It’s a Sarahbration!!

February is a big month for me.

First, my birthday is this month! Or as I like to call it, the Sarahbration. I have been known to dance around the house singing “Sarahbrate good times, come on! Woooo hooo!” I turn 33 this year–which has some significance, so stay tuned.

But birthday time isn’t the only reason it’s a Sarahbration….

I got a book deal!!!

A REAL BOOK DEAL!!!

For those of you who follow this blog (first of all, sorry for not posting in a while!), you’ll know that this has been a long time coming. I’ve been working toward this goal for years. 7 of them. Well, longer than that if we get technical–this has been my dream since I was four. But 7 years ago is when I wrote my first complete manuscript. A terrible, horrible, shall not be read again manuscript. However, that bad manuscript led to another, which led to another.

Which led me to my agent. I signed with my agent on the third manuscript I completed. We then went on submission to editors–an exciting and entirely nerve-wracking experience. Even more so because it’s shrouded in secrecy. But here’s the deal (in case you aren’t aware because of all the cloak and dagger of submission).  Each publishing house is broken down into imprints that publish different sorts of books (YA/MG, Mystery, etc). Each imprint is basically run by editors. These are the people who agents send your manuscript to when you “go on sub.” They, and sometimes their interns, read all the submissions, then the editors either fall in love with your book, or they don’t and send you a lovely rejection as to why. “Lovely” meaning everything from “sorry, this isn’t for me” to lengthy explanations of why it isn’t for them. And there’s a myriad of reasons why. Everything from they didn’t connect, to they loved the voice and writing, but couldn’t get past a plot point, to they loved it, but the publisher already has a similar title and yours might compete.

If the editor loves it, they let other editors read it to get their thoughts. Then comes another round of rejections, or, if everyone loves it, it goes to acquisitions. The editor provides comp titles, and profit and loss statements, and how they’ll market the book, and generally tries to convince the acquisitions board to buy the book. If they’re not successful, you guessed it, more lovely rejections. If they are successful, well, then you receive a glorious thing called an offer! Just like with an offer of rep from an agent, your agent will give any other editors with your book a chance to make their own offer. For some people, this results in multiple offers and bidding wars (“auction”), and for others it results in editors bowing out. Then your agent and the editor negotiate the terms of your contract and boom, you have a book deal!

SO, my agent went on sub with one manuscript. Didn’t sell. I wrote another. I got closer with this one. It made it to the additional read stage. Even made it to acquisitions. Then more rejections. I wrote another. My fifth book, and the third to go on submission.

Here’s where the significance of my birthday comes into play. I’m not superstitious or anything, I just think it’s cool how some things work out. I turn 33 this month. I signed with my agent on the 3rd manuscript that I wrote/queried. And I finally sold to a publisher with the 3rd book on submission. Some additional cool numberage: my favorite number is 5 (it was my grandfather’s baseball number, and my dad’s, and mine), and this is the 5th book I’ve written. AND I was married on the 17th, and the book is scheduled for publication in spring 2017. Take that how you will. I’m possibly more attuned to number coincidences because my OCD causes me to count everything. (Speaking of which, if you read my OCD post, you may be wondering how I feel about all these odd numbers. Well, I can rationalize with the best of them, so 3+3+5+17= 28, which is even, so it’s all good).

There’s something I want you to notice, other than the numbers syncing up in a cool way: it took a while to finally get a book deal. Those numbers represent 7 years of learning and growth and improving my writing skills. 7 years of rejection. Over 120 rejections, counting from my first query to my book deal. That’s a lot of rejection! There were a lot of tears, a lot of days when I insisted I wasn’t good enough, when I wanted to give up. But I kept going. Stuck in there, determined to do everything I could possibly do to accomplish my dream.

The takeaway here is this. If I could do it, so can you. To all of you out there dealing with rejections and self-doubts, don’t give up. Don’t stop striving until you reach your goal, whatever it might be.

Okay, without further ado, here are a couple links:

The Publisher’s Weekly Rights Report Announcement: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-book-news/article/69310-rights-report-week-of-february-1-2016.html

Here’s where you can add it on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28936307-devils-within?ref=ru_lihp_up_rv_0_mclk-up2890048380

And some news: I’ll be setting up a new author website (ahhhh that feels so good to write!!!). I’m not sure if I’ll be able to merge this blog in with it, or just link to it, or what, but I’ll be sure to post an update here.

So that’s it! I’m an author!!! WOOOOO HOOOOOO!!!!!!

 

My Writing Process Blog Hop

The awesome Jamie Dodson has chosen me to participate in a blog hop on my writing process. Jamie writes these excellent books on a teenage pilot set a few years before World War II. His post on his process, and his Nick Grant books, can be found here, so check it out!

