All The Way YA

Is There Such A Thing As Over Editing? / @StephanieKeyes / @allthewayya

There have been lots of times over the years when I’ve gotten frustrated, when rejection nailed me to the wall. Everybody who writes goes through this to some degree. Over the past few years, I’ve focused on exploring and managing this, turning rejections into my own mini-teachable moments and allowing myself to enjoy successes. It’s worked. I’ve been a happier writer because of it.

But…I never expected to find myself at a standstill last week over an entirely different blocker. Editing. Specifically, when did I stop? How was I supposed to truly know when a manuscript was ready to go out? As a perfectionist, I can edit a book forever if I let myself. Still, there’s danger in that.

Last year, I attended the Rutgers One-On-One Plus conference (fabulous, by the way). During a panel discussion, T.S. Ferguson from Harlequin Teen shared a story of how he almost passed on Daughters unto Devils because of an edit done by another editor. He’d seen the original version of the story and loved it, but when the manuscript made its way back to him, it’d lost its magic. He passed on the manuscript. Eventually he did work with the author and do a new edit (which is available today). Still this story stayed with me.

How do you know if you’re overediting?

 I polled other writer friends. How much time did they spend on rewrites and edits? Did they use a freelance editor? What strategies did they apply? I needed rules, some sort of absolute that I could adopt. I may be a creative, but I’m also big on logic. As an IT geek, I like rules. I like logic.

The feedback rolled in. It ranged from high level answers of 5-7 times to detailed responses, such as three read-throughs, one developmental edit, one copy edit, and one line edit. The only recurring theme? “I know I’m done editing when I feel in my gut that I’ve done my very best.”

My dreams of a bulleted checklist evaporated. These responses were as far from a definitive set of rules as it was possible to get. It overwhelmed me. I did the only thing I could. I shut down the laptop and got onto my elliptical machine.

This is something I do quite a bit. If a story isn’t working, I step back and throw myself into something that uses another part of my brain, exercising, something with spreadsheets (color coding makes me happy), or yes, even cleaning. Unfortunately, none of these resulted in a clear-cut answer either.

And then it happened. That moment everyone had talked about. I had an MS out to an editor and the feedback that came in blew me away. He suggested a change to my character’s personality that would make mare my guy…exactly the way I’d written him five versions ago.

Had I overedited? Heck, yes.


I’d cast my net so wide in my quest for feedback that I’d somehow accumulated too many opinions and changed far more than I needed to. In my search for logic, what I started doing was listening to everyone but myself. I believed in my work, but yet, somehow didn’t trust my ination to enough to believe in my version of the story.

There aren’t any rules when it comes to something like knowing when you’re done with a story. There can’t be, because every story is different. That’s why we always hear those generalized phrases like, you’ll know when you’re ready and it’s done when you’ve created the very best version.

I’m here to add one more to the list: It’s done when you’ve told the story you set out to tell. Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone will like it or love it, but you have to. It needs to be a story that you read over and over again and fall in love with, whether you’re reading it from the readers’ perspective or your own.

Are there hard and fast rules to help you figure out when you’re done editing? Not really. But like everything else when it comes to writing, trusting yourself and believing in your story are two character features you should never edit out.

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Unpublished Business

Published writers are also unpublished writers.

Unless they’re instant successes like J. K. Rowling or perpetual bestsellers like Rick Riordan—and, most likely, even if they are—the majority of published writers have a closet or a hard drive full of unpublished novels.

Take me. I have one published novel, the YA science fiction adventure Survival Colony 9, with the sequel, Scavenger of Souls, due out in August. (There’s a cover reveal and giveaway running right now on YA Books Central, if you’d like to check it out.) I also have the following unpublished novels to my name:

The Adjunct
Chainbearer
The Daedalus Dreams
Deep Six
The Devouring Land
Ecosystem
Freefall
Jim Thorpe’s Ghost
A Journal of the SAME Year
Rise of the Losers
Sixty
Skaldi City
Summer Shadows
To Alter the Past
A Very Small Child Called Eugene
Welcome to Writopia!

Now, admittedly, my ratio of unpublished to published novels (8:1 per the above list) isn’t quite as dire as all that. Some of these are old projects, abandoned years or even decades ago. Others are works in progress that might still see the light of day. And one is currently sitting on my editor’s desk, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

But no matter how you look at it, the fact remains: I’ve written far more novels (and partial novels) than I’ve published.

I wish I could say that all of the unpublished novels I’ve written have been practice for the two I’ve published. But that wouldn’t be telling the truth, because some of the unpublished novels were written after I’d published Survival Colony 9. In other words, they were rejected by my agent or editor.

So it’s also possible to say that in some cases, my unpublished novels are nothing more than that: novels I poured six months of my life and a considerable portion of my soul into with no tangible benefit whatsoever.

I try not to see it that way, though. Rather, I remind myself that for many, perhaps most, perhaps all writers, not being published is simply part of the business of being published. The two go together, and it’s hard to have the one without having the other.

That might not come as a comfort to writers who are yet to be published, but it’s a reality one has to accept if one wants to write.

Having a published book isn’t absolutely different from having an unpublished book. Having a book of any kind is absolutely different from not having a book at all.

 

JDBJoshua David Bellin has been writing novels since the age of eight (though the first few were admittedly very short). His debut, the YA science fiction adventure SURVIVAL COLONY 9, was published in 2014, with the sequel, SCAVENGER OF SOULS, due out on August 23, 2016. Josh likes to read, watch monster movies, and take Nature hikes with his family in search of frogs and salamanders.

