Category Archives: Helpful or Otherwise

Writing for Charity: Refugee Benefit Auction

auction

The kidlit community is incredibly talented and endlessly generous, and when those two forces come together, remarkable things happen. In 2012, authors, agents, and editors donated to KidLit Cares (led by Kate Messner and Joanne Levy) and raised over $60,000 for the Superstorm Sandy relief effort. I was fortunate enough to win a critique in that auction from author Julie Berry, and her feedback still guides my revision process to this day–and led to multiple offers of representation within a few months.

Now there’s another opportunity to join together and do something spectacular for people in need, with possible side effects that will greatly benefit your writing.

When authors Shannon Hale and Mette Ivie Harrison (who already run the Writing for Charity conference each spring) asked for donations to an auction to benefit refugees, the response was huge. The result: amazing. Click here (or the image above) to see all the awesome.

You could win countless critiques from top-notch authors, editors, and agents–including query and 10-page critiques from our own agent extraordinaire, Ammi-Joan Paquette. Drinks with Lemony Snicket. A writing retreat for you and four friends in a gorgeous mountain home, with visits from Shannon Hale and Ally Condie. You could be murdered in a book by international bestseller Dan Wells. The list goes on and on and on! There are plenty of budget-friendly items too. The author critiques in auctions like these are incredibly helpful and such a great value.

I’m thrilled to be part of this auction on both ends. I’ve donated a signed ARC of my debut, LIKE MAGIC, as well as a query and first chapter critique. But I’m definitely bidding too, and I’m sneaky and very competitive. You’ve been warned.

Of course, the very best part of all this is that 100% of the proceeds go to Lifting Hands International, a charity that gets life-saving supplies directly to refugee camps. So please, bid/give generously, and good luck! Unless, of course, you’re bidding against me. 🙂

____________________________________________

profile picElaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, October 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web,@ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

 

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Helpful or Otherwise, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

Preparing to Leap

small__3965231381I’ve been working on my final edits for Book Scavenger. I began this novel over ten years ago, and I’ve always had the comfort of knowing whatever I put down on paper could be changed. Now I have about two weeks left of revising and fiddling, and then the version I send back to my editor will pretty much be the one that appears in stores. This is exciting and totally terrifying.

It’s terrifying because there’s no turning back now. There are nerves about sharing my writing with a wider audience. I hope people will like my book. I don’t want to disappoint friends and family who have supported me over the years. I want my editor and agent and critique partners to be proud of my book.

It’s exciting because I love my book. Over ten years ago, I set out to write a story I would have loved as a kid. I drew on some of my favorite things from childhood: Goonies; It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; The Westing Game; The Egypt Game; From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler; Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It took me drafts and drafts and drafts to get all the pieces of my story to work together in a way that finally represented the characters and world I held in my imagination. It’s not a perfect book–I doubt I will ever write something that I would consider perfect–but I love it nonetheless.

As I’m writing this, I’m realizing what I feel in this moment is similar to something I worry about as a mother: How will the world treat this piece of my heart that I love and have nurtured? Will people buy it, praise it, recommend it? Will they hate it, trash it, make fun of it? Will they ignore it?

The fate of my book will soon be out of my hands and literally in the hands of others. These last moments I have with Book Scavenger are me doing my best to prepare my baby for the big, wide world out there.

It helps that I recently saw the rough sketches for interior illustrations. Not only was this an incredibly happy, surreal moment, but it helped me detach from the book as “mine”. The incredible Sarah Watt‘s rendering of the characters is going to go hand-in-hand with a reader’s consumption of my words. When I think of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I think of Quentin Blake’s illustrations. When I imagine Tara Dairman’s Gladys Gatsby, I picture Kelly Murphy’s drawings. When I picture Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web, I picture Garth Williams illustrations.

So this is all part of my process right now. Final edits, fact-checking, fussing with words, and preparing myself to let go, step back, and let Book Scavenger leap out of the nest.

 

____________________________________

jenn.bertman-2002139Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade mystery, Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). Book Scavenger launches a contemporary mystery series that involves cipher-cracking, book-hunting, and a search for treasure through the streets of San Francisco. Jennifer earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, CA, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

You can find Jennifer online at http://writerjenn.blogspot.com where she runs an interview series with children’s book authors and illustrators called “Creative Spaces.”

12 Comments

Filed under Anxiety, Editing and Revising, Helpful or Otherwise, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

BE A CHANGEMAKER: Celebrating with Quotes!

