2009 Debutante Author Interview Series: C. Lee McKenzie

It’s not a heart-grabbing noise like when somebody jiggles the doorknob to see if it’s locked. It’s not a bitter smell like the electrical short we had last month, when all the breakers popped. No. It’s something in the air, something like a ghost making its way through the room. And it can’t be Monster, not after last night.

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C. Lee McKenzie’s here! She has her debut novel, Sliding on the Edge, coming out from WestSide Books in April and she was kind enough to answer all the questions I had about her road to publication. Thanks, C. Lee!

Sliding on the Edge is your debut novel, so a big congrats on that. But can you give us a little statistical rundown on how long it took you to get to this point? How many books? How many rejections? How many days, months, years?
I had to dig into my archives to answer this one. I’ve written two Middle Grade stories that are gathering moss on my C drive. Sliding is my first YA and I think I sent queries and sample chapters to about six publishers who either didn’t think it suited their mix or didn’t respond. As to how long this book has been in the pre-birthing phase: I started thinking about it in 2006. I wrote some of the ideas down in my notebook (something I consider an additional appendage) through the first part of 2007; then I started actually putting those ideas into scenes and chapters. I hauled what I now refer to as the first draft to a conference and was asked, “What made you write about something like this?” It wasn’t a nice question, BTW, and I was thoroughly discouraged for about half an hour. I finally sold the book in January of 2008. So . . . three books, seven rejections, two years to sale, three years and three months to publication.
Seven rejections! That’s it? Pretty amazing! Which “Call” thrilled you more? The call in which you landed an agent or the call in which you landed your book deal?
Wish I had a comparison to offer, but I don’t have an agent. I’m flying solo without any pre-flight instruction. But talking to my editor is an all-time high, so as life moments go, I’d rank our discussions right up there at the top. The first time we spoke the conversation was pretty one-sided with her doing most of the talking. I was working on breathing while I searched for the part of my brain that knew words. I guess you’d describe the moment as “exciting,” but that’s such an inadequate word.

I’m so impressed by authors who can go it alone. Congrats on making that sale. I know you also write Middle Grade fiction. How do you switch gears when writing between two different age groups? Are there certain things you need to keep in mind for each?
I guess my head just goes into another place when I’m writing and if I’m into MG, I sort of nestle into my pre-teen self. It’s still in there, waiting to be noticed and enjoyed again. My angsty YA is pretty demanding. It has a lot to say, so when I’m there things kind of pour out, like sweat after a run. I’m not really “in” my usual mind when I write. I can’t explain it very well, except to say that I kind of slip into my character(s) and they tell me stuff. So I guess my answer is I don’t have any problems about keeping the two genres separate.

This is Fumbling with Fiction, so I have to ask, in your writing career have you ever had a big “Oops!” moment?
Only one? I hope I’m allowed more than that because I’m way over my quota if I’m not. My biggest oops is probably sending a query addressed to one publisher to another. That was super embarrassing, but the publisher was kind and returned the letter to me with something like “oops!” (and not dodo bird) written across the top. She also included a short note saying she liked my idea, but it wouldn’t work for her house. Sigh.
Hey, we’ve all been there. Or at least I have! You’re now at the beginning of your writing career. Can you believe it? Where would you like that sure-to-be illustrious career to take you?
I’d be very happy to see another book of mine on the shelves and in the hands of readers. I’ve completed (loosely speaking) another YA novel and am working on a third, so I guess I’m thinking continued publication would please me greatly.

Tell us a little about receiving your first rejection. What was yours like? How did you feel when you received it?

My first one? Oh not that! It was horrible. They actually rejected my book (one of my Middle Grades). How could they? That book was positively brilliant. It was the next Harry Potter of the publishing world. Of course, after a few years I came to recognize that the brilliance was more in my head than on the page.

Well, hopefully your upcoming book will be the next Harry Potter, right? Finally, if you could have written one book previously published by another author, which book would it be?
This is not only the last, but also the most difficult question, Chandler. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking. Only one? I seem to be asking that question a lot in this interview. Well, I’ve been re-reading S.E. Hinton lately, and I really love the way she captures the young male adults in her books. So I guess I’d choose my favorite among her publications and say I wish I could have written Rumble Fish.

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2009 Debutante Author Intervew Series: Deva Fagan

In Fortune’s Folly, a girl who survives by telling fake fortunes must
make one of them come true to save her father’s life–to succeed,
she’ll have to procure a wicked witch, recover a pair of enchanted
slippers, and, worst of all, find a princess to marry the prince she’s
falling in love with herself.

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fortunesfolly

 

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Does that not just sound like the cutest story? A girl has to find a princess to marry the prince she’s fallen in love with–LOVE it! Today’s deb is Deva Fagan, author of the forthcoming Fortune’s Folly. You can reach Deva through her website at www.devafagan.com. And! be sure to look for her book this Spring.

Fortune’s Folly is your debut novel, so a big congrats on that. But can you give us a little statistical rundown on how long it took you to get to this point? How many books? How many rejections? How many days, months, or years?

I wrote an absolutely terrible novel in junior high (it had a silver-eyed girl who was the Chosen One and an anti-hero who looked like my favorite pop star and lots and lots of very overblown prose), so if you start counting with that, it’s been over 20 years, 5 completed (now trunked) novels, and too many rejections to count.

On the other hand, it was only in the last five years that I got a handle on the submission process (thanks in large part to the resources available online!) and really made writing a top priority in my life. Once I stopped flailing about things began to improve. I started getting personalized rejections, then positive rejections, and finally a sale! 

Which “Call” thrilled you more? The call in which you landed an agent or the call in which you landed your book deal? 

 Actually, I didn’t get any calls at all! My communications with both my agent and editor throughout the submission processes were done over email, and I’ve still never spoken with either of them on the phone (though we have met in person and do email regularly).

