Thursday, February 28, 2013

Readers: Beyond Her Book Blog Virtual Party (win free books!)

Publisher's Weekly blogger Barbara Vey (right) and me, 2011
Just a little note here to promote a cool online reader event hosted by Publisher's Weekly blogger Barbara Vey (who I met in person at a Wisconsin book festival in 2011--see pic!). She hosts a virtual party on her blog the first week in March with theme days. The  more you comment (and interact with other readers/commenters about the theme) the more chances you have to win books and loot provided by authors. I won books both years I participated--a mix of e-books and hardbacks/paperbacks sent directly to me. Click here for details..

Her blog and virtual party are partly responsible for my involvement in Romance Writers of America; Barbara attends a lot of RWA chapter meetings, and she showed up at a regional RWA conference I attended last year. She is a reader first, and loves to promote authors through her connections with PW. In the virtual party forum, I admitted I thought romance novels were cheesy and I preferred fiction with more "going on" than just romance. Lots of readers suggested authors to me who have transcended the stereotypical romance fiction conventions, and I found a few new favorite authors because of it (Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Crusie for example).

UPDATE: The virtual party was postponed to March 11-16! Beyond Her Book

Sidenote, for you midwestern folk, she is hosting a Reader Appreciation Lunch in Milwuakee on April 27 with a bunch of authors. I have a wedding to go to, but this sounds super cool.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Agent News!

I'm so excited to share wonderful news: I signed with a literary agent!

I received a few gentle reminders from fellow writers that it's customary to post a "How I Got My Agent" story. (Optional: stuff full of gifs.) Happy to oblige!

Hopefully my story can show how much each journey toward publication varies. As I'm typing this, I still can't believe I found an agent who is excited and determined to see my story published. I mean, I haven't even started querying yet.

See, I had this master query plan. I'd already tagged potential agents in Query Tracker. I intended to start querying after I entered a few blog contests for feedback. Only, the contests ended up being my entire query process! Agent pitch contests essentially mirror querying, with the bonus of a third party blogger to slag through the slush for the agents, presenting them with a collection pitches and first pages to request from. So while I never sent a query letter, I did use my query when I submitted requests to agents.

After working on my novel for a year, I decided to dip my toes in the submission world by promptly signing up for three contests: Pitch Madness run by YA & MG writer Brenda Drake, Gearing Up To Get An Agent (GUTGAA) hosted by YA writer Deanna Barnhart, and CAGI at Cupid's Literary Connection. All of these contests had their own submission guidelines, format, and deadlines. And this got competitive. Submission windows closed out in minutes. We adjusted timepieces to the world clock and pressed SUBMIT precisely 8 to 12 seconds after the submission window opened BUT NO SOONER!!
I made it through to final rounds on all three. I received 12 agent requests from the 3 contests, a mix of partials and fulls. (One, I am just now realizing, came from twitter (#pitmad?)

Very slowly those responses (rejections) trickled in.

Some agents offered polite one-liners that told me nothing specific, but many provided at least one sentence or two with why they were passing. I noticed a pattern. Their responses gave me focus to make more edits.

The Authoress' famous Baker's Dozen contest rolled around in November on the Miss Snark blog (you must check it out if you don't already read it). I've been an avid commenter during the monthly Secret Agent contests (where I always lurked, but never submitted. Lurk and learn, lurk and learn.) Since I had a pitch, query and polished first page, I entered (on my birthday even!) and made it through to the final round; I want to say it was just under 300 entries pared down to 75.

Now, because I had a bit of contest knowledge from my busy September, I assumed (wrongly) that the day the BD contest went live, the agents would leisurely peruse and comment on the entries throughout the day. I was quite proud of myself for having just set an appointment for an HVAC company to clear out the ductwork in my house,

when my twitter feed started heating up and a fellow writer emailed me: Are you seeing what's happening with your entry at Miss Snark's blog?!

The Baker's Dozen is set up like an auction, with agents bidding in page request increments up to the Full MS. Bidding for my entry closed out in 3 minutes, thanks to fast and furious bidding by agents who'd scoped it ahead of time.

They were even fighting over it on twitter (playfully, I'm told, though with agents you never know).

I received 5 more agent requests from Baker's Dozen, with the idea that the top bidding agent gets first dibs. Meanwhile, I was knee-deep in a revision based on previous agent feedback. I certainly could have sent it off to the new agents as-is, but the feedback I received was so valuable, I couldn't ignore it. Soon Authoress was emailing me that the agents wanted to know why I hadn't sent the MS (HUNGRY AGENT. WANT MS. WHEN YOU DELIVER?) This was like, days later, not weeks or anything.

The winning agent suggested I take my time and send it in the new year, given December is a slow time for publishing. She agreed I should offer up my best work.

