I’m heading back to work this week. Between that and starting 2023, I’ve been reflecting a lot on how the last twelve weeks went since my daughter was born.
It was tough.
That’s the easiest way to summarize all my emotions. Of course I knew going in that newborns require a lot of energy and attention from sleep-deprived parents, but I also heard a lot of good things about maternity leave. One coworker told me about all the television they caught up on during middle of the night feeds. I read another article where a mom talked about how the first baby is so easy and her husband and her just drank wine and passed the baby back and forth. Surely, I thought, I’d find a little time to write if others had been able to watch TV and drink wine. And I did. Kind of. A teensy bit. But again, it was HARD.
I mostly wrote during middle of the night feeds, propping her up with one hand and using my other to type on my phone. That and a few naptimes. But mostly, even when I found the time, I was too tired to manage something worth keeping. After a few times writing gibberish, I decided to wave my white flag and only write when I was well-rested AND she was napping. In twelve weeks, that happened three times. The other time I was able to write was when my husband would take her to give me space. Even then, though, I really needed time to recover from my C-section and how draining breastfeeding can be.
All in all, I only wrote 8,000 words these past twelve weeks. From someone who usually writes that in two weeks or so, it’s really hard not to be disappointed in myself. I am doing my best to recognize that I’m going through a major life change and I need to be kinder to myself. But still.
I fear not being able to finish my WIP in a timely manner. I fear that even if I do, it will be nonsensical due to exhaustion. But I know working writing moms who have done it before me, and I’m holding onto that energy as I surge forward with determination and perseverance.
I will find a way, because I want to. I need to.
Maybe it’ll happen even faster than I’m hoping. Maybe we’ll find more of a routine with me back at work and her going to daycare. Then again, maybe I should lower my expectations and just be.
All I can do is do the best I can. And as long as I do that, I’m sure I’ll look back on this time and be pretty proud of what I was able to accomplish… even if it’s just a few thousand words.
Every word leads to another scene. Every scene leads to a new chapter. Every chapter leads to a completed novel and, eventually, THE END.
At the end of every year, I write a reflection post about where I’m at, not just in my writing life, but also in my personal life and how it all correlates.
I’m calling 2022 My Complete Year because it coincides with how I called 2021 the Year of Unfinished Change.
Last year, I got married. This year, we welcomed our baby girl.
Last year, I lost my agent. This year, I got back in the trenches and connected with my new agent.
So much of what happened last year fed into the success I had this year, they almost can’t be separated. But alas, I wanted to talk about 2022 and how I feel moving into 2023.
If I go back to January, I started 2022 with one main goal: Connect with an agent.
I had just finished finalizing my query package for my middle grade novel in verse, and I jumped right in. Shortly after, I found out I was pregnant, and I told myself I would love to be signed with a new agent before my baby was born. I knew it was a long shot, especially in this environment, but I signed with my agent, Marietta Zacker, in September the week before my baby was born. (Maybe I’ll write a blog post about that journey soon!)
While querying, I also rewrote my historical fantasy and outlined four new ideas. I wrote 12,000 words across those projects. I also hit 80,000 words in my dark academia novel, and I’m currently 8,000 words in my next verse novel and 11,000 into a romcom.
We also adopted Valentine, our one-eyed pirate cat…and lost Boo Boo, our beautiful gentleman of a cat who lived 22 years.
Life has been a whirlwind of joy, sorrow, celebration, family, and determination.
In 2023, I hope my agent can find the perfect editor for my work, but I know that’s out of my control. All I can do is keep writing. First up, finish my first young adult verse novel. But until then, I’m giving thanks to 2022.
I’m very grateful for everything that happened this past year–from having my novels featured in simplyKC magazine to having my blog post featured on Jane Friedman’s website. I especially enjoyed teaching How to Write a Series at the Midwest Writers group, and I cannot wait to see what 2023 brings. A book deal? More hardships? Additional teaching opportunities? New friends? Loss? I have no clue. None of us do, really.
I end 2022 knowing that I will be adjusting to being a mom who loves writing while working full time, but I believe in me. I have to. I want to.
I will make 2023 amazing.
Want to see what’s happened throughout my years of blogging?
I am so excited to announce that I am now represented by Marietta Zacker at Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency!
From the beginning, Marietta understood the importance of my middle grade novel-in-verse about losing my mom to the opioid crisis when I was 11, and I cannot wait for us to share it with the world.
This is the most personal story I could’ve written. It’s also one I promised myself I would write when I was 11 and couldn’t find a children’s book about the unique grief that follows the loss of a loved one (especially a parent) from drug abuse.
Unfortunately, since my mom’s death, the opioid crisis has only grown. (In fact, deaths have more than quadrupled.) And it’s expected to continue to rise. Now, maybe one day soon, kids like me will have that book that shows they’re not alone. My story has a champion.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, you can reach out to SAMHSA: it’s a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service.