Be A Changemaker by Laurie Ann ThompsonWe are continuing the celebration for Laurie Ann Thompson’s debut Be A Changemaker, which will be published on September 16. Inspirational quotes are peppered throughout the book, and so we Emu’s decided to share quotes that have been meaningful and motivating to us. We’d love to hear your favorite quotes too!

And remember, comment on any post this week and be entered to win a signed copy of Be A Changemaker!

 

 

From Donna Bowman Bratton:

This quote by Ben Franklin has been posted above my computer for years. It obviously speaks to the writer in me, but it hints, too, at taking conscious actions for change.

BrattonBF

 I love this quote by Charles Lamb because it so simply speaks to the heart of any good deed, large or small.

There-is-nothing-so-nice

 
Of course, the ultimate quote for any changemaker comes from Mahatma Gandhi:
 
5pWJ6M5WAPpBE33ztTSBvQ
 
 
 

 

From Jennifer Chambliss Bertman:

This quote reinforces my belief that even our smallest actions can make a difference, even though we may never witness the impact, and reminds me that I want to be someone who brightens the day for others, rather than tarnishes it.

 

9b446fffef984b3b0728c993d2a07a57

 

From Christine Hayes:

You can probably see why, as a writer, I find this quote inspiring. 🙂 I usually substitute “people” for “men” in my own mind, and I’ve seen that done all over the web as well, but I’m guessing the version below is the correct one. On the days when I feel especially short on talent, this quote keeps me going.

-isdSIAM3K7v0cmPPIo60Q

 

From Amy Finnigan:

bxcp-n3mqhAOHVZnVLvi9A

 

From Penny Parker Klostermann:

Dr. Seuss is kind of my go-to guy for a laugh or for a quick reminder that I’m in charge of doing the work it takes to reach my dreams.

j45O-BjeXXgyf6L4YzHGFg

From Lindsey Lane:

What I love about this quote is that Goethe was born in 1749 and I’ve experienced the ‘truth’ of his observation time and again. If I don’t begin, nothing happens.

 

snap

 

From Mylisa Larsen:

Usually when you see someone making something look effortless, it’s because they spent thousands of hours mastering whatever they’re making seem simple and inevitable. This is a quote that gets me back to my desk to put in some more hours.

 

mDhhRqbI9XdDN5tTs90h0w

 

From Joshua McCune:

This quote adapted from Emerson’s poem “Merlin’s Song” reminds me to not just live life to the fullest, but to live it as myself, to open myself to new experiences, and to do it with joy. It’s that last part that’s hardest for me. Scowl, and the world scowls at you. Smile, and the world smiles with you. The world could use more smiles.

DTWA

 

From Megan Morrison:

This idea is at the marrow of my personal belief system. Success requires two things: a clear vision and the will to carry it out, and this is true whether you want to change your wallpaper or change the world.  The first part is tricky, because it requires that we are honest with ourselves about what we want and what we are willing to do. The second part is grueling, because it requires consistent action over a long period of time, and that action must be sustained even during times of doubt and lack of inspiration. But commitment is its own reward. Nothing is more satisfying than to look back after many months and years of climbing a personal mountain to see how far you’ve really come.
 
First-say-to-yourself
 

 

 
 
 
From Rebecca Van Slyke:
I like this quote because I was so, SO close to that ‘give up’ point, but a friend sat me down and pointedly told me that I needed to keep going, fire my current agent, pursue a different agent, and keep writing. A few months later I had 4 books in contract.
 
 
3c3b1b1b92a8425df1d28eaa0654a5d3
 
 
 
 

 

From Dana Walrath:
 
gVh3EudFs6d-kKb9zLmMtA
 

 

 
 
 
m1SL0z_m7PgLDQdAIsM4pg
 

 

 
 
 
The-journey-of-a
 
 

You can get your own copy of BE A CHANGEMAKER from your local independent bookstore (find one here), or order it from your favorite national or online retailer such as Simon & SchusterPowell’sB&N, or Amazon.

And please comment here–or on any post this week–to be entered to win a signed ARC of BE A CHANGEMAKER by Laurie Ann Thompson!

14 Comments

Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Celebrations, Creativity, Discipline, Faith, Happiness, Helpful or Otherwise, Launch, Patience, rejection and success

The Practical Side of Longing

I threw a party when I sold my book, and my husband, Derek, surprised me at it by gathering everyone and giving an impromptu speech. It was sweet and teary, and he thanked my friends for all of their constant support and encouragement. But he also asked them, with a devilish look in his eye, did they know that we had been living with an extra member of the family for the last few years? Derek, me, our three kids (five chickens, two dogs, three cats) and…my longing. As though it was a living, breathing thing!

