Book birthday

birthday book

On Tuesday (Or Sunday, if you ask Amazon……..) my first book came out.

A year or so ago, I listened to an interview with Tom Lennon (from The Odd Couple). The interviewer asked how it felt to have “made it” in his career. Lennon said something about having worked so long and hard that he’d built up sort of an armor. Not that it’s No Big Deal to have finally achieved success, but that it had been so long in coming it’s just a bit anticlimactic.

I feel this way, too. Muddy Waters is my third completed novel. It took about 18 months between initally querying agents to getting published. Before that, I queried the first two books for three years or so with varying degrees of success but no contract.

Writing your first book isn’t like winning the lottery. You’re not poor at 8:00 p.m. and filthy rich at 8:01. You don’t go from not-published to published overnight.

Is it like a marathon? Maybe. If you have tiny victories at random intervals and then by the time you cross the finish line, you’ve been running so long it’s all you’ve ever known and it’s just another day in your life, and then there’s still a 10K to run when you’re done with the 26.2 miles.

There were so many little milestones I celebrated but at no point did it feel like NOW THIS PART IS DONE.  There was the email from the acquisitions editor asking for the whole manuscript. There was another email asking for revisions. There was a call extending a contract. There was the cover design, the Amazon listing, the news that Audible would offer it as an audio book. There were a couple of meh reviews.

So when the book was actually alive and in the wild, it didn’t FEEL different, except that I have been anxious to the nth degree for about a week.* I don’t know what I expected but I don’t think this is it.

I’ve just been stressing over whether I’m doing the right thing with promotion? Is there something else I should do? Did I invite enough people to the launch party? Did I invite TOO MANY people to the launch party?

This is not to say that I’m not thrilled this has finally happened. But I get something now that I didn’t get before. I get the pressure we feel after putting something out there. I get why some authors write a book or two in the promised trilogy and then vanish. I’ve made a promise to the readers, to the publisher, to myself. And what if I can’t fulfill those promises? What if I do The Wrong Thing and the book tanks and everything sucks and my grand plan for the series is sucked into the hole?

I wish I was happier about it. I wish I was more at ease. I wish I felt less stress that my book is finally a reality. I wish I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night wondering when I will sit down to finish the second book, or terrified that I’ve missed some awesome opportunity.

 

*It does not help that I also lost my job last month, and as I haven’t had a single interview, my shoulders creep ever-closer to my ears.

Book Reports: Eighth Grade

Forever_JudyBlume

Ok, so, I went to a private Catholic school from kindergarten through eighth grade. My favorite class was always English, and its permutations – Literature, Language Arts, etc. I could diagram a sentence in 20 seconds. My spelling was on point. My vocabulary was HUGE. (Just ask my fourth grade teacher. She gave me a low grade in Language Arts because, and I quote, “Sara often uses words she doesn’t know the meaning of.” Which is utter. Total. Complete. Bullshit. She never asked me if I knew the meaning of those words, and I was using them correctly. But I digress.)

In the eighth grade, we did book reports. One per month. We had a class period in the school library where you picked your book and then told the teacher the title. I suppose this was so you didn’t repeat books from month to month, or read a little-kid board book. (I mean, who DOES that?? Who DOESN’T want to read a book?? I didn’t get it.)

The librarian was newish to the school. She took over when Mrs. Wolff, who was the sweetest woman, retired. The new librarian’s two kids went to our school and she was pretty cool. I don’t remember her name… We’ll call her Mrs. Smith.

I browsed the paperback rack of choose-your-own-adventures, classics like The Witch of Blackbird Pond and (my favorite, but I’d already read this for a prior report) Island of the Blue Dolphins. It was getting toward the end of the hour we had allotted to pick a book.

Finally, I grabbed a Judy Blume I hadn’t read and got in line to tell the teacher which book I’d chosen. After all, I’d read tons of Judy Blume. Tales a Fourth Grade Nothing, Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, Blubber, The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo.

Here I should perhaps mention that I was not curious about bodies. Or sex. My mom explained how babies are made, sure, but I really didn’t feel the need to know any of the squishier details. We certainly  hadn’t yet watched the childbirth video that would traumatize the entire class for the next decade.

If you have never read Forever, Judy Blume’s take on teenage sexuality, well… (SPOILER ALERT) It’s about a high school girl who has sex for the first time with her boyfriend, then they break up because she meets a sexy tennis instructor and she wants to do sex with Mr. Tennis Balls, instead of the guy who calls his penis “Ralph.”

