isn't excited about the other stuff you're working on, you might be agent-hunting again before long.

Bad news? Good.
6.    Find out how involved you'll be in the pitching process. Some agents will come up with a pitch and a submission list without running it past you, while others might want your input. You might want to see all the feedback from editors. You might want to hear only the good news. Whatever your preferences are, make sure the agent is cool with it.

7.    Be open-minded. Maybe there are a bunch of unpublished authors on their client list. They could be working their butts off and have a bunch of stuff in the works that you don't know about. A huge list of recent sales isn't a guarantee that you'll be on that list anytime soon. They may have been on a roll, but rolls end eventually.

8.    Take your time. When you've asked all your questions and done all your research, give things a little time to settle before you make your choice. No, you don't want to leave them hanging forever, but you don't want to rush into a decision and make the wrong one. If they really want you, they'll still be there if you need a few days to think about it.
Little things
can get out of hand.

9.    Trust your instincts. If something just doesn't feel right, don't ignore it. Little things that make you uncomfortable in the beginning might not get better with time. Does it but you that your boyfriend thinks farting's funny? Picture him seventeen years later, ripping 'em in the kitchen and teaching your kids to blame their own on you. Trust me. It happens.

10. Be objective. Just because an agent has big name clients and works at a well known agency, it doesn't mean you're going to get a seven figure deal for your debut novel. Likewise, signing with a twenty-something agent with a super short resume doesn't mean you're not going to end up with a killer publisher and win a Newberry. Respect the young. Listen to them. Don't be scared of their youth. They've got more energy and their spirits haven't been broken yet.

Stalk them. (But be invisible.)
Don't just stop with my list. Ask, ask, ask. Talk to references, snoop around online, stalk them on Twitter. Be informed. I'd love to hear other ideas from you guys in the comments. Post away!

One final thought; I use the words RIGHT and WRONG very loosely. It's really not that black and white. You could sign with the RIGHT agent and still not get published. There are tons of factors that come into play in this industry. I signed with the RIGHT agent last year and I'm signing with the RIGHT agent this year. Comparing them side by side, I think this new one is the RIGHTER agent for my manuscript--just like the old one is the RIGHTER agent for someone else's manuscript. Both my agents are AWESOME.

Good luck!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Zombie Marshmallows and Charmin Bath Tissue

I've been hibernating. Believe me, that's the best word for it. I landed an agent (WOOHOO!) and everything was all rainbows and butterflies. For about a week. Then schlitz got real. There's a big fat What's-Next that follows the glorious contract signing.

I waited for a revisions letter from the editor. I caught a cold. My youngest kid came down with the flu. The revisions letter came and it was an emotional roller coaster. He loves my writing! He fell in love with my main character! He didn't believe in her motivation! He didn't get the chemistry with another character! He thought the ending was predictable and lacking something! I danced, I cried, I felt like throwing up.

When I got it together and started revising, I realized he was dead on about everything. EV-REE-THANG. My cold got worse. Much worse. I hacked and coughed my way through Thanksgiving and Christmas while pushing myself to finish revisions. I had a birthday. I was sick. It was lame. Turns out my cold ripened into a rollicking case of pneumonia with a side of pleurisy (look it up-- it's evil) and I was doped up on a heady cocktail of antibiotics and pain meds. But I persevered. I finished it up and sent it back to my agent.

And now I'm in the middle of another big fat What's-Next. For the longest time, I was a single parent to my manuscript. I created it. I raised it from infancy to adolescence. I nurtured and loved it unconditionally. Everything was my responsibility-- revising, editing, revising, editing, rewriting, revising, editing, querying, revising, editing, rewriting, editing, querying...this part goes on for several pages but I'll stop here in the interest of time. It was all in my semi-capable hands until now. Now I share my baby with another parent. A dominant parent. A parent who handles submissions for me. And I wait.

