My Kind of Book Review: Foolish Hearts

I recently completed working on my second completed novel, Never Say Never. As I prepared to pitch, I asked my buddy/little sister/co-editor/beta reader person, Megan Manzano, for a book recommendation. I needed a comparison title to include in my pitches. She didn’t have anything right away, but with #Pitmad rapidly approaching, happened upon a book that had her rushing to me in excitement. The book in question felt like Never Say Never. It wasn’t exactly like it, but it had the same mood, the same vibe. That book was Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills.

Naturally, I rushed to read it. By chapter 3, I was in love. I rarely blog book reviews, but I’m planning to start doing more this year. My format will look like what you see below. Now, onward to the vital statistics.

Foolish Hearts Cvr

Book Summary: When Claudia accidentally eavesdrops on the epic breakup of Paige and Iris, the it-couple at her school, she finds herself in hot water with prickly, difficult Iris. Thrown together against their will in the class production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, along with the goofiest, cutest boy Claudia has ever known, Iris and Claudia are in for an eye-opening senior year.

Smart, funny, and thoroughly, wonderfully flawed, Claudia navigates a world of intense friendships and tentative romance in Emma Mills’s Foolish Hearts, a young adult novel about expanding your horizons, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and accepting―and loving―people for who they really are.

What I enjoyed: The vibe of this book is fun and light, while still tackling real, human problems. Nobody is perfect here, everybody is a little odd, the dialogue is fun and snappy. I loved the relationship bits, and I have major love for the guy who snags Claudia’s interest, likable and over-the-top, Gideon Prewitt. With a cast of characters that truly felt like people cycling in and out of a real high schooler’s life, and an interesting plot about preparing for a play (the drama geek in me happy danced a bit), this story is all at once touching and relatable. Claudia is a fun heroine, a little deadpan, a little flawed, but a good person a heart. Tackling topics like avoiding change and fearing the unknown future, two topics that I’ve had a personal lifelong struggle with, Foolish Hearts follows Claudia into new friendships, new experiences, and new emotions. I clutched this book to my chest when I completed it.

What I’d avoid: I definitely wanted to feel more connected to Zoe. While the story is supposed to be about Claudia growing away from her and accepting that she must become her own person, feeling detached from Claudia’s best friend made it somewhat difficult to feel Claudia’s fear. It doesn’t truly harm the story, but there are places where I wish Zoe got a little more screen time, so I could truly feel the disconnect forming instead of simply be told it was happening.

Would I recommend it: For fans of YA Contemporary Romance, this book will make your heart flutter. But it’s not all about romance. It’s about friendship. The cast is diverse and realistic. Definite recommend.

What can I learn from it: I need to read this again and examine the ways she managed to introduce the reader to a large group of high school characters and keep them in the surroundings without diving too deeply into their character development, and also never really losing track of any of them. I attempted this in Never Say Never, and I’m truly hoping I managed this even half as well. Possibly? Either way, ALWAYS BE LEARNING.

In the end, Foolish Hearts was a fun, light and enjoyable read. I’d definitely recommend it, and it’s getting a place in my Pitmad pitches thanks to its very similar tone. Foolish Hearts + Greek Mythology = Never Say Never. That sounds fun, doesn’t it?

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Submissions – An Insiders (and Outsiders) View

It’s official. I’ve converted to the Dark Side. Once upon a time, I was just a lowly author.

A short time after signing my book deal with Fantasy Works Publishing, I was given a job there as well. After several back and forth conversations with owner, Jen Leigh, in which she would hand me a potential acquisition and ask me to evaluate it to see whether or not our interests lined up, I suddenly found myself working with her in acquisitions. Instead of the rejected, I have become the REJECTOR. And I feel the need to talk about it a bit, because it’s a huge difference, looking at it from the inside. And possibly because I need a little talk therapy.

Here’s what I’ve learned from working in acquisitions through two pitch sessions.

  1. It is a SLOG. I used to be very annoyed at how long it took agents and publishers to turn manuscripts around when you sent them in, but I was wrong. Reading through that many submissions can be a lot of work, especially when you consider the fact that we have other duties in acquisitions, like sending out contracts or rejections (more on both, later). And that isn’t even factoring in the fact that in small publishing you can wear many hats. Also, for me, specifically, I have a day job, a writing career, and a family. We try to keep your manuscripts for less than a month before we say something, and that’s mostly due to Jen, who reads so much faster than me. But in small publishing, all it takes is one minor business hiccup to mean we can’t read acquisitions for the rest of the day until we get it straightened out. Because putting out fires with the authors you have takes precedent.

  2. It is a JOY. People are creative. REALLY creative. And a whole lot of fun. Even if something doesn’t fit our particular vision for our company, we usually fall in love with something about every manuscript we read.

