Be a Selfish Writer

Snoopy

Being a writer has many different challenges: grammar, word usage, plot, picking just one story to write. Then there are queries, selling your book, marketing, trying to sell the next book, maintaining a career, and on and on. Many of the latter I haven’t experienced yet, though I’m really hopeful I will, but the challenge I find most daunting is time management.

And I don’t think it matters if you’re a new writer squeezing it in between work and social life, or an established writer who is juggling signings, writing the next book, and marketing the one that’s out there. We all have demands on our time and the trick is finding the right balance for what works for our life and our careers.

I remember when I first started writing I was a new stay-at-home mom. Those were a couple of easy years. I was used to working 40-60 hours a week, taking my kids to daycare, and still keeping the house clean, spending time with family, and getting everywhere we needed to be on time. Suddenly I had entire days open to me. My house had never been so clean, I made cupcakes for every classroom holiday, I volunteered for every gymnastic meet and school field trip. Writing was Cinderella going to the ball if all her chores were done. The stepmother found infinite problems for Cinderella to overcome, and I did the same thing to myself.

There was a lot of guilt in those early years. I wasn’t staying home to become a writer; I was staying home because our move made it difficult to find a job in my previous career and because we expected to have more children. It was the logical choice. And writing was just the frosting on the cupcake.

So I prioritized everything over writing. But it slowly began to gain on me. Even though I felt guilty for letting that laundry pile up, I just wanted to finish that chapter. And the dishes needed to be done, but I had some more research to do. I was torn between accepting that writing was a job I wasn’t getting paid for, and being the wonder-mom I expected myself to be. After all, my husband was working full-time, I owed it to him to have dinner on the table, the house clean, and laundry done, right?

Yeah, maybe. But that wasn’t really working in my situation. My husband wasn’t placing those expectations on me, I was doing it to myself. As my writing became more and more important to me, and it became clear that I was actually good at it, my priorities slowly shifted. Until one day I decided this was going to be a career, not just a hobby I fit in between babies and housework.

I became selfish. I had to. My older kids were in school full time already, but I needed to put the younger ones in daycare. Yup, I was paying out money so I could write. The guilt compounded, even though I needed this for my career as well as my sanity. (Turns out I’m not the most maternal-stay-at-home mom kind of person.) I needed a career—and I’d found one I absolutely loved—for my own mental health.

And don’t think I wasn’t judged on this. Family and acquaintances alike made comments like, “You’re kids go to daycare? But you stay home?”

Adding their judgment to my own self-generated guilt was a wonderful mix of anxiety and incrimination. But you know what? I stuck with it. My husband supported me. That was really important. I’d never have been able to do what I did without him and his unquestioning support. I get that not everyone has that luxury. Of the supporting husband or the means to pay for daycare when you aren’t actually bringing in any dollar signs yourself. And to be clear, this wasn’t full time. It was two to three days a week.

See, even now I can’t get away from the guilt.

But back to the point. You have to be selfish with your writing. And this can apply in many different ways. Of course you have to set priorities, and children, significant others, work and many other things often need to take a front row seat. But that doesn’t mean that every second of your time needs to be devoted to them. It’s okay to bring store-bought cupcakes to your child’s recital, no matter if those Pinterest Moms look down their noses at you. And yup, I used to be one of those Pinterest Moms. But I like the view off my self-imposed pedestal a lot better.

Sometimes your significant other needs to help with the kids, or the chores. Maybe your mom can baby sit. Or maybe your friends will have to understand that you can only go out once a month instead of every weekend. Sacrifices need to be made, on your part and sometimes on other people’s part too. But that’s where your priorities need to come in. Make a list of all the things you have to do and the things you want to do. Try to determine how much time you can allot to each one, or if some need to come off the list for the time being. It’s all about what works for you.

Yes, there will be guilt. You’ll create some, and those you love will create some. There will be sacrifices. Sometimes your own sacrifices, and sometimes from others. But as long as it’s all in moderation, it’s okay.

For my own case, I had to make writing a part of my life, not a hobby or just something I enjoyed. I still give up writing days now and then for classroom parties and to nurse a sick toddler, but everyone in my family knows it’s my job. Even if I’m not getting paid yet. They see me writing at my desk, and they know that they can interrupt me if they need to, but that Mommy is working. They know they can’t stay home from daycare-day just because they don’t feel like going. They know our house isn’t the cleanest or most orderly in town. Okay, they may have accepted it’s the literal worst, but they also get another benefit.

They see me being dedicated to something: a dream.

