All The Way YA

Unfinished Business

It ain’t published until it’s published.

Makes sense, right? Like an out-of-context quote in a Facebook post or a Tweet to reassure your followers that you can handle this author thing.

But, it’s a lesson that I can’t seem to learn. I’ve written plenty of stuff, including drafts and finished products. No one has seen them except for me and a select few—either carefully chosen to gush over them or drop the editor’s equivalent of a mortar on my words. You’d think I would be ready for the next step, to get it out there, to see my efforts bear some freaking fruit. But then again, I’ve always been a poor gardener.

Why can’t I just put myself out there? Sure, my fear of rejection—that’s a good reason. A common reason. But in some ways, I think having the opposite problem is just as venomous. Sometimes a person is sure they’ll be published, that they’re the next JK Rowling, the next Suzanne Collins, or that they’re writing the next phenomenon that’ll get them all of the money. All of it. And they get complacent, secure in the unwavering belief in themselves. And they get lazy.

“Oh, I’ll resubmit this when I have time,” they say, savoring a glass of decadent brandy that they couldn’t afford with their day job. “I know I’ll do it.”

I’m not attacking a strawman here, if you haven’t guessed. This is all personal experience. A problem I have yet to overcome.

I’ve sent a draft of something out. No, I didn’t get the brutal, soul-crushing rejection letter that could turn one astray from further attempts. The comments I received were positive. Very much so. I was told that my story wasn’t quite right for the anthology in question. So, I relaxed.

“It’s good. I know it’s good. Hell, they told me so,” I thought. “When I send this sucker out again, it’ll be aces.”

I took security in the almost. The just shy. If it’s that close, then whenever I resend it, with some adjustments for the market, I’m in there.

It’s been like six months. I haven’t resubmitted. I’ve taken false security in knowing that I was close. That I could have made it there. I’m learning complacency is damning in its own right. Consequently, I’m still a guy with no publications to his credit.

Trying is hard. The reasons for not trying doesn’t really matter. If you’re not trying, you’re dying. Even if you think you’ve got a sure thing, don’t relax. Get on it. Ain’t nobody ever published something chillin’ in a notebook or lounging on a laptop,

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go admire my finished work and daydream about doing an ill-conceived Twitter Q & A.

John McKeown is an aspiring fantasy/sci-fi author from Flint, Michigan, with a penchant for procrastination. As such, he is woefully unpublished. When he’s not writing about magic, blue collar space workers and economic collapse, he either rots his brain with video games or destroys his body via competitive martial arts. Follow him on Twitter @Outfoxd21

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The Truth About Rejection: Part 3 (Now What?)

So what happens when the industry rejects you or you reject the industry? What is a writer to do when TTAR.Part3no major publishing house wants to sign them, for whatever reason. Twenty years ago, there wasn’t much you could do but lick your wounds and try again, but nowadays, we have this thing called the Internet which has given rise to the self-published author and a myriad of small presses, both in print and online.

A quick True/False quiz:

1. Self-published books are vanity publications.

FALSE. Many self-published authors are professionals with other projects published by mainstream media. Many authors, especially those with large followings, choose the self-published route because of the artistic freedom, fast turnaround and increased share of the profits.

2. Self-publishing is easy!

FALSE. Self-publishing is neither easy nor necessarily inexpensive. Any project worth its cover price should have been professionally edited and formatted for e-book and print with an eye-catching cover. Unless you’re an expert in several fields, you’re going to need to pay someone to do some or all of those things. The costs quickly add up.

3. Self-publishing is lucrative.

MAYBE. Like any venture, you get out of it what you put into it. If you simply put a book up on Amazon and sit back to let the profits roll in, you’ll be sitting there for a while, broke. You still need to promote your work, build a fan base, outreach, and build relationships in the reading community. All those things that a publisher may do for you or in conjunction with you, you must do yourself.

4. Self-published authors can earn enough to make a living.

TRUE. Some self-published books go on to be bestsellers by mainstream media. Some self-published authors make enough profit from their books to quit their day job and isn’t that the dream of all artists?

