Category Archives: Panic

Swirling the Drain…

Last month, I had an idea for today’s post. It wasn’t a bad idea, and one I might use eventually, but when it came time to actually DO something about it (it involved other people), an uneasy feeling came over me. That little voice saying, “Are you crazy? One more project to coordinate?” Let me set the scene…

I had just finished a round of revisions for my novel. CHECK.

I finally got a messy first draft on a new picture book story down on paper that I’d been thinking about for two months. CHECK.

I had to start seriously thinking about a promotional plan for my upcoming books. CHE–. UH-Oh.

This was me…

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Book promotion???

Starting a new project that involved multiple people just wasn’t going to happen. The fact is, I feel like I’m swirling the drain every time I think about book promotion. Which seems silly. I’ve launched books before. I’m done blog tours and had signings. I’m not new to this. BUT…the last time I launched a new book was in 2008. It feels like I’m learning it all over again! Couple that with the facts that 1) I start teaching another online course in January, and 2) I have one book coming out on Jan. 31 and another on March 15, well…there you go! My brain is swirling.

One of the things I’ve come to learn about myself through the years is that when I begin to feel a sense of panic my best remedy is to act, which usually involves planning (at least that way I feel like I’m moving forward—even if I don’t know where I’m going). Maybe it’s because writing (even list-making) is a comfortable place for me but regardless, it always helps. So, I did a little research and found three resources for helping me get started with planning some promotional activities.

First, I recalled from years past that authors Mary Hershey and Robin LaFevers  had a fabulous blog about marketing for introverts, Shrinking Violets Promotions. I admire these two generous ladies for their writing but also because their blog is loaded with all kinds of great ideas. Because I’m an introvert, their blog speaks to me and provides me with some great advice.

Second, I came across an article on Author Unlimited called “50 Ways to Promote Your Book.” It also has many ideas (50 + more! For both adult and children’s market authors). This helped stop my brain from swirling and got it focused on some real action—things I could implement!

dessert

Third, and best of all (because like a fabulous dessert, I save the best for last), I did some research and have initiated a conversation with Curious City,  a children’s book marketing agency. Kirsten Cappy is the heart of Curious City and a promotional dynamo. One of the things that appeals to me is that Kirsten can tailor-make a marketing plan that meets the needs of the individual author. So, for someone like me (remember, I’m an introvert!), this is very, very appealing. Just like a fabulous dessert (except Kirsten doesn’t make my mouth water!).

So, if you’re in that place where you’re starting to think about book promotion (post-deal but prior-to-launch), give these sites a look. I hope they help you on your own promotional journey!

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PierceHeadshotUCLA (2)About Terry Pierce…

Terry writes picture books, easy readers and board books and is whittling away at a middle-grade adventure novel. She lives in the California desert but avoids the summer heat by retreating to Mammoth Lakes every summer to hike, bike, write and dip her head in high mountain sky. She’s a Vermont College of Fine Arts graduate and teaches online children’s writing courses for UCLA Extension (go Bruins!).

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Book Promotion, Panic, Promotion

When We Were Twelve—EMUs’ Advice To Their Younger Selves

All this week on the blog we’ve celebrated the launch of Elly Swartz’s debut middle grade novel, FINDING PERFECT.

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FINDING PERFECT’s sweet, sensitive main character, twelve-year-old Molly, wishes her life was perfect, but family and school problems keep her in turmoil. She attempts to counteract these upsets with comforting rituals, only to find that these same rituals, bit by bit, begin to control her. As her anxiety escalates, it becomes clear that Molly needs someone to advise her, to assure her she is capable of positive change, and to help her look forward to stronger, better days.

Perhaps the best person to guide Molly would be her older, wiser self. With the perspective that comes with years, an adult Molly would know how to be supportive while encouraging growth. With this in mind, I asked the EMUs what advice they would give their twelve-year-old selves.

We’ll start with the author.  Elly’s advice to Elly Junior? “Be brave. Be kind. Be curious. And always stay true to who you are.”

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Isn’t Elly Junior adorable? See the light of creativity and compassion in her eyes? Bet this kid will grow up to be a writer or something.

