Breaking it Down Part 2

September 6, 2008

Here’s more of my journey mumbo jumbo…
When we last left our heroine, she’d begun her first real somewhat readable novel. (OK, switching to first person. Referencing myself in third person feels funny). I took my sweet time with this novel (SGH), working on the rough draft sporadically for a good year, largely because I had a baby and moved to AL. I also continued to send out a few picture books. My rejections became more personal. I went back and forth with a few editors, but the close calls never ended in a cigar. Which worked out well because I didn’t want a cigar, I wanted my books published.
Once the moving/baby dust settled, I spent the summer revising and finished SGH in early fall. I had a few friends read it, joined a new awesome crit group, and got more involved with my online communities.
I really researched agents this time and sent the query out little by little. My query yielded tons of requests. With a return like this, I was close to certain it was "just a matter of time" until I found that perfect fit. In a burst of optimism, I bought some expensive sparkling grape juice to have on hand when the call came.
I waited.
And waited.
And waited.
The grape juice turned to wine.
I developed a love/hate relationship with my email, which was continually hit with form rejections, enthusiastic requests, one line "not for me’s", well-thought out explanations of why it didn’t work (all conflicting), rejections starting with "I love this story" and ending with "but…", requests for more work,  requests for revisions (almost 3 months of back and forth emails with an agent that amounted to nada), requests to talk on the phone, requests to not call again (kidding!) and… silence. Silence.
I took a break from querying that winter to mope and compose emails to me my friend LIsa with titles like "What’s so bad about quitting?" She somehow remained my friend and always wrote something nice back. As encouragement, I read stories about authors who had clawed their way out of the submission wilderness. And I ate lots of Christmas junk.
Then I got an email from two different editors saying they were readers of my blog (people READ MY BLOG? What!!??) and liked my voice. Would I mind submitting some of my work? Gee. Huh. Sure.
I reassessed SGH. All I needed was one editor to connect with it. So I took what rang true from the rejections and sent out the revised manuscript. I opted to wait on querying some more. After all, I still had some aged fulls out and a very respected agent open to seeing a revision. Except, I found the blog of a brand-spanking new agent, Sarah Davies, on VerlaKay’s writing board. She was experienced in the biz, savvy and funny and had worked on books similar to mine. Ah, heck, what’s one more query?
But that wanting still snuck up on me. A twinge when I walked into a bookstore and saw all the published books. That longing when another window of opportunity closed. The despair when a big rejection came. I had a long talk with my husband about balance and attitude and endurance and going to bed just a little bit earlier :). I drank that bittersweet grape juice and let go of all the things I couldn’t control.
Meanwhile, I went back to work on a cute little story I’d abandoned some time back, Princess for Hire (started writing it "for fun" while querying Practice Novel). Working on this was entirely different from SGH. SGH was an emotional journey, while Princess was a rolicking, riotous romp. And although the business side of me knew it was the more marketable of the two and would be a great thing to send those agents who said they’d look at something else, I wrote it for me. I wanted to explore all the crazy plot options and character quirks that came with a high concept idea.The more I wrote, the bigger the world became. And when I shared bits with others, they laughed.
I got a call in February from one of the requesting editors. She loved SGH and had shared it in house and wanted to revise it with me so she could take it to acquisitions, along with a little bit of Princess 4 Hire.  I explained the situation to the agent who’d wanted to see revisions and she asked for the still rough P4H. That same week, my inbox was hit with a rejection on a stale full which included a request to see this princess novel I’d mentioned, as well as a full request (both novels)  from Sarah. The other editor who’d contacted me via my blog wrote a sweet email to see how the princess story was going. Revision agent wrote me the day she started P4H to let me know how much she was liking it and to set up a phone call. All this for the story I almost didn’t write because I didn’t think it was serious enough. Turns out, people wanted funny. And my HS Spanish teacher told me being voted class clown was a bad sign of my future. Ay Carumba, Senora whatever-your-name was.
I accepted an offer of representation from Sarah. She left for Bologna to talk up my book while I finished my SGH revisions. In early April, my books went to acquisitions and…
got a "we’d like to see it later."
Somewhat devastating, as I really loved this editor, but not a complete no and I had an agent to cushion the blow. This ended the exclusive for this house, so Sarah and I decided the best course was to get Princess in top shape and shop that as my debut, leaving SGH for later.
She worked closely with me over the next two months on P4H revisions. On top of that, we included a three paragraph blurb for a sequel possibility (I wrote it as a stand alone, but realized there was more I could do with it if given the chance), then sent it out late May. Within two weeks, we had news that a few houses were interested. Sarah called from NY after a meeting with a publisher to let me know they’d be putting an offer in. I was going to be published. Wrote a post about that, so insert joyous, reflective moment here.
The next week, we got more offers and one or two requests for revisions. The week ended with a best-offer auction between two phenomenal houses. I accepted a three-book deal from Hyperion with UK rights going to Egmont a month later.
Whew. OK, so I skimmed a little at the end, but I’ve already covered that part. I sign my contract come Monday, and then the next part begins–from acceptance to published book. Look for reflective post on that in 2010.
Must pack. NY recap next week!

