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So this happened in Publisher’s Weekly today. And I am very very happy.

It is, by any standard, a dream come true. Here’s to working hard, writing hard, and to 2014!!!

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LNW2There’s a passage in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe that Large Son gave me reason to remember recently. It’s not a huge important scene, but his reference to it was perfect, and I remembered it immediately. It is in the White Witch’s castle after Aslan has breathed on all the stone statues and brought them back to life*. Here, he is speaking to the assembled group.

“Those who are good with their noses must come up in the front with us lions to smell out where the battle is. Look lively and sort yourselves.”

And with a great deal of bustle and cheering they did. The most pleased of the lot was the other lion, who kept running about everywhere pretending to be very busy but really in order to say to everyone he met, “Did you hear what he said? Us Lions. That means him and me. Us Lions. That’s what I like about Aslan. No side, no stand-off-ishness. Us Lions. That meant him and me.” At least he went on saying this til Alsan loaded him up with three dwarfs, one dryad, two rabbits, and a hedgehog. That steadied him a bit.

This came up recently because Large Son was berating Small Daughter for being condescending to their young cousins. “Please,” Large Son said. “You were trying to tell me how boring it was that they wanted to play with you – you were all Us Lions about it!”

Us Lions. In publishing there’s a lot of that.

Until a few months ago, I was very much on the far side of the publishing fence. I was writing, I was querying, I was commiserating with other would-be authors. That was about it. On Twitter, at conferences, on blogs, there were all kinds of published or soon-to-be published authors joking with each other, professing their love for their amazing agents, talking up their book launches. For those of us querying and getting piles of rejections, those easy Twitter exchanges with agents and editors seemed a bit like a foreign language.

But then in October, a few days after my birthday, I got THE AMAZING CALL from the even more amazing Marietta Zacker, of the Nancy Galt Literary Agency, and I was suddenly in the club. Us lions.

Then in December (after that little jaunt to Nepal) I got THE OTHER AMAZING CALL, that someone was interested in my book. And the amazing calls just kept coming.

Earlier this month I went to New York and had a chance to talk to editors about THE FAMILY FURNIVAL. As I walked through the hallways of these venerable publishing houses I saw signed copies of books I adored, I saw famous illustrators’ doodles on the walls, I saw galleys and ARCs and manuscripts piled everywhere. Us lions were really roaring now.

Next week I should have some very exciting news to share with the world. And there’s a part of me that is that lion who, for a moment at least, felt he was Aslan’s peer. But at the same time, it feels like around ten minutes ago that I was glumly pressing send on a bunch of queries, complaining endlessly to my writer friends, and really wondering if there was any point in waking up early or staying up late to try and pursue this crazy writing thing. So I guess all this is to say, if, once I share that exciting news, I start to get too self-important, feel free to weigh me down with three dwarfs, one dryad, two rabbits and a hedgehog. Let’s see if that steadies me.

*I’d really like to think I don’t have to tell anyone here to read this book. Honestly, if you haven’t read it by now there’s probably no hope for you. But on the off-chance you recently landed here from another planet and just haven’t had a chance to read it, by all means go ahead. I’ll wait. *taps fingers* Done? Excellent. Carry on.

First of all, thank you thank you for the totally amazingsauce virtual celebration that met my news. While nobody sent me a picture of ducklings in a teacup, which was a bit of a miss, I did indeed appreciate all the joy. Truly, it makes me so happy! *does a little Muppet dance again*

See? What’s better?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But mixed into the congratulations there were some very reasonable questions. Questions like “When will your book be out?” and “So what does this person do?”

And while that information exists all over the interwebs, it doesn’t always exist in the same place as ducklings in cups, so I thought I’d give a quick overview.

In short, an agent represents an author’s work and, using her relationships with and knowledge of publishing folk, works to get it published. Agents are compensated by a percentage of author’s sales, and generally work to represent all of an author’s work, not just one project (the exception being if the author writes in a genre the agent doesn’t represent, such as poetry or erotica, or, in the case of The Nancy Gallt Agency, adult books). There is no guarantee that any particular book or project will get published; it’s an agent’s goal to sell every manuscript, but there are times when it just doesn’t happen. This doesn’t mean the agent isn’t good at her job, or that the author is out of luck forever and dumped as a client; it just means the time wasn’t right for that particular book. In a good partnership, they move on to the next book together.

