5 Small Ways to Help a New Author

I had a lot of wonderful people help me out when Song of Summer was released. If you want to know how to support the debut author in your life, here’s how to help both before the book is released, and after!

BEFORE THE BOOK IS RELEASED:

1) PREORDER: Did you know that the pre-order numbers are all lumped into the first week of sales? They also help put the book on the charts before it’s even released, making it jump in search engine recognition!

2) SHARE EVERYTHING: If your author friend makes any kind of announcement, it’s probably a big one! This includes, but is not limited to: Cover reveal, Amazon sale, blog posts, pre-order promotions (like all of the lovely people who shared my Best of Westfield raffle basket!), launch party announcement, and especially the day of the big event– the book release! If you’re on Twitter, retweet like it’s your job! Tag some groups that you know that the author might not know- try to introduce the book to people in your circle of friends who are outside of your author friend’s circle.

3) PARTICIPATE: Goodreads is one of the best ways to participate in the book’s release before the book is available to the public. Add it to your to-read shelf. Ask the author a question- all of these things make them look legitimate and popular (which helps to sell books). Someone I graduated with asked me a Goodreads question and it made my day! Add the book to a couple of Goodreads lists. Is there a giveaway? Enter!
Other ways to participate: Leave a blog comment, send a Facebook congrats, attend the release party, join in a pre-order promotion, retweet a link with your own comment- these are all ways that I felt INCREDIBLY BLESSED by my loving, supportive community!

AFTER THE BOOK IS RELEASED:
All of the above, plus…

4) LEAVE AN HONEST REVIEW ON AMAZON (or Nook or Kobo or ibook): The average reader chooses a book based on how many stars it has and how many reviews it has on Amazon. ALSO! The more reviews a book has, the better search optimization it gets! I can’t tell you how happy I am to have 20 reviews only 20 days after the book was released. Even if it’s only a sentence or two, even if it’s not a 4 or 5-star review, an honest Amazon review is worth way more than its weight in gold.

5) MAKE CONNECTIONS: Are you in a book club? Do you know the local librarian? Do you have any kind of blog or vlog? Are you a high school English teacher or are you related to one? I have never known an author to turn down a chance to connect with readers, whether it’s three readers or three hundred. Reach out!

I was a diner waitress and barista for a long time. If there’s anything I know, it’s that a dollar may not seem like much to you, but it can make or break a waitress’s night. That’s how I think about book promotion: One tweet, one Goodreads question, one Facebook post, one two-sentence review may take only five minutes of your time, but it means the world to a brand new author.

Thanks again to my wonderful support network, and I hope this is helpful to those of you looking to support the debut author in your life!

To find out more about Song of Summer, click here

CP Bloghop Pt 3: How to Give Good Feedback

Hi and welcome to the last installment of my three-part series on Critique Partners! Good feedback is the most crucial part of being a good critique partner. Lucky for you, I’ve had years of training on how to give feedback from my job as a Standardized Patient for UPMC. So let’s do this!

1) Be honest AND kind: It’s possible! The difference between being rude and being kind is often the difference between making a judgment about the piece (“This is a bad analogy”) and stating your reaction to the piece (“This analogy makes a strange picture in my head”). The first says that there is something WRONG. The second says that the analogy may not convey the message the author wants it to convey. It states specifically what’s wrong with the analogy, instead of just calling it “bad,” which isn’t fixable.

2) Don’t assume: Never assume that you know what the author wants to convey! This goes for sentence-level editing as well as character choices and big-picture themes. Stating your reaction to an action/word choice/etc leaves the ball in the author’s court: “Xavier seems like he’s over-reacting and I don’t like his character as much because of it,” is so much better than, “Xavier would never do that! He’s too nice!” Maybe the author wants to show a breakdown in Xavier’s character, or his weak spot. Saying that something “seems” a certain way leaves room for interpretation, rather than declaring that something “is” a certain way. You are not the God of this world- the author is.

3) Know your limits: So you offer to critique a book and find yourself reading about your own problems. This is a sign that you are too close to the material. Stop. Put the book down. Write your CP a nice email about how sorry you are, but you can’t read about anorexia/fatherlessness/racism/whatever is pushing your personal buttons right now. You are not in a place to be objective. Your content editing will not be helpful because your own (very raw) biases will get in the way.

4) Don’t try to be funny: “Does anyone smell like anything other than shampoo in this book?!” is a fine note to leave… for YOURSELF. “Xavier smells like shampoo. In the last chapter, Thelma smelled like shampoo. Just a heads-up,” is a fine substitute. It’s specific, doesn’t imply that anything is wrong with the book (maybe this is a world where everyone smells like shampoo!) and it leaves the ball in the author’s court. Being funny can often seem mean to the author. Imagine that someone makes a joke about your kid, or your dog, or your mom. Yeah- maybe your kid is small, but nobody’s allowed to call him shrimpy. That hurts. Books are our children. Respect that relationship and don’t insult them, even if you’re just trying to be funny.