But one moment that did truly thrill me was on January 1st, 2006. I like “firsts” and will often start new projects or endeavors on the first of a month (or week, or year). I had just suffered several rounds of rejections, but I had decided to hold fast to my determination and send out another spate of query letters to agents. I was in the middle of sending off my e-queries and suddenly a response popped up in my in-box.

I was sure at first that I’d mistyped and it was a bounced mail, but no, it was a request from one of the agents to see more. I had sent her the query at 7:13 and the response came back at 7:18. I nearly fell out of my chair! Apparently that was an omen of things to come because just about a month later I had signed with her, and just about a month after that we sold the book!

When it happens, it happens fast!

I think you said you actually wrote Fortune’s Folly as a “break” from the big, serious book you were then writing. Whatever happened to the big, serious book?

Unfortunately, it was SO big and serious it was also terribly dull and spiritless. So right now it’s sitting in my virtual trunk. At some point I may chop out the parts I still like (some of the secondary characters, the setting) and reuse them, but for now it’s been set aside.

Well, it sounds like you made the right decision in starting something new!  I’m always curious about this subject: How do you balance writing and your day job? What do you do when you get overwhelmed?

I’m a morning person, so I usually wake up early enough that I can get in a good two hours of writing time before I have to go to the office. It can be difficult, though, because my day job involves sitting in front of the computer (I’m a software developer).

What helps me keep the balance is making plenty of time to get outside (my dog helps with that, since he is always up for a walk!). I also always have paper and a pen with me so if I get an inspiration when I am at work, I can jot it down. Of course this leads to my purse being stuffed with scraps of paper scribbled with things like “her hair turns purple!” and “minions have pumpkin heads” that I then have to sort through. I really ought to get a notebook!

Hey, Whatever works, right? Did you feel your relationship with your agent changed after your sale?

Not really, since the book sold so quickly I didn’t really have time to establish a relationship before the sale happened!

This is Fumbling with Fiction, so I have to ask, in your writing career have you ever had a big “Oops!” moment?

Oh plenty! Though thankfully most of them relate to the actual writing and thus only impacted me personally (well, and my friends who had to listen to me bemoan my mistakes). I tend to find the plots and settings of my books first, and then have to sort of wait for the characters to introduce themselves and become real people in my mind.

Unfortunately I am not always good about waiting for that to happen. I want to rush ahead and write the story down. This has led to quite a few partial (and, sadly, full) novels with cardboard characters, that I end up having to toss aside and rewrite once I find the real, living, breathing characters who belong in the story.

You’re now at the beginning of your writing career. Can you believe it? Where would you like that sure-to-be illustrious career to take you?

It is hard to believe! I am very grateful to be here. The thing that thrills me the most is the idea of people reading, and hopefully enjoying, my books. If I can look back on my writing life as an old woman and believe that I have entertained people, that I have brought magic and adventure and love and beauty to them, then I would be a very happy old lady!

That’s such a sweet sentiment.

Tell us a little about receiving your first editorial letter. What was yours like? How did you feel when you received it?

My first editorial letter was about three pages long. I love my editor for many reasons but one of them is that she always finds something nice to say (before getting to the part that’s going to be hard work). So it started with some quite nice things that made me blush, and went on to the things that she felt would make the book stronger.

The two main issues we dealt with in that revision were pacing and establishing more empathy with the main character. I will admit that at first I was intimidated! Both seemed like daunting tasks. But then I saw that my editor (bless her!) had also included lots of notes on the manuscript itself to show me where to start. I decided I would go through and do all the “easy” stuff first, and then tackle the big stuff. That eased me into it and by the time I did get to the big stuff, it felt much more manageable.

Finally, if you could have written one book previously published by another author, which book would it be?

I would love to write a book as beloved as my own childhood favorites, and to feel that I was part of the grand tradition of storytelling. With that in mind, I might chose Lloyd Alexander’s The Black Cauldron (from his Chronicles of Prydain series) because it combines adventure, humor, tragedy, and heart. I loved those books as a kid (and still do!).

Thanks for having me, Chandler!

2009 Debutante Author Interview Series: R.J. Anderson

Forget everything you think you know about faeries…
Creatures full of magic and whimsy?
Not in the Oakenwyld. Not anymore.

Deep inside the great Oak lies a dying faery realm, bursting with secrets. Long ago the faeries mysteriously lost their magic. Robbed of their powers, they have become selfish and dull-witted. Now their numbers are dwindling and their very survival is at stake.

Only one young faery–Knife–is determined to find out where her people’s magic has gone and try to get it back. Unlike her sisters, Knife is fierce and independent. She’s not afraid of anything –not the vicious crows, the strict Faery Queen, or the fascinating humans living nearby. But when Knife disobeys the Faery Queen and befriends a human named Paul, her quest becomes more dangerous than she ever anticipated. Can Knife trust Paul to help, or has she brought the faeries even closer to the brink of destruction?

knife-small1         spellhunter-small1

You guessed it! Our next author interview is R.J. Anderson. I’ve already heard buzz about her upcoming book Knife (in the UK) and Faery Rebels (in the US)–How lucky is she to have two gorgeous covers!? After reading the blurb, I know I can’t wait to get a hold of the novel! Thanks so much for joining us, R.J.!

Congrats on your debut novel, Knife. Can you give us a little statistical rundown on how long it took you to get to this point? How many books? How many rejections? How many days, months, or years?

KNIFE / SPELL HUNTER (I’ll just call it KNIFE from now on, for brevity’s sake!) was my second completed manuscript, and I finished it in the spring of 1994 — though it took me thirteen more years to sell it. You’d think I’d have written other novels during that time, but I didn’t: I was busy writing fan fiction and posting it on the Internet. Which was good writing practice, taught me to value criticism and earned me a small but loyal audience, so I don’t consider that time wasted.

Anyway, I’d had enough encouragement from friends who had read KNIFE, as well as from the first editor I ever sent it to, that I felt sure the book had potential. So whenever I got a rejection I’d snivel and moan and put the ms. away for months or years before mustering the will to revise and send it out again, but I never gave up on it entirely.

