Find Your Community

The most impactful thing you can do for your writing (besides finishing what you start) is join a community of writers. No one understands a writer like another writer. We have quirks, tremendous self-doubts, huge highs, and a lot of anxiety about an industry that can be maddeningly unpredictable. A community will provide you the support you need.

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Where can you meet other writers?

Blogs, social media, fan groups, conferences, and retreats are a few places to start. Target groups that write your same age group or in your genre. Be brave and introduce yourself. Pass along a business card. Ask them questions about themselves. Befriend them on social media. Whatever you do, think of reaching out as making friends and not as networking.

How do I find beta readers?

The same people you meet through blogging, social media, fan groups, conferences, and retreats are good options. Ask to swap manuscripts. If you ask someone to spend their time reading your manuscript, the best way to repay them is to do the same. Another option is to find or form a critique group. You may find one through your library or local chapter of SCBWI, SFWA, RWA, or any other reputable writing organization. Contribute to the groups you join, and only commit if you intend to be reliable and active.

What do I stand to gain from socializing with other writers?

The benefits are endless no matter where you are in your career.

For those of you who aren’t published, writers love to talk about books, so be ready for a lot of book recommendations. Some of these recommendations may become a comp title for your own work. Associating with other writers may lead to them asking you to participate in conferences, critique groups, book clubs, and book events. Socializing provides you the opportunity to receive feedback on worthwhile time investments, balancing home and work life, writing and working full-time, recommendations on agents, insight into how to query, what questions to ask when you get The Call from an agent, and so on. Publishing thrives on the whisper network. Most of what you learn will be from speaking directly to other writers.

If you’re published or under contract, you need a community too. You can get advice from others on cover art, social media platforms, building your newsletter list or website, and swag. You may want to know if, when, or how to part ways with your agent, which conferences are worth your time, advice on maximizing book bloggers, how to cope with bad reviews, what to do if your agent retires or your editor moves houses, how to sell on synopsis, and the list goes on and on. Join a debut group. Actively seek out relationships with authors, agents, editors, and bloggers. Maintain those relationships the best you can.

At no point in your career will you be better off without a community. Benefits come from creating reciprocal relationships with your colleagues. This is not “networking” per se. Initially your intentions may be to meet critique partners or gain social media followers. But as you engage with other writers, friendships will form. The same person you introduce yourself to at a conference could be the author you ask a blurb from one day or they may ask you. Interact with the spirit of giving. Don’t take anything without the intent to give back. Show up, be friendly, bravely ask questions, and contribute to building a community where all writers feel welcome.

 

Celebrate Your Accomplishments

Hey you! I see you! Toiling away! Biting your nails with worry! Not sure you’ll ever make it/do it again/finish that book/be successful. I totally get it! This writing thing is tough! It’s only for the strongest, most awesome people! Which is why you deserve a gold medal no matter where you are on the journey.

 

Celebrate YourAccomplishments

Here. I made you some! So stop moping and start celebrating every little thing!  (These are words I’m saying to myself as much as you.)

Got a great book idea!

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Started writing a book!

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Completed a first draft!

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Sent your writing to CPs or beta readers!

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Conquered the impossible revision!

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Polished your MS to a shine!

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Revised even after you thought you were done!

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Sent a query!

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Got a rejection!

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Got a request!

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Got a new CP or writing buddy!

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Attended a conference!

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Entered a contest!

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Pitched to an agent/editor!

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Got an agent!

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Revised with an agent!

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Almost emailed your agent seventeen times in one day, but restrained yourself to only two times!

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Went on sub!

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Got an editor rejection!

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Made it to second reads!

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Made it to acquisitions!

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R&R!

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YOU SOLD A BOOK!

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Revised with an editor!

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Survived copy edits!

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ARCs!

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Your book has a cover!

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Your book is on Amazon!

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First review from someone you don’t know on GR!

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First trade review!

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A starred review!

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Book launch!

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Survived people emailing you with the errors they found in your book!

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Started writing the next book!

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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.

 

It’s Time to Choose Your Writing Conferences for the Year

At the beginning of a new year, we plan to exercise, set our professional goals, and then often spend the rest of the year backsliding and lamenting how it all went wrong. When it comes to our writing careers though, one thing we can commit to early and guarantee is our participation in writing conferences and retreats. Application and registration season is here now so if you want to snag a spot and grow your craft and publishing knowledge, this is the time do it.

