Friday, February 28, 2014

The first time I recognized the sound of my own voice.

by S. L. Duncan

Law school sucked. I just want to go on record with that. The actual school bits, that is; the drinking-like-a-lawyer bit with your friends was okay, I guess. But statutes? Precedent? Come on. Stare Decisis? That ain’t a planet in the Degobah System.

Point is, boring.

Not just boring, but sterile.  

The constant study of black letter law and the briefing of cases is so void of any creativity, that should an artistic spark exist inside you, either one of two things will happen: school will snuff it out, or school will compress it so tightly, so compactly in its endeavor to make the brain produce only analytical, legal thought, that at some point the atom will split. We’re talking megatons, here.

Since this article isn’t happening on A Happy Divorce Blog, you can probably figure where I fell on that spectrum.

So, I tried writing. In a way, it was a bit weird. I mean, I was going to be a lawyer. Why bother, right? I had absolutely no end game. No ambition to be published. Authors were these elite beings, sitting atop their Literary Mt. Olympus, and I certainly wasn’t one of them.

But this one, stupid little idea wouldn’t go away.

It was sometime around finals. I remember thinking there were much better ways to spend my time. Nose to the grindstone, that sort of thing. Instead, I cranked out fifty pages of a story. It was the beginning of something decent, I thought. Something with potential. I wanted to carry on with it, but there was this voice in my head that told me to show it to someone.

Ever had stage fright? That is what letting someone read my stuff feels like. Even today. Doing it for the first time feels like stage fright while standing on the edge of the cliff. I could use a few more clich├ęs, but I think you get it.

I gave the fifty pages to a friend of mine from Scotland. Pete was his name. He was a reader of things other than textbooks and at the time, people like that were thin on the ground in my circle. And the book was of a genre he liked, so I figured he was the right guy.

A week passed after giving him the pages. We’d met at the pub a couple of times, with not a mention of the pages. We’d talk football. Girls. Whatever. But not the fifty pages. Anything but that.

Another week went by and then another. So I bring it up.

Something to know about Pete is, at the three beer mark, any chance of his internal filter functioning drops to zero percent. His mouth, often hilariously, turns into a geyser of no-remorse wit. Beware of tongue.

And so, as I probably should have expected, Pete takes a sip of his Guinness and informs me of the “shiteness” of what I’ve written. He tears it apart. Bit by bit. Page by page. And by the end of his steady undoing of my writerly ambitions – two beers later, mind – I’d decided that perhaps writing isn’t for me.

I set the pages aside for nearly a year. Totally forgot about them until after I got back from a semester in Durham, England. I was cleaning off my desk and there they were, shoved under a stack of twenty pound case books. The red marks stuck jumped off the page and after a minute, I was reading.

The thing I realized almost instantly was that Pete was right. About everything. It was like seeing a magic trick explained. Suddenly, I got it. The spark understood, too.

And then, among the stacked books and case briefs on my desk, I was writing again. In August, you can buy this book in most bookstores.

Now, there are two things that I had going for me. The obvious one is the Scotsman. Your Scotsman can be anyone that isn’t scared to tell you straight or hurt you. Because sometimes the truth hurts. I’m on the fence about this, but I’m also going to say that they should also drink a heavy amount of Guinness. I’ll leave that to your discretion.

The second thing is a little more difficult to recognize. And it is the crux of all that lay ahead in your ambition. I think, ultimately, this is where the line begins to be drawn in relation to those who will be published and those who will not. It speaks to that same thing that Ira Glass so famously said about taste. The second thing is that inner voice that spoke up at the end of fifty pages that said, “Before you carry on, you need to show this to someone.”

Subconsciously, I knew those pages were bad. I knew they weren’t working. I just hadn’t learned how to recognize the sound of my own voice. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what being a writer is all about.
S. L. Duncan writes young adult novels inspired by his travels around the world and the characters met along the way. He's interested in finding those unique connections between stories and places, people and circumstance. When he's not writing, S. L. Duncan plays guitar and soccer, loves to cook, and occasionally practices law. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife and son. Represented by John Rudolph, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Why I’m still proud of the first story I ever had published…even though it’s horrible

I’m one of those people who’s written stories pretty much since I could hold a pen. I was the nerd-child who stayed inside, happily typing away on WordPerfect, while the cool kids were out rollerblading. (I did love rollerblading, though. Almost as much as books. We have a home movie of me rollerblading with a book in front of my face to prove it.)

When I was 16 and busting out short story after short story, I found out about an online contest for teen writers where the winners would be published in an anthology. I was completely confident I would win. I mean, duh, I was awesome, right?

I didn’t win. But I did get an honorable mention, and that meant PUBLICATION. At SIXTEEN. In a BOOK. By a PUBLISHER. I would be on bestseller lists within the year. Just picture 16-year-old me (I had short, poofy hair, if that helps you with imagery), reading that email and flying into a wild, screaming frenzy and rushing downstairs to shriek to my parents that I was going to be a real, live, published author.

It was only semi-legit, really. It was a tiny publisher that went out of business within a year or so, and I never got paid a dime—but I never paid a dime to get it published, so it stopped short of vanity publishing. But me-at-16 didn’t know and didn’t care. My story was going in a book. This book, in fact. You can still buy it on Amazon, if you want to pay the high price for a thin paperback. Or if you really want to pay exorbitant prices, you can get it here. (I’d like to think that means it’s reached “collectible” status.)