It wasn’t until 2002, however, when an online acquaintance told me that she was an editor with a major publishing house and would be interested in reading my original manuscript, that I really woke up and got serious about doing whatever it might take to get KNIFE published. I did two rounds of revisions for that editor, and although circumstances beyond either one of our control meant that she didn’t end up being the one to buy the book in the end, her criticisms and suggestions really helped me take the book to a whole new level.

Wow. That goes to show you that you never know what great contacts you could be making online! Which “Call” thrilled you more? The call in which you landed an agent or the call in which you landed your book deal? Can you describe to us what it felt like?

I think it had to be getting my agent, because it was so quick and dramatic. I’d just been turned down by another agent who “liked but didn’t love” my manuscript, but was willing to recommend me to another agent she thought might feel differently. Once she made that referral, I had my first e-mail from Josh Adams in two days and an offer of representation less than a week later. Josh had e-mailed a couple of days before to tell me he was loving KNIFE and ask when would be a good time to talk with me about it, so our conversation didn’t come as a complete surprise, but you can bet I spent the weekend in a tizzy trying to find out everything I could about Adams Literary, and think of all the questions I should ask before accepting an offer of representation!

With my editor I had even more advance notice, because a week before the book went to auction she asked my agent if she could call me and see how willing I’d be to do the kind of revisions she had in mind for Knife’s story, and get a feel for what I might be like to work with. So my first call with her wasn’t really The Call, but more of a get-to-know-you experience. It was very exciting, though! Especially because we really did click well right off the bat, and when I put down the phone I found myself hoping that HarperCollins would win the auction so I’d get to work with her. And fortunately, that’s just how it turned out!

How exciting both must have been!

This is Fumbling with Fiction, so I have to ask, in your writing career have you ever had a big “Oops!” moment?

I think my biggest oops is over my own stupidity and (let’s be frank) laziness in not continuing to turn KNIFE around and send it back out after it had been rejected a couple of times in a row. I allowed myself to waste years just sitting around moping over how slow publishing was, when it probably would have gone a lot faster if I’d been more persistent and proactive in approaching more and different publishers.

It also took me a ridiculously long time to realize that my book was YA (MG really, though it’s sort of on the borderline between the two) instead of an “adult” fantasy. I feel kind of silly about that, too! It seems so obvious to me now.

 

An important message for writers not to be paralyzed by rejection. Thanks for sharing! Now that you are a soon-to-be-published author, seeing the view from the other side, what has been your favorite moment in the publishing process so far? What part of the process has most surprised you?

I have to say it’s been really exciting doing contracted revisions with my editor, knowing she loves my writing and my story but also wants to help me make it the best it can be. She’s been great at pointing out the places where my book is weak or confusing, but also leaving it up to me to figure out how best to solve those problems — trusting my judgment, rather than imposing her own vision on the book. And I think most professional editors are that way, really. I just never realized it before I had the chance to work with one.

The part that’s surprised me is how little the author often knows about what’s really going on with her book. I have a great agent and editors who try to keep me in the loop and are generally very willing to answer questions, but sometimes it’s hard to even know what questions I should be asking. I guess I imagined that the author would hear about every meeting related to her book and get copies of every little bit of promotional material, and that’s just not the case. Agents and editors have a lot of clients and a lot of projects on the go at any given time, and sometimes the author has to politely beg for information before they even realize she doesn’t already know!

It looks like your book is coming out in the US and UK at the same time. Is this typical? How did that happen?

Actually, it’s coming out in the UK on January 8th, which puts it four months ahead of the US release date (which is April 28th). The rights to the UK sold six months later than my US rights, but the book is coming out earlier in the UK because publishing moves much faster over there than it does here.

As for being typical — it’s not that typical from what I understand, but my book has an English setting and feel to it, so it was a natural fit for the UK market in that respect. Also, my agent has a partnership with an agency in the UK, and he worked hard to retain UK rights to the book when working out the details of my contract with HarperCollins. That enabled him to send the manuscript out to a number of publishers over there, and it was eventually bought by Orchard Books last December. Which was very exciting because it was like selling the book all over again! 

So cool to have had TWO deals that quickly! Could you explain to us why your book has a different title in the US and UK?

KNIFE was my original title for the book, and my UK editor thought it was a perfect fit — short and memorable and dynamic. I think that the slight darkness and edginess (if you’ll pardon the pun) to that title was appealing for the UK market, where the dividing line between middle grade and teen literature is less strongly marked. But my US publisher felt that to call it just KNIFE would be confusing and perhaps give people a wrong impression of what the book was about, and they wanted to emphasize the faery content. So after much back-and-forthing, we came up with FAERY REBELS for the series  (since in the US I had a two-book deal for KNIFE and its sequel) and SPELL HUNTER for the book title.

 

Tell us a little about receiving your first editorial letter. What was yours like? How did you feel when you received it?

My first contracted editorial letter was seven pages long. She started out by telling me all the things she loved about the book, and then moving on to the places where she felt the plot and characters needed work. Many of the things she mentioned we’d discussed on the phone previously, so they didn’t come as a big shock or anything.

Still, it took me a few days to really process all the information in the letter and decide how I wanted to tackle the revisions. No matter how gracious and thoughtful an editor’s criticisms may be, it’s easy to succumb to feelings of “O woe is me! I suck! They only bought this manuscript because they felt sorry for me!” It’s also easy to resent or resist certain criticisms and tell yourself that the editor just doesn’t understand your Sublime Artistic Vision.

But once I’d finished wallowing in self-pity for a day or two, I got excited and started thinking of ways to solve the problems my editor had pointed out. And I also realized that my editor was right in her criticisms — not just about a few things, but about everything. The book is a LOT better now than it was — tighter, more focused, and also deeper.

I love hearing about author-editor relationships that work well! Finally, if you could have written one book previously published by another author, which book would it be?