The Debbi Michiko Florence of today advises her younger self, “Don’t worry so much about following trends like Farrah Fawcett feathered hair – really, it doesn’t work on Japanese stick-straight hair.”

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(I admire you, Debbi, for even trying. While my sister expertly wielded her round brush and can of AquaNet every morning, I slept in.)

Debbi goes on to recall a relatable tween dilemma with all its requisite drama. She asks her younger self, “And that gold belt trend you just had to follow? Remember how you begged and pleaded with your mom to get you that gold belt and how you lost it the first day you wore it to school? And remember how you convinced the teacher to let you go look for it and then convinced your friend’s teacher to let her leave her class to help you look for it? And how you looked and looked and couldn’t find it and you were so afraid you were going to get in trouble and you were freaking out? Then upi found it. The belt had slipped under your shirt and you were still wearing it! Don’t sweat the small stuff ! Or even what you think is the “big stuff.”

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I don’t have a picture of Debbi  back then, but I know she was much, much cuter than a sleepy desktop ducking.

PierceHeadshotUCLA (2)little-terry

Like the seasoned picture book writer she is, Terry Pierce is superbly succinct. She advises young Terry to, “believe in yourself, be courageous and strong. Stand up for yourself if someone wrongs you. Don’t let others define you. You’re bright, a hard worker, and have a kind heart, and that will take you far in life.”

IMG_2512 - WEBJason Gallaher gives his former self a real pep talk, exhorting him, “to not stress out so much about how things are going to turn out in life. Everything is going to be just fine, so sit back and enjoy the ride.

Right now, dear 12 year-old, you’re quirky, a bit gangly, and your suspicions about liking boys are correct. But don’t worry about that because everything turns out better than fine.Keep focusing on your dreams because they will come true. And I know you’re going to roll your eyes and say, “Everybody says that.” But I’m not just saying this like your teachers or guidance counselors say it. I’m saying it knowing this for a fact about you, about us.

Every dream you have comes true: You move to a big city, your quirky talents get appreciation from people in a legitimate industry (publishing, in case you’re wondering), you *finally* get past that horrible middle stage when you grow out your hair and find out what it feels like to have long locks (You’re robsessed with it. Also, when Robert Pattinson becomes a thing you’ll understand the term “robsessed”), and you find love.

So keep trucking along. Love yourself, which I know will be a struggle, but in times when you feel down, know that even now, nearly two decades later, I love you and wouldn’t have made it here if not for you.

Sadly, Jason didn’t provide a tweenage picture of himself, so I’ll just leave this here.

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Oh, and this:

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Only one more, I promise.

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Darcey Rosenblatt says, “I would tell myself there will come a time when you truly treasure all the things that make you weird and different than the normal kids – really – trust me.”

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Spoken like a true environmental planner/scuba diver/mother/artist/story farmer/hiker/conference founder/wife/costume-maker/ soon-to-be published author, Darcey. You put the actual in self-actualized!

EMU Elaine Vickers advises her young self to value friendships, saying, “There are great things ahead, 12-year-old Elaine! You will soon outgrow this hairstyle and this shirt. But the friends you make this year will stay with you. You’ll laugh and grow and travel together. One will sing at your wedding, another will help deliver your babies. And one day, they will take you out to dinner the night before your first book launches. Hang on to these friends.”

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Stay true to yourself. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Stand up for yourself and be kind. Love yourself. Treasure what makes you different. Hang on to good friends.

Good advice for FINDING PERFECT’S Molly and everyone else. Congratulations and thank you, Elly!!!

Enjoy the day,

Hayley

 

Curriculum Guide for FINDING PERFECT:

http://images.macmillan.com/folio-assets/teachers-guides/9780374303129TG.pdf

A Teacher’s Guide For FINDING PERFECT

images.macmillan.com

A Teacher’s Guide For FINDING PERFECT About the Book To twelve-year-old Molly Nathans, perfect is: • The number four • The tip of a newly sharpened No. 2 pencil

To purchase Finding Perfect:

http://amzn.com/0374303126

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780374303129

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/finding-perfect-elly-swartz/1122889663?ean=9780374303129


hayley-at-12Hayley's Author Photo

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Filed under Advice, Anxiety, Book Launch, Character Development, Characters, Inspiration, Launch, Panic, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

Going with the Flow

I’m going to steal borrow Hayley’s wonderful idea and start my introduction with an embarrassing confession too. Mine is: I love flowcharts. I love knowing where I am and what I have to do to get to where I want to go. Those little arrows pointing the way to the next step always give me a little thrill. You’re probably wondering, “Control freak much?” To which I reply, “Does it show?”