Speaking of dreams, we can’t talk about rejection without also talking about expectations. When I started out, I had visions of fat gold stickers, movie deals, and the New York Times Bestsellers list. I still have those dreams, but in the meantime, I set goals that are within reach and under my control. If you’re consistently falling short of your goals as an artist, maybe it is time to adjust your expectations for yourself.

These are the questions I ask myself:

Is what I’m doing making me happy?

Is it important?

Is there anything I’d rather be doing?

When I ask myself these questions, everything else becomes somewhat irrelevant. I’m an artist. My medium is the written word. I write fiction, specifically in the YA genre because I identify with those readers more than any other. I will always write in some capacity because it’s good for my mental health. I’ve got many more years to produce great stories. I will endure many more rejections. One day, I’ll make it.

Or maybe, I already have.

Maybe you have too.

Laura Lascarso is the author of RACING HEARTS, an e-novella series, which tells the story of two star-crossed lovers set in the world of competitive car racing. Her debut YA novel COUNTING BACKWARDS, which deals with mental illness, won the Florida Book Award gold medal for YA literature in 2012. Laura lives in North Florida with her two children, darling husband and a menagerie of animals. Follow her on Twitter @lauralascarso

The Truth About Rejection: Part 2 (It Aint Always Pretty)

TTAR.Part2 (1)

I used to take it personal.

I say that like my Vulcan heart is now calloused and impervious to rejection, but that is simply not true. Rejection hurts, in whatever form, whomever it comes from, and with whatever it entails. Unfortunately, part of being human is caring what other people think of you and our creative work is largely an extension of ourselves.

When I get a rejection, usually in the form of an email, I get bummed for a few hours, distract myself with some activity where success is assured (cleaning the bathroom), then work on an entirely unrelated project. But to give the range of experience I put out an APB on Twitter and received some reactions from my writer peeps.

TwitterStreamWhen asked how they cope with rejection, none of these writers said “Rejection? I’ve never been rejected.” Nor did they say they give up. Nor did any of them act as if rejection was an uncommon phenomenon.

Now here’s the truth about publishing. It’s a business. The publisher’s job is to take your creative work and package it into a product they can sell. And like all businesses, publishers exist to turn a profit. In every major publishing house and in the small ones too, there are folks in the back room crunching numbers, conducting cost-benefit analysis, and doing number things that are generally foreign to us creatives who believe literature is a sacred art and the only thing a book needs, is to be well written and compelling in order to thrive. Agents, by extension, need to sell your story in order to make a living wage.

What this means is that if an editor doesn’t think that your book has either bestselling or award-winning potential, even if they loved it, they may not sign you. Or, if the publisher has titles that are similar by authors who’ve been with them longer, they may not sign you. Or, if they think your work is too controversial, cutting edge or nuanced, they may not sign you.

The point I’m trying to make, is that when rejection happens, it may be for reasons that are entirely out of your control and quite frankly, have little to do with your actual story.

Rejection might also mean that your story’s not ready for publication. If an editor gives you real feedback that you can incorporate into a revision, thank them genuinely. Some editors and/or agents will offer to do another read after you’ve revised. Save those contacts and revisit them later. Clearly, they saw something promising in your work and are interested in continuing the conversation.

Rejection generally falls into one of these categories:

Vague and somewhat disinterested: This rejection offers no real feedback or promise of future dealings. This rejection is the easiest to discount because the rejection is so nebulous that you can’t even be certain that the editor/agent read your project.

Pointed, detailed and constructive: Gold! This is free advice from a professional and can be used for future revisions. These rejections are especially useful if they include an invitation to resubmit later.

Mean-spirited and/or snarky: Save these for future laughs when you’re sitting on a pile of money and accolades. These folks are either burned out by the biz and in need a vacation or they’re frustrated creatives who receive pleasure by tearing others down. Don’t bother querying them again and warn your friends.

Crickets: Silence is a rejection of sorts, but the truth is that editors and agents receive exponentially more queries than they can accept and sometimes even respond to. Therefore, make sure you do your homework and take the time to really hone your pitch and query to specs so that yours is not easily dismissed.

Now that we’ve explored some methods for dealing with rejection, stay tuned for the last installment, The Truth About Rejection: Part 3 (Now What?)

