A Peek Behind the Scenes …

If there’s one thing I love about twitter, it’s how engaged the writing community is … and Dahlia Adler, uber-supportive blogger, editor, and author of the just released BEHIND THE SCENES (a contemp young adult novel, published by Spencer Hill Contemporary), is no exception. While I was querying, and going through offer decisions, and dealing with submission woes and highs, she was there to respond whenever I sent a message that usually started with something like, “So, now what do I do?”

So as part of helping her celebrate her book’s birthday this week, I’m participating in a blog hop where we each go “behind the scenes” about some aspect of our life … but first, here’s the blurb for Dahlia’s book, and where you can purchase your own copy:

High school senior Ally Duncan’s best friend may be the Vanessa Park – star of TV’s hottest new teen drama – but Ally’s not interested in following in her BFF’s Hollywood footsteps. In fact, the only thing Ally’s ever really wanted is to go to Columbia and study abroad in Paris. But when her father’s mounting medical bills threaten to stop her dream in its tracks, Ally nabs a position as Van’s on-set assistant to get the cash she needs.

Spending the extra time with Van turns out to be fun, and getting to know her sexy co-star Liam is an added bonus. But when the actors’ publicist arranges for Van and Liam to “date” for the tabloids just after he and Ally share their first kiss, Ally will have to decide exactly what role she’s capable of playing in their world of make believe. If she can’t play by Hollywood’s rules, she may lose her best friend, her dream future, and her first shot at love.

 Goodreads | Amazon | B & N | The Book Depository | Indiebound

As for a behind the scenes of my life, I had a few ideas — but then decided to skip the confessions of true love for alien-themed, angst-filled teen dramas, cheesy medical thriller novels, and hiding vegetables in everything I cook or bake — and will offer a brief glimpse into (my) life as a freelance journalist and writer.

I am not one of those writers who always wanted to be a writer, even if I have been writing since I was a child (haven’t we all, to some degree?). In journalism school I laughed when it was assumed by most that after graduation I’d set myself up at a newspaper as a reporter. I wanted to do television, and for a brief time really wanted to be a war correspondent. But then life took an interesting turn, as it often does, and though that’s a story for another day, I am now a writer. Specifically, I freelance — which essentially means I never get a regular paycheque, but I get to write about all kinds of cool things.

Most of my work is for magazines — though I do have some corporate clients — and generally speaking every story I write is a story I’ve pitched to an editor. Sure, some writers probably get assigned stories more often than I do … but essentially if you’re a freelance writer, you are your own rainmaker. So I spend a lot of my non-writing time — when I’m at my daughter’s swimming or gymnastics lessons, when I’m out for a run, or doing laundry, making dinner, walking the dog, etc. etc. — thinking up story ideas.

It’s been a fantastically fun career so far. It’s nowhere near lucrative, or even “pay all the bills” kind of stuff, but I’ve won a coveted award for a story that meant a lot to me, have written about everything from luxury resorts in Jamaica (now that was a press trip I wish I could do again!), to self-leveling concrete, to the state of frozen embryos in Canada, to going sugar-free for a month (an experiment my poor family was dragged into with me), to raising altruistic kids, to advocating for your own health, to onesie-style pjs for grownups, to how to make the perfect pie crust.

Every day is different, and I love what I do — especially because it offers flexibility to be home with our young daughter. Most days you’ll find me at my kitchen table or at the local coffee shop, on my MacBook Air that has been so well loved the keys have worn off, and drinking far too much coffee (though the secret is to switch to decaf after noon).

And being a freelancer has helped me so much with my novel writing. For one, I am very tuned into and disciplined about deadlines. Whether from a magazine editor, my agent, my book editor, or self-imposed, I treat all deadlines as non-negotiable. I get up every day at 5am (or at least most days) and write. I ALWAYS file pieces at least a day ahead of schedule. And I can honestly say I’ve never (ever) missed a deadline. There have been times when I’m panicked and stressed because life has thrown a curve ball and I have to move heaven and earth to get to my computer. Like that one time when my daughter had the stomach flu, and I was holding a bucket for her in one hand and typing with the other (at 3 am), trying to make sure I didn’t miss my deadline …

But that’s life, as they say. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

Write. Rewrite. Repeat.

“Books aren’t written — they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.” – Michael Crichton

(Nailed it, Michael.)