 

2011-07-18-How-to-decide-if-you-need-a-flowchart1

When I received an email in December 2014 from an editor at Albert Whitman that thanked me for submitting my picture book manuscript, THE NIAN MONSTER, and asked if it was still available, I was stunned. I had submitted to the general address eighteen months prior and assumed that I’d been rejected (in the vein of “no response means it’s a no.”) I didn’t have a diagram for what to do in this situation. What was the next step? I was fairly certain that I should reply, but what should I say, short of begging her to buy my book? In my mind, I had taken the path from “Write a Book” to “Get Professional Critiques” to “Revise Manuscript” (a loop I repeated for a long time), with occasional forays to “Submit to Editors.” At the decision diamond that asked, “Submit to Agents?” I had followed the “No” arrow. At the time, I’d believed that a rejection from an agent was final and I didn’t want to “use up” my chances until I’d also completed my MG novel. Now here I was, agentless and stuck at the rectangle that said, “Get Plucked out of Slush Pile after 18 Months.”

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Once I stopped hyperventilating, I sought advice on what my next step should be. I contacted friends, critique partners, my MFA mentors, anyone who had more of a clue than I did. They were evenly divided on whether I should try to sign with an agent or not. An agent wasn’t necessary for a first picture book, several said. Others thought having editor interest was an excellent opportunity to land an agent. I had ended up back at the “Submit to Agents?” decision and both “Yes” and “No” options carried equal weight.

At the same time, I replied to Kristin Zelazko, the editor who had emailed me. “Yes, it’s available,” I wrote. “Thanks for your interest.” I groaned as soon as I hit send. After two days of religiously following the “Should I Check My Email?” flowchart, I wrote a longer, babbling email to Kristin. It was as equally cringe-worthy as the first, terse email. I was clearly out of my depth. Having an agent now felt essential. I followed the “Yes” arrow and sent out queries to half a dozen agents, including Erin Murphy, to whom a dear friend had referred me. In the month that followed, Erin offered me representation and negotiated the offer from Kristin. I was so overwhelmed with excitement, gratitude, and disbelief that I stayed on the “Gesticulate Wildly” step for a long time.

howdoiexcited

In THE NIAN MONSTER, a clever girl named Xingling tries to outwit the ravenous Nian monster with her culinary savvy. She doesn’t have a flowchart to follow and yet she perseveres. I didn’t follow the traditional path to publication – I got “the call” when I was least expecting it and before I had an agent. And yet, everything worked out, better than I could have hoped. Although I know that this is not the end of my chart – that there is a long arrow winding its way from the “Book Launch!” step all the way back up to “Write a (New) Book” – and I’ll probably still send lots of cringe-worthy emails, next time I’ll put aside the flowcharts more often and just go with the flow.


 

Andrea WangAndrea Wang’s debut picture book, The Nian Monster, is a Chinese New Year folktale retelling set in modern-day Shanghai. The Nian Monster will be published on December 1, 2016. She has also written seven nonfiction books for the educational market.

Andrea spent most of her first grade year reading under the teacher’s desk, barricaded by tall stacks of books. At home, she dragged books, chocolate chips, and the cat into her closet to read. Not much has changed since then, except now she reads and writes sitting in a comfy chair in a sunny room. With a lock on the door. Before becoming a writer, Andrea was an environmental consultant, helping to clean up hazardous waste sites. She lives in a wooded suburb of Boston with her very understanding husband, two inspiring sons, and a plump dumpling of a rescue dog.

You can find Andrea online at http://www.andreaywang.com and on Twitter under @AndreaYWang. What’s the “Y” stand for? Take a guess!

 

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Filed under Anxiety, Dreams Come True, Introduction, Panic, Picture books, Thankfulness, The Call

Quit the Chicken Job, You Must

KFC BucketWhen I was 16 I got my first job with my first real paycheck, working at Kentucky Fried Chicken. I only lasted for five months. It wasn’t the low pay or the terrible hours that drove me to quit, or even the fact that I came home every night smelling like poultry.

