Many paths to a destination that looks different to every author.

It’s Spring break here in Utah, and my family and I spent a lovely weekend glamping (glamorously camping) at Zion park. Now, our style of camping veers from that of a hardcore person, like dramatically. But it’s something that works for our family of several kids and aging grandparents. According to my youngest kid’s words, it was the most epic vacation we’ve ever been to, and the memories we made will only become sweeter with time.

Which made me think of the path to publication because I’m an author, and I’m always thinking about the stories I’m working on, the ones I cheat with because I won’t have time to write them for a good couple of years, and the paths I took to get to this point in my career.

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Now, I’ve been writing aiming for publication for more than a decade, and my first books will come out next year, one in January and another one in the spring.

This doesn’t mean that I haven’t been able to share my writing with my readers before then. Last year I had an essay published at Uncanny Magazine, which was the highlight of my year. I’d been submitting short stories to Uncanny for a long time, but it was a personal essay what finally opened the door to this amazing publication for me.

A friend of mine introduced me to an educational products company that bought several of my short stories for young readers, both in English and in Spanish, and developed them in multi-media, including audio and educational software. Teacher friends often messaged me to tell me they’ve come across one of my stories at school, and that was always a thrill that kept me motivated to keep writing for children.

Like I stated in the title, the writerly destination looks different for each author, very much like the Mirror of Erised in Harry Potter.

My main goal was always the possibility to connect with at least one reader, and I know that even when being published in the educational market wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I stated this wish, the purpose of my writing was fulfilled, even if it was through a trail I hadn’t even anticipated when I started writing.

Still, I wanted to see my stories in a printed book.

For years and years, I worked on middle grade and young adult novels, but the first piece of writing that got me a publishing contract was a poem I pitched as a picture book¾which eventually went to a multi-house auction and earned me two-book deal with HarperCollins. The wish of seeing my name on a book is coming true next spring!

I’m so grateful for the unexpected blessing, and true to my Slytherin nature, I still wanted more. I wanted to sell a novel, but selling wasn’t much in my control. Although I was very close to selling a novel several times (Revised and Resubmit by editors, going to acquisition meetings for a couple of my stories), this goal kept eluding me. Until my agent came to me with an opportunity to write a book by a very well-known publisher¾a dream house! The editor provided a concept, and I auditioned for the opportunity to develop it. By auditioned, I mean, I wrote a full synopsis, and a partial, and we sent it off. To my surprise, we got an offer! I wrote that middle grade novel in record time, and I just sent off copy edits last week. I even saw a potential cover a few days ago, and I’m still reeling with happiness.

Now, although I didn’t come up with the original premise of this story, it still came out of my heart. When I reached out to a friend of mine asking if she thought I should make the main character a Latina girl, she reminded me to stay true to myself, and I did, and my character is one of the dearest to my heart. Although I was working with an already established concept, I had the liberty to literally color it at my pleasure, and I’m so happy with the results!

I’m excited to share more about this project that releases in January when my editors give the OK.

I never expected my first novel to come out of an in-house need, but I’m so grateful for the opportunity to take this different path that will lead me straight to my main goal: connect with readers.

When my novels didn’t sell although my writing received great feedback, I researched on different options, and I was surprised at some alternate paths I had never considered before. Besides self-publishing, with which a lot of authors find much success, I came upon the concept of book packagers.

A book packager is a company that develops ideas, often high-concept, and find an author to execute them. Then, they sell it to publishers. The book packager retains the rights to the piece, and the author often receives a flat fee for writing the story, but the author’s name often appears on the book cover. Take a look at your shelves. A lot of favorite best-sellers were conceived by a packager who worked in collaboration with an author. Sometimes the author is already established, but many times, this kind of collaboration can catapult a debut author’s career. Some book packagers to note are CAKE Literary (founded and directed by industry powerhouses Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton), Glasstown Entertainment, Alloy Entertainment, Working Partners, Etc.

Other authors work with I.P. (intellectual property), that is, they’re asked to write a story in an already established world, like Star Wars or Marvel.

The more I looked, the more I realized there are many paths to my main goal I had never considered before. Of course, not all paths will work for or appeal to all writers, but if you don’t know about them, how will you know if they’ll appeal to you?

I encourage you all aspiring and established authors to look at all the options you have to share your writing with the world. You never know what will spark for you.

When my family was in Zion’s, the best views and greatest experiences didn’t happen while driving on the paved highway. It wasn’t until we ventured on the trails, that we discovered views we could have never imagined before.