  3. It can be disappointing. There are few things that hurt worse than discovering a manuscript that you fall in love with, and having that author decide not to sign with your company. You invest a lot of time when you read a manuscript from cover to cover, and a lot of emotion as well. And when you fall in love, you fall hard. So it’s sad. But it’s also important that you are both on the same page, business-wise. So just like you have to make the best choice for your manuscript, we have to make the best choice for our company. The only thing I would suggest is that you only submit to a small publishing company if you would be interested in publishing with them. If you are relatively sure you are looking for an agent, it wastes everybody’s time for you to submit. It happens far more than you would think.

  4. We know, very quickly, if we want to sign you. Nobody wants to hear this, and nobody wants to say this, but it’s true. I often know by page 5 or 6 of whatever you send me, if I’m going to want to read further. If I fear a no, I’ll still read the entire packet you send, hoping you’ll prove me wrong, but I have yet to have that happen. Taste is subjective, and that doesn’t mean that the same will be true for the same writer any other place. By no means does this mean you have to be perfect, but when I pick up a manuscript, I have to be captivated by something (your writing style, a character, voice, plot) by the end of the first several pages, or you’ll be hard pressed to win me over.

  5. We hate rejections. If Jen tells me she has grabbed a pint of ice cream, I know it’s time to send out rejections. We hate every single email we send, because we don’t want to crush anybody’s dream. We’d much rather say yes, because…

  6. We love to make a dream come true. Jen has said this to me time and again, but it wasn’t until just recently, when I was given the chance to make a call on a manuscript by myself, that I understood the power of selecting a novel for publication. That book became my baby. I’d worked on books in their nascent stages before – mine, my husband’s, my good friend, Louis’ – and you become emotionally invested in them. Their success becomes just as important as your own. But never, had I read the work of a complete stranger (though, thankfully, not anymore) and had that same magic happen to me. And then it did.

And this is why I wanted to do this. This is why I added Acquisitions Editor to the many pieces of my puzzle. Because the writers we have chosen deserve to have a voice, deserve to have their day. And I’m enjoying every chance I get to make that happen.

Promoting #Pit2Pub, the newest Twitter Pitch Party!

Those of you who know my publishing story, know that it was a Twitter pitch party that led me to my publisher. Now that I have another book completed – a romantic comedy, which Fantasy Works just doesn’t publish – I am shopping for a publisher for that as well, and will be shopping it at the newest Twitter pitch party, #pit2pub, on July 15th. For more information, please read below!


The Intro: Who has fun spending hours creating that perfect 140-character pitch? Then bouncing that sentence or two off others to see if it’s fantastic? And finally having to create a couple more so you’re not posting the same one every few hours?

The Why: Kristin and Ann know what you’re going through. In fact, they both did quite a few Twitter Pitch Parties so they know your pain. Kristin remembers what it was like to see that little colored star and then checking and re-checking email to confirm that someone did in fact click on the pitch and favorite it. And Ann’s recalls her heart pounding and her palms sweaty, all the while hoping and praying that it wasn’t made by accident from a friend or some complete stranger who marked it and not re-tweeted it by mistake. They both trolled the feed all day long and didn’t work their day jobs (well, mostly this was Kristin).

So it’s because of those reasons Ann M. Noser and Kristin D. Van Risseghem wanted to help other authors. So why not pay it forward? They are fortunate enough to have a published book, and working on their second. But let’s face it, the best reason for them doing this? IT’S FUN! So let’s all have a blast, help each other out, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll find that perfect relationship between author and publisher.

The When: Here’s the date for #Pit2PubJuly 15, 2015 starts at 8AM and ends at 8PM (CST or CDT, which is Chicago time).

The What: What is #Pit2Pub? A Twitter Pitch Party for writers to tweet a 140-character pitch for their completed manuscripts. Have several variations of your Twitter pitch available. The pitch must include the hashtag #Pit2Pub, the Age Group, and the Genre (#YA, #MG, #A, etc. see chart below) in the tweet. It’s important to include the hashtag(s).

Age Groups Hashtags:
#PB = Picture Book
#C = Children’s
#MG = Middle Grade
#YA = Young Adult
#NA = New Adult
#A = Adult
#WF = Woman’s Fiction

Genres Hashtags:
#CB = Chapter Book
#CL = Children’s Lit
#E = Erotica
#ER = Erotic Romance
#ES = Erotica Suspense
#HF = Historical Fiction
#HR = Historical Romance
#M = Mystery
#Mem = Memoir
#LGBT
#LF = Literary Fiction
#NF = Non-fiction
#R = Romance
#PNR = Paranormal Romance
#RS = Romantic Suspense
#SFF = SciFi & Fantasy
#S = Suspense
#T = Thriller
#W = Westerns

RULES:
Authors of all genres are welcome to pitch their completed and polished manuscripts. You can pitch more than one manuscript. Tweet your pitch throughout the day, but no more than twice per hour per manuscript. When you see an industry professional on the feed, tweet it once. Remember to include the hashtag #Pit2Pub and genre.