The story you’ll find inside under my name is the tragic tale of a scientist who figures out how to break the laws of nature to create something out of nothing, and the universe retaliates by collapsing itself and killing…everything. If you were to read it, you wouldn’t find anything too brilliant. In fact, it might be a little cringe-worthy.

But even so, I’m proud of me-at-16 for getting that story published. I wanted to be a writer—so I was writing. I wanted to be a published author—so I was submitting. And I kept doing those things for 13 years until now, when I’m again going to be a real, live, published author.

And I’m not going to lie. I had the same kind of wild, screaming frenzy when I got that call as I did at age 16.

Shallee McArthur originally wanted to be a scientist, until she realized what she liked best about science was twisting it into fiction. She earned a degree in English and creative writing from Brigham Young University so she could do just that. When she's not writing books, she's attempting to raise her son and daughter as proper sci fi and fantasy geeks. Her other adventures have included wrangling a group of volunteers in Ghana, changing her hairstyle way too often, and marrying a fellow nerd. She lives in Utah with her husband and two children. Her YA sci fi, THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE, debuts from Sky Pony Press in November of 2014.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The First Novel I Wrote

By Joshua David Bellin

When I was about eight, I started a story titled “Slowest Runner.” The tale of Joe Moric, a kid who desperately wants to win the big race despite the fact that he is (as the title not-so-subtly hints) the world’s slowest runner, it lasted about a page before I abandoned it.

In part, that might have been because I didn’t know how to type, and it was torture to hunt and peck on my mom’s manual typewriter. More importantly, though, I ran out of ideas; though I had created a relatable character and saddled him with an interesting problem, though I knew enough about story arc to realize I’d have to resolve his conflict somehow, I couldn’t envision how the world’s slowest runner was going to win the race that loomed less than a week away (or if not, how he was going to handle defeat).

So I set the story aside, never to finish it. To quote the words of my own story: “It was a sad day.”

What’s the significance of this oddity? From the perspective of the present moment, roughly forty years later, I’d say: a lot.

“Slowest Runner” was the first thing I wrote that I thought of as a novel. I’d written other things before, of course, mostly for school (including the earliest piece of my writing to survive, a first-grade assignment which I reproduce below, with teacher comment intact. The “A” was my classroom, not my letter grade).

But “Slowest Runner” wasn’t a school assignment. I wrote it spontaneously, because it was a story I wanted to tell (probably because, at age eight, I was wrestling with my older brother’s athletic prowess). And I wrote it as a novel, with chapters (each about two paragraphs long) and, as I initially conceived it, a long story arc, full of twists and surprises. It started in the middle of an action: “One clear day, Joe Moric was out on the track.” And everything unfolded from that opening scene, where Joe, upon completion of his laps, discovers he’s much slower than he imagined. The fact that I couldn’t finish it--the fact, in other words, that a novel was too ambitious for an eight year old--doesn’t diminish the fact that I started it.

We all start somewhere. Some of us, thanks to proud parents who affix our early productions to the refrigerator, still have documentary evidence of our beginnings. I’ll never know if Joe Moric would have won that race. But forty years later, I can look back at the kid who imagined himself a novelist, and know that I’ve arrived at the finish line.

If you're a writer (or a reader), I'd love to hear where your journey began! Share in the comments or send me a message via my website!

Friday, February 21, 2014

First Ideas and First Pages

By Kendall Kulper
The writer's natural enemy: the blank Word document

There is something so awesome and so terrifying about that first tiny idea. I’ve written three full novels now, I’m in the middle two novels that I will almost certainly finish (oh the cattle prod that is a multi-book deal), and I’ve started another half-dozen or so that just went kaput. They all began as ideas in my head and I have no idea why some of them turned into big, grown-up novels and others…did not.

The idea for SALT & STORM came about because I wanted to write a book about island communities and the only island I had any experience with is Martha’s Vineyard and one of the coolest things about its history is its role in the whaling industry. I started researching whaling and New England folklore, looking for some inspiring stories, and came across a tiny note about women who sold good luck charms to passing sailors or (occasionally) cursed rude sailors with violent storms. And that was the aha: one idea that led to something else that led to something else that led to a story.

That was a pretty easy path from idea to story, and I got lucky, but I’ve also come across ideas that were stubborn, that took a lot of massaging before they were able to grow into stories.

The book I’m writing now, for example, started out from a conversation with my editor. SALT & STORM was always planned as a stand-alone—and it still is—but she wanted to know if there were any more stories in that world that I wanted to tell. And I surprised myself by saying yes.

That was the extent of the idea: tell another story within that world that can exist separate to the story I’ve already told. I thought it would be relatively easy—I’d already done so much research, I already knew this world so well. And then I hit a wall. Because all the fun research I found I’d already put into SALT & STORM. I’d already taken all the easiest paths. I had to take this idea and fight to get to the story. But I did. It took a lot of work and exploration and many thousands of thrown-out words to get there, but I finally found the story.

Would I have kept fighting for that story if there wasn’t an editor at the other end, waiting to read it? I’m not sure. I might have given up and moved on to another project, which would have been a shame, since I’d miss the experience of turning something over again and again, playing with it, changing it, transforming it into something exciting.