Rejection and Perseverance The Untold Story By Thomas Wright/ @zbsdaddy

So you want to be a published writer huh? First off, congrats. It’s a great path to pursue. But much like baking a cake or a batch of cookies, you’ll need a good recipe for success before you can dive in. Here’s one I used:

1 cup of great story. Try to make it polished and ready to publish as quickly as possible. Be sure it is 100% unique too. No pressure intended.

¾ cup lack of sleep. For those insomniacs out there, you can skip this ingredient.

1 cup of blood, sweat, and tears.

½ cup of worry and doubt.

10 cups of determination.

As I’m sure you can see, the last ingredient is the most crucial, and unfortunately, the toughest to obtain. Without it, failure is guaranteed. But hold up…isn’t the story supposed to be enough? I’m sure I heard that somewhere.

In truth, the answer is a yes and no. A good story is always sought after, but tons of people have them. If you want proof, attend any of the SCBWI conferences. I dare anyone to find a bad story among the attendees. Go ahead. Try. Regrettably, the time it takes for a story to be found and published is not predictable, thus the need for a big supply of our final ingredient. Why the need though? Well, my writing friends, it’s all due to our dear pal—Rejection. Have you heard his story? No. Well, please permit me.

If you have been in this profession for any length of time, you’re sure to have met up with Rejection. He’s an equal opportunity friend and can ruin a manuscript recipe in a second. The problem is, he never announces his arrival and always shows up at the most inopportune times. Plus, he comes in many forms and typically outstays his welcome. Yet, if you think about it, we allow him to visit. With each query sent, we invite him over. I personally have opened the door to him way too many times to admit.

So why haven’t I stopped writing? I should be curled up in a corner crying my eyes out screaming: “Curse you Rejection. I shall carry on no more.” Right.

Wrong.

Turns out, Rejection has a mortal enemy. His name is Perseverance, and wow is he amazing. Most know little about him. Understand something: He doesn’t always visit and is kind of shy. He likes to feel wanted and be invited over. But once you let him in, he’ll give you the secrets to some of Rejection’s favorite lines. Check out what he told me:

  1. I’m sorry, but this story just isn’t right for me.

Rejection has used this on me many times. But look closely; it’s not really all that bad. All the person is trying to say is that your particular submission packet/manuscript was not a good fit for her/him. Maybe he/she just signed another author with a similar story and can’t accept another one. Or maybe they just don’t represent your particular kind of story. Nowhere in the line is the person saying your story is terrible. So this line is one I can live with. Thanks Perseverance.

  1. I didn’t identify with your voice.

This one is a little tougher to swallow, but again, not that bad. Voice is just one part of your story. Yes, it’s an important part, but it’s correctable. It’s not like they said: “I hate everything about this story. You suck as a writer.” They just didn’t like your voice. So fix it. There are plenty of readily available tools to help with just such a thing. All you have to do is search and use them.

  1. I didn’t like your pages as much as I had hoped.

To be honest, I haven’t received this one much. Out of all Rejection’s lines, this one has promise to it. Read it for what it’s worth. Submissions to agents and editors, at least in the beginning stages are usually a snippet of your manuscript. They didn’t reject the whole thing, only what you gave them. Maybe you didn’t take enough time to polish the manuscript before sending. Maybe, you start out a little slow and really get rolling on page twenty-five. The agent or editor doesn’t know that, they only read the first five to ten pages. It’s not a knock against your story or ability as a writer. In fact, they liked your premise. They said so. You just didn’t deliver the goods. Keep trying and working hard to fix the issues. Don’t get discouraged. It will come.

  1. I don’t think I’m the best agent/editor for this project.

Agents and editors have preferences. They don’t all like the same thing. If it’s an agent rejecting, perhaps they don’t have the necessary contacts to sell your story. This could be especially true with new agents. If it’s an editor, perhaps the publishing house doesn’t publish your type of story. Perhaps their list has a similar project on it. Think about these elements the next time this line is used.

And lastly, we have the most popular line Rejection uses. Drum roll please…

  1. I’m sorry. I’m going to have to pass on your project.

What? They’re passing?

How could they pass on such an awesome manuscript?

Are they stupid?

My book is bound to win major awards. It’s so good.

I’m the next J.K. Rowling for crying out loud.

The above scenario is not an uncommon reaction to our fifth type. Okay, maybe the J.K. Rowling part is. Look at it though. Is it even a rejection? What are they telling us? In reality—nothing. The person hasn’t told you a thing good or bad about your project. So why do we assume the worst? Perhaps it’s human nature. I’m not a scientist, so I can’t provide an understanding of why we react as we do, but I do know this is not bad. It’s not anything. One can infer a ton of meaning to this line. Don’t. Move on. Life is too short. So this particular agent or editor passed. Perhaps the next one won’t. If you get cozy enough with Perseverance, this type of rejection won’t bother you.

I’m sure there are more lines Rejection has used, any one capable of turning us writers into a pile of useless garbage. Next time you get one, do what I do: call on Perseverance. Make him dinner. Drink a bottle of wine together. Watch a good movie. Just be sure to listen to what he has to say. If you do, I can personally guarantee that together you’ll bake that manuscript of yours into a polished product that will someday look great in bookstores everywhere.

