Saturday, December 24, 2011

New Year...New Hope...

The publishing business plays tricks on the mind. One minute you hear that it's okay to break the rules...the next minute another someone says to never break the rules. An author interview might show that one author's road to publication was like a blink of an eye to those of us who have sojourned on this long and winding road for years. We hear the importance of having an agent on the one hand, and on the other hand, someone else of reputable standards says that an agent is not needed.

We write. We submit. We stack rejections. We rewrite. We submit. We stack rejections. And we keep plugging away. Why? Because we're writers. It's what we do. And as long as we keep on keeping on, one day....just one day, it will happen.

So here's to 2012... another year open to possibilities and purpose. Let us renew our HOPE as we continue down this long and winding road.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dealing with disappointment

Rejections suck.
This isn't exactly a newsflash, but it's the premise for this blog posting. If you are thinking about writing, or if you are currently writing, or if you are already shopping your manuscript, then rejection is something you'll probably have to endure.
After countless hours of drafting and revising, I am still waiting for "the moment", all the while continuing to accumulate rejections.
My stance? Two words.
Oh, well.
There comes a point when you become numb to it (and it takes awhile, let me tell ya'). But that's where I'm at. I stopped counting total rejections (including ALL projects) after sixty. And I've had a dozen or two since then. But in the big scheme of things, why get worked up about it? If we don't quit, eventually someone is going to fall in love with our work.
Here are a few things I do to keep rejection from getting me down:

  • Set the work aside and MOVE ON. This is good advice if you are in the process of revising, or if you're stumped on a plot issue, or if you are mid-process of submitting. Set the work aside and move on to another draft. WHY? Because it'll get your mind off of the craziness at hand with the one manuscript, it'll keep you working creatively, and if your book sells, your agent/editor will want to see what else you've got.

  • Read books/magazines/blogs on craft. I learn so much from all of you and other writers out there. You can never know too much, right?

  • Remind myself of the "why". Why do I write? I write because I love creating stories, I love delving into other worlds, I love putting dialogue together onto the page and seeing what comes of it. The "why" will help you keep things in perspective. (It certainly helps me!)

I'm not saying rejection has stopped bothering me, but I've accepted it for what it is. And I refuse to stop doing what I love because of the little rotter. So...I tarry on....

And so should you!! :)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My August media break...

Oh where, oh where, has Janice been? Oh where, oh where could she be?

Not in cyberworld. At least not for the month of August. Yes, I checked out of the internet for a month. No e-mail (now THAT was hard), no facebook, no blogs, no DISTRACTIONS. See, here was my dilemma. June and July had already went by and I wasn't where I wanted to be with my new novel.

My goal: to use my summer months (I'm a teacher, so I pretty much get June, July, and August as a vacation) to write a rough draft of this interesting idea I had. I vowed to myself not to revise one word. Just write a draft. I even used Laurie Halse Anderson's advice: I gave myself permission to write horrible.

I began to notice that life's distractions were really getting in the way of any substantial progress for the draft. I was checking my e-mail every ten minutes to see if my agent wrote me. I was checking facebook. I was reading blogs like crazy (because I love all of your blogs!). None of this is bad, per se, but it is if it detracts from a very important goal.

When school begins, I know (from past experience) that I am super busy. I teach, then I try to squeeze in workouts a couple times a week, then my son has piano lessons, and now he's in football, and you get my drift. Writing takes a back seat. Since I know this, I like to use summer to be as absolutely creative as possible.

So when I realized two months of summer had passed me by, I decided to get serious. That meant saying good-bye to media. I focused entirely on writing my rough draft with every minute of spare time I could devote to it. It was my hopes to complete the entire novel by the time school resumed.

You're probably all on the edge of your seat wondering if I did it....well, I'm pleased to say that August was successful in that I have over 200 pages of the novel drafted. I am not finished, but I have the last chapters outlined. With all that being said, I'm really proud that I cut off all the distractions for the month and focused on my writing.

But I'm not going to lie. I am SOOOOOOO happy to be back on the internet!

Maybe it's time for you to cut some don't have to be as drastic as I was. But remember we'll never get published if we don't write the book! :)



Saturday, July 9, 2011

Book Review #1

Ready to catch up on some reading...I'll try to do book reviews on middle grade, young adult, and chapter books every so often.