I WAS SCANDALIZED.

I was also really embarrassed.

But THIS was the book I’d chosen. And THIS was the book I would report on. I was too embarrassed to tell my teacher what had happened. I mean, it was a Catholic school. She would have TOTALLY let me pick another book on the basis that I should probably not be reading this anyway.

We filled out worksheets with open-ended questions on the book. I’ve never turned in such…blank assignment.

Q: “Write a description of the book.”

A: “Katherine is a teenager who has a relationship with Michael. They break up and she begins dating Theo.”

Q: “What was the central conflict of this book?”

A: “A girl struggles with growing pains.”

Q: “What are some of the themes?”

A: “Growing up. Relationships. Feelings.”

I got a C on the report. But I didn’t care. DID NOT CARE. Because I didn’t want to explain any further than I did. I just wanted to put this incident behind me.

A few weeks after that, I was back in the library, researching for a different assignment. I made some comment about being surprised that such a book would be in our school library. Mrs. Smith knew exactly what I was talking about. She replied, “Some authors get to be so big, their publishers let everything they write go to print.”

We had an understanding.

My dad was a big reader, and that’s where I got my love of books and reading. My mom is not much of a reader, and isn’t widely read, so they didn’t bat an eye when I read Lady Chatterley’s Lover in seventh grade. (I know, I know, you’re thinking: She was outraged at Forever but didn’t know what the fuss was about Lady Chatterley? All I can say is, I am large. I contain multitudes.)

Though at the time I was shocked that a book like Forever would be in my grade school library, I think in retrospect, I’m glad we weren’t censored in that way. I was allowed to read what I wanted to, above and beyond my grade level. And sometimes I was shocked or embarrassed or I just didn’t understand the context of the literature. But I learned how to read, really read, and understand. So thanks, Mrs. Smith, and Parents of mine. For giving me free reign.

 

 

 

 

 

Bird skirts, mean girls, and diseases

sally j freedman

This is middle schoolish age favorites (not listed: Sweet Valley Twins and Nancy Drew)

Island of the Blue Dolphins (Scott O’Dell) Holy shit did I want to make a cormorant skirt. Karana is a badaasssss.

Silver (Norma Fox Mazer) Poor kid gets to hang out with rich kids and sees that the grass is not always greener. And also please get me some silver earrings stat.

Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade (Barthe DeClements) Reading about fifth grade girl politics is the best. Unless you are living them in real life, then it’s just commiseration.

The Girl with the Silver Eyes (Willo Davis Roberts) Ok, yes, it’s like Thalidomide but instead of physical deformities, the babies got cool powers. I love this book so hard. Was this my first science-fiction read? Maybe…

Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself (Judy Blume) I’ve always been sort of obsessed with the 1940’s/50’s, and the theater/performing. And also Nazi Germany. So this was pretty great.

Anything with diseases:

Six Months to Live (Lurlene McDaniel) She gets leukemia. In the second book, her bestie with leukemia dies and her ashes are in a matchbox and omg sad.

Deenie (Judy Blume) They thought I had scoliosis once, but it was just one side of my back was more muscular than the other because of swim team. Go figure.

13 is Too Young to Die (Isaacsen Bright) All I remember is that she has lupus. And I was sure I had lupus for a hot second.

There was another one about a girl who befriends twins, one of whom has given a kidney to the other one.

Reader discussion: What were your favorite books as a kid?

 

 

 

 

 

Publication Update and Plea

Howdy, weblings!

I have a publication date for The Book. Okay, so it’s called Reddick’s Grimoire: Dirty Work. It’s not like a baby and I don’t want you to steal the name. I can just tell you.

April 3, 2017.

Which SOUNDS like eons from now. It is not! I have a lot of work to do before then. Let’s take a stroll through what I have done so far:

  1. Edits

I have sent off the manuscript for its first round of edits. People ask me often, “Are you afraid of what they’re going to do to it?” Like I sent them Great Gatsby and they’re going to send it back looking like Strangers in a Strange Land.

Uh, no.

I’ve been in enough writing workshops, critique groups, schools, advertising jobs, and the like to  be too precious about this. This is not the Sistine Chapel. This is not Shakespeare. This is not a world peace treaty. What I wrote matters, don’t get me wrong. It matters to me, and people who love me. And the publisher is taking a risk with me, so it matters to them. But from start to finish, a book is a conversation, not a firehose aimed at the reader.