Laura Lascarso is the author of RACING HEARTS, an e-novella series, which tells the story of two star-crossed lovers set in the world of competitive car racing. Her debut YA novel COUNTING BACKWARDS, which deals with mental illness, won the Florida Book Award gold medal for YA literature in 2012. Laura lives in North Florida with her two children, darling husband and a menagerie of animals. Follow her on Twitter @lauralascarso

The Truth About Rejection: It Happens

“The road to publication is long and fraught with frustration.” –VirgilTTAR.Part1 Suarez

This was what the award-winning poet and writer said to me 15 years ago when I had just finished my first full-length manuscript and was beginning to query agents.

Poor guy, I thought, life has really put him through the ringer.

For me, things would be different. Getting published would be simple: send out my query letter to a handful of agents, receive an immediate and overwhelming clamor for representation. Pitch that puppy and let the bidding wars begin.

Ha!

Maybe that was your experience. Good for you! Mine turned out to be very different. After querying 50+ agents with my first novel, then my second and then my third, I finally found a home with Caryn Wiseman of Andrea Brown Literary. After a much-needed rewrite on what would eventually become my debut novel COUNTING BACKWARDS (CB), Caryn pitched it to editors and hallelujah, one of them wanted to turn it into a real, live book.

A quick timeline: CB was written in 2007, agented in 2008, sold in 2009, rewritten several more times in 2010-2011 and debuted in the fall of 2012.

The next step was for me to focus on my next masterpiece, right? Wrong.

One of the biggest mistakes I made as a debut author was thinking that my work ended when I sent off my final revisions to my editor. I didn’t have a “platform” or a “brand.” I didn’t have followers. I didn’t even have a Facebook page. I was relying on the old model which said that writing was the author’s job, selling was the publisher’s job. I began focusing on my second and third novels shortly after completing CB. I wanted to have something in the hopper when CB went on to become a wild success.

Turns out, having a rock star agent and a contract with a major publisher does not guarantee success.

Now I’m going to be honest with you, maybe too honest. CB was projected to sell 20,000 copies. At least, that’s what my advance accounted for. As of today, nearly three years later, CB has sold a total of 1,000 copies. I will probably never receive royalties for CB and my major publisher is not clamoring for more literary genius from Laura Lascarso, sadly.

There was a point in February of 2013 where I considered hanging up my literary beret. I was talking it over with my husband, the time share between my job (the one that pays), family, and writing, and asking myself whether all the time I devoted to writing, rewriting, and publicizing my work could be put to better use elsewhere.

The next night I received an email that CB had won the Florida Book Award gold medal for YA literature. I thought it was a spam email and nearly deleted it, but turns out, it was true. While winning the award didn’t grant me more money or necessarily even more readers, it was a sign from the universe that I was on the right path.

Now for some inspirational stories of rejection:

Stephen King, living in a doublewide, writing in the laundry room, getting manuscripts rejected left and right. At one point he threw CARRIE in the trash saying, “So I threw it away… After all, who wanted to read a book about a poor girl with menstrual problems?” Carrie was retrieved from the garbage by his astute wife and went on to get rejected 30 more times before finding a publisher and launching King’s career.

JK Rowling, single mom, writing Harry Potter in a café, living on government benefits. HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE was rejected by 12 publishers before finding a home with Bloomsbury. Then, after becoming a raging success, JK went querying again for her adult detective novel under pseudonym Robert Galbraith and publishers rejected her AGAIN!

The first installment of Cassandra Clare’s THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS series was turned down by publishers because one of the main characters is gay and embarks on a relationship with another male character. Publishers mistakenly thought teens couldn’t handle homosexuality, but that’s a topic for another post…

So what does this tell us, other than opinions are like elbows and you are never too rich and famous to be rejected? It tells us that if any of these authors had quit when they were down, they’d never have become the household names that they are today, nor would their books have graced our literary consciousness. And for every success story there are exponentially more stories of authors, still struggling, still writing in obscurity, still putting out work in whatever capacity they are able because they are artists and nothing else satisfies like the act of creation.