The first book I am reviewing is Starcrossed, by Josephine Angelini. (3 out of 4 stars)

In Starcrossed, Helen Hamilton is the awkward protagonist, who has a hard time fitting it. Why? Well, first of all, she is breathtakingly beautiful. Secondly, she can't stand people looking at her or giving her attention (she gets cramps and doesn't feel well). Then she starts having these horrible nightmares where she's wandering the desert, and she wakes up to find her feet dirty and her throat parched. Along comes a new family on the island, and everyone is talking about them. But as soon as she lays eyes on the exquisitely handsome Lucas, she wants to kill him with this uncontrollable, unexplainable rage. Come to find out, they are both demigods, born of different houses. There's been this raging war where all the houses want to kill each other (and do). Lucas's family think they are the only house left standing. Until they discover Helen, of course. Turns out, she's a demigod...from a different house. Her mother, who abandoned her at birth, sure has some explaining to do! However, she's not around (until the end of the book). While all this is going on, Lucas and Helen hate/love/lust after each other. What to do? Lucas's family decides to protect Helen and "train" her as a demigod. All of a sudden, she has these amazing powers and abilities.

This YA book is almost Twilight incarnate. Lucas and his family even sleep outside her bedroom to "protect" her from those demigods wanting to kill her. There's this fierce attraction to someone she can't have, and Lucas's family is large and very similar to the Cullen family. HOWEVER, with that being said, I couldn't put the book down. It sucked me right in. And I even sat in the car during church because I COULDN'T PUT IT DOWN(did I say that already?)! I thoroughly enjoyed the mythology ties, and I really liked Helen as the main character. I thought the whole romance thing was a little shmultzy, but high school girls will love that part of it, I'm sure. The ending is what I had an issue with. It left off at a climactic moment in the story. Of course there's a sequel due out next May, but that's besides the point! Sigh...

It's a nice YA read that will suck you in, disappoint you a bit at the end, but will have you wanting more.

I'm sure I'll buy the sequel next year!


It's summertime...and the writing is easy...or is it?

I waited all school year long for the chance to have my days devoted entirely to writing. After a hard, draining day teaching to high school sophomores, the idea of writing or revising took a back seat to cooking dinner, helping my son with homework, spending time with get the drift. However, I DID make time to write. No matter what, I found a way. But, I'm just sayin'...I longed for summer.

(Do you like the picture of my three year old enjoying summer?)

So, summer's here. I'm off work. I haven't stepped foot inside my classroom since June 7th (our last day of school), and yeah, well...

There's the boat on the lake, which is very distracting, I must say, and it calls to me and my family quite regularly. There's the day trips visiting all of Northern Michigan's wonderfulness. Then there's the swimming, and the bonfires (we actually have a bonfire pit in our backyard), and the camping, and the reading all the awesome books.

I guess, I'm just confessing that I seem to be almost as busy as the school year. But like I said in an earlier post, I have to give myself permission to write...and I have to carve out the time. It's true. I know it, you know it, right???

Here's how my writing is surviving the summer...(and you get to read this rambling, lol):

  • I take my notebook with me: so helpful!!

  • I write in the morning while I'm fresh and newly energized (thanks to sleep and coffee).

  • Any rewrites my agent wants me to do, usually happen in the afternoon or evening. (I don't know why. Do I really need a reason for my madness)?

  • I don't sweat the small stuff: my kids will only be this age right now. If I set down my writing for a day with them, I make up for it that night or the morning after.

  • Journal! (I tell ya', I just love journaling. It's not really about my life; it's more story ideas, outlines, character descriptions, that sort of thing. But I find it really helps.)

There you have it, folks. So, go ahead, grab that corn on the cob and chat it up with family and friends. Just don't set writing on the backburner for too long. There's a world of readers waiting to hold your book in their hands (and I'm one of them)!


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Almost There"

These two words bring about contrasting emotions: hope and frustration.

Do you agree? If your agent writes back to you after almost a year of revisions and says something like, "I absolutely love it! Just a few more tweaks. We're almost there!" what would you be feeling?

First, I admit, comes a tad bit of frustration (at least for me). The whiny child within me wants to yell, "but I'm sooooo tired of rewriting this book! Wahhhhh...." (yeah, it's not pretty). What's also frustrating though is that I've reread and reworked the novel so much that I feel I'm going cross-eyed. I'm not catching tiny errors that I would have caught before. Or I left a sentence or two from a previous draft that doesn't make any sense because that scene has been taken out.

However, I am happy to say that I like hearing these two words. They mean that after a lot of work, it's about that time to send out to editors and see if I get any bites. It's another step closer to this dream of mine really happening. It's exciting and nerve-wracking, and well, hopeful.

Are you "almost there" with whatever you're working on? Maybe you're "almost" ready to send out queries, or you're "almost there" to the end of the story. Wherever you might be on this journey, don't discredit "almost there". Sure, it's frustrating, but focus on the hope of knowing that your goal is just around the corner!

