Friday, August 31, 2012

Cover Story: Calling Me Home

Certain days in an Book Pregnant author's life are just a little more special than others. Obviously, there's the day you get "the call" from your dream agent. Then there's the day you make your first sale (and every sale thereafter!). The day you see your manuscript typeset in first pass pages is pretty thrilling, too.

But it's possible one of the most exciting days after you have your book contract in hand is the day you first see your cover. I experienced this once before when I received the file of my German cover art (seen to the left here) and that was pretty mind-boggling. I loved it so much I plastered it all over the place. "Zu zweit tut das Herz nur halb so weh" (Pendo's title for Calling Me Home) released there August 20!

I was on vacation the last few weeks of July. First, we spent several days in Illinois for a family celebration, where I also had the pleasure of meeting fellow Book Pregnant author Amy Sue Nathan (The Glass Wives, Spring 2013).

In the midst of the driving and switching hotel rooms every night or so, my St. Martin's Press editor emailed to request an address where they could overnight something--something NOT work. I knew immediately what it would be! Lydia Netzer, another St. Martin's author and Book Pregnant friend who shares the same fantastic editor, experienced this months earlier when she received her cover for SHINE SHINE SHINE. It would be several days before I could get an overnight delivery without the risk we'd have already moved on, so I gave my editor our upcoming address in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, though I knew I'd go crazy waiting in the four or five days before I'd receive the delivery.

Once we arrived, the rental office promised to call when they received my package. The next day, around 4 p.m. (a day or so sooner than expected!), I got a call. Everyone had just settled in for a late sandwich or nap after our first fun day at the beach. We were sunburned, sandy, unshowered, and exhausted. And yet, my husband, the official driver on the rental car contract, graciously dragged himself up from his comfy spot in front of the television and chauffeured me the ten miles to the office. We arrived with about 15 minutes to spare before they closed.

Design by my now-favorite book cover designer,
Olga Grlic
I carried the book-shaped package to the car, handling it as though I carried an incendiary device. I knew its contents had the potential to create any number of emotions in me. Would I cry when I saw it? From joy? From disappointment? From devastation? Would I clap my hands and scream because I loved it so much? Or would I be angry because the designer and my editor had so utterly ruined the vision my story had conjured in my mind for so many years?

I will tell you this: It was one of the most loaded moments along my journey to publication.

But I also knew this: My editor loves my story. I knew, from previous conversations, she had turned down other prototypes she wasn't pleased with. I trusted she would know the right one when it came along.

So I peeked into the package, just for the littlest glance. Then I read the note my editor had included with her thoughts on why this one worked so well and how in love the staff at St. Martin's was with it. How they literally gasped when they saw it the first time. Then I pulled the cover, which she had carefully wrapped and taped around another hardcover book so I could get the full effect, from the envelope.

Strangely, my reaction was not unlike my reaction 15, 18, and 23 years ago, each time I saw one of my beautiful children for the first time. I am not a screamer. I am not a clapper. I am not one to cry at expected times. When I held and studied each of my babies the very first time, I felt strangely awed. Reverent. Quiet. I simply stared at their faces, then studied each limb, each tiny fingernail, so surprised to see how different they looked than I'd ever imaged, yet somehow so perfect. On an intellectual level, I knew I already loved them more than I ever dreamed I was capable of doing, but on a human level, I wasn't quite able to grasp that just yet. With each child, it was hours before the emotions really began to flow, before I was finally able to wrap my brain around their arrivals, their surprising perfection, their little bits of me and their characteristics I never, ever, imagined. And then, I was carrying them around, showing them off, placing them here and there for photos--which light, which background, which setting could possibly show the world what I was seeing through my eyes?

And that Monday in July, before long, I was carrying my "book" around my vacation home, placing it on the hammock in the ocean breeze for a shot here, propping it in the port hole window with a view of the Outer Banks there, stacking it with a book about the Outer Banks so I'd never forget where I saw it the first time.

And I loved it. 

Five weeks later, I love it even more. Yesterday, I received my advance reader editions, and seeing the cover attached to my "real" book, though shiny where it will be matte, and paperback where it will eventually be a slipcover around a hardbound book, my affection simply continues to grow, just as it has every day and every year  for my amazing human babies.