"I'm confused. It sounds like you've been busy. How is that hibernation?" Not only did I binge on carbs and spend the winter in bed (pneumonia's a beast), I shut down almost completely. Blog hiatus, very few tweets, no sudden movements. If I moved a muscle, something would blow up and the whole thing would be over. Hold your breath, cross your fingers, try not to pass out. Have you ever felt like that? Like your world is a closet full of crystal champagne flutes and you're wearing an inflatable sumo suit? I thought, if I held really still, nothing could go wrong.

So it's not exactly hibernation but that's how I looked at it. Maybe cryogenics is more accurate. I don't know. All I know is I'm at least five pounds heavier and I can almost braid the hair on my legs.

It was an existential crisis over toilet paper that snapped me out of it. Yesterday, I stood in front of the Charmin at Sam's Club for a good twenty minutes, trying to remember whether I buy the red Charmin or the Blue Charmin. Ultra strong or ultra soft. I've bought the same stupid toilet paper for years. YEARS. I was absolutely lost. I tried picturing the color in my bathroom closet. Red? Blue? Did I need ultra strong toilet paper? Have I been using ultra soft all this time? Why can't I have both strength and comfort? Why can't there be a purple package that just says "ultra" and is both strong and soft? I wouldn't be pressured into making a choice like that. I would not. I would show those bastards at Proctor & Gamble. I'd buy Charmin basic, grit my teeth and endure flimsy, abrasive toilet paper just to stick it to The Man. They call it bath tissue for heaven's sake. BATH tissue. No one in their right mind uses toilet paper in the bathtub. Give me a break. Idiots. Stupid idiots.

It wasn't the first meltdown during the hibernation period either. I made an emergency run to Walmart for Christmas lights when I decided I was most definitely not okay with a strand that only lit up every fourth bulb. I couldn't do it. I drove through the dark and the rain to battle the holiday crowd at a Tennessee Walmart, then I went back out in the dark and the rain to drive home. I caught myself slumping down in my seat with both hands on the wheel, listening to Nights in White Satin, and wondering who exactly I was and what I was doing with my life. Pathetic, I know.

I will wait for news from my agent. I will be good. I will not let myself feel helpless and out of control. I will not go back into my cave and wait it out. It's not the end of the world, letting my agent take the reins. I don't need to be in the driver's seat all the time. I can do this.

Hopefully, I haven't just destroyed my glass closet and popped my suit. Wish me luck.

Zombie marshmallows are easy. Go to a craft store and buy food grade markers. Snip mini fruit marshmallows in half and stick them to regular marshmallows and doodle little dead faces on them. Voila!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Shirtless Guys and Young Adult Fiction

The trinado is on the right (9yo, 5yo, and 7yo) in this photo of a completely unrelated shirtless-on-the-trampoline moment.

So it's the day before Thanksgiving and the kids are out of school. I dropped the girl off at a sleepover last night so it's just the boys and me. Oh, and for those of you who don't know about finding an address in the dark in the south, let me help you out here. It's pitch black except for my high beams and the occasional high beams of some idiot in the other lane who doesn't know to turn his/hers off when there's oncoming traffic. My daughter's giving me instructions from the passenger seat with the map on my iPhone and I can't see the street signs to verify she's got us on the right track. It's something like this;