Ummmm….yeah. He was right. Not only had I been wrestling with my longing, but the rest of the family had too. Derek laughed and said he had to admit that, as much as he respected it, he was kind of ready to show it to the door and give it a shove. (We only have a queen bed, after all, and it’s kind of small…)

Illustration from A Monster Calls

See that longing trying to get back in the house? (Illustration from Patrick Ness‘ A Monster Calls.)

Yeah, I got that. I felt the same way too. See ya later, longing. Ciao. Don’t let the door hit your big ole full-of-desire derrière on the way out.

Except, maybe not.

Because longing is a useful thing. And not just in those emotional and psychological realms that I explored in my last post – how longing lets you know what matters in your life, how it confirms your human status, and how it offers a point of connection with other people – but also in a very practical realm too. And so I thought it might be helpful to pull together 5 ways longing is a functional and sensible tool. Actually, after I thought about it for a bit, I realized that what I had come up with was more of a progression; steps that deepen both a sense of self and the work. So here is what I stumbled into, and I humbly offer it here:

1.  Let longing be. Longing is one of those emotions that is so easy to transform into some other emotion, something more manageable, like self-pity or jealousy. Seriously, it is so much easier to spiral down the rabbit hole of I’m not good at anything, I’ll never succeed ever or lob an I want what she has so bad I can taste it in HER direction. But don’t. Sit with the feeling. Let it teach you to be still and present. It is stubborn, but you can be more stubborn. Let it teach you just how much courage and resilience you have.

meditation

Cartoon by Maria Scrivan.

2. Let sitting with longing become a practice. Then take it a step further. Like yoga, or running, or meditation, or whatever else you do on a regular basis, let being aware of your longing become something you connect with regularly. Watch it, touch it, be curious about it. Get to know it. You know that super cool thing that happens with rituals? The simultaneous subconscious quality it takes on, where you don’t have to even think about it anymore AND the insane eagle-eyed focus on details it allows? Let that happen with your longing.

3. Sit with other emotions too. Once you can sit with your longing, practice sitting with your other emotions too. Let that become a ritual too. The same cool thing will happen. Plus, a side benefit? You will reduce those times when you really wish you had thought for another minute before opening your mouth. (At least I have….ummm…anger management, anyone?!)

4. Sit with characters’ emotions. So this is where you segue your focus from self to work. The most amazing thing is that this progressive practice translates onto the page. Once you can sit with your own emotions, you can sit with your characters’ emotions too. This is big. At least for me, it was. I was finally able to – not just see, but – truly feel my characters’ emotions. Part of that was due to my developing skills at being still and present, and part of that was because I was becoming an emotion expert.

image-via-toonpool.com_

An added benefit of this practice? Much less Writer’s Block! Image from toonpool.com

5. Write deeper, more authentic characters. For me anyway, as I learn to stay present with what I am feeling, when I get to know, in my bones, the nuances and underbellies and depth and details (especially the details) of my own emotions, I can find the same landscape within my characters. And I can translate all of that into the tiny gestures and words and moments that make emotion come colorfully, wildly, passionately alive on the page. I can deeply know the arc that an emotion travels, and I can match my characters’ journey along that arc to specific plot moments in my story. For me, this was the difference between a very good story and one that felt…different.

Take this, or leave it. I am sure – absolutely sure – that for many of you this is old news. Or maybe something you do intuitively. But for me, it was an epiphany. (Or a series of epiphanies, really.) I was one of those kids (and then one of those teens, and then one of those young adults) that got things the first time around, academically, socially, emotionally. Everything was a quick learn; an instant success…except for those things that weren’t. But those things got put into an if I can’t succeed at this right this minute then it must be something I’m not supposed to do category. The process of facing that, and my fears around being my authentic self, is a subject for another post. But once I did, I had to learn how to make mistakes, try again, try a 100 more agains, and…face my longing.

GoDogGo3

From Go Dog Go by PD Eastman.

And it’s not going away. Yes, I’ve sold my first book, so that particular longing has left me, and left the house. But, boy oh boy, there is more. So much more.

Sorry, Derek. Maybe we need to get a bigger bed.