P.S. I'm going to start posting interviews soon. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Have you taken the time to WRITE today?

Okay, it's summer time, and the living is easy. Just today I enjoyed a sun-filled day on the boat. Plus there's grilling with family and friends. There's bonfires and the deliciousness of s'mores. There's swimming and sand-castle making.

Who has time to write??

Um, hello, YOU! That's right. You heard me (I'm writing in my "teacher voice" right now). A few of my friends have commented on how they are "too busy" to write. No, no, no...that is an incorrect answer.

A few years back Laurie Halse Anderson came to our fall Michigan conference. I remember her opening speech, and how she hammered the nail on the head about giving yourself permission to write. Things take up our time. Work, family, get-togethers. I'm not advocating throwing all that out the window. But life is too short for you (or I) to keep proscratinating. That book isn't going to get finished...or revised...or critiqued...if it sits in your head gathering dust. Another speaker at a more recent conference I attended was agent Jennie Dunham. She hosted an early-morning journal session. I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed that! She didn't say it had to be specifically your creative piece, but I have been "journaling" my novels since that conference.

Whatever your excuse, throw it in the garbage. I don't want to hear it. Carve out some time. But get something on paper (or computer). I have a set of goals that I have used for the last year or two. These goals work!

Here are some goals of mine (feel free to use them, tweak them, laugh at them, or use them for dart practice) :)

  • Write at least five times a week. Do not stop until three pages have been written. (and I give myself permission to write garbage.)

  • Participate in a critique group once a month (via e-mail or meeting in person). This helps me check over my work, as well as letting me see others' creative processes. Plus critiquing others helps me turn a critical eye on my own work.

  • Read a young adult or middle grade novel at least once every other month. During the summer, I read about two a month, but that's because I'm a teacher. Yay, teachers!

  • And this summer, I have a big goal: finish the novel I'm working on!!! (I'm really good at starting cool novels, but then they sit and wait for awhile...

These goals are not set in stone, but I try to make writing a priority. Even during the school year, I try to "journal" my story ideas, or continue story ideas as much as possible. My friend told me about the book, Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, and one of the chapters is about people who are extremely successful follow the "10,000 hours" rule. In summation, it's where a person is dedicated enough to spend 10,000 hours learning/practicing whatever it is they are passionate about. That's when they start seeing success take place. (And I'm so sorry to the author(s) if I flubbed on that summation.) The point is that in order for us to be successful, we need to pursue writing passionately and diligently.

So what are you waiting for? Get writing!



P.S. Hopefully, this post inspired you. I wasn't really trying to be all "teacherish" on you!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Conference write-up (Editor's Day in Lexington, KY)

This weekend I had the opportunity to travel to Lexington, Kentucky to attend an Editor's Day. Speakers were Maggie Lehrman from Abrams/Amulet Books and Kate Larken from MotesBooks. Now I've been to at least a dozen conferences, but I can honestly say I learned a lot from this one day event. Maggie Lehrman was absolutely exceptional. Her two sessions were so informative I dare-say I learned more from her than any other speaker. And Kate Larken, who represented a small, independent press, was a riot. I ate lunch with her and enjoyed our table's conversation. I feel like she'd be my buddy if I was a Kentuckian. (wink)

So I thought since you did not get to travel with me, that I'd bring snippets of the conference to you. I do have to be careful. SCBWI is big into intellectual property, so I will try to summarize the sessions, giving credit to the editors for doing a stellar job.

The first session, Maggie Lehrman really hit home about what stands out from the others in that infamous "slush pile". She pointed out four things that really catch the editor's eye: Voice, Grasp of Story, Originality, and Reader Appeal. Voice is more than just point of view, language and word choice, it's also attitude and emotion. It's about authenticity. Grasp of Story is simply HAVE A PLOT. Have a story that BUILDS. She also mentioned how every scene should be necessary to the furthering of the plot. Avoid predictibility. Plots should be inevitable but surprising at the same time. For originality she discussed how you need a unique perspective to keep it fresh. For Reader Appeal (which I found interesting), she said that there has to be an ideal audience for the book. Who is the book written for? Will it sell to that demographic?

These were the main points of the first session. Kate Larken then discussed the world of small presses. She is more into niche markets, such as biographies of prominent Kentuckians. She also explained how and why she created MotesBooks. The key from this presentation is that even though small presses don't have the powerhouses behind them, they provide an open door for writers who fit into their niche. She also joked that she hadn't gotten rich yet off of any book, she's published, so a writer shouldn't expect to get rich from a small press either.