In some sense agents “work for” authors in that they are engaged to represent and sell an author’s work. But to me the relationship is more like hiring a good doctor, trainer or therapist. Yes, you’re hiring them, but you are paying for their expertise and advice, not just their services. You wouldn’t hire a personal trainer, ignore her, then fire her when you don’t get any stronger. Similarly, authors have to trust that their agents understand them, understand their work, and understand the marketplace. Often agents and authors stay together for decades. Other times they split relatively quickly, realizing they weren’t the right match.

It’s a big deal to get signed by an agent because, despite the shifting sands of publishing, the vast majority of books still get published through traditional publishing channels and big publishing houses. And those houses almost unanimously do not accept submissions from unagented authors. So an agent is a first, huge, step to getting in those doors. But it’s just a step.

So what does all this mean? It means my middle grade novel, THE FAMILY FURNIVAL, was good enough to catch the eye of someone who knows the business. It means that sometime soon* we’ll submit it to publishing houses and seeing if anyone is interested. And most of all, it means I have someone I feel will be an amazing advocate for my work on my team.  Marietta Zacker and Nancy Gallt work with a truly amazing array of well established and debut authors. Having them in my corner is a great feeling. Almost as good as staring at those ducklings…

*soon in publishing can mean anything from two weeks to two years. Be warned.

So, as you probably know I’ve been writing these books for the past three years lately at 5:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. and sitting in hockey rinks when I can find the time.

The process goes something like this:

Write:

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Query:

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REJECTION:

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repeatrepteatrepeatrepeatrepeatrepeat

Of course there were some other steps. There was endless revision, polishing my words until they were bright and shiny, and the constant, endless, and incredible editorial eyes of my outstanding readers and  critique partners, especially Kate and Alina, and the super sekrit LB writer group.* And there were moments of excitement and encouragement from agents and editors along the way. But all in all, there were a lot of head-meet-wall-moments.

*I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you

Then last week something happened. I heard from a literary agent, one who works with incredible clients, who answered all my questions and politely didn’t remark on the fact I referenced unicorns in my email to her. She once said at a conference, over a year ago, “Your story is your gold. Be true to it.” And I listened to her, and remembered, and queried her.

And she told me she wanted to represent my work.

And there was a lot of this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So a few days after my 40th birthday, I am delighted to be working with the amazing Marietta Zacker of the Nancy Gallt Literary Agency.

Happy Birthday to me. Stay tuned for what’s next…

Hello blog!! *dusts off corners* *straightens pictures*

Well. It has been a while, hasn’t it? This summer has been many things, but conducive to blogging has not been one of that. I sort of knew that, of course, which is why I left you all with a farewell (and a picture of a kitten) back in June. But now it’s September, and I’m back. Ish.

Why am I only back-ish? That is a question that is too long and probably boring to answer, involving a Lernaean Hydra of a to-do list and the whole I-have-two-kids-and-I-work-and-I-write-and-I’m-leaving-for-Nepal-for-a-month thing I have going on these days.

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Me: Oh hai, to-do list! How’s about I make you my monkey! List: Um…how ’bout I grow back TWO HEADS for every one you cut off, mkay???

So yeah, there’s that.

Another thing that’s been keeping me off the blog is that rereading it has made me a little sad. You see, per the title of this post, I have new junk that I’ve added to the writerly trunk. (NOTE: This has nothing to do with my bottom and whether it has gotten larger). No, this refers to the common writer’s practice of “trunking” a book that doesn’t go anywhere. And that’s exactly what I’ve done with SWIM.

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SWIM wasn’t the first thing I ever wrote. Or the second. But it was the first one I sent out in the world. It was read and reread by a team of amazing critique partners, then it went out to agentland. And while this story still kind of sings to me, it didn’t find a home. Turns out there are just too many other mermaid books that were hitting the shelves (or editors’ desks) right at the moment I was sending this around. So while I got a few ‘this is lovely but no thanks’ type of responses, no one wanted it.

So into the trunk it goes.

And that’s okay. This is a business, and no-one – NO-ONE – every said it was easy. So I’ve written another book, and actually another as well, and I’m hoping to keep pushing forward.

ImageBut I guess part of this summer, as I was swimming and diving and rolling in the ocean waves, was about saying goodbye to my first try.

I hope you had a wonderful summer. Here’s to a glorious fall.

For those of you not working in the publishing or writing worlds, BEA is just another alphabet soup of an acronym, (although a far pithier one than SCBWI, as I wrote about here). But for those in those worlds, BEA falls somewhere between Dante’s seventh ring, a candy shop, and a vital business meeting with several thousand of your closest colleagues and competitors.

