Friday, September 17, 2010

The Craziness of Publishing

So, if you follow me on YA Muses, Twitter or the Blueboard, you might have heard that I got my first book deal, and my second, all in the same day.  How did this happen?  I'm still trying to figure it out, but near as I can tell social networking and conferences had a lot to do with it.  And while a personal connection won't sell a book by itself, it can open the door to unexpected opportunities.

Circa April 2010:  I had just signed with Sarah Davies with my very first novel, a Celtic YA paranormal called BANDIA, involving forbidden love and hot guys with no shirts.  We were discussing a pretty major rewrite when I attended my local SCWBI conference in Rocklin, CA.  Unbeknownst to even Sarah, I had started a second novel while I was querying BANDIA, the book that would become SPIES & PREJUDICE, a Veronica Mars style retelling of Pride & Prejudice.  I submitted the first fifteen pages of SPIES for a conference critique, and through luck of the draw, I drew Flux editor Brian Farrey.  Brian approached me at a break and when I wasn't hyperventilating, I think I heard him say that he really liked my writing voice and would love to see the whole manuscript for SPIES.  I told him the book wasn't finished, but that I had a paranormal I was revising with Sarah.  Brian and Sarah talked, and we made sure he was on the submission list for BANDIA.

Fast forward to May 2010:  I was fumbling around on Twitter when I found editor Elizabeth Law (@egmontgal) on an #askagent thread.  I started following her and happened to catch a tweet about an off-Broadway show called Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson that she enjoyed.  Oddly, my husband and I had once joked about writing a musical about James K. Polk and had even written a few bars of a song about Manifest Destiny, so I sent a reply to Ms. Law asking about the AJ show.  She replied with the details, and my husband and I got tickets to see it a few weeks later when we were in NYC.  When I got back to CA, I let Elizabeth know that we'd seen it and really enjoyed it.  We exchanged some Tweets over the summer as I rewrote BANDIA, and I continued to follow Elizabeth, learning that we liked a lot of the same books and that she really seemed to care about YA and MG books. 

August/September 2010:  BANDIA, all revised and on submission for just over a week, got an amazing offer from Brian Farrey.  A multiple book offer, with options for even more books featuring the characters from BANDIA.  I was over the moon.  I'd met Brian and heard him speak.  I knew Flux would be a good home for my books, and that it wouldn't flinch at some of the edgier aspects of BANDIA.  And one of my favorite YA authors is Simone Elkeles, whose LEAVING PARADISE is with Flux.  (Congrats to Simone for hitting the NYT list last week with the sequel, RETURN TO PARADISE).

But we still hadn't heard form Egmont.  And I was torn. Because I really wanted to work with Elizabeth too.  So when Elizabeth called Sarah to talk about BANDIA, somehow it came up that she wanted to see my other projects.  SPIES had been put on the back burner while I revised BANDIA, but I sent over the partial manuscript.  Two hours later, I was on the phone with Elizabeth, who was even more delightful in person.  We had an offer on SPIES that same afternoon.

But could I really do both deals?

Sarah immediately started talking timelines and delivery dates, and it soon became clear that the timing would work out so that, yes, it was definitely doable.

And so I get the best of all worlds.  I get to work with the two editors that I connected with on my own, in completely unrelated ways.  I have no doubt that these personal contacts went a long way to getting Flux to read and offer on BANDIA so quickly, and Egmont to dig a little deeper to discover SPIES.  But none of it would have happened if I didn't have a wonderful editorial agent like Sarah, who helped me turn BANDIA into something marketable and went above and beyond to get me my first deal and my second. On the same day!

If you haven't seen them, here are the announcements from Publishers Marketplace:

Talia Vance's debut SPIES AND PREJUDICE, pitched as Veronica Mars meets PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, in which a teenage private investigator goes undercover to discover that the mother she thought was dead is actually in the witness protection program, and the guy she was determined to hate is the one person who can save her life, forcing her to re-evaluate everything she thought she knew about herself, her family, and love, to Elizabeth Law at Egmont, for publication in Spring 2012, by Sarah Davies at the Greenhouse Literary Agency (NA).


