I've been smiling a lot lately. We're talking Goofy Grin City, people. It's enough to make a curmudgeon sick. I've also...
I've been smiling a lot lately. We're talking Goofy Grin City, people. It's enough to make a curmudgeon sick.
I've also been panicking. Actively. And forgetting to breathe often enough there's this knot of pain dead-center in my chest. My current mantra?
"Positive stress is a real thing."
One of my (many) positive stresses is figuring out how to write my "How I Found My Agent" post (or, as you'll soon see, my "How My Agent Found Me" post). That's THIS post! You can skip to the end if you want--I won't be offended, because it's a looooong story. I've been doing this querying thing since May of 2011. That's when I sent my first query (for a rather hilarious if poorly conceived MG superhero novel), having no clue that a spiffy query and funny opening chapters weren't enough. The rest of the book was a bit . . .
But we don't know what we don't know, and I really didn't know much back then.
After 20-something full requests and just as many rejections, I moved on to a new project--a YA portal fantasy with a love triangle in it (one of the really bad kinds). After some helpful feedback, I revised the love triangle outta there and developed the plot more, finding my voice along the way. Then I added high speed chases in hover cars and secret holding facilities in abandoned warehouses! I even blew something up! Oh man, did I have fun. But when you focus on your plot arc and ignore your character arc, things get . . . wonky.
But I didn't know what I didn't know, and the opening chapters were solid enough that I was chosen as a Pitch Wars mentee. My mentor (Hi, Lori!) taught me about emotional authenticity, organic narrative flow, and POV depth, and I revised and I revised, but I kept fiddling with the plot and mostly just the plot, and the story got better but not enough. Then I queried and received a boat load of full requests (over the course of querying this project, I received upwards of 40 in total).
But the agents who read the manuscript knew what I hadn't realized yet, that the story had a lot of unrealized potential that needed . . . realizing. I received my first R&R (revise and resubmit), but became severely ill shortly after (mono as an adult can be fatal--not for me, but oh, it felt like dying). The virus affected my ability to think (and write) clearly, and I botched the R&R (big time). The day that manuscript was rejected, I received another R&R! My brain was clearing and I thought, I can do it this time. I scrapped what wasn't working, churned out a whole pile of new words . . . and then my husband's step-mum died. And it was gutting. Grief is a word-thief, but I fought it off and eventually got back to work. Just when I thought I was ALMOST done . . . my dad died. And then my husband's mom died. And then his step-dad committed suicide.
And I lost my words. I lost them in a way that would have terrified me if I hadn't been so numb.
But I'd signed up for an agent manuscript consult at a conference I attend every year (my fabulous critique partners talked me out of cancelling it), and I made it off the waiting list and into a room where I got to sit across from a lovely man named Josh Adams. He told me everything he loved about my first ten pages, gave me helpful notes and suggestions, and asked me to send him the full manuscript when revisions were complete.
Having an industry professional you respect love your opening pages can feel like a miracle, and for me, it was the silver lining on what had been a very dark cloud.
I found my words at that conference. I found them in the agent's genuine praise. I found them in winning my category in the first chapter contest. I found them in the amazing classes and the fantastic friends I spent those days with. If you ever get the chance, the LDStorymakers Conference can be life-changing. Quite literally.
But shortly after all the life-changing epiphanies I had during that glorious weekend, my oldest daughter said she didn't want to be alive anymore. The words were back, but I couldn't reach for them. I had something more important to reach for. We got her the help and medicine she needed, and things are better but not perfect now, as life often is.
When I finally reached for them, the words came in trickles at first. Twitter writing prompts kept me going. I crafted sentence after sentence after sentence, and began to dream of paragraphs. Then I crafted paragraphs and dreamed of pages, till at last the words came all the way back, and I finally returned to my story, and to the character I left behind long before the illness and grief. In the quiet aftermath of personal crisis, I let it be her story in a way I never had before. I slowed it down. Let her character arc drive the plot instead of the other way around. I cut half the story out and wrote it from scratch. And rewrote. And ate pizza. And revised. And ate more pizza. And revised some more.
It wasn't a masterpiece (still isn't--I realize now that I slowed it down TOO much), but the end result was beyond anything I'd accomplished before. Having given everything I knew how to give it, I sent the story off to the patient-beyond-patient agents who were still willing to look at it, including the agent whose encouraging critique helped unblock me.
