Friday, May 27, 2016

Dare Mighty Things: Guest Post by Heather Kaczynski

  Recently, author Heather Kaczynski announced a deal with HarperTeen for her YA sci-fi duology, the first book, Dare Mighty Things, slated for release in Fall 2017. I'm always thrilled to hear of good news in the publishing world, and when I realized DMT was about a brilliant Indian girl who competes in the last astronaut slot for an experimental mission to space, I knew I had to read the book. Goodreads calls it "Contact meets The Selection". But I read it (muwhaha to all those who must wait another 16 months) and I say it's Contact meets brilliant teens in a Divergent style bootcamp set at NASA. YASS. Action, brains, deadly competition, heart, and a twist at the end. Also, I like that this book is clean and isn't fraught with brooding love. This character has some serious ambition! I mean, space! You guys! SPACE!

  Heather and I instantly bonded over our geeked out love for NASA. Since PitchWars is coming up this summer, and I'm a PitchWars mentor, I asked Heather to guest blog about her experience in publishing. We all have different journeys, some hard and resilient, others quick and enviable. Whatever the case, never stop, never give up. Because this can happen with just...one...more...try:

Heather:

  It was around January last year when I was thinking of giving up. I'd been querying off and on for about two years. I'd gotten close a few times, but nothing had panned out. Now I had a newborn baby who had so completely taken over my life that it seemed nothing else could fit into it. I hadn't written in months. Nor had I slept. I was so very, very tired. Writing seemed like a silly dream I'd once had, but now it was time to grow up and move on with life.

  But this is why writing friends are so important. Without my writing friends, who had read and believed in my book and who had patiently waited out my three months of near-radio silence during the early weeks of my child's life, who were urging me to get back into the game, I would have given up.

  One of these friends encouraged me to send out one more query. Just one more. To an agent who I'd always admired, but who was so far out of my league I had never even considered querying. It was just inconceivable to me that I had any chance at all.
  But I sent one anyway.

  Somehow, that query eventually led to an email from Kristin Nelson. And then another. And then one where she told me she had finished my book, loved it, and wanted to call me as soon as she got back home from traveling abroad. 

  So that's how I ended up sitting in my car, parked in my driveway (leaving my husband inside to take care of the baby) listening to Kristin Nelson tell me how much she loved my book. It was and remains one of the most surreal moments of my life. 

  After a summer of edits, we went on sub just after labor day. I expected to wait a few months to hear anything and tried hard to go about my normal life.

  Thus, one random Tuesday morning, I was at work when I got an email from Kristin: "Can I call? Some really exciting things are happening."
  Thank goodness the library was closed for renovations and I was in a temporary location where I had my own office, because there was no way I was going to be able to concentrate on anything for the rest of the day.

  My phone rang. Kristin told me there was an offer on the table.

  I died.

  Actually, I said: "Are you kidding?"

  Kristin: "I never joke about things like this!"

  We ended up going to auction, which was so far beyond my realm of expectation that I had no idea what was going on. I floated through the next week thinking any moment I was going to wake up from this fabulous dream. 

  I'm still waiting to wake up from this impossible dream.

  It's crazy to think that at the beginning of that year, just a few months prior, I didn't even have an agent - that I had gone from nothing, not even hope, to this moment. So if you're where I was last year, I'm gonna tell you what my friends told me: don't give in just yet. You never know what's around the next corner.
  Go send another query.
                                       
                                                                ----

You can visit Heather's website for more information on her debut!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Pitch Wars Is Coming...

 I'm so excited to announce that I'm a 2016 Pitch Wars mentor for YA! This is such a cool opportunity for many reasons, but the best thing is that this is a way for me to pay it forward. Writing is a hard journey. Few authors get an easy route to success, and even then, there's many doubts and negativity along the way. The writing community is lifted by pillars of support. We encourage each other to keep going, offer advice and critiques, lend an ear, enthusiastically commend successes from getting a request from an agent to offers to book deals to releases to hitting lists to movie/tv/foreign/audio rights and everything in between! We genuinely love to hear good news, and that keeps the jealousy and negativity away. We know how hard it can be, so we find triumph in every success, whether it's our own or in others.
 