"Go right on the next road. Not the little road extension thingie but the actual road road."
"What's it called?"
"Hang on."
"I can't hang on. Wait-- what was that? Did we just pass it?"
"It says 0.2 miles."
"That's impossible. We've been on the 70 for like a mile already."
"Okay, go back."
(There's no shoulder on the road, no gas stations, no houses, just farmland. Thank God we're in the Bible Belt and I found one of the zillion Baptist churches to use for a turnaround.)
(Screeching brakes)
"Now what?"
"Now you're going to keep driving for a while."
"What's a while?"
"Until you get to Fancher's Mill Road."
"How far is that?"
"Up a little."
"How little?"
"Like two inches."
"That doesn't help."
"Does the sign say Fancher's Mill Ro-"
"There is no sign!"
"Is it just a little road extension thingie or is it an actual road road?"
"I don't know. It's too dark. I'm turning anyway."
"I told you to stop saying-- what the hell is that?"
"It's a little owl! There's a little owl in the road!"
"I didn't see it! Turn around!"
"I can't turn around."
"Okay, now the road ends and her house is up about half an inch."
(This is when I either started crying or banging my head against the steering wheel. I can't remember which one I did at this point and which one I did when I got stuck at the gated dead end when the map said I was supposed to be back on the highway.)
"The road can't just end. Look at the map again."
"She must have a really long driveway."
"Like half an inch?"

By some Thanksgiving miracle, I made it to the highway. I was almost home and close to tears when I smelled something familiar. I realized it was a skunk about the same time I drove over a hairy black lump on the asphalt. The smell was everywhere; in my nose, in my mouth, in my eyes. I whipped off the freeway and opened the windows but I still felt like yakking. The smell followed me into the house and the kids freaked out. "Smells like something's burning." "No, it smells like something died." "It's mom! Mom, you stink!"

Let's get back to today, shall we? The the teenager with the mustache was up crazy late talking with two girls on Skype and slept until noon. The three younger boys-- the three-headed tornado, or "trinado" --were tearing around the house like rabid hyenas. Since it's sunny and almost seventy degrees outside (way to get in the holiday spirit, Mother Nature), I banished them to the backyard. There was much fighting. Fighting over the Green Machines. Fighting on the trampoline. Fighting about who did what and whether or not it was an accident. They drew faces on playground balls with Sharpies and carried them around in grocery bags, calling them Puffles and giving them imaginary personalities.

And then something hit the window.


The boys had gone around to the garage, entered the code to open the door, and helped themselves to Sprite and Cream Soda from the extra fridge. After pouring it all over the trampoline and soaking themselves, they stripped off their clothes and threw them onto a lower section of the roof. The sound I heard was the tapping of their cans hitting the window as the boys tried to launch them onto the roof and get them stuck in the rain gutter. Two of the three had already succeeded when I came outside breathing fire and thirsty for blood.

I dragged them inside and threw them in the bathtub. It was their brilliant idea to put on swimsuits and take one big bath in my jetted tub. I knew I should've said no but what I heard was "We want to condense three baths into one and cut down on the hot water usage" so I allowed it.

What happened next was mostly my fault. The oldest kid had stumbled out of bed and was catching up on this season of The Walking Dead. I took advantage of the quiet and sat down to watch it with him. The boys were whooping it up in the bathtub but I let it go. They got louder and I still let it go. Water greeted me at the bathroom door when I finally went to check on them. Half an economy-size bottle of Mr. Bubble in a jetted tub can produce enough foam to completely swallow up three little boys and half the bathroom floor. In case you were wondering.

This is why I write young adult fiction. I want to escape to a time of first kisses and best friends. When we beg for freedom but don't realize we already have it. No bills, no kids, no housework. I wouldn't change a thing about my life but it's a demanding one and it helps to escape just for a few moments of quiet time before I jump back into the fray.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have a bathroom to clean and a Thanksgiving dinner to start. I'm sure the boys will have a new adventure waiting for me when I'm finished.

Monday, October 29, 2012

How I Got My Agent-- now with 100% more Nutella!

(Graphic interpretation of me passing through the query gates to Agentland)

Ladies and gentlemen, I am now represented by the fantabulous Ms. Bree Ogden of D4EO Literary Agency.

First, some numbers. I sent out a grand total of 37 queries, never heard back on 14 of them, was rejected 12 times, and had 15 submission requests. I know the numbers don't add up. Some of my submission requests were from contests so there wasn't an official query involved.

Bree was one of my non-query submissions.