When I started writing my first novel (three books ago) my goal was to just get the first draft finished. Would I try to publish it? people asked. I used to shrug and say I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. Writing the first draft of that first book was hard. It took a long time. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t understand tension, pacing, character development, not to start my first chapter with my protagonist waking up (yes, I made that faux pas), how to show versus tell … I had a lot to learn. Fast forward a bunch of years and a bunch of drafts, and I get it. The first draft? Simple. You just keep laying down the words. Get the story out. Give yourself a deadline and stick to it. The words add up — and before you know it, you have a completed draft. Of course, simple doesn’t mean easy, but had I known just how many revisions a book takes to make it sparkle, well…it’s probably good I was so naive.

I’m doing revisions now for my editor — which thrills me to no end. You won’t hear me complain about going through my ENTIRE book for the 15th (20th?) time. It’s a process, and I’m giddy with excitement to have this opportunity.

This book, THE MEMORY OF US, will be published July 2015. Though I’ve revised the manuscript before (for my critique partners / for my agent / for submission), I’m now doing it on deadline … and I’ve been paid … and I have another book as part of my contract to write after this one is done. The game has changed, and so has my revision process. I have no idea if this is how I’ll approach revisions on my next book, but for now, this works:

  • TAKE A DEEP BREATH (or a few)

Despite my excitement to dive in, editorial letter and marked up manuscript at the ready, the above does a great job at showcasing how I was feeling about this round of revisions (MUST.NOT.EFF.THEM.UP.). So the first thing I did was read my editor’s letter again, go through her notes in the manuscript, and go for a run. That cleared my head and got me ready to jump in.

  • GATHER YOUR SHIT & GET EXCITED

This is the time to pull out the red pen, your post it notes / index cards / spreadsheets / notebooks, a hard copy of your book (I edit on both hard copy and digital files), and any sustenance you need (COFFEE), and get to work. Give yourself a pep talk (YOU CAN DO THIS, or die trying…), and get psyched. It’s likely going to be weeks (or months) before you hand your revisions in to your editor, so you need to find ways to keep your energy AND excitement levels up.


(Me, after my morning coffee…coffees.)

  • RUSH SERVICE IS FOR POSTAL DELIVERIES (step also known as, Calm the F**K down)

It’s oh-so tempting to race through the book. Not just on your first revision, but on all subsequent ones. Whether it’s because you’re dying to get it into your crit partners’ hands, or out for a contest, or to your agent, or to waiting editors, rushing is never a good strategy.

There’s a reason you set deadlines, or your editor sets them for you: everyone wants the best version of what you’ve got, and that takes time. When I revise, especially if I’m working on a new scene, I write it all down without stopping first. I do not edit as I go, or wordsmith, or get all up in my online thesaurus. I just write. Then I go back, a day later, and read it as critically as I can — again, without revising. I take notes with my trusty red pen on my post its or in my notebook, and only then do I go back and make changes. It’s amazing how differently I see a scene with a little distance between us.

  • STICK TO A SCHEDULE

For me, this falls into the ‘do what you say you’re going to do’ category. As a freelance writer, one of the most important ways to ensure I’ll be hired again is to NEVER MISS A DEADLINE. And I see my book deadlines the same — at a minimum, I will get the manuscript in two days early. Ideally, it will be even earlier than that. I treat revisions (and first draft writing, for the record) like a job, and even if I’m not feeling the creative vibe I force myself to sit down and write … because the discipline is as important as anything else, in my opinion. I set my alarm for 5 or 5:30 am, depending on the day and what I need to get done, pour my coffee, and dive in. Yes, there are mornings where I’d like to do this to my alarm:

But generally speaking, as long as I have coffee and my Twitter #5amwritersclub crew, I’ve trained myself to be able to write well in the morning. It’s a habit, like any other.

I should add that there have been plenty of moments through this process — which is not yet over, of course, so I expect I’ll have a few more — where I’m certain I can’t write, I’ve screwed up a scene or character, I’ll never figure out how to add in the plot twist I need to, or I’ve revised myself into a tight little corner I’m not sure how to get out of. But then I take a deep breath, go for a run, get out my notes, have another cup of coffee, and SLOW IT ALL DOWN, and generally, I’m back on my game.

What’s your revision process, or trick? I’d love to hear about it!

Cover Reveal: LITTLE MISS EVIL (by my talented critique partner, Kristy!)

I haven’t done this before, a cover reveal, but when your awesome critique partner and her husband and co-author have a book coming out, well, you give them well-deserved props!

First things first, the book’s blurb:

When you live in a volcano, ride to school in a helicopter, and regularly see your dad on the news with the caption “EVIL GENIUS” underneath his picture, it takes a lot to rattle you.

Until you get a message that says: We have your father. Deliver the NOVA in 24 hours or we will kill him.