  Pitch Wars is a way to give back by spending time and energy in taking in a new author to give them a super boost. For me, it's adding positivity and a seasoned hand to someone else, to help build the encouraging writing community. For possible mentees, it's a way for them to connect with agented/published/experienced writers and get a polished ms and pitch. Pitch Wars has resulted in many authors signing with agents. And when this happens, trust me, we ALL rejoice! Many of those authors went on to book deals, and again, we celebrate! We celebrate over everything, actually. That's the fun thing.

  If you're an aspiring author, get your ms ready and prepare to fill out your application because you'll have loads of great mentors to choose from! There will be a category for each age group: MG, YA, and Adult. Genres and other information will be announced later, but so far, this is our schedule:
  • July 20 – 3: Mentor Bio/Wishlist Blog Hop
  • August 3: Writers submit applications to mentors for Pitch Wars
  • August 3 – August 24: Pitch Wars mentors review applications and choose a writer to mentor.
  • August 25: Pitch War mentees are announced.
  • August 25 – October 31: Mentors work with their team.
  • November 3 – 9: Agent round
  For more information, please visit Brenda Drake's blog. I look forward to seeing your applications!!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Writing Tips: Rejections

  No one likes rejections. We don’t like to receive them, and most of us don’t like to give them. While you’re in the “query trenches”, you’ll receive lots of rejections and have hopefully developed some thick skin by now. Even Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer, J.K Rowling, Veronica Roth, and virtually every author has received several rejections. At least. I have a notebook of rejections. All organized and highlighted in various colors with a color code and stickies per project. It would make a nice wallpaper if I did it right.

  Anyway. The point is, is that you will get rejections and it isn’t always about you, your skill, or your story. There are lots of variables that go into whether an agent will sign you. Such as: topic, market salability, personal tastes, client work load, if another client has something similar, if they don't know an editor who would take it, if they don’t have the time to give it the spit shine it needs, etc.

  Rejections can come at any stage: initial query, partial request, full request, R&R, and post notification of offer. It doesn’t stop there, because the next phase is the submission process…to editors. An editor can reject on initial mention, proposal, after reading a few chapters or the entire thing, at the second-reader level, at the acquisitions board level. If your book makes it to print…there are rejections from bloggers, some well known like Kirkus Reviews and USA HEA Today. And of course, rejections from readers, as in bad reviews. But don’t let this deter you. Why endure so much heartache? Because it’s all subjective. Books are entertainment, which means there’s no formula for success, and forget the idea of getting green lights all the way.

  Let’s get into what sorts of rejections you can receive, and how to work with what you get.

1) No response. Agents will mention in their submission details that a "no response means no". Many times, they'll mention it can take up to so many weeks. Sometimes, they post updates or you'll find response times on query databases. Unless the agent mentions a "no response means no", then it's safe to re-query after a few months, or longer depending on how long it takes others to receive responses, especially if they received rejections. This sounds horrible, doesn't it? Not even given the courtesy of a response? Don't take it personally. Agents are busy, and it's you who are after them. Sometimes queries get lost in cyber space. Other times, the agent is too busy. But you can only try or think about them for so long. Time to move on. For the love of all that is good and sweet, do not pester them. This is like constantly checking up on that boy you're crushing on so many times before you realize he is just not into you. It's desperate, and in this industry, unprofessional on your part. If this method bothers you, then by all means, stay away from agents who have this policy.

2)  Form rejection. A boiler plate rejection letter that agents send to every “no”. It may or may not include your name/title, and it seems so unprofessional. After all, you spent countless hours perfecting your query/pitch/submission packet, not to mention all the research that went into learning about your target agent/editor. You triple checked that their name was spelled correctly, read all of their interviews, wish lists and don’t-want lists, and even stalked them on Twitter. It’s just the game. They receive thousands of queries, and personally responding to each one takes a lot of time away from their clients. Queries are the least important of their endless to-do things. What can you learn from form rejections? If you receive a ton of initial rejections, consider the query itself. Did you have someone critique it? Does it sound professional and intriguing? Did you research how to write queries and master the hook? Sometimes, form rejections hit you on requested material, and even after notifications of offers! UGH. So frustrating, right? But agents/editors are in no way obligated to give you more. Remember that.