The publishers will tweet their submission preferences and favorite your tweet if they wish to see more. If you get a favorite from an agent or publisher, follow their submission directions on their website or look for them on this blog. Then send them their request as soon as you can. They may have tweeted what they want you to send, so check their twitter feed for that information.

Make sure to put “Pit2Pub Request: TITLE” in the subject line of your email when sending your request.

Don’t tweet agents and publishers directly unless they tweet you first.

Don’t favorite friends’ tweets. You can RT your friends to show your support. Save favoriting for publisher requests to avoid confusion.
Be sure you research each requesting publisher. Don’t submit if you don’t want to work with them.

Be nice and courteous to each other and to the industry professionals. If you do see abuse, please report it to Twitter or notify Ann or Kristin right away.

Check back on their blogs (http://www.kristinvanrisseghem.com/blog) or Ann’s Blog (http://annmnoser.com) as we post the list of comfirmed publishers who have signed up to monitor the feed on July 15, 2015!

Thank you! And let the fun begin!!!

Ignore No Opportunity: How I Found My Publisher

Hello all!  Today I am guest blogging over at the wonderful YA blog, All the Way YA.

Here’s a quick preview of what you’ll find there:

There are plenty of traditional routes towards getting published, and when I started shopping out my manuscript for The Order of the Key, Book 1 of my series, Keys and Guardians, I systematically went through all of them.

  • Cold query agents? Check!
  • Spend hundreds on an informative Writer’s Conference with the added benefit of pitching to various agents? Check (thanks to my day job’s Christmas bonus)!
  • Chatted with an agent I met? Check (Lesson: I’m awkward. My husband is MORE awkward.)!
  • Ask published writer buddy to hook a sister up? Check!
  • Cold submit directly to small presses? Checkity-check!

I was hitting brick walls left and right. Even when I got a step closer, pitches leading to partial manuscripts ended up leading to zilch. I wasn’t at it for very long, but I’ll admit that I was beginning to get discouraged. I’m an efficient organizer, which means that in six short months I managed to rack up an impressive number of rejections.

For the rest of the article, go visit the main post! 

Enjoy! And feel free to comment back here, if you have any feedback!

2014 Year In Review

Happy New Year!  I hope you can look back at last year with happiness in your heart, and look forward to a year filled with new and interesting possibilities.

2014 has been a bit crazy for me, personally. I’ve faced some trials, some family illnesses, some coping with awful life things from my past. I’ve also made new friends, solidified old relationships, and adopted to the new rigors of having a school-aged child. It can be a lot, but every year is a gem in its own way. We have been blessed. Our family continues to float on.

As this year kicks into gear, it is easy to look back and think of all of the things you didn’t get to do, or the things you have yet to do – which is why it is so important for us to take a second to examine what has been accomplished in this bygone year. So, that’s what I’m going to do – I’m going to look at what I’ve accomplished in 2014 and discuss where I’d like to go in 2015.

Writing Steps in 2014

  • Last year, I was celebrating the publication of one of my first short story. This year, I am celebrating the publication of three new stories! My writing life has absolutely been blessed this year. Forward momentum for the win! Tunneling, which also happened to be my first piece of flash fiction, One Percent, which I mentioned in my 2013 year in review as a story that I struggled with rewriting, and Choosing to Stand Still, which was the first short story I brought before the writing critique group I was just joining at the end of last year, all found permanent homes and made me a proud mama.
  • I went to my first writing convention, the Writer’s Digest Conference 2014, and did my first ever pitch session. Chronicled in a two part blog post in August, I got to pursue this particular first in time with my son’s 5th birthday weekend, which left me in an insane tizzy. Though two out of three of my pitch requests ended in rejection, and one is still pending, I still count this as a victory on two fronts. I had never gone out into the world to discuss one of my books before. I very rarely went out into the world and declared myself a writer. That weekend, I got to do that, and not only that, but I got to prove to myself that, while it may tire me out, I can be a mother, and a writer, and have a day job, without everything falling apart. This was the first test.
  • Not only did I start pitching The Order of the Key in person, but I also started to send out query letters to agents, enter twitter contests, and just generally get my first full length novel out into the world. This was a huge step, as a writer can sit in edit, rinse, repeat hell forever if allowed.
  • While I have read my work publicly in the past, I read my work for the first time, professionally, this year. It was a great time, only slightly nerve wracking and helped quite a bit by the presence of several incredible people at my side while I geared up. I will say, that one of the ways I have been very lucky, and there are many, is that I have an intensely supportive and loving group of people that would follow my writing and me anywhere and the feeling is mutual. These are the moments when you see that in living color – whether it’s the people who watch my son for me while I go and participate in writing related activities, the people who listen to me practice read, the people who ask me about my work, or the people who come out and attend readings – I have an awesome group of people surrounding me.
  • This year I wrote my first guest blog post, about writing superstitions. I enjoyed putting it together. I also enjoyed the opportunity to get to know a bit about fellow YA Fantasy writer Scarlett Van Dijk’s work.
  • I completed another round of NaNoWriMo! Which means I’m over halfway through my rewrite of Legally Insane. It is almost complete and I am excited about it. It’s an oddly sweet little story about a girl who hallucinates, and I can’t wait to finish it and get it to you guys so you can read it.
  • I wrote a fanfic, my first in a long time, on a totally different topic than usual. It was, as most fanfic is to me, an experiment in writing a different kind of voice than I’m used to. I enjoyed it.
  • I  wrote yet another short story prequel to my Keys and Guardians series, titled “Love is Sacrifice”. I’m not sure if I can do anything with it as a stand alone (I have the first, “Fuel and Fire”, out for submissions as mentioned below) but I am getting the feeling there will definitely be some kind of anthology one day.