Now that we can acknowledge that rejection exists, please stay tuned for my next installment on how we as creators cope with rejection in next week’s installment, The Truth About Rejection: Part 2 (It Aint Always Pretty).

Laura Lascarso is the author of RACING HEARTS, an e-novella series, which tells the story of two star-crossed lovers set in the world of competitive car racing. Her debut YA novel COUNTING BACKWARDS, which deals with mental illness, won the Florida Book Award gold medal for YA literature in 2012. Laura lives in North Florida with her two children, darling husband and a menagerie of animals. Follow her on Twitter @lauralascarso

Second Book Blues

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about publishing novels, it’s that there are no guarantees.

In my previous post, I wrote about finding an agent–and then having to find another when the first one didn’t work out. Here, I want to write about publishing my first book–and then having to work even harder to publish my second.

Common sense says it shouldn’t be that way. After publishing Book #1, Book #2 should be easier to write (thanks to experience) and publish (thanks to reputation). But for many writers, that isn’t the case. Consider:

  • One of my friends had a two-book deal. Then her publisher folded after Book #1.
  • Another friend also had a two-book deal. She submitted no fewer than three possible Book #2 manuscripts to her editor. Her editor rejected all three.
  • A third friend had a one-book deal, but (when Book #1 did quite well) figured he’d be able to sell Books #2 and #3 of a trilogy. His editor told him to wrap up the story in Book #2.

My experience was similar to his. In my contract for SURVIVAL COLONY 9, I had the standard “option” clause: I needed to offer my next novel-length work to my editor, who had the option of buying it before I showed it to anyone else. I produced a sequel, part 2 of a planned trilogy, and had my agent send it to my editor.

Who took almost six months before telling me she hated it. I mean, HATED it.

By this time, I’d nearly completed Book #3. Theoretically, having satisfied the option, my agent could have shopped Book #2 elsewhere. But with SURVIVAL COLONY 9 being my debut, what editor was going to look at a manuscript the editor for Book #1 had rejected?

My editor suggested I combine Book #3 with the (very few) parts of Book #2 she liked. That meant crunching two 80,000 word manuscripts into a single 80,000 word manuscript. With my mad math skillz, I calculated I’d have to trim 80,000 words overall.

Somehow, I did it. I kept the first chapter of Book #2, chopped out the middle, added the middle chapters of Book #3, then wrapped it up with the end chapters of both manuscripts.

Or something like that. It was far messier than that makes it sound.

In the end, I had a manuscript my editor liked enough to make an offer on. She still wanted major changes–as in, she sent me a four page, single-spaced letter and a manuscript full of post-it notes telling me everything I needed to change–but she also sent a contract. As of this writing, I’ve completed the revisions and am crossing my fingers that she’ll like what I’ve done enough to send the book to copy-editing.

I don’t want to sound as if I’m complaining. I do have one published book, and may soon have a second. I also have a very supportive agent and editor, neither of whom gave up on me during my struggles with Book #2.

But I do want to be truthful. It’s possible I’ll get to the point where anything I write will sail through, either because I’ve become such a brilliant writer or such a bestseller no one would dream of saying “no.”

The reality for most writers, however, is that each new book is a new challenge, with no guarantees.

“To hate YA is to hate your inner teena

“To hate YA is to hate your inner teenager, it’s to hate a part of yourself.” #5On #YARules #Amreading #Amwriting

Hannah Goodman in today’s ‪#‎5On‬: “Th

Hannah Goodman in today’s ‪#‎5On‬: “The criticism [of YA fiction] comes from snobbery and small-mindedness.” http://ow.ly/Ori0v #YA

Think Critically! My First Critique Group / @StephanieKeyes / #scbwi

We’ve talked on this blog before about the often solitary life of a writer. Many people believe that they don’t need critique groups, or even other writers for that matter, to thrive. To those peeps, I say this: Nothing good has ever been created in a vacuum. Vacuums suck. Suck up your energy. Your inspiration.

Before you argue with something akin to, “I am a creative Hoover,” look at it this way. As writers we need inspiration from the outside, we need to grow, but we also need validation. Now, if you are really good at self-validation, just stop reading now. Then go find a corner and hug yourself.

