Category Archives: writing business

To Be What You Are: Lessons From New York

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This weekend, I was privileged enough (okay, I worked me arse off) to be able to attend the Writer’s Digest Conference East for the second year in a row. Last year was an eye-opening experience, and I wasn’t sure what to expect this time, heading into the conference with my agent at my side.

Most of all, when I left DC Friday morning having had only one measly hour of quasi-sleep after a 5 AM pharmacy run, I was looking forward to being just a writer for a weekend. I know, I know. Not the highest of aspirations. But when you work a day job and manage to write full time around your other full time hours, having only one job for a weekend is like a warm spring breeze ruffling your hair. Especially when that one job is the one you love more than anything.

Now, I’m gonna get a little sentimental here for a second. I’ve been to New York multiple times, easily five or six times by now, and still when I get close to the city something buoys me on the inside. I couldn’t help cranking Spotify over to Jay-Z and Alicia Keys singing Empire State of Mind as we crossed under the East River through the Lincoln Tunnel. New York IS the Empire State Building of publishing. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. And for me, New York is a city built with books.

Last January, I remember stumbling across the Random House building and seeing the careful shelves of books from floor to ceiling. Like a shrine, like a dedication, like a remembrance, like an homage all in one. New York is books to me. And crossing the river into the city, seeing the bustle overtake us — the song sort of became truth for me.

New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of

There’s nothing you can’t do.

Now you’re in New York

These streets will make you feel brand new

Big lights will inspire you.

Because as warm and fuzzy and shiny as it might sound, every time I go to New York I feel it. It’s a city born of possibility, of millions of people just trying and trying to get farther, move upward, dream. It’s a city that got hit with heart-rending tragedy and rebuilt. It’s the place where writers, musicians, actors, singers, architects, businesspeople — all these people aching for more — it’s where they go to bring the hope in their minds to life.

It’s not a perfect city. It’s smashed as many dreams as it’s allowed to soar. But it’s the hope and possibility that keeps people coming back, generation after generation.

That’s what I went into the weekend with. Blame my sentimentality on having only an hour of sleep.

One of the first sights that greeted me as I stared out the bus window somewhere around 37th Street was a group of men clearing rubbish from a building. The rubbish they were moving filled gray bags in equal bundles. They tossed those bundles from person to person in perfect, precise rhythm. And they did it with smiles, taking some small amount of joy from their harmonic motions.

Just a small thing, but it’s those small things sometimes that bear witness to something greater. Do what you do. Be what you are.

When I’m at my day job, I do my job well. Everyone has their bad days, and I have mine too. But I try to be what I am in that moment. As soon as I drove into New York, I felt at liberty to be the most authentic me.

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I could write five thousand words about the weekend. About how amazing my agent Jessica Negrón is in person and how fortunate I am to have someone like her as my advocate. She’s a hell of a woman to have in my corner. I could tell you how we talked into the wee hours about the business of publishing and those intricate little details that would probably bore most people to tears. I could also tell you that we followed the recommendation of some Tweeps and waited over an hour to get into Serendipity’s 3 and glut ourselves on carrot cake and their signature frozen hot chocolate.

Or I could just show you...

Or I could just show you…

I could sit here and write about how great it was to get to know my writer friend Kevin Klein (guys, he’s awesome) better and get to be the sounding board for his pitch practice. Tell you about the Bruce Willis look-alike P.I. we met (whose actual name is James Michaels, and he writes supernatural investigator stories) and how I am still secretly hoping he’ll yell “Yipee-ki-yay, mother fuckers!” in my presence someday. James was a high point for our entire little gaggle — his friendly exuberance and kindness were just over the top and awesome. I could go on about the badass H.E. Goodhue, with whom I had an eerie amount of life experiences in common, from teaching students with Emotional Disturbance (though he still fights that good fight, and I don’t) to traveling around Scotland. He also writes zombie stories and is well-versed in martial arts.