And in case you’re curious, I believe Perseverance’s phone number is 867-5309. He lives with Jenny. Go figure.

https://www.facebook.com/thomas.wright.353

www.thomaswrightbooks.com

Thomas Wright is a writer of middle grade and young adult novels. His first book Ansburry Tales: The Redeemer was published in 2013. Book two of this five-part series is scheduled for release in 2016. Other completed projects include a YA novel, Catching Tomorrow due out in 2017, and a middle grade series entitled, The Adventures of Spikehead and Fred, with book one slated for publication in 2017.  He currently resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with his wonderful family and far too many dogs.thomaswright

#DearLaura

#DearLaura,

I just read something about structuring novels like a screenplay, and I’m intrigued. Does this really work for novels? Do you know any good books or websites I could check out to learn more?

Ardent Author

Dear Ardent,

There are several books out there about screenwriting, but my favorite resource is Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT (www.savethecat.com), which is now a book, a website, and its own brand.

In screenwriting, the term save the cat is the event or act your hero performs at the start of the story, which reveals their character, usually in a positive light. For instance, in Disney’s ALADDIN, his save-the-cat moment is when he gives his stolen bread to the starving children, thus showing that even though he may be a thief, he is still bound to a higher moral code of compassion for those who are worse off or more vulnerable than him.

On the same website, popular movies are broken down according to their “beat sheets.” A beat sheet breaks down the three-act structure into bite-size, manageable sections, each with a specific goal for your overall story. Being a pantser myself as opposed to a plotter, I find outlining a bit stifling, but the beat sheet feels comfortable as a scaffold on which to hang my story.

I’d check out the beat sheets listed on savethecat.com, starting with ALADDIN. If you’ve never worked with beat sheets before, be prepared, this revelation may blow your mind.

Good luck!

Laura

#DearLaura,

My agent said that an editor is interested in my manuscript and scheduled a call for us to talk. Do you have advice on what I should ask?

Cautiously optimistic in California

Dear Optimistic,

While there are probably several standard questions out there that are probably recommended for this situation, I will tell you the questions I wish I’d asked my first editor…

How closely do you adhere to your deadlines?

Editors are busy people, as are writers, many of whom are juggling multiple jobs in order to finance their art. If you are someone who strictly adheres to deadlines, about to enter into a long-term relationship with an editor who’s not as firm, it would benefit you to know that up front. The same goes if the roles are reversed, or if you both are of the same constitution. This doesn’t mean the two of you are a bad match, but it is part of getting on the same page as far as expectations go.

How do you like to communicate with your authors?

In keeping with respecting each others’ time and multiple obligations, combined with the numerous forms of communication at our fingertips, it’s important to know how your editor wants to hear from you and vice versa. Most agree that Facebook is a poor avenue for communication with regard to editorial business and some would argue that for deep, detailed questions, a phone call is best. Tangentially, the same goes for book reveals along the way. Always ask before posting about it on social media. Your editor will thank you.

What are your expectations for revision?

It’s important to know what your editor has in mind for your story, in general terms. Is it character development and raising tension, or is it scrapping and rewriting the second half. Even if you only have one editor interested in your novel, I’d recommend you get a good idea up front of what kind of revision they’re looking for in order to make sure that it’s in line with your goals for the story.

What are the elements of my story that are most compelling to you?

Most editorial letters are heavy on what’s not working, but not always on what is working. This is important for you as a writer to know so that when you’re in the throes of revision, you don’t inadvertently write out what’s working in your story. It also helps to hear from other people what your strengths are, so that you can capitalize on them.

The last thing I’d add to this list, is what not to ask, which is the finer details of the contract, such as rights, payment, etc. Those can be negotiated later with your input, hopefully between the editor and your agent who will act as the go-between. This allows you to be creative genius and your agent to be the heavy.

Good luck!

Laura

Laura LascarsoHeadshotWebFinal is the author of two YA novels, COUNTING BACKWARDS (2012) and RACING HEARTS (2015). If you have a burning YA question you’d like answered, tweet it to @lauralascarso with #DearLaura or include it in the comments below.

Taking Away My Own Power

From age 14 to 15, I gained 45 pounds.

I started what would become an almost two-decade long struggle with food and my body in middle school, around age 11. Most of the struggle in the beginning manifested in sporadic guilt and regret: In my mind, I berated myself for the so-called roll of fat over my Gap jeans that preventing me from tucking my shirt in (God, did I ever want to tuck my shirts in like the other girls did), and I practically committed mental suicide over the way my arms looked in tank tops—a lunch lady dangle making me feel like I may have some kind of aging disorder.  Yet, most of this struggle only resulted in half-hearted attempts at restricting my food to all-veggie salads and sandwiches made with diet bread and before bed calisthenics routines and an occasional Jane Fonda workout video.

But as I made my way through middle school, the struggle became more and more real: I started to notice how my friends were able to consume an entire bag of Doritos, wash it down with realCoke (not Diet Coke), and top it off with a pint of Hagen Das and not ever even show a slight bloat in their incredibly flat stomachs. I began to feel horrible at sleepovers, regretting the hangover the next day from a night of pizza, ice cream, chips, cookies, and cake.

On the outside, I had never had a “weight problem” and was always visually pretty average. My struggle was deep, deep inside. And it wasn’t about being fat or about being pretty or about fitting in. It was about feeling out of control.

Here is the thing about that time period, despite the internal monologue berating myself, I still ate fairly normally, eating when hungry and stopping when full.

It wasn’t until age 14 that I began to eat compulsively. A combination of the transition from middle to high school with my first real heartbreak sent me head first into a carton of Vanilla Fudge ice cream. These episodes were different from the occasional over-eat-athon with girlfriends at a sleepover. When the hunger switch inside me said “full”, I kept going…like driving a car and watching the speedometer lean all the way over—I pushed the peddle further to the metal.