Calling Me Home is available for pre-order now at Amazon and and many other sites. More info about the book is available at my websitePre-orders are really important in the lead-up to publication, so all of us at Book Pregnant truly appreciate those who take the time to order one of our books in advance. You are guaranteed the lowest price up to the shipping date once you place your order on many sites. 

A version of this post first appeared on my group blog, What Women Write

Friday, August 24, 2012

So You Want to Get Book Pregnant

by Sophie Perinot

If you want to get book pregnant—there is no delicate way to put this—you have to DO IT.  You know . . . query agents (what did you think I meant?).

Not a romantic task, granted.  Query letter composition is unlikely to leave one creatively satiated in the way that writing an 80,000 word novel will.  To torture the sexual innuendo a little further—writing a query is a highly technical and clinical business, like the type of fertility-driven sex that has people taking their temperatures, or leaving specimens in cups.
It’s enough to put a would-be-pregnant author out of the writing mood.

As a result, many writers bog down at the query letter composition stage.  I know someone who has been thinking about querying and working on a query letter for more than a year.  I am NOT making that up.  Yes a query letter is a vital sales document and a badly written one may leave you without the requests for partials and fulls that are necessary preludes to a positive pregnancy test.  And yes writing a good query is not easy (if it were there wouldn’t be hundreds if not thousands of articles and blog posts offering advice on how to compose one). BUT should it really take months and drafts in the double-digits?
No.  To be a little more adamant, NO, NO, NO.

Do NOT let writing your query becomes a Sisyphean struggle (you remember, the guy who had to push the big rock up the hill over and over), because a perfect query letter is NOT an end in itself.  It’s a tool. And tools need to be USED to get a job done.  At some point the incremental improvements you are making as you revise your letter for the umpteenth time are NOT worth the time or the agony. More than this, an over-edited letter can lose voice.
Picking through the query critique forum at Agent Query Connect (my favorite on-line community for the aspiring writer) it’s pretty easy to find threads with ten, twenty, even thirty versions of a single query.  Such treads make me want to scream “GET ON WITH IT! SEND THE DARN THING.” But that kind of verbiage in a critique threads would hardly be appropriate.

So I am saying it here. Just DO it. Stop painting the nursery and query.
I am not saying send your first draft. I am not saying don’t seek critique. I am saying all things in moderation. How many drafts of my letter did I do—maybe four. How many people did I show it to before it went out? Five (and two of them weren’t even writers). Did it work? More than uncommonly well (I had a very high request rate, snagged an agent I adore and now have a published novel). Could my letter have been better? Sure. But if I were still working on polishing it, then my book baby wouldn’t be nearly six months old!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Confessions of an Anxious Novelist

by David Abrams

I stood in the wings of the theater stage, hidden in the folds of the heavy gold curtains, and stared at the set bathed in a brilliant explosion of light.  There was an archway—a metal trellis topped with fancy curlicues by the set designer—and beyond that there was a doorway which led to a drawing room with a fainting couch, a desk, and a wingback chair.  In less than a minute, I would hear my cue and walk boldly out from the folds of the curtains, pass through the arch, knock on the door, then enter the drawing room where, if my tongue didn’t fail me, I would speak my first lines.

I was 18 years old, a sophomore majoring in theater at the University of Wyoming, and this was my first starring role in a play—Captain Jack Absolute in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 18th-century comedy of manners The Rivals (a play which is now famous for giving us the word “malapropism”).  I was dressed in a cherry-red frock coat, a sword was strapped to my side, and my face was coated with Tan No. 1 pancake makeup.  Little creeks of sweat had eroded lines down my face.  I could feel my heart thudding somewhere in the neighborhood of my esophagus.  My head was filled with air and seemed to float above my body, tethered only by the tendons of my neck.

I couldn’t see the audience beyond the blinding corona of lights, but I knew they were out there. I could hear them rustling their programs, whispering to each other, fidgeting with their evening clothes.  They were waiting for me.  They breathed like foxes outside a rabbit’s hole.

At that moment, I wanted to die.  I prayed for the proverbial trap door to open beneath my feet and plummet me down to insignificance.  I wanted to turn and walk away from the brightly-lit stage, strip off my frock coat, dash out into the frigid night air, rewind my life and pretend I wasn’t living the very dream for which I’d been waiting.

But that was crazy-thinking.