I could tell you about how much I loved getting to meet agents who were kind enough to help me through the Query Trenches, like Suzie Townsend, who is just as lovely in person as I thought she’d be. And how I didn’t quite have the courage to snergle Sarah LaPolla like her client Summer Heacock bade me. Heh. I could try to explain how much it meant to me that my agent’s boss, Gina Panettieri, greeted me with a warm hug and showed an overwhelming amount of enthusiasm for me and my book. Or how nice a surprise it was that Chuck Sambuchino remembered and recognized me from last year’s conference or Twitter or where-the-hell-ever. He will probably never forget my eyebrows, now. Or to hear Don Maass say he was excited to hear that his books had helped me get to where I am in my fledgling career — and that he was looking forward to reading it someday (I’ma pretend he meant that entirely in earnest). Or to chat to Chuck Wendig about superheroes and feminism and the awesomeness that is John Scalzi. (And about this picture…)

And there were heaps of lessons to be learned. From Tayari Jones‘ moving keynote “You Already Have Everything You Need” to Don Maass teaching us how great characters are born. There are any number of things swimming around in my head that weren’t there last Thursday.

Mostly, what I came away with was this:

In an age where publishing is a landscape that shifts as quickly as the San Andreas fault and we connect online more than in person, people are what make this business go. Agent Kristin Nelson talked about how agents and authors are partners, and I want to extend that to everyone in this field as well. Writers, editors, publishers, booksellers, readers, agents — all of us form the web that keeps stories flowing into the world.

People are hugely important. This weekend would have been lackluster without them. Marisol, Steven, Brittney, Renee, Erin, Sara, Rachel, Eleni, all the others I met or got to see again — they are what make New York that place where dreams happen. Brittney came all the way from Alaska; Eleni came from Queens. None of us make it alone.

Today I went back to my day job, and I had two tables of regulars (not even in my section!) wave me over and stop me just to ask what’s happening with my book, none of them having a clue that I spent the weekend in New York at a writing conference. And I realized then that even in the part of my life where I wait tables and sling beers and occasionally spill water on people, I’m recognized for being what I am. A writer. “Oh, here she is! I was telling you about her. She’s an author, and she’s just gotten a book published!” I immediately interjected that erm, NO, my book’s not published or even under contract yet, and this woman shook her head violently and said, “Close enough. It will be.”

For a moment I thought that these people just sort of randomly believed in me, but then after writing through this blog post, I came to the conclusion that they just see the authentic me that spills over, that leftover Empire State of Mind that’s always there even when I smell like woodsmoke and beer. It doesn’t really matter if my feet hurt and I’m exhausted and have spilled ketchup down my front when running food. I’ve somehow learned how to be what I am.

So go forth, gentle viewers. Go back to your world of whatever you make it. Be a writer. Be an actor. Be an artist. Be a musician. Believe in yourself. Surround yourself with people who are as committed to their art as you are to yours. Take risks. Be what you are.

To quote Tayari Jones in her closing keynote:

If you commit to your art, doors of opportunity will open for you.

And try to take a smidgen of this with you wherever you go:

One hand in the air for the big city
Street lights, big dreams, all lookin’ pretty
No place in the world that could compare
Put your lighters in the air
Everybody say “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah”

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A Very Emmie Story

Trench in Bieszczady cm01

Trench in Bieszczady cm01 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, gentle viewers, I have decided to crank up the periscope and give you a view into the query trenches, where I have spent the past five months. For those of you unfamiliar with the process of getting traditionally published, allow me to fill you in briefly on how it goes.

First of all, it’s not as simple as chucking your manuscript at a publishing house and seeing it on shelves next week.

The road goes something (complete with various scribbles) like this:

Write something awesome. Revise and edit the hell out of it. Compile a list of literary agents who represent your genre and similar projects (but not TOO similar). Draft a crappy query letter. Get someone else to look at it. Make crappy letter better. Email query letter (or go retro and snail mail it) to agents.

Wait.

Wait some more.

Still waiting?

Wait more.

Rejections.

Lots of rejections.

Requests!

Then more rejections.

What you’re hoping for is for some agent to read your work, be moved to laughter and/or tears that have nothing to do with the writing being craptastic, want you to be THEIR author, and ask you to move in with them.

Or something like that. Basically, if you want to see your book on a shelf, you have to get an agent. Agents are elusive creatures who know editors. There are ways to publish without them, but if you want to be published by one of the Big Five (formerly Big Six), they’re sort of vital people.

Anyway, you start out looking around at the agents of the world and sort of going like this:

But they’re busy and probably don’t see you, so you try to pretend you were minding your own business anyway.

Then you send out a few queries. And you get a few requests!

(Note: I did this dance when I got my first request. I woke up Spouse doing this through the bedroom.)

Then you send out a few more queries.

But then the rejections start flooding in.