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In several of my writing communities, people have asked for recommendations on the best conferences. That’s a tough question because it’s really about which opportunities will serve your needs at this moment in your career. Over the last five years, I’ve participated in a variety of writing events that have bolstered my skills, fed my flagging spirit, and broadened my network. These are just a few of the vast options available to you as well.

  • Juried Writing Workshops: One of my journalist friends raved to me about a conference in sunny South Florida founded by the legendary crime fiction writer Dennis Lehane. It’s Eckerd College Writers in Paradise and I’m now a three-time recidivist, the nickname we give to multiple attendees. This is a juried conference, one where you submit an excerpt of your novel, short story, memoir, or poetry to be considered for admission.

For the first time, I workshopped my novel-in-progress with eleven other writers and learned the delicate dance of giving and receiving critique. Every workshop discussion is led by a successful, published author and I had the privilege to study with Ann Hood, Laura Lippman, and Lori Roy. Half the day is spent workshopping student manuscripts and the rest of the time you’re attending lectures and author readings. For those of you who want an immersive, deep-dive into character development, scenes, plotting, and sentence-level work for your manuscript, these workshops are invaluable. The best kept secret is that you learn more from analyzing your classmates’ work than you do from the critiques of your own manuscript.

  • Large Writing Conferences: Last year, I attended Grub Street’s The Muse and the Marketplace  in Boston for the first time and will return again in April. It was literary nirvana! While it’s a conference of more than 800 attendees and presenters, I sat in sessions next to bestselling authors and top literary agents and editors. Besides the plethora of sessions on everything from novel revision to book promotion, there were unique opportunities at this conference. For an additional fee, I participated in Manuscript Mart where two literary agents critiqued an excerpt of my manuscript and met with me on-site to discuss it. We ended the conversations with both agents requesting my full manuscript. I also participated in Shop Talk, a happy hour event where I joined two literary agents and two writers for an intimate cocktail reception chat about books and the inner workings of the publishing industry. If you want to hone your writing craft and gain exposure to industry insiders, this is the perfect conference to achieve both goals.
  • Writing Retreats: For the past three years, I’ve traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico, an area steeped in culture and history, to join more than 70 writers for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association’s annual retreat. Starting before sunrise, we sit on the patio writing on our laptops and conversing, surrounded by lush gardens. We participate in workshops on topics ranging from craft to publishing and the writing life. Published and unpublished writers share the joys and frustrations of this journey we’ve chosen. The informal bonding experience defies description and I marvel at the relationships that develop there. I’ve made lifelong friends in this writing community and these are the people I turn to when I need someone to read one of my scenes, talk me off the ledge when I want to give up, or cheer me on when an agent requests my full manuscript. Retreats like this one are small and intimate enough to nurture you for the long haul and that’s why many of us return to New Mexico every year to re-charge and renew.

Right now, I’m evaluating my options for writing experiences this year. I plan to return to the Muse and to the WFWA retreat but I’m exploring a new juried writing workshop, one where I can study craft with other writers under the tutelage of authors I admire. You really have to think about where you are on your journey and decide which opportunities will help you take your writing and your career to the next level.

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o_mag_nov_realyou0710Nancy E. Johnson is a senior communications leader with an Emmy-nominated, award-winning journalism background. She contributed to O, the Oprah Magazine which published her personal essay. Nancy is an active member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and she served as secretary for Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter. When she’s not reading, writing or pontificating about politics, she’s running and eating chocolate, sometimes at the same time. The Chicago native is writing her first novel. 

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Professional Etiquette for Writers

OR, You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry

In their book, Million Dollar Professionalism for the Writer, Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta lay out the following bit of advice:

“Never, never, ever, never, never, never, never ever be a jerk.”

I’m half tempted to offer a hearty “Amen!” and end this blog post right here, because I’m not sure you’ll ever hear a better suggestion on how to act as a writer, nay, as a human being. But in the interest of hitting my word count, allow me to expand on this idea further by way of a real-world example.

A few months ago, I attended a writer’s conference with my sister, Lisa. In addition to both being published authors, Lisa and I have worked in the publishing industry for many years: she as an editor, and I as a slushpile reader. We had both taught classes at the conference, and Lisa was ending the day by taking pitches from some of the attendees.

At the close of the conference, I found myself waiting outside the room where Lisa was hearing the final pitches of the day. Realizing that the pitches were taking longer than expected, I pulled out my laptop and proceeded to catch up on a few work items as I waited.