For the rest of us…two things happened that drove me in this direction:

  1. A driving need to be the best writer I can be.
  2. An overwhelming sense of loneliness.

So I discovered the first organization that changed my life: The Society Of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Ironically, two days later I found my SCBWI critique group through one of my first freelance editors.

Now, I won’t lie to you. I went to that first meeting with a book already planned for publication–so I expected minimal feedback on the first chapter of that same title. Man, was I wrong. They flayed my book alive! Now, I should add that this was done in such a kind and supportive way that it didn’t feel like my work had been dragged across barbed wire and left to bleed in the street.

photo credit: 131 via photopin (license)

photo credit: 131 via photopin (license)

So why did I go back? Because I learned more about writing in those two hours that I had in the previous four years on my own. Naturally, I immediately wanted to rewrite my first book. I didn’t. Instead, I took what I’d learned on things like deep point of view and getting inside a character’s head that I applied to my second book.

What was even better? My critique group was right there with me, coaching me chapter by chapter. When my publisher’s deadlines prevented me from reading the entire manuscript in group, several members offered to read the entire manuscript–over five hundred pages–and give me feedback.

Dave Amaditz, who blogs on this site and also co-leads my critique group, gave me some of the most valuable feedback on The Fallen Stars. “What’s Cali feeling? She’s going through these major changes and she’s coming across as cold.”

“Well, she’s feeling–”

“Don’t tell me. Show us. How are you going to do that?” Dave asked.

I thought about it. That thought resulted in gutting my second book for one purpose: two add a second point of view. In went Cali’s reaction to the cold (something new for an immortal Star Child), in went her growing infatuation for Kellen St. James, in went her fears and all of her determination. Could I have conveyed her emotions without Cali’s point of view? Maybe? But probably not. The Fallen Stars is a completely different book because of that single question.

The truth is that since that day when I went to my first meeting three years ago, my writing has never been the same. It all has to do with how I spend my Monday nights. My critique group calls it like it is (with kindness) and they’ve made me a better writer. No, they make be want to be a better writer.

I hear stories from people all the time about how they tried critique groups and everyone was miserable. They didn’t care about helping anyone–just gave extremely harsh feedback. Others tell me that they were bombarded by platitudes. “This was wonderful! There’s nothing wrong with it!” Which, let’s face it, helps no one. Especially, a writer.

To those folks I say: keep trying. Obviously, that wasn’t the right group for you. The right group is out there, though. You just have to find them.

Be brave. Be strong. Be open to being better than you are and they will come.

To those still hugging themselves in the corner? Yeah, I guess you can stop now.

Tripping / @LaurelHouck

Expecting a few groovy words like psychedelic, far out, or flower power? Not that kind of tripping, Dude. I’m just a YA writer, putting one word in front of the other, as I march toward that big publishing goal.

It’s that time of year when the world beckons us to leave home for parts unknown. There’s something in all writers that mirrors the explorers of old. We may not be Lewis & Clark, but we yearn for uncharted territory, aka the unique idea that will put us on the publishing map.

Certainly, any trip can be mind-expanding: billboards along the interstate, chance conversations at the beach, unsung heroes from well known historical sites. We stuff tidbits into a mental duffle and haul them home, the best of souvenirs—because they enhance works-in-progress or spark new projects.

This year, I’m tripping to Kenya. Because I like off-the-beaten-track travel, my writing reflects a worldview. If the globe is shrinking, and we’re all one big extended family, it makes sense to write about it all.

A brief nod to the elephant in the room—not the ones I’ll soon see on safari. There are two schools of thought about what we’re equipped to write. One: Write what you know. It makes sense that being part of a particular culture, religion, or nationality better equips one to describe it. Delving into an unfamiliar culture can be at worst offensive and at best poorly done. Two: Write what interests you. I think it’s great to write what I know, but I already know it. I prefer to come at my work from a multicultural perspective. The status of a responsible observer can be quite insightful.

As creative people, writers have the capability to learn about things in which they’re interested. And to craft a story around the concept. There is a caveat, particularly when dealing with cultural issues. The subject should only be addressed when it’s something that makes your heart pound, that moves you, that creates passion in your soul. Because those moments that hook us will also hook the reader. Become immersed in another culture, and a piece of you will begin to own a piece of it.