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YamileMendezYamile (prounounced sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez is an immigrant writer and reader, a dreamer and fighter, a Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA graduate, a 2014 New Visions Award Honor Winner, and one the 2015 Walter Dean Myers Inaugural Grant recipients. Born and raised in Rosario, Argentina (cradle of fútbol), she now lives in Alpine, Utah with her husband, five children, and three dogs, but her heart is with her family scattered all over the world. Find her on twitter: @YamileSMendez and online: yamilesmendez.com.

Bite-Sized Goals and Mousey Nibbles: Managing Lengthy Projects

Working your way through large, lengthy projects, like . . . oh, writing a novel, for instance, can be overwhelming, can’t it? First you have to write down the words, then you have to fix the words, then you have to fix them a second time, and possibly a third or fourth or fifth time. Then you have to figure out how to get those words out into the world, whether via traditional methods or indie. And while you’re trying to accomplish all of this, you have everyday life stuff to deal with too: jobs, family, chores—as well as non-everyday stuff, such as illnesses, vacations, bad mental health days, holidays . . . I could go on and on.

Of course, it helps to get organized by setting goals and deadlines—to mark on your calendar in bold when you want your first draft to be finished by, when you need to be done with the first round of edits, and so on. But when setting these longer deadlines, it’s easy to underestimate how long you’re really going to need.

I’ve made this mistake many times. I’ve tried to prevent it by calculating out how many words I need to write each day leading up to my deadline in order to reach it—making room for days when I know I’ll have less time to write. As long as I write the prescribed number of words each day, I’ll be perfectly fine, right? But then, life throws obstacles in my path, and soon I’m failing to meet my word counts and falling behind. The farther behind I fall, the more frustrated I get. I move my deadline out. I recalculate my word counts. Then I fall behind again. I get discouraged and overwhelmed over, and over, and I start to think I’ll never finish this darn thing.

Does this sound familiar?

Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you do well with large goals and a daily word count system. Maybe that’s all you need in order to get things done. If so, that’s fantastic! It’s common advice, so it must work for a lot of writers, right? But if it’s not working for you, just as it hasn’t been working for me, I’d like to suggest a few things that have been working for me lately, in the hopes that you, too, will find them helpful.

Make 2-3 Bite-Sized Goals At A Time

I still plan out the large goals (finish draft, revise draft, edit draft.) But I’ve lessened their importance in favor of smaller, bite-sized goals (that, I must stress, aren’t word counts,) and I only plan out a few of these goals at a time. For instance, my goal this weekend was to re-examine my outline, because I’ve discovered I need to throw out some scenes and replace them with brand new ones. I wasn’t writing the scenes this weekend—just taking a look and deciding what I need those scenes to do. My next bite-sized goal will be to outline those scenes. The bite-sized goal after that will be to finally draft those scenes. And . . . that’s it. That’s as far ahead as I’ve planned. Obviously, I have an idea of what I’ll need to do after that, because I know that my ultimate goal is to finish revising this entire draft. But for now, I’m not going to worry about anything further than getting through these next few scenes.

Keeping my goals small and few in number helps me feel like I’m actually making progress. If I look at it in respect to the larger goal of finishing my revisions, it won’t feel like I’ve done much at all. I’ll feel like I’m moving at a snail’s pace, and I’ll get frustrated. So I don’t do that.

Only Work Under Your Best Working Conditions

Pay close attention to when and where you do your best work. Do you get more done in the morning? Then work in the morning and don’t try to squeeze more work out of yourself past that time (unless you absolutely must.) Do you have specific days when you’re less likely to be able to focus? Keep your expectations low on those days. I have a standing appointment every Tuesday morning that tends to throw off my concentration for the rest of the day. I’ve come to accept that if I do get any writing done on Tuesdays, it’s a bonus. I’m better off using Tuesdays to catch up on chores or other things that don’t require me to think too much. I’m having a harder time convincing myself that writing post-children’s bedtimes is also a lost cause. But it’s a fact that I’m usually too tired and brain-drained to do much of anything by then. My best times for focusing are late morning and early afternoon when the kids are at school, so that’s when I make myself sit down and work. I also pay attention to my energy level. If I try to work with my laptop on the couch, am I more likely to nap instead? If so, I’ll make myself a cup of coffee or tea, and work sitting up at my desk. Is my back bothering me to the point where sitting at my desk will make the pain worse and/or distract me? Then maybe the couch would be better after all.