As for the hop, I have a few questions to answer, so here it goes:

1. What are you working on at the moment?

I don’t like talking about WIPs much. I guess I think I’ll jinx it or something, but I will say this much. Right now I’m writing a dark YA contemporary. And when I say dark, I mean dark. When my MC, Nate, was fourteen, he shot and killed his neo-nazi father in self-defense. Now he has to live with the repercussions of his decision and figure out how to move on. This has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever written. Both because of the research, which makes me feel so skeezy (of all the topics I’ve researched for stories, bruising patterns, torture devices, etc., this has been the only one coffee shop internet has banned the sites) and because the things I have to actually write. As difficult as it is to write, though, I feel like it hits on some important topics.

2. How do you think your work differs from other writers in your genre?

Oh man, this is a tough one because I don’t stay squarely in one genre. I’ve flitted from MG adventure, to urban fantasy, to sci-fi, to contemporary thriller, to dark contemporary. The only really consistent theme is that my writing gets pretty dark and is very fast-paced but descriptive. (In fact, I’m having to really focus on slowing the pace in the WIP). I also like to throw in weird twists. I came up with a more typical contemporary plot several months ago. When I told Hubby the story idea he made a face and said “that doesn’t quite sound like a Sarah book.” I tried writing it and he was right. It was too straight for me. I need little unexpected curves and turns at the end, or it just doesn’t work.

3. Why do you write what you write?

I write the stories that pop into my head, which is apparently a kind of twisted place. My favorite books growing up were mysteries, ghost stories, scary things. Agatha Christie and Carolyn Keene and Stephen King and R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Thirteen Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. These are my influences, the twisty, less-than-normal, mysterious stories. These are the types of stories that stuck in my head and affect the way my own words come out. I tend to write the things you don’t see, the world’s underbelly, the things that happen in the dark. Hidden worlds and thieves and secret government torture chambers and hackers and hate. I’ve mentioned that I’m afraid of the dark, so I like to draw the dark things out of their corners and bring them into the light. Shapes have a way of shifting in the light. I like exposing the monster that’s really just a coat hanging from the door.

4. What is your writing process, and how does it work?

My process breaks down into eight steps that I like to refer to as the Rinse and Repeat cycle.

1. I get an idea. A vague premise. My WIP idea came from an actual news story headline. I tuck these ideas in a folder in Evernote and come back to them when I finish whatever manuscript I’m working on when the idea hits. I take each vague idea and think about how the character got to that place and where they’re going and why. If an idea grips me and won’t let go, I write a query. I like to write the query first, when the plot is simple, before it gets muddied with side plots and secondary characters. Now that I have an agent, this has become a critical step. If I feel strongly about something, I’ll just send that one with a “hey, this is where I think I’m going next.” Otherwise, I write queries for a few ideas and send them to her for her thoughts. Last time, she really liked two different ideas. I couldn’t choose, so I decided to give them both a shot and see what stuck. The first is the story I mentioned in question 2. It didn’t work, so I moved on to the next one.

2. When I settle on an idea, I start with a synopsis to figure out what actually happens. I know “synopsis” is a frightening word. Trust me, I know. But mine isn’t meant for other eyes. Half the time I don’t even have a character name, it’s just “girl” or “dude.” I’m not a plotter, but I need something to provide structure to work from. The times I’ve taken off without any sort of guide ended disastrously. And that’s all this is, a loose structure that I typically end up deviating from when I start writing.

3. Then I write the first chapter. If the story and the character’s voice grab me, I keep going. If I hit 5,000 to 10,000 words and still love the character, I keep going. If it’s not working–the voice is inconsistent, or the story doesn’t flow–I stop and move on to the next idea. Seriously, I have too many ideas to waste time on the ones that aren’t working.

4. I have an amazingly awesome CP who I’ve been working with since my second manuscript. We swap a few chapters at a time as we write. So I’ll write a chapter or two, send it to her, she’ll critique and I’ll edit, then move on to the next chapter, rinse and repeat. I’m in a couple other critique groups that work this way too. I’ve learned I don’t do well with waiting for feedback until I finish the whole manuscript. I tend to get overwhelmed at the amount of work I have to do, and I get locked in on certain things I’ve already written, so it works better for me to edit as I go.