They see that they are the most important parts of my life, but there is value in me and my achievements as well as their own. They see me never giving up, working hard, and believing in myself.

So be selfish with your writing. Within reason, of course. Because whether that book ever gets published, whether you ever make any money, whether another person beyond your CPs ever read your words: there is value in pursing a dream and investing in yourself.

How I Got My Agent! (Or the art of never giving up)

never-give-up

I’ve been wanting to write this post for awhile, but I wasn’t sure on the timing. Should I do it right after I signed? But that seemed a little soon. What about after you get a book deal? Well, I’m still waiting on that. And submission can be a long process, so I decided to go ahead. No need to wait. Besides, maybe it’ll get my mind off the fact that actual editors at actual publishing houses are reading my manuscript.

I won’t bore you with the long, drawn-out story of how I became a writer. Maybe that’s for another day. Let’s enter at the scene where I have a publishable YA Post-Apocalyptic manuscript just waiting for the right agent to snap it up. I researched agents and how to write a query. Wrote. Revised. Wrote. Revised. Etc., etc. Created a list of agents I felt most strongly about, which of course starts out sort of scientific with pluses and minuses and trying to order them based on who you think you would work well with and give your book the best shot. But it always ends up being more of a “feeling” because cold, hard facts mean nothing if you can’t work with the person. And since you don’t really know the agents personally, you have to go by their interviews, websites and blog posts.

So anyway, I had my query, my manuscript, and my list of agents to query. I got started: right about the time YA Post-Apocalyptic had reached its zenith. And nobody wanted my story. I received plenty of full requests, and a lot of “Wow! Love the writing. But YA PA is a hard sell. See me with something else when you have it.” Which is super encouraging. And a let down, but mostly encouraging. I’d been around long enough to know how the industry worked. And personalized rejections were a lot better than form. (I got plenty of those too!)

But then a certain rejection showed up, and I was disappointed, but also elated. I remember thinking while researching this agent, “This is someone I can see myself being friends with even if publishing weren’t involved.” I’m not sure what it was, but I could just tell she was my kind of people. And though it was a rejection, it was sweet and sincere, and I felt an instant connection. So I did something I’d never done before. Ever. I tweeted a thank you to this agent for her a rejection that almost felt as good as a full-request. Almost.

Now, I don’t recommend you do this. I mean, you could, but it depends on the situation. I had other personalized rejections and I didn’t make any other contact. Because agents are busy people, and you can come across needy, or unprofessional, or just plan annoying. But like I said, I could just tell there was something else there. (At least, I hope so. Otherwise maybe I was needy and annoying, but apparently it didn’t hurt me in the long run.)

The agent responded with a heartfelt thank you. And that was that. She moved to the top of my agent list for future manuscripts and I went back to work. But in my mind she had joined  a small group of agents that I really, really wanted to work with in the future.

When I was ready to query again, she was one of the very first agents I contacted. But sometimes, the agents you contact first aren’t always the first to get back with you. As I said before, agents are busy people. They might not get to your query until months after you’ve written it. Time went on, rejections and requests filtered in, and my query spreadsheet filled in with dates and notes, red for rejection and green for requests.

Then I got her full request. I was more than happy to send it her way. She gave me a timeline for when she would read, and I let her know how many other fulls I had out. And then the unthinkable happened. I had an epiphany about a major change to the book. I thought about it for a few days, decided it had to be done, then gathered my courage and asked if she would wait a few weeks to read a revised version. Once again, this is not always the best thing to do. It’s usually better if you have feedback from say another agent and decide to make changes, or a good excuse as to why you just made yourself look totally unprofessional, but all I had was a new set of beta notes and an AhHa! moment. Agents, to my understanding, would much rather wait on reading and see your best work, but I have to believe this makes you look a little flaky. Still, she was happy to wait and I revised and got her the MS as quickly as I could.

I’ve kind of forgotten the timeline after this. I don’t remember how long she had my MS, or how many other fulls I had out at the time. In fact, I tried not to think about any of it too much, because once the MS is in their hands, there’s nothing you can do but write another book or send more queries. Needlessly worrying is not helpful. (We do it anyways.) But it’s not helpful.