Just Take a Mousey Nibble

Okay, this one probably needs some background. My oldest son is a very picky eater. Always has been. He has texture issues and we suspect he may also be a super taster, because he will often complain about things tasting “too strong.” There was a period when he was younger where he was so anxious about trying new foods, that he would burst into tears at the mere suggestion. That is until one day, he told us that maybe . . . maybe he could just try a mouse-sized bite. A little mousey nibble. A nearly microscopic taste that, like sticking a toe in the water, would help to alleviate some of his fear of the unknown. This still works with him. “Just take a mousey nibble, and if you don’t like it, that’s okay,” we tell him. And so he does. And then sometimes, all on his own, he will decide to take a larger taste afterward.

If, even with your bite-sized goals, you’re still feeling anxious about sitting down to work, or you’re not sure how to get started, or you’re just plain unmotivated, tell yourself that you only have to take a mousey nibble. Open your document and commit to five minutes. You don’t even have to type anything. You can use those five minutes to look over your last paragraph, or glance through your outline, or heck, just stare at the blank screen. Chances are though, once your timer goes off, you’ll be able to settle yourself into your task. And if you still can’t, that’s ok. Take a break and try another mousey nibble later. Maybe it’ll taste different next time.

I hope these ideas are helpful to you. Do you have any other tricks up your sleeve that help you get through large projects? Please share them with us in the comments.

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When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard, Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele, knitting, or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys and three mischievous cats. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Setting Goals for Solitary Souls

We are so excited to welcome our newest contributor, Crystal Liechty!

This week, I made a vision board. It’s my first time undertaking such an endeavor and I felt a little silly the whole time. But I have several friends who highly recommend this process for goal setting so I decided to go for it.

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For those who don’t know, a vision board is when you find pictures or keywords for goals you have (a pile of money for more income; or a place you want to travel to; a new bookshelf, etc) and you arrange them on a poster, then hang it somewhere you will see it every day. The hippies say this shows the universe your intention and calls forth these things to manifest in your life. I just think it’s a good way to help you focus on what you want so you don’t get distracted by squirrels or Netflix marathons.

As I considered my goals and gathered pictures to represent them, it got me thinking. Goal setting is kind of a lonely process. I’m a very social person, so I feel the sting sharply. Here is my goal, I tell everyone, participate in it with me! But you can’t because my goals aren’t your goals. You can cheer me on and in fact, having cheerleaders in your life is very important. But you can’t set the goal for me. You can’t want the goal for me and you definitely can’t achieve the goal for me.

See what I mean? Lonely.

I recently read a study that said people who declare their goals to their community, via Facebook or whatever, actually fail at accomplishing those goals more often than people who don’t announce them. I was surprised by this because in my mind, announcing goals to those around you would make you more accountable, wouldn’t it? But that’s not the reality. Once you shout out your goal and get all the “huzzahs!” and “you can do it!”, what’s the point after that?

Maybe goals are supposed to be lonely, solitary things.

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Guess what is also a very lonely undertaking? Writing. And to write, you have to set goals. Lots of goals. And then some more goals if you accomplished the first goals. (Someone keep track of how many times I use the word “goal” in this blog.)

If you’re an introvert, this prospect is probably less terrifying to you. I’m an social vampire, feeding off conversations, Facebook likes and retweets. Perhaps that’s why I constantly find myself in a goal whirlpool, struggling to know what I want to do next. Struggling even more to get myself to do it.

But fear not, my fellow social butterflies! I have found a few tricks to escape the desolate wasteland that is writerly goals. One is writing communities. I love my various online writing groups, where people ask writing questions or seek life advice and just in general, human together. Accountability partners are another way to lessen the loneliness. I have a great one who checks in with me daily and makes me feel like someone out there sincerely cares if I write 1,000 words today.

Writing conferences are an extrovert writer’s holy land. I’m never more inspired or fired up than after a good writers conference. They can fuel me for months and I probably get more done immediately after a writers conference than any other time of the year.

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Only time will tell if my vision board helps me. Only practice will help me learn to set and follow through on my goals despite the loneliness. Only good friends will keep me sane through it all.

How do you  handle the loneliness of goals?

Discouraging Encouragement for New Writers

I recently got to message with someone who is just getting started with this whole writing thing. She had lots of questions, worries, and insecurities. About a year ago, my husband was thinking about writing a book he’d had in his head for ten years! He also had lots of questions, worries, and insecurities. I gave them both the same exact advice, but they reacted to it differently. My friend said, “Okay, good to know. That’s exciting. I can do that.” My husband said, “Nah. Nevermind.”

What was the difference?

Mindset.

