Tag Archives: persistence

And They Persisted

As an aspiring author, getting to read the success stories of others – about what it’s like to get the out-of-the-blue (and life-changing) call from an agent or editor that says “yes” – was like candy. They gave me hope.

Except after years of reading those stories and believing success was right around the corner (only to find that it wasn’t), I started to need a different kind of story. I needed stories about persistence. So, to all of those who are persisting in the querying and submission trenches, this is for you.

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The first manuscript I wrote was cringe-worthy. It was short – just 28,000 words – but I had written it one-handed while my baby boy nursed, so it was pretty darn long considering. I wrote it having no idea whether I could write a novel and no idea how you actually publish one (like knowing an appropriate word count for a MG novel.) But it made me realize that I COULD write a novel. Of course, once I immersed myself in figuring out the process for getting published, it quickly became clear that this manuscript wasn’t going to cut it. I started writing manuscript #2.

Manuscript #2 had a snazzy title (SWIMMING WITH TCHAIKOVSKY – it makes you pause, right?) and a good concept. Out of the 100+ queries I sent to agents, I got 30 requests to read the full manuscript. But none of those requests turned into an offer. Looking back I can understand it more clearly now why: the main character was too passive, the plot was complex in certain ways, but too thin in others. I had more work to do as a writer.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t query Manuscript #3 too soon. This time, I would make sure the meat of the story was as good as its concept—an all-girl science club (Sciencetastic Supergirls) that basically has to save the world. Plus, by this point my time in the querying trenches meant I had developed wonderful friendships with other aspiring MG authors who had become invaluable critique partners. And this time, everything came together. To test the querying waters, I entered my first page one of Miss Snarks First Victim’s Secret Agent Contest (http://misssnarksfirstvictim.blogspot.com/) and not only did I love the agent’s feedback on each of the entries, and not only did she end up choosing mine as the winner and requested a full manuscript BUT she was Tricia Lawrence, an agent at the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. This was an agency

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I even have my very own Emu that sits prominently in our living room. Hence, the extra longing.

I had been pinning after since the beginning. A month later she wrote me an email that used the word “love” SEVERAL times. My growing son had been waiting for me to go for a walk in the woods when the e-mail came in. Then, he had to wait more and it started to rain. But then, I was ready and we ran together through the woods with the rain on our faces, and he didn’t quite get why his mama was screaming with happiness, but it sure made for a fun time.

The supergirl manuscript went on submission, and over the course of a year it got a request from an editor to revise and resubmit, but it didn’t end up leading to an offer. But in the meantime, I had learned from my previous manuscripts that the only way to stay sane when submitting work is to be starting something new. As my next manuscript (#4) took shape I could see that it was far bolder than anything I had written before. In part this came from the amazing, intangible benefit of having an agent who believed in me, and in part because in another area of my life I was becoming the leader of the gun violence prevention movement in Vermont, a role that was teaching me I was far stronger than I originally thought. I decided I want to stop submitting Manuscript #3 and focus instead on the new stories I was writing (Manuscript #5 was similar in that dove deep into issues people didn’t necessarily want to talk about – but needed to).

But…. neither of Manuscript #4 nor #5 found a home. Even though they both got very close to big deals – and I was on the edge of my seat, eating absurd amount of chocolate for months expecting to hear the good news any day and even showing up at social events holding a ROCK in one hand because I needed to squeeze something to keep myself from exploding—it didn’t happen.

Thankfully, before I hit that emotional roller-coaster, I found the space to start writing Manuscript #6. When I started it not only did I have an agent who believed in me, but I was fully convinced that I would have an editor by the time it was done. I was sure that this would be my second book and that it didn’t need any shiny jazz hands to grab someone’s attention. Instead, it could just be honest.

I bet you can see where this is going.

A year later I had spent a whole lot of time building up a protective wall around my emotions when it came to the submissions process. I had read the wise Tamara Ellis Smith’s words about longing and how to sit beside it rather than letting it consume you. But still, the best I could do at the time (if I wanted to keep my sanity intact) was to try to sit on top of it. When Tricia told me she was sending out this novel on sub, I had no reaction. Those were just words. The e-mails would go out. Rejection and silence would come back.

