From Final Draft to Publication- A Timeline

The other day, somebody DMed (Direct Messaged, for you non-Twitter folks) me asking, “I was just curious, once you felt like you had your finished manuscript (or as finished as possible), how long did getting an agent take for you? And then from agent to publishing deal? Everyone always just says “it depends” but I’m curious about someone’s actual experience.”

I answered her and thanked her for a great blog post idea, so here we go!

(Just a warning: My timeline is pretty fast. Most people’s debut timelines do not go this quickly!)

November 2012: First draft of Song of Summer (then called Yellow Bike) is completed during Nanowrimo.

May 2013: Second draft is pitched and sent to Uwe Stender at the Pennwriters conference.

June 2013: I meet with Uwe and he offers me a Revise and Resubmit.

August 2013: Third draft is sent to Uwe.

September 2013: Uwe offers me representation, we sign the contract, and he starts pitching the book. (Get the full “How I Got My Agent” story here)

June 2014: I get an offer from Bloomsbury Spark. Uwe negotiates the contract.

July 2014: I sign the contract with Bloomsbury Spark.

July 2015: Song of Summer is released by Bloomsbury Spark!

Total amount of time from first draft to publication: 2 years, 8 months.

Here are a couple of reasons my timeline moved so quickly!

1) I didn’t query Song of Summer. At all. I pitched Uwe before I started querying and he asked for the full. It’s not great form to query other agents while someone has the full, so I didn’t. Then we worked so well together during the R and R I didn’t feel it was necessary.

2) It miraculously only took three drafts.

3) I went with digital-first publishing, which moves much faster (about a year faster) than traditional print publishing.

(If you want to see the cover and enter a contest to win a full ms critique or a beach read kit, click here!)

(If you want to pre-order the book, click here!)

Six Steps to Dealing With Rejection

I’m a professional actor and I’ve learned a thing or two about rejection- from my first stage kiss when the guy ran off stage yelling, “I hate myself I hate myself!” (no it was not in the script) to finding out I lost a role while I was working- I served dinner to a familiar-looking guy who turned to his wife and said, “This girl just auditioned for me. And you know what? She almost got the part.”

So when you’re rejected by the latest agent/editor/whoever, here are some ways to cope:

1) Drink a latte and call your mom. She thinks you’re great. She’ll be happy for the call even if she’s sad to hear the news. And sometimes making other people happy will help you feel happy too.

2) Think this happy little thought: Everybody fails. Every. Single. Person. You are not alone, even if all your Twitter buddies are getting million-dollar advances or whatever. They have all been in your shoes. And you know what? You will fail WAY more than you succeed! Why? Because it only takes one success and then you stop trying, right? It takes a bajillion failures to get that one success- that agent, that contract, that whatever (and then you start trying for something else). Although it’s sad, failure is a perfectly normal place to be!

3) Think this vengeful little thought: They might regret this. It might make you feel a little better. And who knows? Maybe they will! I can think of two specific instances when I was called back for a role and they gave it to someone else who was TERRIBLE. “Ha!” I thought to myself when I read the reviews/heard the horror stories. “Bet they’re wishing they’d picked me now!”

4) Consider this: You may have missed it by only two inches. I once lost a role to a girl because she was two inches taller than me. I’m not joking. The director had praised my audition to the heavens saying (and this is a direct quote), “That’s perfect! That’s exactly what I want!” and he gave it to this other girl. It was college and he said we could ask him about his casting decisions, so I did. It was because she was two inches taller. Two. Inches. Taller. I can’t tell you how many writing rejections I’ve gotten that said something along the lines of, “I loved it but the team didn’t,” or, “It’s just too quiet to break out in this market.” (I have a pretty good list of direct quotes from editors here) Two inches. That’s it. Yeah, it’s sucky, but you were close. And you know what? Maybe next time you’ll get the role because you’re two inches shorter.