Right in time for the holidays, I holed up in my house and forgot about shopping for gifts. I bought cards but sent them with barely enough time to arrive by Christmas. Sometimes my husband would speak to me and an  hour would pass before I acknowledged him. Once I found him sitting alone in the dark eating tuna from a can. He wasn't even using a fork.*

*did not actually happen

In January, I tracked down a few writers to read through my whole MS with a tight turnaround time. I cannot exaggerate how generous the writing community is. One of the writers I'd traded pages with previously--a result of Miss Snark's critique partner swap--and another I connected with online. Can you feel the love?!

I submitted mid-January to the 5 agents. The first rejection I received included the same comments I'd heard prior to my revision. I admit, I had a dark week. I fully expected to overhaul it again, but I held off given the MS was out with four more agents. (To pass the time, I played a lot of Halo multi-player and read non-fiction books on American wars--I had some latent aggression to deal with...)

OK, now this part is a little sad. My grandmother became very ill, and we knew it was the end for her. Probably 20 minutes after hanging up with my mom, who drove through a snowstorm to get to her ailing mother's bedside, I get an email message from Agent 1 that she wants to offer representation. Shock! Only, the east coast was prepping for a blizzard, so could we set up a call Monday? My emotions were all over the place, but the news was a bright spot during a tough few days (my grandmother ended up passing away that weekend.).

I nudged the other agents, and received a request for a call with Agent 2, which resulted in an offer. Both agents seemed really great--awesome actually. I sent frantic twitter DMs and emails to writers I knew, friends, and the agent's clients to glean as much information as I could before deciding--DECIDING--which agent I wanted to work with. Who ever thought I'd get to decide?? They didn't make it easy either; each agent's clients LOVED them. Gushing, raving, exploding with joy kind of affection.

In the end, I chose Agent 1. She'd won the Baker's Dozen bidding war, she'd hounded Authoress about when I was sending my MS, she'd given me the luxury of editing through to the new year, and her enthusiasm practically reached out through the phone.

Last week, I signed with Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown, Ltd!

funny gifs

I couldn't be happier. Her clients love her, she loves my story, she wants to work with me long-term, and she has a vision for my MS and where it will sell.

While I didn't follow the traditional query process, I did a LOT of research on agents, agencies, publishing contracts, self-publishing--you name it. I think it's really easy to get sidetracked by all the agent stuff and the business side of it all, but what really matters most is the writing craft. I learn every day and I don't plan to stop learning. That's my one slice of advice: above all, put your efforts into becoming a better writer. OK two slices: celebrate other writer's victories!

Now for some stats:

Contests entered: 4
Total MS requests: 16
Fulls: 10
Partials: 6 (including 2 requests for the dreaded synopsis)
Rejections: 9
No response/did not send to/or bowed out after nudge email: 5
Offers: 2

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Road Trip Wednesday

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week: It's (the day before) Valentine's Day! Let's jumpstart the lovefest by blogging about what you love most about writing (and/or reading)!

When I read, I love it when:

  • It's past my bedtime, but I could manage one more chapter...
  • By page one I'm hooked
  • I get so excited about a book I tweet/call a friend/or post online about it before I'm even finished
  • A story catches  me by surprise, either with a character, plot twist, or stellar writing

When I write, I love it when:

  • I can make a reader laugh, other than myself
  • When a plot ties together with theme and the characters
  • I discover a delicious new detail that is so specific and/or well-researched, I know I'm satisfied even if no one will ever pick up on it
  • I marathon-write and it's actually good

How about you? What do you love most about reading or writing?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Write On Con Pitch Fest 2013!

For writers of Young Adult and Middle Grade, here's an opportunity to pitch to literary agents, and a chance to receive feedback ahead of time, the Write On Con Mid-Winter Pitch Fest.

Write On Con is a free online conference held over the summer. I participated the last two years and made a lot of connections with writers. You can read articles and view videos on writing and publishing, and you can do more interactive stuff like post your first page and query letter for critique.

The "Perfect Your Pitch" workshop is from February 18 - March 10. You can post your pitch on their forums and receive critiques from other writers. Submission for the actual Pitch-Fest begin March 10According to their site, here are the participating agents:

Alyssa Eisner-Henkin, Trident Literary
Amy Tipton, Signature Literary
Brielle Johnson, Writer's House
Dawn Frederick, Red Sofa Literary
Eddie Schneider, JABberwocky Literary
Jason Yarn, Paradigm Literary
Jennifer Flannery, Flannery Literary
Kathleen Rushall, Marsal Lyon Literary
Logan Garrison, The Gennert Company
Mollie Glick, Foundry Media
Peter Knapp, Park Literary
Sara Crowe, Harvey Klinger

It looks like this is for Young Adult and Middle Grade only,although I did see New Adult thrown in there on the site. .