For God’s sake, this was my big break: a starring role in the Theater Department’s major production of the season.  I’d auditioned for the role, beat out several other theater students, grabbed the brass ring.  I’d gotten what I wanted.  Why would I not want to step out onto the stage and walk through that door into the drawing room?  Why would I not revel in this dream fulfilled?
En garde!  That's me on the left, fighting my rival and my anxiety
*      *     *

Last week, I got an email from a Facebook friend: “Look what just arrived in the mail!!!”  Attached to the email was a photo of my exclamatory friend holding up a copy of Fobbit, freshly unboxed from Amazon.  I wanted to die.

It’s not like I didn’t know this moment was coming—this day when my first novel would be gripped in the hand of a Real Reader®.  Of course I saw its approach, starting with the day last September when I opened the email from my agent and it was like a rainbow shot out of my computer screen and a marching band started playing in the background: “Grove/Atlantic has made an offer…”  From that champagne-in-the-bloodstream moment until now, I’ve been preparing to officially step out from the curtains onto the stage as a Published Novelist.

I just thought I had an extra week to prepare for this moment.  The official publication date for Fobbit has always been September 4, but here we were three weeks before Labor Day and my Facebook page was suddenly populated with photos of happy readers unboxing their copies of my book.  Surprise!  Surprise!  Amazon decided to start shipping copies early.  I blew air kisses at all of my Facebook friends and expressed my thanks in the comments below those pictures, but what I was really thinking was, “OhMyGod, OhMyGod, I’m not ready!”

In truth, I will never be ready.  I will never be prepared for the waves of attention to crash over me, for the spotlight to swivel and burn bright on my face, for the audience to rise to its feet and start applauding (with, I anticipate, a few “Boo!”s peppered throughout).  For you see, I am an anxiety-riddled creature with a complex problem.  I crave the attention, but I don’t know what to do with it once it’s given to me.

I can hear the chorus of unpublished authors right now: “What the hell’s his problem?  Doesn’t he know how good he’s got it?  I would run over my grandmother four times—up-and-back-and-up-and-back—just to have one iota of his good luck.”  You’re right.  This is a good problem to have and I am eternally grateful to my agent, to Grove/Atlantic, and to all the readers out there who have made it their mission to push Fobbit on friends and family.  I’m ever mindful that just a year ago, I was one of those unpublished authors grumbling about someone like me who complained about these kind of “problems.”

But the truth is, I’m still that shy 18-year-old who knows he must boldly walk out and deliver his lines to a waiting audience.  Somewhere along the way, I turned my stage fright into page fright.  I don’t think I’m alone in this.  I’m pretty sure I’m joined by a sizeable brethren and sisteren of anxious artists who simultaneously relish the spotlight and duck its penetrating beam.  These are our words on the page, the words we joined together, sentence by sentence, in holy matrimony. After all our hard work, we worry about their reception.  Will those words be loved by others?  Will they be misunderstood?  Will there be applause or catcalls?  And, most importantly, why am I spending so much time and energy agonizing over these questions?  After all, I’m published!  Hooray for that!  End of discussion.

But it’s not.  For every character we bring to life on the page, we fret he’ll be pierced by arrows from critics; for every sentence we compose, an equal amount of anxiety decomposes our self-confidence.  We feel our books deeply.  If you prick us, do we not bleed ink?  Maybe it’s just debut authors—or maybe it’s just me—but in the weeks leading up to publication it feels like there’s a Kitchenaid blender planted in our chests, gathering speed with each passing day, until everything inside us is a whirling, churning mess of ego, apprehension, joy, and second-guessing.  I’ve pretty much been useless to anyone else in my life for the past few weeks.  I’m self-consumed, tunnel-visioned, rigid with a paralysis of nerves.  I’ll be glad when the future is behind me.  I can’t wait to look back on this very essay and see it for what it is: the needlessly neurotic natterings of a novelist “living the dream.”  For now, though, there’s a writhing ball of snakes in my stomach.