5) Now: Change your way of thinking. They are not rejecting YOU. They are not even rejecting your book baby. They are simply looking for something specific and your book wasn’t it. Which is okay. Here’s the thing: I will never play Cinderella in Into the Woods. Ever. Because they would have to find a Little Red that’s shorter than me and, well, good luck with that. Here are more roles I will never play: Marius in Les Mis (he’s a boy), Adelaide in Guys and Dolls (she’s a dancer), Sarah in Ragtime (she’s black)… the list goes on. And you know what? That’s OKAY! There are plenty of roles I can play that those people can’t! Little Red Riding Hood, Peter Pan, Lydia Bennett, Amy March, Hermia… the list goes on! Even against people of my own type, a director might cast someone else because he or she envisions the character a little heavier, a little scrawnier, with blonde ringlets, with a snubby nose, with no freckles, a higher voice, etc, etc. Your book is great! They are not rejecting your book! It is simply not what they’re looking for. And guess what? Someone else may be looking for your book.

6) Finally, be a little sad, but try again. Yes, there is a time to give up and you’ll feel it if it comes. But don’t make any hasty decisions. Give it another shot. As Amy March said, “You only need one. If he’s the right one.”

PS- At least writers actually receive rejections! Actors usually hear from the company only when we get the part- not when we don’t. It’s just an indeterminate wait until you hear that one of your friends was cast or rehearsals start and you aren’t invited. It was sweet, sweet relief when a rejection email first landed in my inbox.

How do you deal with rejection?

 

 

Never give up! Except when you should.

Winston Churchill famously said, “Never, ever, ever give up. ” I, not so famously, am saying that there are three times I gave up what I was writing, and I’m so glad I did. The first project was a finished manuscript that didn’t sell. The second was a first draft that was not a book. The third was a half-done draft that was eating my life. Here’s how each one made me a better writer.

1) What happened: My first time doing NaNoWriMo, lightning struck: I ended up with an actual, finished first draft, the book known as Bleeder. I then revised it. And revised it. And revised it. When it was at its best, I queried it. Rejection after rejection rolled in. I changed the query. More rejections. I changed the query again. More rejections. I shipped it out to some critique partners and revised the manuscript again. Changed the query. More rejections. Finally, one full year after I wrote that first draft, I stopped trying to sell it. I guess the world just wasn’t ready for a girl who bleeds acid.

How it helped me: It taught me about the business of writing. Think of all the new skills I learned that year- writing a book, writing a query, revising a book, revising a query, beta-reading, editing, pantsing, planning, critique partnering… the list goes on! It introduced me to conferences and blogging and literary rejection (which is different from acting rejection!) and the very supportive writing community. I learned about the Query Shark and Absolute Write Watercooler and Writer Unboxed and the GLA and Writers Digest and Flogging the Quill. Finally, it helped me because I wrote another book. Because I had shelved Bleeder, I could concentrate more fully on the book that became Yellow Bike (the book which got me an agent and sold to a publishing house).

2) What happened: Because NaNoWriMo was such a hit, I attempted to do it again, this time with a sequel to Bleeder. In the same year. I called it LaNoWriMo (Laura’s Novel-Writing Month) and I held it in March. I had a chart, a supply of coffee, and a new writing space up in my attic. It. Was. A. Train. Wreck. Yes, I eked out 50,000 words. No, it was nowhere close to a book. In short, lightning did not strike twice. This non-book collection of words now resides in the bowels of my computer and has not seen the light of day since.

How it helped me: I learned that it is very rare to pants a NaNoWriMo novel and actually end up with a novel! I learned that series and trilogies must be planned. I saw my Bleeder characters in a new light and got ideas for an actual sequel (in case the world is ever ready for a girl who bleeds acid). I learned that there is a difference between “winning” and winning. Understanding that this train wreck would never be an actual book cleaned up my writing practices quite a bit.