But then, a month later, I was driving home from a daylong board meeting (during which I hadn’t managed to find time to pee), late for school pick-ups, scrambling to find someone to pick up one of my kids, hightailing it to pick up the other, and oh-my-goodness did I have to pee. And then I saw out of the corner of my eye an e-mail come in on my phone. It was from Tricia and it had the words “offer” and “love.” Even now, my whole body goes numb just remembering it. I was like a zombie picking up my daughter from pre-school. I even ran into a friend who is an aspiring author himself, and when he asked me if I was okay (because I must have look like someone died), I told him that I really needed to pee. And then cautiously I told him about the e-mail. He, in turn, cautiously said (still looking my somebody-died-face), “But that sounds like a really good thing.” I swallowed. “It does, doesn’t it?”

It took me about a month and many conversations with my writer friends for it to sink in that this story rooted in simple honesty was going to become an actual book. THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS is about a 12-year old girl at the edge of poverty who has to find her voice. There are no bells and whistles. Instead, it is seeped in the realities of the class divide, the gun debate, and complex family relationships. It is about finding hope and pushing forward no matter how much the odds are stacked against you.

And isn’t that what we all need to do?

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Version 3

About Ann Braden

Ann Braden writes books about kids struggling to find their voice amidst the realities of life. She founded GunSenseVT, a grassroots group focused on championing the common ground on the issue of guns in Vermont, which successfully got gun violence prevention legislation passed. She also helped found the Local Love Brigade, which now has chapters all over the country sending love postcards to those who are facing hate. She is a former middle school social studies teacher. Ann’s debut novel The Benefits of Being an Octopus comes out in September 2018 from Sky Pony Press. The novel is a close, personal look at life on the edges of society, through the eyes of one girl just trying to find her way forward, recommended for fans of Jason Reynolds’ Ghost. You can connect with her at her website, on Facebook, on Twitter, or on Instagram.

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Filed under Inspiration, Patience, Persistance, Query Letters, Rejection, rejection and success, The Call

Revision—To Quit or To Quilt?

I’m going to give it to you straight.

Writing is challenging enough, but to revise a manuscript—to critically reconsider each element and rework it—takes next-level commitment. Everything matters, from the tiniest detail to a panoramic vision of the whole.

The word revise is of French origin and means, “to see again.” At some point in the creative process, your writing must be seen afresh, and no one can do that like you. You, after all, envisioned your idea and with the barest of materials—imagination, emotion, words—undertook to create something both beautiful and useful. Because of you, a unique manuscript came into the world, and at some point, you will strive to revise it. Your instincts about this prospect are correct, at least in part.

Correct:

-It will be demanding and will require a fresh outpouring of determination.

Incorrect:

-You can’t do it.

You can and moreover, you will. Why? Because you love and believe in your manuscript. Trust me, you wouldn’t have gotten this far if you didn’t. If you didn’t believe in your story and in your ability to tell it, then all the notebooks, colorful thumb drives, or even that pesky laptop would be mouldering in a drawer.

Like my single, sorry attempt at a quilt.

Sure, I bought the supplies. I had coordinating fabrics, the roll-y cutting blade thing, and the self-healing mat. I had templates, thread, and batting. I read the directions. I even had middling good intentions.

I barely got started. Turns out, my heart isn’t drawn to fabric and batting, and I can’t cut a triangle to save my life. I wasn’t committed and before long, I knew it. I put my quilt stuff in a drawer and moved on.

I deeply admire quilters. I’m dazzled by the skill and artistry required to make even a basic quilt. I appreciate quilting’s history, its regional and cultural variations, and its stitch-by stitch manifestation of mathematical understanding and applied color theory. Behold this gorgeous example:

Now that I’ve tried my hand at quilting, I esteem these creators and their profoundly beautiful, profoundly useful, something-from-nearly-nothing coverlets much more. Their commitment to each one is self-evident.

I admire writers too. Their next-level commitment to creating the profoundly beautiful and profoundly useful is self-evident. Which brings me back to revision.

I don’t care if your manuscript is a 15-word board book or a Game Of Thrones-esque monster, you’ve come this far and will persist. With the courage of your convictions, you’ll disassemble your writing as laboriously as you pieced it together. You’ll pull it apart at the seams, tease out the stitches, and cut where you must to shred what was whole into back bright scraps. You’ll re-see it. And then—here comes the magic—you’ll bring it back together. The final result will be soft and strong, colorful, useful, and durable. It will offer comfort and cheer, warmth and inspiration. Born of tireless work and loving patience, of an open mind and a more open heart, it will be a wonder.

And that’s the truth.

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A few picture books about quilting:

Patricia McKissack and Cozbi A. Cabrera’s STITCHIN’ and PULLIN’Stitchin and PullinGeorgia Guback’s LUKA’S QUILT.

Luka's Quilt

Ann Whitford Paul and Jeanette Winter’s EIGHT HANDS ROUND.