Talia Vance's BANDIA, rooted in Celtic mythology, a story of forbidden love, as a girl discovers too late that she's descended from a deadly Irish goddess, having accidentally bound her soul to the hot guy whose tribe is sworn to destroy her; falling for the one boy it would kill her to love, and with her survival depending on his death, she must find a way to break the power of her dark inheritance, to Brian Farrey at Flux, in a two-book deal, for publication in Fall 2012 and Fall 2013, by Sarah Davies at the Greenhouse Literary Agency (NA).

And now I need to stop bouncing off the walls and get to work.  I have deadlines :) 



Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My Manuscript has a Body Count

My manuscript is bloody.  It's been hacked and cut and beaten.  It's had its guts pulled out and put back in.   And it's been retitled.  And retitled again.  My manuscript has a body count.

The fist casualty- subplots.  Some of these subplots were funny, others had shocking twists.  A select few even had some achingly beautiful prose.  But don't feel sorry for them either.  They were guilty as sin.  They distracted from the main character arcs, complicated the plot unnecessarily, stopped moving the story forward, or *gasp* were a little too convenient. In short, they had it coming.

The second casualty- characters.  Some lovely characters with invariably witty dialog and secret agendas.  The gay son of a macho warrior who gets off on disappointing his father and has a wicked sense of fashion?  Sadly, gone.  The little girl with magical healing powers that are never explained but critical to the climax of the story?  Axed.  Not that anyone really misses her.

The third casualty- werewolves.  What??  But this was a WEREWOLF book.  Surely the werewolves had to stay.  Nope.  The werewolves were guilty too. Turns out that the werewolves were weighing down the story with my own preconceived notions and baggage associated with the wolf mythology.  Getting rid of the wolves freed me up to reimagine the story and focus on the characters.  And as a bonus, no bestiality undertones!

The fourth casualty-almost the entire second half.  Forty thousand words. Some of them really good words, but words that didn't serve the main characters or conflict. Some great scenes died here.  And I can't lie. It was bloody. 

The fifth casualty- fear.  You'd think with all this cutting and shredding, that there would be no getting rid of the fear.  And at first, there was a lot-seriously, a lot- of fear.  Fear of cutting out some of the best parts of the book.  Fear that I couldn't write anything better or even as good.  That fear was killed off the old-fashioned way.  Not by slashing (even though I wished I could), but by creating.  Writing.  Who new that writing could be such a powerful weapon?

So don't worry about my manuscript and it's body count.  It's fully recovered.

And then some.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

In which my manuscript becomes the Bachelorette

I have been submitting my paranormal YA for a few months now. There have been many hopeful meetings with producers (queries) that led to a few callbacks (requests for partials) and even a few dates with the Bachelor (agents who read the full). There was even one meet the parents that was so close, but alas, the Bachelor did not choose me.

And then something strange happened. All of a sudden I had not one, but two agents requesting revisions and offering to look again. Then an offer from one. Then an offer from a third agent. Everything seemed crazy and possible, and for a week I could barely think straight. My manuscript, like Tristan, got to be the Bachelorette.

So yes, you really can find a match on a reality TV show, I mean, through the querying process. I am pleased to announce that I am now represented by the wonderful Sarah Davies at the Greenhouse Literary Agency!

For those who are querying take heart. I did not know Sarah. I didn't know anyone who knew Sarah. I did not attend a conference where Sarah was speaking. Nope. I did things the old fashioned way. I sent a blind query + 5 pages, following the submission guidelines on her website.

Before querying, I did read her blog and several interviews with her available online. I spent some time on writer forums to get a feel for the buzz about her, and I felt confident that she would be a good fit for my work. I continued to do research even after sending my query, only to see a comment from another writer that Sarah had recently said she was seeing way too many werewolf/shapeshifter books. My heart sank. Yes, I had sent her a werewolf/shapeshifter book. So I wrote that query off.

Then, I got an email in my box from Sarah's co-agent in the UK, Julia Churchill. Julia said she was reading Sarah's mail while Sarah was at a conference, and that she liked the pages. So I sent them out, thinking I was lucky that someone else was reading the mail, but that Sarah would probably reject me pretty quickly.

Not so. Turns out, Sarah had read my query originally, but was on the fence about it because of the subject matter. She liked the sample pages enough to send it to Julia for a second opinion. So I was lucky that Julia liked the pages too.