6 Comments

Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Faith, Helpful or Otherwise, Writing

Following the Bird in Flight when it Comes to the Debut Author To-Do List

Like Lindsey (see her excellent post from a couple of weeks ago, Debut Author To-Do List), I’m a list maker. Unlike Lindsey, however, I am rather *cough* obsessive about it. My debut author to-do list is a spreadsheet. Okay, that might not sound so bad, but my spreadsheet has an embarrassing 135 rows, sorted chronologically, spanning from more than a year before the book’s release to more than two years after… and that’s just for one book. Yes, it’s totally ridiculous overkill, to be sure. I knew when I built it that I wasn’t going to be able to even come close to doing everything on the list. I put in every possible thing I could think of, anything I might want to remember to even think about doing when the time came. I knew I was going to have to pick and choose, prioritize, and, yes, let go of some (okay, a whole bunch) of the things on the list.

debut author spreadsheet

I got off to a fairly good start, at least.

On Monday, Megan wrote about “following the bird in flight” when drafting (see her excellent post, Writing in One Layer). I’ve been thinking about similar ideas lately, but more as they apply to the debut experience as a whole. I built that spreadsheet because I thought I’d be able follow the neatly organized chronological to-do list. I thought I’d be in control, evaluating and deciding what was really a to-do and crossing out the rest. Then I would just march down the remaining to-do list and the whole process would roll smoothly and efficiently along. Ha! What I’ve learned is that practically everything about the debut author experience is a surprise. Some of the biggest pieces are outside of my control. Being flexible enough to deal with shifting realities—bouncing back from unforeseen setbacks or pouncing on unexpected opportunities—is key.

Every teardrop is a waterfall

I am not this flexible.

  • What happens when you learn that the curriculum guide you’ve been eagerly anticipating—and promising to teachers—is not only not finished yet, but hasn’t even been started… and isn’t going to be? In my case, you come up with a plan B: figuring out how to add Common Core State Standard assignments to the library event kit that is already in progress.
  • What do you do when you randomly notice that, hey, there’s a Goodreads giveaway of your ARCs, and it’s been running for three days already? In my case, you make some room in a few of your days to get the word out and help promote the giveaway.
  • What do you do when you happen to see that the publisher of your upcoming picture book has put the cover—which you have never seen before—on their website? In my case, you SQUEE for joy, dance around the room for a while, hyperventilate, eat some chocolate, and then quietly sneak the image up on the Emu’s Debuts sidebar and your own webpage and hope someone notices.
Emmanuel's Dream cover

I can’t wait to show you what’s inside!

  • What do you do when a local private school director invites you to coffee to talk about possible collaborations, or a well-known blog invites you to do a guest post, or your publisher invites you to do a live video webinar on your book’s topic, or a thriving local startup invites you to their annual company open house as a featured guest, or a trusted youth organization approaches you about giving changemaker workshops? In my case, you say, “YES!” to all of them and start preparing (even though “live” and “video” are two words that should never be put together, in my opinion!).

None of those things were even on my spreadsheet, and I’m not coming at all close to keeping up with my to-do list. (It’s rather fitting that I missed my Thursday morning deadline for this very post, isn’t it?) I expected to be able to just draft a plan and then carry it out, but instead my debut experience seems to be all about following the bird in flight. And I’m okay with that: it’s taking me to some amazing places.

Off you go

Photo from liquidnight on Flickr.

19 Comments

Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Helpful or Otherwise, Launch, Promotion, Time Management, Writing and Life

EVERYONE’S A CRITIC

by Amy Finnegan

simon thumbs down

We all do it.

Whether or not we are the mean-spirited type, we judge other people. We judge music. We judge food. We judge books. We either deem them worthy of our praise, or deserving of our scorn. Sometimes we just give our targets a “meh” and move on.

This topic has been discussed a few times here on EMU’s Debuts lately, which has led me to think more and more about it, especially as the launch of my first novel approaches. But a recent experience helped me view the compulsion to not only notice, but share what one considers a shortcoming, from a different angle . . . one that doesn’t involve the book that I spent several years writing.

It involves my new home instead.

Two and a half years ago I sat down with a piece of paper and sketched out what I envisioned as my dream home, inside and out. Everything I’ve ever wanted. Then I took it to an architect, and over the next 18 months, we pared and pruned, designed and redesigned. It was a very long process and involved much more work than I ever could’ve imagined (much like writing a novel, and getting it published!)

rolled up plansThen a hole was dug. A foundation was poured. Walls were built. I began to see my paper dream house become an actual home. It was beautiful (OMG! Look at what I’ve done!) and also scary (OMG! What have I done?). It was an exciting, exhausting, stressful (!!!!) twelve months of building. I was there nearly every day for several hours, micro-managing every detail so it was truly built exactly the way I wanted it to be.

