This weekend, despite the fact that I was recovering from surgery and had only just gotten home from the hospital on Thursday, I yanked myself together and managed to make sense in our latest CraftQuest episode. This episode was dedicated to how to operate on social media as a writer. Many important points were made by my colleagues, and hopefully by me! We hope you enjoy!
This weekend on CraftQuest’s monthly video, we discussed all the best tools and changes you can make to invest in your writing life in 2019. We call it our writing resolution. You can find our archived livestream below.
I had a lot to say about this topic. I couldn’t seem to shut up. 😉
As of January 1, 2019, my editing service, The Inkwell Council, which is comprised of myself, my husband Ismael, and my sister-in-law Megan, will be merging with Craft Quest’s Maria Turead and Ari Augustine, to form a new powerhouse editing service. Our press release is below. We welcome and questions or comments you may have and hope that you’ll join us on this exciting adventure.
Writer friends! We have a very important announcement!
As of January 1, 2019, The Inkwell Council and CraftQuest will be merging to form a new and improved CraftQuest!
What does this mean for you? It means you have more choices for the optimum edit. When you visit CraftQuest’s website to request an edit, you can choose from five talented, high-demand editors. Each member of the CraftQuest team will have their own manuscript wishlist, so you can select the editor that best fits your story. Are you looking to edit a short story or a novel-length manuscript? We offer both. Select a first, second, and third choice editor to lower your wait time, or build a package of multiple editors for The Inkwell Council’s well-known critique style, in which the editors have the opportunity to discuss, and sometimes argue over, proposed changes to your manuscript. Need a query or synopsis edit? Need an aesthetic for inspiration? Need someone to Skype with you and hammer out the fine details of your manuscript? We offer those as well! All at competitive rates, so you don’t have to break the bank for a quality edit.
And if you’re wondering where The Inkwell Council’s monthly free three chapter edit lottery has gone, the answer is, it hasn’t gone anywhere! CraftQuest will continue to randomly select one manuscript per month to receive a free sample edit. CraftQuest’s video panels and short instructional videos will also continue in the new model.
All of this is provided by a tightly knit group of five experienced editors who love a good story–love to read them, write them, tell them, and edit them–and can’t wait to hear from you.
We hope you’ll join us on this journey. We can’t wait to see what great tales await.
I wasn’t supposed to go to the Red Bank Authorpreneur Workshop put together by Corvisiero Literary Agency at the beginning of October. Things had been absolutely nuts in my life, and I hadn’t been able to recommit myself to my edit of Never Say Never, the book I would pitch there. However, Maria Tureaud and Ari Augustine from Craft Quest were going to be there. I had been working with Maria and Ari on videos for Craft Quest for eight months, and had known Maria even longer than that, having worked on her manuscript for the Inkwell Council. I really wanted to go, if only so I could get to see my friends for a weekend in person, for the first time ever. It didn’t help matters when my co-worker on Inkwell and Craft Quest/my sister-in-law Megan Manzano, who is working as an intern at Corvisiero, decided to come help out with the conference. Now I needed to go. I bought my ticket. I booked my hotel. I re-dedicated myself to my final Never Say Never edit. I wrote my pitch. And I made my way to New Jersey with Megan as my travel partner.
That was why I went. But I left with so much more. Warning, this one is going to get long. Because I’m going to take you along on my weekend and tell you everything I learned about myself and writing on my weekend away.
Here, I paint you the picture of an anxiety-ridden writer. Since I’m not much of a traveler, my friend Denise lent me her rolling suitcase so I could carry all of my stuff, seeing as I have a bad back. I spent the entire night before panicking as I packed. How was I going to get this bag down the stairs? Was I gonna be able to drag this thing all the way through my half hour walk to drop my son off at school? Would I fit on the always over-packed bus I take from there to the subway? How would I get up the train steps with their lack of elevators? How many people at my job would question me about where I was going? Would I make it to Penn Station in a decent amount of time? WHAT EVEN DOES PENN STATION LOOK LIKE? I’d never been there. WERE THERE STAIRS?