Plans for 2015

  • I’ve got two short stories out in the world waiting to be published by somebody. I am hoping they find placement out there somewhere. They also happen to be my two favorite short stories, which makes their prolonged lack of publication particularly sad.  I’m hoping 2015 will find them a home.
  • The Order of the Key is still out in limbo with a couple of agents and publishers. I am hoping that by the end of 2015 I will know the fate of the Keys and Guardians series. Hopefully, much sooner than that.
  • I definitely want to finish Legally Insane and complete the edit on the book by the end of 2015.
  • If The Order of the Key is picked up for publication, my NaNoWriMo book for next year will be Book 2, The Lost Key. If it is not, and I’m still figuring it out or still in the process of editing Book 1, I will be going forward with The Broken Hearts Club, my ironically (and possibly temporarily) titled story about the continued tale of Tunneling. I still have a couple of characters to really figure out from that story, so we’ll see.
  • I’m taking on a reading challenge for 2015 to get me to read more and different books (in case you noticed that list from last week was a little…Kelley Armstrong heavy…). I will be tracking that, to some extent, here.
  • Just more. Of everything. I’d love to look into more networking opportunities. I’d love to take more classes. I’d love to try some more new experiences that I can maybe use in my writing. I’d love to travel a bit. I’d love to do another reading. I’d love to do more guest blog posts. I’d love to have people do guest posts on my blog. I’d love to grow as a writer. And I can’t wait to start doing it.

2014 was an amazing year. I published one story when 2014 began. By the end of 2014, I’ve published four. I don’t want to lose this momentum. So here’s to another wonderful year of getting out there and being a writer.

And here’s to another wonderful year of you pursuing your dreams!  What have you accomplished in 2014? What do you have planned for 2015? Post it in the comments below.

 

Work/Life Balance: The Craziest Weekend Ever, Part II

Behold! The long awaited (not really) sequel to the blog post detailing the insane adventure of going to The Writer’s Digest Conference while simultaneously attempting to manage my son’s fifth birthday weekend. If you missed the first part, check it out here. It might explain some of my complete breakdown.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

5:30 AM: I woke up about eighty times in the middle of the night, so I am not really feeling up to this, but I know that I must. So, I pull myself out of bed before Ismael, my husband, gets the chance to tug me out by my foot. (He has done this before.) He has woken me up armed with coffee again, and breakfast which I can’t eat because my stomach feels gross again this morning. I have chosen to skip the first seminar I signed up for because it didn’t look like it would really apply to me. Still, this is the latest I can wake up.

6 AM: I rush to get ready. Again, because I am dragging myself around like a stubborn dog on a leash, I am running late. Also, the sky has seen fit to open up and drop all of its contents on the ground and umbrellas and puddles are not going to make things any easier. As I struggle to get myself together, continually fumbling objects, I whine to Ismael that I wish I could just stay home and play video games with him and Logan.

7:30 AM: The boys drop me at the train station. The rain is steady. I should be worried about the torrential downpour and my cute flats, but I’m not. I run upstairs and immediately discover that the train is only running uptown, not downtown. I will have to take it up to the last stop and then come back down. That will add about 20 minutes to my commute, but it’s not the end of the world. If anything, it will give me more time to memorize my pitch.

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Deer in headlights, thy name is Justine

7:45 AM: The train arrives. I walk on and my shoe promptly slips out from under me. I fall onto my ass on a rain soaked subway floor. Don’t ever believe what they tell you about New Yorkers being mean. The entire train car rushes to help me up. It is early Saturday morning and the entire train car consists of seven people, but they all come to help me. But I’m okay. A little more shaken than I was five minutes ago, but there is a special level of adrenaline raging through me at this moment and I feel nothing. Nothing, that is, but the intense nervousness that comes with knowing your career may very well be furthered in the next few hours…if you do it right.

