Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Web is Here to Help

I cannot stress how invaluable the Web has been in doing research on the publishing industry, agents, querying, and just about everything else. Very recently The Bookshelf Muse did a blog roll asking readers to submit what blogs they can't live without. The list in full can be found here and is a wonderful "cheat sheet" on where to get started if you're just entering the game or don't follow these blogs yet.

A few blogs and Websites, in particular, have been invaluable. On understanding the industry and current trends I find Kristin Nelson's Pub Rants and Nathan Bransford's blog a huge help. On researching agents, Casey McCormick's Literary Rambles, Guide to Literary Agents, and, of course, Publisher's Marketplace.*

Regarding queries, I suggest everyone stop by Janet Reid's Query Shark and study the advice she gives and for the truly bold, I suggest submitting your query along. It may mean public embarassment but also a free, professional critique from a superstar agent and, if you're lucky, maybe even representation. Query Tracker blog is also really helpful. I have to admit though I read Query Tracker more for the articles from guest agents and writers than to track my queries. In my defense, I already had a query tracking system in place based on some advice Jeff Kleinman of Folio Literary Agency gave at a conference.

And the blogs I read each morning between the Washington Post and my second cup of coffee (because they're either really helpful, really fun, or both) are Suzie Townsend's Confessions of a Wandering Heart, Kathleen Ortiz's Neverending Page Turner, Lisa and Laura Roecker's Lisa and Laura Write, and Sarah Wylie's Sarah With a Chance.

More recently, I've also been checking in with Adventures in Children's Publishing for helpful links and some amazing contest because, really, who doesn't love free goodies?!

Perhaps the best piece of advice, however, is if an agency or an agent has a blog or has done some interviews that you can get your hands on, READ them. This is the holy grail. You get a really great sense of agents' personalities, what kind of agent-author relationship they try to garner, and what specifically they're looking for both in a query letter and in a book.

Do you have any helpful blogs or Websites I didn't list here?

*Publisher's Marketplace does a free "Publisher's Lunch." For $20 a month you can also purchase a subscription. Trust me, it's worth it. Through the subscription you can look up author representation, agents listed by genre, and see who is selling what plus much, much more.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Stories to Escape Into

I’m getting ready to read The Sky is Everywhere and I can’t wait. Everyone seems to love it and from what I’ve heard it’s a storyline about extremes or, rather, of balanced contradiction: love and sorrow, hope and fear, a longing to remember and to forget all told in a beautiful and poetic voice.

That description triggered something in me and immediately I was recalling a trip to the local library with my mother when I was 14. She wanted to pick up a book. While I waited for her to find it, I roamed the aisles of the fiction section. By chance I picked up The Bridges of Madison County. Not exactly a YA book but I checked it out nevertheless. I devoured it and even today I remember it as my first love affair. What I remember most is escaping so fully into the story, feeling so wholly the emotions of the characters.

So while I waited for The Sky is Everywhere to arrive, I roamed the fiction section of the library near my new home and there, right at eyelevel, it was: The Bridges of Madison County. I immediately checked it out, curious more than anything if it would be what I remembered because sometimes memories can be deceiving and, well, it’s been a while and I have many more reads under my belt from which to compare it to.

The first few pages in I wasn’t so sure but by the last I was choking back tears on the metro. The words are themselves poetry, the descriptions full of detail, the characters believable. More than anything this book reminded me why I fell in love with writing—and reading—in the first place. It’s the ability, the power, really, of words to transport us whether it’s to another world or to Iowa, whether we have a special talent or we’re a farmer’s wife. But it’s not just the ability to escape, it’s the fact that when done so well, a great read can make us feel something amazing; it can make us feel alive, hopeful, in love. It can make us cry on a dirty, loud metro train because we’re not really here in Washington, DC but at Roseman Bridge where Francesca Johnson’s ashes are spread and at last she’s at peace and together again with Robert Kincaid, perhaps not in life but forever thereafter.

So tell me, what books have changed your life, made another world come alive, or made you believe that these aren't just characters on a page but as real as anything else you know?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Christmas Came Early

I had a really rivoting (okay, maybe not "rivoting" but different) blog post in mind to write for today but then I got a little distracted but, really, wouldn't you?