I share this because I think there’s a misconception that ideas and writing have to be effortless, that if you’re struggling, it’s a sign that things aren’t working. And yeah, it can be a sign things aren’t working, but what I learned is that there’s a difference between setting aside an idea that just doesn’t have much going on...and digging into an idea that challenges you to be a better, more innovative writer than you were.

Giveaway Winner and Thank You from the Fall Fourteeners

The Fall Fourteeners’ Launch Week giveaway has come to an end, and the winner’s name appears in the Rafflecopter box in the original post.

We thank everyone who entered, everyone who joined us here or on Twitter, everyone who added our books to their Goodreads shelves. We genuinely wish you all could have won--but bear in mind, our books haven’t even come out yet, so resources are limited!

There will be more contests in the future, plus more good reading on the blog. We’ve got some very special things planned in the months leading up to our books’ releases, and some even more special things planned once they start to hit the shelves. We hope you’ll keep coming back to get to know us better, and we look forward to getting to know you too.

So again, thanks to our newest friends and readers for participating in our inaugural giveaway and for joining us on our journey to publication. We can’t wait to share all the great stories and experiences the coming months have in store!


The Fall Fourteeners

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The First Book that Shaped my Writerly Brain

By Kate Boorman

I have to say “shaped my writerly brain”, as opposed to the first book “I loved”, because it’s so hard to remember and choose a first love (I suspect it was Go Dog Go! but a) who really knows and b) that doesn’t make for a very interesting blog post. Except for that party hat the one dog makes for herself at the end. That thing is awesome.) So for my first post as a Fall Fourteener, I’ll introduce myself via a first loved book that had a lasting impression on my preoccupations as a writer.

As with many of my isms shaped by childhood, this is something that has occurred to me only recently. A few months ago I read the book to my own children and experienced a moment of intense self-discovery (it went like “ohhhhhhhhhh.” Least expensive therapy session EVER).

The book is Astrid Lindgren’s RONIA, THE ROBBER’S DAUGHTER.

Lindgren is perhaps best known for the well-loved The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking but, in my opinion, her best, most tear-your-heart-out-gently-but-thoroughly book is RONIA.

The deal: Ronia is the wild-haired, ruddy-cheeked daughter of a robber chief, living in a mountain fort above a magical forest. Like the gang of rough and tumble thieves she grows up amongst, Ronia adores her father. Likewise, she is beloved by her parents and the robber gang. She is also afforded a freedom that is the envy of every child with a mind for adventure. Despite the hazards of the mountainside, both natural (raging river) and magical (murk trolls! harpies that shriek about clawing your eyes out!), Ronia has the run of the forest from the moment she can walk. She explores the mountainside alone, breeze in her hair and soft pine needles at her feet (BAREFEET no less!). All is well in Ronia’s world of new discoveries until a rival robber gang challenges her father’s territory, and she befriends the enemy’s son.

It’s a lower MG story about growing up and letting go. It’s about bonds of love that weather the toughest storms. And its ability to tap into childhood fantasies of adventure in the most poignant, darkly-beautiful way…. well, this is the aforementioned “ohhhhhh”.

Natural spaces have always possessed a bit of indescribable magic, for me. As a child, an acorn and a creek could transport me to a magical land for an entire afternoon. As an adult, my most memorable experiences have occurred in the wild: watching heart-stopping sunrises, exploring ethereal caves, breathing salty ocean air. Witnessing Mother Nature’s power, from the modest tulip bulb to the awesome Aurora Borealis, is transformative. I wonder and fantasize about that mostly-forgotten but deep-in-our-bodies connection to that which sustains us. Lindgren’s book has this connection in spades, and the way Ronia grows in response to her experience in the wilderness resonated with me in a very primal way.

But the mystery of nature isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. It is also gale force winds and decay. It is the rot at the base of glistening, moss-covered trees. I love that. I need a bit of darkness with my light. I crave a little “what if?” and “oh no!” in my narrative. Ronia’s forest is a forest of wonder and magic, and it is a forest of terror. Deadly beings lurk under rocks and scour the skies, and she must learn to navigate the light and the dark. As a child, the idea of the unknown thrilled me. As an adult, a healthy bit of fear still lights me up. Unknowns and things that go bump in the night intensify our sense of being alive. I feel compelled to write toward that, to give my reader that pulse-racing, scalp-crawling feeling of aliveness.

WINTERKILL, my YA alternate historical, isn’t RONIA.  There are no robbers, no barefeet, no wild horses to tame (yes, the kids in RONIA get to tame wild horses. I KNOW, right?). There is certainly no freedom to roam. On the contrary, there is isolation and containment.

But there is a great fascination with nature. The setting was inspired by a natural landscape I know and adore. The mystery is tied to the allure of wild and dangerous places and my main character’s overwhelming urge to be out there, to unearth the unknowns, drives the story. Here, too, bonds of love are tested by the forbidden. And mysterious monsters in the woods? Oh yes.

It’s all spookily reminiscent of the book that first captured my imagination all those years ago.

Add a frontier settlement ruled by fear, one physically vulnerable, but determined, heroine, an unwanted marriage proposal, a love interest, and a buried secret, and there’s WINTERKILL: my little creepfest on the prairies.

I hope my first book will satisfy your spooky-adventure-in the-wild loving side.