5. When I hit about 15,000 words, I’ll send it to my agent. She’s very editorial, which I love and is one of the main reasons I wanted to work with her. Her ideas are brilliant. I like to get her input before I get too deep in the manuscript because, like I said, revisions are hard. When she read the beginning of my previous WIP she thought it started in the wrong place and wouldn’t get seen in the current market, so I revised and ended up with a much stronger book. If I’d waited, I would’ve had a lot of extra work ahead of me. As it was, I just had to re-do the beginning and the rest flowed from there.

6. When I finish the whole thing, I get it printed at a local shop (300 some odd pages is a lot to print at home! It’s $15 and the print shop lady is super sweet). I read things differently on paper than I do on a computer. The tangibleness of paper makes the story more real. I edit on paper, type up the changes, and send to a couple beta readers. At least two. If they’re opinions are consistent, I revise, if they’re different, I get a third reader, then go with my gut. This is done as many times as necessary to get the best book I can write. Rinse and repeat. I print again, make any final minor tweaks and send to my agent.

7. My agent reads and lets me know if she thinks anything else should be added/removed/changed, we talk through the changes, I edit, and resubmit.

8. Final step, take a day or two to breathe and recharge, then start all over. Rinse and repeat.

If you want to read more about my process, how I find beta readers, how I tweak, etc. I wrote a couple other posts on these specific topics: Is Your Manuscript Ready? 10 Tips to Help Figure it Out; Beta Relationships; and Who’s Your Critic?

So, that’s it. That’s my process! I’m supposed to pass this along to two other writers, but I only have one because I’m a rebel.

Jill Van Den Eng is an author and journalist with a keen interest in the extraordinary tales of ordinary people. She earned a BA in journalism and returned to her hometown of Kaukauna, WI as a city news reporter. The city with a river dividing it left an impact, inspiring the setting in Van Den Eng’s debut YA novel, DIVIDED MOON.

In addition to writing, Van Den Eng enjoys reading YA and popular fiction, running, solving puzzles and getting outside. She is a master gardener who keeps an herb and vegetable garden outside her home office and a novice astronomer with a really big telescope.

Van Den Eng lives in Wisconsin with her husband, three sons, two lazy cats and one evil hamster. Check out her blog and read about her process at Jilly’s Book Blog.

Beta Relationships

Beta Readers. They are such an important part of a writer’s toolbox. Another writer who reads your work, gives you an honest opinion, makes your writing better, and does it for free? Sign me up! I’ve talked about the importance of a good beta reader here, but what exactly does it look like when you have/are a beta reader? If you’ve never done it before, it can be intimidating and scary, so I want to give some of my experiences and some tips about beta reading.

As I mentioned in the post I linked, I’ve met pretty much all my betas through Absolute Write. I’ve formed relationships with other writers through the forums, writing contests, and Twitter. I know their writing and reading styles, and I trust their opinions. Some of these relationships have organically flowed into sharing work, and now they’re my initial go-to people when I need another set of eyes. These writers are more than just betas, though, they’re friends, and as wonderful as they are, sometimes I need untainted eyes on my manuscript. By that, I mean people who aren’t worried about hurting my feelings, which can happen with friends, as well as people who don’t know anything about my story–people who can look at it completely fresh.

That’s when I turn to the Beta Readers thread on AW. There are other great sites, like Agent Query Connect; AW is just the place I, personally, spend the most time. I post my query, what I’m looking for in a beta reader, that I’m willing to repay the favor and swap work, and the genres I like to read. (Here’s a hint: people are more willing to read your work if you’re willing to take the time on theirs). Willing readers respond either in-thread or through private message. They’ll describe their manuscript and if I think we’ll be a good fit, I’ll suggest we work together. If not, I’ll thank them for their interest, and move on.

There’s an important key here that I don’t want you to miss. I don’t beta with writers in genres I don’t typically read, and I don’t use betas who don’t typically read my genre. Don’t think I’m being mean, or snobbish or anything. It takes a lot of time, from both parties, to beta, so it’s super important to get a reader who is familiar with the genre you write. Different genres have different tropes and cliches, different types of plot and pacing, and readers expect different things. For example, I don’t read much epic fantasy, so I wouldn’t know the first thing about critiquing it. I wouldn’t know if a particular plot device is overused or cliche, or if the pace should move faster or slower. I wouldn’t benefit that writer by reading their manuscript, and I don’t want to waste my time or theirs, you dig?