5) Say positive things: I did a whole blog on The Power of Positive Feedback, and it’s one of my most popular blogs for a good reason: People need an honest, objective person to tell them what they’re good at. We all know that we can get a million good reviews and one bad one, but that bad one will stick in our minds. Those million good reviews are still necessary- imagine if they weren’t there and all we saw was the bad one! Mark the places that make you laugh or cry. Mark the places that make you cheer for the hero or boo the villain. Look at over-arching strengths: plotting, pacing, humor, memorable characters, swoony/edge-of-your-seat/bone-chilling descriptions. Everyone has something good about their writing. Find it.

Thanks for travelling along on my little CP blog tour! My sincere thanks and apologies go out to the CPs who taught me these lessons, whether directly or indirectly: You have made me a better editor and friend.

song of summer coverIf you want to check out the product of countless CP hours, my debut YA Contemporary novel, SONG OF SUMMER is being published tomorrow! And if you want me to critique your first page, all you have to do it pre-order it and send the receipt or screenshot to lauralee.edits @ gmail.com.

Click here to pre-order on Kindle
Click here to pre-order on Nook
Click here to pre-order on Kobo
Click here to pre-order on ibook

If you missed the other installments of this blog hop, here they are!

CP Bloghop 1: Four Ways to Find a Good Critique Partner -See Laura Write, Laura Heffernan
CP Bloghop 2: Five Ways to Be a Good Critique Partner- This Literary Life, Nicole Tone

 

Pre-Order Song of Summer, get 1st pg critique FREE!

As you may or may not know, my debut YA contemporary novel, Song of Summer, is being published on July 7th by Bloomsbury Spark. YAY! I am so thankful to everyone who buys my book; especially writer types. I was without writer friends for so long, and I’m so grateful you’ve accepted me into your ranks!

When I was brainstorming preorder thank-yous for Song of Summer, I thought: What’s the one thing my writer friends value more than swag, more than giveaways, even more than *gasp* free books? Honest feedback! So I’m going to offer a free 250-word critique to every single writer who pre-orders the book. As an added bonus, I asked Uwe if he was willing to throw in a query critique and he said, “Of course!” (Reason number 203483462 why he’s a great agent)

In short:
Every single person who preorders Song of Summer will get a FREE 250-word (first page) critique from me and be entered in a drawing to win a free query critique by my agent, Uwe Stender at TriadaUS!

Here’s how it works:
1) Pre-order Song of Summer before July 7th, 2015. (here for Kindle) (here for Nook) (Here for Kobo)
2) Send your proof of purchase with an attached Word doc of your first page (approx. 250 words) to: lauralee.edits @ gmail.com
3) Await your critique!
4) Obsessively check Twitter/email on July 7th, the launch date for Song of Summer, to see who wins the query critique from Uwe!

The earlier you do this, the faster I’ll have your 250 words done.

*Cracks knuckles* Bring it on, folks. Bring. It. On.

If you want to learn more about Song of Summer, check out this page!

How to Nurture Diversity in One Easy Step.

Exclusion is never the path to diversity.

Never ever.

Even if it’s excluding the majority.

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up. 😉

Some of you know that, in the summers, my husband and I do professional-level Shakespeare with urban teens. Check it out:

Last year's production of Much Ado

2013’s production of Much Ado

 

Notice something about this picture? It’s diverse. Now, it’s obviously diverse in a couple of ways: ethnically and age-wise (youngest 13, oldest 24, mode age 16). But it’s diverse in SO MANY other ways because each student is a person. Each has gifts and hang-ups and each is quirky or insightful or sweet or sassy or bouncy or weird. Some have been to rehab and some have been in honors programs (or done both). Some have straight A’s and some have processing disorders (or have both!). It is this diversity that makes our program awesome. We rely on these beautiful, flawed individuals to come together and create something wonderful, and they always do.

So here’s a story: My husband (the straight white Christian male who created this program) was recently casting the group. We don’t hold auditions like most theatre companies. Instead, students apply to be in the program and we hand-select them based on many factors– their leadership potential, special skill sets, the student’s potential to benefit from the group, and, yes, we consider ethnic/economic diversity as well. After we have our group, we hold auditions among the cast to assign roles. For you theatre folks, we’re ensemble-based.

My husband was going through the students who were viable candidates. We had a lot apply this year, so a few were on the chopping block who might not normally be there– they were  good leaders, skilled, and would have good symbiosis with the program. The problem? They were white girls and our “white girl” quotient was already a little high. He sat. He thought. He prayed. And we ended up with our largest cast ever- 15 people.