What books have shaped your writerly brain?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The First Month After Signing. Or: In Which a Clueless Person Gets Published and Discovers That in Fact, She Is Completely Screwed

By Kat Ross

I finished writing SOME FINE DAY on my birthday in a marathon session fueled by sheer determination (I will type "The End" today with bloody fingers, if necessary) and roughly two thousand pieces of nicotine gum. I share an office with my daughter, who was seven at the time, and on that day, I made not even a token attempt to be a good parent. Or any kind of parent at all, really. She played games on her laptop while I pounded out the last chapters on mine, for something like ten hours straight. We rarely spoke or made eye contact, and she tuned out my mumblings just as I tuned out the horribly catchy jingles of

To be honest, after writing two books in our shared office, I could probably work at a Gwar concert.

 photo gwar-penguin-attack-o_zps7f9691e5.gif

Anyway, I finished on my birthday and signed the contract with Strange Chemistry exactly one year later, to the day. At the time, this seemed cosmically profound, like the stars had aligned just for me. Like some kind of omen. I floated happily on cloud nine for a few days. Harps tinkled and cherubs administered mani-pedis.  Even my now eight-year-old failed to annoy me.

Then reality set in.

Most of you probably Tweeted your imminent arrival from the womb. Well, the year was 2013, and I had no Twitter account. In fact, I had no website. My Facebook page was updated biannually, if I drank wine and got an insatiable urge to message people from high school. I had never written a single blog post.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I'm not even that old, just some kind of odd evolutionary throwback, like chickens with teeth.

Anyway, I had a few weeks to pull myself together and create a remotely credible online presence.


 photo janfreakingout_zps43cbf5ab.gif

Why had none of this occurred to me previously? And why were everyone else's websites so pretty while mine had random images of Nick Nolte's mug shot amid incoherent ramblings about muskrats?

I'm not making that up either. If you ever actually saw my first Wordpress effort…[shudder] Let's just leave it at that.

Long story short, it was quite a learning curve. Many, many weekends were sucked into the void of social media, Weebly and HTML. Or to be more accurate, hold music for technical support. I had quit the gum by then and sorely regretted it.

Like Jim Carrey's Grinch, my daily schedule looked something like this:

Four o'clock, wallow in self-pity; 4:30, stare into the abyss; 5:00, solve world hunger, tell no one; 5:30, jazzercize; 6:30, dinner with me - I can't cancel that again; 7:00, wrestle with my self-loathing... I'm booked. Of course, if I bump the loathing to 9, I could still be done in time to lay in bed, stare at the ceiling and slip slowly into madness. But what would I wear?

But then somehow, in some strange way, it all started coming together. A few people actually followed me on Twitter! I followed them back, and many became friends. Writer friends! My website stopped looking like a socially alienated four-year-old's and actually got sort of cool, with giant pictures of hypercanes and a spooky trailer. I blogged and liked it. I started writing my sequel and found that it was possible to balance all of these things.

I guess the point is that it's NEVER too late to try something new and different and hard and scary. It might even help you do the same with your writing, which could end well or badly, but you won't know until you try, will you?

My daughter and I still share an office. I still yell at her to turn it down, for Christ's sake, I'm trying to write a book over here every few minutes. And I still lose my mind when my stupid, stupid website does not do what I am telling it to do. Take last Friday: My daughter happened to be sitting right next to me, like six inches away, playing on her Kindle, because she knows how much I like her hot breath on my neck when I'm working, and my frustration with some drag-and-drop disaster had just reached its %$&*# apex when this cool, collected voice that sounded like Stewie from Family Guy said into my ear, "My God. That's quite a tantrum you're having."

And it was.

We ended up laughing until we peed ourselves.

I hope we share an office forever.

To find out more about Kat Ross and her debut dystopian adventure SOME FINE DAY, visit her at

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The First Time I Quit

By Sarah J. Schmitt

They say you never forget your first. And it’s true. I very distinctly remember the first time I quit writing.

The sun was shining, but then again, it was April in Florida. There were clouds in the sky and the quad was virtually deserted. And by virtually, I mean myself and a few other members of the show choir. (Think Glee but with much less dancing and lame costumes.) My writing notebook was sitting on the top of the pile of books I had just deposited on the stone bench and I was thirsty.

I stood, walked across the quad, leaned over the fountain, took a sip, turned around and felt the pit of my stomach sink to the core of the Earth. Sitting in the spot I had just vacated was one of my friends, my writing notebook open as she read the dialogue aloud. Now, this would probably be a good time to point out that I have not always been the master, eh hem, student of voice that I am today. In fact, the conversation between the MC and her bestie was, in fact, nothing to brag about. But when you’re sixteen and you know in your heart you’re supposed to be a writer and you also possess that tortured artist soul, a friend reading your work aloud is pretty much the worst thing that can happen to you.

Reality check, turns out, being a Chilean miner is worse than this, but don’t tell my sixteen year old self that. 

So, not only was my heart being laid out to everyone within hearing distance (one other person), but from where I stood, she was also mocking my writing. Okay, so sixteen year old me wouldn't actually cut someone. She would actually burst into tears, race across the quad, rip the notebook from a very surprised girl’s hand and sprint for the closest bathroom stall. (Sixteen year old me is very dramatic. Not a lot has changed in that area of my personality. Of course, grown up me has a switchblade app on her iPhone and isn't afraid to use it. Truth.)