So, if you are just getting started writing or are thinking about writing or dreaming about thinking about writing, I want you to put on your “Growth Mindset.”

Got it in place? Okay. Let’s go. I’m going to quote the most common concerns I here from new or aspiring writers and then answer with…

The most discouraging encouragement you will ever get.

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I don’t know if I’m any good. I think everything I write is terrible.

Truth: Chances are good that you AREN’T any good…yet. Probably everything you are writing is deeply flawed and, yes, pretty terrible. But guess what? The vast, vast majority of writers start out that way. I don’t personally know a single writer who started out AMAZING! Is there such a thing as natural writing talent? Sure! Does it matter if you have it? Not a bit. Because even the people who start with “natural talent” start out terrible.

Think about learning to play the piano. I had a “natural talent” for music. Do you think I sat down at the keyboard for the first time when I was five and pounded out Beethoven? No! That’s ridiculous on its face. Writing is absolutely, 100% no different.

So you suck right now and you know it. GOOD! The worst writers are the ones who think they are amazing at it. The ones who never realize they are terrible. Realizing you aren’t a very good writer is important, it is what will propel you to actually work and study and get better. It will give you the motivation to revise and improve.

Ask almost any author about their first writings and you will get groans and laughs and eye rolls. It’s something we all go through. And even all those writers who are published? They still think they are terrible. They still write crappy first drafts. They are still learning and figuring this whole thing out. So get comfortable with the feeling. It will never go away completely.

Okay, so how do I stop sucking?

There are no shortcuts. Write consistently. Read widely and as much as you can. Get on writer Twitter. Read writing blogs and craft books. What would you do if your dream was to become an artist? Musician? Dancer? Do that!

Practice.

Learn.

Practice.

I can do that. But how long will it take to stop sucking? When is it realistic to expect publication?

That is a great question that I can’t answer because everyone is different. Some people publish their first books (the rest of us secretly hate them.) Some people don’t get published until their 10th book. Even the lucky first book people have mostly been working on their writing for years.

When I first started writing, I read a lot of “success” posts and realized that most people write 3-5 books before getting an agent or getting published. Most people work 4-6 years before hitting those “success” milestones. And being in the book world for the last few years has born out those statistics for most people. Even me! I got my agent almost 4 years after I started, with my second book. My debut will come out 6 years after I started writing.

There are never any guarantees, but I honestly believe it is really good to go into writing expecting at least five years of work before you see any results and planning on your first 2 books, at least, being practice books. And I don’t mean that you should query them or try to get them published, I think you absolutely should. You should use your practice books to practice querying too. I just think it’s nicer to be pleasantly surprised rather than crushed and disappointed.

So you are saying I should work really hard on something and then let people reject it? I don’t think my heart can handle that! That’s so scary!

Meh. You’ll get over it.

I know that sounds heartless, but you will.

Really. I’m not trying to blow off your pain. Believe me, I’ve been there. I have sobbed over rejections before. I’ve complained to friends and mentors and talked about giving up. That the pain isn’t worth it. But you know what? I wrote the next book and it was always better and it distracted my heart and that made the rejections hurt less. “Okay, you don’t want that book? That’s alright, I have something better coming down the pipeline.”

Actually, if you can believe it. You’ll get a little bit addicted to the adrenaline rush of querying and rejections and requests. You’ll realize that your book is not for everyone and that’s okay.

There will be bad days where you cry and eat chocolate and think about giving up. But there will also be good days where you realize that writing is important not just for the success side of it. That you are not your book and it says nothing about your worth. That there is always hope. That you are getting better. That you will just keep going!

Some days, rejections will roll off you. Other days, they’ll stink or even break you. But eventually, the pain numbs and you keep writing. You can not get published without at least risking rejection. So you’re going to do it and you will survive. Not only that, you will become a braver human being in general because of it.

So there you go. My discouraging encouragement. You probably do stink (I still do in a lot of ways.) You will probably have to put in years of work before success. You will get rejected and it will hurt.

But it will be okay. This is what it is to be a writer. WELCOME!
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Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate, which accounts a lot for how she turned out. Her debut novel, THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC, will be published by Boyds Mills Press September 2018.

Life After Querying: Publication Insights from Authors

For writers who are interested in pursuing traditional publication, there are all kinds of tools and resources for drafting writers and revising writers and querying writers. There is hardly anything that then allows a writer on submission with publishing houses know what to expect. And if a writer publishes with one house — even a few times — and then doesn’t resign? It’s like trying to walk a maze in the dark with a blindfold on.

