Sunday, September 25, 2016


Project 2016 is at the part of the process that I may hate more than anything else.


I think I've explained before that, with this project, I'm trying to get wider distribution--I want, for example, to be able to pick up my book at a big box bookstore rather than just being able to order it online. Meeting this goal means that I'll have to get my manuscript picked up by a larger publishing house--one of the "big five" publishing houses, maybe.

The thing with bigger publishing houses is that everyone wants to get picked up by them. Dreams of the seven-figure book deal start with signing a contract at a HarperCollins or a Macmillan. Given the option, almost everyone who writes would send their manuscripts to them.

So they don't give people that option.

There are two types of submission that an author can make to a publisher or agent: solicited and unsolicited. The second is pretty much what all unagented authors are sending out (with the exception of, like, if you talk to an agent at a conference and the agent asks them to send a query or something like PitMad, where an agent makes a request for a particular project). An unsolicited submission is essentially a cold call. Hey, here's my work--you interested? Smaller publishing houses accept unsolicited submissions from unagented authors. But the big five don't. If you're sending a submission to one of the big five, it's either because they asked you to or because you have an agent that's convinced them to take a look.

And so, since an agent is more or less required for me to take the next step up, I'm trying to find one with Project 2016. For the sake of full disclosure, I should say that this isn't my first time trying to make this happen. I tried to find an agent with Evin for a while, but, for various reasons, I didn't have success. I'll get to that in a minute.

Finding an agent is in part about matchmaking. Project 2016 is YA speculative fiction, so the genre of the book has to guide my search. I've made use of Manuscript Wishlist and Writer's Digest (in addition to generic Google searches) to try to find agents that are looking for work like mine. I find the name, I look at the agent/agency page to try to determine if I think I will want to work with them, and, if I think I want to query them, I add them to my list. My list right now has 15 agents on it. I might go back and add more later, but I think this is good to start with.

I organized my list according to which agents I was most excited about. I don't want to send out all 15 queries at once (what if one of the agents has feedback that might help with my next query?), so I set a loose order for sending out queries.

Queries are hard. Your query is meant to sell your story in a paragraph or two. It's not a summary--not exactly--but a short pitch. It's got to introduce your protagonist(s) and set up the stakes. For me, this is always pretty complicated. How do I pick the most important part of the manuscript when, to me, it's all important? Which characters absolutely have to be in the query? Of all of the conflicts that are in the manuscript, which is the conflict? It usually takes me a couple of drafts to get a query down--and I'm usually unhappy with it no matter how long I work on it.

I started with three agents. I tailored the opening paragraph of my query for each agent--making note of what the agent has said s/he is looking for and what I think my manuscript has to offer. Then, I follow up with my two-ish paragraphs about the manuscript and a paragraph about my publication history.

Depending on the agent, I add sample pages (usually they ask for the first 5-10 pages) and a synopsis (and oh my God, writing a synopsis is an ordeal worthy of its own post).

And then off it goes. The query packet is sent to the agent, and I wait for a response.

This is the point where I start checking my email every five minutes.

I call this phase of the process the land of a million rejections. When I was querying with Evin, I got discouraged pretty early. I sent out maybe five queries total and got five rejections.

It's worth noting that this isn't uncommon. Rejections--several rejections--are part of the deal. Sometimes the work isn't ready, and if that's the case, you need to find out. Even if the work is great, the agent might not feel like they're the work's best advocate. But rejection always stings.

Two weeks ago, I sent out my first three queries. And within three days, I had already gotten back my first rejection. It was very polite, and I don't think it was a form letter (which is encouraging, even though it's still not the outcome that I wanted), but I can't deny that I felt pretty bad about it.

Last time, this might have been enough to derail me. This time, though, I've got my list of agents. I got a rejection, so I sent out another query (and got another rejection--this one was a form letter, I'm pretty sure). The let down of a rejection sucks, but having an action that I can take in response--sending another query--helps keep me from getting too bogged down.

I've still got three queries out--two of them from the first batch I sent. I have eleven agents left on the list as it is. I'll probably add more as I do more research.