Hidden in my lavatory hiding place, I reread the words I had written, but this time the voice was that of my classmate. In that instant, they seemed pathetic and childish. And that was the first time I quit writing.

It would be another seven years before I found the courage to write again. And quit again. And then start and quit one or two more times.

But what I (finally) realized is that, I am a writer and as such, I have made a covenant with the universe that I will willingly ask people to mock my dialogue, trash my plot lines, ridicule my character's flaws and basically tell me I suck for as long as I can string words into sentences. (I have also agreed to do homework for the rest of my life, but that's another post.) But if I listened to the people who, intentionally or unintentionally, tried to bring me down, I wouldn't be writing this blog post. I wouldn't be staring at the calendar, counting down the MONTHS (Holy crap!) to when my childhood dream finally comes true. So screw the people who say you aren't good enough. Prove them wrong. Study writing as a craft. And write. Everyday. Even if it’s about how you have nothing to write about. Maybe a writer whose imagination has shut down is the new MC of your adventure story. (Oh... better write that one down!)

Regardless of what people say you can or can’t do, BE FEARLESS with your writing life. Come to think of it, BE FEARLESS with your life. After all, you’re NOT a Chilean miner, so things could be worse!

Oh, and a quick update, several years later, thanks to Facebook, I reconnected with that friend who was reading my story. She told me that she remembered being so impressed with my writing when we were in high school. 

I KNOW!!!! All those wasted years!

Monday, February 17, 2014

My First (and Best) Writing Advice

by Kristine Carlson Asselin
I’m still pinching myself that I’ve got a book coming out this year! And I’m incredibly proud to join these other amazing writers as part of the Fall Fourteeners. 

It’s taken ten years for me to be able to say that my debut Young Adult novel is coming out. Yes, I’ve been at this writing thing for almost ten years. I always gasp a little when I think about that number, partly because it doesn’t seem like that long, and partly because that seems like soooo long. In that time, though, I’ve learned about my own style of writing, about what I like to write, and about the craft of writing. I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever had. 

My journey to publication is one of perseverance. The first advice I always give to aspiring writers is never give up, persevere. You have to keep writing. Try writing in different voices, different genres. Take an online class. Go to a conference. Read, a lot. Find a great critique group. Find great beta readers. Make good friends, who will commiserate with you when you get the inevitable rejection letters and celebrate with you when you finally get to YES.

At the beginning of the process you simply don’t know what you don’t know. As you evolve, as you learn your craft, you’ll start to figure out what works. You’ll start to get a feel for your own voice, your own process, your own style. 

It took me a long time to be able to say, with confidence (i.e., out loud) that I.AM.A.WRITER. But I know now, that you have to believe it in order for other people to believe it.
I’m excited to be here at this moment, with these other incredible authors. To be able to share our journeys with the world. I look forward to this year!

Here's the blurb about my YA contemporary ANY WAY YOU SLICE IT, coming out in late fall 2014 from Bloomsbury Spark!

MYSTIC PIZZA meets THE CUTTING EDGE; in which the pizza business is all a fifteen-year-old Penelope Spaulding knows until a chance meeting with a hockey player and a lucky shot opens her up to a new world on the ice, far away from the responsibilities and pressures of the family restaurant.

Go back to Friday’s post and enter our launch contest for the Kindle Paperwhite – Click here.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The First Time I Saw My Cover

By Jaye Robin Brown

Yesterday, I revealed my cover to the world. But I wasn't always so comfortable showing my cover to people. You see, people have opinions. And sometimes their opinions don't click with yours.

Here's my story.

Early, in the beginning of this process, my wonderful editor asked me if I had cover thoughts. Were there trends I loved? Trends I hated?

Turns out I did have thoughts. I loved graphic covers. I didn't want a girl in a fancy dress or the close up of a teen girl's face who may or may not look anything like my Amber. I had a couple of images I liked in case they wanted to go a photographic route, but they were pulled back scenes, or the back of Amber looking out at an old-timey microphone. I even thought a Rainbow Rowell knock off with a little scrawled microphone and a little scrawled banjo could be cute. But what I hoped most of all, was they'd use the map in Amber's room.

This map is the physical representation of both the where of her dreams and her misguided attempts to achieve them. The map gets revisited several times through the course of the story and I thought it was perfect. My editor liked the idea, too.

Fast forward to concept design meetings. Turns out the designers liked the map idea, too. At the SCBWI Carolinas conference, one year to the date of getting the offer, I got my cover comps. I flipped out from excitement. It was the map, the title, my name! It was perfect. But here's the thing, I secretly showed it to a few friends who were all "YAY!" but then I shut it down. I showed no one else.

Not because I doubted the design. But because much like a first draft, you can only show comp designs to people who can see past the rough to a finished project. The maps weren't of North Carolina, they weren't colorful, the heart wasn't actually on a pin, the fonts were only hand drawn. In other words it was a sketch. Not a framed piece of artwork. And some people just couldn't see it. And I didn't want them raining on my parade.

I gave the comps the green light and said "Yes! I love this direction," and the talented folks at Harper Teen got to work. They bought beautiful maps. They had a craft day (see above) and the heart that made the cover? Made by none other than my editor. Which gives me many wonderful feels to know how deeply her hand has gone in the shaping of my story.