Now theatre people know that larger casts are harder, especially in Shakespeare. There are more actors with small parts, more costumes, less space, more things that could go wrong. So he took a hit. But he wasn’t willing to sacrifice those girls just so he could have an easier cast with fewer white girls. Instead, he’s determined to turn our large cast into an asset, as we have more diversity. Because we are ALL diverse. Each of us is an individual who is different from every single other individual. If more than one person is in a room, it is a diverse room.

Diversity should always be about INCLUSION and never about EXCLUSION.

If you exclude someone because of their majority label, you’re just as bad as the people who are excluding you because of your minority label.

Isn’t the point of We Need Diverse Books to create… diversity? Not just separate homogenies? It’s a little silly, I think, so put all the “diverse” folks on one side and all of the straight white neurotypical middle-class Christian guys (and gals) on the other side. And don’t say this doesn’t happen, or that it’s all “the other side” who’s drawing the line- I’ve seen “un-diverse” people excluded and put down multiple times over the past few weeks.

In short, we should never put others down in order to build ourselves up. Even if those others have been putting us down. Even if the others are the majority and “can take it.” Even if they’ve been benefitting from privilege their whole lives and never realized it. Those are no excuses to exclude them. Those are reasons to invite them in and show them that things can be different.

So here’s your one easy step to nurturing diversity: Include Everyone.

What do you think?

Ebook Myths Debunked

As a soon-to-be published E-book first author, I’ve heard a lot of reasons why people haven’t picked up an ebook. Here are five of those… debunked. 🙂

1) “I don’t have a Kindle/Nook/E-reader.”
You don’t need one! There are e-reading apps available for your phone or tablet in every app store. Just search “e-reader” and you’ll be able to download one for free.

2) “All those books are self-published. I don’t want to read vanity press.”
Well, for one thing, self-publishing of today is not the vanity press of yesterday. Many of today’s indie authors are investing (money as well as blood, sweat, and tears) in freelance editors, formatters, and cover designers to give you a fantastic reading experience.
Also, every book that is being printed on paper is also being published in ebook today. Even by the Big 5 publishers. ESPECIALLY by the Big 5 publishers!

3) “I do most of my reading at the library.”
Libraries have thousands of titles on ebook. And they’re often easier to procure and return (no trips to the library involved- just download it from your computer!). Your librarian would be happy to help you check out your first ebook.

4) “I don’t even know how to buy an ebook!”
Once you’ve downloaded your e-reading app, use it to browse through the corresponding store (Amazon, Nook, iBook, etc). You’ll see pictures of the cover and be able to read blurbs from the back of the book, and sometimes the first few pages! Just like if you were sitting at your own local bookstore.

5) “I prefer to shop locally.”
And then there was the Kobo. 🙂 Some local bookstores have a deal with Kobo e-readers- you buy the e-reader from their store and they get half of the profits from every single book you buy! You can shop locally and still read an ebook.

What ebook myths have you debunked recently?

Diverse Books We Need (and don’t need)

“Why haven’t you been more active in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement?” a friend of mine asked. “You wrote a diverse book!”

I sighed. “Yeah… I guess I did,” I said.

Here’s the thing, folks. We need diverse books. We really do. This became more apparent when little ol’ rural me moved to inner-city Pittsburgh to work with urban teens. They are in the library ALL THE TIME (thank you Carnegie Library for being such a welcoming space!) Yet so few of the book covers that surround them, look like them.

So what’s my problem with #WeNeedDiverseBooks? I guess I shouldn’t really have one.

But, for one thing, I don’t like mass movements. They don’t allow much room for discussion and they often only preach to the choir. I witnessed a Twitter conversation yesterday between a couple of #WNDB folks that was beautiful- respectful, humble, sweet. Both people were changed by it. I even popped in to say, “This is a wonderful conversation!” because I loved it so much. But I also have muted people in the movement because all they do is rant about it.

So here are three kinds of Diverse Books we need… and three we don’t.

WE NEED: Well-written books by authors from varying backgrounds writing what they know, as well as well-written books by authors writing what they have researched like crazy.
WE DON’T NEED: White straight middle-class neuro-typical folks (like me) who decide they need to write a diverse book, so they throw a couple of gay/bi/Black/Asian/disabled characters in the supporting cast. I can’t tell you how much I feel like a poser because Carter, one of my book’s main characters, is Deaf and I am not, even though I put in hundreds of hours of research, took two semesters of ASL classes at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, and had deaf beta-readers correct my mistakes. I am still unworthy to represent this culture to the world and need to lean on the experience of others.
Takeaway: If you are writing “diversely,” please let it be from a place of respect and admiration that serves the story, not just because you feel you should be writing diversely. Also, please research THE HECK out of it, and please know people from that culture who you can point curious readers toward, because you will never be an authority. If you are a “diverse” (again, I hate labels) author and are on the fence about writing from your own experience, please do! I’d love to read it.