The querying roller coaster is rough and certainly isn't my favorite part of the process, but this time, I'm not going to give up--or at least, I won't give up so soon. And who knows? Maybe I'll find someone who is as excited about Project 2016 as I am. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Project 2016 has been through four readers and roughly three drafts, and I am about ready to call the revisions done. The current draft is back with my writing group partner for one more once over, but the opening pages are about a polished as they are gonna get, so it's time to start the submissions process.

I'll spend the next few weeks discussing how I've handled this process in the past and what I'm doing/how things are progressing with Project 2016. Most of what I'm going to do with Project 2016 is going to follow a more traditional approach--querying agents and sending submissions to publishers directly.

But this week, I tried something I hadn't tried before, and I thought it'd be worth looking at.

This past Thursday, I participated in my first ever Twitter Pitch Party.

These events are a relatively new alternative (or supplement, really--seems like most of the folks who participate also go the slush pile route) to the traditional querying process. The idea is that you tweet a short pitch for your manuscript with the appropriate hashtag. If an agent or editor favorites your pitch tweet, it's an invitation to send them a submission. This means that your submission gets moved to the top of the pile. It doesn't guarantee that you'll snag representation for your manuscript, but it lets you go into the next phase with better cards in your hand.

There are several of these events. The particular event that I took part in last week was PitMad, a quarterly event involving agents, editors, and some publishers. It's a twelve hour event--Thursday's was 8AM to 8PM EDT. You can pitch multiple projects, but you only get three tweets per project. A favorite from an agent, editor, or publisher is a request for a submission of the manuscript you pitched.

Since this was my first time doing this event, it was more learning experience than anything. I made my three pitches. Honestly, I'm not sure I did it well, but I didn't come up empty, and that's something. I wanted to show what my pitches were--to do sort of a postmortem on my PitMad work.

(Yes, you'll see my Twitter handle in these pictures; yes, you're welcome to follow me on Twitter, but that is where I talk about politics, so if that's gonna bug you, maybe stick to the blog and the Facebook page.)

Coming up with a pitch that expresses the charms of a 300-ish page manuscript in less than 140 characters is super difficult. My biggest mistake with this was not starting on my pitches earlier. I drafted three pitches a day and a half before the event. That may seem like plenty of time, but it meant that I didn't have a chance to have anyone else take a look at my pitches to see how effective they were. There wasn't as much time to rework and revise.

I don't feel like my pitches were particularly great. That said, I didn't exactly come up empty: I got one favorite on a pitch from a publisher. But more about that later.

I tweeted three pitches--one in the morning, one around lunchtime, and one just before the event ended.

My first pitch:

This one didn't get any hits. I thought the comparison was pretty strong, but it didn't leave a lot of room for details about the story itself--which I feel like you probably need in order to justify the comparison.

The hashtags, in case you were wondering, are the PitMad event tag, the age group tag (na for New Adult), and the genre tag (spf for speculative fiction).

Pitch number two:

This was the only successful pitch I had, and even then its success was limited. Without the comparison, I was able to introduce the main character's name and set up the exposition of the story, which might have been why this one got the favorite.

Pitch three:

Nothing on this one, either, but I did manage to work in some more specifics about the manuscript. I changed the age tag to Young Adult (my main character starts the story at 16 and is 18 by the end of it, so I'm in a little bit of a grey area there). I don't know if leaving the tag as it was would have made a difference, but that's something to keep in mind for next time.

All in all, maybe not a strong as it could have been, but it was definitely a learning experience.

My first big piece of advice to anyone considering participating in the next PitMad or similar event is pretty simple: be prepared. If I'd taken more time to prep my pitches, I think I would have been able to court more response.

The second big piece of advice I have is to do your research and know what you're looking for in an agent/editor/publisher. The thing with these events is that there's not a lot of vetting when it comes to who's able to favorite pitches. The draw of someone that wants to look at your manuscript is powerful, but you're not under any obligation to send a submission to someone just because they favorited your pitch.

I got one hit--from a publisher, not an agent or editor--so I did my research. I looked at the company's website, I looked at writer forums, and I looked at my list of goals.

For Project 2016, I want to go further than I did with Evin. While publishing Evin has been an excellent experience and I would happily recommend my publisher to anyone looking to put out a first book, I feel like I'm ready to take new steps. I'm not interested in digital-only publishing--ideally, I'd like to see Project 2016 on shelves in retailers and not just available for online ordering. What I really want is an agent, someone in a better position than I am to negotiate bigger deals for my work.