In the end, it was really hard to get the bag out of my house, but everything else went super smoothly. And when it didn’t, Megan had already met with me and just started lifting my bag around like it was feather-light…which was only a little bit insulting. Stupid bad back…grumble…
Maria picked us up at the train station along with editor extraordinaire Jeni Chappelle whom I’d actually met when I was in Pit2Pub 2016. We had only corresponded here and there until we worked together on a video on editing for Craft Quest. By this point, she was a friend and Megan and I were so glad to meet up with her at the train station. Jeni was staying in the same hotel as us, with writer R. Mitto E. who also turned out to be super cool.
We rode to the hotel, got settled in our rooms and met up with Ari, who was already in the room she would be sharing with Maria. Once we were each more comfortable, we headed down to the lobby to grab a bite to eat and ended up taking over the hotel restaurant for an impromptu pitch drafting session with Ari.
While Megan and I headed back to our hotel room to get a decent night’s sleep, particularly because Megan already knew she’d be running around the conference the following morning, as an intern helping to keep everything running smoothly. I needed it because ever since fibromyalgia made its landing in my life, my brain is shit before noon…and I had all my pitches before noon. While we slept soundly, Maria, Ari, R., and Jeni stayed up late into the night, nailing down Maria and Ari’s pitches.
I woke up first, and though a series of mishaps (a broken coffee maker, a loud ironing board, a clumsy woman who tries to iron the iron’s wire into her shirt, then whisper-curses herself out) I managed to wake my roommate up a little earlier than planned. (“I tried to be quiet.” “Like when you were skinning that cat.” “That was the ironing board!” “I know, and you told it to be quiet.”)
Together, we proved that we totally could have been real-life roommates by seamlessly dancing around ourselves to get ready. And I proved what a disaster human I am when I got out of the shower, and my adorably curled hair somehow got straighter–except for the front, which frizzed into madness. I glared at myself in the mirror and did nothing. I’m not good at hair. After squeaking at my reflection for about ten minutes. Megan braided the disaster areas of my hair and managed to make me presentable. We then met up with Ari and Maria and headed over to the workshop.
Thank God for Megan, and thank God for the Dunkin’ Donuts super close to the location of the workshop. Dunkin’ selfie!!!
The first thing I did upon signing in was register for the synopsis workshop at the last minute. I’ve never been the best at writing a synopsis of my own work. There is something very difficult about reducing your work to its bones and it always reads robotically, which I keep hearing is a mistake. A workshop could really help.
There was continental breakfast waiting when I arrived in the ballroom where the event was being held (sidebar: this hotel is beautiful), but I was too nervous to eat and already hopped up on adrenaline and coffee. So I never got the opportunity to sample the offerings.
Before things even got started, I decided it would be funny to get Ari’s attention by throwing the complimentary mints we received at her. It bounced off the table and landed right in front of Marisa Corvisiero. I smiled my ‘Oops, I’m an idiot’ smile, which is 110% teeth. She teasingly designated me the troublemaker of this get-together. I have no idea what she means. My horns are fully hidden by my halo.
Anyway, after some brief announcements, Melissa Koberlein approached the stage. Melissa is a professor of communication and publishing, and a YA Science Fiction writer with a biting sense of humor and some damn good advice on public speaking. She gave a lot of great advice in her segment, but the one that really stuck out to me was the idea that you’re nervous talking about your work because you’re passionate about it. You wouldn’t be nervous if you didn’t care. This fact helped me so much when I went into the pitch room. It reminded me that it was okay to be nervous, because it showed my passion for the project.
Melissa also conducted a great ice-breaking activity in which she had each attendee pick a piece of candy from a bag. When everyone had one, she had the people who had the same type of candy meet up and give each other a quick elevator pitch of their book. Not only did this help me get to know a couple of the other attendees, but it made me speak to people that weren’t Maria and Ari, which was necessary at that point to shove past my social anxiety. I definitely left this segment ready to pitch.
After this, Marisa returned to discuss what comes next once you’ve written the book. She reminded us of something I have to personally echo–the industry is smaller than you think. Throughout the day, when people were mentioned, often they were familiar to all of us, even our fellow writers attending the conference. If you pay attention, it’s a very small world out there.