What’s a NOVA, you ask? It’s a nuclear bomb capable of turning the city into a radioactive mushroom cloud, and ever since Fiona’s dad built it, it’s caused nothing but grief. But telling him to stop building weapons is like telling Michelangelo to stop painting.

And that’s why thirteen-year-old Fiona has a flamethrower strapped to her arm. After all, who’d mess with a girl who can throw fireballs?

 I was lucky enough to critique the book in its earlier stages, and loved this fun, fast, middle grade story with a flame-throwing female heroine (I can’t wait to read it to my daughter when it’s out).

Now for the cover, which I think captures this book beautifully!

LITTLE MISS EVIL is out March 2015 from Spencer Hill Middle Grade and I couldn’t be more excited for Kristy and Bryce!

Want to know more about the authors? Here you go: Bryce and Kristy are a tag-team writing duo with way too many voices in their heads. As engineers living in Toronto, they can’t be safely contained by mere cubicle walls, and therefore must spend every other waking moment writing to keep the crazy from leaking out at the office. When not writing or working, they spend their time parachuting into volcanoes and riding polar bears while tossing dynamite at rabid kangaroos. Yup, that’s right. Sometimes they can’t even believe how awesome their lives are.

QUERY TIME: Hook, Book & Cook

For me, writing a query letter for my book(s) was more soul-sucking/frustrating/maddening/stressful/{insert expletive} difficult than writing the entire book(s).

Seriously.

The query is a 250-350 (or so) word letter that describes, quite succinctly, what your book is about and why someone (an agent, generally) would want to read it. It’s a requirement if you plan on doing anything with your book — even if you choose to self-publish without an agent, you’ll still need a blurb to get readers interested.

A query letter is meant to pique interest and make someone want to open your pages and read on. But it must be short. And fit to one-page in an email window. And not be sent to multiple agents at once (NEVER, EVER DO THIS, okay?). And be formatted properly (I’ve talked about this before here: How not to become a query cautionary tale, and here: Query, Query, quite contrary). And like much of the publishing business, subjectivity rules, so always have a look at the agent’s bio/agency website/blog to see if he/she has a preference in terms of format.

But it wasn’t until I came across the idea of HOOK, BOOK & COOK that query writing became less painful. This concept is all over the place, so I can neither take credit for it, nor find the first person who came up with this handy and catchy idea to give him/her credit.

So what does it look like? I’m so glad you asked! Let’s start with HOOK.

THE HOOK (first paragraph — approximately 50 words)

Though some people open their queries with the book title, genre, wordcount and why they’re querying a particular agent, in my experience starting right off with the hook is the best way to go. Literally hook that agent in, so she can’t wait to keep reading.

The hook is a one to two line description of the main conflict in your story — the thing that makes it special, and makes someone sit up a bit straighter, lean in towards the screen, and go, “Oh! Wow. I need to know more about this.”

Take your time with your hook. It should be tightly written without any unnecessary detail, be compelling, be descriptive, and tell your reader exactly what they can expect from your book. Tricky, right? You bet it is. But it’s a critical part of your querying journey and blurb writing, so work on it until you get tingles when you read it (also, make sure you get others to read it and ask them if they would be interested to read more).

THE BOOK (second and third paragraphs — approximately 200 words)

This is the meat of your book — again, without drowning the reader in detail, this is where you dig into what happens in your story. It’s the place to introduce main characters and major plot points. It needs to flow easily, with enough information so the reader isn’t confused, but not too much that he loses interest and tunes out. In some ways this is the hardest part of the query, because you’re taking a 90,000-word book and condensing it into about 150-250 words. In both queries I’ve written, I’d say this middle section required the most “love” (merciless hacking) — I easily rewrote it a hundred times (no, I am not joking here) for each book. But the end result was worth it.

This is also where I put in the book’s title, wordcount, and genre if it’s not obvious (but let’s be honest, genre/category should be obvious by now based on everything that has come before — if not, it’s probably time for another — you guessed it — revision), and any comparative titles you have for your book. Comparative titles are important, and again, there are MANY rules around what to use as a comp title — do your research, and for the love of all things good, READ YOUR COMP TITLES before putting them down.

THE COOK (final paragraph — approximately 50 words)

This is your bio, as the “cook” of this book. What makes you uniquely qualified to write this book (do you have a tie-in to the subject matter/story)? Add in any awards or accolades you’ve received (only include ones related to either writing or the subject matter), if this is your debut novel, and what your writing experience has been to this point (I’d probably leave out statements like, “I’ve been writing since before I could walk”). And finally, if it’s true, close out with, “I’m currently working on my next novel” but resist adding any more information about it. This query is meant to be for the book you have ready, not for any other book you’ve written or are writing currently. But letting an agent know you’re taking this whole writing thing seriously is always a good idea.