Also, I wanted to give a shoutout to my friends who helped me with this novel: Sandra Proudman, Angela Cervantes, Natasha Hanova, Vicki Dixon, and Lisa! Also, my Sanity group for keeping me sane: Tiffany White, Elizabeth Bane, Sarah Kaminski, and Jessica Conoley! And of course, thank yous go out to everyone on this website as well! Y’all have cheered me on since the beginning.
If you’re interested in a How I Got My Agent post, I will most likely be sharing one in the future! But I am expecting to give birth to a baby later this week, so I am still on maternity leave and will likely be on it for a while.
That said, I recently wrote some blog posts about querying you can check out in the meantime:
P.S. I’m hoping to be back from maternity leave in mid-December. In the meantime, definitely connect with me on Facebook,Instagram, and Twitter. I tend to pop up there sooner. Though, I’ll probably pop back here to share a baby picture or two in the near future!
Only a few years ago, it was a huge no-no to talk openly about querying while querying. Sure, you could DM your closest writing friends, but tweeting about it openly? Hard nope. It was seen as unprofessional, a sign that the author wasn’t able to keep a level head when negotiations are taking place. You mostly learned about other writers’ querying journeys through friendship or by reading the “How I Got My Agent” posts after the author had signed with someone. Nowadays, though? A lot more writers are talking about their querying journey while they are currently in the trenches.
But should you?
This is a hotly debated topic. Mostly because there are two types of writers in the trenches at any given time:
The writer who has been around for a while and remembers how strongly it was frowned upon. They mean well when they tell other writers not to do it. I mean, why would you write a novel, polish it, and get a query package together just to ruin your chances by oversharing (and perhaps appearing less appealing to agents)?
The newer writer (or new-to-querying writer) who is pushing back against long-held rules written by…wait, who did come up with these rules? This group also means well. They often believe a lack of transparency is keeping other writers in the dark and therefore perpetuating nefarious behavior that should be called out.
Personally, I think both of these groups are right in their own ways.
There are pros and cons to sharing your querying journey while querying, which is why—at the end of the day—it’s a personal choice. You must weigh the risks and rewards for yourself to decide how you want to interact in that conversation.
Personally, I’m more comfortable with long-form writing. I enjoy blogging and connecting with readers via my newsletter. I feel like those two formats give me time to process and consider my feelings/options (rather than posting live reactions on Twitter or Facebook). I also have a close-knit group of writer friends who are or have been in the trenches, so I have a safe space to go to when I want to celebrate or need advice. The idea of posting “I got a full request” or “I didn’t need that rejection today” on an open forum gives me the heebies jeebies. But seeing others doing it doesn’t bother me a bit. I think it’s pretty awesome actually.
Transparency is a good thing. Not everyone has access to the whisper network (or even knows there is one.) The folks who are sharing openly are breaking down that barrier. I also don’t see why it should deter agents.
Agents are looking for a good fit for their particular list and style. Hearing another agent rejected a work shouldn’t be a deterrent on its own. Agents reject for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes the book isn’t the right fit for their list or they have no editorial vision. Maybe they ultimately didn’t vibe with the author on the phone call, whether that be career goals or IP connections or anything really.
A rejection alone doesn’t say anything about the piece or the author. Not even a handful of rejection does.
Granted, that’s not to say that some agents wouldn’t see sharing openly as a red flag. Everyone is going to have their own opinion and stance about what should and should not be talked about on certain forums, so I definitely recommend proceeding with caution.
If a new writer today asked me what I think they should do, I would tell them to sit back and observe for a while. Ask yourself what would make you uncomfortable and why. Don’t feel pressured to share any more than you want to. And know that you can change your stance at any time. That said, I would recommend leading with kindness.
It’s one thing to say you’ve received a rejection; another thing entirely to rant about rejections or make assumptions about others’ actions.
A rule I live by is typing a tweet into my Google drive and sitting with it for 24 hours before I hit send. That way, I can better discern which emotion is driving me to participate in the conversation. If I’m too emotional in any way, I don’t send it. Not because I’m trying to be a writing robot, but because I prefer to lean on positivity. I enjoy sharing the good, and I feel more comfortable sharing the bad with close friends in private. It’s about how I feel. It’s not about how many others will like or retweet me. It’s about my mental health. My journey. And that’s what’s right for me.
It may be totally different for you, and that’s okay!
Keep doing your thing. And definitely never feel deterred about calling out predatory behavior. (In fact, I recommend reporting any red-flag behavior to Writer Beware.)
So what about talking about being on sub? That may be a different story.
I’d recommend taking your agent’s advice on that one.
That fact can feel pretty staggering some days. Obviously, more so when the anniversary comes up than other times of the year. But alas, here we are, standing at a time of reflection.