Shortly thereafter, a man approached and asked if he could take the seat next to me. I agreed, and we introduced ourselves. He mentioned that he had attended one of my classes earlier, and that he had enjoyed it. I thanked him and asked if he was waiting to pitch his story. He replied that he had already pitched to Lisa earlier, and that he was waiting because he wanted to ask her a follow-up question. He then began to ask me about reading in the slushpile, how long I had been doing it, and how I made decisions as to what I recommended versus what I passed on. They were the sort of questions I get asked all the time from new writers, and I was happy to answer them in a little more detail.

Our conversation was moving along quite nicely when I began to sense that he was inching towards pitching his story to me. He kept bringing the conversation back around to the book he was working on, and while I was trying to remain friendly and supportive, I was also trying to subtly convey the message that I was not the person he should be pitching to, especially when I didn’t initiate a request to hear about his book.

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Unfortunately, my new friend wasn’t picking up on the message. He grew bolder, the conversation became more and more one-sided, and he proceeded to dump more and more of his book on me. I didn’t want to be outright rude to him, but I was becoming more annoyed with him the longer he went on. I kept trying to indicate that this wasn’t the time or place, and that I wasn’t the person he should be talking to, but he wasn’t hearing me. By the time he pulled out a three-ring binder and started showing pictures he’d downloaded that represented what he felt his characters would look like, and launched into a presentation of how his insanely complicated magic system worked, I’d had enough. I faked an incoming phone call, and excused myself to the other side of the room.

A few minutes later, Lisa exited the pitch room, only to find herself face to face with this fellow, who excitedly asked if she remembered him (she did), and if she had any questions about what they had discussed during his pitch session (she didn’t). Lisa looked at me and screamed a silent “SAVE ME” with her eyes. I immediately came back and we excused ourselves from the situation.

As soon as we were out of earshot, we began to debrief each other about our experiences with this person. Not only had his pitch session been a train wreck of infodumping and Internet photos (which Lisa had expressly told him not to show her), it turns out he had been emailing Lisa and other people in the office for a few weeks already. In fact, by the time we arrived back home, we both discovered that we had brand new emails from this guy waiting for us. And we were both annoyed.

Now, there’s a lot to be said for confidence, gumption, and general sticktoitivness in terms of how you present yourself. And it’s good to stand out a bit from the legion of other writers out there. But folks, hear me loud and clear on this point: you want to stand out for the right reasons!

You should practice your “elevator pitch” in case someone wants to know what your book is about. And if they ask, then go for it. But always—ALWAYS—be a professional. Don’t be THAT GUY or THAT GAL. Don’t ambush people with your pitch if they haven’t asked for it. And especially don’t get under the skin of the very people whom you are hoping will read your book and decide its future.

Because if I’m the guy who ends up reading your book in the slushpile, then you want me to be as happy as humanly possible. You want me to be sunshine and rainbows and little animated birds fluttering about as I read. You don’t want me to remember the time you trapped me at a writer’s conference and wouldn’t let me go until I had heard about every single character and plot point. You don’t want me going into your story already irritated with you. In the words of Bruce Banner: “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

If you want to be taken seriously as a professional writer, then you must act like a professional. Publishers don’t want to work with writers who are self-important divas, who can’t take criticism or direction, or who are just plain difficult.

In short: Don’t be a jerk.

Can I get an “Amen!”?

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Dennis Gaunt has worked as a slushpile reader for Deseret Book and Shadow Mountain publishers since 2000. All those years of reading other people’s words inspired him to take a crack at writing himself. His first book, Bad Guys of the Book of Mormon, was published in 2011, and he has since published other books and magazine articles in the LDS market, and has even recorded talks on CD for LDS youth and young adults.

Though primarily a non-fiction writer (for now), he loves reading and talking about what makes great fiction stories work. His years of wading through the slushpile from the other side have given him a unique perspective on the writing and publishing processes, and he’s excited to be a part of Thinking Through Our Fingers.

 

Picking a Writing Conference

Five years ago, I began going to writing conferences. I felt beyond excited, and yet, very nervous about what to expect from them. The first year, I packed and brought my closet with me, which gave me a great deal of options on things to wear. But, my smile was the thing I wore that didn’t go out of season or style. To be honest, I couldn’t put it away even if I tried. I found “my people.” Writers, creatives, and like-minded friends, that I clicked with immediately. We discussed our sleep deprivation from long hours of writing in the night, to brainstorming our next person to kill off, and running story pitches by each other.

