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How I Got My Agent

It feels like I’ve been waiting forever to write this post.

I could tell the version where I write a manuscript, polish it up, and send 30 query letters. The one where 15 full requests flood my inbox. In that version, I sign with an agent in less than six weeks. That story is true, and it’s not.

I think I wrote my first novel to prove to myself that I could do it. I had no idea how long the journey would be or where it would take me. I sent that manuscript to friends to read, because I didn’t know any writers. I revised. I went to a conference. I learned about the industry and sent a few queries. One agent requested, but it was a quick pass.

Fast-forward a few years, through an unfinished second manuscript. By the time I wrote my third, a YA fantasy, I had a better handle on things. I researched. I went to another conference and met my first real critique partners. I joined the SCBWI and found my tribe. I started querying and had a respectable number of requests, but no offers.

Then I found the contest circuit. I was so fortunate to be chosen as a Pitch Wars mentee, not because of the exposure to agents, but because of the community. I really connected with other writers and got meaningful critiques. I ended up with R&Rs from two small press editors, but I wanted an agent. So I started a local critique group through SCBWI and moved on to a new story.

When this manuscript was ready, I started with contests. This story was a finalist in The Writer’s Voice, PitchMas, An Agent’s Inbox, Pitch Plus Five, and possibly some I don’t remember. I sent queries, too. I was sure this was the one. I had an even more respectable number of requests, tons of positive feedback, and one R&R that led to scrapping more than half of the book. I was willing to put in the work. Six months later, the agent still passed.

How much longer would I keep pouring my time and energy into this writing thing? My freelance work had led to a job offer that meant going back into an office, doing the perfect combination of media, branding, editing, design, and web coordination. But I couldn’t stop writing. On my lunch breaks. At night after my kids were in bed. I decided that even if I never landed an agent or a book deal, I loved writing, I loved books, and I loved the amazing community that had become so important to me.

I could not give up.

I moved across the state, readjusted to working from home again, and kept writing. When my fifth manuscript was finished and in the hands of my amazing CPs, I entered a contest. To my surprise, it won the 2017 SCBWI Rising Kite Award for the state of Florida. After a few more months of polish and revision, I dove back into the query trenches.

Which finally brings me back to thirty queries. Fifteen requests. More than one offer. A difficult decision. And finally a signed contract.

I am absolutely thrilled to say that I am now repped by Danielle Burby of Nelson Literary Agency.

 

 

SCBWI Florida 2016 Regional Conference

Happy New Year, everyone! If you write children’s books, I have one more resolution for you for 2016. If you don’t belong to SCBWI, join. If you’re a member but not an active one, get involved. And if you’re already involved, step up and volunteer to help or join the regional team. I promise you won’t regret it.

The SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) is a fabulous organization. Since joining, I’ve learned and grown as a writer and found my tribe as a person. At this year’s Florida regional conference in Miami, we heard from so many fabulous faculty members: Jonathan Maberry, Michele Hodkin, Christina Diaz Gonzalez, Debbi Ohi, and Tammi Sauer–and those are just a few of the authors, not mentioning the agents and editors.

My top three takeaways from the conference this year:

1. Help other people in the industry as much as you can. The publishing business is a business, but it’s not a competition. Helping each other matters. I am so grateful for the opportunity to help writers in my local critique group and celebrate their successes. I often learn even more from them in the process.

2. Step outside of your comfort zone. Maybe this means striking up a conversation with someone in the field, even if you’re an introvert. Maybe it means writing ambitiously or accepting well-considered feedback. As your comfort zone grows, so will other areas of your life.

3. Tension is everything. Whether internal or external, in the setting, tone, action or in relationships, keeping tension on every page of your manuscript will keep your readers turning the pages.

If you’re a member of SCBWI, what are some the reasons you love it? Do you have other organizations that have made a huge impact on your writing life? Feel free to share below in the comments!

Music for today: I Know What I Am by Band of Skulls

Writer Resources

The online writing community can be phenomenal, but it can also be overwhelming. Some great resources have been shared on the Pitch Wars hashtag over the past week to help navigate the rules and language of publishing. Here are my favorites:

What is a WC, you ask? (Hint: It’s not a potty in France.) The publishing biz loves abbreviations. A few years ago Dahlia Adler shared a fantastic glossary to help you wade through the alphabet soup of MSs, LIs, and CPs.
Literary agent Janet Reid hosts this must-read resource for querying writers. Though new-comers should read the entire website, in the post linked above, the shark herself boils down the answer to the essential question: What is a query letter?
Literary agent Jennifer Laughran keeps her former blog open for references like these, and Wordcount Dracula is one of the most popular posts. In it she explains the accepted norms for word counts (WC) in children’s books.
Literary agent John Cusick addresses taking measure of yourself as a writer. He also recently posted here about effective queries.