Oh, goodness. This is hard, because there are so many books I love. But I think I’m going to have to say I wish I’d written C.S. Lewis’s THE SILVER CHAIR. That is my favorite of all the Narnia books, and I adore Puddleglum.

Thanks so much for telling us all about your journey to publication! Can’t wait to check out FAERY REBELS here in the US and I’m sure we’ll be hearing great things in the future from you. Again, Congratulations on your success!

2009 Debuntante Author Interview Series: Cindy Pon

While this is the 2009 Debutante Interview Series, I’m pretty sure this week’s deb would get kicked out of the ball on account of her incessant bootay shakin’. Yes, it’s Cindy Pon (aka Xiaotien) and she’s here to chat with us about her journey from waging query warfare to her three book deal with Greenwillow. Her first book, SILVER PHOENIX, hit shelves in ’09.

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No one wanted Ai Ling. And deep down she is relieved—despite the
dishonor she has brought upon her family—to be unbetrothed, free, and
not some stranger’s subservient bride banished to the inner quarters.

But now, something is after her. Something terrifying—a force she
cannot comprehend. And as the pieces of the puzzle start to fit
together, Ai Ling begins to understand that her journey to the Palace
of Fragrant Dreams in search of her beloved father—missing these many
months—is so much more than that. Bravery, intelligence, the will to
fight and fight hard . . . she will need all of these things. Just as
she will need the new and mysterious power growing within her. She
will also need help.

It is Chen Yong who finds her partly submerged and barely breathing at
the edge of a deep lake. There is something of unspeakable evil trying
to drag her under. On a quest of his own Chen Yong offers that
help…and perhaps more.

Congrats on your debut novel, Cindy. The cover art is beautiful and I can’t wait to see it on shelves! But can you give us a little statistical rundown on how long it took you to get to this point? How many books? How many rejections? How many days, months, or years?
It took me about three to four months to write the rough draft. Then I spent a year revising it with comments from my two critique groups to help me. SILVER PHOENIX was the first novel I’ve ever written.

I queried 121 agents and i’m sure was rejected by at least 90 of them. I started agent querying at the end of january 2008, and landed agent bill in early april. He sent an email on sunday afternoon saying he loved my novel and I literally jumped up and down in the kitchen.

My bubs thought mommy had gone nutso. =)

The book went to auction in my fifth week of submission to publishers.

 

That’s fantastic and couldn’t have happened to a nicer person! Which “Call” thrilled you more? The call in which you landed an agent or the call in which you landed your book deal? Can you describe to us what it felt like?
Oh, such different emotions there.

I approached querying for an agent like all out warfare. and i would “revenge query” each time i got a rejection. if i had nothing in my query email box for a few days, i’d zap out a few more. It’s a strange thing to say, but many times, seeing a rejection was better than seeing NOTHING at all. (that’s the worst!!)

As I said, I was truly ecstatic when Agent Bill sent me an email to arrange THE CALL for monday morning.
It had been such a roller coaster ride. and all along, I never really knew if what i had was good enough. I only knew that i loved it–and i had to try. try hard!

Going on submission to editors was entirely different. It was utterly and completely out of my
hands. There was no more revising a query, or fiddling with your first pages of prose. Your novel was OUT THERE. and the only thing you could do was try to stay sane and wait.

I think I was in a state of disbelief when my novel went to auction. it was a very high stress and emotional time for me. Here i was, scheduling talks with editors from major publishing houses (what?!) in between picking up the bubs from preschool and their nap times. It was all very surreal.

When I said yes to Virginia and Greenwillow books, I was spent. and still in utter disbelief. It’s very strange
to want something so long and call it a dream, then to actually get it. i was thrilled and terrified. The whole experience was incredible.

 

Ahhh! I love stories like that. So inspiring, but staying sane while waiting? I’m working on that one…  This is Fumbling with Fiction, so I have to ask, in your writing career have you ever had a big “Oops!” moment?
I sent out partial requests too soon. I think many writers make that mistake. We’ve been fiddling with the story for so long, we’re just itching to get it out there already. But you have to learn from your mistakes. That’s why you should send out in batches–so if you get a lot of rejections, you know it’s time to regroup and revise.

 

I think you are right. That’s a problem a lot of writers run into. I know that was one of my problems as well, so great advice!

Now that you are a soon-to-be-published author, seeing the view from the other side, what has been your favorite moment in the publishing process so far? What part of the process has most surprised you?
My favorite moment would be getting my first editorial letter from virginia, my editor! It was just such a sense of achievement for me. I had fumbled very long by myself over this story. Labor of love is exactly what it is. And i knew i was at a point where I had nothing more to offer to the prose or the story.

I had done as best as I could as a writer, with what little resources I had. To get that first editorial letter and see how my novel could be improved–and improved in such great ways–I just loved it!

Seeing my book jacket comes in as a close second. That was very emotional for me. They did such a fantastic job on it. I was floored.

 

You and Agent Bill seem to have such a collegial relationship. What do you think the secret to sucess has been of your extremely functional agent-author relationship?
I don’t think it’s a secret. Open communication is so key. I frequent the writing forums and I know the prevailing feeling of “not wanting to be a bother” walking on eggshells because it was so hard to find an agent. No one wants to lose an agent!

Communication is important. And so is trust. And respect. If you have a question or concern, ASK YOUR AGENT. That’s what s/he is there for!!

 

A valuable reminder for those, like me, who are newly agented. I hear you got an offer for a picture book thrown in your deal as a result of your editor reading your blog. What new challenges come with shifting to writing for much younger readers?
It’s a different mind set. And it’s going to be a great challenge. I’m very intimidated! I need to submit a dummy (which is a mock up of the picture book) and I’ve seen some fantastic dummies–that look like an
actual picture book.

So I’m trying not to panic. I don’t want to send Virginia a few pages stapled together and have her think, what the heck did I get myself into? =X

I have a lot to learn. But if anyone is going to guide me well, it would be Virginia.

 

Your brushwork is beautiful and I know you’ll do a wonderful job.

