February 2, 2017

My Mentor Interviews My Agent

In a fun version of my worlds colliding, my Pitch Wars mentor, Jennie Nash, interviewed my new literary agent, Amanda Ayers Barnett.

All I can say is that the interview makes me so proud to be working with BOTH of them. They're brilliant, insightful women, and I'm pleased as punch that they're part of my writing life.

Enjoy the interview here:

January 27, 2017

I Have an Agent!

I'll do a detailed post about my agent journey at some point, but I'm so excited to have signed with Amanda Ayers Barnett at Donaghy Literary Group!

Here's an interview with Jennie Nash, genius book coach and my mentor for the Pitch Wars contest that got me to this point. Read my conversation with her here:

December 12, 2016

Being a Pitch Wars Mentee--One Month After the Fact

This past couple of months, I was lucky enough to be part of Pitch Wars, a writing contest in which published writers choose a finished manuscript and its unpublished author to mentor. Among difficult odds, I was picked, and it was a fantastic experience. It’s been finished for just over a month now, and I’d wanted to write a long, wise list of things I learned from the experience. Maybe I still will. But for now, here are three:

1. Writing is hard. Revising is hard. Querying is hard. Writers are neurotic and obsessive. I believe this now more than ever. I was so lucky to be in a super talented pool, selected from an even larger pool of talent. They’re awesome people and hard workers, but many of us are still surviving the aftermath. A couple dozen participants found agents from Pitch Wars—the rest of us are still doing the same thing we’ve always done: writing, revising, querying, waiting, worrying, commiserating. I’m starting to believe what I’ve heard about every stage of the publication journey being anxiety inducing and crazy making.

2. There are no magic bullets. Well, sometimes there are, but whether or not you get one depends very little on how hard you work. I thought Pitch Wars would be my magic bullet in getting an agent. Obviously my book was good enough to be picked by someone, right? So, I worked my butt off. I even thought I wouldn’t finish at one point because of devastating personal issues, but I pushed through because I was so SURE this was it. I was going to be one of the writers who signed with an agent that week.

I wasn’t.

A month later, I’m still querying, just like the good ol’ days before Pitch Wars.

At a conference once I heard NYT bestseller James Dashner talk about the success of The Maze Runner. Want to know the secret of his success, according to him? He’d written it two years earlier and it caught the tailwind success of The Hunger Games. He didn’t copy THG. He didn’t know that kids fighting to the death would be a thing. He put in the hard work, he wrote what he loved, and that time he got lucky.

I’ve watched so many talented PW writers that didn’t get a lot of agent attention. I saw a few concepts that I was surprised were so popular and found an agent right away. There are always trends. You can’t predict them or usually even write to them. Just always be working to improve and put out great content. You know what they say: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

3. Find people who believe in you. It’s a fantastic feeling to be chosen—read this awesome post by my mentor JennieNash about getting picked—but it’s even more awesome when you find someone to be in the trenches with you, pulling you up when you’re down, telling you your stuff is great. My mentor told me that my book was going to be a huge commercial success. It probably won’t be, but the fact that she believed that made my head balloon ten sizes bigger, and once it deflated, it helped me get through the depressing times when I felt like it was crap.

The same can be said for my writing partners. I have so many good writing friends. I can’t imagine life without them. Family and regular friends are great, but they don’t understand the ups and downs and ins and outs of the writing process and industry like writing peeps do. Find like-minded people. PW was fantastic for that. I still read the PW mentee celebrations and disappointments and feel like I’m not alone in any of it.

Pitch Wars was a great experience—one that I would highly recommend. It didn’t change my life like I thought it would, but at least I have a much better book and a few new friends because of it. And that makes it a total win.

August 8, 2016

Motivation Monday: Nelson Mandela


"May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears."

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (July 18, 1918–December 5, 2013) was a politician and revolutionist. He was South Africa's first black president and the first person elected in a fully democratic election. During his term, he tackled institutional racism. He later served prison time for armed rebellion, and he left prison as the pacifist we often think of him as today.

Fun Facts about Nelson Mandela:
  • His pacifism was based on the belief that democracy and dialogue were the way to solve the world's problems.
  • His birth name means "to pull a branch off a tree" and "troublemaker."
  • He was given the name Nelson in school when he was seven years old.
  • His father was a polygamist and had four wives. Nelson had three wives--but not at the same time!
  • He had six children.
So What?
I love Mandela's quote because publishing is a hard profession. I know that after nearly four years of daily writing, five books finished, two books queried, and countless hours spent with critique groups, craft books, investigating agents, and otherwise working toward my dream, I occasionally want to give up. Every rejection, every effort that hasn't ended up where I thought it would, every failure strikes fear and doubt inside me. It makes me wonder if I'm good enough. It builds up and makes it hard to keep going. Maybe it's the same for you.

But, if a creative career is what you really want, then I think it's essential to make choices and goals based on what you hope will happen, rather than the fear of past failures. Personally, I'm looking forward to the challenge.

July 5, 2016

Book Review: DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community by Gabriela Pereira

I’ve been a fan of the DIY MFA podcast and website for quite a while, so when I had the chance to read the book, I jumped on it. Several reviewers have created fantastic summaries of what’s included in the book, so I’ll focus on why I think it’s an essential read for all writers.

At author readings, panels, and writing conferences, one question that almost always comes up is whether a writer needs a degree. Invariably, it seems like degrees are downplayed and denigrated. I realize that the point is to tell writers that anything is possible for anyone, but it’s frustrating that they don’t focus—like DIY MFA does—on the fact that though degrees/MFAs aren’t essential to becoming a writer, some level of mastery is.  Or at least it should be.

While there are many great writers who don’t have MFAs, there are invaluable college-level skills (not necessarily degrees) that give writers an edge in publication—learning to communicate and collaborate with others, learning to meet deadlines, learning to take feedback, honing grammar, punctuation, and style skills—all of which are part of most MFA programs. Sure, everyone knows someone who’s an exception—either having gone to college and never learned those skills or not going to college and teaching themselves—but the fact remains, for most of us, some basic college-level abilities are essential to refining our craft as authors.

That’s where I think DIY MFA is GENIUS. The philosophy of Pereira is that though MFA programs aren’t essential, “all writers may need some of what the MFA experience offers.” She then breaks down the most powerful skills from her own MFA program into manageable, concise, doable chunks for the rest of us to implement—whether we have degrees or not—to make our own writing, reading, and networking more meaningful.

The book has very specific guidelines, worksheets, ideas, and processes to make effective writing a WAY OF LIFE. An instinctive habit. She helps outline how to develop behaviors that gradually increase our abilities as both readers and writers. Pereira says right from the beginning that all things don’t work for all writers, but she provides dozens of methods for writers to try on their own, and she helps us understand the psychology behind different methods and personal roadblocks.

She talks about how if we want to be writers, we “need to discover a process so that [we] can create dozens or even hundreds of wonderful books,” instead of just one. She talks about creativity as a learnable process with logical, repeatable steps, instead of a crazy muse that comes and goes as it pleases.

One of quotes I love from DIY MFA sums up the book and the program. She says, “…talent is often irrelevant, and what matters is how serious you are about doing the work.” I think that’s true of DIY MFA, of MFA/other degree programs, and any other writing course you can find. DIY MFA helps you know how to do the work to be the kind of author you want to be. It’s another tool—a brilliant one—to help you get where you want to be as a writer. Whether you have a traditional MFA or not, I think this is one book all writers should have on their shelf.

April 18, 2016

Motivation Monday: Ira Glass

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it's normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”