And you feel more like this…

The weeks and months roll by, and you twiddle your thumbs and knit hats for schnauzers and/or iguanas, and when your inbox goes (1), you hyperventilate until you see it’s another rejection.

After a while, it’s this…

And…

And you WANT to believe, so you try and tell yourself this:

And some of the feedback you’re getting from agents is great! It’s helpful and charming and lovely.

But some of it is also confusing. This person says you have a phenomenal voice. That person says she loved the premise but couldn’t connect to the voice.

In spite of the feedback and happy little notes, you still feel like all the agents are just sort of seeing your query and going:

Which makes you feel like this:

Here’s where this story goes from general to personal. Ready?

So after several months of living these GIFs on repeat, a couple weeks ago I got an odd sort of DM while I was at work. It was from a friend who interned for one of the agents who had had my full manuscript since September, and she started talking a bit too casually about sitting at home with her cat. A couple weeks earlier, she’d told me that she was quietly transitioning into agenthood herself, about which I went SQUEE for her, because she is awesome, and her boss (who had my manuscript) is awesome, and both of them deserve every good thing to come their way.

Anyway, back to my friend’s DM about sitting at home with her cat.

I was working and a little confused, so I wrote back, and she responded by asking if I was working late. I told her I’d be off in about an hour and wondered why she’d asked. Our conversations usually started with query woes or other random moments, and I did have a passing wonder-if she’d gotten into the wine. A few minutes later, as I was rolling silverware, she sent another message telling me that she would not take it personally if I didn’t go with her agency when I started getting ALL THE OFFERS.

I buahaha’d at that a bit and snortled (it’s hard to take ALL THE OFFERS seriously when your inbox looks like a sea of no), then felt abashed because I figured she’d probably felt nervous about saying that and just gotten up the courage to do so and I was very inconveniently not at home to discuss it.

When I got home, we started chatting a bit more, and she asked what my plans were for the evening. At that point, I started wondering what was happening. I told her I had no plans except to stare at my screen and veg out. To which she responded, “Well, then I better give you something to stare at.”

So I waited for the next message, unsure if I was about to get a funny YouTube video or something else.

Instead I got this:

ICANHASAGENT

So I checked my email, and I went like this:

And inside I was all:

And…

And…

Because not only did her email say she wanted to speak to me on the phone about representation, but several days before, I’d been tweeting about some of my goals and wrote this:

Goal4A

Goal4B

AND SHE HAD TOTALLY SEEN IT AND USED IT!

So the next evening, we talked for an hour. And I think at some point she said douche and I said ass or shit in this professional conversation, but hey. It’s totally okay, because we’re awesome like that.

I got off the phone feeling exhilarated and joyful and really, really, really excited.

Like this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

But I couldn’t squee to the world. Because I had to let other agents with my stuff know.

I sent all the emails the next day, and I started waiting.

And waiting.

Except I’m not as peaceful as a sloth.

I’m friends with the agent that offered. As soon as I talked to her, I KNEW I wanted her to be my agent. She had the same vision for my project as I did. She’d told me before (very vehemently) that SHRIKE DESERVED to be published, and when I told her about my new projects, she said she got goosebumps. The more I talked to her over the last couple weeks, the more I wanted to just do this:

And this:

But I couldn’t just pounce on her and fling signed contracts at her.

So I waited.

And:

Through all the waiting, I got an offer of publication from an awesome small press that had requested my manuscript during a Twitter pitch contest, which was super amazing and flattering. I also had my manuscript with someone I was referred to by a friend of a friend, and I wanted to give her the chance to respond, because she is an awesome agent who has been super kind to look at my work. There were a few other agents I had to hear back from as well, so I just…twiddled my thumbs and knit woolly jumpers for my friend’s pet lizards.

But FINALLY after two weeks, I AM UTTERLY THRILLED to announce that I have signed with Jessica Negrón of Talcott-Notch Literary Services!

(Seriously. I was so excited when my deadline came up that I ran — literally ran — out and mailed the signed SAMPLE contract before realizing I was supposed to wait for an official one on letterhead.)

Excuse me while I EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Jessica and I saw each other (?) at the Writer’s Digest Conference last year in New York, and we later formed a friendship on Twitter. She critiqued a short story for me over the summer, and when I queried her boss back in September, I had NO Idea she worked for Gina. It wasn’t until she requested my manuscript that I put it together and felt like an idiot. She was the first industry professional to fall in love with my book, and when she was given the go ahead to start taking on her own clients, she said she immediately wanted me to be her first client.