3)  Personalized rejections. They’re pretty much the same as the form rejection, but they include name/title…and if you’re fortunate, what exactly didn’t work. This could happen, like the form rejection, at any stage from query to requested material to notification of offer. But, if an agent/editor so much as gives you one honest morsel of feedback, analyze it. Do you agree? Do you see a pattern along with other personalized rejections? If so, you may decide to take that advice and implement it into your revision.

4)  Requested material rejections. If you received a request for additional pages, congrats! That means your query is on point. It’s intriguing and the agent/editor needed more. At any stage, personal tastes will effect the decision, but if you’re not getting more than a few chapters, consider revising those crucial opening chapters. It’s always great to get specific feedback, but if you don’t get any, send those chapters to a critique partner. If a partial turns into a full request, and a rejection still comes…take it in stride. Many agents/editors will give some feedback at this stage because they’ve already invested so much time. Again, apply or ignore, but remember that they’re the professionals. There’s a reason you want them in your corner, so consider feedback seriously. 

5)  R&R. A revise and resubmit is sort of a rejection, as in it’s not acceptable in its current state for the agent/editor to take you on. However, they liked your writing/topic/creativity enough that they see potential. You just need a little extra work. Now, you may wonder, isn't that their job? Not all agents are editorial. Even if an R&R comes from an editor, they don't have time to hold your hand. They want to see that you're willing to make the changes and see how those changes work out, if your vision meshes with their vision. An R&R usually contains feedback, often times detailed feedback. It means take this advice, revise your ms, and re-submit when you’ve nailed it. You can spend precious time doing this or not. It’s up to you. Coming from a professional, the advice is usually sound. But, this is your ms. Go with your gut. When you receive the R&R, you may reply with a thank you and let them know that you’ll be sending along a revision as soon as you can. This is the only rejection that you should ever reply to. Ever. If you decide to make revisions, make sure to mention in your re-submission email that the agent/editor invited you to do so. Begin with their usual submission guidelines, ie: query only; along with 10 pages; or what have you unless specified in the R&R. Don't just send them the entire ms without invitation.

  Rejections hurt. But take them for what they are. Don’t beat yourself up over them believing that you’re worthless or think that every agent/editor is an idiot. Neither are true. Learn from them if you can. And always keep moving forward.

  Happy writing!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Highlights from 2015

  • Ending my second term of successful querying. I never gave up. 
  • Ending my second term of querying with a whopping 30 requests and multiple offers of representation. 
  • Ending my second term of querying by signing with the hard-working and knowledgeable Miriam Kriss from the Irene Goodman Agency. 
  • Leaping into multiple offers of publication. 
  • Attending the RT convention for the first time, which included meeting Miriam in person, hanging out with one of my close friends, Anna Banks, and meeting so many incredible people, and of course the swag. 
  • Spending a month with my family in TX. 
  • Connecting with my writing posse with the most wonderful Marissa Meyer, Rori Shay, Lish McBride, and Kimberly Derting, all amazing authors and super kind women. 
  • I completed one manuscript; revised another; wrote a third from idea seedling to polished and turned in to agent; and outlined two others ready to be tackled in 2016. 
  • Sold our house. 
  • Moved to Hawaii! 
  • Made some wonderful new and encouraging friends. 
  • Finding work (with some great people, might I add...I think I've been fortunate to always have some great co-workers and management) and a place to live...because as it turns out, it's not so easy here in Hawaii! FYI, apartments are non-existent on this side of the island!
  • Enjoyed many of the marvelous and beautiful things Hawaii has to offer, some awe-inspiring, breath-taking, and absolutely moving. 
  • Despite the low number, but considering all the things that happened in 2015, checking off 20 books on my every-growing TBR list. 
  • Receiving a care package full of treats from India, plus home-made treats straight from my Mom’s kitchen, is an especially delightful ending to the year. 
I know 2016 is going to produce some great things. There is already so much in the works and I can’t wait to fill you in! Announcements galore!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Writing Tips: Pitch Perfect

 Submitting a query via mail/email is a formal way to get an agent/editor's attention, often times referred to as the "cold query". It consists of a formula, specific information the agent/editor needs to know. A pitch, on the other hand, can be informal and usually in person.