Monday, February 11, 2013

Book Review: Every Day by David Levithan

Every Day
David Levithan
Published: 2012
YA Contemporary/Fantasy

image: Goodreads
This book is high concept, so once you accept that the character "A" moves in and out of other bodies for 24 hours at a time--with little explanation--then this story is pretty much amazing. The body switching is the central issue, so it isn't like it's not explored, it's just if you're looking for a lot of details and scientific speculation, you won't find it. A has always been this way, has never had his own body, and didn't fully realize how strange it was until he was about five. He always shifts into bodies that are his age, so he ages the same as everyone else. He's simply accepted this reality.

So, what happens when A falls for a girl? What would that relationship look like, given he wakes up as someone else every day, and often several hours away from the last person? Possibly more fascinating, is the cast of characters A inhabits; this is why I'm so glad this book was in David Levithan's hands, because he manages to show so much through the eyes of A. We experience drug addiction right along with him as a teen coming down from a high. He shares a body with a morbidly obese guy, a tough football player, a Queen Bee mean girl (he inhabits both male and females), and even a teen who is one gender but identifies with the other. Empathy is shown for so many different people without delving into preachy territory.

The trouble comes when A takes over a guy named Nathan who knows something happened to him--most of his host bodies don't--they just have a foggy recollection of the day. Nathan remembers he wasn't in control, and decides to take action. Suddenly it's all over the local news about a teen who was possessed. An on-fire reverend starts a website looking for more demonic possession stories, and Nathan won't stop emailing A (since A left the computer abruptly and forgot to log out of his own email). A feels threatened, like he's the oppressor, although he has no control over what he does. Or does he?

The story is truly heartbreaking, since the odds are against A from the start. It's more of his personal journey with himself, to find purpose, and to experience love, although not in the way most people do.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Blogging A to Z Challenge Coming in April!

Have you heard of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge? In April, you create a blog post for every letter of the alphabet, so you are blogging almost every day of April. April 1 is "A" and you can choose whatever topics you want. The most fun blogs to visit are those with themes.

This is possibly the largest blog hop I've seen on the internet, meaning a coordinated effort where you post a link to your blog and other people are expected to visit it (and the same for you). I think there were over 1,500 blogs on the sign up last year. It's not feasible to visit everyone, but it's a fun way to find new blogs and connect with people.

I had a lot of fun with the challenge last year. I chose a TV show theme, and found a show for every letter of the alphabet.

This year I am creating a theme about Influential Women Authors! I'm super excited. By influential, it could be a legendary writer of classics, or a writer who has made a more recent impact on publishing or defining a genre. Some of my choices will probably be personal favorites.

To find out more and to sign up for this year's blog challenge, here is the link:
Sign up list HERE

New this year are categories for blogs. Mine will have the code BO after it for BOOKS. This will be immensely helpful since the blogs in the challenge aren't restricted to a topic. So, if you only visit writing blogs, there will be a code to distinguish that blog category.

Are you thinking of participating? What are some potential theme ideas?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Book Review: Size 12 and Ready to Rock by Meg Cabot

Size 12 and Ready to Rock (Heather Wells series #4)
Meg Cabot
Contemporary Romance/Mystery
Published: July 2012

image: Goodreads
I had a hard time getting started with this book, but after setting it aside and coming back, I liked it. I've enjoyed the Heather Wells series so far--it's Meg Cabot at her best: writing funny, silly, and endearing characters. 

Heather Wells--former teen pop star and current residence hall director at a fictional NYC university--is now engaged to Cooper, her off-campus landlord and brother to her ex, another former teen pop star Jordan Cartwright. In this installment, Heather and Cooper haven't yet spilled about their engagement, and Heather is looking forward to a quiet summer maintaining the residence hall while students are on break. Only ex-bf Jordan's wife Tania Trace--a current pop sensation--needs a new locale for her teen rock camp after a series of threats has her scared for her life. I guess Tania didn't pay attention to the first three books where students disappeared or died in "death dorm." So, the teen rock camp moves to Heather's hall, along with the reality show filming Tania and Jordan's life.

Tania has a stalker, and of course, as the series dictates, someone ends up missing or dead. Heather knows the school inside and out, and provides her plucky expertise to the police. Adding a bit more depth to this story, Heather has a health concern, and the typically vapid Tania has more to her backstory than being a spoiled pop star. Still, it's mostly fun and cozy-style mystery solving here. I'd like to see the next book dive a little deeper into Heather and Cooper's relationship, and maybe throw a wrench in there. I hear Meg Cabot is already at work on #5.