Breaking it Down: Part 1

August 17, 2008

I’ve had a few people email me post-deal asking about my journey. And I guess I never did a post on this because, well, my BLOG is my journey (although I really should go back through it. Some dark I’m-gonna-quit days back there. So, uh, let’s hold up on perusing the archives). But, really, I can’t get enough of reading about other author’s publishing bumps and hiccups (Schadenfreude much?). If you’re in the same club, be prepared to revel in my idiocy, broken down into a series of longed-winded reflective posts, thus making the retelling of the journey nearly as painfully long as the journey itself.
No, it’s not that bad.
Not really (she says with the beauty of hindsight).
Some authors get a deal sooner, some later. Some fall in, others claw. And that’s all dependent on a bazillion controllable and uncontrollable factors that would take days to even touch. (Not to mention a deal isn’t the end of the journey, just the gateway into a whole new set of worries and joys).
So for the sake of brevity (ha!), this is simply how things went down for me…

The Very Beginning
Picture me, early 2005. I quit teaching to stay home with my then eight-month daughter. As I’ve said before, I’d WANTED to write for many years, but starting it was probably the scariest thing I’d ever done. This may have been rooted in deep causes like fear of failure, but more likely I just hadn’t stumbled on it in my never-ceasing pursuit of a creative hobby (Quilting? Quit after one. Scrapbooking? Well, at least my oldest daughter has her memories preserved). A few more incidents led me to that moment–I made a list of things I wanted to do in my life, and writing a novel was on there about three times. My kid was a champion napper. Oh, and I read about five crappy books in a row and convinced myself I could produce crap as well. Generic reasons, yes. But those were mine.
So I began to write.
I started off with picture books because
1. I liked them
2. They were short
So naturally, I believed…
3. They were easy
I wrote one about my big brother. It was didactic, too personal, self-indulgent and lacked any rhythm. That’s the gentle review. I had some friends read it and when they kindly mentioned some things that confused them, I labeled them all idiots. I taught school for three whole years. I even took (one measly) children’s literature class in college! What did they, or anyone else know? I was a literary queen.
I “researched” publishing houses by finding a website with average publisher response times. One house had a goal to get back to writers in a month or so. Agony to wait that long, but the shortest overall. They were the lucky ones to receive my future award-winner. Forget that my book was nothing like their more lyrical list. Forget that there were a few parts I wasn’t sure about. That’s what editors are for, right? They fix… stuff.
I marked my calender “Day I’ll hear back. Yay!” I didn’t hear anything for a whole week after D-Day and jumped every time the phone rang. I even, get this, PRACTICED MY DEAL OFFER SQUEEL.
My first form rejection letter came in the mail five weeks after I’d submitted my story. I bawled. I’d spent HOURS on that story and what did I have to show for it? Half a sheet of cardstock with a quick “Not for us.” Dang right it wasn’t for them, those morons. This time, I sent out FIVE submissions. Let them fight over me! That would make for some awesome phone drama. More practicing ensued.
The rejections rolled in (one, thankfully, was personal, meaning they’d included my name in the no and said, “this is cute.”). I was faced with a new revelation: Maybe my writing, which was good enough in school, wasn’t good enough for publishing. Maybe I should work on this.
So I wrote more and more lousy picture books and read and read great ones. I subbed and sobbed, subbed and sobbed. I learned that revision was different than spell check, that more fluff and description didn’t necessarily make better writing. Picture books taught me to say as much as I could in as little words as possible. And they also got me to submit.
*Formal Apology to all those slush piles I helped clog up.