WE NEED: Books about cultures other than white, middle-class suburbia.
WE DON’T NEED: Books that POSE as cultures other than white, middle-class suburbia but are really just suburbia disguised as “diverse.” My book is set in my hometown of Westfield, NY, population 3,161. Needless to say, it is very rural. Two years ago, a big-name NYC agent read my first page and said, “I would pass. I don’t understand why a 50 year old woman is trying to set up a teen girl with some guy!” My (silent) reply: “You obviously weren’t raised in a small town!” Just because something doesn’t happen in your world, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen at all.
Takeaway: The gatekeepers of American publishing (who tend to be white middle-class folk) need to be open to books that do not reflect their own culture and/or views. (There also needs to be more diversity among gatekeepers. Hm…)

WE NEED: Books that fully realize diverse characters as main characters with meaning and nuance and splendid story arc, who are unique individuals.
WE DON’T NEED: Books that use diverse characters to be “edgy” or trendy (or get a debut published in this #WNDB-movement era). We also don’t need a “diverse” character to represent AN ENTIRE CULTURE.
Takeaway: A character is a person, not a tool to make your book more marketable. Also, a character is ONE person, not a representation of their culture. To look at a character as a tool or as a representation of their culture is to objectify them, defeating the purpose of your “diverse” character to begin with.

In conclusion:

I guess I am part of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement. And I hope my book is a positive contribution and enriches the lives of those who read it, Deaf, deaf, HOH, or hearing. I hope it adds to the conversation about diversity in literature, and I hope it offers a window into a culture that hearing people don’t often consider.

Will I tweet more #WNDB things? Maybe. Probably. I like the people I’ve interacted with personally, and I’m excited to have or witness more conversations like the one I saw yesterday. So if you have any questions about my book or Deaf culture, email or tweet at me: @LLAWrites. Just a warning: I may send you to somebody who knows more than I do. 🙂

The Power of Positive Feedback

One of my many acting jobs is pretending to be a patient for medical students. I get a case, memorize it, and become that character. The medical student pretends to be a doctor and interviews me. Because of this, I have had countless hours of training on how to give feedback. And, surprisingly, people learn best from positive feedback.

Imagine the scene:
Five medical students surround me and their classmate, Justine, who just interviewed me. She’s being judged on her interviewing skills- listening, responding, saying things like, “Wow, that sounds hard.” This is the scariest thing she’s done since applying to medical school. Probably scarier. A million bad things are running through her head. She screwed up so bad. She forgot to shake hands, her voice shook the whole time. And worst, she called the patient by the wrong name.

The moderator turns to her. “What question would you like to ask your patient?”
Justine looks at me, sweating. “How did you feel when I called you by the wrong name?”
I smile as I answer. “When you called me by the wrong name, I was a little surprised. But after I corrected you, you apologized and never did it again. That showed me you were listening to me.”

The student relaxes. Next week she’s worlds better. Her listening shows through- she repeats symptoms back to me and remembers my job and spouse’s name.

Positive feedback endows confidence and helps people to shine in the areas in which they excel.

“You’re funny,” I tell a writer. And her writing gets funnier. Because she trusts her instinct.

“You have great voice,” I tell a writer. And his voice gets stronger. Because he trusts the voice he’s developed.

“This is a wonderful idea,” I tell a writer. And she comes up with more wonderful ideas because she trusts that her ideas can be wonderful.

But here’s the thing: Positive feedback only works if you NEVER LIE. You can never give false compliments. Ever. Nobody likes being patronized.

That honesty has to transcend into the rest of your critique. I have doubted sub-plots, murdered extraneous characters, corrected confusing structure, and insisted on more active verbs, darnit! But those sorts of things only shape a book. Positive feedback shapes a writer.

If you want to help your CPs be better writers, look for what they’re doing right, not only what they’re doing wrong. Our strengths are what give us individuality. Think of how you describe your favorite author: She’s heart-warming, or funny, or heart-wrenching, or makes you think, or action-packed, or knows how to say what everyone’s thinking, or really gets this generation or… the list goes on. The thing you love is the thing she’s best at. Somewhere along her writing journey, somebody encouraged that thing and now she’s your favorite author.

So when is the best time for positive feedback? During the first draft. The story is SO malleable! It’s still a baby! This is the time to encourage the things that will make this story, this writing, the best it can be. In fact, we have a rule in our writing group: If an author is still writing her first draft, you can only say good things about it. ONLY. When the draft is complete and the author gives the go-ahead, it’s open season for constructive criticism. But when the first draft is still being formed, the only doubts involved in its writing should come from the mind of its creator.

So don’t go “find something nice to say” about your critique partners. Notice! Open your eyes! What are they best at? What will make them into somebody’s favorite author?

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!”

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(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!