The editor, and my publishers, are not in the business of making a book unsellable. She (my editor) is going to go Goldmill on that Rocky manuscript (see what I did there?) and get it into fighting shape to take on Apollo Creed. In this (lame) metaphor, Creed stands in for the massive urban fantasy market that my little Rocky has to go up against.

2. Marketing

While I wait for the edits to come back…

The publisher has a vested interest in me (obvs) and they have a crack marketing team to work with me. I have provided them with a whole bunch of stuff to use – cover copy, my bio, my cheesy picture.

I’ve made a new home page for my Author life (www.saraothompson.com).

I’m bumping up my activity on Twitter and Instagram.

I have a huge mood board for the book series on Pinterest.

I have an Official Facebook page.

And this was fun – I sent the publisher my thoughts about the cover of the book. Apparently this is unusual, for the author to have any say in that part. I realized as I was answering the question sheet about the cover (Ex: what do you want people to think of when they see the cover? etc.), one of the things I said was, “All the covers for this genre/type of book – urban fantasy, female protagonist, etc. – have the same cover.” So what did I do when it came time to sketch out a cover? I drew the same damn cover as all the other ones have. But I am certain that the marketing whizzes will prevail and make a fantastic cover.

3. Research

I’m trying to get very familiar with the process of being a working writer, including all the above. I’m looking at videos and reading interviews of people who’ve gone this way before.

Plea(s): Follow me on the social media outlets? Please? Soon I’m also going to ask if you’ll subscribe to my newsletter, if you’re interested in more about the book series, giveaways, all the good lovely things.

Thanks for stopping by! Come back soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kentucky Writing Workshop

Last week I joined about 50 of my writing peers for a Writer’s Digest Kentucky writing workshop: a one-day event on writing, publishing, and stuff like that.

I’ll level set here: I am not a published author and I don’t have an agent (yet!). I have officially written three novels. I have been through the query/rejection process. I have a master’s degree in literature with a focus on creative writing (my thesis was a collection of short stories). I do a lot of research, reading, listening, and asking about writing, publishing, agents, and marketing. On a scale of 1-10, 1 being someone with zero experience or knowledge as a writer and 10 being Steven King, I’d say I’m a solid 5. Maybe a 6. So that’s where I started.

Going into this, I had no idea what to expect, so I wanted to share more about my experience here. I hope you find this hepful if you (like me) frantically Googled every variation of “what do do in a pitch session with an agent” or “oh god how can I write a two-sentence elevator pitch for a really complicated 70,000-word YA alternate history fantasy steampunk novel?????”

I was able to do this day-long event because I took a vacation day from my Day Job and there was someone home to watch Thing 1 and Thing 2 and thanks to Pater Familias’ support. Which was awesome.

Logistics

Here’s how the day went, in terms of logistics. Then I’ll talk about the stuff I found helpful.

Actually, let’s start before that. I signed up for a query critique by the instructor before the event. It was returned with his comments before the workshop so that I could change it to show people AT the event.

Check in: Pretty typical. It was at a hotel so parking and such wasn’t a big deal. What WAS kind of a big deal (and they warned us about this in the pre-event emails) was that the kitchen was being remodeled and they had no refreshments besides water. There is a Starbucks close by, and lots of restaurants, but jeez… Mama needs her Diet Coke! So I brought my own.

We were also given the option to bring the first page of our manuscripts without any identifying information (more on that later). I handed over my copies of my first page, got a folder, and found a seat.

The sessions (the instructor called them speeches) covered the differences between traditional and self publishing, how to find an agent, a reading of the first pages people turned in, and marketing. The only break was lunch, but of course you could get up and use the loo or whatever when you felt like it. Because adults.

There seemed to be a varied mix of people there, in terms of genre, age, published status, and where folks were in “the journey” of writing books. There were noobs who didn’t know a query from a crack in the wall. There were people who’d sold directly to publishers. Self-published authors. And everything in between. The woman in front of me had written a “mem-wahhhh.” During the first page critiques, a woman behind me got frustrated with the number of entries that were some version of paranormal. Every time the moderator said, “This on is paranormal romance/thriller/fantasy,” she would huff. “Another paranormal?” Good lord, they’re ALL paranormal.” I really wondered what she was writing and why she was so down on this genre.

And the last element: agents pitches. You could pay for 10 minutes with the agent(s) of your choice from those attending. There were five agents and I bought slots to pitch two of them.

Pitchin Pitches

I won’t say I was terrified, because I can think on my feet pretty well. I was a little nervous. Little butterflies-in-the-tummy feeling. But one of them is a friend of my famous writer friend and he knew I was coming to talk to him, which kind of took off some of the pressure.