Quilt image credit: Soldier’s Quilt, Artist unidentified, Probably United States, Canada, or Great Britain, 1854–1890, Wool melton, 67 x 66 1/2 in. American Folk Art Museum


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. It will be illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming 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, craft~writing, Editing and Revising, Inspiration, Uncategorized, Writing

Resolutions, I’ve Had a Few

A newly hatched Emu here, wishing you all a happy new year! In Laurie’s last post, she asked, “Do any of you do any kind of year-end self-review or forward-looking career planning?”

I’ve always been a resolution maker. Since my teenage years, I have started each year with a list of goals for myself. The questions that frame my list are “Where do I want to be this time next year?” and “What steps can I take to get myself there?”

Looking over the past five years of resolutions, you might notice a trend with my professional goals. I’ll make some notes on whether or not I met my resolutions in each year.

2009:

  • Finish revision of Book Scavenger. Nope.
  • Find an agent. Nope.
  • Sell a book. Nope.

I refer to 2009 as The Year That Shall Not Be Named. It was a really bad year. It was the kind of year that tries to break you, and I’ll be honest, it did for a while. I got very little writing done that year, much less met any of my resolutions.

2010:

  • Finish revision of Book Scavenger. No.
  • Find an agent. No.
  • Sell a book. Hahahaha–no.

Although I didn’t accomplish any of my resolutions this year, I did get my writing mojo going again. Because of the scope of the revision I was undertaking–really re-writing the book when it came down to it–I could tell it was going to take me a while to get my story where I wanted it to be. This realization was a bitter pill to swallow, especially because there was a wonderful editor who had expressed enthusiasm for my book premise and writing four years prior.  Several writing friends encouraged me to send my current draft so I didn’t lose out on this editor’s interest. There were many good bits in that old draft, but it wasn’t working together as a whole, and what was on paper didn’t match what was in my head. I knew if I couldn’t execute my premise in a satisfying way, it wouldn’t matter how good the writing was. I stuck to my guns and kept plowing forward.

Summarizing my resolve like that makes it seem simpler than it was. That point in my writing journey was filled with frustration and self-doubt. To distract myself from that and give myself a positive outlet for engaging in the children’s literature community that I love so much, I began an interview series on my blog called “Creative Spaces”. Doing this was daunting, fun, inspirational, and in retrospect I think it played a crucial role in keeping me moving forward with my book and pursuing my dreams of being a children’s book author.

2011:

  • Finish revision of Book ScavengerYes!
  • Find an agent. No.
  • Sell a book. Yeah, no.

I finished my second draft in January, and man, did that feel great! I knew it still needed work and after getting feedback from critique partners I started on Draft 3.

And while I didn’t find an agent, I did receive a lovely surprise email from Ammi-Joan Paquette, who had visited my blog and was intrigued by the pitch line I’d posted about my novel: “The Westing Game meets Goonies at a slumber party thrown by Edgar Allen Poe.” I told her I was revising the novel but had a picture book manuscript that had been very nearly accepted for publication twice. Joan loved the picture book, but didn’t sign clients unless they had at least 2 or 3 picture book manuscripts ready to go. I had two others in pretty good shape and was going to send them to her, but had a picture book conference that weekend. I figured the picture books would be better after I received feedback on them at the conference, so I held off and in the meantime sent Joan the first 50 pages of Book Scavenger. After the conference, I was toiling away on the picture book revisions when Joan sent me an incredibly enthusiastic email about what she’d read of my novel. I scrapped my plans to revise the picture books and poured all my writing time back into Book Scavenger.

2012:

  • Finish revision of Book ScavengerYes!
  • Find an agent. Not yet.
  • Sell a book. Not even close.

I finished my third draft of Book Scavenger and sent it to Ammi-Joan Paquette. She loved it, but wanted me to cut it down from 75,000 words to 50,000.

2013:

  • Finish revision of Book ScavengerYes!
  • Find an agent. YES!
  • Sell a book. YES!!!

I finished my 4th draft of Book Scavenger, following Joan’s suggestions, and brought the final word count in around 50k. Joan loved what I did with the 4th draft and she signed me as her client this past March. I did another revision mainly focusing on the ending, and after ten years in the making, Book Scavenger finally went on submission in July. Not only did I sell Book Scavenger, but my publisher bought a sequel and a third stand-alone middle-grade mystery on proposal.