I saw myself growing in the writing world. Continually learning techniques and working on elements of my craft, and then applying what I had been taught from conferences and workshops. Every year, I was drawn to different classes, where I knew I still had much to learn. Along this journey, I went from writing a picture book, to creating a psychological thriller. I even got my fingers typing away at a time traveling fantasy, and then wrote some nonfiction articles. A lot of times I’d get ideas that would spring up and be completely in left field from my last project. But, I responded to the creative energy I was feeling, and allowed myself to create and play, and see where it might take me.

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With that, my conferences changed. I’d go to some of the same every year, but others became different depending on what I happened to be writing at that very moment. Why? Because a way to stretch as a writer is to go to conferences and classes that benefit you. They should be providing you with new information, ideas, tools, and other ways of looking at your manuscript. The first time I switched up my conferences, I had a dampened demeanor. It was a conference where many of my writer friends attended, friends that I only got to see at this one. I wanted to be there, but . . . my psychological thriller desperately demanded attention, and what would benefit and feed that novel, wasn’t the conference I typically went to. I had to expand and open my options to give my dream of getting this book published an even stronger chance. Changing comfort to growth made a huge difference as the classes gave my story exactly what it needed. I learned about blood spatters, poisons, fingerprints, and gained a plethora of knowledge on forensic and criminology statistics.

Who knows? Maybe in the future, I’ll be working heavily on a nonfiction project, and go to workshops filled with information geared in that direction. There are so many great conferences. I haven’t had a bad experience at any of them, and have walked away with a notebook full of ideas and thoughts. My mind always energized and overcharged every year, at everyone I’ve been to. When you’re searching for a writing workshop, class, or conference, here are a few tips to consider before you choose the right one for you.

  • What project/genre are you working on right now? What skills do you feel are a weakness in your writing? Aim for those classes.
  • Will you be expanding yourself as a writer at this conference? How so?
  • What stage are you in with your writing? What resources do you need more of?

Publishing, marketing, craft, or industry.

  • Lastly, are you going to this conference for you or for someone else? If it’s both, even better. Make sure that you’ll be getting resources, that will be moving you forward in whatever stage you’re in with you’re writing.

Before deciding on the conference you’re going to go to, make a list of all the ones you have an interest in. Then, do lots of research on each one so you can understand the genre and classes that will be presented, but also the agents and editors that’ll be attending. If you’re writing an epic fantasy, going to a crime writing conference will not provide you with a magic system class. Be honest, and give yourself and your story what it needs to propel you to the next step in your writing journey. Have fun researching to find the conference that can help you do just that.

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Lauri Schoenfeld’s first love is her little clan of three silly kidlets and her wonderful hubby, Andy. Writing is a close second. She began writing poems at the age of nine, and her love for literature and music developed into composing thirty songs.  In 2014 her short story, Christmas Treasure, was featured in an anthology called, Angels from their Realms of Story.  Her favorite genre to write is anything dark, psychological, and suspenseful, but she enjoys expanding her horizons and dipping her feet in other genres as well.  Lauri teaches summer writing classes for kids and mentors teens throughout the year. She’s a Child Abuse and Scoliosis Survivor. Lauri runs a group for teen girls with Scoliosis called, The S Squad. Their motto is Strength, Support and Self Confidence.  She’s been known to dance around the house with a spoon as her microphone and sneak toppings from the ice cream bar. Lauri’s taken online classes at the Institute of Children’s Literature and was the President of the League of Utah Writers, Oquirrh Chapter for two years.  She’s a member of Crime Writers and International Thriller Writers.

Can you REALLY give up on writing?

A few months ago, I sat in front of my computer and stared and stared at my manuscript, hoping that something would start talking to me soon because I had a deadline to meet. This wasn’t an abnormal thing. Staring at a Word doc (or Scrivener doc) while time passed and still no words were written had become more common than not, and I remember thinking, “Okay… I think this is it. I’ve completely lost the ability, talent, and passion… desire… mojo… whatever you call it, to write.”

I started to reminisce about the times when I would ache to write. The story would unfold so quickly in my head that my fingers itched to get it on paper. I’d spend hours nonstop typing, completely submersed in the characters’ world, oblivious to the real-life stresses around me. It was my escape, my coping mechanism, my utopia.

And then I went from aspiring writer to published author.

I hate complaining about the “after publishing” parts of the journey, because I know how it feels as a writer who isn’t. I was snapped up by one of the Big 5, had an agent, had several book deals coming in… this is what I’d been working toward. This was the dream! So when I saw the authors who posted about the woes, the stresses, the pressure that follows, I’d secretly think, “At least you have a book deal.”