The day I found that little email in my inbox that said, “I love your book. Let’s schedule a call.” I was shaking for the rest of the day. We set-up a day and time to talk, and I spent almost a full week alternating between excited squealing to my husband and my sister, and convincing myself this was not, in fact, THE CALL, but only a courtesy to let me know she couldn’t represent me. Which made very little sense, but hey, I have heard of it happening before.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a nervous wreck by the time we actually talked. I have social anxiety as well as a phone phobia, so yeah, that part wasn’t the most fun, but my intuitions were correct. This agent was the sort of person I would get along well with. She listened to me gush about my book, what I hoped for it, what I wanted to achieve and most importantly, she understood how I felt about not only bringing more diversity to children’s  literature, but also my ardent need to do it correctly and cause no harm. Despite my nervousness, it went well. And at the end of the conversation, she offered me representation.

It was like watching a huge part of your dream come true. Surreal and amazing and terrifying all at once. Of course, I felt like there should have been fireworks over my house, but city ordinances and all, so no explosions. I asked for the customary two weeks to think it over and to notify any agents with outstanding fulls or queries about the offer. We agreed to another day and time for a call and I went about the business of contacting the handful of agents with outstanding material.

Those two weeks were unreal to me. When there’s a deadline for decisions, publishing can move fast. I had double digit fulls out at one time and that has never happened to me before. But it was anxiety-inducing too. Because all the while I was excited to see my book being read by many fabulous agents, there was a part of me that wanted them all to reject ASAP so I could call the offering agent and accept. I told myself that wasn’t good business, that I needed to be open to other offers and think about my career and what was best for that. But really I just wanted to accept the person I’d already connected with, the one I was feeling comfortable and excited about. It was a long two weeks.

In the end, I called Valerie Noble and told her she was the one I wanted representing me, my books, and my future endeavors. Sometimes your first instincts really are correct and I’m so glad I found her as my agent. She has to listen to me ramble on about my books, diversity in literature, and of course my kids on occasion. It can’t all be business! But I’m lucky to have found her and so excited to be partners in the publishing journey.

And just a little side-note to end this post. I know this has been said before, but I’ll say it again. NEVER GIVE UP! My connection with Val didn’t start with the first book of mine she wanted to represent, it started with the one she didn’t want to represent. Writing a book, even one that doesn’t get published, is part of the journey. It’s practice, and querying that book makes connections. So don’t give up after one or two or even three. I think Beth Revis had eight trunked manuscripts before she was published. So keep it up. Your goals can come true too! Good luck!

I Have an Agent!!!!!

Kimmy

No, this is not that “How I Got my Agent” post (though you can expect one in the future, because, come on, I’ve got an agent!) This is more of the “I announced it on Twitter and Facebook and Absolute Write on June 3rd and forgot about my blog” post. (Which might explain the spike in my usually dismal viewership on June 3rd despite not posting since April 9th.)

Suffice it to stay the weeks leading up to the announcement were like this:

Liz Lemon

 

And a little bit of this:

Squealing

And a whole lot of this:

 

New Girl

And in the end I got to post this, on Twitter:

Agent Announcement

(It looked more exciting with the giph twirling and glitter everywhere, but you get the point!)

So now I’m represented by Valerie Noble of Donaghy Literary group and my excitement level is pretty near this:

Shire party

Except the hard work is never done, so I’m going to go back to doing this:

Jim Carrey Typing

And maybe think about that “How I Got My Agent” post for the future!

7x7x7x7 Challenge

This morning I was tagged in the 7x7x7x7 Challenge by @adriarrington. (You can find her post on her blog.) In the challenge, you post 7 lines from your WIP starting with the 7th line on the 7th page. Then you tag 7 writers to do the same. Well, I’m a non-conformist, so I won’t be tagging any writers. I think. Maybe. We’ll see. And I’ll post more than 7 lines. 9 I think. Because I didn’t think it made sense without the last one, so . . .

A bit of set-up: Kora, Kael and Alyss are siblings en route to a new planet to live with their scientist father and they are currently aboard a deep space cruiser.

“Atrium,” Kael says to the computer, and we shoot upwards, my stomach doing a flip at the change in elevation.

“Kora, it’s about having fun,” Alyss says as if I know nothing of the word.

Arching my eyebrow skeptically, I glance sideways at her. “I see nothing fun in that.” The thought of all the effort required to pass the awkward stage of meeting a boy, if that’s even possible, makes me nausea.

Beside her, Kael smirks. He is far too smart to fall in love with an unsuitable match, so he understands my argument, but like Alyss, he isn’t opposed to having uncommitted fun. In fact, if he finds the ensign with the crooked smile appealing, I might lose out to my brother anyway.

So that’s it. Hope you enjoy!