Okay, so I’ve found a willing beta, we read each others’ genres, and we like each others’ story concepts, what now? We exchange email addresses and agree to swap the first two or three chapters–that’s enough to get a feel for the other person’s story and their critiquing style. Beta reading is a relationship, regardless of how brief it may be. You’re going to be with this person through thousands of words, the relationship will work better if your critique styles mesh. If you write sparse descriptions, you’re not going to benefit from a beta who constantly comments that descriptions should be more detailed. Personally, the type of critique I look for depends on where I am in my process. After my first draft, I’m usually looking for overall thoughts: Does the plot work? Are there any holes? Are the characters consistent? By the third, I want that baby to shine, so I need more nit-picky critiques: Are there glaring typos I’ve missed? Are there continuity issues that got messed up between drafts? When I’m reading for someone, I want to make sure I’m giving the level of critique they need, as well as receiving the sort of critique I need. If either of you aren’t getting what you need, you should find a different beta.

As I’m writing this I keep thinking, “man, this sounds kind of selfish.” Here’s the thing: it is selfish, but that’s okay. I have a really hard time putting myself first, so this has been a tough lesson to learn. My tendency when I first started beta reading was to dig in and stay there throughout the whole manuscript, regardless of writing caliber, trying to make it shine as much as possible. “We’re helping each other,” I would think. But then a couple things would happen. I’d either get my ms back from my reader, and it wouldn’t have near the level of critique I gave, or I’d send them their ms back and they’d be angry with how in-depth I went. The more serious I got about writing, and the more I beta read, the more I realized that I didn’t have time to spend weeks going line by line through someone else’s manuscript, and write my own stuff too. I was more invested in their writing than my own, and that’s not a place you want to be. It’s one thing for writers to help each other, but it has to be balanced. Like with any relationship, if one person is putting in an unbalanced amount of time and effort, it’s not good for either of you. (I also learned that not only can I not “fix”* everything, but I shouldn’t try, just like they shouldn’t try to “fix” mine. Instead of re-wording another writer’s work, it’s better to leave a comment of “hey, this sentence feels off, what if you tried something like ‘blah blah blah?'” and let them put it in their own words). You and your beta need to be on the same page when it comes to your critique style. If you’re not, sometimes the best thing you can do, for both of you, is to let them know the relationship isn’t working and move on.

If everything gels for those first few chapters, the beta and I will swap full manuscripts. How it goes from here depends on the reader. Some people I’ve worked with like to critique a few chapters, then email them and read a few more. Others prefer to read the entire thing at once and send it back when they’re done. Be sure to ask how they like to work. Sending your entire manuscript to a stranger is scary. Knowing when to expect it back in your inbox can make the process a bit easier. You also want to be sure and tell them how you like to critique; just because they like to send a few chapters at a time doesn’t mean you have to. Make sure they know that, though.

You read, you critique, and you send it back. You receive their comments back, and hopefully, their critique is helpful and you make your manuscript better. As I mentioned before, one beta reader and I worked so well together, we decided to keep it up and became critique partners. Most of my betas, though, have simply gone about their lives. We had a moment, we helped each other, we’ll be thrilled if the manuscript lands an agent or a publishing deal, and that’s the extent of it. But what happens if it’s not all rainbows and kittens? You liked those first couple chapters, you liked their critique of yours, but you get in and the plot falls apart, or there are so many grammar issues you get a headache. What happens if you realize you hate their story? Or, less dramatically, it’s just not ready to be beta’ed?

Well, that’s kind of tricky. I think it’s important to be honest here. I had a beta who got a few chapters in before emailing me that it wasn’t working for her. We discussed the problems a bit and I ended up cutting a major plot-line. That manuscript later landed me an amazing agent. If I hadn’t cut that plot, who knows what would’ve happened? On the other hand, I read for a writer once who just fell off the planet. This was one of those earlier manuscripts where I knew the writing needed a lot of work, but tried to stick in there. One day, I sent back a couple chapters and never heard from her again. I wish she’d talked to me about it, though, because I’m not sure what she didn’t like about my critique. Was she looking for something different? Was the relationship just not working for her? I guess I’ll never know. It can be really, really difficult to tell someone a relationship isn’t working, but it’s better to be honest and end it than to stretch it out and not give the manuscript your best. Again, that doesn’t benefit either of you.

If you think you’re ready to dive into the beta pool, here’s a couple things to keep in mind:

1. Make sure your manuscript is polished. If it’s riddled with glaring grammatical errors and typos, it’s going to be really hard to read, and you’re going to have difficulty finding a good beta who will stick in there.

2. If your manuscript is not polished and you’re just looking for feedback on your writing, or if you’re unsure if a single chapter works, the you’re not ready for a beta. There are several places on the writing forums to share your work and get feedback from other writers on a chapter or two. Use those to work through the snags and look for a beta when you’re done. (If you’re concerned about a plot point, writing the query is also a great way to see if the plot itself works. You can write the query at any time, before, during, or after you finish the manuscript, and post it in a forum for critique. I’ve cut entire plots based on query feedback).