People did an article on David Beckham and Christiano Ronaldo and this photo was the lead-in. So the completely entrancing helpful post will have to wait and you'll just have to make do with some serious eye candy instead.

Speaking of which, my friend Liz asked who was behind this blog operation of mine. I didn't know at the time whether Liz liked the blog (She does!) or if she thought it was total bollocks so I lied like hell. I decided, instead, to exploit her weaknesses and came up with what I now affectionately call "the dream team." No, not the 1992 men's Olympic basketball team but I think you'll agree, if you had to go to work with these individuals it would be a bit of a dream:

-David Beckham on fashion,
-Christiano Ronaldo on foreign affairs,
-Channing Tatum on all things entertainment and dance,
-Eric Bana on sports, and
-Taylor Lautner as the intern.

So..has Christmas come early for you? Any epiphanies, great articles, can't-put-down books, or just plain fun photos like this one that makes you stop and thank God for genetics "freaks" even if he won't make you one of them.

Monday, June 21, 2010

It’s a Competitive World Out There

I’ve heard the saying that is you can give up writing then you should. While this may not apply to all passions, I think it’s particularly poignant for writers working towards publication because this is, perhaps, as competitive an endeavor as you can pursue.

To put it in perspective I’ve read that only 1-3% of querying authors land an agent and make it to publication. No that’s not a typo; it’s just that competitive. Nathan Bradford, a literary agent at Curtis Brown, has said on his blog that he receives between 15,000-20,000 queries a year and, of those, only takes on between 3-5 new clients. Kathleen Ortiz, a literary agent at Lowenstein Associates, said from January to April of this year she received 1,622 queries and, of those, only requested 6 full manuscripts.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to convince anyone to give up writing. I love writing. I always have. I just think the first important step before querying is to do your research and that first piece of research has to do with understanding what you’re getting yourself into. So for me, the quote has to do with shear enthusiasm and an ability to handle rejection. I say the later because getting rejections can feel like someone is telling you to give up. I say, “Don’t.” I say, “Keep pushing and get better; perfect your craft.”

As writers, we must be confident enough to think we have something worth saying. For those of us trying to get published, we must think that what we’ve said is worth investment (both financial and time on the part of agents and publishers) but is also particularly unique to stand out in the marketplace.

Ironically, despite the confidence that writers have, most that I know also seem to have their fair share of insecurities. We need re-assurance from time to time. Yet the pursuit of publication is riddled with rejection. This means we need to be able to take on constructive criticism. We need to realize that rejection of this nature is never personal. Different agents have different tastes; they may have just taken on a project or author similar to you; they may like the idea or the writing but think it’s a tough sell to publishers, or any number of reasons in-between. And even if they take you on, constructive criticism won’t cease once you’ve landed an agent because the next step is to find you an editor so, really, it’s starting all over again.

If this is your dream, however, I think it’s important to remember that a number of published authors didn’t land an agent until their second or even third-written novel. Some writers like Mandy Hubbard, author of Prada and Prejudice, received 20+ rejections from editors even after she landed an agent. Others, even those who have reached great commercial success and are now household names like Nicholas Sparks, had only one agent interested in them. It only takes that one person to believe in your work, however. And while it can be a discouraging process, remember agents don’t get paid until they sell your work so if you do land one, you know they really are crazy about what you’ve produced and really want to work with you on your writing career.

Let me leave you with this quote by Anson Dorrance. Sure, he’s a soccer coach but just as it was my mantra for all those long days of physical training, it’s been revised as my mantra to keep perfecting my writing, keep editing my piece, keep doing my research so when I go out into the world and see if there are any takers, the odds are a little better in my favor.

“There are two types of pain: pain of discipline and pain of regret.” So keep writing; keep reading; and keep reaching for your goal. With a beautifully written piece targeted at the right agent and some luck on the side you’ll get there.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


The book giveaway contest has officially closed and it's time to announce the winners!

The recipient of the Stephenie Meyer book, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner goes to Lori Pasto.

The recipient of the Sarah Dessen book, The Truth About Forever goes to Elizabeth Moeller.