Me 15

Me, on the verge of 15

Oddly, I felt powerful while binging. I felt a freedom that I didn’t feel in my day-to-day life. Yet, after each episode, I was left helpless and empty, despite the filled-to the brim murkiness in my belly.

Over the course of almost 2 years, I put on 45 pounds. Then something shifted for me…I no longer felt powerful and free when I binged. I felt horrible, I felt like I was violating myself, hurting myself, like I hated my self…yet, I didn’t hate myself and I didn’t want to do it any more. I was growing up now and with the promise of college to take me out of my small town, I saw that a wider world was waiting and I didn’t want to be stuck in my wall of food and fat, missing out on it all.

So I stopped…with the help of a book by Geneen Roth called Breaking Free From Emotional Eating. I learned about the powerful tool called the hunger scale and I started to watch and listen to those numbers instead of the ones on my bathroom floor.

And my weight evened out, and I cured myself of the compulsion to binge.

Me almost 16

Me (and my sis), almost 16

But this isn’t about how I cured myself of compulsive eating.

This is about the connection between writing and self-love, writing and compulsive behavior. There is a connection to writing somewhere in this adolescent experience of mine. If I were to create an analogy, I don’t think it would fit perfectly but it goes like this: If writing is to eating, then compulsive writing is to compulsive eating. In other words, if writing is nourishment to my soul as eating is nourishment to my body, then it is possible to turn that act of nourishment into an act of destruction, as I did once with food.

Writing was, for many, many years, a natural expression and expansion of myself, my soul, my thoughts, my force field, my energy.

The way I feel about my writing now, is so very reminiscent to how I felt when binge eating stopped feeling powerful and free and started to feel limiting, horrible, and self-destructive.

The natural ebb and flow of my hunger was disrupted by my misuse of food. I remember that one day I woke up and thought, instead of going to school and dealing with the pressure and stress of 9th grade with all of its uncertainty, newness, and heart break, I could stay home in my bed and eat…anything. All day long. I could taste and chew and fill and never have to feel the sadness and depression of loss that I was carrying around (starting with the sudden death of my grandfather, followed by a painful break up, and the ending two close friendships). If I just keep eating and tasting the tastes of delicious sweetness, I won’t have to feel a thing ever again!

Or so I thought.

When it didn’t work, I had to stop. I wanted to stop. I was more than willing to figure out how to eat normally and healthfully again. So I began to listen to the signals of hunger and fullness, and my eating began to be rhythmic and predictable and feel good and normal. I stopped obsessing all day long about it. Sure, my mind would wander and do what it did, but I became so grounded in my own hunger urges and needs and queues, that the chatter in my brain didn’t matter to what I actually did in terms of eating. My soul and body took over the chatter in my brain, and I started to trust myself .

When my writing didn’t catch fire in the industry as I thought it would years ago, I just wrote more and harder and faster because then I didn’t have to face the pain of loss, disappointment, and heartbreak.

Geneen Roth talks about how food is just food and not love. It is not power or control either. Food brings you the ability to be nourished and it keeps you alive. The same can be said about writing, yet there is a break down in this analogy—writing can bring about change, and it can bring about love. It can also bring about hate, fear, rage…because writing is art. Art has power, has the capacity to be powerful. But writing is not love. Writing is not worth. When I write compulsively, I take away my own power, my own self-trust, my own authentic voice.

When I use writing to avoid emotional struggle and pain, when I use it as a weapon against myself, when I go at it with a rawness that no longer feels healing, writing is just as bad as compulsive eating, gambling, or drinking.

Yes, something so good can become so bad, if you use it to avoid emotional distress and pain.

When I began to eat based on internal and natural cues, I started to remember that I used to do that, that before puberty took hold of me, before I started to be afraid of my feelings, I would do a lot of thing without too much obsessing and worry.

Today, I don’t eat to avoid pain. I don’t eat to block things in my life. I eat for hunger, flavor, and taste. Eating is enjoyable, but when it is over and I am full, I move on and live . There is no struggle.

Over the last year and a half, I’ve stopped writing compulsively and have started to listen to internal cues about what I love to write. I love writing this piece. I love helping my clients write. I love writing freely or writing for a purpose or writing on a deadline.

I hurt as I sit here and write this. I hurt about my manuscripts that sit in my computer and that are not agented and that are not considered by editors. I’m sad about my books that sit in my closet not in the hands of readers. The difference is, I allow myself to feel all the hurt and pain, and I don’t write to avoid it. I accept the pain of rejection, of “no”, and in that acceptance, I find my own yes, my own pleasure for writing.

IMG_2468 Hannah R. Goodman is a writer (among 500 other things) in Rhode Island and founder of All The Way YA. She can be found on Twitter at @hannahrgoodman

This post first appeared on writerwomyn.com on January 22, 2016.

“Everyone has a dream, what’s your dream?”

… Or The Best Laid Plans

One of the best things I’ve done on my journey to sell my YA novel is connect with other writers. Through FaceBook groups, through Twitter, through co-founding a writer’s collective in my small town, through reaching out aggressively to friends, acquaintances and people I knew more than twenty years ago (thank you to all of you!): I’ve done what I can to learn from others and share what I’ve learned. But there’s one thing that no one can help me with, and right now it’s the thing I’m struggling with the most.

Inevitably, when talking to more experienced writers (writers who have been focused on publishing longer than I have or who have made it further on their publishing journey) I ask the same question:

How long do you give it before you move on?
Specifically, how long do you shop your first novel in the “traditional” way before you move on? (And how do you measure “how long?” Months? Years? Queries? Contests?)