This format saved me. It offered a way to break down what felt like an impossible task — condensing my book into a short, easily consumable but quite intriguing “pitch” — and gave me a structure I could replicate. However, clever structure breakdown aside, I will stress the point that working on your query until you never want to see it again should be your aim.  IF YOU’VE DONE FIVE REVISIONS ON YOUR QUERY, IT’S PROBABLY NOT READY. If you’ve done 10+ versions and beta readers (particularly those who either, a) have not read your book, or b) don’t read your genre typically) are clear on what your book is about, and what happens, and still want to read … then it’s probably ready. Of course, it’s always possible you’re a genius at query writing, and maybe you nail it on draft one. If that’s the case, please tell me your secrets!

If you’re not a query-writing genius, don’t despair. Most of us aren’t. Like so many things in life, crafting a brilliant query takes practice and hard work. Good luck!

7 steps to surviving sub(mission) club

If you’ve arrived here wondering how to maximize your submarine sandwich loyalty program, I’m sorry to tell you this is not the place for you.

“Sub Club” — for the purposes of this post — refers to a group of writers living in limbo land as they wait to hear the fate of their books,  currently in the hands of editors. If that is you, or you’re hoping to join the Club soon, welcome. I wish you a short visit to Sub Club, but if you have to extend your membership longer than you hoped, know this — YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

(Even if the first rule of Sub Club is never to talk about sub club…)

I remember very clearly getting the email from my agent — the one listing which editor inboxes my little book had landed into — and feeling the rising wave of excitement in my belly. “Here we go,” I said. “This is the beginning of everything. Let’s get it out there and see what sticks!”

I tried to imagine those editors (who felt a bit like unicorns, if I’m being totally honest — quite mystical and untouchable) opening the email and LOVING my book. I wondered how long it would take to get feedback — any kind of feedback (the first pass came in about a week) — and commented to my husband on numerous occasions how much EASIER it was to be on submission versus querying. How HAPPY I was to have my agent handling all these wiggly details, so I could just sit back and patiently WAIT, and write another book all LAH-TEE-DAH. How I couldn’t believe how very close I was to realizing the dream of a book deal.

Oh, how CUTE I was with my enthusiasm.

How positively NAIVE I was to the process.

I have officially left the Club for now, but I’ll be back. Because I hope to write many, many books over the course of my career, which means I’ll probably be a Gold Member before long. And that’s okay. It’s all part of the process. But Sub Club can be taxing, frustrating, and at times, deeply disappointing, so going in armed with some knowledge and stamina is a good strategy.

So here are my 7 steps to surviving Sub Club:

1. The first rule of Sub Club … is not to talk about Sub Club.

This is no joke, and if you must, duct tape your mouth — and your keyboard — to ensure it happens. There are plenty of reasons why you should keep your foray into submission quiet, especially on social media. One, not everyone needs to know what you’re up to at all times — and it makes good business sense to stay quiet while your manuscript is being considered by multiple editors. Also, some — when frustrated by how slowly the process can move (more on that later) — could take out their irritation via Twitter streams etc., and this is NEVER A GOOD IDEA. Stay professional. Find people offline you can talk to, and bounce your comments and frustrations off them. I know how tough it is to stay quiet when you’re excited, or frustrated, or WANT TO ANALYZE EVERY SINGLE THING THAT IS HAPPENING, but don’t, okay?

2. Write something else (or pick up a new hobby).

The advice you always hear about what to do while you wait (to hear back on queries / to get agent notes / for editor feedback / to get your edit letter…) is to write something new. This is great advice — though admittedly not always easy to do. Because your brain is still stuck back on your last book — the one you hope is being read (and adored) by editors. However, the wait can be LONG. Like, really long. So allow yourself a small window of time to do nothing but obsess and ANALYZE EVERY LITTLE THING, then get back to work. I’m a perfect example of why this is so important. While my first book was out on submission, I worked on my next book. And guess what happened? When my agent and I decided to pull book 1 after a round of editors passed (with great feedback and lovely comments — editors really do know how to reject your work AND still make you feel good about it) to do some work on it, we pushed ahead with book 2. Which was the one we ended up selling as part of a two-book deal. Time to open Scrivener, friends…

3. Settle in — it may be a long haul.

(Tip: limiting the amount of sobbing while on sub club is … advised.)