Congratulations you two! I'll be putting the books in the mail in the next couple of days so you should receive them shortly.

Thanks to everyone who entered. Don't forget to check back to the blog regularly as this is just the first of many giveaways. Next up will be Sex and the City creater, Candace Brushnell's new book, The Carrie Diaries. This also has to be one of the coolest book covers I've seen yet as it looks just like a purse! Congrats to the marketing team at Balzer and Bray imprint of Harper Collins for coming up with this one; it's genious!

Here's the book description:
The Carrie Diaries is the coming-of-age story of one of the most iconic characters of our generation.

Before Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw was a small-town girl who knew she wanted more. She's ready for real life to start, but first she must navigate her senior year of high school. Up until now, Carrie and her friends have been inseparable. Then Sebastian Kydd comes into the picture, and a friend's betrayal makes her question everything.

With an unforgettable cast of characters, The Carrie Diaries is the story of how a regular girl learns to think for herself and evolves into a sharp, insightful writer. Readers will learn about her family background, how she found her writing voice, and the indelible impression her early friendships and relationships left on her. Through adventures both audacious and poignant, we'll see what brings Carrie to her beloved New York City, where her new life begins.

Booklist had this to say about the novel,
Before Manhattan and Manolos, who was Carrie Bradshaw? In her first novel for teens, Bushnell fills in her Sex and the City star's growing-up years with this chronicle of Carrie's senior year of high school in a small New England town. Bushnell maintains believable continuity of character in this teen version of her cultural icon, and fans will enjoy watching Carrie develop her familiar adult traits: her love of fashion, her wit, her writing ambitions, and her own brand of feminism. Once again, Carrie has three best friends, the alcohol flows freely, and sex is always on the conversation agenda, but here there�s a lot more talk than action (Carrie is a virgin). There are love interests, of course: a gorgeous heartbreaker and a clean-cut college guy who kisses like a man who thinks in straight lines. As with the TV show, though, it's the book's friendships that teens may relate to most. Fans will love this (and only insiders will get the ending), but smart, vulnerable, questioning Carrie emerges as a likable, stand-alone character. Expect plenty of adult interest, too.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

WTF Wednesday

Let me preface by saying that I love working in city. I don’t even mind (most of the time) commuting on the metro so long as the AC isn’t broken and I have a good book in hand.

This morning, however, was a different story and so begins the true inspiration for this post and what my friend Courtney and I are now calling “horror stories from the field.” Sure it sounds like we’re investigative reporters (we’re not) or Stephen King wannabes (we aren’t) but it has a nice ring to it and, well, they’re our stories so we can call them whatever we want.

Beginning with today’s WTF moment…

• My metro train was delayed as five police officers in stealth ninja mode showed up out of nowhere to arrest the kid sitting behind me.

• Walked by a homeless man wearing a T-shirt reading, “Please tell your tits to stop staring at my eyes.”

• Woman yelling at her baby in increasing decibels to “Stop f*ing crying. Nobody likes a cry baby!”

• Guy walking down the street with his hand resting down his pants as if there's nothing out of the ordinary going on here.

• Subject of spam email I got today, “This is why you’re fat.”

• Homeless, pregnant woman held captive by abductor who wants to steal her baby. This isn’t even my story, it’s from the Washington Post, but seriously, WTF?

• And, though I love her, this Lady Gaga outfit:

So have you had any WTF moments lately?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Status Update

Before I share all of the wonderful tips and helpful links I’ve discovered so far, I thought I should first come clean about where I am in the process of querying for publication or, rather, querying for a literary agent.

Queries sent to date: 20
Agents remaining on my TBR (to be researched)* list: 15
Queries pending due to my yet-to-be-written synopsis: 7

Quickest responses times
20: number of minutes it took to get my first form rejection letter
24: number of hours for an agent to request my full MS

Yes, it’s that subjective!