Offers came in, and I can't pretend I wasn't shocked (I rock at being humble). I advised agents who had materials and in the end, I received three offers of representation, three R&Rs, and several "I would offer an R&R if you didn't have offers of rep already." Like I said, I slowed the story down WAY too much. It needs work still, and some of the interested agents were willing to take a chance and work on those revisions with me as their client.
One of those offers came from an agent I hadn't queried or met or encountered in a pitch contest. Josh Adams, the agent I'd had the manuscript consult with, emailed one hazy Saturday morning to let me know he'd shared the manuscript with his colleague, Lorin Oberweger, who'd read it and wanted to talk to me about representation. I woke up REALLY fast that day.
I researched Lorin and became increasingly excited. She's an editor, author, and agent all rolled into one. Her editing clients adore her. She's been doing the Breakout Novel Intensive for the past sixteen years. New agent? Yes. Inexperienced? Hell no.
We spoke on the phone, and it's clear that she not only loves the story for the same reasons I do, but she has awesome ideas for how to address the pacing issues. She wants to work together to take this story to a level I'm certain I can't reach on my own. And best of all? That knot of pain dead-center in my chest was gone within two minutes. I breathed easily (and consistently) through the entire phone call.
And I knew.
I'm a big fan of knowing. I crave certainty. I crave understanding. So the notion of making such a crucial decision based on a feeling--even a knowing one--didn't sit well with me. I wrestled over which offer made the most sense to take, and there were merits to all three (and to the R&Rs for that matter). But while Lorin won me over on both an intellectual and emotional level, it was that feeling I kept coming back to. I have zero doubt that she is the agent I'm supposed to work with.
While I would rather not have gone through the physical struggles and soul-sucking grief of the last couple years, I am so grateful that mine and Lorin's paths intersected the way they did. There were so many dominoes that had to fall in just the right way for this to happen. And yes, I'm mixing my metaphors, but I always do that when I'm super excited.
I am thrilled to announce that I am now represented by Lorin Oberweger of Adams Literary!
It's too soon to write an acknowledgments page, but I want to thank so many people (if you're reading this post, odds are you're one of them), especially the dear friends who've encouraged and supported me over the years, even way back in 2011 when my potential was something you needed a magnifying glass (or a profoundly kind heart) to see.
You all helped me be better. I could revise this post for days and never find the right words to explain just how much. :)
This is a very basic lesson, and a short one, but it BLEW MY MIND so I thought I would share. If you've every copied text from ...
I have four kids, so I hear the words, "It's too hard" a lot. Often enough that there's this tiny little muscle under m...
I have four kids, so I hear the words, "It's too hard" a lot. Often enough that there's this tiny little muscle under my left eye that goes twoink every time I do. Some days? That muscle does the cha-cha on my face.
But as often as my kids say it, I say this in response:
"Just because it's hard doesn't mean you can't do it."
Lately, I've been trying to take my own advice. One of the hardest things for me to do? LIVE. Like for real, step outside my own head, do things in the physical world kind of living. The inside of my head? It's not exactly a nice place to live. It's noisy, and the decor is ALL OVER THE PLACE, and whenever something lovely happens, my anxiety shouts it down like a grumpy old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn.
I want out. But even though I built my own mental prison, finding the escape hatch is no easy thing.
Reasons my brain has decided I deserve to be trapped:
- I wear pajamas too much.
- I'd rather order pizza every day than cook.
- I rock at loving people but I suck at doing anything about it.
- I'm human instead of perfect.
- My house is messy.
- I lose my temper too much.
- Etc . . .
After a great deal of thought, here's why I think I deserve to be happy (and this totally applies to you too):
- I'm a person.
A while back, someone asked me the following question: "Do you think I'm ready for a critique partner?" The answer i...
A while back, someone asked me the following question:
"Do you think I'm ready for a critique partner?"
The answer is yes. The answer to that question is ALWAYS yes. And I've put together a PRESENTATION on Critiquing and Critique Partnerships to shed further light on what makes for an awesome critique partnership.
Whether you've just finished your first book during NaNoWriMo, or completed intense revisions on your eighteenth novel, there is never a time in your progression as a writer when an outside opinion doesn't have the potential to be life-changing.