And FINALLY, it was finished, and it was decorated with everything that my family loved. It was perfect for us. We practically skipped through the halls.

And then, my friends, we opened it up—as we had promised our builder and subcontractors that we would do—to the Parade of Homes, wherein close to 20,000 people walked through every room with little blue booties over their shoes.

Let . . . the . . . criticism . . . begin.

All 27 homes in the parade received written reviews from attendees. Most, as is common with books, were positive. But about 10 – 20% of the reviewers were negative, even scathing. This is what I found interesting though: almost every single house received both praise and scorn for the very same feature. Here are some actual, verbatim, examples:

House A

Reviewer 1: How many different materials can be crammed into a room? Busy, busy, busy. Less is more, more is unappealing.

Reviewer 2: I have never seen a house done so beautifully! Make sure you have enough time to really take in every inch of it . . . every detail is spot on.

House B

Reviewer 1: This house is one of a kind, hands down the best house I have ever been in! Aaaaaammmmmaaaaazzziiiiiinnnnngggg.

Reviewer 2: I was underwhelmed . . . disappointed on all levels.

House C

Reviewer 1: The theater was so bad with sheared fabric on the walls — really!?!?!

Reviewer 2: One of the nicest home theaters I’ve ever seen!

House D

Reviewer 1: Oh. My. Gosh. What more is there to say!?!?! Can I give it 10 stars?!?!

Reviewer 2: Gross . . . . Seriously gross.

In no particular order, these are the homes discussed above:

mcewan

 

raykon

 

photo-2

 

 

four chairs house

Do any of these homes look “Gross . . . . Seriously gross” to you? In my opinion, all of them are gorgeous, and certainly what many would consider a “dream home.”

But people have their own likes and dislikes, for reasons that even they can’t always explain. To argue with them is pointless.

I don’t like fish. I just don’t. I don’t like the way it smells, or the way it tastes or feels in my mouth. Friends, and especially my husband, have often told me, “But THIS fish is so mild. It melts on your tongue! Here, you have to try it!” And so I do, and *cue gag reflex* . . . nope. There is nothing anyone can do to MAKE me enjoy the taste of any fish. Ever. (I do not like fish here or there. I do not like it ANYwhere!)

As an author, it’s absolutely, positively, IMPOSSIBLE to write a book that every reader will like. It will never happen in the history of the world. I personally feel that Harry Potter is the best book series that has ever been written. It melts my soul with its goodness. I’ve read it over and over and over again, and I laugh and cry in all the same places (and additional ones as well). But online, that series has tens of thousands of one-star reviews. Some people hate it with a passion beyond reason, as though it was written by the devil himself (or in this case, herself).

How can our feelings toward the very same books be such polar opposites? But isn’t that the case with almost anything? Books, music, movies, art, food . . . homes? Everything is subjective, and its value always depends on the eye of the beholder.

I’m saying all of this now because once NOT IN THE SCRIPT hits shelves in October, it will be open to the judgment of the world, and it’s always a bad idea for an author to argue (or even explain particular choices) with his or her critics. So this is my one chance to say: “I invited you into my heart, poured my soul out to you, shared my idea of romance and true love and humor, and if you don’t feel it’s good enough, you’re perfectly free to put the book down, unfinished.”

There was a point during the Parade of Homes—when I was fluffing pillows and such—that a woman looked over the entertainment area in our basement and said, “They don’t even have a pool table! A home like this SHOULD have a pool table.”

It wouldn’t have been appropriate for me to approach her and explain why we didn’t get a pool table, but an unexpected thing happened at that moment. I laughed out loud. Totally laughed. Like, all day long. Because it reminded me of the way book reviewers sometimes trash an entire book because the story doesn’t end how they think it should’ve ended. Would this lady have otherwise been super pleased with my basement if we’d had that one missing element? I doubt it. We already have a LOT of cool stuff down there. Among other features: an indoor sports court, a Harry Potter themed theater with signed props and memorabilia from the movies, an arcade, a Beatles themed music room, a ping pong table, and a four-person air hockey table. Not even this was enough to earn her approval.

air hockey close view

The space in question: a pool table we would rarely use, or a 4-person, tournament-style air hockey table?