CAVEAT: If you’re partially through a manuscript, and are afraid you’re going off the rails, or just feel like you need another pair of eyes before you get any deeper, it’s okay to enlist a beta, BUT make sure what you do have written is polished, and be up front about the manuscript’s status. Tell the beta it’s not finished, and I recommend that you still be willing to read their full manuscript.

3. Don’t be afraid of someone stealing your story. I had this concern when I started, and I still get asked by family and friends, “You’re giving your book to stranger? What if they steal it and get it published?” For starters, everything you write on your computer is time stamped, so it’s pretty easy to prove you wrote something and when. Second of all, if you found your beta in a forum, there is a history of the posts and proof that you sent them the manuscript. Third, they’re trusting you with their work too, so this is a two-way street. The vast majority of writers are honest people who don’t want to plagiarize. They want their own work published as badly as you want yours.

I’ve met a lot of great writers by beta reading. I’ve read so many amazing stories, and my writing has improved immensely both by enlisting a knowledgeable reader and by critiquing someone else’s work. Sending your hard work to a stranger to dissect can be frightening, and thick skin is a definite plus, but it’s so worth it.

What are your beta reading experiences? Where do you find your readers? For some more thoughts on beta reading, I recommend this great post at The Daily Dahlia on The Basics of Writing Relationships, Part II: Beta-ing. Dahlia has some other great posts on the subject too. In fact, go ahead and read this one while you’re at it.

*I’m in no way holding myself up as an expert writer or anything. What I mean by trying to “fix” the writing is that when I started beta’ing, I’d spend forever on a problem sentence, figuring out just the right way to reword it for the other writer, which is exactly the wrong approach. A few small wording changes are one thing, completely scratching what they’ve done and re-doing it is another. Looking back, I feel like this newbie mistake makes me sound arrogant, but really I was just misinterpreting the beta relationship–I thought that’s what “fresh eyes” meant, looking at the problem areas from a new perspective and taking care of it. Really, it means highlighting those areas and letting the writer figure out how to fix them. Make sense?

What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been- My Agent Journey

As I’m sure you guessed from the title, I’ve got some pretty big news. Okay, that’s putting it mildly. I’m freakin’ ecstatic! I have an agent! After several manuscripts, lots of queries, tons of tears, and a boatload of perseverance. Here’s how it all went down:

Back in May, I had this crazy dream one night. I don’t remember the date, but I remember the day. It was the day my orthopedic surgeon removed Carl (my leg brace) for good and cleared me to drive again. My brother, and chauffeur for the day, went to lunch with me (lunch buffet at Pizza Hut–just in case you were curious), and I told him about my weird dream. Now crazy dreams are nothing new, but this one…it felt special.

Soon as I got free time, I transcribed my dream idea into words. First, a synopsis, then a first chapter. Then the words just kept coming. I kept writing and next thing I knew, I had 30k or so written and started sending it off to my amazing critique partner. I wrote and edited and finally got it done, then edited some more and got it ready to send to betas. They liked it okay but had some concerns. So I edited some more, went through another round of betas, drafted my query, compiled a list of agents to submit to, researched those agents (i.e. stalked), whittled it down, then, finally, I was ready.

Four months after my dream, on October 12, I decided to submit a round of queries, not really expecting anything to happen, but hoping I would at least see the kind of responses I got to my query. I submitted to twelve wonderful agents, any of which I would have felt extremely lucky to have in my corner–although I must say, I did have a couple favorites.

Because I’m my own special sort of weird, and OCD, I put the agents and their submission info in a color coded spreadsheet, alphabetized by name, grouped by submission requirements, then alphabetized within the groups. See? Kind of crazy. Okay, and maybe I was really nervous about submitting and the more I played with the pretty colors, the longer I put off actually hitting “send.” But send I did, finally. Then I did that thing where I tell myself not to get my hopes up, no that blinking light on my phone is not an email from an agent, agents don’t respond that quickly, they’re busy people and–

Holy crap it’s from an agent! Just two hours later, I got a response, from one of my top choice agents. Not just a request for a full, but a literal “YES, PLEASE!” written just like that, in all caps. I couldn’t believe it! I did a happy dance in my chair, completely forgetting my office door and window blinds were open, and that I’m in a high traffic area of the building. When I collected myself, I started to read over my manuscript again, stopped myself, and submitted the full. I marked it down on my spreadsheet, colored the cell green, then I tried to put it out of my head.