Personal experience helps. Musa, a jeep driver in Tanzania, touched me with the simplicity of his belief; picture book. Climbing Mt. Sinai at two o’clock in the morning led to a sunrise that tinted the monochromatic landscape red; MG political thriller. Trips to the concentration camps in Germany, dovetailed with Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, were chilling; YA historical fiction.

But not everyone is a world traveler. That doesn’t mean multiculturalism has to be avoided. We live in a nation that embraces differences. Research that which interests you. Ask questions, read books, go to museums, listen to music, taste new foods.

When the time comes to write, including foreign words and phrases for your characters—defined in context—is one way to ground them in their specific culture. On-line sites and even guidebooks provide translations for individual words or simple phrases. Unless you personally know someone who can speak the language, it’s important to hire a professional to proof foreign words once the manuscript is completed. Get a price up-front. Some services are reasonable, others quite costly. But it’s a must to be certain the correct meaning and nuance has been captured.

I only speak English, but I did well at peppering a manuscript with carefully researched Arabic words and phrases. When it got proofed, the translator pointed out I had used the word baksheesh to mean bribe, when instead it connotes alms. She provided the correct word, rashwa. It made a huge difference to the meaning of the scene.

Probably the most important thing about writing outside of one’s own cultural experience is to be scrupulous with accuracy and to do whatever is necessary to avoid offending. It’s our responsibility. In this, as in every area for children’s writers, we have the responsibility to make sure the information we provide is accurate and sensitive.

Use your summer to get high—on writing! Don’t be afraid to explore the unfamiliar, as long as it grabs you in the gut. And bring cultures together by demystifying the unknown for yourself and for your readers.

This summer you can find me in Kenya, on the patio with my MacBook Pro, or on my web site:       www.laurelhouckpages.com.

Laurel H Children

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People “Against YA”?

Adults reading YA literature. A point of controversy in literary circles. “Against YA” an article by Ruth Graham in Slate was quite a flashpoint. The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Washington Post are among the erudite institutions that also weighed in on the “problem.” But I wouldn’t say the problem is with adults reading novels written for young adults. I think the problem is the fiction written for adults.

When I wrote a women’s novel, I delved into the world of women’s upmarket/bookclub fiction. Some of it I absolutely loved. Yet the majority of it I disliked so intensely, I’d throw the book down and refuse to pick it up again. The novel describing the position of a fly in a salad as “the insect’s supine and slightly sensual posture” ended up in the trash. There is nothing sensual about a fly in a salad.

I started reading more YA when I began to write a YA novel. I fell in love with reading again. The variety in YA contemporary is astonishing. There are light plot driven books with happy endings or even not-so-happy endings, there are high concept page turners and there are deep, character driven books whose endings are so real they make your throat ache.

But they all have one thing in common—YA fiction is about the character. Most women’s fiction is about a topic. It seems counterintuitive but the proof is in the writing.

The Spectacular Now, a brilliant YA contemporary novel by Tim Tharp, is about Sutter Keeley, a teen guy who happens to be an alcoholic. It is not about teen alcoholism in the guise of the character Sutter Keeley.

A recent upmarket novel that I didn’t finish reading is about addiction to prescription painkillers. I can’t tell you the main character’s name because all the characters, and all the plots, and all the topics of the books of that genre are stored in one gray lump in my memory—older (meaning mid-thirties to late forties), stressed out wife and mother has an issue or a secret, a boring, lukewarm marriage, and self-centered, bratty, spoiled children. Oh, and usually an affair is lurking somewhere in the mix.

I may be one of those older women, but how old I am is vastly different from how old I feel. I’d much rather read about a young adult whose feelings resonate with me, than commiserate with a woman about her age.

Litmus Test

Below are blurbs from two NY Times bestsellers. Can you guess which is YA and which is WF? Hint: One is about a topic. One is about a character.

  • (Author’s name) examines what it means to be a good parent, a good sister, a good person. Is it morally correct to do whatever it takes to save a child’s life, even if that means infringing upon the rights of another?
  • Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.