Writer Recharge (The End)

Thank you so much to Sara BirenKaty UppermanAlison MillerLiz Parker, and Elodie Nowodazkij for helping me set some goals this February! Writer Recharge was a four-week jump start in the middle of a cold, dreary winter to set goals, check in once a week, and connect with other recharging writers. Check out Sara’s website to see how everyone did!





WRITE/REVISE:

I’ve spent the last week plotting and outlining for an R&R. In the next two weeks, I plan to revise the first six chapters of my manuscript and write at least 10,000 new words on the full revision.



So, this one isn’t exactly a win, but it’s not a total fail either. I did revise the first 10 chapters and managed to cut two full scenes and over 4,000 words. I also saw another plot thread that may end up getting the ax, so that part worked out fine. On the new stuff side I’ve only written a measly 3,000 words. It’s so hard to get all those old scenes out of my mind and start fresh! But I feel like now that I’ve gotten one chapter down, the flow will start to pick up. 

READ:

I’ve just started All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, which I expect to finish in a few days. As usual, I’m much more drawn to the male MC, Finch, in the dual narrative.  I usually buy books in bulk, and my stack has dwindled to nothing. So of course I am open to suggestions for what to read next!   



I did finish All the Bright Places, and I’ve got Brown Girl Dreaming bought and ready to read next.

STRETCH:

I want to strike up more conversations with strangers. I am so hopelessly introverted when it comes to those types of interactions. I want to ask at least one person per week what she is reading, how her day is going, or something like that. 



This one is a fail. In my defense, I had my in-laws at my house visiting for a full week, so that cut down on much interaction with strangers. But I have a doctor’s appointment today, so I’ll try to sneak it in this afternoon! 

SELF:

I need to get all the sugar out of my house. Between Christmas, kids’ birthdays, and Valentine’s Day, the candy and cookies just keep sneaking in to my kitchen. I know we’ll all feel so much better if we can get back to healthier eating habits.



Well, we’ve managed not to buy any more sugary things, and I guess it’s actually a good thing that we haven’t eaten all the Girl Scout Cookies yet….

CONNECT:

My local critique group has been in an awesome groove; we ended January with a workshop that helped us grow personally and as a group. We keep growing in numbers, too, and I need to get all my critiques done this week before our February meeting! I also have this weird tendency to never share a first draft of anything. With the revision I have in the works, though, I want to get over myself and get the feedback I need as soon as possible.



I did finish all my crit group comments in time, and I had some great feedback from my group on my own chapter as well. It’s amazing how you can see your work differently when someone else reads it aloud. Like, man, this scene is going on forever! And I am planning to share the opening of my work-in-progress for my other online group, so that’s a big step!

FUN:

The hubs and I haven’t been out on a date in a while. I’m hoping I can get one set up before March gets here!



Oh, another fail. Maybe soon! 

Thanks for hosting this, ladies! I can’t wait to see how you did!

Writer Recharge 2015

Okay, so I’m super late to the party. But Writer Recharge is just what I need to kick myself into gear. Maybe just getting some goals down and out in public will help me to power through! Hosted by Sara BirenKaty UppermanAlison MillerLiz Parker, and Elodie Nowodazkij, Writer Recharge is a four-week jump start in the middle of a cold, dreary winter. Set goals for yourself, check in once a week, and connect with other recharging writers. Check out Sara’s website to join in!



WRITE/REVISE:

I’ve spent the last week plotting and outlining for an R&R. In the next two weeks, I plan to revise the first six chapters of my manuscript and write at least 10,000 new words on the full revision.



READ:

I’ve just started All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, which I expect to finish in a few days. As usual, I’m much more drawn to the male MC, Finch, in the dual narrative.  I usually buy books in bulk, and my stack has dwindled to nothing. So of course I am open to suggestions for what to read next!   



STRETCH:

I want to strike up more conversations with strangers. I am so hopelessly introverted when it comes to those types of interactions. I want to ask at least one person per week what she is reading, how her day is going, or something like that. 



SELF:

I need to get all the sugar out of my house. Between Christmas, kids’ birthdays, and Valentine’s Day, the candy and cookies just keep sneaking in to my kitchen. I know we’ll all feel so much better if we can get back to healthier eating habits.



CONNECT:

My local critique group has been in an awesome groove; we ended January with a workshop that helped us grow personally and as a group. We keep growing in numbers, too, and I need to get all my critiques done this week before our February meeting! I also have this weird tendency to never share a first draft of anything. With the revision I have in the works, though, I want to get over myself and get the feedback I need as soon as possible.



FUN:

The hubs and I haven’t been out on a date in a while. I’m hoping I can get one set up before March gets here!