So far the response breakdown of the 20 I’ve sent has been as follows:
Form rejection letters: 3
Personal rejection letters: 8 (incl. a handwritten letter by an agent which I thought was nice even if she did pass)
Awaiting to hear: 2
Silence=No: 3
Partial requests: 2
Full MS requests: 2 (and no, the partial and fulls are not the same agents)

Now you may be wondering why, if I have agents with pages in hand, I’m not done querying. The answer is simple (and I’ve read it on a number of agent blogs so it must be true!). Until you sign with someone you should keep sending things out. I believe this for two reasons. The first is that you may get some insight into what you’re doing right or wrong based on the kinds of responses you’re getting back from people. Apply that to future queries. Secondly, the whole process takes a VERY long time. Some agencies don’t get back to you on a one-page query until 8 weeks. A partial or full? That can take 12 weeks easy. In short, it can take 20 weeks just to find out someone is passing on a project and then you’re back to the starting line.

I also still have a lot of work to do. For starters, my TBR list keeps growing as I notice more and more agents selling YA novels as listed in Publishers Marketplace. I approach this with both optimism and caution. YA is increasing in popularity so some agents are jumping on the bandwagon but may not entirely love the genre while others are slowly being converted. Not everyone on my TBR list will be queried. It depends what I dig up.

For instance, my story is contemporary YA but paranormal and fantasy YA is really trending right now so it makes my research a little more challenging to find agents who are representing works like mine. There’s also the question of whether to query an agent where you feel synergy (You love their blog! They rep your genre!) but, truthfully, they have different tastes in books. On his blog, Nathan Bradford, literary agent at Curtis Brown, suggests that when in doubt, send a query. Be prepared, however, that the “It’s just not for me,” response may be forthcoming.

The other cog in the wheel is that I need to write my synopsis in order to query a number of agents still on my list. Am I dreading the synopsis? Not entirely. It’s just another thing that needs to get done. The problem, however, is that I just discovered the song “Lazy Eye” by the Silversun Pickups and am stalking Missy Higgins on i-Tunes. While not a big music listener when writing non-fiction, it’s become my lifeline when writing fiction so now every time I sit down at my computer words come out, they just aren’t the ones I should, perhaps, be writing. What this means it the following:

Word count of synopsis: 0
Word count on my next story: 15,000

So the good news is, “Hey agents, I already have a second story outlined and in the works!” The bad news is they may not hear about it if don’t get my damn synopsis written and query them. And so the pursuit continues…

*Note: I've researched FAR more than I've listed here but when querying for publication you're looking for not only an agent to represent the particular work you have in hand but, hopefully, a career. You also want someone who is, of course, the right "match." For this reason, many agents I've researched I've chosen not to query. More on this topic to come.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

YA Blogs Love to Give Away Books

In an update to Thursday's post, here are some more blogs hosting contests to win free books and critiques.

Free books:
YA Highway
Carrie’s YA Bookshelf
Market My Words
Sarah's {Random} Musings
Allison Wynn Scotch

Free critiques:
The Bookshelf Muse

Free online writing conference:

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Soccer Saturday

(**Note: Book contest is still ongoing till Thursday. See post from 6/10 for more details.*)

It’s that time again. The athletes. The competition. The anxiety that has been building for 4 years until this very moment. No, it’s not the Olympics, it’s the World Cup!

Definition of the World Cup: The most popular sporting event on the planet.

Why? Because it is the largest, most competitive tournament of the world’s most popular sport.

Not convinced? Maybe these will change your mind:

My rebuttal to the haters who say soccer is boring is that they don’t understand it. If you did, you wouldn’t feel this way. This is, however, coming from a true believer. I drank the Kool-Aid at a young age and I keep going back for more! So bad, in fact, is my addiction that not even concussions, broken bones (an ankle and collarbone), gashes, bruises, torn muscles, sunburns, grass stains, dehydration, and perpetually calloused feet can keep me away. Yeah, I got it bad.

In truth, if you aren’t well versed in the rules of soccer you’ll likely miss a lot. I believe at its core soccer is a game of nuance. That slight move by an offensive player may be the difference between a breakaway or an offside’s call. To break it down in writing terms, it’s that tipping point between an agent saying they want to sign you or saying they liked the material but it may not be quite strong enough in this tough market. It’s part learned craft, part shear talent, part luck and, when taken together in just the right mix, it’s beautiful. It’s magic.