This is how it worked: They sent out the pitch schedule ahead of time so I knew I had 10 minutes with one agent in the morning, and 10 minutes in the afternoon with the other.

All we did was get up from the lecture and go sit down in a room with all the agents at different tables. My plan was (and I stuck to it pretty well):

  • Give them a copy of my one-pager (I’m going to cover this later in a different post, so check back) It had all the following: Logline, pitch, all my contact information, where my book fits in to the culture/landscape.
  • Tell them genre and point to it on my one-pager  YA alternative history fantasy
  • The pitch (also on the one-pager) One girl stands between Hitler and World War II. If she can master her own magic, she can stop his doomsday machine.
  • The logline It’s a gender-swapped steampunk Star-Wars. (and) Leia Skywalker versus demon Nazis.

Then we just talked about whatever the agents wanted to. One asked for a writing sample – thank goodness I’d brought extra copies of my first page and my query letter. One asked what else I was working on. They asked me what my background was (which is when I give the BA in English, MA in Lit, creative thesis spiel). Both of those agents asked for a query and the full manuscript.

Now, after the anonymous reading of the first pages, one of the five listening agents gave the moderator a list of five authors she’d like to see more of the work from. I was one of those. However, one of the agents I’d paid to see is her partner so when I met with the paid-for agent, I mentioned this. And when I sent the materials requested to the paid-for agent, I made sure to say, “X wanted to see this, too.”

And a fourth agent who recently met my author friend Gail  so when I introduced myself, she actually said, “You know Gail.” And ended up asking for a query and some chapters.

Most Helpful Things/Things I Wanted More Of

Given where I am in my Journey to Being a Published Author, I got the most out of pitching to the agents and the critiques of the first pages. I also got a lot from the discussion of marketing.

I imagine it’s hard to prepare a workshop like this that will appeal to all the different kinds of writers you’re likely to have in such an event. You can’t just talk to the lowest common denominator but you can’t only talk to people who have a lot more experience. I think the workshop did a pretty good job of balancing that, though.

I was hoping for a little more hobnobbing among participants. A couple of people seemed to be making a point to network and talk to other people, but it seemed like most of the group was pretty….standoffish? Aloof? I don’t know. I love talking shop with other writers and I tried to get to know people. Only six people came to the “after party.” And I’m the one who made that happen – I ran around like a goofball telling people “some of us are going to XYZ to have a drink and chat!” I don’t mean I’m taking it personally. I just feel that it’s really important to get to know other writers because it’s a lonely job/hobby (jobby?) to be a writer and it’s really nice to know that I can shoot off a tweet or an email to a writer buddy and get a great response.

I’m lukewarm on the query critique. It was expensive but…this was my first experience with it and it wasn’t unhelpful. I don’t have much to compare it to. I definitely saw the benefits of having a query critique. I’m not saying I’m a fantastic query writer. I will say that my query for this book has gotten me more requests for full manuscripts than it hasn’t. I think if you’re really new at queries, or you aren’t getting ANY bites on the one you have, or you don’t have a good critique partner, and if you can pay for the crit…go for it.

TLDR: Pay for agent pitch sessions. Hobnob with agents and writers. Be professional. Don’t be a genre-snob.

 

 

 

 

Alternating Current

excited-anna

I entered this contest with my YA manuscript and am an alternate. Out of almost 2,000 entries, I was chosen by the lovely and talented Virginia Boecker as her alternate. This week, we get a little spotlight of our own in the Alternates Showcase.

This has been a really fun experience, mostly because Virginia has been such a cheerleader. I’m not even her first draft pick but she’s super enthusiastic about my manuscript, which is awesome because…I’d been having a crisis of faith in it myself. (Shhh don’t tell the manuscript. I don’t want to hurt its feelings.)

If you’re a writer or a wanna-be writer or (even better) an AGENT, please go check out all the awesome entries. If this is the crop they chose, the original entries must have been incredibly difficult to pick from.

Books and movies

There are VERY few instances when I will like the movie version better than the book. Sometimes, I might enjoy it in its own right, like the Harry Potter films. I like the books. I like the movies. But others? Not so much.

I won’t put any spoilers here, but I will simply say, I liked the first 2/3 of Gone Girl. The third part made me want to throw the book against the wall but I was reading on a Kindle and I can’t afford to replace it so I didn’t.

I liked the movie version. I really did. That’s all I am going to say. I think I have a GoodReads post about it so you can look it up there if you’re interested.