Including my two self-published Christmas titles, More than Friends is my eighth book release. It has been the best one yet. This is likely for a variety of reasons, but one of the biggest ones, I think, is the fact that people have read (and enjoyed) some of my other work.
We're told, as authors, to build a platform and you never really know what that means while you're hanging out on Twitter and Facebook, joining book groups, and adding to your TBR pile on Goodreads.
The cool thing about releasing this book, More than Friends (other than the amazing support of a truly fantastic publisher, editors, publicists, author friends, and so much more) is that there were people (other than my mom and best friend) who were excited to read what I'd written. They were waiting for my next book. The way I wait for the newest release from an author I like. That is and was such a cool feeling this week.
Every bit as cool, were the number of reviews that said it was their first read of mine, but wouldn't be there last.
The absolute greatest thing out of all of this is the fact that readers are connecting with Owen and Gabby. It makes me so happy that people are falling into the story, caring about the characters, and enjoying the words.
I often say this quote to my daughters. It's about doing things because they mean something to us, because they matter. We don't need validation to make something worth it. But when you put a story out there and share pieces of yourself-- especially when you've created this fictional world with people you care about-- it's really awesome to know that it touched people in the way you meant for it to.
And really, we all need validation sometimes. We need to know that what we're putting out there into the universe is reaching someone. It makes us feel connected. Books and words have an amazing power to lift people up, bring them happiness, escape, and joy. It has been an amazing week, knowing that More than Friends brought happiness to people, that it mattered or made them smile. I'm so grateful that I get to share my books. It is the kind of gift you can't put a price on.
Everything they say about finding the right agent for your work is true, so
The thing about coming out of the query trenches, is you quickly realize, if you've made the right match, that everything your writing peers tell you is true. While you're sending off your query, balancing your heart between hopeful and blind optimism, you think people are just offering platitudes. You've heard them: 'it only takes one', 'you're better off with no agent than the wrong agent', 'it'll happen'. Every request for a partial or full sets you up to believe all of the good and every rejection knocks your feet out from under you.
Those authors who have not found their agent soul mate might find it hard to believe that someone who is agented "gets it". But they do. They really, really do. Because they're at a different stage but it's very much a similar journey. Going on submission is much like querying, only you have someone at your side through the process. I'm not going to lie, that part is nicer. It's nice to have that fallback of, okay, I got a rejection but this person believed enough in me to sign me. It takes some of the sting out. Every writer who has achieved success (and that measure is different for everyone) has been where you are right now-- wherever that is.
But what everyone tells you is true: it does only take one, it is better to find the right one, and it WILL happen.
I've gone about learning this the long way. My querying journey has been a bit...unique. I have experienced having an agent I was not properly matched with and the disappointment of parting ways-- even when I knew it was the right move. This journey isn't an easy one: it can be hell on your self-esteem. That's why the people you surround yourself with (IRL and online) matter so much. You need people that will build you up, help you up when you fall, and keep pushing you. You need to do the same for them because whether they're unagented, agented, self publishing or on submission to big publishing houses, they will have their moments of teetering on the edge too.
We're all on that ledge, repeatedly, wondering whether to keep going or give up. But only one of those options can possibly lead to success and I can't tell you how happy I am that I kept going, kept writing, kept pushing down the feeling that I might not be good enough. Because what makes you good enough is your willingness to keep going.
Want some stats as proof? For the book that finally got me an agent (one I'd wanted for quite some time-- which could be another post in itself, titled: establish and maintain connections and relationships because they matter-- okay, maybe that title is too long) I actually tracked the process this time:
47 queries sent = free
4 partial requests = optimism
8 full requests = nail biting
34 Nos or no responses = grumpiness
1 agent (the RIGHT one) = PRICELESS
When it finally happens? You'll be like: Yup,
Yes, this is that post. The one where I tell you I have an agent
I am beyond excited to announce that I am now represented by Fran Black of Literary Counsel. I have been sending her my stories since the summer of 2012 and this summer, I sent her one that was just right.
Sometimes, things happen and you feel like despite all the waiting and worrying, it happened just when it should have. This is how I felt on Tuesday when Fran called me to tell me she was going to represent me. I had planned to 'play it cool' and tell her I'd get back to her after I spoke to the other agents who had my work.
But anyone who knows me, knows I couldn't possibly wait. Waiting is not my thing...ironic, considering so much of publishing relies on just that. Of course, there'll still be plenty of waiting, but it seems less daunting with Fran having my back.