In a month, I’ll head out on a cross-country tour to promote Fobbit and I’m sure it will all be fine.  By then, maybe I’ll have swallowed this knot in my throat and swatted all the butterflies in my stomach; maybe I’ll be bold as Captain Jack Absolute swaggering across the stage in his red frock coat; maybe I’ll hide the shake in my voice, the tremor in my hand as I sign copies of Fobbit.  But if you see me eyeing the exits, looking like I’m ready to bolt, I hope you’ll understand why.  And I also hope you’ll jump up to block those exits, barring me from leaving the room.  Because now there’s no turning back.  I’m stepping through that door, the one dividing Unpublished from Published.  For better or worse, I’m heading into the spotlight.

David Abrams is the author of Fobbit, a comedy about the Iraq War, which will be officially released by Grove/Atlantic on September 4.  Fobbit was selected as an Indie Next pick and for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program.  His short stories have appeared in Esquire, Narrative, Salamander, The Connecticut Review, and several other publications.  He lives with his wife in Butte, Montana.

Monday, August 20, 2012

DIY Promotions

by Barbara Claypole White

On Friday, October 19, Book Pregnant is heading to Myrtle Beach for the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop. David Abrams, Anne Clinard Barnhill, Lydia Netzer, Brenda Remmes, and I will be giving an intensive workshop on how to create a village to help promote your debut novel.
I first went to SCWW four years ago as a terrified newbie. Desperate to take workshops on craft, mingle with agents and editors, and meet other writers, I also daydreamed about winning the fiction category of the Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Awards, sponsored by the conference. In 2009 I placed second with the manuscript that would become The Unfinished Garden. Next week, with a little help from Harlequin MIRA, I will birth this book. I think that makes SCWW my baby’s godmother.
Returning as a faculty member is my tiara moment. I am thrilled to be part of this Book Pregnant panel, with each of us talking about a different aspect of marketing. 

Me? I’m the bargain basement girl of promotions. Partly, this comes from my outlet shopper mentality, but it’s also the legacy of my former life as a London PR for young fashion designers. My clients were wildly creative and perennially broke.  
As a debut author, the task of promoting your novel can seem overwhelming. But creating a marketing plan, or the less scary marketing to-do list, is no different to excavating a plot. Come up with a few ideas and then unleash your mind. Follow every crazy tangent; trust your gut; think around corners. And here’s the best part: the price tag is zero.

Start by asking some basic questions about your settings and characters. What gives them reader appeal? How can you build on that? For example, the countryside plays an important role in The Unfinished Garden. My heroine owns a woodland plant nursery in rural North Carolina, and a pivotal scene unfolds at a famous dairy farm. This was the angle that persuaded a local protect-our-countryside group to plug the novel in its monthly newsletter.  And as for my beloved hero?  He’s obsessive-compulsive, and OCD is an unusual hook for mainstream fiction. When I asked the local library about hosting an author event, I decided to suggest something different—a reading during OCD Awareness Week. The librarian was delighted.

Of course, the best free coverage comes via the media. Contacting journalists is no different to querying agents: research, customize, and never ask a question that comes with a yes / no answer. (Do you want to write a lovely article on my novel? No.)  Two-thirds of The Unfinished Garden is set near my childhood village in England, and who doesn’t love a hometown success story? After a regional magazine ran a piece with my local-girl-sells-debut-novel angle, numerous people stopped my mother in the supermarket to congratulate her. Jackpot. I boosted motherly pride and pre-order sales at the same time.

Finally, when life throws a curveball at your promotional endeavors, adapt. I created a spiffy marketing plan (this used to be my thing, you know?) and then discovered my mother needed heart surgery. I lost a month to being a full-time caregiver and house elf in England, and my head was wedged down the pity pot.  But twice a day, I had to exercise Sally the pampered hound. So I began an online walking tour of the settings that inspired The Unfinished Garden and posted a photo a day to my Facebook page. The response was incredible. After I uploaded a picture of the old coaching inn where I used to work, a long-lost acquaintance popped up to say, “That’s my local pub! I have to read this book!” My life was circling the family drain, but I was back on the promotional bandwagon, selling my novel one copy at a time. Sometimes that’s enough.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Why Does It Take So Long To Publish A Book, Anyway?

by Mindy McGinnis

Delivering that first book into the world is a lot like waiting for the baby to drop. You're tired, you're stressed out, and you're really, really sick of people asking you when it's going to happen.

Unfortunately, the gestational period for a book tends to be longer than nine months for most of us. In my case, NOT A DROP TO DRINK won't be released until nearly two years after I signed my contract. Why?

Good question. There's actually a good answer.