So as you can see, using the past five years as a guide, I fell flat on my face as far as accomplishing resolutions were concerned about 90% of the time. But I don’t consider them failures. Why? Because I continued to move forward and I continued to try. That’s what makes the difference between a resolution and wishful thinking. I can resolve to lose twenty pounds but not change anything about the way I eat or exercise. As long as I take steps forward, whether they are drastic (cut out sugar and join an exercise boot camp) or subtle (resolve to eat one healthy meal a week and go on more walks), I’m proactively changing the trajectory of my arc.

This year when I sat down to make my list as usual, a funny thing happened. I drew a big, fat blank. At first I worried that something was wrong with my goal-oriented sensibilities. But then I realized that 2013 had rushed by in a blur of life-altering, goal-achieving moments. Not just professionally but personally too. My husband and I bought our first home together and we celebrated our son’s first birthday. Like my writing goals, those were long sought after aspirations, and I’m not ready to move on to the next thing yet. I want to sit and savor where I’m at, what I’ve accomplished.

So my resolution for 2014 is to enjoy the moment. This time next year, my son will be a chatterbox and I’ll be thinking about things like preschool and T-ball. This time next year, our house will be a home–more lived in, more unpacked, more of our life and personality stamped onto every room. This time next year, my edits for Book Scavenger will be done. I’ll have completed a draft for my second book–possibly even a revision. I’ll have a game plan in motion for the Book Scavenger sequel. Holy cow, I’ll be preparing for the launch of my debut novel!

Everything I am experiencing right now is fleeting and once-in-a-lifetime. My son will only be 20-months-old once. This house will only be new and a blank slate once. I will only be in the post-book deal/pre-published author limbo once. Instead of focusing on what else I hope to accomplish and where I want to go next, in 2014 I want to embrace what is happening right now. Appreciate what fills my life right now.

It occurs to me that this is true of all moments in time. Every moment we are living is fleeting, whether it’s good, bad, or somewhere in between. Everything is temporary and it all goes by so fast in retrospect. It would probably be wise of me to keep this resolution for all years to come and combine it with my forward-looking goal-oriented approach. Dream big and make plans to move toward them, but appreciate the journey along the way.

But that’s for next year. For 2014: Savor the moment.

 

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Jennifer Bertman is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade mystery, The Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). The 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.

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Filed under Uncategorized

This Woman Is So Neurotic, You Won’t BELIEVE What She’ll Do to Avoid Revisions

Sorry for the silly title. I read an article this week about the people who write those dramatic headlines for Upworthy. The drama taking place in my head right now seemed to warrant a sensational title of its own.

As you may have guessed, I received the revision notes for MOTHMAN not long ago. There’s a lot to fix, but that’s not what’s tripping me up. I’ve revised projects before. Many times. Many, many times. The difference this time is that the project is under contract. Someone actually plans to give me money for this. Every change I make feels live-or-die important. I fret that each page will be scrutinized, criticized, analyzed–not just by my editor but by eventual, real-life readers. It feels so real this time, because it is.

ruler

Striking fear into knuckles everywhere.

Let me first reassure my kind, patient editor if she happens to be reading that I’m making progress (no, really!). But never have I so badly needed my own personal schoolmarm to rap my knuckles with a ruler when I stray off task. Or avoid being on task in the first place. I suddenly discover urgent errands to run, closets to reorganize, correspondence to catch up on. I’m simultaneously frustrated by and grateful for interruptions. I tear apart and rebuild the same sentence ten times, then convince myself it was better before I messed with it.

Is there a name for this crippling revision syndrome? For those of you who’ve conquered it, what’s your secret? Fear of failure is an excellent motivator, so I’ll tuck that away and call it Plan B if nothing else proves helpful. But I’d rather learn to work through this like a healthy, teachable human being. Because every once in a while, I’ll polish up a sentence and pat it on the head and send it on back to the paragraph its shares with its brothers and sisters, and lo and behold: it’s pretty good! That’s a great moment. I can actually feel myself grow as a writer, with the proof right there on the page. At least until I read through it again the next day and realize how terrible it is.

MountainPic

Photo by Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee

Maybe the key is simple persistence. Stubbornness. Refusal to yield. Like every other step in the publishing process. We claw our way up the mountain until we reach the next peak. We take a moment to celebrate and shout words of encouragement to the people still climbing. And we hum, loudly and rather off-key, pretending not to see that next impossible peak stretching ahead into the clouds.

In other news: Congratulations to Amie Norris, winner of FAIR COIN by E.C. Myers, from Tara Dairman’s book giveaway in last week’s post. Yay, Amie!!!

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May Arboretum 027Christine Hayes writes spooky stories for middle grade readers. Her debut novel, THE MOTHMAN’S CURSE, is due out spring 2015 by Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

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