My friend Mia in Denmark tells me about the shops closing down when the Danish team is playing. The whole community comes together in huddled masses to cheer, to hope, to wish what might be possible. Together they hold their communal breath for 90 grueling minutes to learn the fate of their team and the bragging rights of their country.

My brother in Chile was out in the streets celebrating with neighbors, friends, complete strangers—the whole country—after it was announced that Chile had qualified for this year’s World Cup. And it was all over the papers because the World Cup is BIG news and no team’s entrance or performance is guaranteed. You want a world stage well here it is because soccer is the one sport, the one craze, the one addiction that the whole world can agree upon.

Need evidence? Here’s a photograph of people in Italy celebrating in the streets, their flags visible in every direction for as far as you can see.

And this isn’t just in Italy, it’s everywhere from large urban epicenters to the smallest, rural towns. From bustling tourist destinations to never-heard-of communities tucked away in quiet corners.

In the U.S., however, the World Cup is a different kind of beast. In my opinion, it’s a bit of a re-dress of St. Patrick’s Day. Pubs get packed and people become filled with ancestral pride. Cheer for our national team? Sure but unlike a lot of other countries, we’re apt to also cheer for the countries where our family roots were first sewn.

My soccer experience today will be a mix of pure joy (the World Cup is on!!!!) as well as distress. I’m part English but I’m all American. And today, of course, the two countries face off. There’s no turning back.

Now you have to understand, I love England. I do. I love so many English things: dry humor, their beer and cider, Aerobars, digestive biscuits, their accents, their castles, they have a queen! And let’s not forget the British gave us J.K. Rowling, Ian McEwan, Shakespeare, the Beatles, David Beckham, “Chuck” from Gossip Girl, and none other than Robert Pattison. Oh, so many many loves of mine.

So it is not without distress and much deliberation that I do what needs to be done: Dress in red, white, and blue; head down to the English pub where the game is being televised and pray to God I make it out of there alive and, with any luck, a belly full of my favorite English cider and a U.S. win under my belt.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Contests Galore!!!!

Before I get into the contest information I just want to say how much I appreciate a good swagger song. Swagger song? “Is that a typo?” you ask. No. This is the kind of song where no matter what kind of morning you're having (e.g. you’re peeling yourself out of a packed, sweaty metro train) you can put it on and SHAZAM, you’ve got your swagger back. My song? V.V. Brown’s “Shark in the Water” Louis Laroche remix.

Okay, now onto what everyone really wants…FREE stuff!

For the readers…
To help everyone get started on their summer reading lists there are tons of contests. First up is mine. I wanted to do a classic throwback and a brand new favorite so I turned to two of the most popular young adult writers around: Sarah Dessen and Stephenie Meyer. The books I’m giving away include Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever and the just released Stephenie Meyer Eclipse novella The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner.

The rules are simple:
1. Be a follower of my blog
2. Find my picture in the "followers" list, click on it, and send me an email. The subject line should read, "contest entry" and your email should include your name and the order of your book preferences (Dessen vs. Meyer).

The contest officially closes Thursday, June 17 at noon EST. Winners will be announced on the blog the following morning and will be notified by email. Note: I’ll be holding contests semi-regularly so check back often. The next up will be The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell, creator of Sex and the City. The book examines Carrie’s pre-Big early years.

Other fabulous contests include:

Jen Haley’s blog where she’s giving away Matched by Allie Condie and The Duff (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) by Kody Keplinger. Not only are these two of the most anticipated books coming out but you can win advanced copies. That means before they hit stores, people!

Reading with Tequila blog is giving away Shadow Hills by Anastasia Hopcus (advance copy!), Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart, Reading Group Choices: 2010, The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummings, Across the Table by Linda Cardillo (signed!), Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives by Josie Brown, and more!

Novel Novice is doing a contest to win the book White Cat by Holly Black as part of their countdown to the movie Eclipse. And for the really big Twilight Saga fans, they have a blog dedicated entirely to the movie and are giving away some Eclipse gear.

Read it Forward regularly gives out books via contests. The ones up for grabs right now include The Outer Banks House by Diann Ducharme, All Over the Map by Laura Fraser, The One That I Want by Allison Winn Scotch.