I started querying at the end of July and the very first one I sent was answered with a request for my full manuscript. Over the next few weeks, I sent out two and three queries at a time and entered contests to distract myself from obsessing over my submissions.

The first contest I entered was Dorothy Dreyer's 3-2-1 Pitch Contest; three sentences, two days to enter, one agent judging the entries. The agent judging the August 3-2-1 Pitch Contest was Bree Ogden, who is ridiculously awesome on so many levels. I was pretty darn sure I wouldn't win but I loved the idea of whittling my pitch down to three little sentences so I went for it. I labeled it New Adult because the option was there. It's a tricky issue for me because my MC is a little older but the MS feels very YA. I've had mixed messages from agents on this one so I thought it was safer calling it NA than risking the old "Maggie's too old for YA" response. I spent maybe fifteen minutes condensing my query down to this;

"Maggie inherited a lot from her grandma-- her brown eyes, her sense of humor, and her cause of death. Unaware she's starting the countdown to a reenactment of her grandma's death by fire, Maggie spends the summer with her hot-as-hell boyfriend and accidentally sets off an unstable stalker.

It's only a matter of time before Maggie Parrish is going to burn."

And then I waited. Six days later, I wasn't the winner. I assumed Bree wasn't interested. (WRONG)

A bizarre email showed up in my inbox early the week after. Someone claiming to be Bree's executive assistant requested my first fifty pages and synopsis, saying Bree had instructed her to do so following the 3-2-1 Pitch Contest. Instead of her email address ending in, it was (redacted) Her first name was EXACTLY THE SAME as mine. Think hard-- how many Caitlins do you know? Not Katelyns or Caitlynns, but Caitlins. No one knew how to pronounce my name when I was little. Every substitute teacher called me Cat Lynn. I hated it. But I digress.

Because I'm such a confident, secure person, I assumed the almighty Bree-Freaking-Ogden was way out of my league and the email was a scam. This psycho "Caitlin" chick swiped my email address off the contest entry and wanted to steal my baby. Bree, with her red lipstick fetish and love of things dark and wonderful, would never be interested in some loser stay-at-home mom with a minivan and a Diet Cherry Coke addiction.

I did what any sane person would do. I called Bree's executive assistant a manuscript-napping fraud and said she needed to get smacked around. Then I got this email;

"Ha ha! Yes, she is my assistant. And yes, I told her to request fifty pages. Thanks for checking!"

So I apologized to Caitlin for calling her a scam artist and accusing her of trying to hijack my story. I made such a splendid first impression, I figured I'd slaughtered any chance I had of landing Bree.

A bunch of other stuff happened. (I just saved you half an hour. You're welcome.)

All of a sudden, I had offers. It was an overnight thing and I'm still in shock. I wrote a bunch of "thank you for considering my MS, blah blah blah" emails and sent them to the agents who hadn't answered my query yet. To the agents who'd made submission requests, I gave them a heads up about my offers and got emails back, asking for a week to finish reviewing my MS. Bree was one of them.

Bree's offer was preceded by a middle of the night email, confessing she was (and I quote) "falling madly in love" with my manuscript. She sent an email the next day, asking if we could chat on the phone because she had an offer for me. I locked myself in my room and The Gunny hung out with the kids so I could have a semblance of privacy. We talked on the phone and she was every bit as jaw-droppingly cool as she seemed online. (Her hair changes color! Pink! Blue! Green!)

I have to add here how awesome my other offers were. This wasn't an easy decision. I didn't query every agent known to man-- just agents I really wanted to work with. Getting an agent is more than signing a contract. It's agreeing to a sort of partnership. It's finding someone who genuinely loves you and your work and will rave about you to publishers and fight for your manuscript's life. It's not something I took lightly when I sent queries. I think having this attitude made rejections easier for me. When I got a rejection that praised my writing but said they just didn't love it the way they needed to in order to represent me, I was cool with that. I was looking for love and I found it.