The last session I found soooooo informative. Maggie Lehrman described what happens behind the scenes at Abrams/Amulet Books. She started from the point of being interested in a book, then walked us through every step and detail of how that book gets created and put on the shelves. There was actually so much to this session, I don't know where to begin as far as summarizing it! Let's just say that getting a book published takes a lot of "behind" the scenes work. (I'd love to have her come to a SCBWI-Michigan event; she was fabulous!)

Throughout the day, they had first pages. This was so much fun because they were able to get to everyone's first page. If I could be blunt, many of the first pages were very, very rough, and I felt bad for the two editors who were asked point blank if they would keep reading. But I will refrain from being judgmental because there were a lot of first-timers at the conference, and I was once a first-timer too.

Excellent job to those behind this fabulous Editor's Day! I really learned a lot and enjoyed myself. If you have any specific questions, respond to this post, and I'll answer as quick as I can!


Monday, June 6, 2011

Top 5 reasons you need an agent...

The question: do I really need an agent? comes up a lot at the conferences I attend. Most children's book writers wonder if an agent would truly be helpful. Most of the time it's just as hard to land an agent, so doesn't it make sense to bypass all of that and send directly to editors? Here's my answer in short: You bet your bottom dollar you need an agent!!

Here are my top 5 reasons you NEED an agent:

  1. Editors RARELY look at slush pile, yet they READ everything that comes to them via an agent. Out of the editors I've met and talked with, they are way too busy to conquer that slush pile. Most of them have assistants who try to attack it, but even the assistants are busy helping with the books that have been signed. But it's more than that, editors have a small pile that comes from agents. Now THAT is what they look at. An agent has given a manuscript his/her stamp of approval. Editors and agents have great relationships (for the most part), so when an agent puts his/her name on a project and says, "Yes, I love this, and I believe this is a good fit for you", editors take that seriously. Editors also respond much faster to agents.

  2. Agents are the gatekeepers, and they hold the key. One of the BIG things I've learned in my several years or writing and pursuing this dream of mine is this publishing business is busy, and I am not the only one who thinks I have a fabulous book to publish. I was so naive back in the day. I wrote a middle grade novel in a month, sent it off to the top companies, and truly expected a book offer. After a few conferences and some research on my part, I realized that my book is up against tens of thousands. One editor told me that maybe 10-15% of what she reads from submissions is even publishable (alas, that's why it's called the slush pile). Out of that 10-15%, she might be interested in one or two of the books. So, do the math. That means 1,000 submissions out of 10,000 might be publishable, but out of that 1,000 only one or two grab her interest. YIKES! Having an agent helps you SURPASS that 1,000. Yes, it's true. With an agent, your manuscript lands right on the editor's desk. The agent helps get you in the door. It doesn't guarantee a contract, but at least an editor is reading your entire manuscript.

  3. Agents are in the business of making money. I don't mean to sound superficial, but it's true. The better a deal an agent makes on your behalf, the more money in his/her pocket. Not to mention they are knowledgeable regarding all types of contracts that would make you and me go cross-eyed. There're all types of rights, including foreign rights, movie rights, etc. and they deal with all of that. And obviously, the more money they make for you goes into your pocket.

  4. A good agent is an awesome editor. My agent, Marissa Walsh, from Fineprint Literary, used to be an editor from Delacorte, and it shows. She makes me rewrite like crazy (see earlier posts), and even though I'm sick to death of revision, my book is so much more amazing because of her AWESOMENESS. I'm talking about things I would have never caught on my own. Or adding depth to characters that make me just fall in love with them. When an agent edits your work and helps you tighten and fix it, they are doing a lot of the editors work for them. And remember when I said how busy an editor is? Okay, you get the drift.

  5. An agent (a good one) is the best cheerleader you will ever have. It humbles me when Marissa e-mails me all excited about a revision I made. This business professional in the "publishing world" is excited about my work. It lets me know that my dream isn't that far away. I couldn't imagine submitting to editors without having an agent. And are cheerleaders important? Go to any football game, and you'll have your answer. A good cheerleader stirs up the crowd, gets them empassioned, and encourages the players on the field.

New agents are diligently searching to build their lists, and even more experienced ones are continually looking for the next manuscript they fall in love with. I'll have more on this later!



Monday, May 9, 2011

A new idea has sprung!

I was sitting at the computer, muttering to myself (I'm real good at muttering), when my husband comes in and says, "So what're you working on now that your revision is done?"

Good question. But instead I responded, "Don't interrupt my game of Solitaire."