…And for the writers

Amanda Bonilla and Suzanne Hayze are doing a contest through their new blog, Writing Out the Angst where they'll choose 10 winners to get a query critique.

While not technically a contest, it still feels like one: Kathleen Ortiz, literary agent at Lowenstein Associates is answering writers’ questions at Absolute Write as well as giving submission guideline recommendations on her blog, The Neverending Page Turner.

Finally, from this year’s MTV Movie Awards, I leave you with your moment of Zen:

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

How the Journey Began…

I write for other people as a living. I’m a hired gun. In fact, I began to think I’d never write for myself again. I mean, really, am I going to read and write all day long and then do it some more once I get home? Yes, yes I am.

It didn’t start off that easily, however. In fact, on May 25 I hit an all-time low when my husband turned to me and asked what I had written about before I took my job. What?! Had it really been that long? The fact that I couldn’t remember proved it had.

I’ve always been attracted to themes about identity construction so I told him about the essays I had written over the years, many of them non-fiction. I still have a soft spot for that genre as I love the idea of finding an extraordinary story in ordinary life.

What imbrued, however, was the premise for my fiction story. I was recalling how as a teenager, I was desperately trying to figure out who I was and where I fit in.* I’ve always been intrigued by the question of whether we’re a product of our environment, our relationships, or inherently born with our personalities somewhat intact. So…what would happen if I took a character with amnesia and moved her to a new place altogether where she, quite literally, had to start over? Who would she become? What secrets or surprises would arise?

I thought about the idea over and over again on metro rides and jogs, when I was walking the dogs, or making coffee. I quite literally couldn’t turn it off. When I wasn’t at work I was thinking about what I’d write. Some characters took a while to develop while others came to me pretty intact. Sometimes I’d hear a sad or happy song, think of a certain scene and write entirely out of order to ensure I got my ideas down on the page. When I finally came up for breath I realized I already had 34,000 words and a lot more to say. This wasn’t a short story after all!

I didn’t tell anyone other than my husband what I was up to so it seemed omniscient when my grandfather, just a couple of weeks before his death, said, “Sarah, I want you to write something where I can go into a bookstore, pick it up, and buy it. Can you do that?” I told him I’d try and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

*Disclaimer: There was also a crisis of identity immediately following college graduation. It involves floating around a friend’s pool, drinking Coronas, and watching The Graduate on constant re-play but that’s another story altogether.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

25 Things You Don't Know About Me

1. In homage to my pop culture addiction I chose to list 25 things a la US Weekly .
2. I'm a communications manager by day and YA writer by night.
3. My favorite color is gray. (That's not a typo. Think gray sweaters and blankets not skies.)
4. Best song ever? "Stand by Me" by Ben E. King.
5. I have two dogs: Annie and Molly.
6. If you see me with a diet Mt. Dew in hand, move over. I'm on a mission.
7. I'm a dancing queen: 80s dance off, improvisational dance, booty shaker? It's all in my arsenal.
8. I'm allergic to dust mites so my husband dusts and vacuums our whole house. (Who knew allergies could be helpful?)
9. I always cheer for the underdog...
10. so I'm a lousy gambler.
11. I remember high school fondly but then I remind myself of the braces, the Chia Pet haircut I got when I was 14, and all the "angsty" poetry I wrote. And my car...
12. It had duct tape on the steering wheel, no air conditioning, and no power steering. Oh and the stick shift always got stuck!
13. I have two older brothers. (They drove the car first. Enough said.)
14. I've been playing soccer for 20 years.
15. 25 things is a lot to write!
16. I didn't know to blow dry my hair or, rather, blow dry without ridiculous amounts of frizz until I was in college.
17. I'm a tomboy at heart.
18. I keep saying I'll do more yoga...
19. but then I'm never relaxed enough to actually do it.
20. I own every Shel Silverstein book.
21. I wrote my first creative writing piece at age 7. It was a poem about Santa Claus.
22. My favorite city is London.
23. My eyes change colors from blue to green to gray depending on what I'm wearing.
24. I recently finished my first novel and am on the long and arduous journey of querying for publication.
25. Come along for the ride!