It can look like this:

(source)

Or it can look like this:

   

And for me, it looks a lot like this:

Yes, I went and got ALL THE BOOKS.

BEA is a trade show, a place for Big Six publishers and independent publishers and self-pubbed authors and academic presses and everyone in the business of creating books to meet with librarians and booksellers and book promoters and book bloggers and everyone in the business of selling books. And it’s batshit crazy for sure.  For a newcomer it can be like walking into someone else’s 50th family reunion when you know nobody: lots of air-kissing and “remember-when”-ing and inside talk about the industry and the next big thing. For authors, as a veteran writer told me, it’s a place where you’re either being promoted by your publisher or resenting that you’re not being promoted by your publisher. It’s where you might sulk over the massive line for a big name book signing, or cringe at the look on the face of an author sitting at a deserted table for another signing. For bloggers and newbies, it’s also a time to grab ARCs, or Advanced Reader Copies, of books publishers are giving away before their publication date, to build up interest. (The pursuit of these ARCs can lead some of us *cough cough* to bring a large wheelie suitcase to fill with books, while our few clothes reside, wrinkled, in a tiny satellite duffel).

It’s totally overwhelming.

And here’s the thing: as an unpublished author I really didn’t need to be there. Unlike the aforementioned NESCBWSOISDFUIDFDPGIPDFOISDF Conference, this is not about writing. It’s about selling books. And as of yet, that’s not the business I’m in. So while I did get to say hello to a few editors and agents (largely thanks to my authorial mafia of aunt Elizabeth Levy and cousin Robie Harris), I’d be lying if I said I was there to further my career.

Really, I was mostly there to get ALL the books.

So in a lot of ways, BEA didn’t matter to me. I was tremendously interested to hear both Young Adult and Middle Grade editors talk about the books they most wanted to promote for the fall. (Still some dystopians, in the YA world, for those who say that trend is over…). And it was great to grab new work by authors I enjoy like Mike Mullin and Saci Lloyd. But on a business level, it really didn’t matter to my life.

However, there was a Children’s Book Author Breakfast. And there I heard the adorable Cris Colfer, the hysterical John Green, and the truly magnificent Lois Lowry speak, among others. And wow.

John Green, who writes some of my favorite contemporary YA books, spoke about how writers and publishers should not get distracted by the interactive, the multi-functional, the shiny world of e-books. “Story trumps all,” he told us, then quipped, deadpan, when the crowd cheered: “Well, saying that in this crowd is kind of like being in a room full of elephants, as an elephant, talking about how great elephants are.”

And Lois Lowry spoke of her newest book SON, and how it closes the quartet she started close to twenty years ago. It was a series that began when her son, an Air Force pilot fighting in that Iraq war, asked, “why do people do such terrible things to each other, and how can we stop it?” She spoke of trying to answer that in her award-winning book THE GIVER. And about how the questions left unanswered led her to write BECOMING BLUE, then THE MESSENGER, and finally SON. And though all the books, how the ultimate question kept repeating itself: Why do people do such terrible things to each other? Sometime during her writing of this quartet, and thinking on this question, her son was killed in service.

And as she spoke of this, and of how, in her book SON, she was able to create a happy ending, it was suddenly clear to me that BEA does matter to me. Because stories matter. And sharing the stories with the greater world matters. And inspiring others to write, and to work hard to make sure kids are finding and reading books…well, that matters too.

So I did get ALL the books. And a shot of pure adrenaline in the arm to boot. Now it’s time to get back to writing…just as soon as I finish reading one more page.

So I’ve finished three books.* One of them is sitting patiently waiting for revisions, one is currently on the operating table, and one is out in the world. Still. (Is the Bermuda Triangle located in lower Manhattan? Because it’s entirely possible my MS has been sucked into the vortex). Anyway, the question, for me, anyway, is now what?*scratches head and stares into the distance*

Do I start another book? Push hard on querying until I have an agent? Not even think about revising book three until I’ve officially finished with book one, one way or another? I have no real clue.

I have no idea.

I have gotten some really great feedback on SWIM, the young adult paranormal about a mer girl and her summer of falling in love with a human. Enough that I figured I was right about here:

On the other hand, I’ve had some pretty soul-crushing feedback as well. Enough so that I’m feeling this is a better option:

And then I’ve been told there’s no way to sell mermaids in this market, they’re done to death (unlike vampires that are done to undeath. Bwahahahhahahaha. Sorry). So then I think I should just move on and try to query the next one.