Back in 2017, I really enjoyed July Lightning’s book release, but it felt like it was time for a change. After a little research and some time off, I decided I wanted to pursue traditional publication. First step, get an agent. (Okay, so actually, the first step was to write a book I could query, but you know what I mean.)
I set off with high hopes. I queried a young adult fantasy in 2018, resulting in 15 fulls but no offers of rep, and then I queried a young adult sci-fi/fantasy mashup in 2019, resulting in representation. I worked with that agent for two years, before she left the industry. Now I’m searching for representation again. And just like that, five years have passed me by.
Some days, I don’t know how I feel about that.
I’ve had my days where I wonder if I made a huge mistake. Maybe I should’ve continued to indie publish or pursue self-publishing instead. But I remind myself of the successes I’ve had, too.
Since my last book release, I was invited to be a featured author at three different Barnes & Nobles for the Teen Book Fest. I spoke at Wizard World Comic Com and the first-ever LitUP Festival in Kansas City. I was later featured in a Local Author Fair for Mid-Continent Public Library. I had two audiobooks that released in 2018. I was invited to speak at Johnson County Library, the MLA conference, Ray County Public Library, Dearborn Library, Northern Hills Christian Academy, and Kearney High School. I was interviewed for Space and Time Magazine and SIMPLYkc Magazine. I also taught numerous classes. (I now teach Starting a Writing Project for The Story Center twice a year.) I also had the utmost joy of teaching How to Write a Series for the SCBWI KS/MO Middle of the Map Conference and at the Midwest Romance Writers’ meetup. I blogged for Jane Friedman.
Somehow, over time, I went from applying as a mentee in Pitch Wars to becoming a mentor twice in a row–one of our mentees got a six-figure book deal and the other just signed with an agent. I am currently mentoring for SCBWI KS/MO. I was also lucky enough to score a mentorship myself, with Parker Peevyhouse through Science Fiction Writers of America.
I’ve learned a lot over these past five years, and though I didn’t get a book deal out of the hard work I put in, I learned invaluable lessons that I’ve taken with me into the future.
When I look at my writing today, I see growth. I’ve tried new age categories and genres that I never thought I’d pursue, and I love the work that came out of it. Most importantly, I’ve made friends. (I even went on a writing retreat, where we picked apples!) With all my new connections and friendships, I’ve beta read and edited numerous books that have now gone on to get traditionally published. A few of my indie clients have won amazing awards. I love to celebrate their success.
Somewhere in all of that, I learned the most important truth about publishing:
Not everything is about getting an agent or landing a book deal.
Sometimes, the journey is about joy. That was one of the reasons I released the Tomo trilogy on Wattpad for fun. I hated to see it just sitting on my laptop doing nothing since it lost its publisher. Now it’s fun to hear from old readers catching up and new readers just now discovering it.
More than ever, I truly enjoy writing my next pieces and sharing them with my beta readers (and sometimes my newsletter subscribers)! It’s very encouraging that I’m still asked when my next novel will come out. I wish I could tell everyone that date. But I don’t know.
Five years is a long time. That said, I often forget the fact that 2 years of this has been in the midst of a pandemic. I also put a lot more energy into my day job, and worked my way up through three different positions in the library. Now I work in storytelling all day and have a consistent, steady paycheck that allowed me to get out of student loan debt, buy a safer car and a house, get married, and, most recently, begin a family with my husband.
My life has flourished in many ways.
But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t depressing when I see folks talk about how long they had to query before they got a book deal (and it was only 2-3 years). I’ve been out here writing seriously for over a decade. My first novel came out in 2007, but my first modern book released in 2013.I’m coming up on the ten-year anniversary of Minutes Before Sunset, and that hurts some days.
I still love that sword-yielding, Midwest paranormal romance more than I can say.
Sometimes I pick it up just to remind myself of what I’m capable of producing.
The truth is, though, I may never get another agent, let alone a book deal.
But what else would I be doing with my freetime?
I love writing. I (mostly) enjoy the pursuit of publication, and when I don’t, I put it down for a few days, weeks, or even months. And that’s okay, too.
I could give up. Or I could keep trying and enjoy the ride.
Right now, I currently have a few fulls of my middle grade verse novel out with agents who are giving me a shot, I am *this* close to querying my historical fantasy–the same novel that won the Authoress’s Secret Agent contest–and I have two other novels completely written that I’ve never queried either. Not to mention a handful of outlines and half-written projects that I could tackle any day.
If I decide to self-publish or indie publish one day, those manuscripts will be there. But I’m not ready to give up.
I want to keep trying, so I will–even if it takes another five (or more) years.
The second trimester is known as the best trimester, when most women get their energy back and glow.
Mine started out terrible.