And, following that, if I am going to “move on,” what exactly does “moving on” mean?
Specifically, if I don’t find a traditional publisher for my first novel, do I self-publish a print-on-demand book? An Ebook? Do I turn to wattpad or blog it chapter-by-chapter on my own site? Or do I put it in the bottom drawer/circular file/bonfire out back?

Unlike most things in publishing (a subjective field to say the least!) there seems to be a good deal of consensus on this issue. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to has responded with the same answer, though it’s not an entirely a helpful one.

They all ask: What’s your goal?
Do you want to make money? To be famous? Is it more important to just get your story out there or do you want to quit your day job?

For the past five months, I’ve been struggling to find an answer. Here’s a bit of what that struggle has looked like:

If I’m honest with myself, I can acknowledge my desire is to:
— have J.K. Rowling-like success,
— have a movie made out of my book/books,
— quit my day-job,
— provide for my family on a grand scale,
— give away gobs of money to causes in which I believe, and
— have more time to write in a cabin on a river.

But if I’m really honest with myself, I realize these are pipe-dreams. That’s not self-deprecation, that’s just an honest realization that the fame and fortune I dreamed of as a teenager (who was feverishly writing short stories in math class) is not really likely to happen given that I’m over 40 and don’t have any substantial publishing credits to my name (though, if you believe internet memes, that does happen!). Also, in talking to published writers, I now realize that success in this field looks very different than what I thought it would look like when I was a kid.

Ok, so then what?

And that’s where I’ve been stuck for the past several months. Certainly without a goal in mind, it’s hard to make any progress.

When I started querying I reached out to a friend of my husband’s for advice. He had recently published his first novel after a highly publicized auction that resulted in a more than substantial payout. I told him I wasn’t sure I was up for querying and I was considering self-publishing. “But you’re not going to do that, right?” he said, in a tone that suggested I was considering sacrificing my own cat (or perhaps just my dignity, hard to say) in the pursuit of success. I mumbled something in response and put the idea of self-publishing out of my mind.

And then I queried for five months. And I thought about self-publishing more and more. I had written several Twitter pitches. I had written a Log Line. I had come up with comp titles. It felt like I was doing a lot of work to convince an agent to take me on as a client to help me find a publisher to help me sell my book… It seemed like it might be more effective to put my energy into selling my book to actual readers.

But there was another conversation with an old friend that had been haunting me. She is an editor who has worked at “the big 5” and she has been very generous with her time and advice. She once told me that many of the very big-name authors she has worked with have a first novel in a desk drawer and they’re thrilled it’s not out there in the world. Would it have ruined their career? Not likely. But would it be embarrassing to them now? Probably.

And then there’s the conversation I had when I was 16. In 1992 I met a nun while I was serving meals in a church in Rochester, NY. We worked side by side for a couple days and it came up that we both wrote and that my career goal was to be a novelist. “Women write,” she said. “Men publish.” I wasn’t really aware of feminism at that time, certainly not in the way that I am now, but those four words, they really put a point on it: writing and publishing are two very different things.

So this is where I’ve been hovering: Part of me wants to strike out on my own to publish myself (to cut out the middle “man” so to speak) and part of me worries that that would be a very bad idea.

And it is in this space that I think I’ve come to understand my goal.

My goal, like probably every other artist at some point in his or her career (and certainly every stand-up comedian I know!) is for someone to love me, or, more specifically, love my work. I’ve (mostly) let go of the idea of quitting my day job. I’ve (mostly) let go of the idea of making millions of dollars. But I’ve also let go of the idea of self-publishing (at least for now). Not because I have anything against self-publishing or writers who do it – in fact, I’m in awe of them – but because what an agent or publisher offers to me is some level of quality control and validation that I am desperately seeking.

I know I’m a writer. I know I’m a writer because I like to write more than I like to do most things. I know I’m a writer because sometimes I sneak into the basement with my laptop when no one is looking just so I can write for twenty minutes. I know I’m a writer because one winter I drove four hours to my mother’s empty apartment (she’s a snowbird) so that I could write a scene I couldn’t write anywhere else. The heat was turned down really low, the cable was off and the fridge was empty, and I couldn’t think of anywhere else I wanted to be. But knowing I’m a writer and publishing are two different things – and right now I think I’d like a little help with the latter. An agent or publisher is not the only way I’ll consider myself a success, but it’s the way I’m hoping for right now.

So for now, I’ve made up my mind: I know my goal and I know my timeline. I will spend 2016 looking for an agent or a small press for Novel Number One and writing Draft One of Novel Number Two. If it doesn’t happen this year, I will (figuratively) put Novel Number One in the bottom drawer and refocus on Novel Number Two. After months of not knowing what I wanted or what would come next, it feels really good to have a plan.

But wait!

Stop the (virtual) presses!

I just got an email from a publisher. It was a pass but with real, helpful, actionable notes!

2016 might just be another re-write year for Novel Number One and that’s ok.

Isn’t this journey fantastic?!

 

Jamie Beth Cohen hails from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and currently lives on the line between suburban and rural Lancaster County, PA. She is currently trying to find an agent for her debut novel in which sixteen-year-old Alice Burton is caught between enjoying her burgeoning sexuality and underestimating its considerable power. She is occasionally on Twitter @Jamie_Beth_S and you can read more about Jamie, and see videos of her recent story slam performances, at www.JamieBethCohen.com.Jamie

Amateur Hour

I’ll be the amateur so you don’t have to be.

When I was 16 I worked in a record store. We didn’t sell records (because it was the 90s so we sold cassettes, compact discs and the easily forgotten cassingles) but we still referred to it as “the record store,” probably because that sounded way cooler than “the cassingle store.”