Finally, if you could have written one book previously published by another author, which book would it be?
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’dell.

 

HUGE Congrats again and I look forward to hearing all of your future success. Keep us updated!!

Topical Tuesday: It Ain’t Trickin’ If You Got It

Repeat after me.

“I am made of Awesome. I have more breathtaking splendor oozing out my eyeballs than those nasty looking grubs that Bear Grills chomps the heads off have goo. I have remarkable talent, unimpeachable flair for the written word, and goshdarnit people like me.”

Now with conviction, please.

Saundra Mitchell raised an excellent point yesterday in her interview and I think it warrants its very own blog post. To remind you, she said:

“Early on, an established screenwriter took the time to work with me on my scripts. She challenged me to excel, and when I finally produced a solid episodic (a script for a one hour television drama,) she recommended me to her agent. This was a Big Deal, but I had never done a business call where I had to sell *me*.

When this agent asked me how I would describe myself, I said, “Oh, I’m just a little midwestern housewife trying to make good!” The call chilled after that, and you’re probably not surprised to find out that he didn’t offer to represent me.

So that was a big oops, but it was also a great lesson. Never minimize your own ability or ambition. There are enough people in the world who will do that for you!”

I know you writerly types, always whimpering over an adjective that just doesn’t feel right. Or how ’bout yesterday when you left that beautifully constructed sentence in the first paragraph, the one that made you wonder how you had yet to win a Pulitzer. But today, in the light of morning, you’d just as soon put a bag over its head.

Ok, we all feel that way. And we feel that way a lot of the time. That’s what pushes us to improve and drives success, so embrace those sentiments, but as your little sister might have said to you whilst you were busy making out with Jake, the lead guitarist of your high school’s coolest garage band, on the couch:

“Get a room!”

This sort of self-doubt is an indoor activity. When we step “outside” it’s time to sell ourselves.

You are your own biggest advocate. You can sell yourself better than anyone.

Now, I’m not saying modesty isn’t important. And please, oh, please, don’t walk up to an agent or editor and declare that you are, in fact, made of awesome. K? But do think it quietly to yourself because it’s that inner glow that attracts.

Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn a bit. It’s not bragging if done adeptly.

Examples:

You might not want to say to prospective agent/editor: “I fully expect to top the bestseller list my first year out.”

But equally unattractive… “I know my book isn’t bestseller material, so don’t worry, I have much more reasonable ambitions like just getting published.”

So let’s try some middle ground: “I am proud of the book I put out and want it to have the best chance at success possible. I am also confident in my ability to continue to write and build my career.”

Everyone has good qualities to tout. I remember I told my agent on the phone that I am a fast writer and can produce quickly. This is the truth and something that I felt needed saying because it influenced my thoughts on the path my career could take. Therefore, I got to say something positive about myself yet remain relevant to the conversation at hand.

So never undermine your own abilities. Be proud of the work you seek to promote. Enthusiasm is contagious.

 

And as T.I. would aptly remind us: It Ain’t Trickin’ If You Got It.

 

 

Status: Got caught up on some law school work yesterday so I plan to do more script writing today. Our goal to start submitting SCOUT is November 1. I’m incredibly excited but want to make sure that every part of the proposal package is the absolute best it can be. So, lots exciting happening, but lots to do.

2009 Debutante Interview Series: Mandy Hubbard

Today’s 2009 Debutante is Mandy Hubbard! She’s one of the nicest, most helpful Blue Boarders ever and she’s been incredibly open to answering questions. I can’t wait to get my hands on her forthcoming book from Razorbill, Prada and Prejudice. A gigantic thank you to her for providing such wonderful answers to the interview questions.

 

Callie falls head over heels—literally…

 and wakes up in Austen-Era England !

Fifteen-year-old Callie buys a pair of real Prada pumps to impress the cool crowd on a school trip to London .  Goodbye, Callie the clumsy geek-girl, hello popularity! But before she knows what’s hit her, Callie wobbles, trips, conks her head… and wakes up in the year 1815!

Thanks for joining us, Mandy. Prada and Prejudice is your debut novel, so a big congrats on that. But can you give us a little statistical rundown on how long it took you to get to this point? How many books? How many rejections? How many days, months, or years?
 
The log-line on my blog says “A published writer is an amateur who didn’t quit,” and sometimes that’s all that got me through the rejections. The first novel my agent sent out on submissions, In October 2006,  was THE JETSETTERS SOCIAL CLUB and we racked up about 12 rejections. They were so short and vague; it was obvious JETSETTERS wasn’t doing it. But a few editors asked if I had anything else, and PRADA AND PREJUDICE started to go out on subs in January 2007. Over that Summer, I came so heart-breakingly-close to selling that it was devastating when it didn’t happen. That editor even said she loved it and apologized for not being able to buy it.

By the end of the year I had revised it a few times for various editors and racked up 16 rejections.
 
2008 started up right where 2007 left off—three rejections within the first weeks. However, the third came in the form of a revision request. Even though I was already in my seventh draft, I decided to do it, and I opened up a shiny new (blank!) word document and started over. I never even opened up the old version. I spent a month writing 100 pages plus a new synopsis, and my agent sent it back.
 
And I was rejected in about three sentences.  But thanks to the shiny-new version of the book, my agent felt it deserved another round of submissions. (We were up to 22 rejections at that point). So she sent it to six new editors, and two weeks later, we had two offers. In total, I spent 20 months on submissions, racking up 40 rejections from almost every editor in New York for two different projects, and PRADA AND PREJUDICE went through nine drafts.

 
You and your agent deserve a medal or something. That is incredibly inspiring. Thank you. Which “Call” thrilled you more? The call in which you landed an agent or the call in which you landed your book deal? 