So why, dear questioning Parade Lady, do we NOT have a pool table? Because we didn’t freaking want one, okay? Would YOU want a $15,000 pool table if you had two teenagers and one eight year old who constantly had dozens of friends running through your basement? Would YOU want a pool table if you knew pizza and pop and caramel corn would end up on it no matter how diligently  you tried to avoid it? Would YOU want a pool table if no one in your family even played pool? Or would you get one anyway just to impress people who thought you SHOULD have one?

These are the snarky types of replies authors often want to give to critics of their work. And it will definitely be difficult for me to resist doing so. There will probably even be times when a review makes me cry and I will wish I’d never even written the book. It’s going to be tough. I’ll have to develop some thick skin. Most authors I know refuse to read their reviews. They cause too much doubt, I’m told. They mess with your writing mojo. They make you feel horrible about yourself. That’s very sad.

So to all you writers out there pouring your hearts out and giving the world a glimpse of your very soul, THANK YOU FOR SHARING! I don’t care if you don’t have a pool table in your book, or in your basement, or anywhere at all! I love that your stories are exactly how they feel right to YOU!

xoxo

Amy (who doesn’t like fish, but that’s okay! You can eat as much of it as you want to!)

_________________________________

IMG_0723-2Amy Finnegan writes her own stories because she enjoys falling in love over and over again, and thinks everyone deserves a happy ending. She likes to travel the world—usually to locations where her favorite books take place—and owes her unquenchable thirst for reading to Jane Austen and J.K. Rowling. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, came about after hearing several years of behind-the-scenes stories from her industry veteran brother. She’s also been lucky enough to visit dozens of film sets and sit in on major productions such as Parks and Recreation and Parenthood. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, or Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author).

 

15 Comments

Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Happiness, Helpful or Otherwise, Reviews, Social Media, Writing and Life

The Importance of Knowing Yourself

[Ed. note: Today we have a special treat for you, as fellow EMLA author Corinne Duyvis stops by for a guest post feature to celebrate the launch of her own debut, OTHERBOUND!]

Whether you’re searching for an agent, hoping to snag a publisher, or going it alone with self-publishing, writing is often a difficult and stressful job. Add the complications of having a day job, a family, and/or a disability, and it becomes even more difficult to keep up your spirits and your productivity.

My first novel only just released, so I’m in the early stages of being a professional author. I’ve still had my share of publishing heartbreak: the novels I’ve had to shelve, the agent that didn’t work out, the negative reviews, the rejections—both before and after the book deal–and I’m sure that list will only grow.

(Though, um, I’d rather it doesn’t.)

The most important thing I’ve had to learn throughout all this is me.

In order to survive this business, no matter which route of publishing you choose, it’s so, so important to learn your own desires and reactions, your strengths and weaknesses.

What are you looking for? If you’re querying or interviewing agents, it can be tempting to either stick to the huge names you see in the Twittersphere or to contact any agent who takes your genre. This can work out perfectly. It can also work out terribly.

To protect yourself from heartbreak and ending up in no-win situations, figure out what you want, and do it early. Do you value lightning-quick communication? One-day turnarounds on manuscripts? In-depth editing? Massive deals? Perfect author-editor, book-publisher fits? Do you want to have your hand held, or to be whacked on the back of the head when you’re not writing quickly enough? Or do you want to be left to your own devices as much as possible?

Know what you want, look for just that, and communicate your needs clearly.

It also applies to later stages of publishing. Some authors can’t handle feedback at an early stage; make sure to explain that so you can come to a mutual agreement about when to submit your work.

Conversely, if you’re constantly worrying about which project to work on next, you’ll want to find an agent who will help you decide, or you’ll want to ask your editor which of your pitches she thinks is most interesting. It isn’t a guarantee of a book deal, but it might set your mind at ease knowing there’s interest.

I’m one of the latter. I need feedback to stay motivated.

Not everyone will need this. Decide whether you do.

So far, this has been about communication, about navigating your publishing partnerships, but it works at any level.

If you know yourself, you know how you cope with deadlines.

Whether you struggle to write while waiting for feedback.

Whether you work better in mornings or evenings.

Whether feedback at an early stage will invigorate you or crush your creativity.

Whether keeping track of your word count helps you or hurts you.

Whether the magic happens in the drafting stage, or when you’re tweaking sentences later down the line.

Whether editing or drafting requires more focus.

Whether bad news can throw you off your game, and how long for.

And if you know all these things, you can guard yourself appropriately. It seems obvious, but it surprised me just how much of this I didn’t know about myself—or how much I thought I knew, and was wrong about.