Large houses plan their publishing lists far in advance. Smaller houses have a quicker turnaround time, so the gestational period of a book can vary widely house to house. Beyond that factor though, there's the step-by-step process that the author and editor go through, typically about a year in advance of publication date.

Revisions: This is a large-scale, big-picture, here-are-some-things-to-think-about letter from your editor, typically called the "edit letter." In my experience the revision involved a hard look at the timeline of the plot, getting certain plot-accelerating events to occur earlier in the narrative, and a restructuring of the first fifty or so pages came hand in hand with that. Other considerations at this stage are overall theme, narrative style, character development, etc. Your edit letter can be anywhere from 4 - 20 pages long, and the editor usually gives the author a fairly large time frame to work in, sometimes as long as six months. Also, once you do one revision, you're not necessarily done. Sometimes the author will go through several revisions.

Line Edits: Once the big picture is in a place the editor and author are both happy with, you move on to line edits. This is where the editor looks hard at details like lines of dialogue that don't necessarily ring true, little inconsistencies that weren't necessarily caught when doing revisions, and maybe even looking at scene and chapter breaks for better locations. Again, authors and editors usually go through more than one line edit, with a nice window of a few weeks.

Copy Edits: Now the book moves into the hands of the copyeditor, who checks for continuity - was your character wearing a red shirt at the beginning of the scene, but walked out of it wearing a blue one? - punctuation, spelling errors that slip by (a "he" when it needs to be "the"), sneaky homonyms (their, there, they're), and other little things that smart readers are going to catch. Copy editors are angels with red pens and sharp minds.

(Keep in mind not all houses go through the editing process in the same way. Some editors like to do line edits hand-in-hand with revisions. It varies.)

At this point the author might feel very much like a soon-to-be-mother hauling ass towards the finish line. We're ready for this to happen. We're ready to make the delivery. Please, I'm quite sick of gestating this thing in my (mind / uterus).

But... too bad. You still have to go through first pass pages, the awesome fun of cover art (a process in and of itself) and marketing, finding authors (hopefully of your dreams) to blurb your book. The good news is that you're not in it alone. Much like giving birth, there are plenty of people who have been doing this for a long time, and they're here to walk you through this intimidating process.

I've only highlighted the first three phases of the editing process here, as I'm only that far myself. I don't feel qualified to speak further. But, as you can see my book is still only on the beginning of the road to publication, and I'm a year out.

I'm looking forward to the next year, the next phase. Seeing my cover develop through the fantastic art department over at Katherine Tegen is going to be a thrill, and all my debut author friends say holding their first pass pages in their hands and seeing their book - looking like a book! - is the WHAM! moment for them that really punches home that they're going to be an author.

I can't wait to feel like one too. :)

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut dystopian, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, will be available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins Fall, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Nice book - now write another

by Sam Thomas
While I suppose there are a few exceptions, when most people sit down to write a book their planning horizon stops where the book ends. Oh, sure, you might have an idea or even an outline for a second book, and when an agent says, “This is part of a series, right?” you give the correct answer. But until that first book done, the second can never be more than a vague notion, something you will do eventually. (To stick with the Book Pregnant metaphor, this is akin to discussing your next child when you are still pregnant with the first. You might have plans, but you’re not picking out baby outfits, and a not-yet-conceived child makes few demands on your time and energy. Until you start writing, you haven’t started the book.) But to my surprise when – for the second time in my life – I wrote “Chapter One” at the top of the page, I felt a weight settle on my shoulders that was not there when I wrote these words the first time. How strange!
At first blush the weight of the second book seems counter-intuitive. You’ve written a book already, and someone liked it enough to pay you for the privilege of publishing it. (I prefer to think of it as a privilege. It makes me feel good.) If, as in my case, you’re writing a sequel, you’ve already done your background research, figured out your characters, and you are – or should be – much better at writing than you were the first time through. So what the hell?
I think there are a few things that make book two so much heavier than book one. First, now you know the work involved in getting the sucker from first draft to final copy: the many, many rewrites, the copy edits, the line edits, page proofs, and getting the cover right, to name just a few. Then there are the non-book things that you “have” to do: put up a website, start blogging, find people to blurb your book, figure out what you’re going to do to publicize the book, etc., etc., etc. 
There is also the pressure of having to repeat a pretty unusual feat, but this time with an audience. Your agent and editor are watching, your family knows you are working on this, and they all expect you to come up with something good. But it’s even worse than that, because your friends (and frenemies) are watching as well. If your first book never saw the light of day, it’s your dirty little secret. Nobody will every ask, “Say, are you a failed novelist?” On the other hand, if you’ve published one book, people will ask when the second one is coming out, and “I couldn’t sell it,” cannot be pleasant words to say.
Finally – at least in my case – it’s that I know how long this will take. There aren’t many projects that take as long as writing a book. (Not even having a baby!) It is hard not to be discouraged thinking that I’ll sit here every morning through the summer, fall, and into the depths of winter, and I’ll still be here when spring returns, working away, a few hundred words at a time. It’s a slog.
On that happy note, back to work.