3) What happened: Six weeks after my son was born, and one year after writing Yellow Bike (which, by this time, had an agent) you guessed it, NaNoWriMo happened. This time, I had a basic idea (about a guy whose only talent is growing a beard) and I was home ALL DAY with a little squawky guy. After having succeeded with Yellow Bike, I was going to attempt NaNo once more. I wrote. And I wrote. And I wrote. And I realized that I know next to nothing about beards. I know nothing about beard culture or beard competitions or anything. I kept stopping to research more about beards. Add this to a waking, screaming (but cute!) baby, and, well, it was torture. I gave up after 20,000 words. And I’m not ashamed.

How it helped me: I learned that I should fully research an unfamiliar culture before starting if I want to write the story in a month. I learned that my sleeping, eating, and other life habits DO affect my writing. I learned that if I start to dread writing, it ceases to be fun or fulfilling. After shelving the book, I could focus on my baby and adjust to my new mommy life without beards and word counts haunting me. I also started a new draft a few months later and discovered that, surprise surprise, I can write a first draft (although not in a month) WITHOUT NaNoWriMo.

It’s common knowledge that all writing makes you a better writer. I think that the act of shelving a project can also make you a better writer. It’s a bold decision that helps you delve into a new project with the knowledge you gleaned from your “failed” project. And let’s be honest- that project is not a failure. Everything is a success that helps you to your next step.

So ask yourself: Have you tried for over a year to sell your manuscript with no takers? Have you written a story that’s not a story? Are you smack in the middle of something that’s stealing time from what really matters, with no reward in sight? What are the benefits of slogging away? What are the benefits starting fresh?

How I Got My Agent

It’s been way over a year since I’ve signed the contract with my agent, but I haven’t written the obligatory “how I got my agent” post yet because, I guess, to me this is still kind of hallowed ground. As though if I say it out loud, it might all go away. But that’s silly! He sold my book for goodness sake! It’s not going away! I guess for some reason (maybe I’m afraid he’ll find out my deepest secrets) I haven’t told the blogosphere how I came to be represented by the most excellent Uwe Stender of TriadaUS.

Well, secrets or no, here we go:

To make a long story short, my first book was a book I loved that never attracted an agent’s attention. It was a YA medical sci-fi about a girl who bleeds acid (and it still kind of rocks my socks off). I pitched it for almost a year and accumulated 2 requests for fulls and about 40 or 45 rejections.

So I wrote another book.

My second book (the book that became Yellow Bike) was a YA contemporary romance about folk music and deaf culture, set in my tiny hometown. About as different from acid blood as you can get.

After having attended a pretty awesome conference in NYC for my first book (RIP Backspace Conference), I was thrilled to find a writers’ conference here in Pittsburgh! The Pennwriters conference gave me a LOT of bang for my buck. A lot of the “extras” at the NYC conference were included in the cost of Pennwriters… including a pitch session with an agent. So although my YA contemporary wasn’t in perfect shape (great draft but only half-polished), I decided, “What the heck? What are the chances the agent will want it right away? If he wants it, I can take a couple of weeks to polish it.”

I researched all of the agents that would be in attendance and chose Uwe because of his success with Elizabeth Laban’s The Tragedy Paper, which I loved. Also, his office was located approximately 25 minutes from my house. Very nice, as I was five months pregnant with my first kid and didn’t see myself visiting NYC in the near future.

How shocked was I when I saw that my pitch session was Uwe’s VERY FIRST pitch session on the VERY FIRST day? Very shocked. I had time to attend about twenty minutes of the first seminar, “How to pitch your book in person,” which I realized I’d never actually thought about. Not joking. I guess I thought it was the same as querying, which, by the way, it’s not. During the twenty minutes I was there, I scribbled down a few one-sentence pitches then headed out the door.

After arriving RIDICULOUSLY EARLY for my pitch session (like, helping set up rooms and tables early), I stepped into the room to meet with Uwe. He smiled and shook my hand and was generally quite friendly as we sat across the table from each other and made small talk.

Finally (pleasantries can be hard for me to navigate so it seemed a lot longer than it was), he said, “So what is your book about?”

“It’s about a girl who wants a boyfriend that loves music as much as she does, but the boy she falls in love with is deaf!” I blurted out.