8 AM: The Order of the Key is a young adult urban fantasy about a girl named Jacklyn Madison who…DAMN IT! THAT’S NOT WHAT I WROTE! MEMORIZE, WOMAN! Then get ad-libby!

8:30 AM: Take 375. I hope these agents have a sense of humor.

8:45 AM: Vanderbilt and 45th Street has a slippery street from Hell. I nearly fall again because I am me.

Courtesy of Wikipedia, because when in this mess did I have time to take a picture?
Courtesy of Wikipedia, because when in this mess did I have time to take a picture?

9 AM: I have arrived! Success!

Seminar 1: “You Have Three Pages to Win Me Over: Essential Advice for Your Opening Pages” – This seminar is led by Jacquelyn Mitchard, Well-Known Author and Editor in Chief of Merit Press. The fact that I manage to take any notes on this presentation at all is a testament to Ms. Mitchard’s engaging public speaking. My brain is completely on the fact that the minute this is done, I’m pitching my novel. Still, I  enjoy Mitchard’s discussion. She spends time reminding us that agents want to love your book. They are not looking to reject anything. She explains that it’s important to have a powerful first three pages, filled with promise for an interesting premise and engaging characters. When writing your first three pages, it is best that the reader is able to see that this set up can go in many interesting directions.

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That’s me in the blue towards the back, waiting to pitch to an agent! Courtesy of WritersDigestConference.com

10 AM: Pitch Slam – The line curves around three times. There are probably around 200 people waiting to speak to 50 agents and publishing company representatives for 3 minutes at a time. The writer/agent equivalent of speed dating. This is, hands down, the most nervous I have ever been. I have had spinal surgery. I have had casual hangout time with certifiably insane people, I have given birth to a baby, and this is the most nervous I have ever been. To me, this is the equivalent of taking Logan around and saying, “This is my baby. Judge him, please, and let that judgment seal his fate.”

Chuck Sambuchino, who ran the Pitch Perfect session the day before, checks badges at the door to make sure we are in the correct session (there are three). I don’t know if I look like I’m going to barf, or if my bright blue shirt stands out, or if I look friendly, or what, but Chuck wishes me good luck. Maybe he said that to everyone and I’m just not paying attention, but it immediately eases some of the panic.

I go inside and wait on the line in front of my # 1 agent choice (P.S. I’m not naming names here, because professionalism). While I wait on the line behind three other people, I am near hyperventilating. And then, there is only one person in front of me. And then there are none, and I walk over to Agent #1 with a smile. I start talking, and I know I sound nervous, but she smiles and nods enthusiastically as I speak, and suddenly, I’m feeling better about this whole thing. Agent #1 says she would love to see more of my work and asks me to send her some sample pages and a synopsis. And she gives me her coveted card.

I have a card in my pocket! The rest is just cake, right? So I get on the line for Agent #2 with a whole different attitude. Except, that line is long. I wait. I wait some more. And then Chuck runs up to me. “Genre?”

“Young Adult, Urban Fantasy,” I answer.

He points me in the direction of an agent who was on my list of folks to see. “No line. Go, NOW.”

I don’t have time to get nervous. I go. I pitch. She gives me her card. Life is good.

I walk back to the line I had been in. It is shorter. I wait. I pitch. She gives me her card. Life is still good.

I go to the next line. No, wait, I’m standing in the wrong line. I’m on line for the wrong agent! The signage was a little confusing and I have lost time. I rush to a different agent and I’m told I will be the last one to pitch for her and this is my last pitch of the day. I pitch. She likes the idea, but doesn’t think she’s the best fit to represent me. Life is still good. I have walked out of here with three cards more than I had, three agents ready to see my work.

Now if I don’t get published, it’s not the fault of my pitch…it is the fault of my writing. Um…did the pressure just ratchet up a little?

11:10 PM, Seminar 2: “Creating Suspense: 13 Techniques for Making Your Readers Sweat” – Yet another seminar that had a compelling leader in Jane K. Cleland, mystery author. This was a lucky thing, because she pulled me away from texting my circle to let them know how the pitch slam went, instead drawing me into her seminar. The two main points I walked away with from this one? 1) Use surprises in small doses. Don’t have big explosions…have the clock ticking as the bomb inches towards an explosion. It is better to know something bad is coming then to watch something bad happen. 2) “Look”, “feel”, and “hear”, and other variations of those words are telling, not showing, words. Seek them out in your manuscript and destroy what you can.