Marisa’s main point, and what ended up being the springboard to all of the other segments of the day, was that authors in our current climate need to think like Authorpreneurs. Writing is a business, the book is your product, your name is your brand. Your platform is any way in which you reach fans. Treating your book, your career, in this way, dictates how you conduct yourself, and gives you an edge in an extremely competitive market.
Can you get published without treating your book like a product and your name as a brand? Sure. But it will be that much more difficult.
Next up for me were my agent pitches. While I was waiting to go in, I also got the bonus of calming down by chatting with Megan, R., and Melissa, and sometimes Ari and Maria in between pitches. This helped immensely in easing my nerves and got me walking in the room to pitch as myself and not my weirdly stiff representative.
Agent 1 was super easy to talk to, and since we follow each other on Twitter, it was very easy to get comfortable in my first pitch. We chatted about the book for awhile and she laughed along with me as I explained my main character’s hijinx and her natural sassiness. She asked me to send her more. The ten minutes felt so long–not in a bad way, but it just felt like I got the story out and then we had time to chat about Maria’s awesome Irish accent, and a shared affinity to accents in men before time was up. Not only would I love to work with this agent, but she was a lot of fun to talk to, and definitely loosened me up to move through my pitches for the day.
Agent 2 seemed super excited about my work. She said it sounded like her catnip, which revved me up, and it didn’t hurt that we had similar taste in television and books. She seemed excited about one of the more difficult parts of Never Say Never, the topic of infidelity. Dealing with such a negative relationship issue in a romantic comedy can be a tough sell. Agent 2 seemed very interested in the idea that I would mix the lightness of the general story with a heavier topic, without weighing it down too much. I got my second request of the day.
Agent 3 was also interested in my story, but interestingly enough, her point of view on the way I handle the topic of infidelity was the exact opposite of Agent 2. She feared that it was a little too lighthearted for me to tackle the topic of infidelity appropriately. I could absolutely understand her feelings about it. She still made a request, and I told her I hoped I’d managed to write it with sufficient gravity for her tastes. It turned out, I didn’t. As of this week, she sent a rejection, but I absolutely appreciate her taking the chance and reading it, since she was already a bit iffy about the concept.
Most importantly, my interactions with Agent 2 and 3 taught me how subjective this entire process truly is. Agent 2 and Agent 3 had exactly opposite feelings about the very same concept. If that isn’t proof that not every agent is the one for you, I don’t know what is.
When I returned to my seat, the plotting segment was just wrapping up, so I unfortunately didn’t catch much of it.
After that came lunch, where there was an amazing selection of food waiting for us to choose from. After piling our plates high with–at least in my case–an absurd amount of food, I joined some of the more recognizable faces from the morning, and joined in a conversation that touched on topics far and wide. One thing was for sure–even with the strange dips and turns of the conversation–I was amongst my people.
The gong show! A bunch of authors submitted the first page of their manuscripts. Since it was only an hour long, they were definitely not going to be able to get through all of them. The rules of the game were that the first page would be read for a panel of editors and agents. As the page was read, the panel would hit the gong at whatever point they would stop reading. This was a very interesting peek into the minds of editors and agents, and what really catches them during the opening lines. Some of this was majorly subjective. There were notes on not liking particular genres or vibes. However, much of it was also valuable–a confusing line or a more interesting background character can suck the life out of a manuscript quickly.
And I will never get over my pride when Ari’s first page was the only one not to get gonged. It was a very exciting moment.
The synopsis workshop, led by Corvisiero agents Kelly Petersen and Saritza Hernandez, taught me a few very interesting ideas about how to go about attacking one. As with the other informational sessions I’m mainly going to include the things I hadn’t learned in other attempts to learn about the topic. For one, I learned to give the reader a good idea of setting. With my story in particular, I realized I needed to include a bit of the small town vibe of the story.
There was also the idea of adding the tone and voice of your story into your synopsis, something I sadly realized was sorely lacking in my synopsis. I resolved to ask the Craft Quest team for help with this later. One method that was suggested to manage this was to start by taking one or two sentences from each paragraph of your story and putting it into a document. From there, you would pare down until you reach two double-spaced pages.