I got COVID-like symptoms. Though I tested negative, it was still pretty scary being sick and pregnant. I promised myself I’d stop Googling things that week. Getting sick also made my morning sickness horrible. If that’s not bad enough, I learned that getting sick while pregnant means twice as long as a recovery time. What should’ve lasted a few days lasted a little over two weeks. Our cat Boo Boo’s health started to go downhill too… He unfortunately passed away shortly after. It is a lot dealing with loss and grief while simultaneously creating life.
Writing? Yeah right.
I was a mixture of puke and tears.
It was also uncomfortable not wanting to share with folks what was going on with me while not having a reason to tell them I wasn’t making writing progress. I spent most of my time querying and beta reading for friends instead. During that time, I did tell my boss at work and my dad and stepmom. I told my best writing friend shortly after, too. Then, I found out we were having a little girl. Having people to talk to helped a lot, but I definitely started having a lot more anxiety in this trimester. I didn’t get a magical baby bump or feel the baby move as early as others. Once that started happening, it felt a little easier.
To be honest, I spent as much time as possible relaxing. Life is about to get crazy, right? You’d think I’d want to get as much writing done as possible, but I just didn’t in the first half of my second trimester. I wanted to enjoy time with my husband and get our house where we want it to be.
That said, I set a goal of revising my historical fantasy and getting it ready for querying before baby girl arrives. And that’s it. If I get more done, great. But I think querying two novels this year is more than sufficient.
We also started putting together the baby’s room, which was my previous office. There’s a mixture of emotions of creating a space for your future daughter while simultaneously giving up a space you had for yourself. (I share this thought even though a few people have scoffed at me for doing so, but alas, I like to be honest.) The weather also started to get nice and my favorite type of exercise is my trampoline, so it was really depressing seeing my trampoline out back but not being able to use it. I got lawn furniture instead so I could still sit outside and enjoy the nice weather.
Honestly the first half of my second trimester was depressing and lonely, and it’s hard to admit that. The 20-week scan is what I kept crossing my fingers about. Once we got the all-clear, I felt a lot better about everything.
The second half of my second trimester was a lot more uplifting and fun.
I finally got that boost of energy everyone talks about. With it, I hit a stride in my historical fantasy and figured out what was wrong with the third act for the first time in four years. (It never takes me this long to finish a manuscript. I actually finished writing it four years ago, but I never pursued it, because other publishing opportunities kept pulling me away. I’ve finally gotten back to it and giving it the time it deserves.) If you remember my last post – Writing (And Working) While Pregnant: First Trimester – I obviously changed gears from my YA paranormal back to revising my adult historical.
That said, I took a babymoon the week of my birthday, and that helped my mood a lot. Though my doctor didn’t want me traveling, we visited a lot of local restaurants we’ve always wanted to try out and spent a day at the lake. It was really nice. And definitely boosted that boost of energy I already had. Returning from my vacation, I actually finished my historical fantasy revision! Honestly, it sometimes felt like that would never happen. I’ve worked on this novel on and off for so long. But this time, I’m finally going to query it and give it a shot. Now I’m in the polishing phase. One more read-through to make sure all my i’s are dotted and my t’s are crossed. The good news is that my query package is already put together, and I already have an agent waiting for the full!
When I’m not working on that revision or at my day job, I am prepping for the baby, and her room is starting to have the theme…It’s Under the Sea…with lambs and bunnies. (In case you want to know how terrible I am at thematic design.) My husband and I started flipping through baby names and looking at baby things. Buying baby items was fun and so was feeling the first flutters of baby squirming around. I finally told everyone, too.
I’m polishing my historical fantasy with the hopes that the book is in tip-top shape before little girl arrives. And maybe, just maybe, if I can muster any energy at all, I’ll send out my first batch of queries while on maternity leave. (Maybe sooner!)
Usually, I am outlining a new idea and drafting another while revising a third. Right now, I’m just revising, and that’s okay. I still have fulls pending with agents on my middle grade verse novel, and I have two other books completely written (not to mention more ideas outlined than I can handle.) I’m letting everything rest for now. Polishing my historical and beta reading for friends is the only thing on my writing life to-do.
Heading into my third trimester, I am signed up for the baby care/delivery classes and looking forward to a baby shower with friends and family. And, of course, baby girl is set to arrive in late September. Maybe I’ll get an offer of rep, too? (A writer can dream.)
Where do you recommend I research agents right now?
I wanted to tackle writing a one-line pitch first, and then talk about research strategies during my next post on May 23. (For those of you who are new here, I post writing/publishing tips every first and third Monday of the month.)
So let’s talk about the one-line pitch!
In my opinion, a great one-line pitch covers your whole book. It’ll highlight character, the stakes, the world, everything–all in one sentence. The shorter, the better. Below I’ve included a logline template that has helped me in the past.