12:10 – Lunch! Again, I am starving, so I run to Cosi. As soon as I get settled, a fellow attendee rounds all of the writers in

Cosi across from the Roosevelt, courtesy of Google Maps.

the restaurant up and we share our pitch stories. I strike up a conversation with a non-fiction writer who is pitching a health book that sounds interesting. She asks what my book is about. I clam up. I get to interdimensionals, cease to make sense and grumble “I can’t explain it!” with no absence of frustration. She laughs. “Seems like you did fine in there.” She’s right, of course, so I share my theory that the adrenaline rush has fried my brain. But the truth is more likely that I don’t feel like she will understand my book. There is a big difference between non-fiction and stories about interdimensional monsters. I still feel crazy about writing weird stuff, but when I was in that room, talking to the agents, I felt like I was with my people. After one internal cringe when mentioning the interdimensionals, I recovered, because, if these people published fantasy before, they’d seen just as crazy as me, and I was alright.

1:30 PM, Seminar 3: “All Kidding Aside: How I Became a Published Author and What You Can Learn from My Experience” – This panel, moderated by Writer’s Digest super-publisher, Phil Sexton, contains authors Joe Nelms, Sean Ellis, Jeffrey Somers, Kristopher Jansma, Julia Fierro, and Kelly Braffet. I don’t take notes from this panel as much as I fall in love with every single writer on it. All are clever and funny and all are sharing their stories of how they found their way into becoming a published author. Some stories are a little disheartening, others inspiring, all showcase great personalities. I spend most of the time adding books to my “To Be Read” list.

2:40 PM, Seminar 4: “Goodreads: The Platform That Can Make Your Career” – Once again led by Michael J. Sullivan, this seminar is where things begin to go downhill for me. As I sit, listening to him have trouble working the slide show, and allow his wife to take over because she knows what she is speaking about more than he does, I wonder how someone I enjoyed listening to so much the day before turned into this guy. I’m bored. Due to lack of sleep and my, now waning, adrenaline burst, I begin to fade. In the end, I leave early because I now realize I don’t have the books I bought on my lunch break with me, and I must have left them at the last panel, because I have clearly begun to mentally check out. I manage to retrieve the books.

3:40 PM, Seminar 5: Panel: “Independent Bookstores – Your Secret Weapon” – This panel contained Emily Pullen, Store Manager/Bookseller of WORD Bookstore, Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, Co-Owner and Event Coordinator at Greenlight Bookstore, Lena Valencia, Frontlist Buyer, The POWERHOUSE Arena, Michele Filgate, Indie Bookseller and Event Coordinator at Community Bookstore, Douglas Singleton, Buyer and Literary Journal Curator at McNally Jackson Books, Margot Sage-EL, Owner of Watchung Booksellers, and Dan Cullen, Senior Strategy Officer of American Booksellers Association. While discussion of indie booksellers was interesting, there was a lot of talk involving the idea that you must be a local to get your book in an indie bookstore. That prompted a search for indie bookstores in the Bronx. There are none. I quickly realize that, with three other seminars going on at the same time, I’m attending the wrong one for me. I begin to flag. A headache begins to thrum, my back begins to remember that I have fallen today, and I begin to text Ismael to see if he would mind a quick drive into the city to come and get me. The central keynote speech is after this, followed by a cocktail party I have already come to understand I could not possibly survive without wanting to throw up on someone’s pretty, pretty shoes.

4:40 – Central Keynote Speech – “The Rules of Writing and When To Break Them with Harlan Coben” – After calling Ismael and discussing the way the rest of the day would go, I head into the keynote speech and there is not a single seat available. I stand in the back of the room, bad back and all, and wait for the phone call from Ismael saying he was outside. Except, when it comes, I don’t want to leave right away. Harlan Coben is in the middle of a hilarious speech about the truth of the business, demanding that, if we have a better path in life, we should take it, because people who torture themselves as writers do so because they have no other choice. I laugh more during that hour than I did in the entire conference, and I’ve laughed a lot over these last two days. Coben probably earned more new readers with that speech than he could have done on a publicity blitz. His audience ate up everything he said and loved it. A very clever, very funny guy.

5:30 Exit: Alas, all good things must come to an end. I get into the car with Ismael and Logan.

Logan, being a superhero at his superhero theme party. And yes, that's a Super Grover t-shirt.
Logan, being a superhero at his superhero theme party. And yes, that’s a Super Grover t-shirt.

There would be a series of seminars the following day, but there would also be a birthday party for my son at an indoor playground with all of his closest friends, and that was where I intended to be. Upon returning home on Sunday, I would be zonked enough to fall asleep on the couch while Logan plays with his birthday presents.

For now, however, I have the cards of three agents in my pocket. As soon as I get into the car, Ismael scoffs. “And you wanted to stay home and play video games.” We laugh. He is a writer. He gets it. We are both riding high.

And the best part? I get to teach a nice lesson to my son.

“How was your day, Mommy?” Logan asked.

“Do you know how Mommy always says her big dream is to see one of her books in the store so anyone can buy it?”

Logan nods.

“Well, it’s going to take a lot more work, and maybe more stuff like this. But I think I at least got one tiny step closer.”

“Yay, Mommy! High five!”