There was also a comment about being careful about using too many names all at once. This screamed at me. The Order of the Key, the first novel I had attempted to have published, had a ton of characters in it, many revealed early on in the story. I couldn’t remember my synopsis for Order, but I was certain it had name dumped quite a bit early on. Though I have temporarily shelved Order, temporarily is the key word. I have never given up on it. I knew that before I put Order out into the world again, I would have to look for that issue in the synopsis.
Another tip that stuck with me was about Hemingwayapp.com. I had heard about this app before, but I hadn’t realized it assigned a reading level to your story. Kelly and Saritza told us that for YA, your readability level should be around 4th and 5th grade, even though the concepts could be more intense than what would be used for that age group. YA should be easily readable. This app can help show you how to reach that readability level.
The next segment was about demystifying book deals, and started with a reminder that when you sell your book to a publishing company, you aren’t selling the book, you’re selling a license to your book. That’s an important distinction, because the book is still the artist’s creation. There was a great discussion of the different portions of a book contract and what an author and their agent should look out for. For me, personally, who worked for five years as a secretary in entertainment law, many of these terms weren’t new for me, but I still learned a few interesting bits.
I’d worked with various other types of contracts, but not book contracts specifically, and I never realized that authors could sometimes have non-compete clauses in their contracts. A non-compete clause limits how much of the work that is contracted can be excerpted and printed elsewhere, as well as what other works can be contracted by other companies. This can be limited by genre as well as time period with similar or related work and can limit the timing of the release of other books. So, it’s an important clause to pay attention to, especially if you’re pursuing a career in hybrid publishing.
Another factor that’s important to realize is that there is no marketing plan in publishing contracts. Authors and their representatives should always ask the publisher about the marketing plan and whether or not they will assign a publicist. This is increasingly true in the era of social marketing, so it’s a good thing to know when signing with a publisher.
The event wrapped up with a visit from the Blessing Bag Brigade of NJ founder Kevin Garrison. If you’ve never heard of this organization, learn more here. Everyone was encouraged to bring donations to the event, and at Mr. Garrison and Marisa’s lead, we packed our own Blessing Bags to be given to the homeless. It was a fine close to the event to remind us of what we have, and what we should give back.
The afternoon wrapped in a lovely mixer, in which we had time to chat it up with each other and industry professionals who were attending. There was a ton of laughs and silliness, and shared jokes, and by the end of the evening, I found myself as part of a group twitter chat with these amazing, intelligent, and frankly, hilarious folks. Though a confluence of wacky events led to our core four Craft Questers eating dinner back at our hotel, we were soon followed there by Jeni, R., and Ella, for drinks and further silliness.
We stayed and drank until the hotel bar was overrun by two weddings, and we Craft Questers retreated to Maria and Ari’s room, where we chatted, remained ridiculous, and did the usual slumber party activities.
At three in the morning, after falling asleep on Maria’s bed, I was shaken awake by Megan, who dragged me off to our room. We ended up in the wrong elevator, and despite being one floor away, ended up in the basement. After that, we finally retired to our room for sleepy times.
I woke up at an absurd time in the morning which was bizarre after going to sleep at 3 AM. Megan oddly woke up only shortly after. A quick text to Maria showed that Maria was also awake. So, we gathered in Maria’s room and harassed Ari until she rose from her slumber.
We grabbed some hotel breakfast, which was, indeed, nommy. After breakfast, we headed upstairs to work on my synopsis, because Maria is a literal hero. She helped me to rewrite the whole thing according to what I’d learned the day before at my workshop.
After hanging out in Maria and Ari’s room and having several laughs, it was sadly time to go.
We piled into Maria’s car to drive to Newark. The goodbye was tough. I’d seen and spoken to these ladies online many times in the past, but in that one weekend, we bonded so tightly, that Megan and I truly didn’t want to leave them. A long conversation, starting in that car ride, and continuing on through the train ride home, became the seed of a huge announcement I’ll be making soon.
Megan and I met up with Ismael, my husband, and our son, Logan, and we all got to share the adventure of our weekends apart. Ismael dropped Megan off at home to make up for the sleep she’d missed. By the time I was home and taking a nap, my phone was buzzing with fun texts from the Craft Quest team, the chat we’d established with all the ladies we’d befriended at the conference, and one more group–The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsers, a group of writers and editors comprised of R., Jeni, Maria, Ari, Megan, and me. It’s nice to have a strong circle of writer/editor friends to toss around ideas and thoughts and frustrations with.