Sarah went out on a limb to offer representation, even though we agreed that the manuscript would have to undergo a pretty significant revision before it could be submitted to publishers. Sarah's experience as an editor (she has worked with Phillip Pullman and Meg Cabot!) gave me complete confidence in her judgment. I agreed with her comments, and feel like the revisions are going to take this book to a level far beyond my original vision.

Finding an agent who believes in you is a major milestone for any writer. Finding someone who believes in you AND is willing to put the time in to make your work sing. That's priceless.

So, I am of course thrilled, excited and bouncing off the walls.

But enough gushing.

I have work to do. My poor characters have no idea what's coming...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The dog ate my homework

Huckleberry is a great puppy, but he can be a little needy. If left alone for more than an hour or two, he has been known to get bored and be a bit distructive.

The good news is he doesn't dig up the carpet or tear down the walls, although at 150 pounds he certainly could. Shoes? Nope. They're perfectly safe. Rawhide bones? Nary a tooth mark.

It seems Huckleberry has a taste for literature.

The hardcovers are the most popular, as he can really sink his teeth into a strong binding. There's the added bonus of a removable cover which can be easily shredded into a thousand tiny pieces. It's really quite pretty. When not scattered about your lawn. The paperbacks are fun, but pose no challenge. Easily digestible pulp fiction appears to be a favorite.

The books are usually still legible, if you can pry the battered pages apart. Who knew Saint Bernard drool dried to the consistency of Elmer's glue?

I am almost afraid to contact the dog behaviorist. The first question will be,"Um, why do you keep 47 books on your nightstand?"

And then, "Aren't these for teenagers?"

Followed by, "Are they ALL about vampires?"

So for now Huckleberry's book stash is safe.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Writing Conferences- worth the investment?

For those of us seeking publication, the question eventually comes up- should we spend the time and money to attend a writers' conference? Many of the very same folks who will tell you not to bow to vanity presses and for pay reading services, will tell you that it's perfectly okay to shell out hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars to attend a writing conference.

Only you can decide if attending a conference is worth the investment. I attended my first conference in December, and I have to say it was a fantastic experience. Not only did I receive some wonderful critiques and writing advice, I also made some wonderful writer friends, people who understand the huge sacrifices and emotional investment that goes into writing in a way that folks in the real world never will. To help you make a decision, here are some pros and cons based on my experiences:


1) Agents, Editors and Published Authors Oh My!

Yes, it's a great opportunity to network, and there may even be opportunities to pitch your work, but the caveat is that you want to make a positive impression. Be ready.

2) Frank advice about what's selling (and what's not)

It's good to understand your market, but don't get caught up in trying to write to what's hot. By the time your book is ready, something else will be the next big thing. Try to write THAT.

3) A chance to meet other like-minded writers

Don't underestimate the power of a good support group. Conferences provide a great opportunity to network with your peers, who may become future critique partners, colleagues or friends.

4) Professional Critiques

The conference I attended included several critique sessions, including other participants and at least one publishing professional. It was fun to see people react to the work in real time, and the advice I received helped me take my writing to the next level. This type of thing is not for the faint of heart, but if you can brave the scrutiny and accept constructive feedback, by all means go for it.


1) Agents, Editors and Published Authors, Oh My!, Part Two

You only get one chance to make a first impression. Make sure your pitch is ready, your writing is polished, and your attitude is professional. This sounds like a no brainer, but trust me, when you see that dream agent across a crowded room and your breath catches in your throat, it's easier than you think to panic and go into crazy stalker mode. I might know a little bit about this, but that's another blog post...

2) Cost

There's no doubt that conferences are a huge investment. Even those with reasonable fees usually involve travel and overnight stays. Writing already involves a huge amount of time away from our families, so it can be hard to justify the time investment.

3) No One's Going to Sign You Up

Sorry, your manuscript is not going to be spotted from across the dinner table and 'discovered' like Cindy Crawford in the food court at the mall. While you might make contacts that lead to eventual representation or sales, the actual submission will take place after the conference, and your book will be subjected to the same scrutiny as if you had queried blindly.

4) Not Everyone's Going to Like Your Work

If you are given an opportunity to pitch your work or get a critique, be prepared for subjective reactions that might not be all positive. Not everyone is going to love or even like your work. It's one of the risks you take by putting yourself out there. And one of the benefits, since constructive feedback can only make your writing better.