And that made the entire weekend worth it.

 

Work/Life Balance: The Craziest Weekend Ever, Part I

Remember when I said this blog would be about putting the pieces of my life together and making a writer? Here’s proof. This post will be split in two, with one half going up today (I’m SO late. This was supposed to be up on the 15th), and the next on August 31st. Enjoy people!

Day 1: Friday, August 1st

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Waiting for the 6 train on the road to the conference

I have taken a day off from my 9-5 to accomplish this, because if I had needed to cram anything else into this weekend, I would honestly fail all of the things on my to-do list. Guaranteed. Today is my son, Logan’s, birthday. He is turning 5. Today is also the weekend of the Writer’s Digest Conference at The Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. Now, thankfully, I live in the Bronx and work in the city, so I don’t have to travel to get to the conference. Still…it should be interesting to attempt to handle both.

5 AM: Oh My GOD, I am tired. How? Why? I am waking up all of thirty minutes earlier than usual! It could be the fact that I couldn’t sleep last night. Maybe.

I whine as I scrape myself out of bed. My husband, Ismael, is waiting with a cup of coffee before he leaves for work. He is normal as this is his normal wake up time. I am a quivering blob of a person and I’m too nauseated to eat breakfast.

6 AM: Time to wake up the birthday boy, my little five year old guy! I wake him up with my usual ‘Rise and Shine’ song, and throw in a bit of birthday song for good measure. I give him a medal, because he was asking for one since he saw Wreck it Ralph. He is absurdly happy about his medal.

720 AM: I swore I would be at the daycare the minute it opened at 7. I am late. Between trying to look presentable, trying to indulge my birthday boy so he didn’t feel the anxiety I am about this whole weekend, and making sure I have the last minute things together for his daycare party (cupcakes? Check!) and later tonight, when our family will be visiting, I just could not get out of the house. Ms. Dawn acts like I’ve come just when she was expecting me. God bless her.

8 AM: I am on the train. The conference starts at 8:30, I still have to register and get to the first seminar. Also, I still feel completely nauseated, probably exacerbated by being late, which I hate, which has been my constant state since I had Logan.

815 AM: STILL on the train. Shit. SHIT.

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The view from my seat for the Writer’s Digest Pro Series

835 AM: I’m here! Registration was quick and easy and I moved right into the first seminar in the conference. Now, I’m not going to go into too much detail about everything that was said here, just because there are massive amounts of information that were given out in each of the panels over the following two days. But I will give out one major highlight per panel, and if anyone has an interest in learning more about a specific panel, feel free to let me know in the comments!

Seminar 1: “Moving the Needle: How to Boost Your Book Sales from 1,000 to 10,000 Copies Sold.” – This seminar was led by Out:Think Founder, Tim Grahl. Perhaps his most surprising tip from the conference was that you should never give out anything for free, a phenomenon I have often wondered about. If you aren’t shopping the indie circuit for eBooks, you don’t realize how rampant this practice is. People make books free for short periods of time and make some sales, but, as Grahl notes, most people are just stocking their Kindles filled with books that they never read. And perhaps there is some truth to that. I have tons of available eBooks that I never touch just because I never have time. And the ones that I don’t touch…they were free. As Grahl put it, “When people don’t pay for something, they don’t value it.”

9:30, Seminar 2: “Advanced Social Media Skills for Selling Books.” – This seminar was led by Kristen McLean, the CEO of Bookigee. Two big takeaways from this one. One was a takeoff of something Tim Grahl had started to say in the previous seminar. Be relentlessly helpful. Helping others is both selfish and selfless. You get to assist, but you also garner loyalty from others. People want to help those that help them. Another gem, you don’t have to be on every type of social media, but whatever you are on, you should use consistently. Be yourself, be helpful, interesting, and real. However, if you are trying to maintain a million different social networks and find you are having real trouble doing so, it’s best to drop off of the ones you are not naturally comfortable with, rather than allow uninteresting stuff to dominate your time.

10:15, Seminar 3: “Advanced Amazon for Authors.” – Led by Amazon’s Director of Author & Publisher Relationships, Jon Fine, this was interesting, but I didn’t walk away feeling like I’d just stumbled on a goldmine of information. That’s probably because my mindset is more aimed at traditional publishing (for now, anyway) than independent publishing. What did jump out at me was the ACX program, where a person can, using Amazon’s resources, create an indie audio book. Also discussed was KindleWorlds, the new fanfiction publishing platform from Amazon. I’m still waiting for KindleWorlds to license Women of the Otherworld and Stargate, so I can get my fanfiction sold. If only…

11:10, Seminar 4: “Author Branding: What You Need To Know.” – This seminar was led by Michael J. Sullivan, fantasy/science fiction writer and Goodreads Guru. The big takeaway from this one was that the most important thing you should do when building a brand is not to step outside of yourself. Alternate egos are difficult to maintain, so if you’re not being true to yourself when putting yourself out there, you are going to find yourself coming off as artificial or wishy washy. No matter what you choose to reveal about yourself, the person who should be coming through when you talk about your brand should be you.