Pitchwars 2015: #PimpMyBio Blog Hop

For my usual readers (all five of you 🙂 ) I’m participating in this year’s PitchWars contest organized by Brenda Drake. Seriously, does she ever sleep? For more information you can look here.

For all those lovely mentors and potential mentees who might want to get to know me, well, here you go.

First thing everyone should know: I’m a stay-at-home mom. Here are my kids:

Cute Gremlins

Awwww! Aren’t they cute? There should be five in that picture, though it looks like one of the neighbor kids snuck in the back. But yeah, five kids. The fourth turned out to be four and five. Those identical twins can sneak up on you.

Now here’s a pic at 6:30am or when I say “No!” or when we run out of chocolate milk:

Scary Gremlins

So the next time someone says, “Twins must be so much fun!” I will show them this picture.

And what should you now about me? Here’s a short list
– I have an Associates Degree in Architectural Technology (That means I can draw pretty pictures on the computer)
– I have not used that degree in 9 years (Moving to a small town kind of cut the job choices)
– I write YA, though I also have a trunked MG that may some day be resurrected
– I love all things HARRY POTTER, STAR WARS, FIREFLY, HUNGER GAMES, AVENGERS, STAR TREK, LOTR, YA BOOKS, and so much more as my Pinterest boards can attest
– I show my love through homemade frosting, so-so cakes, and impossible projects for which I will never make the deadline (but always do!)

2014-03-16-35 Hungry Caterpillar Cake

Yeah, those are handmade fondant cut-outs of ALL the food from THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR. Each one painted with food coloring to exactly match Eric Carle’s beautiful drawings. For a two-year-old’s birthday. The first step is admitting I have a problem . . . I’m not there yet.

But here’s something that IS a problem:

feet

Not these:

Baby Feet

Oh my gosh, my heart is melting! But the other ones? Ugh! I do not like to touch feet. I do not like anyone touching MY feet. I do not like anyone touching ME with their feet. And for goodness sake don’t touch MY feet with YOUR feet! Ahhhh!

no touchy

So now that we’ve got that straight . . .

What do I plan to do in the PitchWars contest?

I aim to misbehave

Just kidding! I’m a rule follower. But I can’t resist that gif!

So I’m actually more like this:

Hermione raising hand

And a little of this:

Rory Book Smell

And a lot of this:

Jim Carrey Typing

But when I write I get to be this:

Katniss Shooting

And this:

Tauriel

And a whole lot of this!

Han and Leia Kiss

I’ll leave you on a more serious note, though writing in GIFS is fun! My YA Science Fiction THEY CHOSE THE STARS is a retelling of THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. When I first saw the 1992 film starring Daniel Day Lewis, I was so enchanted I had to read the abridged version. I was seventeen. And I knew someday I wanted to write something epic like that. When I decided to attempt a re-telling I read the full version written in 1826 by James Fenimore Cooper. It was a slog (now I know why there’s an abridged version) but I learned so much from it. What Cooper did right. What Cooper did wrong. And it became about more than telling an epic tale. For example, in the original version, Cora is bi-racial but passes for white. In an 1826 novel!!! (There are less than honorable reasons for that BTW, but not for this discussion) But my point is, TLOTM was about so much more than the surface adventure, and I wanted to encapsulate that into my YA as well. Hopefully I did and a mentor is willing to help me make it even better!

A big heartfelt thank you to Brenda Drake for putting on the contest, all the mentors for the insane amount of time it will take to participate in this event, and the agents who give our stories a read and bring those that they can into the light, giving them breath and life.

And since I’m sure my GIF laden bio isn’t enough for all of you, you can find a list of all the other participant’s bios here on Christopher Keelty’s blog. Be sure to give him a shout out for putting this #PimpMyBio Blog Hop on. (What a nice guy!)

My Poor Little Blog . . .

You have been severely neglected my poor little blog. But there was a good reason, I swear. Don’t look at me like that. It’s not that I love novel writing better than you, it’s just . . . well, I do love novel writing more, but- No, wait, don’t cry. I’m sorry. We can still be friends!

So I’m not officially breaking up with my blog, but I’ll probably use it like a drunk dial on a lonely night. I enjoyed it while it lasted, but when it got to be a chore, well, I don’t do chores. Just ask my poor neglected house. But here’s a quick update on life.

I have finished my YA Science Fiction retelling of The Last of the Mohicans to the point it is ready for betas. It’s been sent off to a few, though I’m still looking. The title, in case I haven’t mentioned it on the blog yet, is They Chose the Stars. I love it! I mean I really love it! So much so I’ll be heartbroken if I have to change it if I ever get it published. (Not that heartbroken though. Published is still published!)