Sam Thomas is the author of The Midwife's Tale: A Mystery from Minotaur/St.Martin's. Want to pre-order a copy? Click here. For more on midwifery and childbirth visit his website. You can also like him on Facebook  and follow him on Twitter.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Dancing Naked in the Cemetery: When Fiction is Perceived as Fact

I have the unique joy of being able to trace my family heritage back to the early 1700s.  The tomb stones of many of those relatives are placed behind an historical country church established in 1759 less than two miles from where I live today.  Consequently, I’m not just talking about tracing on a genealogical site, I’m talking about walking up to their grave and saying out loud… “See here, right here I stand.  The fruit of your loins 200 years down the road, and counting.” 

Fortunately, I have a family that not only remained local, but also believed in education and schooled their children to write extensively.  It’s in my genes.  As icing on the cake, someone had enough insight to save their letters and pack them in a crate for me to open 150 years later.  Those letters have been great fodder for my imagination. 

Imagination is the key word here.  Predominantly, I write fiction, so I juice things up a bit.  I play around with names and take a bit of one person’s history to combine with another.  I create places of intrigue and there’s nothing more fun than ghosts and spirits and sounds in the night.  To put all of that in a grave yard, well, the combination is irresistible.

Herein lies the problem.  The embellishment of these stories by me and others over the years has become viral, and with the onslaught of tweet and twitter and all these nasty little messenger devices, the church sees more action at night than during the day.  The congregation only meets every other week for one hour.  The cemetery is busy from midnight to dawn.  Our surveillance cameras caught a bevy of not-so-tantalizing beauties dancing in the nude last weekend.  It was hard to identify them because they didn’t have any clothes on but their bare breasted frolic would have been more pleasing had more been hidden.  Just my personal opinion, of course.

Do I care?  I didn’t used to.  Get your jollies by tiptoeing around graves under a full moon or pretending that some ghost appears to reclaim his golden arm at the stroke of midnight.  What I care about is that frivolity is turning more often to vandalism and we pick up beer cans, liquor bottles and broken glass on a regular basis.  Our “no trespassing after dark” signs are ignored and the security camera and lights are destroyed.  Recently, church windows were broken.  Last night I ventured out and confronted six more young people at midnight.  Really, midnight is long past my bedtime.  I don’t like doing this, but I’m afraid we’re going to have to start prosecuting for trespassing in order to close the flood gates.  And yes, we already have a gate that stops no one.

I write this because this senseless destruction has made me rethink my own writing.  What have I written that people actually believe is true? I used to think that was the height of a good writer, to be so convincing that your reader confused fiction with reality.   I’m having second thoughts, especially now that tweeting appears to be able to broadcast tidbits of misinformation to thousands within seconds, without anyone having read the book.

I’m open for suggestions.  

Monday, August 6, 2012

Writers Write

By Erin Cashman

I’m sure you’ve heard about those incredibly lucky people who write a book in a couple of months, send it off to a few agents, and before they know it they are at auction, getting huge advances and ultimately becoming best selling novelists. Usually these authors say something like . . . “An idea just popped into my head so I wrote it down. I never set out to be an author.” I hate these stories. Not because I’m jealous (okay, I’m a little jealous), but because it is so discouraging for the rest of us, the majority of writers – who, if we are lucky enough to garnish a publishing contract  at all -- only do so through hours upon hours, years upon years of trying. Of never giving up.