 A pitch has to grab the agent/editor's attention and make them want more. It should reveal genre, target audience, and plot/conflict...but in a hook type fashion. Meaning, you're not just going to say it's point A, point B, and point C. Think of a back cover blurb, but even more condensed. If you can do it in a concise sentence or two, even better. Make it original and high-concept, not cliche and difficult to explain.

  The "elevator pitch" is something you can approach an agent/editor with anywhere, anytime. You have ten seconds to grab their attention, give them an amazing pitch about your book, and make them ask for more.

  The "pitch-session" is slightly more formal, often done at conventions where you can make an appointment or walk in, sit in front of an agent/editor, and give them your pitch.

  In any case, be prepared to answer questions. A few common things an agent/editor might ask about is your writing background, if you're working on something else, what genres do you write, where did you get your idea from, is your book finished (don't panic if it's not yet, but best for it to be ready in case they want it asap), who are your favorite authors/authors who inspire you, where do you see your future as a writer (are you a serious writer/want a serious career as a writer or a dream chaser who can't sit down and do the work), and what sort of writer are you (fast writer who can pump out three great novels a year, slow pace where it takes you three years to create a work of art, do you go after plot-driven or character-driven novels, etc).

  Some extra tips:
  Practice your pitch out loud and with others. When others ask what your book is about, and many will once they find out that you're a writer, perfect your pitch. Ask for opinions and help from others, including authors and critique partners.

  Research how your favorite authors pitched their books, where agent/editors are taking pitch sessions, what genres those agents/editors accept.

  Don't worry, just relax. Be yourself.

  Be honest. If the agent/editor wants a full, and you're not done, let them know that you'll get it them as soon as you can. Don't lead them on. They might just be super excited and haunt their emails for your amazing pitch-led ms.

  If you have a pitch session appointment, don't bail. Just do it. And if you're going to try this at random, like actually in an elevator, make sure you're talking to the right person and that they aren't in a hurry to get somewhere fast. There's a place and a time, and if they're in a hurry, they might not register your amazing pitch, and you both deserve a real chance at clicking over the ms.

  Here are a few tips from my agent on Writer's Digest. Many requests (and offers) come from pitches, sessions as well as informally, so be prepared and don't be shy. You're trying to get your awesome work into the hands of talented agents/editors. They're looking for you. Don't leave them hanging.

  And when you snag that agent/editor, don't forsake your mad pitching skills because you'll pitch ideas for future works to them.

  Happy writing!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Writing Tips: Blurb's the Word

 If you look up the definition of a “blurb”, you’ll find that it’s a short description of a book (or movie or product) used for promotional purposes and is usually located on the back of the book or inside the front jacket cover, or an advertisement. It is a simple one or two paragraph summary that will hook a reader.

 A blurb introduces main characters, clear conflicts, and sets up the world, and by doing this, the reader should be able to determine the genre, age group, and central theme. It’s sole purpose is to snag a reader with a tantalizing sneak peak into a must-read book and make them buy and read right this minute. It’s short and sweet and has to stand out because there are a lot of books potential readers can pick from. Stimulate interest. Whet a reader’s appetite. Have an amazing, punchy opening first line. Essentially, don’t let a prospective reader pass by without taking your book.

 What not to do? Don’t be cliche, give away spoilers or endings, summarize too much, brag, mention anything outside of the story, be wordy, flowery, or go into details.