I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, but I felt the same way about previous novels and betas have a way of bursting that euphoric bubble. Which is a good thing. I can’t wait to get those comments back and make it better than it was. Unless of course they tell me it is utter rubbish, my writing is pretentious, the characters useless, and I should just start all over. Oh, crap, now I’m getting nervous.

Though to be honest, I’d rather have someone tell me all that, rather than say it was good, but not really mean it. So slash away betas! Make that MS bleed! I’ll just be hiding here in the corner hugging me knees to my chest.

The Writer’s Voice 2015

And because I can’t resist a competition, especially when I have a manuscript and query just waiting to be entered, I put my name into The Writer’s Voice 2015 Rafflecopter annnnnd . . . I was selected!

Thank you to Krista Van Dolzer, Brenda Drake, Mónica Bustamante Wagner, Elizabeth Briggs, Kimberly Chase, and Nikki Roberti for putting it on!

So here, as per TWV2015 guidelines, is my query and first 250 words. Hope you enjoy!

My Query:

Dear Amazing Agent:

At sixteen, Nona’s best friends are a mannequin named Frank and a Ruger 9mm. That’s all she has left since a virus swept humanity from the earth. Frank’s the strong, silent type, but the Ruger keeps wild animals at bay. After two years alone in a remote Michigan town, survival is all that matters.

When a wandering band of survivors called the Community claims Nona’s deserted town, she and the Ruger tell the trespassers to get lost, but they don’t take the hint. Especially Joshua McKinnell, whose friendly banter isn’t silenced by the sight of her gun. Joshua’s grin and Nona’s need for human contact whittle her resistance, and before she knows it, Nona has a friend. The Ruger remains strapped to her leg—old habits die hard—but poor Frank’s abandoned to a run-down diner. He was never much of a conversationalist anyway.

Just as Nona accepts the Community, she’s captured by the American Brotherhood. They’re known for brainwashing child-soldiers and enslaving survivors, so Nona expects the worst until Will Kennedy, a friend from her past, claims her. Nona saved his life back when they first met. Of course he wouldn’t have needed saving if she hadn’t shot him first.

As Nona navigates the dangerous Brotherhood society, looking for a way to escape, she discovers Will has been finding good homes for survivors and requesting kids be assigned to his unit, all to protect the innocent. Friends don’t hold friends hostage, but Nona can’t help liking Will, though she’s terrified of the rush she feels whenever he’s near.

Before Nona can decipher her heart, Will and the Brotherhood are ordered to lay siege to the Community’s stronghold. This is one situation the Ruger can’t help. Nona must convince both sides to back down before full-scale fighting breaks out. If that fails, she’ll need all her survival skills to protect Joshua and Will, the friends she never meant to make.

I Have No Name (96,000 words) is a YA Post-Apocalyptic novel that fits between the stark, grittiness of Mindy McGinnis’s Not a Drop to Drink and the commercial appeal of Demitria Lunetta’s In the After. It follows a girl emotionally crippled by loss, as she slowly realizes there is more to life than just survival.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Jennifer Austin

My First 250 Words:

I watch them stroll down Main Street through the scope of my Winchester. Maybe men, maybe boys. Too hard to tell from here. There are two of them, and they wade through weeds and saplings clawing through the crumbling pavement, their boots crunching on broken bits of glass and brick and asphalt. A brown bottle passes between them, and they take long sips, laughing and talking, though they’re too far away to make out words.

The sun burns my back as I hide behind the metal sign above the diner, barrel of my gun resting in the crook of the rusty “N.” I don’t think they’ll see me. Not unless they look hard, and they aren’t. Too interested in that bottle.

Sweat prickles my skin, and I wipe slick palms on my cargo pants. This stifling August heat doesn’t help, but that’s not why I’m flush and sweaty. Or why my heart beats like a trapped rabbit’s. Haven’t seen another living soul in two years, not since the Black Flu took the last ones. Part of me wants to run down the street screaming for joy, but mostly I want them to go away.

Aching muscles protest my vigil and I glance at my watch, inherited from Dad. Wide leather cuff and big silver face inset with moon and stars. Shifting my weight, broken glass from long-gone marquee lights grinds under me, so I stop. My heart stops too. I can’t be heard. Dad warned me about men, and what they’ll do to women.

And if you’d like to take a look at the other entries, you can find the full list (all 200!) and links here! Good luck to all my fellow entrants!