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With this in mind, I put together a survey to see what the “typical” experience tended to be, how writers negotiated time expectations when writing and marketing, and asked for some advice. Over 50 authors jumped in to share their experiences. I’m going to get out of the way and let you peruse the results.

How many times have you been published?

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 2.33.01 PMWhen was your first book released?

1990s – 4
2006 – 2
2009 – 2
2011 – 5
2012 – 4
2013 – 6
2014 – 6
2015 – 8
2016 – 6
2017 – 4
2018 – 1

Did you publish the same book that you were querying when you signed with your agent?

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How many publishing house read your book before you signed? Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 2.57.44 PM

How many books were included in your first contract?

42 authors signed a single book deal.
6 authors signed a two book deal.
5 authors signed a three book deal.
One author signed four books, and one author signed six (this one was direct author to publisher)

Has the entirety of your publishing career been with the same publishing house? Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 3.03.02 PM

If you have changed publishing houses, which book was it with? screen-shot-2018-01-19-at-3-03-33-pm.png

Considering the amount of time you have available to write, what % is spent crafting and what % is for marketing?

(for reference, the 1st number is crafting/the 2nd is marketing)

7 – 90/10
1 – 85-15
10 – 80/20
3 – 75/25
6 – 70/30
1 – 65/35
5 – 60/40
14 – 50/50
4 – 40/60
3 – 30/70

What advice do you have for authors who just signed their first contract?

  • Don’t be shy about communicating with your editor and publicist when you have questions or ideas.
  • It’s never too soon to start working on your next book
  • Always be writing.
  • Enjoy the honeymoon
  • Don’t stop learning. Book 1 is part of the journey, but keep writing, keep honing your craft so future books can be even better.
  • Market a lot at first, keep writing too
  • Read and understand what you’ve really agreed to.
  • Don’t compare to other authors!!
  • Get an agent.
  • You’re not done waiting.
  • Enjoy the giddy, crispy delight of having done this amazing thing. Then take a deep breath, because there’s way more work than glory ahead. ??
  • Keep writing. Book one is just one piece of your career.
  • Make sure to read the contract before you signing you don’t understand it ask for help
  • Build a mailing list!
  • Keep your day job
  • Be clear on the expectations
  • Be careful and read the final print of the contract. Make sure you have an agent who has your back.
  • Start writing the next book! One book does not a career make.
  • Try not to fret social media
  • Connect with other authors who are in a similar situation. It really helps when questions come up.
  • Don’t be a jerk
  • Build relationships based on commonalities and a desire to support others–not on hoping people buy your book. Have your agent be ultra-involved in marketing plans with an aim toward getting you as much support as possible. Remember this is a long game, a marathon not a sprint, and focus on your next book, and your next, and…
  • You make your living writing, not waiting. At first, I was nearly frozen with fear as I waited for edits or notes from my editor (agent) but I’ve quickly learned that that time is golden. It is time to try new ideas, work on my craft, build the next book. Oh, and become friends with your cover artist! Getting to know her/him will be a HUGE help if you need additional art for swag etc. They will also LOVE to help spread the word for you on their social media channel because it is their work too.
  • Be patient and keep writing
  • Focus on the good parts and celebrate them
  • All your marketing efforts are a drop in the bucket. If I were going back, I’d focus on a few select things I like or really want to try and would just spend the rest of my time on the next book.
  • Don’t rush to sign a contract. Don’t rush to fire your agent.
  • Get marketing savvy. You still have to do a lot yourself.
  • Remember you have little control about what happens next. Focus on editing your book to the best it can be and let go of the rest.
  • Before you sign, don’t rush. Don’t settle. Read it twice. If you sign, be cautious. Be clear. They’re not doing you a favor. This is your career.
  • Begin your next manuscript as soon as possible. Do not stop writing.
  • Write your next book and consider going indie. 😉
  • Breathe. Ask questions. Advocate for your book and your career. Meet your deadlines.
  • Nothing is as big a deal as it seems. Things will happen that you’ll be sure are going to ruin the book, the events, your career. It won’t. Don’t sweat it. Just keep working.
  • Everything is going to be fine.
  • Lay strong marketing groundwork now. Build relationships with people.
  • The first contract is just the beginning, not the final milestone. Enjoy all the little successes, because there will be lots of things that don’t pan out the way you expect them to. Cultivate gratitude and try to keep your eyes on your own paper–envy is hard to avoid, but poisonous to creativity.
  • Enjoy it!
  • Treat the time between signing and actual release day as a learning experience.
    It depends on whether they signed via an agent or not. If it’s an experienced agent, let them handle it. Ask for twice the number of finished copies they offer. Ask for print ARCs. Remember that while your sights are on a single book your editor is juggling multiple titles. All are important to him or her; keep that in mind when emailing, etc.
  • Keep writing, keep making connections like you’re still trying to get published
  • Start networking!
  • Just keep swimming
  • Keep your head down and work on your craft. There is so much out of your control.
  • Try not to compare yourself to other writers. Everyone’s journey is different, but all are valid.
  • Expand your platform as much as you can now. Be gracious. Watch out for people who just want to take your money. Ask around before signing up for marketing/promo services.
  • Be prepared to do a LOT of marketing on your own, no matter how you are published.
  • Ask questions!
  • Be informed. Stand up for yourself. If you’re panicking, you’re in the majority.
  • Be willing to make your own magic happen– your publisher likely won’t do it for you.
  • Make sure you have a lawyer look over the contract. Watch out for contracts that want to claim all future works or who will force you to purchase your rights back.
  • Editorial feedback is not always direct, so trust your gut. “We need a bigger plot point here” may mean “you need to make us care more here.”
  • Have an attorney review it. Don’t get sucked into the hype of the moment.