I never got a call out of the blue in either case—there were always emails to tip me off. So for me, the typical reaction to ‘the call’ was actually a reaction to an email, and it was definitely the sale that stands out. I was opening the email while a co-worker was talking to me, and he managed to tell a very long and animated story, and I heard exactly none of it. The e-mail was titled good news and the first line said, we are expecting multiple offers. I started shaking, and it got hard to breathe. I actually did a video blog and recreated THE CALL, and you can see it here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ER9bv5ojBoM

 
Love your vlogs. Too fun! Throughout your journey as a writer, what resources have you found most valuable to your success? Websites? Books? Conferences?

Livejournal has been the biggest resource for me-I’ve met so many writers and authors, its been amazing. I met my critique partner, Cyn Balog (Fairy Lust, Delacorte 2009) and we’re like writing BFF’s now, and I can still find the post where we are commenting back and forth like, “do you need a critique partner?” Without her I’d go insane. I think we cried for each other’s book deals as much as our own, we were so excited.
 
I have to say, you and Cyn are the cutest writing duo ever. I love how supportive y’all are and how much you’ve grown. Y’all are a shining example to the rest of the writing community.

We all know that writers go through hard times on their way to success. How have you handled rejection in the past?

By ignoring them. HA. Sometimes a random rejection would hit me really hard, especially when it was an editor I had revised for, but for the most part, I read it, thought about it for a little bit, whined for a day, and moved on. My agent was really good at focusing my attention elsewhere. Every time she emailed a rejection, she’d end the email by saying something like, “But I just heard about this editor at X house, and I’m going to pitch it to her tomorrow…” so somehow she always refocused my attention to the next opportunity.

 
This is Fumbling with Fiction, so I have to ask, in your writing career have you ever had a big “Oops!” moment?

When I got the rejections, especially on PRADA, they never seemed to have the same reason. But somewhere around #15, I put them together in an excel spreadsheet, and BINGO, I started seeing a few patterns. Each editor expresses things differently, so it’s not like they would say the exact same thing—but if I read them all in a row, I could see tiny similarities that pointed to the same issue.  I wish I would have thought of doing that as they came in—I might have been able to revise and strengthen the manuscript.

 
 
Great tip for the rest of us. Thanks! You’re now at the beginning of your writing career. Can you believe it? Where would you like that sure-to-be illustrious career to take you?

 To the NYT list, of course. Hitting the New York Times Bestseller list would be so amazing, I’d probably have to quit right then just so I’d go out on top. Kidding. More realistically, though, I am hoping to get a rhythm going, to have at least one book coming out every year with another on the horizon, to develop a fan base, to be a professional. I don’t want to just “be” published, I want it to be my career.

 
And now that you are a soon-to-be-published author, seeing the view from the other side, what has been your favorite moment in the publishing process so far? What part of the process has most surprised you?

 Confetti didn’t rain down when I accepted my deal, so that was surprising. I think my favorite part of this process has been people telling me that I inspire them. When you first sign an agent, you think of all these overnight deals and pre-empts and auctions, because I swear that’s what it seems like happens for everyone else, so that’s what you expect. But I soon discovered that all too often, that’s not how it works. I think a lot of writers are afraid to be honest and blog openly about their trials, for fear of looking whiny, or something. But I decided to be honest from the get go, and yeah, sometimes I whined and reflected. But now I have all those journal entries, and I can read one and know exactly how it felt to get that 20th rejection. And somehow people have been finding my journal and reading those entries, and it’s been really great to know that other people are in that spot, and they’ve seen that sometimes, you just have to claw your way to the top.
 
I recently went through and tagged all the “publishing journey” entries, so that people can start at the beginning and see the key steps for me—and see the actual rejections. You can see them here: http://mandywriter.livejournal.com/tag/the+road+to+publication
There are about forty related entries, so if you want to read them, I recommend rewinding and starting at the beginning and reading forward, rather than backwards. It starts with me getting my agent, and goes through to the sale.

 
Wait, confetti didn’t rain down? Shoot.

Tell us a little about receiving your first editorial letter. What was yours like? How did you feel when you received it?

It was 11 pages. I nearly fainted. But my editor is quite possibly the most amazing person on the planet, and she explained right off on page 1 that I shouldn’t freak out, that she just liked to really explain things and offer solutions instead of just pointing out problems—and true to her word, as I read through everything, I saw that she not only pinpointed the problems, but she offered ideas and things that pushed me in the right direction. She’s really amazing. Did I mention she rejected Prada TWICE before buying it? Even then, in her rejection letters, her thoughts were well articulated and made me really think about what worked and what didn’t work. I’m so glad that the third try (with a completely rewritten manuscript)  resulted in her offering on it, because there’s no where else I’d rather be.
 
Everyone has a different relationship with his or her agent. How would you characterize yours and has it changed since your book deal?

This is an interesting question, because I’ve been thinking about this lately. I think even though it was never obvious, there was a little tension before the sale—not in a bad way, just in a we both want the sale so badly we can taste it way. We were both unbelievably frustrated that it hadn’t happened yet. Not with each other, just with the circumstances. So since the sale, I think that’s disappeared.

 
Finally, if you could have written one book previously published by another author, which book would it be?
 
 For recent books, I’d have a hard time choosing between THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher, about a girl who sends audio tapes to the thirteen people responsible for her suicide,  and THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH (Coming in 2009) by Carrie Ryan, about a zombie apocolypse. For all time favorites, it would be between Z FOR ZACHARIAH, about a girl who thinks she might be the only person left on earth after a nuclear fall-out, and THE TRUE CONFESSIONS OF CHARLOTTE DOYLE, a historical about a prim and proper girl who unwittingly ends up in the midst of a mutiny onboard a ship.
 
Strangely enough, though, I don’t think I could write any of those books even if I had the idea before they did—their execution of the ideas is what’s amazing. Instead I will happily read them over and over.

 

Thank you again for joining us and we look forward to reading Prada and Prejudice the minute it comes out!