So, here it is again, the final product, in case you missed it! And don't forget about the giveaways, there's one you can enter for a framed piece of artwork and an annotated ARC for NO PLACE TO FALL here. And go back to yesterday's post here on the Fall Fourteeners to enter to win a Kindle Paperwhite and a shopping cart full of ebooks! Clickedy-Click.........And...............Voila! My cover! What do you think?

Friday, February 14, 2014

February 14 Answers

Every month, on the 14th day, the Fall Fourteeners are here to answer your questions! Is there something you've been dying to ask someone who's made it through the slush pile but have been too afraid to ask. (Or you just didn't want anyone thinking you were a stalker?) Well here's your chance. From now until 2015, we'll do what we can to tell you about our journey through the publishing process and you'll see that no two authors follow the same course. 

This month, the question is:
"How did you find your agent?"

Lisa Maxwell: The short answer is I got my agent the old-fashioned way: querying. I wrote a query, revised it until it was ready and sent it out.

The longer answer would depend on which agent you mean. I’ve actually had a couple of agents since I began trying to get published. Each time, I queried, and each time I went through the requisite waiting and nail-biting, and angsting over getting an agent. Currently, I’m with Kathleen Rushall at Marsal Lyon. She actually offered representation for a book and I decided to go with a different agent, because the other agent had been working on revisions with me, and I was excited about the direction they were taking. But after the revisions were done, things just weren’t clicking for me with that other agent, so I parted ways with her and (with fingers crossed and breath held) contacted Kathleen again about the book. Luckily, she still loved it and, luckily, she still wanted to represent it. She’s been nothing but supportive and excited about my work, and I couldn’t be happier to have her on my side.

When I first started querying, I heard people say that no agent is better than the wrong agent, and I totally didn’t believe them. But I learned that even an awesome agent from an amazing agency—a dream agent for some—can be the wrong agent for you.

Jaye Robin Brown: I queried the traditional route, however, the Xmas in July pitch contest (and some other offers) spurred my agent to read more quickly than she might have otherwise.

Joshua David Bellin: I’ve had two agents. The first didn’t work out.

I queried the traditional way and signed within a couple months. All seemed well. When I submitted my revised manuscript based on my agent’s editorial letter, however, it quickly emerged that we didn’t share the same vision of the book. I exercised the termination clause in my contract and began querying again. This time, I found a perfect match, Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency.

I felt miserable when my first agent didn’t work out. I blamed myself (or her), convinced myself no one else would sign me, and generally got into a real funk. But the reality is, many writers switch agents, for any number of reasons. Hard as it is to give up on an agent—especially for a debut author—you’ve got to realize that if one agent liked your book, another will too. I’m happy to talk to anyone about this; drop me a note via my website. Bottom line: you need to find the right agent, and sometimes, that’s not the first.

Kat Ross: Finding an agent was actually one of the easiest parts of the whole process for me. Jeff Ourvan is a friend of a friend, and I was told he was looking for YA and middle grade manuscripts. I had just finished my first draft and hadn't yet sent it to anyone. I was horribly nervous to let it go, of course, but I worked up the courage to pass it on, he liked the first three chapters, asked for the rest, and signed me at our first meeting over a cup of coffee (I was a wreck! But he's such a funny, easygoing guy I was soon put at ease). So I was spared the crafting of the perfect query letter and that whole waiting game, which if it's anything like waiting for editors to read your manuscript, is purgatory of the worst sort. 
At the time, Jeff was a one-man show, but shortly after I signed with him, he joined Jennifer Lyons, who has quite an impressive client list. So if there's any moral here, I guess it's don't write off agents that may not be with a major agency at the time, they could still be fantastic and sell your book … p.s. - which in mine case turned out to be the second attempt!

Kristine Asselin: I’ve had three agents. And I’m not embarrassed to admit it. The one thing I’ve learned through all of this is that everyone’s process is different, and there is no “one size fits all.”

I queried the traditional way for my first agent. She pulled my MS out of her slush pile—she was the 67th agent I queried. She was wonderful, but this is a difficult field and she ended up leaving the industry.

I started querying right away. My 2nd agent was also wonderful—but circumstances changed and she was not able to represent me (I know, intentionally vague, sorry!).

I could have chosen to quit. BUT, I didn't. At this point, I knew I was agentable (is that even a word?) I just needed to find the right person. I wanted someone established, someone who got my work. I found that in Kathleen Rushall. Even so, things didn’t work the way I had expected. She declined my work initially! But in the end, we made a personal connection, so that when I had the right project at the right time, she was interested.

S. L. Duncan: I suppose there’s no great secret to finding an agent. I mean, it’s a recipe that has, like, three steps. Write a marketable manuscript, write great query, and then send it out. That’s what I did. Twice. My first agent was with William Morris Endeavor and pulled me out of a slush pile. He was great, and we worked well together, but there was a merger, and it was during a time when the market was clenched, so we amicably parted ways.

Getting John Rudolph of Dystel & Goderich interested was like hitting the jackpot. He had it all - editorial experience, the backing of a top agency, and the ambition of a new agent. And those were all my criteria. I did a lot of research using and whittled down my list to only a handful of agents for this go. And after a revise and resubmit, we agreed to work together. 