It was the sensory overload that did me in.

More than once, when a line of hungry, impatient people snaked all the way out the door, I ended up in the back room, crying and flustered. It was just too much. Looking back, I realize I took the job way too seriously. I wanted everyone to be happy, wanted to do a good job. But it was just chicken. I wish I could go back and give 16-year-old me a hug and tell her that: “Girl, it’s just chicken.” I’d still encourage her to quit, though. To have enough confidence in herself and her skills to go find something better. Calmer. More in line with her interests and talents.

Fast forward twenty-something years, and I’m actually doing what I love! The book debut looms just three short months away. And I’m back in panic mode. Am I establishing an online presence? Am I doing enough to prepare, to network, to suddenly become outgoing and eloquent? Will any of it make any difference in the long run? It’s that queue of impatient customers all over again, all clamoring for their bucket of chicken.

I’m the first to admit that social media often sends me into a spiral of anxiety. I’m not witty or interesting or invested enough to keep up. Some days I try. Many days I don’t. Sometimes just having unanswered email feels like an unbearable source of noise and clutter. It can even dictate whether or not I have a productive writing day. I’ve read lots of articles about how much authors should be doing to promote themselves online.  They range from do everything to do only the things you feel comfortable with. Our very own Megan Morrison wrote a wonderful, sensible post along those lines here.

YodaBut what about the days when I DON’T FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH ANY OF IT?!

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say: that’s okay too.

You might be familiar with Yoda’s famous line from The Empire Strikes Back: “Do, or do not. There is no try.” An inspiring quote for most any situation, right? But at the risk of alienating my fellow Star Wars fans, I’d like to propose an alternate philosophy when it comes to book promotion and social media: “Do, or do not. Or try, if you want. But if it stresses you out, or interferes with your writing, then don’t worry about it.

I will say that I’m starting to get the hang of Twitter. I think I’ve been signed up for almost two years now. Needless to say, it’s very, very, verrrrrry slooooow going for me. But that’s the pace I’m comfortable with, and I have noticed my brain gradually absorbing bits and pieces—enough to keep me from giving up. So I will continue to try.

I totally think Yoda would get on board with that.

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ChristineHayesauthorpicChristine Hayes writes spooky stories for middle grade readers. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, is due out June 16, 2015 with Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter: @christinenhayes.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, Book Promotion, Panic, Promotion, Social Media, Time Management, Writing, Writing and Life

The Despair-Free Guide to Planning Your Book Launch

So you’ve written a book, and the launch of your darling debut approacheth with increasing speed. Congratulations! And welcome to hell.

If you’re like me, you innocently went searching for helpful self-marketing checklists and guides that might assist you in preparing for the big day. And then you skimmed through those checklists and choked. I’m supposed to do what now? In how long? With whose cash and time and energy? After that, you sent off a panicky, tearful e-mail to your friend and fellow author Laurie Thompson, who herself recently launched her own spectacular debut, and who promptly met you at Panera for a three-hour, no-frills, no-lies marketing session.

I’m going to pass along the fruits of our conversation, because in three hours, Laurie turned me from a hyperventilating asylum candidate into a serene debut author with a reasonable to-do list. And maybe you, like me, are mortal and get tired. Maybe you have another career. Maybe you have kids. Maybe marketing your book cannot be your full-time, or even your part-time job. And maybe the idea of going into the world and promoting yourself makes you want to die a little. So maybe you need a little soothing, a la Laurie. Here it is.

Prepare – But Don’t Despair.

You don’t have to do everything.

You don’t even have to sell your book. To anyone. As an author, your job is to write a book. Once the book is released, your job is to write another one. Your secondary job is to raise visibility, which means letting people know your book exists. You’re probably already doing that in lots and lots of ways.

When you see a list of things you could be doing, think of them as exactly that. Things you could be doing. Not things you should be doing. Pick out the ones that make sense to you and that you feel capable of tackling. Do those.