But it's not over yet. Not by a long shot. I have more edits and revisions and submissions (rinse and repeat ad nauseum) before I'll be signing my books at Barnes & Noble. Getting an agent feels very much like this;

Yay, I'm finally done with submissions! Wait...

Now that that's over, let's move on to something easy, shall we? This is really easy. Like really, really easy. No queries or synopses or long waiting periods! Are you ready? Here we go!

Nutella Cookies

1 cup Nutella
1 cup flour
1 egg

Mix. Scoop. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Submissions Survival Guide

See this guy? He's Ben Stiller's agent in TROPIC THUNDER. This guy goes to Vietnam to win back the client he never really lost by finally coming through with TiVo, which was promised in their contract. This is my dream agent. Rick "Pecker" Peck. I want a Pecker.

After several VERY LONG months of waiting, I got my first offer of representation. It happened just like every other "How I Got My Agent" story. First there was one offer, then there were two, then there were emails and requests and offers and phone calls and total chaos. Everything just exploded.

Somehow, I have to pick which one of these amazing agents is the best fit for both me and my manuscript-- and not just this manuscript but my next one and all the others that follow. It's bizarre switching places like this. Instead of the beggar, I'm the chooser. They're waiting for ME to get back to them with a decision. I'M the one who does the rejecting. I didn't expect it to suck this much. Me no likey. I queried agents I really wanted, never dreaming I'd have to pick between them. But I guess I knew this was a possibility. I watched a couple of Twitter friends gush about multiple offers and (because I'm such a great person) greed chewed on me like I was rawhide. Yeah, I was happy for them, but I was deeply envious. On the flip side, I read tweets from agents who were waiting on potential clients to make a decision and hoping like heck they'd be the one. No matter how bad I wanted to be that writer-- the one with all the suitors --I guess I thought it'd never happen to me.

This isn't my "How I Got My Agent" post. As long as the stress doesn't kill me and I'm able to (somehow) figure out which awesome agent is awesomer than the others, I'll write that post next week. This is my "How I Survived Submissions" post. Enjoy.

25 things I did while waiting on submissions;

1. Critiqued a friend's manuscript and doubted my own abilities. Oops.

2. Started another writing project. This is probably the smartest thing I did while in submission limbo. You should do this one too. I mean it.

3. Kept a detailed record of my querying activity. Names, dates, responses, follow-up contact, etc.

4. Stalked my favorite agents. NOTE: I did this entirely online and in a relatively non-invasive fashion. I didn't pull police records or hire private investigators because that's psychotic and I'm not (entirely) psychotic yet. I read blogs and followed tweets. I read the blogs of their clients to see what kinds of authors they worked with and whether those authors mentioned them. I looked for agent interviews and profiles. I checked out book deals and forum posts. I did more homework in the last few weeks than I did in four years of high school.

5. Bought a purple shamrock.

6. Killed the purple shamrock.

7. Played FLATLINERS and brought the purple shamrock back from the dead.

8. Divided the purple shamrock and made a purple shamrock clone.

9. Accidentally knocked over the purple shamrock and nursed it back to health.

10. Named the purple shamrock Betty.

11. Saved Betty from my cats.

12. Started to knit a scarf.

13. Started to knit another scarf.

14. Played over 1,000 games of spider solitaire.

15. Sent more queries and got more submission requests. I know it's stupid but I couldn't handle sitting around and waiting for something to happen.

16. Entered pitch contests.

17. Stressed about pitch contests instead of submissions.

18. Kept detailed records of which contest judges voted for which entries and who went on to the final rounds.

19. Drank a buttload of espresso.

20. Created my own political party-- Demopublicans. Instead of red or blue, we're purple and there are no aisles to cross. One world, people!

21. Fought a mighty battle with my Twitter friends over Thor and his *ahem* mighty hammer. I still say he's mine. MINE MINE MINE!