I’ve written for as long as I can remember. It has always been my dream to be a published author, but my father encouraged me to go to law school, so I could support myself. I took his advice, and stopped writing anything except legal briefs and memos for several years. And then one night I had the strangest dream about a family of vampires. I just had to write it down. I finished it a year later, and sent it off to agents and publishers, certain I would realize my dream and become an author.

Boy was I wrong.

After Twilight, romance vampire stories were in demand, not middle-grade adventure ones.

And then I wrote another middle grade adventure novel, about a long lost Irish treasure. This one would certainly be published, I thought. I sent it out to many agents and editors, running each day to the mail box. I received a seemingly endless amount of rejection letters, postcards, and my own letter mailed back to me, with Sorry, not for me, scribbled along the bottom.  One agent even sent me two rejection letters! I guess she really didn’t like it!

And then a few encouraging letters and emails trickled in, all with very positive feedback. These agents and editors loved my writing and enjoyed the characters and suspenseful plot. BUT – treasure stories weren’t selling.


I realized then that I would likely never be published. But I discovered something far more important.  I write because I love to. I wasn’t about to stop writing because dozens of people – experts in the publishing field – told me my manuscripts were not good enough, or wouldn’t sell.  I may never be published, I thought,  – but so what. Writing could be my hobby, not my profession.  As much as I would love to be a published author, in the end I wrote for myself.

And so I started The Exceptionals, which is about a teenage girl named Claire who must use her long-ignored ability to communicate with animals to unravel the mystery behind the disappearances of the most talented students at Cambial Academy, a school for teens with special abilities. I loved writing The Exceptionals. I really enjoyed thinking up the different “specials”, and how they would influence the characters and the plot. Creating Dylan (a gorgeous but secretive guy who may know more than he’s letting on) was especially fun. He is interesting and mysterious. Every day I woke up and couldn’t wait to write!

Six months later I finished, and I sent it to about ten agents and editors. I didn’t run to the mailbox, or obsessively check my phone messages or email. I had no expectation that it would be published.  A couple of weeks later I got a call from an agent, Erica Silverman from the great literary agency, Trident, offering to represent me. She loved The Exceptionals! I couldn’t believe it! I spoke with Erica for about an hour. She was wonderful. I not only had an agent – I had a GREAT agent!

The very next day Pam Glauber, a very talented editor at Holiday House, called and made an offer to buy the book! So after years of writing, and two novels behind me, I was finally going to be a published author. Third time was a charm! I was elated.

I am so glad that I never gave up on myself or on my dream. I write as often as I can, and I write what I want to write, not what I think will sell. I realize I may never see another book in print (although I hope I do!) but in the end, I write for myself, as I always have.

So remember, writers write. They don’t count their rejection letters, wallow in self-pity, or throw their laptop out the window (although I am guilty of the first two – and was tempted to do the third!).  If you are a writer, write. Keep at it. Maybe you’ll find an agent, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll sell your book to a traditional publisher, maybe you’ll self-publish. Maybe you’ll just keep trying. In the end, you are still a writer – whether you are one of the lucky few to be published, or not.  You owe it to yourself to give it your all. It may not be an easy path. Like me, it may take you years (six to be exact!) and be more hard work than you can ever imagine.  But no matter what the outcome, you’ll be glad you did.  Because writers write.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Three Ways Non-Writer Job Skills Can Help as You Publish Your Novel

I’ve had a lot of shitty jobs.

I haven’t been unemployed for more than a month since I was fifteen. Combine that with a low tolerance for moron supervisors, a tendency to get bored quickly, and, as I grew up, the knowledge that I wanted a career as a writer and the refusal to work any job that would interfere with that goal, and I have a long, long list of workplaces. I’ve been a Subway sandwich artist, a busser, a hostess; an accounts payable specialist, a payroll specialist, an HR director. I’ve managed educational programs, offices, a Blockbuster. I’ve been a test scorer, essay grader, copywriter. I’ve taught pretty much everything related to English or writing at pretty much every level.

Sure, I was good at most of those jobs, some I even really enjoyed, but in my head I always believed they were simply a means to an end—a way to feed, house, and clothe myself while I was chipping away at my manuscript, on my way to my dream career as a published author.