I encourage you to try this exercise out right now. Take each color/subject, make a list, and shift the order around until you get three pitches you love. Once you have that, send them to beta readers and get their opinions on it. (Don’t tell them which one you love the most. Simply ask them which one caught their eye and why.) Use that information to either revise or choose.
Another way to write pitches is by looking at pitches. Search through Netflix and see how they summarize each show in one sentence to really grab the viewers’ attention. Even better if you can find some shows that are similar to your book. (Don’t forget, folks, you can always use movies/TV shows as comparison titles, too–though I recommend having at least one recently released book comp.) That said, I like to look at deal announcements. Those often summarize the book in one hooky sentence that is designed to entice readers. (In fact, I based my most recent pitch off of similar deal announcements in the Publishers Weekly Children’s Bookshelf newsletter.)
Honestly, there are pitches all over the internet. From Query Shark to participating in pitch parties on Twitter, you’re going to see hundreds and hundreds of pitches. So how can you make sure your pitch is standing out? First and foremost, you should be studying others’ pitches as much as you can. You should also practice writing them. (Sometimes it’s easier to write a pitch for something you didn’t create, like a favorite show you’re currently watching. That way, the pressure is off your shoulders, and you can focus on the how is this working, not the how is this going to do on sub.) While you’re studying pitches, ask yourself why a certain pitch worked. What caught your eye? What made you sit up in your seat? One of the best posts I’ve seen on writing pitches was by literary agent Ali Herring: The Art of the Quick Pitch. Why do I love this post? Because she shares her clients’ pitches. It’s such a rare gem for agents to share such information, and it’s worth taking a couple minutes to look through.
Once you have a one-line pitch, take a look at your query.
Pitches should go at the top. This is for easy access. Agents are slammed right now. I doubt they have time to read every sentence of every query letter they get. Though I’m sure there are agents who do, I like to err on the side of caution and make sure they are getting the best information upfront. I personally like to include my metadata as well. This means I’m defining my age category, genre, word count, and (possibly) my comps. (More likely my comps will come right after the pitch.
[Insert personalization of why I believe they are a good fit], [insert pitch and metadata]. This book will appeal to fans of (comps) or This book has the atmosphere of (comp) with the snarky friendships of (comp).
[insert two paragraphs about book]
[insert small bio]
[insert contact information]
This is the formula that has worked for me. That said, there’s lots of formulas out there that have worked for others, so don’t feel beholden to my method. Try a few different types out and, again, seek out betas who can give you an unbiased opinion about which ones read the smoothest (and, even better, were the most enticing).
Now get to pitching!
~SAT P.S. My quarterly newsletter is going out soon! It includes exclusive writing tips, a giveaway, what I’m currently reading, and so much more. This time, I’ll be giving away a $10 gift card to any local bookstore. Subscribe here.
Can you believe it’s 2022? I know I sure can’t. This year, I will have my ten-year blogging anniversary in September. That fact alone gives me a lot of reasons to reflect. But enough about reflecting. What about taking action?
Setting goals can be a tricky business. How many should you set? What kinds are viable? Is it better to be realistic or dream big? Which goal should be your #1 goal?
Honestly, the answers to these questions will vary from person to person, but here are my basic tips for setting writing goals (including that #1 focus):
Make realistic goals that are within your control: This means the goal is focused on actions you control. “I will write 1,000 words a week” is a great example; so is “I will query 25 agents with my new project by June.” Those actions are within your control. What’s not in your control? Goals like “I will get a book deal” or “I will get an agent.” Those goals are not in your control, because it requires someone else’s actions in order to make it happen.
It’s okay to still have goals like “I will get an agent/editor.” Those are valid goals to be working toward. I, myself, am hoping to start querying this year and find that perfect champion for my work. Granted, because you can’t control the scenario, it’s closer to a dream, isn’t it? That’s why I call these types of goals dream-goals, and I believe in setting dream-goals, too.
For every realistic goal, set a dream-goal, too. Not with the idea that you MUST succeed at it. But with the idea of dedicating yourself to realistic goals that will set that dream into motion. By doing this, you are giving yourself energy to manifest.
My realistic goals? Revise my verse novel by the end of January, research agents in February, and send out a batch of queries in March.
My dream-goal this year? Connect with a new agent who believes in my work and (maybe) (hopefully) (by golly I can dream) that I go out on a sub and my work connects with an editor, too.
So what about that #1 goal?
This is just my personal opinion, but no matter where you are in your writing journey—if you are just beginning or a seasoned authorpreneur—I believe there’s one universal goal that helps all writers.
Your #1 goal should be to put yourself out there. By doing so, you will share your work, make friends, and get the opportunity to give back and help other writers, too. You will build a community.