That's not all
You'd think that was enough right? It is and it was but there's more. While telling Fran how happy I am, I also mentioned that I absolutely love the work of an illustrator she represents. He does the covers for one of my favourite middle grade series, The Goddess Girls. His work is fun and brilliant. It turns out that Glen Hanson was looking for someone to co-author a series with him. After talking to each other on the phone and sharing some ideas, I am thrilled to say he wants to work with ME. I'll have more details on that as time goes by but what's in store is pretty awesome. So much good. I feel so incredibly grateful.
Surprisingly, the hardest part of writing, is not writing. In Amy Poehler's Yes Please, she titles her preface "Writing is Hard". But even as she talks about this, she says she can write a scene or skit in record time. Because putting the words down on the page is not always the most challenging part. It's everything that comes with it, after it, that can be soul-sucking hard. But if you want it, like really want to hold your book in your hands (and yes, e-books count), you have to accept that no matter how easily the words come, there is so much more to writing a story than getting words on a page.
Not gonna lie: EDITING IS HARD. It feels like putting together a 1000 piece puzzle, knocking it over, and starting again. But not being allowed to put the pieces back in the same order you did last time. And maybe not using all of the same pieces. And maybe not even using the same puzzle. Sometimes it's like scrapping the first puzzle, except for the corner pieces, and going with a brand new one. You're not even sure it's possible to do that. Because IT'S HARD. But it's satisfying to see something that you love, a piece of you, become something more, something bigger. Something that elicits all of the feelings in your readers that you meant to. And, rarely can you do that the first time around.
Making connections without being annoying
I'm still working on this one. I've made so many amazing and wonderful connections and I don't use those words lightly. The people I've met since I started writing are so supportive- offering advice and feedback and direction. I've developed what I know will be lifelong friendships with many people and there are many that I truly hope to meet in real life. However, I often feel like the tag along, the third wheel, the annoying girl who asks a deliberately complicated question in class when the professor says you can go early if there's no more questions. NO ONE HAS MADE ME FEEL THIS WAY. Which reminds me that my biggest problem is that I find myself annoying. I can't get out of my brain and it would likely be awkward if I did. So I annoy myself and then read into every little thing that means nothing and end up annoying myself more. Make connections. Be yourself. Chances are good, most people will like us just fine. Trust them. They're cool people that you admire and they don't have to help you. Most people engage and connect because they want to. And if you're genuine, open, and considerate, there's really no reason that they would find you a nuisance. Unless you're being annoying.
Listening to feedback AND ACTUALLY USING IT
This is a funny one because I didn't think I was bad at listening to or using feedback. When someone would say that I might want to change something or rethink it, I'd simply tell them why that's not what worked in my story. I listened. I heard. And they were wrong. I have improved in this area. Mostly. It is hard to take feedback and even harder to change things in a story that matters to you. But those people above, that you trust and admire? If they're willing to give you their opinion, listen. If your best friend is an insatiable reader and gets stuck on your plot line and wants you to succeed so therefore mentions it, LISTEN. You don't have to take all the advice or everyone's advice. But you have to be open about accepting constructive criticism if you really intend to grow and actually want to sell your work. If you believe the support group you have wants the best for you, then trust them. But trust yourself too. Ultimately, the story is yours. But if you plan to share it, you have to see it from other points of view.
I write notes to my daughters on their bathroom mirror every week. Sometimes I use erasable marker, sticky notes, or scraps of paper. Words matter. I love them. So I share them with my girls in this way and many others. This week I wrote, "If you tell yourself you can't do something, you won't. So tell yourself you can." That sounds all poetic and inspiring (and hopefully they're not someone else's words-- if they are, thank you for the quote) but if you were to check my iMessages, Facebook messages, or Twitter direct messages from this week, you would see the irony in ME writing that quote. Because in the last couple weeks, I've told myself repeatedly that I can't. Amy Poehler has a chapter about the plain girl versus the demon. The demon is the voice we all have that makes us feel negative about ourselves. (BTW: this is such an awesome chapter of writing. You should read it.) The thing about that voice is, you have to make them be quiet. They won't all the time, but you at least have to try to talk over it. One thing I realized is that I was measuring my success in the wrong way. Instead of letting all of the things that are happening sink in, instead of truly celebrating, my mean voice keeps telling me all of the things I have not yet achieved. I have a book coming out in April with my co-writer, Kara Leigh Miller. We have a second one coming out later in the year (if she'd just focus-- don't worry, that wasn't mean. She will laugh). And I have a picture book coming out in January 2016. My mean voice shouldn't get to talk for a few months at least. But it interrupts me constantly. We have to not let it.