My hubby knew I was sort of in a funk over the whole "rewrite" business (see earlier post). "What about that idea I liked from last summer?" he asked.

"I don't know. Let me think about it."

And think about it I surely did! The idea started percolating a week or two ago. I pulled up the document that I had started last summer. A page or two of nonsense, but I have to admit, it sucked me in.

Then it happened. (I love it when it happens). The idea took root and began growing. Sure, it was just the crevices of my mind, but it has now moved into the forefront. Nice. Very nice.

My fingers have been busy typing ever since. How cool that I already have fifty pages?!? It is definitely a first draft, but it feels good to start the creative process on this whole new idea.

So...the moral of the story is ...get writing! We all have new ideas inside of us just waiting to get out and onto paper!

Friday, May 6, 2011


So you haven't heard from me in a while. Sorry. I've been busy.
Doing what? You may ask.

Well, let me tell you. I've been revising. Yes, the dreaded word again.

Here's the story: back in March my agent, Marissa, talked with me about taking my YA novel and rewriting it as a MG (middle grade). That's sort of a BIG DEAL! I love my YA novel, and so did she...I mean, she signed me on, right? However, two editors really thought it would be perfect as a middle grade, especially because of the humor and antics of my MC.

So what did I do? I put it off, thank you very much.

It's really annoying when you've revised something so much that you think it's wonderful, only to be told, "Yes, it's great. Now let's rewrite the whole blasted thing to a younger audience."
Eventually, my ideas started percolating again, and using the skeleton of the YA and some of the same characters began rewriting for a middle grade audience.

How'd it work out for ya?
Glad you asked!

Marissa and the editors were right (don't you just hate that). It is a better fit for the middle grade audience. I made it funnier and more daring, and I didn't have to worry about including all the "edginess" with YA.

So, there you go. Don't find revision. Just go with the flow.
Now let's hope everyone else likes it. If not, I might be working on revisions...again...:)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dusting off an old manuscript

My first book was a middle grade novel. It was the first book I ever wrote. I thought it was brilliant (see earlier post). Anyways, I haven't really revised the completed book in a couple years. Mostly because I've been working on other projects, and the book had already been revised several times. So I didn't think it needed any more work. At least not until my agent looked at it and could make suggestions.

Well, I've just started this new online critique group and needed something to submit. I thought it would be a good idea to see if coming back to it would open my eyes to anything that needs fixing before handing it over to my agent.

All I can say is....Wow...

Here's what I realized:
  1. How much I love my characters: I fell in love with this novel all over again. I've got so drawn into the characters' world that it's a nice reminder of why I'm writing in the first place.
  2. How not ready it is: the adage of setting something aside and then going back to it with fresh eyes is so true. Now I'm rewriting the whole thing (yes, again). But I've grown so much as a writer over the last couple of years, that the process is fun (yes, I said fun). I am making it soooo much better.
  3. How important critique groups are: the ladies critiquing the first couple chapters have been so "spot-on" and so honest in their critiques that they are exactly what I needed to bring this novel up to the level it needs to be for publication.

So here's my advice: if you've just finished something, or even if you've just finished revision, set it aside. I know, I know. You're excited and want to get it into an agent's or editor's hands pronto. But trust me, set it aside. For at least a couple months. Then go back to it. Or....for those of you who have a manuscript that you have set to the side and it's been a while (months, years), it may be time to dust off the old manuscript. Fall in love with it again.

And then get to work...


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

the waiting game...

On the road to publication, it is all about the waiting. You work months, years, maybe even a decade or two to write the perfect novel, and when you're finally ready to get published, it should just happen.


Newsflash: It. Doesn't. Just. Happen.

How do I know? Well, I wrote my first middle grade novel in a month. It was lovely and would be worth millions (I seriously believed that). I sent it off to the big houses and waited. Six months later, I received form rejections from a few of them, and never heard back from most. Okay, so then I decided I needed to learn the ins and outs of the publishing business. I learned about SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), so I joined that and quickly learned there was a conference coming up!

That was the Spring of 2005.

Six years and two other novels later I'm still attending conferences. Still sending out manuscripts. Still waiting. For that moment.

This past spring (May 2010), I was blessed with several agents interested in my second novel (my first novel is in my file cabinet for the time being). All of a sudden everything happened at once. I chose Marissa Walsh from FinePrint Literary. She took my young adult novel and worked with me until it was this amazing manuscript. The total rewrites took almost six months.

So I'm published now, right?

Not yet.

Still waiting...

So if you are just getting into working on this dream of writing and hoping that one day your work will be published, or you've been in the trenches for years. Keep your chin up. You're not alone.