In short: mull mull mull. I’m mulling over all of this stuff.

It’s kind of easy to get frozen in this mulling stage. And that’s not really helpful, no matter what I decide.

Then I read a blog post by another YA author Natalie Whipple. She wrote a post about “10 Things I Would Have Done Differently” in her publishing journey (her first book Transparent, is coming out in 2013). While I encourage you to click on the link and read the post, some of her wishes were as follows:

1. I wish I didn’t query so soon. While I learned a lot from querying four novels, I also think I caused myself more pain and rejection than necessary. The thing is, deep down I knew my work wasn’t really ready, but I’d hoped to get in anyway. I was being lazy, trying to do as little as possible.
2. I wish I didn’t spend so much time online. I have made great connections and learned a TON from being part of the online community, but at the same time it distracted me from the most important aspect of being a writer—writing. I did it the wrong way. I networked first, focused on my writing second. It should be the other way around.
3. I wish I hadn’t cared so much about getting published. That probably sounds weird, but it’s one of my biggest regrets. I spent more time trying to be a Published Author than trying to be a Good Writer. It was only when I put being a Good Writer first that the whole Published Author part followed.
4. I wish I’d spent more time studying the craft. I used to think my natural talent would get me through the gate. I would write stories without much thought to if the plot worked or not, if the characters were real or not, if the world made sense or not. I feel like I squandered my talent for a long time because I relied solely on talent instead of pushing myself to get better.
5. I wish I took editing seriously. I spent way too long doing edits that did not cut it. Sadly, it wasn’t until my 8th book that I really learned how to revise. Before that, I would do as little as humanly possible to satisfy my crit partners’ concerns. I never made big enough changes, never believed I NEEDED to make bigger changes. It was only when I really dug in, saw my story as malleable, that I truly improved.
6. I wish I didn’t follow publishing news so closely. Learning about major deals and tours and cover reveals and all that only made me antsy and frustrated. I could have used my time obsessing over those things to write a stellar book. Or five. And I would have had more confidence to do it, too.
7. I wish I spent more time living and less time waiting. Sitting around refreshing my inbox got me nowhere. It sounds harsh, but I wasted a lot of time letting The Wait torture me. I could have been living, doing new things, gaining experiences that would create new stories for me to write. Writing, while it is a lot of work, also requires inspiration, and I let myself get low on that.

She continues, but I think the kernel of wisdom is right there for me. Spend less time waiting and more time living. Focus on the craft. And don’t worry about getting published.

So I still don’t know what I’m going to do next. There is a traffic jam of ideas waiting to get out of my head. There are three books I’m really proud of waiting to get edited and polished and cleaned up some more. There are always more stories to be told.

Hopefully, I’ll get to tell them all.

But in the meantime the days are getting longer and there are adventures to have outside with Small Daughter and Large Son. So my plan is to keep writing, keep revising, and not waste too much time waiting. Because no matter what the destination, it’s always worth making the journey as wonderful as possible.

 

 

*by three books I mean three books that are worthy of the MBs they’re stored on, as opposed to whatever brain droppings may have come before.

 

 

It’s Banned Book Week again, my favorite time of the year to remember how outrageous it is that morons judge and disqualify literature they often haven’t even read.  Needless to say, this makes me nuts.

It’s easy to go nuts over this. But what do we do? What actions can we take that make a difference in the face of this?

Well, the first is simple: Read. Support authors, especially living, breathing, trying-to-make-a-living authors who are fighting book challenges. (Because while it’s ludicrous and depressing that schools keep banning THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN at least that author isn’t trying to earn out his advance).

According to the American Library Association (ALA) the most frequently banned books in 2010 were:

  1. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
    Reasons: homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: offensive language, racism, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence
  3. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
    Reasons: insensitivity, offensive language, racism, and sexually explicit
  4. Crank, by Ellen Hopkins
    Reasons: drugs, offensive language, and sexually explicit
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence
  6. Lush, by Natasha Friend
    Reasons: drugs, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group
  7. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
    Reasons: sexism, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group
  8. Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich
    Reasons: drugs, inaccurate, offensive language, political viewpoint, and religious viewpoint
  9. Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie
    Reasons:  homosexuality and sexually explicit
  10. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer*
    Reasons: religious viewpoint and violence

The best way to support reading ALL books is to support the authors who write them. This sends a clear message to publishers and the rest of the industry that yes, there is a market for brave books. For the ten people in the world who haven’t heard yet, the economy is kind of lousy right now, and publishing is certainly taking its share of the pain. Buy books. It’s that simple.