It feels like, in one weekend, I crossed over into a new era of my writing career, and I’m very excited. The conference really got me thinking about new directions to take with my work, and the people there helped me find new confidence in my work and myself, and new friends. It was definitely worth the price of admission.
Lots of good news to come, including an interesting announcement from The Inkwell Council. I can’t wait to fill you in.
I’ve been sort of absent here on my blog, as I’ve been working on a massive post (possibly several) about my experience at a recent workshop. While I work on putting that all together, check out this amazing video I did with my fellow Craft Questers about Query Dos and Don’ts. Our special guest star was Literary Agent Kelly Petersen!
We had a great time and we think we covered a lot of important things. Check it out below.
It’s amazing how easy it is to live within a bubble. I live in Bronx, NY, and I have my entire life. I work in Manhattan, known to New Yorkers as “the city”. But while I’ve been a part of the online writing and bookish communities for years now, and I’ve made appearances at events in the city on and off over that time, I somehow never managed to stumble upon some of the events going on in The Bronx for artists within my very own borough. What an oversight! And the truth of it is, there aren’t enough of them. The Bronx has been continually disenfranchised, the media doing its level best to portray us as a neighborhood without thinking minds, a place where only the strong survive. It’s a myth perpetuated by those who proliferate it, a story created to make the old white men who so often make the big decisions feel better about continually pulling funding on education and literacy programs for the area.
But strides are being taken in the right direction, often by stubborn members of the community itself, who have had enough of this wrong-minded take on our rich community. Created in 2013, the Bronx Book Fair takes place yearly at Bronx Library Center and, I’m ashamed to say, this was my first year in attendance. With the Bronx being a focal point of diversity, the organizing members look to reflect the community, with a diverse group of speakers and vendors. And this year just happened to be the first year in which the Executive Director was a woman–Lorraine Currelly, who was just a delight, her kindness and care for the community shining through every word she spoke as she made her presence known. It also happened to be the first year with a female keynote speaker, the lovely badass book lover and owner of the only bookstore in the borough, Noelle Santos.
Owner of The Lit. Bar, Noelle is really the person who pulled me into the Bronx literary community. I stumbled upon news of The Lit. Bar by accident, while looking into Bronx venues in which to do future book signings. I discovered The Lit. Bar’s website and emailed her for details. Noelle explained to be that she was still in the process of creating the bookstore, and that she’d definitely be happy to have me once they were up and running. After talking Bronx literacy with her, I have watched as Noelle gained media attention with her winning smile, her intelligence, and her real talk. “I’m not polished,” she said, but the truth is, she’s just not doing business-as-usual, and it’s about time for that. She doesn’t need to be polished. She needs to be authentic. In following her, and helping when I could (some of you have probably seen my social media blasts attempting to raise crowdfunding bucks, for instance), I tripped my way into the Bronx literary world.
As the Keynote Speaker of this event, Noelle shined as she related her story of discovering that the only Barnes & Noble, the only BOOKSTORE, in the Bronx was set to close, and how this inspired her to make a change. “I’m not signing any more petitions,” she said. She decided she was going to change the way the gatekeepers viewed readers through her own actions. She was going to show people that a real reader comes in many varieties, and she was going to do it by proving the need for a Bronx bookstore. And she has! Not only has she garnered a ton of press for herself and her cause, but she will be opening her bookstore this summer. And in many ways, she sounded the trumpets for others, looking to find a way to prove our borough is worth more than the gatekeepers of the education and literary industries believe. Hell, I heard the call! By the time I left her speech, I was itching to do something productive for the community. If her closing poem doesn’t rile you up, I don’t know what will.
If I dive into everything I did at the fair (I bought books! For me! For Logan!), this will become a very long blog post, so I’ll give you the condensed version, to the best of my ability. I unfortunately didn’t get to attend everything, due to a combination of the split between programs held in the auditorium, programs held in the conference room, and the vendor floor. Also, I ended up having to leave an hour earlier than originally intended thanks to a migraine (chronic illness and large crowds don’t mix all that well for prolonged periods). But here’s some of the compelling finds I made.