Without my writer friends, I’m not sure how easily I would’ve gotten back up from the blow of losing my agent. One message to my group and two people offered to help revise whatever work I had right away. Another invited me to her group for querying writers who’d parted ways with agents before. When I started writing my query–and realized times have changed since 2019–I had two friends step in to help. Another sent me resources on trigger warnings when I couldn’t find a list anywhere after searching myself.
They have been unbelievably helpful, supportive, and uplifting.
Without their support, I know it would be that much harder to accomplish any of my goals–my realistic ones or my dream-goals. With their support, I feel a lot more confident paving my way into 2022.
Every year, I take time to reflect on where I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. Last year was deemed The Strangest Writing Year (Hopefully?), and this year, I’ve decided to call it The Year of Dramatic, Unfinished Change. (Though, that may be too dramatic in itself.) Onto why that is (and also unfinished)…
At the beginning of this year, my agent was taking my young-adult-turned-adult sci-fi novel out on submission. I was rewriting a different adult science fiction novel and halfway through writing an adult fantasy novel. At work, I had just been chosen to attend the Doniphan Leadership Institute at William Jewell College, and in my personal life, my fiance and I were considering buying a house.
I end the year in a very different place. For one, I’m no longer agented. My agent decided to leave agenting back in the fall, so I’m now free to query. That said, I haven’t yet begun. Mostly because I’ve had a lot of other things going on.
I attended and graduated from the Doniphan Leadership Institute at William Jewell.
I was chosen to mentor in Pitch Wars with my longtime critique partner and friend, Sandra Proudman. We’re now mentoring D.S. Allen, a middle grade writer, on her horror until the agent showcase next year!
SCBWI KS/MO also hired me to teach at the Middle of the Map conference in November. I taught How to Write a Series, and it was so much fun! I offered critiques to writers, and I will be mentoring a young adult writer in 2022. Announcements go up in January.
Did I mention my personal life?
In 2021, I got married, and we bought our first home together. We’ve been renovating, too. And traveling a bit more. (My favorite trip was when we went ziplining through the Ozarks.) I also turned the big 3-0.
It truly has been a joyous year.
Writing-wise, I finished rewriting that adult science fiction book…only to shelve it. I also added 30,000 words to that adult fantasy book…only to put it on pause at 77k. I switched gears to re-read one of my old adult fantasies, made a plan to revise, and then…put it down. Between all that, I worked on a dozen other ideas and outlined a few of them in full, which is exciting. But mostly, it was the year of the unfinished piece. Not that I can’t finish something. I totally can. What happened was that so many life changes made me redirect my path that I ended up half-traveling down a few opportunities to try to make the best decision about which one to commit to.
Overall, I estimate that I wrote over 100,000 brand-new words, rewrote 50,000, and outlined 30,000. (And that’s not including this blog or other platforms.) Now, at the end of 2021, I can safely say that I’ve made a decision.
I am focusing on a middle grade verse novel that is super close to my heart, and I hope to query it in 2022 once I finish revising. (Please send me ALL the good luck and well wishes.)
Maybe I’ll find the perfect agent to champion my work. Maybe I won’t. But I’ll never know if I don’t try!
There are so many dreams I am already chasing going into 2022. Hence why I’m calling this year unfinished. I still have so much to do.
Other than what is to come, my trusted almost-eight-year-old laptop died in November, so I had to say goodbye to it. After all the projects I’d completed on that computer, it was hard! But now, it’s the era of Rosie, my new laptop. I also finished uploading Took Me Yesterday to Wattpad and guest spoke at Kearney High School’s creative writing class and at the Lake Waukomis Women’s Club. I created a Teachers & Book Clubs page for readers to use, and it’s been utilized a handful of times. One of my favorite moments this year was when I was interviewed by Austin Gragg for Space and Time Magazine.It is so incredibly neat to hold a printed interview in my hands—and in such an incredible magazine.
I was also lucky enough to teach Starting a Writing Project for Mid-Continent Public Library (twice)! For those of you who are interested, I’m teaching it again on January 12, 2022. You can learn more here. It’s virtual, open to anyone in the world, and free.
2021 was not what I expected. But then again, neither are any of my past years.
Publishing is an unpredictable game. Maybe that’s why I like to roll the dice. I never know what’s going to happen, but I know something will as long as I keep trying.
Here’s to all the surprises to come in 2022.
Want to see what’s happened throughout my years of blogging?
Recently, as many of you know, I signed with a literary agent. (See announcement.) It’s a time a lot of writers dream of, a time highlighted with celebratory GIF tweets screaming, I did it! I did it! And I’m READY. It’s a lot of fun, definitely exciting, and often followed up with a “How I Got My Agent” blog post/newsletter/tweet thread. I’m a blogger, have been since 2012, so naturally I came here, wondering how I could share my experience and if sharing would help any writers out there. Theoretically, I could tell you about my use of QueryShark, QueryTracker, WritersDigest Agent Alerts, MSWL, PitMad, PitchWars, IWSG, attending conferences, joining competitions, and more. But let’s be real, isn’t that what everyone says?