My musical taste and my general outlook on life were greatly influenced by my time there and in particular, by my co-worker Ray, who taught me about many things, including the concept known as “amateur hour.”

See, when you work in a record store, you come to believe (for better or worse) that musical taste is someone’s defining characteristic and that being “cool” is the most important thing you can be. I am happy to say Ray and I both grew out of this phase and eventually valued things in others beyond “coolness,” but back in the day, good luck if you came into our store looking for Mariah Carey or Debbie Gibson while we were listening to Elvis Costello. If three people in a row asked for something we deemed “uncool,” Ray would turn to me, shake his head, bug his eyes out and say, “Must be amateur hour.” I learned to give a mean side-eye as a 16-year-old.

I believe this is how I became petrified of seeming uncool or inexperienced. Although I have always been naturally risk-adverse, working with Ray in “the record store” convinced me that appearing uncool was to be avoided at all costs. This meant that for the next twenty years I would stick to what I knew and could do well with little effort. This strategy fell apart when I had my first child and realized parenting was well outside of my wheelhouse, but that’s a different blog post… Right now, decades after my stint in “the record store,” I’m forced to confront my amateur status as an aspiring novelist. I have to put myself out there, expose my ignorance, try new things, and ask for help. Below you will see a catalogue of what I’ve done in the last six months that I didn’t know existed half a year ago.

I present it here (for all of the internet to see) for one reason and one reason only: Let me help you protect your cool.

First of all, let’s catch up:

In my first post I came to terms with the fact that getting my first novel published was going to be a lot less fun (and a lot more work) than writing said novel.

In my second post I reflected on what it felt like to soldier through my first round of rejections while simultaneously trying to appear normal in all other facets of my life.

Here are some things I’ve done (and things you might want to do, if you’re just starting out):

After polishing my manuscript to the best of my ability based on feedback from other writer friends and beta readers, I wrote a query letter, a synopsis, a log line and several twitter pitches. These are all different things and each of them taught me something new about my novel, my writing and the process of selling a book. (Click on any of the terms to learn more about these things.)
I queried, queried and queried some more. This involves research. It involves following Writer’s Digest and Publisher’s Weekly on Twitter and signing up for their listserves. Do this!

In fact, if you’re not on Twitter, get your butt over there and learn the ropes. I had resisted for years and now I’m making up for lost time. I have found out about so many opportunities and made so many connections through Twitter.I entered a (free) contest where the prize was a critique of your first ten pages. I did not win but it was cool to find out a thing like this existed. It’s an on-going contest that focuses on different genres each time. Check it out!

I did a Writer’s Digest webinar (for about $90) on rejections that came with an agent critique of my query letter. This was hard. I’m not a terribly spiritual person but, as a writer, I certainly believe that words are powerful. Listening to an agent say the world “rejection” over and over again was difficult. But I’ve been getting a lot of feedback from peers on my query letters and I thought it would be worthwhile to get feedback from a professional. Here’s what I learned:

My title rocks. (I have since learned I likely need to change it for legal reasons. Sigh.)
My writing is solid.
I have a huge (fixable) plot problem that no one else but this agent caught.

I submitted a query to an agent who guaranteed a personal response (either a request or a reason for the pass). I found about this on Twitter by following other writers and agents. Having a query rejected is something I’m getting used to, but never hearing back from an agent (which is fairly common) is something I don’t expect to ever get used to. The opportunity of guaranteed personal response from a top agent seemed really cool. Here’s what I learned: The contemporary YA market is over-saturated and my novel doesn’t have a strong enough hook for this agent.

I participated in a twitter pitch party. This was exciting, frustrating and illuminating. I participated in #PitchMAS but there are several twitter pitch parties and you should check them out. #PitchMAS is a two-phase contest where you can submit a 35-word pitch for a curated blog contest and then there’s an open day when anyone can throw pitches up on Twitter using a specific hashtag which agents and small presses have promised to read. I didn’t make the cut for the curated phase but I did get some interest from the Twitter pitches. More importantly, I met a community of writers who are in relatively the same place with their publishing career as I am and this was a huge benefit.

I connected with other writers. I did this through Facebook groups, through mining my own Facebook contacts and my real-life contacts. Do this! The best part of this whole process for me so far has been connecting with agented or published authors who want to share their experience and their journey. I am frankly amazed by the gift these writers have given me by sharing their time and answering my questions. I’ve also connected with aspiring writers who have turned into new critique partners and wonderful supports.

Do I feel like an amateur?
For sure.

Is someone somewhere giving me and my questions a mean side-eye?
Probably.

Has it been worth it?
Without a doubt.

Am I going to pay it forward?
I can’t wait!

Tell me what I’ve missed in the comments!  Surely some of you out there are former-amateurs!


JamieJamie Beth Cohen
 hails from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and currently lives on the line between suburban and rural Lancaster County, PA. She is currently trying to find an agent for her debut novel in which sixteen-year-old Alice Burton is caught between enjoying her burgeoning sexuality and underestimating its considerable power. She is occasionally on Twitter @Jamie_Beth_S and you can read more about Jamie, and see videos of her recent story slam performances, at www.JamieBethCohen.com.

#DearLaura

#DearLaura,

How do you find the time to write your books? Do you just sit down and write whenever inspiration hits or do you set aside a certain amount of hours every day to write? And which seems to get the job done better?

MichelleConde71

Dear Michelle,

For many writers, myself included, writing is not their full-time job. And even for those who do write full-time, it can be difficult to juggle the creative and business side of being a professional writer, ie. social media, conferences, school visits, etc. While these other commitments are important as they often help writers generate supplemental income, they can swiftly take over your creative time.