 Read blurbs from your favorite books and bestsellers to get an idea of how to write yours. Run it by readers and writers, critique partners or beta readers to get second opinions. And, although blurbs are meant for the cover of a book to engage readers, it’s essential to the query letter to attract agents/editors, to get their attention at pitch sessions or any in-person encounter, and simply, to explain to anyone who wants to know what your book is about. Blurbs come in handy. And if you can’t put together the entirety of your books into a few sentences or a couple of paragraphs, it (and by it, I mean either your manuscript/idea/plot as a whole or your blurb in general) needs some polishing.

 I personally like writing blurbs. They’re fun and exciting, and in my head, they sound like trailers to epic big box office movies. Happy writing!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Writing Tips: The All-Powerful Synopsis

  What strikes fear into the heart of most writers? The. Dreaded. Synopsis. Thun! Thun! Thun! It’s all right, don’t worry, we’ll tackle it together. First off, a synopsis isn’t a blurb, or what you might read on the back cover of a book to get a feeling of what the story is but leaves you salivating for more. A blurb is enticing, like the elevator pitch or hook, and a great marketing strategy to hype up the contents so that when a reader sees that blurb, they want the book NOW. I’ll talk about blurbs in the next Writing Tips post, but for now:

  A synopsis is very different and is required by many agents and editors. Why? Because it tells them what the entire book is about, including the ending, and sets up characters and what drives them, world-building, clear conflicts both externally and internally, resolutions, the entire arc of your novel. Why is it so dreaded? Because you must compact an entire manuscript into a few pages! Some agents, for example, are specific in wanting 1 page, 2 page, 3 page, 5 page, 7 page, 10 page…you get the idea. My suggestion is writing a concise 1 page, single space synopsis and expand if an agent is particular for a longer version. Read carefully, because most agents will say “up to…” certain amount of pages. So don’t waste your time if you have a terrific 1 pager.

  But what does a synopsis do? It tells the prospective agent/editor the entire story and therefore, any major plot holes, let downs, lack of characterization/world building/tension, depth, structure, etc. It will tell them if the story stands out, if it’s something they can work with, if it’s something they’re going to spend several hours reading to determine if they want to represent/publish you. Essentially, it keeps them from wasting too much time on a manuscript that may not work out and enables them to sort through their slush piles to get to the juicy stories they’ve been waiting for.


  •  DO write in third person, present tense, active voice (despite how the actual book is written). 
  • DO include major characters, major plot points, endings, anything that is vital and cannot be left out, but space is premium here. 
  • DO introduce protagonist, conflict, and setting in the first paragraph. I was once told to all caps the character’s names the first time I mention them, not sure about that, but I do it anyway to let the agent/editor know this is a new character being introduced. 
  • DO mention emotions, reactions, outcomes. Make them feel as if they’ve read the book without actually having read it yet. 
  • DO edit. 
  • DO proofread. 
  • DO send it to critique partners, beta readers, or anyone who reads books to not only catch errors but spot odd sentences, boring parts, rambling areas, etc. You should be accustomed to having a second, third, fourth, or even fifth pair of eyes reading everything from query to manuscript by now.



  •  DON’T be mechanical with he did this, she did that, then this happened, and that occurred…use active voice! 
  • DON’T go into every detail/character/event. Premium space, remember? 
  • DON’T include dialogue, or if it’s absolutely pertinent to the story arc, make it brief. 
  • DON’T ask rhetorical questions or try to get the agent/editor wondering. There’s no time for that. 
  • DON’T try to get fancy with frilly things or sections or anything other than straight from beginning to finish paragraph form. Seriously, don’t. Now’s not the time to elaborate on how beautiful and artistic your writing can be. Be simple but effective.


  See? It’s not so bad. In fact, I now plot out my entire manuscript in synopsis form, roughly one paragraph per chapter, to send to my agent so that she can see the entire picture and let me know if it’s something we can work with or not. It honestly helps me to wipe out insignificant aspects that doesn’t push the story forward and fix plot holes. It helps me, as the author, to see the entire book on a few pages. So get into the habit of writing synopses. Even when you land an agent or editor, you’ll still need them!

  Happy writing!