Laurie and I went through her super-maxi-extreme-ultra checklist of doom, and together we identified some things that I want to keep on my personal, sane-person list, such as:

  • Create the story around your book – your one-or-two-sentence Why – and be ready to share it. This isn’t an elevator pitch; it’s an answer to the question “Why did you write this?” or “What was your inspiration for this book?” or “What does this book mean to you?” It’s the story behind your story, and it will provide your publisher’s publicity department, as well as librarians, teachers, and booksellers, with a handy hook for generating interest in your book.
  • Make postcards and bookmarks, because they’re useful for all sorts of things. Send them to stores and libraries, or drop some off at local places. (Honestly, the mailing-list thing? I dread it. Researching to build the lists and finding the time to write hundreds of notes and print labels and apply postage… That’s all extremely daunting to me, so it’s one of those things that I’m going to do as I can, when I can. A few notes a week. I’ll target the stores I care about, and the libraries within driving distance that I might actually be able to visit.) Remember, once your book is out, it’ll be out for a while. Not everyone has to buy it on the actual launch date.
  • Make some fun swag for giveaways and launch events, if you’re doing those things. People like free stuff. Keep it cheap and thematic. Tap into your circle of talented friends and family. My brother knows how to make chainmail, so he’s creating some really neat giveaway bookmarks for me. People also like food, so cupcakes will make them happy, but swag is nice because it might rattle around in a purse or a coat pocket for a while and remind people of you.
  • Do you have an online presence? Good for you. Social media can be overwhelming, but again, you don’t have to do everything. Pick one or two things and manage them as you will. Maybe a blog and a Twitter feed. Maybe a Facebook page and your web site. Maybe just one of those things. Update at your own speed. Yes, it’s fun to be able to find authors online and see cool new fresh content on their super nifty pages, but you know what? An author’s lack of (or lackluster) media presence has never yet stopped me from buying a book I’ve heard great things about.
  • Shake your trees. Even if they are small trees and seem insignificant and not terribly fruity, go ahead and give them a shake. Your experiences and connections matter. Make a list of anyone in your life, past or present, who might support you (e.g. send a postcard to the current librarian of your old elementary school and tell them Hi, I used to go there, and I would be so thrilled to think of my book sitting on the very same shelves where I used to hide from all the other kids and cry my way through recess… Or maybe don’t do that, because that’s oversharing).
  • Make a little press kit that’s easy to give people. Quick and dirty. Your bio, your book synopsis, your contact info (and your agent’s). Get fancy with it, if you want. Or don’t.
  • Do the things you’re good at, in which you can take pleasure, and in which your genuine joy and excitement about your book will shine through. People don’t like pushy, saccharine nonsense; but they will like you. So do what’s authentic for you. I personally love using iMovie, so I had fun making my book trailer. And I love my students, so my “launch party” will actually be a library event, held within walking distance of my school, so that all my kids (who are middle-schoolers and can’t drive) can be there.

And then, once you’ve figured out the few things that matter most to you, let the rest of it go.

Now, it’s true that most publishers do expect varying amounts of self-promotion from their authors, so certain responsibilities may be handed to you, and as a professional, you’ll have to sort that out. Stuff will come up that you need to do. Stuff will fall into your lap that you ought to try to say yes to, for the sake of visibility. And some stuff – maybe even some really neat-o stuff – will come your way, if your book gets a lick of positive attention from the right source, so have your ducks in a row. All I’m saying is that if you don’t suddenly transform into a highly experienced publicist and throw over the rest of your life in order to haunt Twitter for the next six months, that’s okay.

Because you know what? The bottom line here – and it’s not exactly cheerful, but I think it’s freeing – is this: No matter how hard you throw yourself at self-marketing and promotion, it’s very hard to tell which of the checklist items will actually translate into sales. Even if you do ALL THE THINGS, you should prepare yourself for the fact that, after your launch, there may be very little fanfare. Just do what feels right. Do what you can. And make sure to enjoy it, because this is your baby, and you earned this joy. Don’t let some well-meant but soul-sucking checklist take this moment away from you.

Finally, remember that while the launch date feels enormous, it’s actually only a big deal to you and your loved ones. It’s a big splash followed by a long, leisurely, less attention-getting swim. Books take a long time to grow into their full, true readership, and that part can’t be forced (if it could, then every giant advance that a publisher gambles on would turn out to be a bestseller success). Your authentic audience will build organically over a long period of time as readers pass your book from hand to hand and give it the ultimate praise: “You have to read this.”