12 PM: Oh my God, I am so hungry. I never ate breakfast, so by the time they break for lunch, I pretty much barrel my way over to the Cosi directly across the street from the hotel and scarf my lunch (Chicken TBM Melt, yo!) happily. I get back in time to go visit the exhibits. This was the only portion of the event I thought was a tad lacking. The exhibits that were there were great. The people were sweet and provided information generously. But for an event that had several periods throughout the weekend for viewing the exhibits, there weren’t many to view. Although, I did walk out with a bag of info packets and four new books from the Writer’s Digest Store.

1 PM, Seminar 5: “A View from the Top: Publishing Insiders on Taking Your Writing Career to the Next Level.” –  Moderated by Kate Travers, Director of Digital Business Development at Workman Publishing, this panel had a nice group of industry insiders: Kristin Fassler, Director of Marketing at Penguin Random House, Larry Kirshbaum, Senior Literary Agent at Waxman Leavell Literary Agency and Brandi Larsen, Digital Publishing Director at New American Library, Berkley Books, and Celebra imprints at Penguin Random House. The big takeaway fact from this panel, though they each discussed it in their own different and engaging manners, was that the publishing industry WANTS to find your book. They want to believe in your book. They are not looking for a reason not to publish your book. They truly want to find the next amazing story. So give it to them. Give them what they are looking for and they will take it and run with it.

2PM, Seminar 6: “When the Author Is a Critic: The View From Both Sides”. – This panel was a pleasant surprise. Originally, this space was a to be determined panel. Moderated by Porter Anderson, Journalist/Speaker/Consultant in the publishing industry (who I will forever know as he of the movie trailer voice) and contained Emily St. John Mandel, Author of Station Eleven and Shanna Swendson, Author of The Enchanted Series. The two discussed and debated the benefits of small publishing houses, large publishers, and hybrid publishing (merging traditional and self publishing). I walked away from this one with the idea that the best strategy is to try what you can and find what works for you. We are in a very different publishing world now, and it is essential to have an open mind as you navigate.

Courtesy of writersdigestconference.com. If you look on the right 5 rows or so back, you can spot the back of my head. 😉

2:45 PM, Seminar 7: “Do You Really Want to Write a Bestseller? Here’s How.” – Once again conducted by Larry Kirshbaum of Waxman Leavell Literary Agency, this seminar discussed the elements necessary to write a bestseller. Kirshbaum urges writers to make sure they have a strong premise and a strong first chapter. He is also very adamant about writers not overwriting and loading down their descriptions – get it in 1 to 2 sentences and then move on. His closing remark? You have to want it really badly, and if you do, you’ll accomplish it.

3:30 PM, Seminar 8: “Pitch Perfect.” – Led by Guide to Literary Agents guru Chuck Sambuchino, this was the big one for me, the most important seminar of the day, because I would be participating in the pitch slam being held early the following morning. So, I needed confirmation that the pitch I had meticulously practiced and memorized was correct. Guess what? It wasn’t.

The list of things that should be included?
a) Details- Type, word count, genre, title.
b) Introduce the main character.
c) Tell us something interesting about them and what they want.
d) What is the book’s inciting incident? What puts everything into motion.
e) What is the main conflict of the story.
f) Complications?
g) Stakes?
h) Unclear wrap up

The bad news? My pitch wasn’t ready. And to top that off, I had company coming over that night, so I couldn’t exactly rewrite it any time soon.

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Me and my Logan

5 PM – Despite there being more conference for the night, my son’s birthday awaited, so I scrambled home to spend some time with my boy.

5:15 PM – Sitting on the 6 train, trying my best to spin a new pitch. It is not going well. Everything I come up with sounds awful. How do you encapsulate five years worth of work in a paragraph?

6:30 PM – Family time! My little man is gorgeous and thinks he is a grown up. My mother, sister, brother, closest friends, husband son, my FAMILY surrounds me and still I can tell I’m probably not the most pleasant individual right now. I’m intensely nervous about the pitch the following morning. My family seems to believe that failure is close to impossible for me, which makes them awesome and makes me feel silly for worrying. Still, I worry. But while I worry, I have the best damn family gathering / birthday celebration I can manage.

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Me and my boys.

11 PM – People begin to depart. My best friend, Joy, demands to stay and help me work on the pitch. (My other best friend, Allegra, offered the same, but the gathering ran too late.) Joy and Ismael work until 1 AM to get the pitch as perfect as we can manage.

1 AM – Sleep claims me and the following day awaits.

Stay tuned for part 2, posted on the 31st! Want to know any more about these topics? Post below and I’ll elaborate on what I can.