Even better, it surprised just how much of it can be worked around with some foresight, flexibility, and planning.

Publishing is hard enough already. It’s OK to look around and figure out how to make it a little easier on yourself. Guard against your weaknesses, capitalize on your strengths, and tweak your habits and partnerships accordingly.

(And when you need it, don’t hesitate to break out the hot chocolate.)


Corinne DuyvisA lifelong Amsterdammer, Corinne Duyvis spends her days writing speculative young adult and middle grade novels. She enjoys brutal martial arts and gets her geek on whenever possible.

Otherbound, her YA fantasy debut, released this week from Amulet Books/ABRAMS. It has received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and BCCB. Kirkus called it “original and compelling; a stunning debut,” while BCCB called it “a brilliantly paced edge-of-your seat adventure” and praised its “subtle, nuanced examinations of power dynamics and privilege.”

Find Corinne at her Twitter or Tumblr.

OTHERBOUND cover

4 Comments

Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Happiness, Helpful or Otherwise, Launch, rejection and success, Writing and Life

I am not my book

My debut novel, All Four Stars, is just about two months away from publication.

Its lovely jacket arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago.

All Four Stars full jacket

Its first trade reviews have started to roll in.

The book’s New York launch party is confirmed (please come!), and its Colorado launch party should be set up within the week (please come to that one, too!).

I wrote those last three sentences very carefully. Note that I didn’t say that “my” jacket arrived, or that “I” got reviews, or that I’m planning “my” launch parties. I did that on purpose, because—as I’ve been trying to remind myself daily of late—I am not my book.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m incredibly proud of All Four Stars, and I’m proud of myself for having produced it. I worked on it (on and off) for seven years before it scored me an agent and a book deal. My main character, Gladys, is in some ways a lot like me, and her story is very close to my heart.

But, the book is just something I made. Actually, thanks to the long publishing process, it’s something that at this point I can say I finished making quite a while ago. I’ve written other books since, one of which will come out in 2015 (hooray!), and I’ve got plenty more stories in the pipeline. I’m dedicated to my work, and most of the time I love it, but I try to be careful not to let it be the only thing it my life that can bring me joy or fulfillment. (I succeed at this some days better than others.)

Being a writer is more than just a job. The work we do as writers is often inspired by and bound up in our lives and experiences, so it can be hard to leave it behind mentally even when we’ve left the writing space for the day. And then, when it’s finally time for that work to find an audience, it can feel impossible not to take each and every reader’s reaction personally.

But I’m trying. I’m trying really hard, because the alternative is to let everything in, to believe every contradictory review, and to let them drive me crazy. And as much as my writing is part of me—a big, important part of me—it isn’t all of me.

Since this post has gotten a little heavy, I will leave you with a few lines from one of my favorite musicals, Avenue Q.

There is life outside your apartment.
I know it’s hard to conceive.
But there’s life outside your apartment.
And you’re only gonna see it if you leave.

-From “There is Life Outside Your Apartment” (whose other lyrics, I warn you, contain a delightfully hefty dose of profanity)

Over the next couple of months, I may have to make this my theme song (replacing “apartment” with “book”…or, better yet “first novel,” for the sake of meter). As much the debut process will surely try to take over my existence, I know that there is a life outside of it, a “me” who is not her book—and for the sake of sanity, I’m going to make sure to keep her around.

__________________________________________
Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Starsher debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published on July 10, 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at taradairman.com, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.

19 Comments

Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, Happiness, Helpful or Otherwise, Launch, Panic

The Second Time Around

One of the pieces of advice I’ve heard most frequently from authors who have published multiple books is “Enjoy this time—you only debut once!”

penguin-logo

You’re official! Now please rewrite this piece-of-dreck manuscript.*
(*Not an exact quote.)

For about a year after I sold my first book, I kind of got where they were coming from…but there was definitely another part of me that thought “Yeah, right. Because it’s sooo enjoyable is it to be a clueless noob about absolutely every single step of the publishing process!”

I regularly felt like I was flailing around in those months. I had no idea when to expect my contract, my editorial letter, my advance check. The conferences that more experienced authors referred to with casual ease sounded like alphabet soup to me. And let’s not even mention the looming challenge of how to promote a book when you have no fan base yet and zero name recognition.

But today, four months before my debut, I think I finally understand what those old hand authors were talking about. It just took selling a second book for me to get it.