Pencil Skirts, Pumps, and Pens–How to See Writing As Business

So I was thinking about the discussion from yesterday…being a young author and all…and I think everyone is right that there is no inherent disadvantage in being young…or old…or in between. However, I do think that as a young person I want to come off as extra professional. I want to be taken seriously, I want to convey that, for me, writing is a career path not just a whim, and I want to lay the foundation for that course of action.  But treating writing as a business should not only affect the way I present myself, I think for all writers, whether they wear braces or win bingo, ought to try to see writing as a series of business decisions.

Here are some of the ways I came up with:

1. Finish what you start. We were talking about this a little over at AW, but yanno that little twinge you get when you’re in the midst of working hard on a project that needs to get done? And smack in the middle of crunch time you get an idea for a book that you want to write right then and there. But what should you do? Take time to write it for a few days or finish the task at hand?

I’m gonna say finish the task at hand. Because, at least for me, I’ve found that it’s my writerly means of procrastination. It would sort of be like giving away your beloved dog Fido for a wobbly-legged puppy. If you don’t finish what you start, you’ll have nothing to sell.

2. Network. I know from the outside writing can seem about as “team” oriented as figure skating, but creating a support network is as important in your career as in any other field. Take the time to walk amongst the living. If you can’t attend conferences, then keep up with your correspondence. Email other authors. Ask how their work is coming. Provide support for them. You can’t just be a taker. Business relationships are based on mutual trust and understanding.  

3. Diversify Your Assets. Ok, you know what I said about finishing the task at hand? Well, that’s still true. But, as every serious writer knows, you’ve got to always be working on something. If you’re in between revisions, get going on the next project. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. This means experimenting, too. Maybe you’d write adult fiction, but you have a great voice for teens. If you never explore, never diversify your assets, you’ll never know. Try different things. Look what it did for me? Did I start out writing graphic novels? No way. But I gave myself license to try and that’s when I landed an agent.

4. Build a Resume. Write articles. Take on work for hire. Volunteer for SCBWI or Friends of Lulu. Do something that will increase your knowledge of the business and build experience. However, “build” is the operative word. Don’t take projects just to take them. Wait for the right projects. I was sad this summer when I turned down a job writing for a video game. But you know what? It wasn’t enough of a step up from where I was for it to be worth my time. Had I taken it, I would not have had the time to devote to SCOUT once I landed an agent.

5. Know business ettiquette. Publishing is a “small” industry. People do know each other. And if you’re querying more than one project before you get an agent or editor, chances are you are going to be querying the same ones more than once. I’m sure you know that you don’t want to burn bridges, but you also don’t want to leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth due to your lack of know-how. Wouldn’t you rather your aftertaste be minty fresh? Therefore, know beforehand what to do in case of multiple offers from agents. Know how to properly address agents and editors in queries. Know to whom to address your questions. And, before embarking on any career (not just writing), understand “what’s normal” in the industry. It’d be pretty frustrating for an agent to send you the agent-author agreement, have you read it, and then be railed against for asking 20% for foreign sales. (“How dare you up your percentage!”) No, research upfront even if you think you might be jumping the gun.

6. Seek counsel from those who know. Would you act as your own doctor? No. You go consult someone because they know better than you. I hear about this a lot from writers with their agents. And I am absolutely not saying that there are not legitimate reasons to disagree with your agent. However, I sometimes hear of the same writers disagreeing with “the industry professionals” or agents in general or their agent in particular. Agents are there to give you advice. For instance, I asked my agent about doing work for hire and he gave me his honest opinion of the value in that. Maybe not what I wanted to hear, but yanno, I don’t have the inside experience. That’s what he does for a living. But beyond that, there are always writers more experienced or more knowledgable. If you’re hearing the same advice over and over again, then there might be something to it. Like say, if your book is 150,000 words for a debut novel and you are getting no bites. Hmmmm….folks who “know” just might be onto something when they advise to pare it down.

 

Alright! Now if that doesn’t make you want to put on your power suit and stuff in a couple of shoulder pads I don’t know what will. Let’s go do business!

 

Status: I am a busy bee. But my project for today is to continue working on SCOUT’s synopsis. I am expanding it from 5 pages to between 10 and 12. This synopsis is a challenge because I’m supposed to incorporate dialogue and really flesh it out. It’s a fun new twist on the typical this happened, then this happened synop though.

Also, an editor at a fabulous publishing house read Fumbling with Fiction and emailed my agent asking to see SCOUT. How cool is that? I’m happy SCOUT seems to be generating some interest. Hope that keeps up through the submission process. It does motivate me, though!

2009 Debutante Interview Series: Cheryl Renee Herbsman

I’ve been excited all weekend because today is our first 2009 debut author! Cheryl Renée Herbsman (www.cherylreneeherbsman.com) lives in Northern California with her husband and two children, but she grew up in North Carolina and often spent summer vacations at the Carolina coast. Like her main character, Savannah, she fell in love as a teenager, and like Savannah and Jackson, she and her boyfriend carried on a long-distance relationship. They are now celebrating their twentieth wedding anniversary. 

Check out the awesome back cover copy of her debut novel, Breathing, and her cover (of which I am seriously jealous)!

 

What if the guy who took your breath away was the only one who could help you breathe?
 
Savannah would be happy to spend the summer in her coastal Carolina town lying in a hammock reading her beloved romance novels and working at the library. But then she meets Jackson. Once they lock eyes, she’s convinced he’s the one—her true love, her soul mate, a boy different from all the rest. And at first it looks like Savannah is right. Jackson abides by her mama’s strict rules, and stays by her side during a hospitalization for severe asthma, which Savannah becomes convinced is only improving because Jackson is there. But when he’s called away to help his family—and seems uncertain about returning—Savannah has to learn to breathe on her own, both literally and figuratively. 
           
This debut novel has it all—an endearing, funny, hopelessly romantic main character, lots of down-home Southern charm, and a sunny, salty beach setting that will transport you to the Carolina coast. Y’all definitely want to check it out!
 
 
Thanks again to Cheryl for stopping by and now, I’ll let y’all learn from her exciting new experiences!