What advice do you have for authors who have to go on submission after having worked with a publishing house?

  • Be patient and prepared for change
  • None. I’m about to do the same thing.
  • Understand this happens to everyone. Publishing houses make mistakes and editors get fired or hired away, all of which are to of your control. Switching publishing houses is not necessarily a bad thing.
  • Sometimes the journey is hard and ugly. But it’ll get good again eventually.
  • Be patient and start working on something else
  • Keep writing.Keep submitting.
  • You’ve got this.
  • Keep moving forward
  • Evaluate how your agent or publisher has performed for your book and don’t be afraid to jump ship.
  • If you have to start over trying to find a new agent or new publisher, I would say gird your loins! And never give up, and stay busy on a new project.
  • Keep your chin.
  • It’s not the end of the world. Many authors end up publishing different works with different publishers. You’ve got a leg up in the process since you have books out there in the world and a web presence already.
  • If you want to publish traditionally, don’t give up.
  • Don’t think about it. Write the next book instead.
  • Hang in there. You did it once, and it will happen again. Maybe even at a better house than your first turned out to be.
  • It takes time. Oh my goodness, so MUCH TIME! Before finding a publisher that was a fit for me, we went out on submission to at lease 20 different editors/houses. I piled up comments, collected them, then finally started writing something new.
  • Before we had even collected all of our responses I had a new book ready and THAT is the book that finally found a home. Did I mention it takes a long time?
  • Solidarity, friends.
  • Don’t take any contract if it means changing your manuscript in a way you don’t want to.
  • Good luck and keep writing.
  • Being on sub is the worst anticipation. Fill your time with non-related writing activities as much as possible.
  • All the eggs in one basket is not the norm. It’s okay to be at more than one house, and self-published at the same time.
  • Most of us do have to chAnge publishers from time to time. Don’t be discouraged
  • Consider going the indie route. 😉 My indie book makes more than my book with a publisher…and I get paid every month and can see all the numbers.
  • Take courage. Believe in yourself and your writing. Absolutely write the next book, and focus on the things you can control!
  • Keep your tribe close. There are no guarantees in this business. You’ll need them more than ever.
  • Submission sucks. Be kind to yourself. Remember that your worth is not tied up in your writing–and even your worth as an author isn’t solely dependent upon whether or not a publisher buys your books.
  • It’s brutal out there. Believe in yourself and enjoy the act of writing.
  • Keep trying. There’s a home out there for it somewhere.
  • Best advice: never get angry in publishing (agent, editor, copyeditor, PR folks). It’s not personal–though it certainly will feel like it is.
  • Patience, grasshopper, it only takes one YES
  • As much as possible, try and write the next book and forget about the one on sub. It can take a LONG time, but that is no reflection on the quality of your work.
  • My bias is toward finding an agent you trust and who believes in your work 100%. That might include telling you a particular book of yours doesn’t have a market right now. This is certainly harsh to hear but I really do believe agents know and understand the market better than most writers do.
  • It’s OK to feel bad. Submission isn’t fun. Stock up on junk food and binge watch your favorite shows when you need to.
  • Develop a nice, thick, shell. I’ll be “out there” again after book #2, and at least I know now not to take rejection personally!
  • Get writing on something new
  • Turn the MS over to your agent and forget about it. Do something else, write something else. That book, for the time being, is not in your hands.
  • Find other things that bring you joy, and focus on them.
  • Each house has its own business plan. Whether or not your project is a fit may have nothing to do with the quality of your manuscript. Reality is, if they don’t know how to sell it, they aren’t the publisher for you.
  • Persistence outweighs skill 10 times out of 10

How do these experiences align with what you’ve experienced or heard? Have any advice you’d like to add? 