I considered my writing classes and programs much more important than those lowly day jobs because in my naïveté, I thought I’d use my craft training and skills to, you know, write. But as it turns out, that’s only the first step. Now that Hand Me Down has been out in the world for four months I know that being an author—which is definitely different from being a writer—means a hell of a lot more than simply writing. You play the roles of publicist, copywriter, website developer, travel planner, thank you card sender, Vista print designer, social media manager, and anything else necessary. You basically become your own executive assistant to your author self. But you only work on commission.

If you’re a writer, you probably have your own list of “day jobs” (unless you are independently wealthy, and then I might hate you) during which you probably spent many hours nurturing fantasies of selling your book. What nobody tells you is that the reality of publishing a book is dramatically different than those work-day dreams in which you sell for a huge advance and sit back with a drink as it becomes a bestseller and then a movie and your royalties come pouring in like gold coins in cartoons and you can make a living as a writer simply by writing.

But the skills you gained while you whiled away the hours in your non-book-writer jobs can still come in handy. Here are three ways they did for me.

Teaching=Poker Face 

You never know what kind of bizarre questions or off the wall comments are going to come out of students’ mouths. “Recycling is stupid.” “Wait, women can’t actually have, um, climaxes…can they?” Not to mention all the bozo things they say in relation to writing—“why does it matter if I use their or they’re? It’s the same word.” Grr.

As a teacher, you get used to camouflaging your face so your true reactions don’t flitter across your features and give away your shock or frustration. This comes in handy when your readers, who will feel like they know you, ask you strange and personal questions, or tell you random bits of information, like the woman who told me she worked with homeless teens and sometimes did meth with them. “Just so I can connect with them.” Um…what do you say to that?

Weird things will happen to you, too. I guarantee it. With a proper poker face, you can just nod and smile and say thank you and move on. I recommend practicing this whether you are a teacher or not, because readers are people, and people are unpredictable.


You will be asked to do a book reading and a book club on the same day, maybe in different cities, and, not wanting to disappoint anyone (debut authors will do everything we can to help readers connect with our books, so I guess, we’re whores…or is it just me?) you will agree to both and have to figure out how to make the travel work. You’ll want to get postcards, bookmarks, business cards, posters, mugs, T-shirts, book bags, and maybe even a cake with your beautiful book cover on it. You’ll want to send thank you cards and postcards to bookstores, book sellers, book clubs, libraries, your aunt who told everyone she knows about your book. You’ll have interview questions and guest blog posts and website updates and reader emails to keep up with. It’s a lot.

I’m naturally a pretty organized and efficient person, but I was overwhelmed with all the administrative details pretty quickly. Luckily, I had done payroll for an Excel genius and learned some of his tricks for spreadsheets. I managed travel and a ridiculously busy calendar for the CEO/president of a fancy-pants mortgage brokerage firm in Palo Alto, which made me better equipped to handle my suddenly very busy schedule. I've had more than a half-dozen office jobs over the years and all the organizational tools I picked up, I used. Anything that can help you gain some control over the chaotic first few months after your pub date will go a long way in preventing mistakes or missed opportunities and maintaining your sanity. 

Professional Writing=Deadlines 

Even if you had deadlines before you sold your book, publishing deadlines are different. It’s not just your agent or your critique group you let down if you fail to deliver, not just your editor, but a whole team of people who get paid to make your book baby a product. Waiting. Talk about pressure.

If you’re writing articles for magazines or journals or any type of professional writing they don’t care if you’re feeling creatively blocked. These are businesses. You must produce the commodity they hired you to create by the date you agreed upon, and if you don’t, they won’t ask you to write for them again. Experience with this kind of high-stakes writing deadlines helped me cope with looming publishing deadlines, and made me a little better at writing under pressure. If you can think of your book deadlines as another piece of regular work, it might help curb your nerves.

Despite my frequent frustration by the jobs that were not part of my ultimate career goals, I’m thankful for each position I’ve worked as each of them taught me something valuable, even the jobs that mainly taught me I didn’t want to do that job anymore because that often fueled my writing drive. Nothing is wasted, as they say, and if you’re like me, you’ll need all the help you can get from any applicable skill as you launch your author career.

What have you learned in a “day job” that has helped (or could help) your publishing process?

Melanie Thorne is the author of Hand Me Down, a debut novel that is the story of a girl who has never been loved best of all. Find out more about why People gave it a "compelling" 3.5/4 stars on her website, follow her on Twitter, or say hello on Facebook.