That's not to say that every outside opinion WILL be. I once had someone do a line-by-line edit of my full manuscript in which they questioned every single simile. "You say she's like a duck here, but she's not REALLY a duck, so I found this confusing."
Yeah. That happened.
Trading material with potential critique partners is a lot like trying on shoes. Just because the info on the box looks good, doesn't mean the shoe inside is going to fit you perfectly. BUT, just because one pair doesn't fit, doesn't mean something super shiny and lovely isn't waiting in the next box.
You can't really KNOW if a critique partnership will work until you try it on.
As to the question that prompted this post . . . PLEASE. Please don't believe that nasty little voice in your head telling you that you don't deserve shoes. That voice is a moron. EVERYONE deserves shoes. And finding the right ones can take you and your story amazing places.
If you're like me, one of your very favorite parts of working with a critique partner will be those moments when you realize YOU are another writer's favorite pair of shoes. It's true. That happens. YOU can be the one who's comfortable and supportive enough to help someone keep going, no matter how rough the road gets.
Give some thought to what you're looking for in a critique partner, and what kind of critique partner you'd like to be in return. And if you have the time, take a peek at my PRESENTATION. It might help you with your "shoe shopping."
If there's anything I'm an expert on in the literary world, it's how to luck into AMAZING critique partners. These auth...
Expectations regarding thoroughness are something you should have in place ahead of time. Personally? I thrive on thorough critique. I want to know ALL the things. Technical errors? Bring on the highlighter. Content issues? Lay them on me. Brilliant lines? Show me the love, baby.
- Technical Editing.
- Content Editing.
Some partners are going to specialize in one of these major areas. Some spread their skills across two or three. Make sure you know what kind of critiques you'll be offering each other. If you only give general content editing feedback with a sprinkle of validation, make that clear. If you're strictly a copy-editor with an eye out for technical issues, make that clear.
The best critiques take real effort, so yes, be thorough. There are few things rougher than pouring loads of time into a critique and getting just a few lines back in return. Your partnership will be stronger if you give as good as you get.
Take a little extra time to point out what's working in your critique partner's pages. Yes, it's faster to just highlight what needs work, and compliments don't directly help your partner improve, but they're still a vital component of any critique.
Storytime . . .
There was a line in my second book that I adored but a critique partner with eons more experience than me HATED it. I was on the verge of cutting it when I got notes back from two other readers. Both of them took the time to highlight that line and put in comments about how much they loved it. One of them laughed out loud! One of them said that was the point at which they really started liking my main character.
So I kept the line. End of story.
If you have favorite lines in your CP's work, tell them so! Someone else might be telling them otherwise. Plus? Warm-fuzzy feels from being told you don't totally suck can give you the strength to fix what DOES suck.
Don't go overboard though. Critiques that are ONLY compliments aren't really critiques at all, are they?
Confrontation is hard. Telling your CP to kill their darlings? SO hard. Sometimes it's easier to pat them on the head, avoid eye contact, and say, "Yeah . . . that's good. Real good."
Remember the heading of the previous section? Be Kind? Avoiding the truth isn't being kind.
But when you do offer genuine criticism, make sure you give context. Simply saying "I don't like this" is NOT helpful. If you can't put your finger on why, tell your partner that. But whenever possible, try to give context:
"Her reaction here doesn't ring true for me because X."
"The flow of this sentence is super awkward. Maybe it would work better if you broke it into two?"
"The backstory in this scene is slowing the pace and I don't feel like I'm really with your main character anymore."
Your genuine opinion is far more likely to be helpful if you actually give it.
I'm not saying you need to work at breakneck speeds and pull off a twenty-four hour turnaround time. Perhaps I should change the heading of this section to "Be Realistically Prompt." If you say "I'll have notes back to you next week" and your partner doesn't hear from you for two months, that might be a problem.
If you only remember to critique after being reminded several times? That might be a problem.
If your partner has critiqued seventeen chapters for you and you've only critiqued two for them? That might be a problem.
I say "might be" because this is something you and your partner need to figure out between you. Communicate. Establish up front what your expectations of each other are.
Maybe your partner has four kids and works a graveyard shift at the local hospital, but their critiques are so amazing you don't mind if they only do one for every five you do.