Also, if you haven’t read Sherman Alexie’s THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN do so. Now.

The second suggestion I have is more complex, and it comes largely from a blog post I read by YA author Aprilynne Pike. She was writing about a kerfuffle this year when another YA author, Ellen Hopkins, was uninvited from a literary festival. Ellen Hopkins writes pretty gritty, intense books, and she was unequivocally censored when she was asked not to come to the festival. In response, and as a protest, many other authors pulled out of the festival as well. Ultimately, the festival was cancelled due to a pointed lack of authors. One would say it was an effective protest, no?

Except that, as Aprilynne points out in her blog post, the big loser here is not the literary festival. It’s the teenagers in Humble, Texas. They’re the ones who lost out on a bunch of awesome coming their way. Her blog post went on to suggest another possible course of action – a stealth, guerilla Che Guevara course of action. Bring Ellen Hopkins along! Not in person (that would be awkward to pack). But bring her books and give them away freely. Mention her in every speech. Make sure, when publicly thanking the shitweasels who banned her, to mention her name and her book titles a few times.

In this case, who loses? The pooweasels, who look like fools and who have failed to take Ellen Hopkins out of the picture! Not the authors, who get to share their words with the audience, not the kids, who manage to get cool authors to come to their parochial and close-minded town, not even Ellen Hopkins, whose books would likely be noticed more than ever. (And btw, I am in NO way blaming the authors who protested, or saying they screwed up. They took a stand for something they believe in and more power to them).

So what am I saying? Really, it’s back to my pretty simple first point. Read. Buy books. Buy banned books. If you hate them, think about why, about what upset you so. Then, go out and read some more.

Artichoke Reservoir, West Newbury

I just wrote a great post about the rescued miner in Chile who copyrighted the note he wrote that let everyone know they were alive. Then WordPress went ahead and ate it. Whatev.
So now you all get a consolation prize: look at the pretty leaves! You’re welcome.
xoxo

It’s kind of one of those days.  There are fruit flies in the kitchen, a Wild Child home sick from camp (with malaise, not actual sickness), and a number of unpleasant deadlines tickling at me.  I realize that no one will be calling the Amnesty International hotline to report on these inhumane conditions anytime soon; I never said I wasn’t whining.

But anyway, to top it off, there have been, in fairly quick succession, two blog posts by two smart agents that basically speak to big challenges I will face in trying to sell my novels.

So one post was about the fact that boys don’t read young adult novels (they move right into adult sci-fi/thriller stuff) and therefore a male protagonist is hard to sell.  The other post was all about how hard it is to successfully write in the present tense, and how even talented writers generally screw it up and therefore we likely should not attempt it.

These are not encouraging facts for a novice writer who has invested many hours in two novels: one with a male protagonist and one written in the first person present tense.  Note I said novice writer – obviously there are dozens of exceptions to these rules, but said exceptions do not change what publishers think. And I am too much of a marketing geek not to want to at least try and create a product for an existing market.  I had a brief frenzied moment of thinking about turning my main character into a girl, but that just felt like cross-dressing, and not in a good La-Cage-Aux-Folles kind of way. Maybe I am just being stubborn and it would work beautifully.  But…no, I don’t think so.

Anyway, before I let myself drown in the sea of Monday misery I decided to procrastinate a little bit and drink my coffee while reading my current LUUUURRRVE-IT read.

I am reading The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak*.  And here’s the thing. It’s narrated by Death. Like, the guy telling the story is Death.  And I’m guessing that Mr. Zusak was told that wasn’t really going to fly. In fact, if an agent had bothered to think about it, she might have blogged about how not to have your book narrated by Death.  But he did.  And it’s UNBELIEVABLY AWESOME.

Now.  I know this sounds like a rationalization to do whatever the hell I want without paying attention to smart agents who know a lot about selling books. (Thus discounting my comment about about the exceptions not really mattering). But really, it’s not.  It’s more like a reminder that right now, I am supposed to take risks.

No one is waiting for my books right now.  This is my time to try different things, play around, have fun. As the old song goes, “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”  I would like to get my books published.  But right now, as I curl up with my iced coffee, my fruit flies, and my lovely friend and narrator Death, I don’t think I’ll worry too much about those blog posts.

* This link is The Book Thief on Amazon, not because I get any money from them or because I want you to buy from them rather than your fabulous local bookstore, but because I am lazy and it was the first site that came up when I googled the book title.