I am so excited to finally be able to say this — not only do I have an agent, but I have one who is completely smitten with my book and who loves the ideas of my other projects. I could not be more excited to start this new leg of the journey.

In closing, I wasn’t expecting things to happen this way. And as far as the rejections and the months of waiting went, every once in a while something just randomly falls into place.

Like this.

half-court-deal-with-it_o_GIFSoup.com

So look out. Jes and I are fixing to storm the publishing world together. Bring it on, 2013.

Oh, and for those of you who are stats-aholics, here you go:

  • Queries sent: 63
  • Requests: 9 (3 partials, 6 fulls. 2 fulls began as partials.)
  • Offers: 2 (one agent, one small press)
  • Contests entered: 2 (resulting in 2 requests)
  • Friends met: HEAPS
  • SHRIKE is my third completed manuscript (though it was only the second I queried, and the first I only sent 4 queries out)

UPDATE: The lovely Patrick MacDonald over at QueryTracker.net posted my success story! You can check it out here.

#PitchMAS, #PitchWars, and the Query Trenches

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

This image was selected as a picture of the week on the Malay Wikipedia for the 51st week, 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is Thorsday, so I shall write what I want — and what I want to write about today is part of the writing business. Pitching. No, not like baseball or cricket. You don’t want the end result to be someone smacking your work away with a bat. But the kind of pitching where you hope someone falls in lurve with your fuzzy little novel.

What a week to be a writer.

There’s so much going on that my little Emmie brain is full of lightning and fur. And I think there are a few Jelly Bellies stuck in there from my Thanksgiving binge. (Raspberry, FTW.)

This week is home to not one, but TWO massive Pitchapalooza events all about helping writers get requests and exposure. It’s also the first time I’ve done any contests.

So here they are, in all their glory:

Pitch Wars

Hosted by the indomitable Brenda Drake, this awesome contest struck me as unique from the start. First of all, it starts by pairing writers up with agented authors, industry insiders, and agent interns for mentors. After the pair-up stage, the mentors will help their authors hone their manuscripts and pitches for the agent/editor round. Sound great?

It gets better. As a writer, you could apply to three different mentors. And I found three AWESOME ones. One of my favourite bloggers, Summer Heacock, happened to be one of the mentors. Add to that, fellow Whedonite and Browncoat Becca Weston. And on top of THAT, an actual ninja — Tina Moss.

So I applied, I flailed, and now I wait. *eats imaginary popcorn ‘n’ parm*

To distract myself from waiting for the 12 December announcement of mentor-writer lurve, I’ve been doing…

PitchMAS

It’s like Christmas, but with pitches…and oh, you know what I mean. This bad boy was put together by Jessa Russo and Feaky Snucker. If you’re around The Twitter Writer World AT ALL, those names ought to ring a bell. Not only are they awesome, but they set up a phenomenal pitch extravaganza for all of us hopeful folk with finished, polished manuscripts. (Or we tell ourselves they’re polished…eep.)

Yesterday was the blog pitch day which landed me a request from an editor (yay!)…the downside was a bunch of the agents (scheduled and swooping ninja agents) had already seen my query. So today it’s onward to the Twitter round, where we’re tweeting our pitches at the #PitchMAS hashtag. Here’s mine:

Super strength? Check. Questionable spandex suit? Check. Now accountant Gwen just has to save Scotland from her bomb-crazy boss. #PitchMAS

What’s Racing Through Emmie-Land

Both of these things are new territory for me. Between the personal stuff that’s happened this autumn and the financial woes Spouse and I are slogging through, I’ve been feeling really, really discouraged. About my writing. About the chance of ever getting an agent. About the state of my toenails, because let’s face it, after their encounter with a metal bar this summer, they’re still hideous.

What I’m clinging to is hope. Hope that all the people who said my manuscript moved them, thrilled them, attack hugged them — that they weren’t just lying through their teeth to encourage me. Hope that the agents who have told me they loved it (unfortunately with a but that followed, for instance, one was looking only to sign non-fiction) meant it too — and hope that it’ll make it in front of the right eyeballs before I reach the end of my query list.

Hope that I’ll get a chance. That’s all I want. A chance.

Till then I’ll keep writing.

Happy Thorsday to you! Where’s Mjolnir when I need it?

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