Bronx Library Center is a beautiful and rather large library, and its librarians are kind, caring people who truly believe in spreading a joy of reading. One of the panels I attended included a discussion of book recommendations from librarians that work in all age groups, and suggestions on how to break a book slump and to encourage reluctant readers. One thing I learned? Don’t discourage children from reading outside of their age ranges. Reading over their age range can help challenge them. Reading below their age range can remind them of all they’ve accomplished, thus boosting their self-esteem.
I watched a presentation about a wonderful children’s story about dealing with grief, My Yellow Balloon by Tiffany Papageorge. Following that, there was a reading of the book in Spanish, as that book had just been released, translated into Mi Globo Amarillo by Fernando Aquino and Melissa Coss Aquino. Melissa also taught a writer’s workshop that focused on narrowing yourself to one writing project and how to remain focused on it until its completion. Specificity was stressed, and the need to cut out a time to work on several small goals to contribute to your larger goals was a very helpful discussion for a writer like myself, who always has a billion balls in the air.
Another highlight was a panel titled “How to Get Your Work Published.” While I’ve been around that block a time or two, this was a great panel for people who are just starting out and are looking at the different methods of getting your work out into the world. The panel featured Carolyn Butts, Editor/Publisher of African Voices Magazine, Steve Bloom, writer, and Jennifer Baker, creator/host of the Minorities in Publishing podcast, and contributing editor of Electric Literature. The moderator was Marc W. Polite, Founder and Editor in Chief of Polite on Society. The sentiments here varied, with some discussing the advantages of self-publishing, while others discussed methods of snagging agent representation. Editing your work was stressed, as well as a need to get out into the world and make human connections. There was a general agreement that opinions are arbitrary and taste-based, and the reminder that rejection doesn’t mean the work is bad, it’s just not right for the person reading it. Writing Workshops were also discussed, reminding young writers that a writing workshop should feel helpful, not soul-sucking. Jennifer in particular discussed the helpfulness of borough-based grants in NYC.
Women in Leadership: Arts, Activism & Social Responsibility featured Yolanda Rodriguez, Co-founder and Executive Director of BxArts Factory, and Poet and Author Mercy Tullis-Bukhari as they discussed the various demands and misconceptions that circle women in the arts. A particularly interesting point was when a question was posed: Is it an artist’s responsibility to also be an activist? Both women stressed that activism should find its way into art when it comes from a genuine place. Tullis-Bukhari specifically discussed how her identity and the identity of her family are among the groups that are under attack in this country, so she often has no choice but to lean towards activism–it’s a part of her life. However, Rodriguez pointed out that if a person chooses to create work that does not serve as activism, or if a person cannot march among activist, it does not mean that they are not assisting in any way. There is more than one way to protest.
From the vendor floor, I got to meet so many amazing people, and wish I’d been able to make a stop at all of them. I discovered the National Writers Union (and joined them), an organization that offers tremendous resources to writers such as contract advice and seminars about important writing issues. To learn more, check them out here. Riverdale Avenue Books had a table, and I had a great time chatting with Publisher Lori Perkins. I picked up an intriguing book about the #MeToo movement that I intend to gobble up.
Another great vendor represented at the fair was Boogie Down Books. Specialized in readers from 0-18, Boogie Down is a bookstore without walls, with pop-up shops and special book-related events hosted in local stores around the borough. Another great place for children who love reading to try, Writeopia Lab offers writing classes for kids in grades K-12, both individually, and through their school, or camp. It truly sounds like a great way to turn reluctant writers into pros.
All in all, while chronic illness left me super tired and kinda hurting through this, the people I met and the discussions I viewed were both inspiring and invigorating. It’s been a few days and I’m still riding high off the feeling of community and the sense that I want to do more. The Inkwell Council was my first attempt to try to do more for the writing community, and it has been a success. But my brain is starting to work towards what I can do for the literacy community in The Bronx itself. Stay tuned, folks–I’m spinning around a few ideas…I’ll keep you posted.