Sarah J. Schmitt: I found my agent through the slush pile. After three years of querying two other books with enough rejection to wallpaper at least two rooms in my home, I was ready to start sending out my first batch of queries for my 2012 NaNoWriMo project. One of the agents requesting more was Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency. I went through the manuscript one last time before sending it in EARLY on Thursday morning.

On Friday, there was another email from Liza saying one of her beta readers, a former top acquiring editor, had read the book in two days and loved it. Liza was already 100 pages in and wanted to schedule THE CALL.

So here’s a true, but funny story. I read Liza's email while in a drive-thru. When I paid for my Cherry-Vanilla Diet Dr. Pepper, I was fine. When I pulled up to the second window, I had read the email and tears were flowing freely down my face. The woman handing me my drink must have thought a loved one died or something.

By the end of our conversation on Tuesday, I was absolutely, 100% over the moon about Liza. I remember telling her I thought she might love the book a little more than I did. Every bone in my body was screaming to say yes when she offered to represent me. But I had been practicing my, “I need to let other agents know I’m considering an offer” line for a while. Two days later, I emailed everyone who had pages and politely rescinded my manuscript. I signed with Liza the next day and there is no doubt in my mind that I've found my dream agent.

Kendall Kulper: I had queried a few agents when a friend and crit partner offered to introduce me to her agent, Sara Crowe. Sara was at the tippy-top of my list, but I'd been too nervous to query her directly, so I jumped at the chance to be introduced. Sara read and enjoyed my manuscript, but it turned out it just wasn't the right project for her. I was crushed but thanked her for her time and off-hand mentioned the manuscript I was working on at the moment. Sara said it sounded great and she'd love to take a look at it.

When I began querying the second time around, I had a little star next to Sara's name. In only a few weeks, she read my manuscript, loved it, and offered representation. I had a few other offers floating around, but Sara always stood out as being straightforward, professional, and passionate about my work. Since signing with her, I've been nothing but impressed with how butt-kickingly-awesome she is, and I feel so lucky and proud to have her backing me up!

Kate Boorman: Before signing with my agent, I queried a book rather blindly and to little avail. Then I wrote another book, and generated a list of agents who rep’d books I liked (lightbulb moment— yeesh!). Of those agents, I had favourites. I test queried about ten non-favorites first. When I received requests and knew the query was working, I started querying my top picks. (Does that sound cold and calculated? Meep! I was going for efficient and strategic!)

About a month and a half into querying an offer from a great agent came in. Her offer generated more offers, and one of these was someone who’s reputation preceded him; someone who represented books I adored.

Our first phone call convinced me that he was not only the smart choice, he was also my heart choice. The hard part was saying no to the other offers—especially the one who ’liked’ me first! I realize these are problems we want, but it turns out that although I can deal with rejection, I am no good at dishing it out (note to self: never become an agent).

I’m very happily represented by Michael Bourret at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.

Shallee McArthur: I actually met my agent, Hannah Bowman, before she was an agent-- she'd read a previous book I had written. Her feedback was absolutely spot on-- it was like she was in my brain, knew what I was trying to do, and knew exactly why it wasn't doing that yet. After she became an agent, she immediately went to the top of my query list for my new book.

When I tweeted the pitch for my book on Twitter, Hannah tweeted back-- she wanted to read it. At that point, I wasn't quite ready to query yet. I told her so, and she was fine to wait. When it was ready, I sent Hannah the manuscript. A mere 9 days later, she emailed to say she'd read it twice, loved it, and wanted to set up a phone call.

I danced. I screamed. I laughed. I talked to her on the phone, and then talked to 2 other agents in the following week. I learned that there are a lot of great agents out there, and that there is one that may fit with you better than others. I accepted Hannah's offer, and she has been an amazing partner and friend ever since!

Amy Finnegan: I write romances, so let’s talk about falling in love: Through a series of dates, you figure out what someone is like. You hang out with their friends and hear funny anecdotes about them. You get a feel for how they talk about and treat others. You spend time with them.

And that’s when the magic happens. Or it doesn’t.

I approached my search for an agent in much the same way. I stalked Publishers Marketplace and agency websites. I watched what deals agents were making, and how often they signed debut authors. Then I took a closer look at which genres they seemed to be most attracted to, and decided if my own manuscript was their “type.” I followed agents on Facebook and Twitter. Did they most often dish out compliments, or criticism? Did they promote their clients on social media, and interact with them on a regular basis (man, this was such a turn on when they did. TMI? Sorry!)? After all this, I made a Most Wanted list, and then I started asking around (most authors are pretty transparent when they talk about their agents). And then I submitted to just a handful of them, and caught the attention of the swoon-worthy Erin Murphy—an agent so awesome and encouraging that I sometimes wonder if my parents pay her money under the table to build my self-esteem. Erin is absolutely perfect for me, and more importantly, she makes me feel like I’m perfect for her. It’s true love. If you look for an agent like you’d look for a lifelong companion—rather than a last-minute date to the prom—I bet you’ll end up this happy too!

Austin Aslan: Landing an agent* (*Author’s note: Yes, agents are like airplanes; you can land them. And you can also take off with them and go very far. Okay, end Author’s Note, before the analogy starts to quickly disintegrate.)