Thanks for hosting this, ladies! I can’t wait to catch up with all of you!





2015!

2015! I am so ready for the flying cars, house cleaning robots, and the slimming, monochromatic body suits we were promised. As we all sky rocket into the future, I have a few bookish goals for the year ahead.

 
1. Review more books.

I really skimped on my book reviewing last year. I hate writing bad reviews. I know they’re helpful to other readers, but as a writer, I really struggle with tearing down someone else’s work. I enjoy critiquing and beta reading, but at that point the work is still in flux. If the writer shares it with me, she is still willing to make changes. That knowledge gives me the freedom to share what doesn’t work for me. But a published work is complete. Just because I didn’t love it doesn’t mean someone else will. And unfortunately, I only read a few books that I really loved last year. Here’s hoping goal #2 changes that in 2015.

2.   Read more debuts.
 
Last year I mostly read big name, highly publicized books, partially because I’m entrenched in so many series. I enjoyed the fresh voices in the debuts I did read, and I plan to push myself in that direction this year.

3. Really enjoy the fun parts of writing.

Drafting is my favorite part of the writing process. It’s messy and free and private. Things may really take shape in the revising stage, but that part is as much work as it is fun. This year I just want to soak in the joy of creative process, instead of always focusing on the success or failure of the end product.
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and are off to a great new year!

Music for today: There is a Light that Never Goes Out by The Smiths

Finding Good

For my last post, I felt a bit down about the constant ugliness in the world. I didn’t want to link to the specific issues that bugged me because I didn’t want to give them any more coverage. So I challenged myself to find good things happening. People helping people, instead of tearing each other down. Today I want to share two of those Good Things.

One day this week, the person in front of me paid for my latte at Starbucks. It took me by surprise, even though it’s happened to me before, and even though I’ve done the same thing on occasion. Confession: I did not offer to pay for the person behind me. It struck me in that moment that those of us in line at Starbucks, myself included, could afford to pay for our own overpriced coffees. But what about the people who are truly hungry, sleeping on the sidewalks downtown?

My first thought was to take a donation to our local food bank. I came home, researched, and found a partner of our local organization, called Farm Share. Farm Share focuses on distributing fresh fruits and vegetables in bulk to agencies like food banks and soup kitchens with no fees. Farm Share is an exciting organization, and just the kind of thing I want to support. So, no, I didn’t pay for the next latte in line at Starbucks. But it did spur me to make a donation to Farm Share when I got home. For every $10 donated, Farm Share distributes 110 pounds of food. That sure sounds like a Good Thing to me. Please click on the link for more information.

In the world of reading and writing, where this blog usually lives, I found my second Good Thing. The We Need Diverse Books Campaign continues to grow. The leap from awareness to action is now providing grants, support, educational kits, and more. Now we can lend our support through the IndieGoGo Fundraising effort here. From swag packs to agent-offered prizes for writers, you can’t go wrong.

I hope you all are out there finding your Good Things, too.

Music for today: Shiny Happy People by R.E.M.

What Really Makes Contests Worth It

Online pitch events are exciting and addictive when you have a query-ready manuscript. Recently we’ve had WriteOnCon, Operation Awesome’s Secret Agent Contest, Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars, and Adventures in YA Publishing’s Pitch Plus Five. And that was just August!

The primary goal of contests seems to be grabbing an agent’s attention and garnering requests for your work. But these four were fabulous for another reason. Each offered feedback before the judged component, often from many critiquers at once.

The multitude of feedback has been a tad overwhelming for me, but also helpful. In the interest of helping and supporting others, when I landed a spot in Pitch Plus Five, I decided to read every entry and give at least one line of response. If you enjoy entering these contests, I highly suggest you try reading all the entries at least once. Here are a few things I learned:

1. It really is subjective.

You can hear it over and over again, but experiencing it first hand gives you new perspective. There were some amazing, well-written pages in Pitch Plus Five that just weren’t for me. I’m not a huge fan of straight historical, and some jump-off-the-page voices just rub me the wrong way. I get that they’re good. I admire them. But they just don’t fit my personal tastes.

2. Contests take more time than you realize.

When I set out to read all entries, the simple math looked like this:

5 pages X 50 entries = 250 pages

Most books I read have more than 250 pages. I should’ve been able to go through them easily in about two days. But starting at the beginning and trying to immerse yourself in a new story takes more time than reading a book straight through. Then you have to think about what you enjoyed and what questions you had to frame your feedback. I didn’t log my time, but it took much more than I expected. Contest judges volunteer their time on an even larger scale. Even if you don’t agree with the feedback you get, you should always appreciate that someone took the time to try to help you. Time that could’ve been spent on their own writing, reading, or outside lives.