There are a million articles out there about how to find the perfect agent for your book and career—and I didn’t want this to be one of them. Instead, I wanted to simply talk about my experiences. The real. The feels. The almost give-ups. The getting back up. The life lessons. Granted, if I were being completely honest, I don’t have enough room on the Internet to share every little detail. (Though, my poor roommate has had to listen to such excruciating monologues for the past couples years, but I digress.) Maybe, though, if I share what I can recall in the most sufficient and honest way possible, some querying writers out there will find some strength or hope or just get a few laughs while they march through the query trenches. Overall, though, I want to be clear about one thing that I said last week: This is my journey, and every writer’s journey is different. In a way, I don’t believe in giving advice on querying any more than I do giving writing advice in general. It can be helpful, yes, but ultimately, every writer must figure out what works for them. This is what worked for me.
If I went all the way back to my very first query letter, I would admit I started in 2008. Maybe earlier. I can’t even remember. But I remember sending out physical letters with a SASE inside for responses. The first agent to ever respond to me was Jodi Reamer. For those of you in publishing, you’ll know this is the agent behind Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. And yes, I still have that response tucked away in a super secret place. She, obviously, didn’t offer my 14-year-old self rep, but she did encourage me. And I continued writing and querying on-and-off for the next ten years. Granted, if I were being completely honest, I didn’t take querying seriously until 2016. That’s when I made the decision to query professionally. (Don’t judge me for all those terribly embarrassing queries before, I was in high school, and helpful publishing Twitter didn’t even exist. Lots of help didn’t exist.) Excuses aside, though, I still made a lot of mistakes.
The first book I queried seriously was a YA fantasy. See stats from QueryTracker on the right. If I were being completely honest, I’d admit this isn’t completely accurate. I only started using QueryTracker toward the end. So I probably have twenty more rejections and two more requests that aren’t logged. I learned a lot while querying this book. Mostly, how to write a query letter. I sent them out in batches, received feedback, and revised. But let’s talk about revisions for a sec. The main lesson I learned with this book? Don’t revise just because someone is giving you the time of day with an R&R. (See article here: Should You Revise and Resubmit?) I butchered this book (and that’s me being kind). It’s so ugly and sad and messed up that I haven’t looked at it in over a year. Maybe two. Who knows, I try to forget. Maybe one day, I’ll open it back up and give it another shot, but for now, I’m okay with it sitting in a dark corner on my hard drive. If anything, it was probably the most vital lesson I learned while querying. Why? Because everyone talks about how to get an agent’s attention, but rarely do we discuss when to walk away, especially when someone is being kind and believes in your work.
Getting an agent, ultimately, isn’t about getting just any agent, but an agent who sees your work for what you want it to be, and they also believe in that art. They believe in you. And you have to know who you are and what you want your art to be.
With my first YA fantasy, I was trying to desperately shape myself into what agents wanted me to be—rather than trying to find an agent who loved my work and wanted to help me succeed with it.
I learned that lesson, and it was hard, but I moved on.
I wish I could tell you that I wrote a bazillion books between that first book and the one that won my current agent, but my next book is the one that worked. Keep in mind, though, that I began writing it in October of 2016. It’s been three years of writing, revising, submitting, rejection, revising, submitting, more rejection, and revising/submitting again. In fact, I had one of the most crushing blows to my writer’s heart during that time. I’ve never come that close to quitting in my life. But I obviously didn’t. I kept writing, here and there, and querying when I could.
With my YA fantasy tucked away in a forgotten drawer, and my heart set on finding love for my YA sci-fi, I learned even more lessons. I learned to reach out, make friends, connect with fellow writers for fun and not just because you think it’ll help you get somewhere. This mainly happened by joining writing contests. Either I met writers by reaching out to them or mentors who had read my work connected me with writers they felt I’d get along with. Honestly, the best thing that happened to me while querying my YA sci-fi was meeting my beta readers. If I hadn’t connected with them, I can’t honestly say I would’ve continued through the hard months to come. And there were a lot of hard months. Not just from querying either. A loved one past away. I got really, really sick. I had to move. I found a new job. I changed jobs again! And recently, I changed jobs once more.
Querying isn’t this singular phase writers go through once. It’s a constant. And most don’t enjoy it, which can make juggling submissions with life craziness all the more harder. I’m a big believer in not making things harder than they have to be, though I often make that mistake. (I’m only human, K?)