My debut novel, THE ISLANDS AT THE END OF THE WORLD, will finally be published this August. But it’s not my first completed novel manuscript. It’s my sixth. I finished my first novel twelve years ago, and I spent the next ten years searching for an agent that would represent it. I had a great query (and a great story pitch). About half of my query letters resulted in a request for more material. Agents considered the full ms several dozen times. But I never got across the finish line (except for once, which I’ll get to in a second). I queried this first novel several hundred times, year after year, eventually repeating my plea to agencies I had already queried. (Cringe, right? Yes: Awkward!)

Somewhere around 2006 a small boutique agency with a brand new fresh-out-of-undergrad assistant agent agreed to rep my book! Yay! Finally! My long, tortuous struggle had come to an end! Fast forward one year: Not so much. This agent was sending out my ms to various publishing houses (as far as I knew), but she never communicated with me. We never even discussed edits. I ended up severing the contract after a year, certain that this agency was in horrible disarray and not right for me. It was an incredibly painful and scary decision, but it felt right at the time and I never regretted it. Through time, I came to learn that I was right, this agency was a terrible one, but I also realized that my manuscript was terrible, too; the story has always been strong, but the writing wasn’t ready for Prime Time. It was unfair for me to expect a terrible agency to make anything happen with a terrible ms.

While all this was happening, something else key was going on: I continued to write. I got better at writing. Much better. By ms #6, I knew something was different. I was very hopeful that I had finally gotten good enough at this novel writing thing that I was going to finally pull off an agent and a book deal. Fast forward: I was right! I landed Julie Just of Janklow & Nesbit! One of the most powerful agencies in the business! My name was right next to Al Gore’s on their website! Julie communicated with me all the time! Daily. Hourly sometimes. It was glorious. Life couldn’t get any better! But wait, it can: we sold the book! In a two-book deal! A really good deal! To Wendy Lamb at Random House!

Several weeks after I signed the contract my agent Julie called me up to tell me that she was moving to a new agency and she asked me if I would come with her. My answer was immediate: of course I would follow her! I was nervous about the logistics of the move, the immediate instability of it, but I was thrilled about where we were going: Pippin Properties, a demanding, intimate agency with a stellar track record and a focus on children’s and YA literature. I settled in at Pippin seamlessly. I was even able to meet the whole Pippin crew when I traveled to New York in August and again in October of 2014. What a dream come true. I had found a literary home. Bliss.

Then, in January of this year, I received crushing news that my fabulous agent was leaving the agenting business altogether. I was very sad to see my agent go, but I never worried for myself. The Pippin team was eager to assure me that I still had a home with them, and I’m thrilled to remain there, quite literally, in the best of hands.

I’ve learned first hand how fluid and risky and painfully-slow the business of traditional publishing can be, but I’ve learned even more important lessons, too: persistence is key, the drive to improve your craft is essential, and developing strong relationships is elemental. Don’t send your material out too early. Wait. Make it perfect. Then, if you remain professional, motivated, and have a constant will to improve, one day you will hopefully find that doors are opening for you.

Kristen Lippert-Martin: I went through a painful round of "learning" queries with my first manuscript. Or maybe I should call them "bozo" queries. I did every single thing wrong. My word count was enormous, my query was a mess, and that's not even taking into account the ms itself. It needed a serious overhaul. Unbelievably I still got requests for it, but that was about all I got. After the requests, I got lots of "I'm sure another agent with feel differently" responses. I also did that thing where I would stop querying when someone asked for a partial or full, wanting to give them chance to respond. BIG mistake.

By the time I tried again with a new project, I made up my mind that I was going to keep querying "until someone put a ring on my finger." Yes, that became my mantra, and it seemed a bit ruthless to me at the time, and maybe even overkill, but I was determined to not waste my time hoping for that "dream agent" would get back to me. So even after I had 7 or 8 agents already reading my ms -- including two "dream agents" -- I kept right on querying. And it was through one of those overkill queries that I eventually found my agent. She started reading my ms on a Friday and emailed me about it on Sunday. It was that magic word -- enthusiasm -- that convinced me she was the right agent for me. Four days later, we chatted, and I signed with her. She's been a total peach to work with and has stuck by me through some hard submission times and lots of disappointment. But I tell you, I hit the jackpot in the agent lottery, for sure.

Joy N. Hensley: I started like everyone else, making a list of dream agents and polishing my query. After a few rejections, one of my writing friends recommended I query Mandy Hubbard. I did some research on her and realized she was my dream agent. She requested a full, then gave me the nicest rejection ever. BTW, those hurt WAY worse than standard rejections! Not knowing I was committing a faux pas, I asked if I could revise and resubmit. Once she said yes, I made some basic, superficial changes and three weeks later she rejected me again, saying we probably weren’t the best match if the revisions I made didn’t take very long.

Over that summer, I took a revision workshop, completely re-wrote the book I was querying, and sent Mandy another e-mail (adding to my faux pas count). Dream agent, remember? No way was I giving up without a fight. Thankfully she hadn’t blocked my e-mails because she called three days later (right after we’d had an earthquake!) and offered rep.

We are a match made in Heaven. I have no idea what I’d do if she ever left agenting. She builds me up when I need it, always has solid advice, and kicks me in the butt when I whine too much. It’s the perfect relationship and I heart her SOOOO much!