Now, I’m absolutely ecstatic that All Four Stars will have a sequel. And this time around, I definitely feel more at-ease about the whole editorial process, since I’ve already been through it once. For instance, after I turned the manuscript for book two in to my editor, I found that I wasn’t constantly refreshing my inbox like I did after turning in book one; I was actually able to appreciate and enjoy the enforced time away from that story while I waited for her edits.

But I also have to admit that the things that felt like big milestones for me with my first book just haven’t been as thrilling this second time around.

I took copious pictures of myself signing my first book contract, and my first check. I may have squealed a little with delight when I received my first editorial letter, if only because every page had that official-looking Penguin logo. But that wasn’t really because other authors had told me to “enjoy it”—it was because these were pieces of hard evidence that my long-held dream of becoming a published novelist was really coming true.

The second time around, though, I just signed my contract quickly, wanting to get it back in the mail so my payment could get processed. When that payment came, I deposited the check with no fanfare. And as happy as I was to get my editorial letter for book two a few weeks ago, this time I didn’t squeal over how official it looked. I’d already done this once, so I knew how much work was ahead of me—and that I really needed to get right down to it.

So, I guess I’m on the brink of becoming one of those authors who warbles the song of experience, warning the whippersnappers that they’d better enjoy every little moment of their debut process, or else. “Never again will paperwork feel so exciting to you!” I’ll preach.

But you know what? I’m okay with becoming that person. Where I used to feel clueless and anxious, I now feel confident and…well, not exactly mellow, but at least a little more chill than I used to be. Publishing may not feel like a thrill a minute anymore, but overall, I think that the trade-off will be worth it.

__________________________________________
Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Starsher debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published on July 10, 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at taradairman.com, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.

21 Comments

Filed under Advice, Book Promotion, Celebrations, Editor, Helpful or Otherwise, Satisfaction, Writing and Life

Writing Is Hard

I wouldn’t call myself a “novelist.” It’s one of those words of which I have an irrational dislike. I picture novelists sitting around in damask lounges where I’m not allowed, smoking tiny cigarettes, wobbling their big brains at each other and speaking about Humanity without separating their teeth.

But I have written 4 novels so far, which is about 3 3/4 more than most people, and considerably fewer than Terry Pratchett.

Pratchett

Unless you’re Stephen Hawking, this man is smarter than both of us put together.

Anyway, the way you write a novel is you think of a character and then you have your character do something, usually while whining about it, for about three hundred pages. If you want to write a young adult novel, which is what I do, you do the same thing, except . . . well, you just kind of do the same thing. I don’t know.

The thing is, what many critically-acclaimed novels have in common is that they “make sense.” This is where I usually have trouble. Oh, things start well. They hum along. And then I reach the 3/4 mark, and something is wrong. Let me explain it using word puzzles.

I enjoy word puzzles. I get those variety packs with all the different kinds. Here’s one I did called “Simon Says.” The idea is you write the phrase they tell you to, and then there are step by step instructions on how to change it a little at a time, and at the end, surprise! There’s a different phrase there!

Here’s the beginning:

puzzle1

So far, so good. Looks like we’re on our way to turning “Spring Training” into “All Star Game,” which is what happened about halfway through. But “All Star Game” was just a little divertissement in the middle. The real finale was to be “World Series,” revealed at Step 18.

Only something went horribly, horribly wrong.

Here is my Step 18:

puzzle2

That’s right. “LDORDWSURIFJ.” This is not a case of “BORLD SERIES.” This is a major issue. Something effed up went down somewhere, and I have no idea what it was. It could be one rogue letter, or an entire step missing, or I could have read one of the directions wrong. Anything. And from that moment, little things began to fall subtly out of place until the snowball effect reached its terrible pinnacle at Step 18.

That’s what happens with novels sometimes. They say if your ending is wrong, it’s not really your ending that’s wrong, and that’s probably true. But the gentle musing over whether a different angle or lighting might make your denoument more effective is completely different from the sickening feeling that arises from getting to the top of your dramatic arc to realize your story is running naked through the woods like a lunatic. At that point, there’s nothing to do but go back and pick everything apart to find the rogue letter that will set it all right again.

And as I quietly weep over my 3/4 novels, my only solace is that, probably, other writers have faced this kind of thing before. And maybe they didn’t even have blogs. Maybe they just had to write whiny little notes on their parchment or whatever: Writing is hard.

shakespeare
__________________________________________________
This is an updated version of a post that previously appeared on my blog. I hope you enjoy it anyway.

22 Comments

Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, craft~writing, Editing and Revising, Helpful or Otherwise, Plotting, Uncategorized, Writing