I mentioned how long things can take while you’re in Sub Club. I know people who have been on submission for nearly a year. It’s a tough, tough slag at times. Sure, some will get a book deal between going to bed the first night their book is on submission and pouring their coffee the next morning, but this is the exception, folks. Most of us linger here for a while. I was in and out pretty fast, all things considered — Michelle Meade (my lovely editor at MIRA!) asked to see book 2 on February 11th and the offer came through March 7th. MIRA had passed on book 1 previously, but because I’d been writing book 2 at the time {see step #2} my agent was able to pitch the blurb when she submitted book 1 for consideration. And Michelle remembered it and reached out. WRITE SOMETHING NEW while you wait, okay?

4. Decide what’s best for your emotional well-being. Things can get … challenging.

I can’t stress this enough. You need to know yourself, and how you react to disappointment. When book 1 went on submission I asked my agent to tell me everything. I wanted a blow-by-blow account of what was happening (can we say, “control freak”?), including having her send me every rejection email so I could see the feedback first hand (I would still recommend this, but perhaps not AS THEY COME IN because you might be having a good day, having forgotten for a split second you’re on sub, and then BOOM. Three rejections in a row). And because she’s awesome (thanks, Carolyn!), she did exactly as I asked. Now some of the feedback — even though a rejection — gave me warm fuzzies. I can honestly say feedback from editor passes is WAY more encouraging than any feedback I got while I was querying. It was at times quite specific, and usually gave me a lot to think about. I’m grateful those editors took the time — they certainly have a million other things to do.

For book 2 we agreed to a different communication strategy, because submission ennui had settled in (see step 5 for insight on this), and I wanted a break from the play-by-play.

I said I’d check in with Carolyn once a week, and she could let me know the status and forward any editor emails at that point. It was a relief, knowing I could go about my day without wondering (worrying) how the manuscript was doing.

5. Don’t get ahead of yourself.

Book 2 looked promising for us — a bunch of editors had asked to see whatever I wrote next, so we knew there was a decent list of interested parties. One of those had come quite close for book 1, and so we granted them an exclusive read — which means the book wouldn’t go to any other editor during an agreed upon time period. All I’ll say about this is that is was an exciting time, because we got as close as you can get to a deal without getting a, well, deal. But it was also an incredibly disappointing and soul crushing experience, because I learned a very important lesson: until you have an actual offer in hand, YOU DO NOT HAVE AN OFFER (even if you’ve been told one is coming). So many factors go into an editor being able to offer on your book, aside from the merits of your actual manuscript: the financials (how many books they feel they can sell vs what advance they can offer), what else is on the publishing house’s list, author platform, getting buy in from the rest of the acquisitions team (this is a good post, with GIFs, on what happens with a manuscript from landing on an editor’s desk to offer / rejection time), the book is too commercial / not commercial enough, too niche / can’t find a spot for it on the shelf, they’re personally tired of {insert your book’s concept}…you get the idea. Bottom line? It’s hard to get a book published. Period.

6. Celebrate successes as you go.

There’s a lot of crap that happens on submission, and it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that a) you wanted this, you asked for this, you need to live with this until you decide you don’t want it anymore or the book sells, and b) that plenty of positive things are happening, too. Like you’re getting great feedback on what’s really working with your writing and/or your story — sure, it may not be exactly what the editor wants to acquire right now, but hey, you’re on the right track. Or maybe an editor can’t see a spot for your book on her current list, but she’s asked to see what you write next. Or perhaps it’s not quite right as is but you’re close, so he’ll entertain a revision if you decide to put the work in. Or maybe it’s that having one book out of sight, out of mind has allowed you to write another book — an even BETTER book. Take the good where you can, because it will help buffer you when things get a little rocky.

7. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing [how many books they sell / how quickly they get a deal / how much their advance is / how many publishing houses fought for them at auction…]. JUST DON’T.

Remember being told to keep your eyes on your own page? This applies here. Yes, please (please) help other writers celebrate with a congratulatory tweet or email when they get to leave Sub Club (for now), but remember this is your journey — and it won’t look like anyone else’s. So try to keep the envy to a minimum — guaranteed MOST of those writers you see announcing book deals worked damn hard to get there. They likely have a book or two lingering on a shelf somewhere. They probably have a stack of rejections holding up that book deal. And really, the hard work is ahead of them — a book deal is AWESOME, but it does not guarantee future success or personal satisfaction.

So I guess my final tip is to remember you are so much more than your book(s). Sub Club is just a stop along the way…

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