So, I apologize right now for being blunt about it. But getting a book deal is only the beginning of the next, very difficult journey that comes with writing.

Tangent, sorry. Back on track! So, while I was at my computer, contemplating ways that I could still make money and give up writing, I realized that this wasn’t just a fleeting thought of “I give up” that I’d had so often but never acted upon. This was the real thing. I was done. I would meet this deadline and then I’d only be an editor. I ran the editing business, and it was profitable—more-so than my writing—and so maybe that’s what I was meant to do.

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They say when you are ready to give something up, you know it’s the right then when you feel relief. And boy, did I feel it. It washed over me like I’d been dipped into a nice warm bath. I was free again. I knew that this book would be my last.

About a month later, I was getting ready for the Storymakers conference—very big writer’s and reader’s conference in Utah—and being on the committee, I felt a little bit of a fraud. Sure, I’d published quite a few titles and I was attending as not only an author and committee member, but a vender as well for my editing business. Yet, I still felt like I was a walking false advertisement. During my counseling session that I’d been taking weekly for anxiety/depression, those thoughts came up. I was given the advice to let those thoughts go and just enjoy being there. So I made every effort to do just that.

Like I said before, I was done. Writing was gone and over, and I would focus my efforts elsewhere. I was relieved, I felt like I was on a path to healing…

But…

There was this small part of me that missed it. Whenever I was editing for one of my clients, I could feel it there. I could sense that desire to create, to make something out of nothing. I pushed it away, convincing myself that I’d made the right choice.

During the conference, my anxiety had been alleviated. I really was able to just sit back and enjoy. And because of that, I was able to really listen, really take in all the juicy, writerly goodness that comes from it. When the amazing Ally Condie gave her keynote address, I felt she was speaking directly to me.

“Write in the light,” was the message. Write what comes, not what you think you have to.

It hit me right in the feels, you guys. That, paired with the message of not living in the crevasse on your way up to the writing summit, ignited that passion I’d thought had long burned out. I came home filled to the brim with the desire to write. To tell a story, not to make money, not to meet a deadline, not to please the readers I was so desperate to please, but to tell the story I needed to tell.

I was my pre-published self again, writing past midnight, thinking up scenes on my morning walks, never staring at the screen, but itching to put down the words in my head. It’s been about a month, and I’m still going strong, because I think I’m looking at writing differently now. I feel it differently now.

There are many times we want to give up, that we aren’t sure if it’s all worth it, but after having gone through the drafting stage, the querying stage, the getting an agent stage, the subbing stage, the publishing stage, and the rinse and repeat stage, I’m just now realizing that it’s not about getting to the next thing and hoping that’s when it will all be rainbows and roses.

It’s about your story.

It’s about you.

You have something unique and genuine to bring into the world, something only you can create. And even when you feel like you just can’t do it anymore, and you feel that relief like I did when you decide to give up, know that it’s okay to set it aside, but acknowledge it is a part of you. It can always come back, sometimes when you need it most.

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Cassie Mae is the author of a dozen or so books. Some of which became popular for their quirky titles, characters, and stories. She likes writing about nerds, geeks, the awkward, the fluffy, the short, the shy, the loud, the fun.

Since publishing her bestselling debut, Reasons I Fell for the Funny Fat Friend, she’s published several titles with Penguin Random House and founded CookieLynn Publishing Services. She is represented by Sharon Pelletier at Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. She has a favorite of all her book babies, but no, she won’t tell you what it is. (Mainly because it changes depending on the day.)

Along with writing, Cassie likes to binge watch Once Upon A Time and The Flash. She can quote Harry Potter lines quick as a whip. And she likes kissing her hubby, but only if his facial hair is trimmed. She also likes cheesecake to a very obsessive degree.

You can stalk, talk, or send pictures of Luke Bryan to her on her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cassiemaeauthor

 

What No One Tells You About Pitch Sessions

If you’ve pitched at a conference, chances are you’ve read articles and blog posts about how to pitch. You’ve written out an elevator pitch. You’ve revised it until it shined. You practiced it in front of a mirror.

And you were scared out of your mind when your time came to face the agent across the table.

I’ve pitched at many conferences, but after the first couple of times, I started bending some of the supposed rules. While I’d had requests for pages before, I started getting enthusiastic requests for pages.

After I threw out the rule book on pitches, I got requests for full manuscripts. Continue reading