3. Your opening pages need to match the tone of your pitch.

In the first round of Pitch Plus Five, you only see the pages. The pitches don’t come in until the second round. For all of my favorites, I got a clear sense of the genre, tone, and the main character without the pitch. For so many others, I felt like I was missing something. I enjoyed many of those pages. But the ones with the clearer tones stood out.

4. Seeing what works and what doesn’t can help you improve as much as a specific crit on your own work.

My top five submissions were in different age groups or genres, but they all had certain things in common. Each pulled me in from the opening paragraph. They gave just a bit of exposition before jumping into the action. None fell into opening chapter cliches, and I didn’t have to go back and re-read sentences for clarity. As I revise this time, I’m trying to check off these items on the list.

If you’re out there in the contest trenches, I wish you luck and throw my support in your corner. I also encourage you to get the most out of the experience, from finding new writer friends to improving your craft.
There are so many ways to win.

Music for today: All the Rage Back Home by Interpol

The Elusive Voice

Source

Over the past few months, I’ve been working on revisions. While incorporating feedback from various sources on my own work, I’ve also critiqued pages for others from a wide range of genres. The elusive voice, the unique filter that makes a work our own, strikes me as both the most difficult thing to revise personally and to address for writing partners.

I love the drafting stage of writing because of the freedom it allows. The words flow unhindered because they can be tightened later. My voice as a writer is born during this stage. In the next phase, through learning and experience, I sculpt the story and the sentences. We have these rules drilled into us: use more active verbs, cut all the adverbs, stay within the restrictions of your point of view, and don’t pull the audience out of the narrative. These stick out in my mind because not only have I heard them in crits, I’ve used them with other people. But sometimes. Sometimes we need to break the rules to develop our voice.

Let’s take a look at the opening lines of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately. 



Gaiman breaks every one of those rules. If I were giving comments on his first page in a blog contest, I could say:

Don’t open with passive voice. You could cut this first line to say, A hand in the darkness held a knife. Look, you even cut words that way! You could cut not immediately, too. Watch out for those adverbs! And four adjectives in the second sentence–try to cut that down to only the most important one. In that third sentence, you address the audience. You could change it to say who specifically would not know they’d been cut. I also don’t really get a sense of character in your first paragraph. Who is this book about?

I felt guilty writing the above paragraph, even in jest, because Gaiman’s opening line and chapter are my absolute favorites. (Not just my favorites of Gaiman’s, but my all time favorites.) Who cares if that first sentence is passive? The rhythm and the image set the perfect eerie tone for the rest of the book. Chills ran down my back the moment I read them for the first time, and I was hooked. And in the end, isn’t that all that really matters? Being able to hook the reader?

I know we have the rules for a reason. I try to be ruthless with the passive voice and the adverbs. But sometimes we just have to trust our own voice as writers to tell the story in our own way, focusing more on our connection with the reader than on murdering all the darlings.

Music for today: Here Comes Your Man by the Pixies.

Pens for Paws 2014

Visit Pens for Paws here

This year’s Pens for Paws Auction is right around the corner!

This online auction, hosted by my friend Angelica R. Jackson, raises funds for Fat Kitty City, a no-kill, cage-free cat (and dog!) sanctuary in El Dorado Hills, California. She has fabulous items for writers and others in the publishing community.

The auction starts next Monday, July 14, with new items added each day through Friday, July 19. Be sure to check it out! Items up for bid include:

Signed copy and poster of Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins

Crit of 25 pages + package of books chosen by Natalie Lakosil of Bradford Literary

Signed copy of Snow Dog, Sand Dog by Linda Joy Singleton

Autographed first editions of Finn Finnegan and Gideon’s Spear by Darby Karchut

Crit of query+10 pages, & ebook collection by Kelley York

Crit of query (5 separate queries) by agent Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary

Critique of 40 pages by agent Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency

 

Critique of query + 1st chapter by Brooks Sherman of the Bent Agency

 

Package of books chosen by Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Foreword Literary, including:

Longing for Home by Sarah Eden

Never Too Late by Rhonda Helms

Prophecy Girl by Cecily White

Olivia Twisted by Vivi Barnes

Free Agent by J.C. Nelson

 

Spencer Hill Press Package, with books, swag, and critiques!

Entangled Books package!

Critique of query + 1st 15 pages from Jessica Watterson of Dijkstra Literary Agency

Operation Awesome package, including critiques, books, ebooks, swag, and more!

First-print copies of The Lives of Tao and The Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu

Be one of the first in (the virtual) line to get a signed copy of Lark Rising by Sandra Waugh!

Signed books from the Otherkin series by Nina Berry!

Advanced Readers Copy of Sacrifice by Brigid Kemmerer!

Please join in to help the kitties!