And then maybe, just maybe, they’ll search for you on Twitter. And maybe, if you feel like it, you’ll be there waiting.

 

This post was made possible by the gifted and generous Laurie Thompson.

 

HiRes_Morrison_6861_cropMegan Morrison is the author of GROUNDED: A TALE OF RAPUNZEL, due out April 28, 2015 from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. GROUNDED is the first book in the Tyme Series, co-created with Ruth Virkus. You can follow Megan on her blog at makingtyme.blogspot.com or on Twitter at @megtyme. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

 

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Filed under Advice, Anti-Advice, Book Promotion, Launch, Panic, Promotion, Time Management

No’s Job, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Rejection

     “Dear Author,
Thank you for your recent submission to XYZ Publishing Company. I regret to inform you that …”

Does this letter look familiar to you? If you’ve ever tried to submit a manuscript for publication, chances are you’ve gotten a response similar to this at some time in your writing career. I remember the first one I ever got. I was in college, and my professor had suggested that I submit the dummy that I had done for his literature class to his publisher. Finally- FINALLY- I would be a published author! And at such a young age!

I sent it in. I waited. After a week, every time I went to the mailbox I was sure that this would be the day I would get my SASE back with a contract in the mail. I began to think about changing my major from teaching to writing.

After a few more days (okay, six months), my SASE came back! I pulled out my manuscript dummy and… a tiny postcard that began, “Dear Author…” I was crushed. I cried. I sent it out again in a massive simultaneous submission to every publisher that did picture books.
I got a massive simultaneous rejection.

But I kept writing. I kept learning. I joined SCBWI. I went to conferences, joined a critique group, and took classes. I kept submitting, but I submitted smarter. (Turns out that some publishers only publish certain kinds of books! Who knew?)

I got a LOT more rejection letters.

But. While each rejection letter still felt like, well, a rejection, I noticed that after a while they changed. I was getting some letters that began, “Dear Ms. Van Slyke.” There would be a reference to my actual manuscript, like they had read it. And sometimes the editor would tell me why it wasn’t a good fit for them.

I started to look for an agent. And- oh, goody!- NEW rejection letters came pouring in!
I eventually did get an agent. Unfortunately, it was, shall we say, not a happy match. The rejection letters stopped coming to me. But, as I later learned, that was most likely because no manuscripts were going out. I came to the decision that an unproductive agent was worse than no agent, so we parted ways.

Fortunately, I did get another agent, and manuscripts began going out again. As proof, I started getting rejection letters again. By this time, though, either because my writing had improved or (more likely) my agent was matching them more closely to the right editor, the rejections were very specific. And they started coming with offers to look at more of my writing, or even to look at a manuscript again after a few changes.

Now, after a few sales, I’m still getting rejection letters. LOTS of rejection letters. But I look at them differently now. Instead of focusing on the “No,” I look for themes. Does a manuscript get rejected because it’s weak or because the publisher already has a pirate book on their list? Do I see several of the same comments on the same manuscript? Perhaps it’s time to try another revision based on that feedback.

Most of all, though, rejection letters mean that I’m doing my job: writing. Submitting. Revising. Submitting again. Writing new manuscripts.

Because sometimes instead of a no, there will be a “Yes.”

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Filed under Advice, Agents, Anxiety, Editing and Revising, Editor, Education, Panic, Patience, Publishers and Editors, Rejection, rejection and success, Uncategorized

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.

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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.

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

Not-So-Deadly Deadlines

I love deadlines. Usually.

“Ummm… that’s due TOMORROW??”

I have a confession. I’m a terrible procrastinator. (Well, actually I’m a fabulous procrastinator. Ask my husband. “Have you made those reservations yet?” he will ask me. *Gulp…)

In fact, as I write this, I have deadlines for three projects. All due tomorrow.

*Deep breath* I can do this.

A few years ago I decided the time had come to finally get my master’s degree. After considering many options, I decided to do a crazy thing. I would take a leap of faith and apply for Vermont College’s master’s program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Not only would I be adding a suggested 25 hours of reading and writing per week on top of teaching full time and being a wife and mom, I would need to complete 20 packets of work during the two-year program, including new manuscripts every month.