I got another couple requests, but none made me quite as excited. Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled with each request, but there was something special about that first email, about the level of excitement for my work. My work! Then I got some rejections. My attempts not to think about it failed. I still jumped every time that green light on my phone blinked, even though I kept telling myself it could take months for the agent to respond. Sometimes they have fulls for–

Nope. Four days after I submitted the full, the agent responded. I took a deep breath, opened my spreadsheet, and clicked the email, ready to mark “Rejection 10/16/12” down and color it in red (of course). But it wasn’t a rejection. It wasn’t an acceptance either. The agent said she found a lot to love, but had some concerns. She asked if I would be up for exclusive revisions. Uh…yeah, of course I would! I did another happy dance and tried to call Hubby, but he was in California for work and didn’t have his phone. The most exciting news of my writing career and the one person I wanted to tell was in Cali-freaking-fornia. I had to sit on the news for hours, then practically squealed in the phone when he finally called. It’s like all that excitement just built, and built, like Mentos in Coke, then came spewing out all at once.

The agent and I exchanged a couple emails, then the next night I received her notes. All six pages of them. Six! Yeah, it was a bit overwhelming, and I didn’t know quite what to think. Then I read a blog post she referred me to by Imogen Howson. Her experience was similar to mine: five or six pages of revision notes, and a lot of trepidation. It worked out well for Imogen, so I decided to give it a shot.

The agent wanted the first seventy-five pages revised. Full of excitement and nervous energy, I opened my manuscript, laid my fingers on the keyboard, and sat there. All of a sudden, I was completely petrified. “I can’t do this. How did I ever think I could do this?” I opened a new document, and found the blank page too intimidating. I went back to the original manuscript and tried writing a new first chapter. Then I deleted it and went back to the blank screen. Nothing.

So I closed everything and tried to breathe. The revisions weren’t just big, they were world-altering. Literally. I had to move the story to an entirely new planet. Problem was, I didn’t know the planet yet, and I was still too close to the original story. I needed space, in all sorts of ways. (The great folks at Absolute Write helped me realize this too).

I turned off the computer, and turned on the television. Finally, I had an excuse to make Hubby watch all the nerdy science shows! “Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking,” “Morgan Freeman’s Through the Wormhole,” all the space shows I could find! Coincidentally, the Sunday before I received the revision request, Hubby and I had watched “How the Universe Works,” perfect timing, eh?

Instead of going back to the computer, I pulled out my trusty legal pad, and began drawing: a planet, continents, oceans. I named the planet, the continents, and the countries, wrote back stories for how the people found the planet and how they terraformed it. I figured out how far it was from the sun and how many hours there were in a day. I named other planets in the solar system.

Then, I finally turned my computer on again, and started to write. Those first couple chapters were the hardest. I tried jumping ahead in the story, but had to go back to the beginning. When I finally had something (that I thought was crap) I sent it off to my CP. Shockingly, she loved it! She suggested places I could expand the world-building, and I was off again. Writing like crazy.

I wrote and tweaked and edited and fretted for a month. Exactly a month, although I didn’t plan it that way. Then, November 16, when I thought I couldn’t possibly edit any more, I bit the bullet and submitted, jumping every time that stupid phone light flashed. After a couple other emails, twenty minutes later, she responded. She’d read a little and liked it so far and would get back to me when she’d read the rest.

If you follow this blog, you know I’m the self-deprecating sort, so I prepared myself for her to hate the rest. Readied myself for rejection. Two hours later, I was at lunch with Hubby and the green light blinked. I saw it was from the agent and held my breath.

She loved it. She’d read the whole thing and enjoyed it so much she offered rep right then! Yes, I jumped up and down in my seat in the restaurant. Yes, strangers gave me weird looks. No, I didn’t care. Nor did I care when I jumped more in the parking lot. I still can’t believe it. I have an agent. I don’t think those words will ever get old.

We talked on the phone Monday night and although I was nervous and I’m sure I sounded like some kind of country bumpkin (nerves tend to deepen my already thick Southern drawl), I soon felt totally at ease talking to her. She’s everything I wanted in an agent, but didn’t dare to hope for. She gave me the chance to go back to the other agents who had my manuscript and give them a chance to offer. Instead, I withdrew my submission from them. Let’s face it, I knew as soon as I got that first email I would accept if she offered rep. The excitement she showed from the outset, and continues to show, well, it sold me. I have someone as stoked about this story as I am, how could I say no to that?

Who is that someone? Well, I’m thrilled to say I’m now represented by Mandy Hubbard at D4EO Literary Agency!!