While I can’t speak for all writers, I can give you some insight into my process. For inception novel writing, which takes the most amount of creative energy for me, I tend to block out large chunks of time to devote to the first draft of a project. I’ll pull back from social media, make sure all my admin-type projects are complete, and devote most, if not all, of my limited time to simply writing. For me, this means 3-5 nights per week between 9pm and 12midnight (I’m a night owl). To help make the most of my writing time, I often daydream about my story during the hours in between, thinking about characters, scene, and dialogue. This means that when I sit down to write, I have an idea of what I need to accomplish and I can be efficient with my time.

When I’m writing something new, I need to spend as much continuous time as possible in it, or I lose the thread of the story. My best writing comes when I am living with the characters, feeling their feelings, thinking their thoughts, and that only comes when I’m deeply invested. Therefore, to complement my weekly shifts, I try to plan for a couple weekend writing retreats per year, so that I can spend a few days with my characters without the responsibilities of daily life. I do very little revising on the new draft during this time and I try and tune out the editor in me altogether (unless problems arise).

So, to summarize, the three things I recommend for you are:

  • keep to a weekly writing schedule;
  • hold your creative time sacred;
  • build in some more in-depth writing retreats.

Hopefully, this will ensure that you are able to accomplish your writing goals while still managing your other responsibilities.

Good luck!

Laura

#DearLaura,

I keep hearing writers who have agents talking about “going on sub.” I know it has to do with their books going out to publishers, but can you explain how that process works?

Elizabeth M. from Washington D.C.

Dear Elizabeth,

“Going on sub,” short for “submission,” means that your agent thinks your manuscript is ready to pitch to editors. Based on your story and intended market, your agent likely has a top tier of editors to whom they intend to pitch your story. For children’s literature, which includes YA, the sub list is usually 6-12 editors. Most agents will only pitch to one editor within a publishing house, even if the publisher has several imprints. The pitch includes a short synopsis (similar to a log-line), a few published works that are comparable to your project, and some specifics like whether its YA or MG and the genre of your manuscript.

Some agents will share their sub list with the author. Some don’t. Some agents will share editor responses with their authors, word-for-word, while others act as a go-between. And some agents will only tell an author when an editor is interested. If you have a preference as an author, it may be wise to let your agent know. They may be flexible in their process or they may have found through experience that they prefer their own methods.

While it’s the agent’s job to follow-up with editors in a timely matter, if it seems like it’s been awhile (three months or more) with no response, you may want to nudge your agent. They are likely juggling several projects at once and may appreciate a gentle reminder.

Going on sub can take anywhere from a week to a year, maybe even longer. This is because the agent likes to give the editors ample time to review your work. If the first round of editors pass on your manuscript, but offer feedback, your agent may ask you to revise your manuscript before going out on sub again to increase your chances of sale.

In the best-case scenario, more than one editor will be interested in your work, which allows you and your agent to have the upper-hand in negotiating your contract. You may be invited to speak to the editors over the phone to learn a bit more about their vision for your book and how they believe it fits with their publishing house. These conversations are extremely valuable because it gives you, the author, the opportunity to ask questions and get to know the editor before you enter into what will become a long-term relationship.

If your agent has exhausted their list of contacts, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the end of the line for your book. There may be opportunities to strengthen it and go out on submission again. Or it may be that it’s not the right time in terms of market conditions. The good news is that editors move around a lot, so if you and your agent decide to go out on sub later down the line, you will likely have a fresh set of editors with different sensibilities reviewing your work.

Good luck!

Laura

Laura LascarsoHeadshotWebFinal is the author of two YA novels, COUNTING BACKWARDS (2012) and RACING HEARTS (2015). If you have a burning YA question you’d like answered, tweet it to @lauralascarso with #DearLaura or include it in the comments below.

Why New Year’s resolutions don’t work… and why you should make one anyway.

I love New Year’s. I love New Beginnings. I love New Ideas. Don’t you? They are all shiny and bright and festive. But what about New Year’s resolutions? How many of you have made one this year? Or maybe several? And how many of last year’s resolutions did you actually achieve? Or, like someone I know rather well but won’t name *ahem*, do you just recycle last year’s resolutions? You know, just in case, maybe, this year they stick? You know, things like:

  • I will write a book.
  • I will find an agent.
  • I will lose X kilos.
  • I will be a nicer person.
  • I will do more marketing.
  • I will organize my office.
  • I will spend less (or more) time on social media.
  • I will do more sport.
  • I will become a better writer.

Do any of these sound familiar? They do to me… and they are all good ideas. Who doesn’t want to finish their current project? Or start (and finish) a new one? Or be nicer, or be more organized, or in better shape?

We all do.

But how often have any of us achieved those resolutions? If you’re like me… not often. So why don’t resolutions work?

The problem with resolutions isn’t that they aren’t good ideas. Usually they are. It’s also not that (most of the time) they aren’t attainable. Usually they are.

So what’s wrong with us?

Nothing.

What’s wrong is how we formulate our resolutions. Or at least that has been my problem. Let’s take the first resolution, ‘I will write a book’. On the surface, it’s great. I have a year to do it and I probably have an idea (since I wrote I wanted to write a book). But how does it translate into an action? It doesn’t. And that’s the real problem with many New Year’s resolutions. Too often they are formulated as a goal, a wanted outcome, an ideal event. But not as a concrete, step-by-step, task or series of tasks that I can stick to and achieve.

But before we dig deeper into that first resolution, let’s look at another one.