He smiled and said, “That’s perfect. I want to read it right now,” (or something like that).

I was not prepared for this response. In any sense of the word. “Um, it’s also about… it’s set in my hometown and she’s a diner waitress and he’s a big city rich kid and it’s told in alternating first person present.”

He smiled again. “That is perfect. I want to read it right now.”

“Um… I… I don’t have it printed out or anything.” I held up my flash drive meagerly, sweating and praying to God that he didn’t have a computer so I wouldn’t have to tell him it wasn’t perfect. NEVER PITCH UNLESS IT’S PERFECT reverberated through my skull.

His face fell. “My laptop is in my room.”

“Oh!” I was so happy, I didn’t think at all about the next words that came out of my mouth. “I can email it to you tonight if you want.” What?! Tonight?! That only gave me a few hours to fix half the novel’s spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, etc, etc….

“That’d be great,” he said. “So tell me more.”

I told him all about the story and he was so excited. He kept saying, “I hope you can write. I just hope you can write. This is a great story. I just hope you can write.”

And after a while I found myself thinking, “I hope I can write too! Oh gosh, what if I can’t write?!”

I blew off the afternoon and early evening seminars to finish polishing my book in a Panera down the road. I emailed it to him before the last event of the day.

A few weeks later, I got a text from him: “Hi Laura. I’d like to talk to you about your book. You want to meet at Starbucks?”

“Oh no, I can’t write,” I thought. But I went to meet him at Starbucks anyway.

He was great. He told me he really liked the book but he didn’t love it and he gave me specific reasons why. He said that, the way it was, I could probably find another agent if I wanted to. But if I decided to do a small rewrite with his feedback in mind, he’d like to have the first crack at it.

I liked his feedback and I agreed that it made my book stronger, so over the next few months (as I got closer and closer to having the baby), I revised the book. I did want him to have the first shot at it- I’d been really impressed with our interactions up to that point- so I sent it about a month before my due date.

Exactly one week after I had my baby, I was a physical and emotional wreck. I was lying in bed trying to sleep, per the doctor’s instructions. My phone beeped. It was a text from Uwe: “I love your book. It is sooooo romantic. I would love to represent you. Give me a call.”

I stood at the top of my stairs (stairs were a big no-no) with tears streaming down my face. “I have an agent!” I yelled down to my husband and mother and brand new baby. “An agent and a baby all in one week!”

###

(Blah blah blah that’s where the story should end, we all know it. But if you must know, I called him and asked him all the questions I was supposed to ask. Specifically, I’m glad I asked, “What will you do if the book doesn’t sell?” because it looked like that might be the case for a little while. I liked his answers and signed on the dotted line a week later. And boy I’m glad I did. Some day I need to write a post on how awesome he is.)

PS- If you want to buy the book he thought was sooooo romantic, go here!

I’m getting published!!!

If you’ve been wondering why I’ve been so silent, it’s not only because I’m busy with the baby, the rough draft, the new Twitter account (@LLAWrites), and a trip across the country, it’s because…

I’m getting published and I couldn’t keep my mouth selectively shut, so I just kept it entirely shut!

Official announcement:
“Laura Lee Anderson’s YELLOW BIKE, in which a small-town high school waitress with a folk music obsession falls for a New York City rich kid… who’s deaf, to Meredith Rich at Bloomsbury Spark, for publication in 2015, by Uwe Stender at TriadaUS Literary Agency (world).”

It’s been a long process! Much longer than anticipated, but from what I hear that’s just the way things go. My intrepid, tireless, faithful agent, Uwe Stender, has been submitting for a long time as email after email of, “I was so close with this one,” or “I just signed a book that’s similar,” “we don’t feel we can break it out from the very crowded market that is YA right now,” “the premise just wasn’t big enough to get the team on board,”  “a bit too commercial,”  “as much as I enjoyed aspects of the manuscript, I’m afraid I just didn’t love it quite enough to move forward,” “I thought it felt a little quiet,” (all actual quotes from real editors) came in. I sent him an email once saying, “I could take rejections like this all day!” and I really meant it. What an honor to have all of these people from famous publishing companies take the time to read my book and say such nice things about it.