So, dear reader, I want to thank you for going on this journey with me so far. I still have a long way to go to my dream of publication, and a lot of revising left. But dreams can come true. Just ask my main character in this story. One night she was a wacky dream, the next, a character coming to life on the page. I can’t wait to finish telling her story, and I can’t wait to see how it weaves in with mine. Thank you, Mandy, for having faith in the story and in me, and thank you readers for being interested in what a quiet girl from Alabama has to say.

Contests!

I’m quite competitive so I LOVE contests.  I’ve stumbled across a few writerly contests and thought I’d share them with you, dear readers:

The first is a blog contest from Ruth Lauren Steven.  It’s an agent judged contest that opens on April 18th (judged by Gemma Cooper of The Bright Literary Agency, and Julia Churchill of Greenhouse).  You have to follow her blog to participate.  Submit a query and the first five pages of your manuscript.  It’s open to YA and MG fiction.  You can find the details here.

Next up is a logline contest. The winner receives free registration to the Backspace Writers Conference and tickets to the play “Seminar” featuring Jeff Goldblum, Alan Rickman, Jerry O’Connell, and Justin Long.  The loglines don’t have to be from a particular manuscript and can be something you created just for the contest.  If you don’t know what Backspace is, it’s a huge conference at the end of May.  Writers meet with agents, yes ACTUAL agents (like Janet Reid, Brooks Sherman, Kristen Nelson, Sarah LaPolla, and so many more!), one on one and in small group sessions.  The agents will critique your queries and first pages, AND there are lots of great speakers.  This year’s keynote speaker will be Donald Maass of the Donald Maass agency.  It’s a great opportunity!

Finally, the publisher Strange Chemistry is opening its doors for unsolicited (i.e. unagented) manuscripts from April 16 through April 30.  These entries must be YA science-fiction or fantasy.  They’ve got some pretty strict guidelines so check out Open Door, 2012 Strange Chemistry.  This isn’t exactly a contest in that there isn’t a winner.  They’ll just read your manuscript, which is a BIG thing!  Last year, they signed three authors from this opportunity.  This is also something you should do at your own risk.  If you get an agent later, and Strange Chemistry has already seen your manuscript, there is a good chance they won’t give it another look, even if you revise/rewrite, etc.

Other places you should continually check out are Cupid’s Literary Connection.  One contest is wrapping up there, but another will be coming along soon!  Janet Reid also frequently has contests and is famous for her 100 word stories.  She’s also wrapping one up now, so check there in the future. Gabriela Lessa also hosts contests, so check her out too.  Right now, she’s accepting submissions for a short story anthology, but has also offered query critiques.

Know of any other contests you’d like to share?  Good luck to everyone who decides to enter these!

Nervous Wreck

*UPDATE* I made the first round cut of the Amazon contest!  I’m so excited!!  Excerpts will go up and the next round cut will be announced on March 20.  Yay!!

*UPDATE #2*  I got a request from the Cupid contest!  Double yay!

Today is D-Day.  I’ve currently got novels in two contests.  Cupid’s Literary Connection Blind Speed Dating, and the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you know all about Cupid’s contest.  So far, 26 entries out of 70 have had partials requested (4 entries were added after my last blog post on the subject).  The number was 27, but one of the entries was withdrawn.  Today is the day for fulls.  Every agent but one has used at least some arrows.  In case you’re curious, of the requested entries, I gave 11 a yes (12 if you count the withdrawn entry), 7 a no, and was split on 8.

So far, my little manuscript hasn’t had any requests (whomp, whomp), but there’s still a lot of day left so my fingers and toes and every other crossable appendages are crossed!  (And I’ve been praying pretty much non-stop that someone wants me.  In my head, I sound like Sally Field when she won her Best Actress Oscar.  Except it’s more “like me, please just like me!” but for some reason it’s in Sally Field’s voice).  The final results are posted tomorrow, but since today is the last day for requests, I’ll know by this evening whether my entry was successful.

As for ABNA, the first cut results are posted today.  Not sure when, since stupid Amazon is on the stupid west coast, with a stupid time zone difference, but I’m hoping at least by lunch.  I don’t think I stand much of a chance of getting through, but you never know!  I’ve written about the contest once before, here, but I didn’t go into much detail as to how it works.

They take 5,000 entries in two categories, General Fiction, and Young Adult (10,000 total).  The first round, Amazon editors review your pitch only and knock it from 5,000 to 1,000.  So there’s a 20% chance of making it through the first round (basically 1 in 4).  The second round, Vine Reviewers (still not entirely sure who they are) read 3,000-5,000 word excerpts of each manuscript and cut from 1,000 to 250 (25% chance).  Then Publisher’s Weekly reviewers read the full manuscript and cut from 250 to 50 (20% chance).  During the next round, Penguin’s editors read the full manuscripts and scores from the prior rounds and cut from 50 to 3 (.6% chance–yes, that says point 6).  The final 3 from each category have excerpts posted on Amazon and Amazon customers vote on the winner (33% chance).  I’ve got a .02% chance of winning.  But, someone has to win and I stand just as good a chance as everyone else.