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Tasha Headshot Color

Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. A co-founder of Thinking Through Our Fingers, she is the managing editor of the writing-focused website as well as a contributor to Writers in the Storm. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Exploring Your Writing Identity

Who am I? Who do I want to be? How do I define myself as a writer?

We all ask ourselves these questions from time to time. Self-reflection is inevitable when we face frequent rejections and pour so much of our hearts onto the page for the sake of art. Our personal and creative identities are irrevocably linked.

Your voice is unique. Think of the countless influences and experiences that have shaped you. You are a complex, glorious being made up of every hardship, heartbreak, disappointment, desire, joy, and triumph you’ve ever known.

Your distinct writing identity stems from an endless list of factors: where you grew up, your socioeconomic status, family dynamics, belief system, schools, friends, jobs, favorite books–even the TV shows and movies you enjoy.

Are you writing the kind of books you want to write? How about the ones you have to write? Perhaps there is a certain type of book you longed for growing up, one you wished someone had written that spoke to your dearest hopes, your deepest fears.

Writing Identity TToF

If you find yourself examining where you are in your writing journey and where you want to go from here, try these five simple questions:

  1. What are your strengths as a writer?
  2. What genre do you enjoy writing (and reading) the most?
  3. What do you want to say to potential readers?
  4. What are your long-term writing goals?
  5. How would you like to grow or change as a writer?

My Happy Place is writing for middle grade readers, preferably with healthy doses of adventure, humor, and the paranormal. Moving backward through time I can clearly pinpoint several touchstones on the path that led to this point: the children’s lit class in college; the bleak novels we were force-fed in high school English; the stacks of ghost stories I devoured as a young teen; the steady diet of earnest, cheesy 1980s TV shows I adored as a kid.

I used to believe that my Happy Place was static and unchanging. But as I grow older, as I read more widely and interact with other writers, as we as a nation wrestle with our values and face our shortcomings in the struggle for social justice, I realize that my writing identity is still evolving.

As writers we owe it to ourselves and our readers to learn, to soul search, to expand our minds and hearts.

Consider writing something outside of your usual comfort zone. Read something completely new and unfamiliar. Seek out news from a wide range of reliable sources. Strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know. Plan a trip or a simple change of scenery. Wander through a new neighborhood. Observe people in new places. Engage with them. Hear what they have to say.

You will become not only a better writer but a better person, more qualified to explore, understand, and represent the human condition. You will learn to write from a place not just of sympathy but of empathy. You will speak not from secondhand knowledge but from firsthand experience.

I firmly believe that you should embrace what you feel called to write—compelled to write—without fear of judgment that your work isn’t important. When you write from a place of authenticity and a well-examined life, there will always be an audience for what you have to say.

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Growing up, Christine Hayes loved reading stories about creatures that curl your toes and legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now she loves writing about them, too. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, was released in June 2015 through Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. Christine seeks inspiration by haunting flea markets and estate sales, searching for cool vintage finds with a story to tell. While earning her degree in music she visited Asia for the first time, and later moved there with her family for several years. She has been addicted to travel ever since. Christine and her clan now live in northern Utah. Find her online at www.christinehayesbooks.com.

Let’s Stop The Writerly Blame Game

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Settle down, my friends. Pull up a chair. Or a couch. Or a bed. Or sprawl on the floor, if that’s your preference. But get comfortable, because today we’re going to be talking about some hard truths.

Many, many times in the last few months, I’ve heard variations of the same two themes coming out of the mouths of aspiring writers. The first type of comment goes like this: It’s really no use querying an agent. Or querying this agent. Or trying to get traditionally published at all. After all, statistically only a tiny percentage of writers ever get an agent anyway. 

The second type of comment is similar: I’ve been querying, but I just keep getting rejected. I think it’s because agents only want the same old drivel. They don’t care about originality. This comment comes in an endless array of specifics and individualizations, but the heart of the justification is always the same: Those agents just don’t see what a good thing I’ve got going. They don’t recognize my genius. Often, the writer who makes comments like this is also resistant to the idea of revising or rewriting their book, feeling that that would be pandering to somebody else’s tastes in order to get an agent.

And you know what? I totally get it. Let me give you a little picture of my own query history.