Where was I going to get ideas for 20 packets worth of new stories?? Oh, if I were working on a novel, maybe. I could add a few new chapters a month. But I write picture books. That’s two to six new story ideas every month.

The first month was covered. I had a few manuscripts saved up that I could pull out and submit. (It was a good thing, too, as we ended up moving that first month to a new house after living 17 years on our farm.)

Then came the second month. Again, I had a few stories I could dust off, plus a brand new idea or two. The third month rolled around, and once more I had new ideas. Every time I would come down to a due date, the ideas were there. Every time I hit “Send” I was sure that the idea well was now dry. Yet the next month would come, and with it came more ideas.

How was this working? Did panic get the creative juices flowing? Did I have a cooperative muse? Was it the power of prayer?

Panic and prayer notwithstanding, I think the secret lies in having a deadline. Deadlines help me organize my priorities. I am the WORST in the summer when I don’t have to show up for work. Somehow, the morning slips by without anything getting done. But if I have a deadline, it bumps laundry, weeding, and checking my email to a lower place on my “To Do” list, and I actually end up with something to show for my time.

Deadlines make me accountable to someone besides myself who will be expecting results. Not just any results, but my best work. When I am accountable to a critique partner, my agent or an editor, I don’t want to disappoint them. They are expecting something good to land in their inbox, and I don’t want them to see shoddy work, or worse yet, an empty inbox.

Finally, regular deadlines make me develop the habit of writing. And while practice may never make me a perfect writer, it certainly helps me improve my craft. I know that unless I actually show up to do the work, any creative juices, chance muses or divine interventions will pass me by.

So if you’re facing a revision, in need of some inspiration, or working on a new story, having a deadline just might be a lifeline.

Congratulations to Melanie Fishbane, winner of a copy of Adi Rule’s STRANGE SWEET SONG!

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Filed under Advice, Anxiety, craft~writing, Deadlines, Deadlines, Education, Faith, Panic, Time Management, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing and Life

The Second Time Around the Second Time Around

Riffing off Tara Dairman’s piece, The Second Time Around, from a week ago in which she explored why the excitement factor of her second book paled in comparison to her first book, I’d like to explore the panic factor of the second book.

The first book I penned, BUNNIES!!!, was sold in a two-book deal to Katherine Tegan Books/HarperCollins a little over a year ago. It was, for all practical purposes, a finished manuscript needing very little editing. I had written it one day in December, 2012. It was inspired by a drawing I had done a couple months earlier and the story just came to me. Seriously. It was that easy. I hate when people talk about banging out a story in a day, an hour, twenty minutes. It is usually people new to the industry and with no clue of what it takes to write a picture book. It seems disingenuous and sounds both dismissive and braggartly at the same time.  I don’t know if it was a rare alignment of the stars, or if I had brushed up against some strange talisman in an antique store, or if it was just dumb luck, but if I spent more than two hours writing and rough-dummying the book I’d be surprised. My critique pals all agreed that with a couple minor tweaks, it was ready for submission. My amazing agent sold it in no time in the afore mentioned two-book deal. I spent most of the rest of last year doing the illustrations and probably prematurely resting on my big fat laurels.

The manuscript for book number two is due at the end of this month. And I’m in second book panic mode. It will feature the same characters from BUNNIES!!! I’ve been working on it pretty regularly since the first of the year with what I thought were some pretty good ideas. They have morphed from one storyline to another to another to another. And I still don’t have it nailed down. I’m close, I think, but not as close as my critique pals suggest after last night’s  meeting. Agh. They are right, of course, the story is almost there, but it is lacking the particular style and delivery of book one. So I am up at 4:15 this morning, unable to sleep and panicking once more about this book. The first one was so damn easy! Why is this one so damn hard? Why doesn’t it just come to me?  When I wrote my dear, sweet editor in a panic late one night last week, she told me to take a break from thinking about it, it needs to simmer. Go see a movie! Relax! She also suggested that maybe this second book does not have to be about the same characters, maybe it could be something else – take a break from them and come back to them later. She was making it so easy for me. And it worked. For a while. I started thinking about other manuscripts I had that I could tidy up and send to her, other new ideas that I haven’t fleshed out. After considering this for a while, I decided that I love the characters in my first book and need to give them one more shot before I temporarily shelve them. So, panicked or not, (panicked) I am back in the land of BUNNIES!!! I will put on my thinking ears and channel the panic into something brilliant. No, really, I have 25 days. Maybe when it is done and it is accepted, the rest of the process of book number two will be the calm that Tara alluded to.