Breathing is your debut novel, so a big congrats on that. But can you give us a little statistical rundown on how long it took you to get to this point? How many books? How many rejections? How many days, months, or years?
 
Starting from virtually no background in writing, it took me about a decade to get published. When my kids were very young, I wrote a little here and there. It took me five years to finish my first novel, which was about a woman in her twenties. Then, about five years ago, I wrote a YA fantasy. After spending a year writing it, I spent two years trying to sell it. As I learned more about the business end of publishing, I started to get more interest in the manuscript from professionals. I had many requests for both partials and fulls. But ultimately, it just wasn’t all there. Something was missing. So on that book, I probably received somewhere around 45 rejections. (Ouch!)
 
Meanwhile, while I was trying to sell the fantasy, I started writing BREATHING. When it was about half-written, I went to an SCBWI conference in New York to try to sell my YA fantasy. At the writers’ intensive, I shared the first pages of BREATHING and everyone got so excited about it, it gave me the motivation to focus on it and get it written. About 3 months later, the manuscript was complete, and I sent out just 3 queries. One of the agencies I queried was interested and took the time to suggest specific revisions. This agency was really excited about the manuscript and said they wanted to help me “launch my career”. I spent the summer working on revisions and sent it back to them. And they rejected it! (Ouch, again.) There was a certain character they had wanted me to drop, and I just couldn’t do it. So I cried for two days, then I went back to my computer and sent out five more queries. I got two requests for the full within 24 hours, and 1 request for a partial. A couple of days later, one of the agents who requested the full emailed me, saying, “Don’t accept representation with anyone else until I talk to you. I’ll call you on Thursday.” Needless to say I was flipping out at this point. That Thursday I was sitting by my phone, wondering if it was really possible that she would call, and she did!
 
Great story of perserverence! Thanks. Which “Call” thrilled you more? The call in which you landed an agent or the call in which you landed your book deal? Can you describe to us what it felt like?
 
I think the agent call was the most exciting. Somehow it symbolized the end of that awful, hopeless-feeling period of rejections. She was so enthusiastic about my work and had such a great reputation and track record. I was completely euphoric. After so many rejections on other books, for this to happen so quickly was just incredibly exciting.
 
I think you’re the first person I’ve heard say “agent,” but I can totally understand why. Throughout your journey as a writer, what resources have you found most valuable to your success? Websites? Books? Conferences?
 
Aside from books, which are always helpful, I think there have been two resources that have been crucial for me. One is my writing group, which is not a critique group. We do writing exercises together that get the creative juices going, and we offer positive reactions and support. It reminds you of all the good things about your writing. The other resource that has been invaluable is conferences. They’re expensive, but you learn so much about how the system really works. Even if it’s just a small, local conference, you can learn a lot.

 
That sounds like a cool spin on the critique group. But even with their help, we all know that writers go through hard times on their way to success. How have you handled rejection in the past?
 
Rejection is never fun, and it’s often painful. Sometimes I would try to focus on the positive things that were said about my work (on the occasions when the agent or editor took the time to write something specific.) But I think the main thing was to let myself mourn a little each time, let it be okay to just feel bad for a couple of days, reach out to family and friends, who would tell me that my work didn’t suck and that I shouldn’t give up. Then, after a little while, I’d be able to dive back in and try again.
 
This is Fumbling with Fiction, so I have to ask, in your writing career have you ever had a big “Oops!” moment?
 
When I was seeking an agent for my YA fantasy, I queried an agent that I’d found on the internet. She actually offered me representation. But then when I researched her further, I realized that she had only just started agenting, had no background in publishing, and was on her own in it. She didn’t seem to understand her own contract and wanted a small amount of money up front for expenses. I’d always heard that if an agent wants money upfront you should run the other way. So, even though it was really hard to walk away from an agent offering representation, I did. To this day, I’ve never heard of that agent selling a book. So I did the right thing. But “oops” on querying an agent you haven’t researched!
 
Huge lesson to be learned from that! And thank goodness you dodged that bullet. You’re now at the beginning of your writing career. Can you believe it? Where would you like that sure-to-be illustrious career to take you?
 
I am very grateful and excited to be at the beginning of my writing career. I hope to write many more YA novels. And I hope people enjoy them and find some solace in them. My goal is always that my work feed the soul of the reader.
 
I’m sure it will. Now that you are a soon-to-be-published author, seeing the view from the other side, what has been your favorite moment in the publishing process so far? What part of the process has most surprised you?
 
My favorite part so far has been working with my editor. She is so smart and thoughtful and thorough and also responsive and easy to communicate with. I have loved suddenly not being all on my own with the story anymore, having someone who cares about it and thinks about it like I do. At the same time, I love that my editor has really allowed me to keep it my own. She makes suggestions about areas to work on, but I get to choose whether or not and how I want to change things. That means a lot to me.
 
I think the thing that has surprised me the most is how many people are involved in bringing a book to publication – people I will probably never even meet!
 
And they’re all working on your idea. How neat is that!? Tell us a little about receiving your first editorial letter. What was yours like? How did you feel when you received it?
 
My editor began my letter by saying what great shape the manuscript was in and how little work it needed. That was followed by a four-page letter of editorial suggestions. I felt overwhelmed at first. But once I started working on it, just one issue at a time, I found that it came together fairly quickly.

Finally, if you could have written one book previously published by another author, which book would it be?

There are so many books that I love. But one of my favorite quotes is this: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and it will be lost.” — Martha Graham. I take many things from this quote, but one of them is that we each have something so different to share with the world. So, although I may admire others’ work, that’s not what I have to offer. So I try to just focus on being grateful that a story I wrote is something someone wanted to publish.

Thanks so much for this interview! I really enjoyed your questions. Have fun with the rest of the Debs!

 

Thanks so much for coming on and sharing with us! Great things for everyone to look forward to. Congrats again and I can’t wait for that book to hit the shelves this spring!

(*Thanks again to Cyn Balog, author of Fairy Lust, for helping organize the interview series!*)