Just over three years ago, I started querying a fairytale retelling. It was the third book I’d written but the first I’d queried, and I had stars in my eyes. I’d revised the book a bit, my critique partners had told me that it was Newbery Award material, and I was confident that I’d find an agent who wanted to snap that book up right away. Excitedly, I started live-pitching at conferences and sending out queries. I submitted to the Pitch Wars contest.

The crickets were deafening.

The sparse bits of feedback I got, from both agents and contest mentors, were all the same: It’s not original enough. There’s no place in the market for it. I was stung. I’d poured my heart and soul into that book! I’d given it my all! Couldn’t those agents recognize the genius that was in front of them? Of course, I comforted myself, the stats show that hardly anybody who queries actually lands an agent. The agents are all just too busy to see how big my book could go.

I’ve written before about the watershed moment that happened that autumn, the moment that gave me the courage to pick myself up by my bootstraps and keep working. Sadder but wiser, I turned my attention to my fourth novel. I spent months revising and polishing it, and then dove in again: live pitching, querying, contest entering. This time, things started out much more promisingly. I got lots of agent requests right off the bat, and for several months I was certain that that would be the book to get me an agent. When those requests turned into rejection after rejection after rejection, I found myself thinking again: It’s just because it’s not a Twilight or Hunger Games readalike. Can’t those agents recognize a good thing when they see it? 

Shelving that book was hard. It’s still the book of my heart, and saying a temporary goodbye to it was gut-wrenching. It was so, so easy to place the blame on anything else: the industry. The agents. The market.

This story has a happy ending: After going through a true dark night of the soul, I once again picked myself up, finished the manuscript I was drafting, and queried it. Within weeks, I had multiple agent offers for that book. I signed with my fantastic agent a month after sending my first query. Next year, that book will be my debut novel with HarperCollins Children’s.

What is my point in sharing this story? It’s because I get so frustrated, so saddened, to hear writer after writer utter self-defeating words before they’ve even really given querying and submission a college try. Querying is hard work. It is grueling, stressful, and involves a lot of rejection. But so, too, does writing as a career. No matter what path to publication you end up taking, there will be rejection, stress, and insecurity. As a traditionally-published debut author, I’m already beginning to feel the anxiety that comes from knowing that next summer, people will pick up my book… and some won’t like it. Some will give it bad reviews on Amazon. Even more terrifying, the vast majority of people will probably never be remotely interested in my book. And the stakes are high: How readers respond to my debut will, in large part, determine the path my future career takes.

Self-publishing is the same. While you get to skip the rejections from agents and editors, indie publishing is still rife with rejection and angst. The bottom line is this: If you want to be a writer, you cannot escape rejection.

And while shrouding yourself in an armor made of justifications is the natural response to the pain of being rejected, it’s also an ultimately unhelpful strategy. To be a writer is, by its very nature, to allow yourself to become vulnerable. What is more raw than the feeling of pouring your heart into words and then seeing somebody dislike (or—even worse—not care about) those words? That vulnerability is part and parcel of a writing career—and the sooner you can accept and lean into it, the more resilient and strong your writer heart will become.

Yes, it’s hard to be rejected. Yes, it’s hard to stomach the thought that the problem might lie with our book—those words that poured straight from our heart—and not with the agent, the publisher, the establishment. And yes, the statistics for the number of querying writers are grim. But you know what? In this industry, persistence, humility, and a willingness to start over and try again pay off. It took me three different books, more than 120 queries, and a whole lot of fresh starts and trying new things to land an agent and a book deal—but I did it. My agent has taken on a grand total of three clients in the last two years, including me. Based on the number of queries she generally receives, there was a .03% chance that I would have landed an offer. And yet I did.

And you, dear friend? I believe in you. I have faith in your ability to beat the odds. I have faith in your ability to adapt, to learn, and to use the tools available to you to bring your craft to the level that it needs to be in order to achieve your writerly dreams.

But trust me when I say that the first step to achieving those dreams is this: Take a deep breath. Let go of all the reasons you have for why agents or editors aren’t seeing what you see in your book. And get ready to work.

 

headshot1Cindy Baldwin is a Carolina girl who moved to the opposite coast and is gamely doing her part in keeping Portland weird. As a middle schooler, she kept a book under her bathroom sink to read over and over while fixing her hair or brushing her teeth, and she dreams of someday writing just that kind of book. Her debut middle grade novel, WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW, is forthcoming from HarperCollin’s Children’s in 2018. Find her online at www.cindybaldwinbooks.com and on Twitter at @beingcindy.