‘I will get an agent’.

Yup. That one. Already it’s harder. We aren’t the only ones in this resolution anymore. Does that mean it shouldn’t be a resolution? No. All it means is that it needs to be formulated differently.

So what about ‘I will try to get an agent’?

Well, even that doesn’t work. Like with ‘I will write a book’ it’s too vague. However, if I decide: ‘I will search for 1 agent I would like to work with and send that person a query’, it is a resolution I can keep. I have a deadline and a specific, task-oriented goal. I can even make a chart and post it next to my computer to help keep me accountable—if I want.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you are guaranteed to get an agent, but it does mean you are figuring out which agents you would want to work with. And by figuring that out, and targeting specific people, you are more likely to find the right fit than if you send off a hundred queries to agents just because they had ‘YA’  in their listing. Each agent you research, whether you decide to submit to them or not, will help you get closer to your goal. And a relationship you will want to keep.

And all New Year’s resolutions are things we want, and want to keep—or we wouldn’t make them. But they aren’t always the right way of approaching the issue.

For example, if we go back to the resolution ‘I will write a book this year’ it is huge. And vague. And where do we start with that anyhow? And how can we know what is going to happen, in our lives or in the manuscript, for a whole year to come? We can’t. And deciding ‘I will write a chapter a week’ doesn’t necessarily work either. Not all weeks are the same and inspiration can’t be forced to buckle down and cooperate.

So maybe what would actually be more helpful is to make the resolution: ‘I will write at least 100 words every day, no matter what’. And then let those hundred words be about a character, about the plot arc, about a scene, a bit of dialog—or even an entire chapter for those days you are on a roll and can write 3,000 words or more.

But does that help write a book?

For me it does because it forces me to keep in touch with my manuscript every single day. And by keeping in touch with my characters and my world, they continue to be alive for me and my creativity is stimulated. When I have to leave my world for even a few days, it always takes me a while to get back into it. But if I touch base, even just to jot down a few ideas before going to bed, my characters, and their story arc, continue to grow.

So what are your resolutions? Are they attainable, task-oriented goals? And if not, can they be?

Good luck—and let’s touch base in a year!

Happy New Year! Time To Stop Disqualifying the Positive

Got number 1,250,000 rejection letter from an editor last week.

The months before I received it, I told myself that, with all the past year’s therapy, I have a new perspective of rejection, not just the hollow self-talk of yesteryear in the form of Euphemisms About Rejection (It’s Their Loss or Not Meant to Be) but rather solid, rational, cognitive challenging that was truthful and real and authentic and that I actually believed.

I told myself that when (IF) the rejection came and the automatic thought, “I’m a total f*$king loser/failure because I’ve been rejected by so-and-so”, rose up in my brain, I would seamlessly challenge it with: “I’m not a total f*$king loser/failure because look at those three degrees up there on your wall and check out that first place award from your first book and set your eyes upon the volumes of Sucker Literary in your book shelf.”

Then, on Dec 15th, I awoke to this in my inbox:

“I loved the premise, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to pass. Hannah is definitely a talented writer (her voice is spot on for NA!) but I just didn’t connect to the manuscript in quite the way that I hoped. I wish you both the best of luck in finding this manuscript a home, and I can’t wait to see what Hannah does in the future! ”

And…my self-esteem exploded.

This rejection hurt—much to my disappointment—far more than I anticipated.

No matter what I told myself in that moment I read that email, “You’re a loser/failure/f*$k up” echoed through my brain far louder than other, more rational thoughts.

The rest of that week I only saw my own writing and attempts at publishing through a heavy veil of depression, and I felt myself spinning backwards and buying the thought: “You’re a loser/f*$k-up/failure.” Not only was I buying that thought, but I was banking it, staring at it daily, and watching it inflate and deflate.

This Veil of Depression did not lift as I went about my normal, daily life of work, children, husband, etc. Worst of all, I found myself doubting my abilities in all of those areas.

You suck as a therapist and you suck as a writing coach and you suck as a mom and you suck as a wife.

By the end of the week, when I burst into tears because I made a minor mistake with some paper work, the depression skidded to a halt, like a car slamming on the brakes.

What the mother f*$k am I doing to myself?

Stop!

I reached into my Self-Therapy toolbox that is this book length manuscript thing I’ve been kinda sorta working on. I ran my eyes down the list of Ways We F*$k Ourselves Over and—ah-ha!

There it is! This is what I’m doing:

Disqualifying the Positive, which is a form of a Cognitive Distortion.

Not once, in that whole week, did I look at that email and take in ANY positive part.

I only saw NEGATIVE:

“I loved the premise, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to pass. Hannah is definitely a talented writer (her voice is spot on for NA!) but I just didn’t connect to the manuscript in quite the way that I hoped. I wish you both the best of luck in finding this manuscript a home, and I can’t wait to see what Hannah does in the future! ”

When we Disqualify the Positive, we do E-X-A-C-T-L-Y that. We tell anything positive to f*$k off, and we gaze into the eyes of the negative lovingly.

It really is one of the single worst things humans do to themselves.

The answer is to do the opposite, even if it feels really weird.

Which is E-X-A-C-T-L-Y what I did.

I took the email out and AMPLIFIED the positive so that I saw this:

“I loved the premise, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to pass. Hannah is definitely a talented writer (her voice is spot on for NA!) but I just didn’t connect to the manuscript in quite the way that I hoped. I wish you both the best of luck in finding this manuscript a home, and I can’t wait to see what Hannah does in the future! ”

And you know what, Ms. Editor? I can’t wait to see what I do in the future