Here are some more snippets of the rejection letters: “…it is so very much in the wheel-house of ELEANOR AND PARK, THE TRAGEDY PAPER,”  “Robin and Carter are such an enticing pair,” “…both characters are handled very well as their alternating POVs invite the reader into their flirty back and forth,” “I think it’s truly a wonderful story,” “…a fresh twist on traditional young adult romance,” “It’s clear that Laura has strength in her prose,” and “…feels timeless and almost rose-tinted.”

And that’s just a random handful from a lot of great emails. Really- everyone was so kind! I’ve been an actor for years and let me tell you, this is one place where writing definitely has the upper hand. In acting, if you audition for a part and don’t get it, you often find out simply because rehearsals start and you were never called.

Again and again each editor echoed some form of the phrase, “I’m sure it won’t be long before someone else is snatching this one up!” but months passed and still no bite.

Finally, we struck gold with Meredith Rich at Bloomsbury’s new digital first imprint, Spark, and I couldn’t be happier! After about a month of contract negotiations, starring Uwe Stender (so, so grateful for his experience, tenacity, flexibility, and collaboration), I signed on the dotted line (which actually isn’t dotted, fyi) and mailed four copies of the contract to New York City in the middle of a 32-hour roadtrip.

I am thrilled that Bloomsbury Spark will be publishing YELLOW BIKE as an ebook sometime in 2015! I’ll be part of a fine community of writers with whom to network, have the full support of Bloomsbury’s international reach, and benefit from having the smart and insightful Meredith Rich at my side, helping YELLOW BIKE to be the best version of itself.

If you want to buy the book (now called SONG OF SUMMER), go here!

Needless to say, some changes will be made to this blog to make it more website-y and shouting things from the rooftops, among other things.

Want more news?
My husband and I are not doing our most excellent Shakes program (a program in which we do Shakespeare with inner-city kids) this summer. We needed a break. But we plan to be back next summer! In the meantime, I’m going to write some blogs on how we do full-length, professional-quality Shakespeare plays in the original language with a bunch of urban kids! So tell your friends, your teachers, your librarians, and your youth program organizers- maybe some of what we do can work for you.

Last year's production of Much Ado

Last year’s production of Much Ado

More big news!

I promised I’d let you in on more big news. Here it is:

I have an agent for Yellow Bike!

I am currently represented by Uwe Stender at TriadaUS. I met him at the Pennwriters Conference and, long story short (we had a meeting, he loved the idea of the book, he read the book, he loved the book, he didn’t love the ending, I changed the ending, he loves the new ending) he asked to be my agent! I am thrilled to be represented by the man who represents Elizabeth LaBan’s very successful book, “The Tragedy Paper,” as well as Kate Hattemer’s soon-to-be very successful book, “The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy,” (available in April, 2014), as well as many, many other very successful books. Seriously- this is a dream come true. After I got the phone call, I started crying (of course- I’d just had a baby. I cry about everything lately) and said, “A baby and an agent all in one week!” My husband still makes fun of me for equating the two. 🙂

With that, I would like to leave you with a pie-in-the-sky dream and a cute picture:

Pie-in-the-sky dream: I want to win Nanowrimo again this year. New book subject? Beards. I’m not joking.

National Novel Writing Month - Press Start

Cute picture:

Me and Google. You're welcome. :)

Me and Google. You’re welcome. 🙂

 

All Pennwriters Eve

Tomorrow’s the day!

I have my pages printed out. I have more pages (and entire books) in a special file on my jump drive. I have the most beautiful God-given query ever (check out my updated Yellow Bike page to see the pitch!). I have the most beautiful business cards ever, designed by my talented husband. I have workshop names scratched in my day planner in brown extra-fine Sharpie. I am so ready for this.

After a friend’s recent critique of Bleeder, I’ve decided to take it too! As part of the conference, I get a one-on-one session with an industry professional and I want to pick his or her brain about my beloved acid-blood disease book.