The Beg-Middle
That summer, my husband suggested I try novel writing, since that was more my voice anyway. Dude, duh! Picture books were too, you know, short. I had more words in me. More intricate plots. More complicated characters. More… writing… things.
That summer, I began my first novel. I made it for boys because I heard girls would read books with boy protaganists, but boys didn’t go for books with leading ladies. And I wanted everyone to read this literary masterpiece. Seriously, that was my reason. Besides, I was going way out there and writing a book just for teens. See, (idiotic confession number 4593) I honestly did not know there was an entire genre of teen books. I thought it stopped at mid-grade. I did.
So I was talking to my older brother (star of the first picture book and english teacher), explaining my ideas for my still plotless story. He said I should read a few more boy books and I said, “Wait, they’re for teens?”
“It’s called young adult,” he said.
“And teens read them.”
“Uh, yeah. Printz books are all young adult.”
Prince wrote books? No way!
*Note. Printz is a distinguished literary award, similar to the newbery, given to excellent books in young adult literature.
Prince, the artist, is also award-winning. And somewhat distinguished…

Anyway, I read every book my brother suggested and fell in love with an entire genre I didn’t even know existed when I was teen. I “finished” my book about a year after I started writing and began querying literary agents, which means I sent a one page letter detailing my book. I got lots of requests but no takers. This is because I wrote a dang good query, but a not-so-good book. It seemed YA books, like most books, needed characters and plots and conflicts and structure. In short, the pages of random descriptions and scenes wouldn’t cut it.

I worked on the book some more, but finally realized it just had too many things wrong to ever make it right. So it goes. I quit querying that book.
That sounded easy. It really wasn’t. I’d spent many late nights over months and months. I’d sacrificied my leisure time, even my family time, just to come to the conclusion that it wasn’t going to work. I knew it took time to learn the craft and get published, but how could I start all over again on something new? I began to suspect I sucked and should quit altogether and take up knitting. Luckily, I tried knitting and I was even worse at that.

A ray of hope came in the form of an email from Kent Brown. I was granted a full scholarship to attend the Highlight’s Foundation Chautauqua scholarship week-long writer’s mecca.
Someone thought I could write, or at least saw potential. They were even willing invest money in me. They referred to me as a writer. Maybe because I was one.
Chautauqua was one of the best weeks of my life. I was taken seriously. So many things clicked, my thoughts were one solid buzz. It’s OK to have a practice novel. Other (published!) authors did, too. My literary worth wasn’t measured by my publication status. And I was told I had a strong voice. VOICE! A financial investment into my professional future and the Voice label. I had to keep at it.
And so I moved full throttle into my next novel…

Ok, that’s it for this post. The smack middle, middle-end, and End (AKA beginning) to follow soon. If you take nothing away from the above, here’s three summarized points
1. Improvement is possible. Essential.
2. All writers can be naive, conceited, insecure idiots
3. One of the best ways to get good is to realize just how bad your writing is.
Seriously, bad. In fact, I think I’ll go delete some of those early files right now.

Beans. Spilled. Here.

June 16, 2008

(It’s hard to tell when I’m saying the word VLOG or BLOG. Which is why I should just stick to blogging. And I am spazerrific on camera). 
Right, so for those who are at work and don’t want to risk losing their job by watching the video, here’s the scoop:
I got a three-book-deal (at auction!) from Hyperion with the first book debuting in Winter 2010 and a book following each year.
It’s been a humbling and emotional week, with offers coming in from publishing houses I have salivated over for years. Through the madness, I’ve sat in my little writing burrow hyperventilating and crying and squealing and biting my tongue. No, really, I hyperventilated and actually got a brown bag out.
Tip: It doesn’t help.
Thanks to everyone, EVERYONE who has supported me. There were so many times I almost quit. Actually, there were a few times I DID quit. But something always pulled me back. Sometimes, it was someONE pulling me back. 
I thank you all.

And now, NOW, let the Royal Rumpus start! I have a book to edit. (I have an editor! And on top of her editorial wonderfulness, she offered to send me some free books, so already she is very much my best friend. Well, besides my agent. Maybe I’ll get us all a three-way BFF heart necklace)
Heck, I have two more books to WRITE!
And I couldn’t be more excited. 