Maybe you have seventy kajillion things going on in your life and can only manage to critique a chapter a month for awhile. Or maybe there are times when you can only give general feedback and not line edits, or times when line edits ain't no thang, because you're swimming in spare time.
But if you don't communicate about where you're at and what you've got going on, your partner might feel like they're hanging onto a cliff's edge, dangling over the revision pit, with no clue if you're ever going to help pull them up.
It's okay not to have time sometimes. It's even okay to get swamped and forget. But if you do? Apologize. Establish more reasonable expectations for each other.
Being human and being prompt are often mutually exclusive. Own up to your humanity, and accept your partner's humanity*.
If you receive a horrifically unhelpful critique (hey, it happens), you still have to do one in return. I know, I know, BUT YOU DO. This is why I advise NEVER trading full manuscripts with a new critique partner. For me, 1-3 chapters at a time is the sweet spot. Shorter term commitments allow you to reevaluate the value you're offering each other before making long term plans.
Quality critique partnerships aren't born; they're created.
*To a point, of course. If they're jerky to you and attempts to communicate are all one-sided, you're allowed to say goodbye.
Whether you're starting a new partnership or enjoying the blissful comfort of an old one, SAY THANK YOU. Not just for the first critique, or the best critiques, but ALL critiques. Whether they're as helpful as you hoped or not. Whether they send you into a tailspin of despair or soaring to new heights where you can see the "possible" of your story better than ever before, express gratitude for the time that went into the critique.
No matter how effectively the time was spent, it was SPENT, and that deserves your thanks. If you constantly find it a struggle to feel enough gratitude to put into words, it might be time to reevaluate whether that particular partnership is worth continuing.
Above all, keep in mind that the ideal critique partnership is worth searching for AND working for. It requires so many leaps of faith, I know I know I know. And there's terror in that. Of course there is. But the best partners, the ones worth keeping?
They catch you.
And you catch them.
And your stories become more than words on a page. They become worlds you build and visit together. I hope you find that. And I hope you get to be to someone what my critique partners are to me.
It's the very best kind of magic.
35 Word Pitch: When a friend's evisceration reeks of necromancy and Clare was the intended target, she and a reckless bayou warlo...
Genre: Adult Horror
Word Count: 90,000
Special Question: Clare would be a bass player in a Mos Eisley Cantina band. She'd appreciate the ability to find work anywhere and travel more or less unnoticed, and would love to have a crucial and well-defined role in a tightly knit group of people without being the center of attention. The lack of pressure to save anyone but herself wouldn't hurt.
35 Word Pitch: After the Church burns Quil’s home, he abandons the ashes in search of justice. Now, Librarian-Priests hunt him through...
35 Word Pitch: After the Church burns Quil’s home, he abandons the ashes in search of justice. Now, Librarian-Priests hunt him through paper-deserts for a stolen secret. Unless he survives, the chthonic Archives and its machine-gods will die.
Genre: Adult Sci-fi
Title: SAINTS' Scales
Word Count: 108,000
35 Word Pitch: When Oak befriends a kitten and the teal-haired girl, his shattered heart begins mending. But the alchemist who covets mi...
Genre: MG Fantasy
Title: THE BROKEN BOY & HIS PATCHWORK HEART
Word Count: 62,000
Special Question: Yoda. No doubt about it, seeing as Oak prefers to keep to tradition and would rather be the one to know the secrets, not the poor soul trying to figure them out. Also, at first glance, Yoda's terribly underestimated. Oak would like to think he's the same.
35 Word Pitch: Third-generation Watched, seventeen-year-old Orley Aragón’s entire life is filmed for the Nation. After her ratings drop...
35 Word Pitch: If seventeen-year-old wizard Inani wants to save her only friend from child-sacrifice by her Order, she’ll have to joi...
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: Her Crooked Shadow
Word Count: 93,000
If your main character could be any Star Wars character, who would they choose and why?: It's a toss-up between Mara Jade and Han Solo (badasses with shady pasts, now doing whatever they want), but Han's best friend can/does rip peoples' arms off, so Han wins.
35 Word Pitch: British teen is thrown into rocky waters when she ’ s sent to a small Florida town to recharge. Without her mum or bestf...
Genre: YA Contemporary