5) Not Every Conference is Right for You

Make sure the conference is right for your writing goals, fits where you are in your writing journey and is a fit for the genre you're writing in. After spending all that time and money to be there, you want to make sure that you're learning information you haven't heard before, meeting people who work in your genre, and moving forward with your career goals.

I've loved my conference experiences, and I can't wait for the next one I'm attending in April. But I can also see why some writers would rather spend their time, well, writing.

Like everything else in this business, there are no easy answers.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Submitting to Agents and Dating

I've heard the analogy, that finding an agent is like dating. After all you're looking for a long term relationship with someone who will love you (or at least your work), and who is communicative, enthusiastic, professional, etc.

Except its not like dating at all. Unless you're dating on the Bachelor.

Because let's face it, when you send out that query letter, you've already vetted the agent and presumably assumed that they have what it takes to market your work. The agent is the awesome guy that everyone is vying for. Now how to make yourself stand out from the pack?

With the query, it's not so much a date as an audition. Is my manuscript pretty enough, funny enough, engaging enough, to make it past the producers? Will my manuscript ever even get to meet the Bachelor, er agent?

And when you do make it past the query stage, and the agent requests sample pages, it is a bit like a first date. But it's a first date with 30 other pretty, funny, engaging manuscripts hanging around in the background, waiting for their shot with the agent.

Maybe you get a rose or two, and the field gets narrowed. Things feel like they're really clicking. And you make it all the way to meet the parents and the agent reads your full manuscript. Great news, right?

So your manuscript was selected from the 100s, possibly thousands who auditioned. You made it through some rose ceremonies. All the way to the finale. At this point, half the country (or at least your family and friends) is routing for you. And you just might get picked. Or you might get kicked in the teeth on national television.

I don't know about you, but when I was dating, my husband didn't already have an established girlfriend that was his top priority or a throng of women competing for his attention. (Okay, there were one or two, but that's another story).

I know that a beautiful story is all it takes. And if it's really good, the tables can be turned. So maybe my manuscript will go on to be the Bachelorette.

It worked for Trista.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Waiting and Writing and 'Rithmitic

First the waiting.

Waiting sucks. No question about it. Especially when you feel like you are either on the precipice of one of the most exciting journeys of your life, or you are about to run smack into a wall. And you're waiting to find out which one it's going to be.

That's how I've felt for the last four weeks, with a couple of full manuscripts out with agents.

Will they like it? Will they like me?

It's like the first day of a new school, except you don't know the outcome for weeks. Sometimes months. And you have to understand that most of the time the answer is going to be, "um, no, but it's nothing personal." Still, as long as the book is out there, there is hope.

Then comes the writing.

Every writer, agent and publishing professional advises writers to start on the next book as soon as the first is out on submission. Don't waste those precious months of waiting, when you could be writing. And if this book doesn't sell, you'll have the next one ready to pitch.

Great advice. It is. Sounds simple really.

Except I can't make it work. I'm trying desperately to get back into my WIP, but my heart is still all tangled up with the characters in the book on submission, and my mind keeps racing through situations for a sequel.

I really need to find a way to put book 1 behind me and focus on the present. I know the best way to get over an old love is to find a new one. But I'm so not over it.

Sometimes one plus one doesn't equal two.

Hmm, maybe there's a story there somewhere.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

On reading, writing and chocolate chip cookies

I got my Amazon order and I've been catching up on some recent titles in my genre. I wonder sometimes if writing is ruining reading for me in some ways, since I find myself deconstructing every aspect of the books I read. Then I find something that totally and completely transports me into another world. When it happens it's amazing, and I'm reminded why I write in the first place.

I just read SWOON, which I quite enjoyed, although it has more sex and casual drug use than I normally see in YA books. I found it interesting that I had more difficulty with the casual drug use than the sex. I couldn't shut off my mom radar, which is normally not an issue for me.

Also finished DEVOURED, a dark, modern take on Snow White. The whole heart eating thing was a little creepy, but it was a fun read.

Just started FALLEN. It's in third person, which seems to be making a bit of comeback.

As a writer, I want to write something that will take people out of their own head, and transport them. I know writing does that for me. It's just harder for me to go there as a reader.

Oh well. My daughter made chocolate chip cookies today. So it's a good to day to be in the real world.