thinkingEars

by kevan atteberry

http://kevanatteberry.com

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Filed under Anxiety, Colleagues, Creativity, Editing and Revising, Editor, Panic, Writing

The good, the bad, and the crazy-making

I’ve had quite a few surprises over the last couple of weeks:

  • I got the full-on dreadful flu, despite having gotten my flu shot, and lost a week of my life. (blech)
  • I still managed to finish the final author query round for BE A CHANGEMAKER. (okay, I was a teensy bit late, but they forgave me—see above bullet.)
  • Even though I’ve read the manuscript countless times, of course, I actually enjoyed going through it yet again! Most of the other read-throughs have been piecemeal and focused on particular areas, but this one was straight through, cover to cover. Plus, I’ve had some time away from it. I was worried that I’d hate it by now. I’m happy to report that I really like it, even more than before.
  • I found out I get to present at YALSA’s YA Lit Symposium in November with some of my favorite authors like Cynthia Levinson, Kelly Milner Halls, and Bruce Coville.
  • I got to see the jacket design for the hardcover version of BE A CHANGEMAKER for the first time.
  • I got to see the latest layout and illustration roughs for MY DOG IS THE BEST. I’m here to tell you, illustrator Paul Schmid is the best! (can’t wait to show you)
  • I found out BE A CHANGEMAKER is already available for pre-order on Amazon.com, and it showed up on Goodreads, too, where people (both friends and strangers) have already added it to their to-read shelves! (eek)
  • I noticed that someone who hasn’t even read the book yet (it’s on to-read shelf) already gave it a 2-star review on Goodreads. (what?)
  • A friend and fellow author whom I respect told me she downloaded the ARC of BE A CHANGEMAKER from NetGalley. (gulp)
  • I was introduced to the marketing department at my publisher so we can start working on promotion plans, including where to send ARCs.
  • I got permission to share the cover for BE A CHANGEMAKER…

BE A CHANGEMAKER cover

As you can see, these are mostly all wonderful, amazing, exciting surprises! I’m thrilled, ecstatic even, but also… TERRIFIED! This is the weirdest feeling in the world. Half of me is jumping around shouting at the top of my lungs, “I WANT EVERYONE TO READ MY BOOK!” while the other half is cowering in a corner, wide-eyed, whispering, “What if someone reads my book?” Elation and gut-wrenching fear, all wrapped up together in the same moment.

We write books to be read, of course, but they’re so personal, so revealing, that at the same time it seems ridiculous to share this precious creation of ours with perfect strangers. It’s not even necessarily whether they’ll like it or not. It’s just the vulnerability and “out-there-ness” of it. There are no take-backs, you know? And it’s like a piece of me. I’m a pretty modest, private person generally, and soon I’ll be baring my soul to the universe. Yowzers.

Of course, there is the whole review thing, too. What if people don’t get it? (Some won’t.) Worse, what if they hate it? (Some will.) Even worse than that, what if they hate ME? (Some will.) And there will, of course, be people who do hate it (and me). But it would be worse if no one read it at all, or if readers didn’t have any reaction to it at all, right? Or would it? AHHHHH! It’s all enough to drive even the most stable author stark raving mad, I swear.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all just do something like this with the negativity?

And I sure hope Mark Tyler Nobleman keeps making his “Children’s Authors Read Online Reviews of Their Own Books” video series for us:

I know many authors who say they don’t read the reviews of their books at all. I don’t think I’m the kind of person who can do that. I hope I’m the kind of person who can shrug them off and let them go, both good and bad. After all, at the end of the day, I did what I could, and it is what it is. If it resonates with ANY readers at all–if a little piece of them connects to this little piece of me–then that will be good enough.

Won’t it?

I hope so.

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Filed under Anxiety, ARCs, Happiness, Panic, Writing and Life