There are thousands of quotes online about failure making you stronger, about great people before you who did not succeed the first several times they tried. Those stories are there for a reason. Instead of getting caught up in the fact that you got rejected, it's time to start asking why. I'm looking back now at a story that I love and was very personal to me. It got lots of attention and several full requests. But it ultimately got rejected. There is absolutely no point in focusing on this detail. Instead, I have to look at WHY and change it. So I'm going to go do that and if it still gets rejected, I have to decide if I want to shelve it for a while. I didn't think I could handle rejection well. But I'm doing okay. It really doesn't break you. If you want it badly enough, rejection will make you fight harder. Except on the days that it just completely sucks and you can't stay positive. Then you turn to those people that have all been there, the ones who will support you and pull you back up. Not too long ago I messaged a lovely writer friend and I didn't even say I was going to flat out quit. I was just being miserable and sad. And her message said: STEP AWAY FROM THE LEDGE. It made me laugh and I thought, not only does she get it (because that's exactly what it felt like) but she's right there. Be that person for someone else. I feel so lucky to have those people that help me face it and move on to be better. And, they make you laugh. That fixes a lot of things.
Other than actually putting the words on the page, what is the hardest part for you?
I told myself I wouldn't enter anymore contests. I was done with this route, even though I've enjoyed them. The roads we travel have a funny way of leading us where we're meant to be-- or we just tell ourselves this so it feels okay to end up where we do. I didn't enter #PitchWars last year (though I did participate in Pitmad) so I didn't really know what it was all about. You can click the link above if you'd like to find out. Basically, it's an amazing opportunity to work with a mentor-- someone who knows the ropes and wants to help you strengthen your writing (your writing that has already been edited and revised--so not your first draft) and take it to a higher level. Today, on Twitter, I saw people asking, why a mentor would give their time? I knew the answer even before reading the many replies. The writing community on Twitter is amazing. I've said before that I've never known another industry where the "competition" is also your strongest support. These people want to see you succeed. When one person does, others are genuinely happy for them. It's an amazing thing to be a part of and the fact that the mentors are willing to give that back, is not surprising to me. This is just one way I've seen the writing community give back over the last two years that I've been part of it but there are endless examples from Street Teams to giving reviews to just giving you a boost when you need one. The organization and time that goes into these things is huge---if you haven't thanked Brenda Drake for providing these opportunities, you should. I always think that we're very lucky to live in an age where so much is at our fingertips. Because of that, and because I want to share too, as others have shared with me, I'm posting some links to the sites I'll be hanging out on while I pour over my manuscript obsessively to make sure it's perfectly ready to pitch. Good luck to everyone.
Writing tips at novelicious.com I just found this site via Facebook and Twitter but I like the tips and tricks.
Brenda Drake's website will be visited frequently because it gives all the details, plus has the link to all the mentors. Click those links and check out their sites. For real. Who better to tell you what they want than the mentors themselves?
A friend once sent me a small guide with excellent tips on how to go through your manuscript. It was from this fantastic and helpful site: Inspiration for Writers
I already saw this on Twitter today but this is a link to the site that helped me write my synopsis
Honestly, one of the most helpful things to do is visit sites of writers you respect. Most of them have blogs, tips, advice. Some of my favorite helpful sites are: Daily Dahlia (obviously) Jody Hedlund, Lauren Spieller, and Ava Jae
And if you still have questions, concerns, worries, or wonders, it is not as scary as you think to reach out to anyone involved and just ask. In addition to being rather funny and charming, the people you'll meet are extremely nice. Just like one of us. ;)
I am in no way an expert on anything...like anything at all. But I have learned a few things in the last couple of years that I wish I had known when I started thinking I wanted to get an agent or publish a book. Most of the things I've learned seem like common sense, but surprisingly, in the excitement of getting recognition for something that is so personal, we often forget what we know is just good etiquette. Along with that, I've fallen into a few 'things' that I've been fortunate enough to have far smarter people than I help me navigate my way through. So here's a pieces of not-advice-but-something-like-it from someone who is still finding their way.