Bearing all these things in mind, I looked at what the publisher could offer. I've decided to pass on submitting. They seem like a fine outfit, but they don't line up with my goals.

So PitMad was sort of a mixed bag for me--I didn't come up empty, per se, but I'm not going to see any submissions from it. Still, the event was a good experience, and, depending on how things go with my querying over the next few weeks, I'll likely participate in other events like this again.

If you're interested in trying an event like this, here's a list of other similar events:
Pitch America (focuses on Latinx voices)
Hot Summer's Cool Pitchfest
Pitch Slam
DVPit (coming up in October)
Nightmare on Query Street
AdPit and KidPit (in November)

Monday, September 5, 2016


This blog has mostly focused on walking through the novel-writing process--or at least, my novel-writing process (such as it is). But this week, I haven't really been doing anything new. I'm deep in the rewriting slog for Project 2016, chugging towards getting it out on submission. My goal is to have it out the door by the end of this month or early next month--before NaNoWriMo starts, in other words. I don't think you could pay me to start submitting a novel in November/December. (Man, I have lots of thoughts about NaNoWriMo...but that's a post for another day.)

So I won't be discussing the writing process this week, since I've talked about rewriting already. Instead, I want to talk about something that I've mentioned in passing in a previous post.

I read and was read to a lot as a kid. I liked stories--which is not in any way unique. But it was several years before I made what may seem like an obvious observation.

People actually write these stories.

I mean, duh. But as a kid, I really didn't know that. Even as an adult, I sometimes forget that there's a person behind what I read and watch.

One of my favorite movies, Sunset Boulevard, centers on a man who writes movies. (It doesn't end well for him--and that's not so much a spoiler, since you know from the beginning of the movie that things don't end up going his way.) The writer character, Joe Gillis, sums up the way that writing sometimes gets viewed pretty well.

Joe Gillis:
Audiences don't know somebody sits down and writes a picture; they think the actors make it up as they go along.

This was more or less what I thought for a while. But when I was about nine or ten years old, I started reading the Harry Potter series. 

I was one of the kids that grew up with the series. I was about nine when I read the first book, and eighteen when the last book came out.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was loaned to me by a neighbor, who told me a little bit about the author. Specifically, she told me that the author used her initials as her author name because of concerns that people wouldn't read a book about a boy that was written by a woman.

At nine, I was not quite able to wrap my head around the sexism that implied, but I was able to latch on to the fact that a person  wrote this book that I enjoyed so much--and that that person was like me.

Rowling was the first author that I started to do research on. I wanted to know about her life and how she came to write this story. 

This is what got me started writing. Rowling, I had read, started writing little stories when she was a child.

When I was a kid, I had a different lifelong dream every week.  But this caught me. I started writing stories as soon as I read it. Not good stories--in fact, I'm pretty sure I never finished most of them--but I wrote. I even won a little contest in elementary school.

It was the first time that I realized someone could create a story and get it out there for other people to read.

My attention to my writing waned as I soldiered towards middle school. I was into everything as a kid, so the notion of picking my lane wasn't an appealing one. This spark would dim for a while.

By the time I was in eighth grade, I had almost stopped writing. I'd scribble little stories with friends, but nothing serious. The drive wasn't there.

 We read a book that year that reminded me that real people create the stories I love. The Outsiders by SE Hinton was one of the books in the unit that year. Apart from loving the book itself, I was fascinated by the author.

Hinton was a teenager--fifteen years old, at the start of the process--when she wrote The Outsiders based on the relationships between teenagers from different social classes in Oklahoma.

While I reread Harry Potter pretty frequently and have read all of Rolwing's other books (including the mysteries written under her Robert Galbraith pen name) and have only read Hinton's The Outsiders and only read it a couple of times, Hinton lit a more lasting fire in me.

Rowling made me want to write. Hinton made me need to write--and need to start writing immediately.

I made my first attempt at writing a novel that year.

It took me almost twenty years after discovering that authors were a thing and almost fifteen years after that first attempt to write a novel and get it out in the world. My getting started as an author may have been meandering and have come with several starts and stops, but I know exactly what it traces back to.

When did you figure out that there were people behind your favorite stories? What authors made you want to write?