One thing I’m a little concerned about: I have ten minutes to do my pitch for a blind pitch panel.

My reaction to that: TEN MINUTES?! In acting, at a regional cattle call, if you’re singing AND acting, you get 90 seconds. 90 seconds. Most of my audition monologues are about that long. Directors know after about 20 seconds whether they want you or not, just like agents know after the first paragraph of your query if they’re interested. What the heck am I going to do for ten minutes? Tap dance?! I’ve been in plays shorter than that! Any suggestions? It’s the first thing tomorrow morning!

Off to google “How to pitch your book in ten minutes…”

I’ll let you know how the whole thing goes!

A year of firsts…

I guess I should do a year in review before it’s 2013. So here’s a list of firsts!

This  year I…

* Finished my first book, and finished it good. I’m really proud of Bleeder.

* Learned how to maintain a mohawk haircut (not my own).

* Wrote my first query letter. And re-wrote it. And re-wrote it again.

* Baked bread. A lot of bread.

* Got my first rejection from an agent. And my first request for a full. (and more of each of those…)

* Produced the most wonderful production of Julius Caesar that has ever been done.

* Discovered Writers Market.

* Wrote the first draft of my second book. And fell in love with it.

* Found a bank account from high school which proved very useful when our car refused to start.

* Bought a minivan.

* Subscribed to blogs on writing and Deaf culture.

* Played kickball on the Mall at Washington, DC on Thanksgiving.

* Received many generous gifts, including the famed Writer Mug I coveted.

* Began putting my shoes on the bed when I leave the house. (my doggie, consequently, developed a taste for shoes…)

* Worked a regular weekday shift at a job for the first time.

* Started this blog.

I hope that 2013 is just as wonderful as 2012! I can’t wait to see what firsts are in store for me next year… *ahem* this year. Happy New Year!

Agent McHotStuff

I’ve never done online dating before. The more I query literary agents, however, the more I understand what internet dating must be like.

You see, in order to get published with a big publishing house, a writer needs an agent. And in order to get an agent, a writer has to write a query letter.

I think that query letters are the literary world’s flail, used to separate the wheat from the chaff. (Interesting incidental meaning from this analogy: No matter how hard you flail, you can’t turn chaff into wheat. It’s just not possible.)

The literary gods, using queries to beat the crap out of their writer minions.

You see, in less than one page, you have to write 1) A hook to your story, 2) A personal message, and 3) A short bio.

One page.

Go.

So I went to the query shark and read her archives. All of them. They were incredibly helpful.

The part of the query letter that I’m having trouble with (and the reason I feel like I’m internet dating) is the personal part. It’s hard to strike a balance between, “You are one of many agents I’m querying,” and “YOU ARE SO HOT WE ARE PERFECT FOR EACH OTHER!”

Like this guy.

Because, the thing is, I do love the agents that I query. I look them up. I read interviews with them. I see what kind of books they like and what kind of books they sell (and how fast they respond, hehe). If I query them, it’s because I think they’re brilliant at what they do.

Sometimes, I’m afraid my personal messages look like this:

“You worked in the movie industry and still make lots of movie deals and that’s perfect because my book would be a great movie!” (pretentious, presumptuous, and probably a whole lotta other “pre’s”)

“You want a YA sci-fi thriller and that’s just what I wrote! We are obviously a match made in heaven!” (proposing on the first date)

“You used to work at Penguin from 1999-2010 and I love their books! And you just sold a book that is just like mine but not really! And I saw in this interview from 2011 that you have a dog named Picard which is crazy because when I was growing up, I had a dog named Riker!” (STALKER!!! OVERSHARE!!!  Run, little agent! Run!)

So what’s the literary equivalent of being interested, but not desperate? When do compliments become flattery? How do I politely say, “It would be a dream come true if you were to request a full. Because I love you so much. And the books you represent. And I know we haven’t met yet, but I’m sure we’ll be best friends. Because I’m very professional, as you can see.”?

A little help?