If you wouldn't say it to someone's face, why would you say it online? You would absolutely think that this is just an accepted truth. However, the internet gives us a certain anonymity (or so we THINK) and there are times when people type before they think. Don't do that.
The only way you get better is by listening to the advice of others. Not everyone, but someone. You have to choose a tribe of people that you trust. That you know want what's best for you, will be honest with you, and can handle you at your worst. If you have people like that, who will read your writing and be brutally honest, with the best of intentions, then trust them. At least enough to truly consider what they're saying.
No agent is better than the wrong agent. This one sucks but it's true. These people are entering a relationship with you. Would you go into a bad relationship, JUST to be in one? There was a time I would have said yes, but as you get older, you learn to care more about your own well-being, Writing is no different. You want someone to be your champion and I am completely convinced (most days) that the right agent is going to be worth the wait.
As in life, envy gets you nowhere. It's easy to be jealous when you hear an announcement from other writers or from agents you stalk- I mean follow. But the thing is, you don't know their story. You don't know how hard their fight to get to where they are was and most of all, if they got there, then they probably had some pretty phenomenal writing. It's too hard to get somewhere in this world if your writing doesn't rise above. So they deserve it and it doesn't make you deserve it less. And, their success doesn't lessen your chances or your talent.
Go with your own style. I've been trying my hand at plotting and it just doesn't work well for me. For the co-authored book I'm working on, yes. But for my own writing, I just can't do it. At least not yet. I like to get lost in my writing and having to plan it all out first, throws me off track. I can always go back and edit and make plot points along the way. As much as I hate the term, I'm a pantser at heart. That's not right or wrong. It's just what works for me.
There's more. There's always more. But that's it for now. Nothing we do is foolproof. There's no list or step by step manual to succeed. There are things you can do to make the ride smoother but basically, you have to do what you should be doing in your life: be who you are, to the best of your ability and hope that good things come to those who wait...politely.
I like lists. I like making them, looking at them, and checking them off. Here's a list of ten (writing related) things that happened to me this year that mattered:
10: I received over one dozen partial and/or full requests from agents since May (I am still waiting to hear back from 5 for one manuscript and 1 for another manuscript)
9: I had my blogs read by real authors like Ellen Potter and Tanya Lloyd Kyi.
8: I sat in a room with Diana Gabaldon, Michael Slade, and Jack Whyte for an entire evening. I didn't say much but I nodded like a fool and didn't hide in the bathroom.
7: I connected with an amazing group of fellow writers via Twitter, such as Brenda Drake, Jessa Russo, Rachel Pudelek, Roselle Kaes, Lauren Spieller and so many more I'm probably forgetting but not because they aren't awesome.
6: Rainbow Rowell and Jill Shalvis tweeted me and The Bloggess followed me. All three events made me inexplicably happy.
5: I read Elenor and Park. It matters. It made me want to be better.
4: I met this truly awesome agent that I won't name. She might not be my agent, but she became my friend, which is pretty cool all by itself. Turns out agents are real people.
3: I found critique partners and new friends, Tara and Kelli, that will go beyond writing and be part of what makes 2014 special.
2: My story, A Not So Lonely Christmas, was published in Foreward Lit's anthology, Holiday Spice
1: I self published Forever Christmas via Amazon
Christmas is only ten days away. As the Grinch would say, "it's practically here." It's been seven days since I self-published Forever Christmas and I wanted to say thank you to a number of people (it seemed like a good time to show some appreciation) I don't really need to thank my husband and kids because they don't read the blog and also because I do that every day. It sounds something like "Thank you for putting up with me."
I'll thank my very best friend in the universe and beyond, Brenda, because she does always read the blog. And while she might point out a missing comma or spelling error, she is endlessly supportive. Not just of this: of everything. Always.
I have been fortunate to meet a number of people that have picked me back up where my writing is concerned and perhaps even when it has nothing at all to do with my writing. Those people include Tara Creel, Ruby Knight, Michelle Johnson, Lauren Spieller, Caitlin Rantala, Rachel Pudlek, Katie Bailey, Carolyn Hart, Brandon Jay Mclaren, Brent Mclaren, Brenda Drake, Jessa Russo, Mandy Schoen, Roselle Kaes...there's more. But these are some of the people that have poured over my work for me, retweeted me, supported me, believed in me, and made me feel like maybe, just maybe, I might get somewhere with my words. And if I don't? Well, I'm still pretty lucky. So thank you. And Merry Christmas.