Suffice it to say, I’ll be completely unproductive today as I continually refresh both Cupid and Amazon’s pages.  To all who read this blog who are entered in either, or both, good luck!  Let me know if you get through!

Grass Stains and Battle Scars

I’m not a quitter.  Never have been.  I don’t know if it’s just not in my blood, or if it’s the way I was raised, but I can’t quit things.  Sometimes, heck, a lot of times, I want to quit, I try to quit, but something deep within me won’t let go and instead, I plunge forward.

Take my knee for example.  I’ve always had bad knees (thanks genetics!).  I started playing sports when I was four (tee-ball).  I played softball for twelve years, basketball for four (two in elementary and two in high school), and volleyball for four (in high school on both my school team and a club team).  My knees started giving me trouble in the 9th grade.  I tried a brace, hated it, and threw it in the back of the closet.  Eventually, I just threw some tape under my patellas and played on.  Right after I graduated college I twisted my right knee during a game of tennis and it’s been downhill since.  I had arthroscopic surgery in 2009 that didn’t fix the problem.  For the last month, I’ve been going through physical therapy twice a week trying to avoid surgery.

What does this have to do with quitting?  Well, the therapist gives me different exercises, lately it has been weights, and a number of reps.  I’m supposed to stop when it hurts.  The only problem is, it always hurts, and there’s that little voice that tells me to push through and finish, to keep going through the pain.  That’s the way it was in sports.  You twist your ankle?  Walk it off.  Softball catches you in the shin?  Toughen up.  Push through.  Keep going.  Ignore the pain.  Get back out there and hustle.  Give it 110%.  That mentality is the opposite of the way you’re supposed to think during physical therapy, so it’s difficult for me to know when to stop.  (In case you’re wondering, the therapy didn’t work–it’s actually gotten worse–so I’m looking at open surgery in the coming months, bleh!).

Lately, I’ve been faced with adversity in my writing.  I have a book I absolutely love.  I love the characters, the story, the turns of phrase.  My beta readers and critique partners have loved it.  Agents have been interested, requesting partials and fulls, but I’ve gotten no bites.  I’ve entered it into contests, but still no dice.  So I started working on a new story, and again, I love it.  I love the concept, the characters, the underlying themes, the descriptive paragraphs, but I’ve reached a point where I’m stuck.  I know where I want to go, but I don’t know how to get there.  My CPs have loved parts and disliked parts, test readers have loved sample chapters.  I think the beginning is fantastic, but I’ve hit a wall.

I’ve been getting frustrated and disheartened.  Part of me keeps saying: “This is too hard.  You’ll never make it.  You’ve got a greater chance of being struck by lightning.  Give up and find something else.  You’re not good enough.”  The other part wants to punch my Debbie Downer half in the face.  That part keeps yelling at me like a coach: “Suck it up.  Who ever said it would be easy?  Put down your purse and play ball.  You’re talented when you don’t stand in your own way.  Don’t wait for the play to happen, make it happen.”  I want to quit, because it is hard.  It is next to impossible.  But there’s that something down deep that won’t let me.  I get a rejection and wallow for a few days, then I pull myself up and try again.

It’s got me wondering: is writing more like playing sports, or is it more like physical therapy?  Am I supposed to just keep going, keep pushing, keep working until I obtain my goal?  Or am I supposed to stop when it hurts too much?  I’m leaning toward it being like sports.  No one ever promises you’ll win.  Someone has to lose.  (Funny side note: my little brother started playing baseball at the beginning of the “let’s stop keeping score/everyone’s a winner” days.  This concept frustrated him to no end. (We come from a long line of competitive-ness–yeah, I made it up).  So he kept score on his own.  He kept track of his stats through every game and would adamantly refute anyone who told him he was a winner when he knew he lost).  Losing makes you tougher.  Without failure, you never truly appreciate victory.  It makes you work harder, strive to be better, and expect more from yourself.

So I’ll take my failures.  I’ll wear them like battle scars.  Like grass stained softball pants and torn jerseys.  Because those are indicators I played the game.  I did more than sit the bench and watch from the sidelines.  Win or lose, I played, and that’s what matters.  With every rejection or blocked road (or mind as the current case may be), I’ll work harder, strive to be better, and expect more from myself.  I may never be one of the elite, but it won’t be from lack of trying.