One thing I would have done different is NOT spend money, especially considering how little I made at the time. While querying Immersion, I read tons of magazines and articles that got it into my head that the key to finding success was attending (expensive) conferences, paying for advice, and entering exclusive doors that, of course, cost more money. I would spend any savings I had trying to “make” it, and I think that’s kind of cruel to be honest. It’s something I don’t like about publishing. Though many claim all is fair in the slush pile, there is a helluva lot of pressure to pay to play. And I went through a bad phase where I fell for that, hard. My breaking point? I spent $350 to attend a conference (taking a day off work to do so) and paid $100 per agent to pitch for ten minutes, which honestly ended up being about seven minutes a piece, if not less, since the slots before me would go above their time limit. I spent $600 total to try to connect, received three full requests, and had all three agents more or less cancel the full without reading. (One left the business, one was fired, and one transferred.) I felt really disrespected. Worse than disrespected. I felt taken advantage of by an industry I’d loved my whole life. It felt like a trap. A lie. A sham. And it broke my heart.
After that (and a huge break in which I had an existential crisis), I called it quits on spending money. If I wanted to go to a conference for me, fine. But I was no longer going to invest in pitching when I could jump into the slush pile for free. (Spoiler alert: I got my agent through the slush pile.) In fact, I got most of my full requests through the slush pile. One thing I am eternally grateful for is the amount of agents who gave me fantastic advice after reading my full manuscript. Over time, I realized it wasn’t just advice either. I was making connections, friendships, and finding hope. That $600 conference for instance? The agents might not have worked out, but you know what I did walk away with? An invite to a local writers’ critique group I’m still in today. I look forward to it every month.
Querying is hard. There is no guarantee. And even if you sign with someone, that doesn’t mean you’re going to get a book deal. Or get along. Or anything really. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. That doesn’t mean you can’t be sad or angry or excited or crushed or hopeful or anything. I say, ride those emotions all the way through. If you can, use them to create even more art. Me, for instance? I was starting to get so angry/depressed while querying that I began writing a rage-filled monster book for myself, and now I’m 60,000 words in, and I’m in love with it. It’s also the next book my agent wants me to focus on. (Though channeling that rage again might be hard when I’m feeling pretty dandy right about now.)
So what surprised me the most?
Honestly, a small bout of depression that happened after I signed with my agent. Not because she isn’t amazing or that I’m not excited about my future or anything like that, but because of one simple fact: I had defined myself as a writer in search of an agent for so long, now that I had one, I didn’t know how to define myself anymore. Not to mention the real-reality-feels that this goal automatically means there’s more challenge in front of me. I succeeded at something, but it’s only the next step, and this step almost killed my hope a number of times. Pair that with seeing some of my close followers talking about (or even to me) about how seeing success gets them down…and I’m just a mess of guilt. I’ve been there. I remember seeing others succeed and feeling left behind—which is why hearing others say that about me brought me down too. Made me feel like I was creating that pain for someone else’s journey. Granted, I know I’m not in charge of others’ feelings. But I doubt I’m alone in having moments like this, and yet I don’t see a lot of authors discussing it. Succeeding was great—and sometimes that means people will be happy for you. Other times, they’ll be mad, jealous, elated, confused, etc. at you. Most of the time, though, it’s not about you, but their own feelings, and that’s totally valid. But as someone who tries to help others succeed all the time, I have a hard time taking a step back and celebrating something for me. Yes, even a huge accomplishment I’ve been working toward for a long time. Definitely a personality flaw I hope to get rid of in the future (or at least get better at coping with). In that quest to cope healthier, I learned overall feelings of malaise after success is apparently normal, even though it still threw me a little bit.
It’s kind of amazing, though—if you think about it. How some of the most common emotions can throw you. Like meeting a goal. Or falling in love. Or having a baby. Or getting a new job. Most of these things happen to thousands of people a day—and yet it feels altering. Exhilarating. Poetry-inducing. Knee-buckling. Confusing as all hells. But that’s all I have to say about my emotions. (I clearly have a lot of them.)
In the end, I am beyond grateful my journey has brought me to this moment, and I am super energized now! I’m ready to finish my revisions and tackle my next project. (Which reminds me: I’m super glad I didn’t stop writing other books while querying, because now I have two other almost-complete works that I can dive right into if deadlines get tight.) So, if I recommend anything, I want to emphasize not to put all your hopes and dreams in one piece.
The formula that worked for me?
Have one book you’re outlining/daydreaming about, one you’re writing/editing, and one you’re querying.
In fact, I’m still living by this formula. I’m outlining my cyberpunk, writing my rage-filled YA sci-fi, and going on submission with the book that won my agent’s heart.
Wish me luck! (I’m already sending lucky vibes back to your goals too.)
P.S. Hey, Kansas City friends. I will be a guest speaker at Writers United on Wednesday, July 10th at 6-8 PM at the Central Resource Library in Overland Park, KS. I can tell you more about The Story Center. See you then! More info.