22. Lost the battle despite the use of my napalm thong. Trisha had a nuke bra and Jen had a velociraptor. I was screwed.

23. Had a dream I saw my very first book cover and it said HarperTeen on the spine.

24. Discovered I like honeybees.

25. Survived.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Hey girl, I just met you and this is fifty shades of gangnam style, but here's ALL MY THINGS so Skype me maybe? (Why I don't write to trends)

Like zombies? There's a genre for that. Like snogging? There's a genre for that too. Whatever your pleasure, there are books for you out there. I bet you can come up with five vampire books, five dystopian books, and five faerie books off the top of your head. Angels, witches, demons, elves, shape-shifters, WHATEVER-- they're everywhere in YA. 

Here's the thing; I don't like going with the hive mind when I write. I don't want my book to be the next Harry Potter or the next Twilight. I don't want it to be compared to The Hunger Games or Beautiful Creatures. I want to write something completely different-- something that bucks the trend and stands out from everything else. 

It's not just about being fresh and unique. I don't want the interest in my book to wax and wane with the trend. I've heard so many agents say dystopian is done. What you see on the shelves is a year or two behind what's being written now. If you write a story about vampires to piggyback on the finale of the hugely successful Twilight saga, it won't be out until after Breaking Dawn 2's audience has moved on to something else. 

My advice is write what you want and write it now. That's what I'm doing. I don't know what the next big thing will be and I don't care. I mean, sure, I'll read it and probably love it but it's not like the stock market-- I'm not trying to get on board with an idea so I can be riding that wave when it crests. Write your own thing. Make your own wave. Write for yourself and no one else.

What's my book about, you ask? It's a different take on parallel lives. A teenage girl shares an extraordinary genetic bond with her grandma, who died forty years ago in a barn fire. Maggie looks, talks, and thinks just like her grandma, right down to the tiny details like her favorite foods and taste in clothes. One summer, a chain of events begins-- a chain frighteningly similar to the one that ended in her grandma's death. Maggie knows what's coming and she's scared to death.

Another WIP is the story of a girl's quest for boobs; The Saline Solution. E has five months to earn enough money for a new set of twins in time for prom but going public with her fundraiser puts her at odds with everyone she loves. E's stuck between her friends and a C-cup. 

And then there's REM. I've been playing with this one since I was fifteen-- no lie. Justin and his friends fool around with an OTC sleep aid, REM, that all the kids are using for fun at parties. That night, in his dreams, he meets Angie and suddenly they're running for their lives. While Justin wakes up from the dream, Angie doesn't remember the last time she woke up. The sleep aid's ripped from the market and The Agency starts showing up at Justin's school. Everyone thinks Justin's losing it. The only way Justin can be with Angie is by taking REM but the more he takes, the harder it is to stay awake. He's determined to find Angie and prove she really exists before he stops waking up altogether but, the closer he gets, the more he believes she's just a dream.

I hope no one can name five other books like mine. If they can, I'm going to be sorely disappointed. 

Now I'm going to totally ignore my own advice and follow a trend-- pumpkin mania. These cookies are soft and tender and remind me of pumpkin muffin tops. Mini chocolate chips are perfect for studding the cookies with tiny nuggets of cacao but you can leave them out or add chopped walnuts or something lame like that. I'll stick with chocolate, thank you.

Trendy Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 egg
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp milk
1 T vanilla
2 cups mini chocolate chips.

In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine pumpkin, sugar, oil, and egg until blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir dry ingredients into pumpkin mixture until just moistened. Dissolve baking soda in milk in a small container and add to cookie dough with vanilla and chocolate chips. Stir until just combined. 

Scoop cookie dough onto parchment lined cookie sheets (I use a 1/4c ice cream scoop) and bake at 350 degrees for about ten minutes or until just set. The cookies won't spread much at all so you don't have to space them far apart. Overcooking these makes them tough and dry-- keep an eye on them.


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