**Edited to add: This is for you,

Getting an Agent 101

March 19, 2008

If we were taking a class on Getting an Agent 101, I’d be the one in the front with my hand perma-raised asking the instructor the annoying unique-situation questions.
Thought I’d dramatize the scene for you a bit…
Instructor: Ok, so you send your query out and in a few weeks to months you should hear a response.
Me:(waving hand in air) Oh oh oh! Teacher! What do you do when an agent calls you minutes after you query telling you she’s very excited and please Fed Ex her now?
Instructor: Well, that’s great, Lindsey. Send it to her. She’s obviously enthusiastic and you can be cautiously optimistic.
Me: She rejected it already.
Instructor: Then why are you asking me?
Me: I was wallowing.
Instructor: (shaking her head and smiling at the other agent hopefuls) Now, sometimes you will get a revision request. I always say to try it, because you lose nothing, it can make your story stronger and show the agent you can revise.
Me: (Bouncing up and down in seat) Uh… teacher? Quick question. What happens when you have two or three agents ask for revisions, but they’re all asking for very different things, and you’re willing to revise but you’re not sure if they really understand the point of your story and you even work on revisions with one agent for months, then send it, then NEVER HEAR FROM THEM AGAIN?
Instructor: That doesn’t happen.
Me: It did to me.
Instructor: Then you keep querying. You don’t give up.
Me: Even if you’ve queried all of the agents you’d really wanted to work with and although you got a lot of close calls, you’re still left with zilch?
Instructor: (Rubbing temples) In that case, start on your next novel. And take those rejections to heart. If they said you first novel was sweet but they couldn’t sell it, then go commercial.
Me: I did.
Instructor: How commercial?
Me: Princesses. Lots and lots of princesses.
Instructor: Then query it to the ones who gave you a positive response on novel 1.
Me: Ok, and what if, in the mean time, you have an editor ask to read novel 1, the same novel agents thought an editor wouldn’t be interested in, and she likes it and wants to start working on it with you?
Instructor: Then do it! (turns her body so she’s completely blocking me off in my corner. Hey, how did I get in the corner?) Now, publishing is always changing. Keep a look out for new agents coming in.
Me: Yeah! Query them, too!
Instructor: Lindsey, please. This is my class and if you can’t respect that, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.
Me: (shrugging) Well, I only have one question, really.
Instructor: (sighing) What?
Me: What happens when you send out novel 2 and suddenly have multiple offers on St Patty’s Day, all from fabulous agents. How do you decide?
Instructor: (all lights go off except for a spotlight shining down on her) You weigh out the pros and cons of each. Talk to them both. Don’t rush it. Figure out their vision for your career.
Me: And then?
Instructor: You go with your gut. You gut will tell you who is the right fit for you.
Me: (nodding) Good. That’s what I did.
Instructor: You did? Wait, so you HAVE an agent?
Me: Oh yeah. Sarah Davies at Greenhouse Literary. She’s positively brilliant. Read both of my novels over the weekend and had a real passion for both pieces of work. She really really understood my writing, and me. She’s new to agenting, but has been in publishing for twenty five years, so she has the expertise and connections that come with that kind of background. Oh, and she’s British, which really doesn’t matter I guess, but it makes talking to her on the phone that much better and I like how she spells honour with a u. And I’m actually glad I didn’t find an agent a few months ago, because Greenhouse wasn’t even open yet, which is all very serendipitous and hindsight is 20/20 and stuff like that. We’re both so happy to have found each other, which is always an indication of a good match, don’t you think?
Instructor: So why are you in this class if you have an agent?
Me: (standing up) Uh, I don’t know. I guess I just got comfortable in here. So, um, can you tell me where Getting a Publisher 101 is?
Instructor: Down the hall.
(I leave and another student raises their hand)
Instructor: (flopping down in her chair) Yes?
Other student: Yeah, so can you tell me what a uh… qur.. que.. query is?

Thanks for the emails and comments over the last little bit, and to everyone somehow involved in this journey. I know it’s not over, it’s really never over, which is what makes it such a fun ride, but I’m so glad I have someone who Knows Her Stuff championing for me. 

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Luck of…

March 17, 2008

First thing this morning, I got an offer from an agent. She read TWO of my novels over the weekend and said she'd JUST finished one and it made her cry. I made someone cry! She was lovely and wonderful and very in step with how I envision my career (Did I just say career? Ahhhhhhhhh!!!!!)
I have an appointment to talk to an agent tonight. I have to do this again. How on earth am I ever going to choose? How did I get to this point?
I'm not wearing green so somebody, PINCH me.