August is a notoriously "dead month" in publishing. Agents, editors, and directors are out of the office (probably with bags of unread manuscripts and galleys and other piles of paperwork); authors are tinkering around with writing schedules, catching up on reading and research, and maybe getting a few words added to their in-progress manuscripts; and normal people are doing whatever it is that normal people do...going on on vacation, living up those last days of summer before school starts back, everyone gets back in the office at work, and life-as-usual resumes.
In the writing world, this August slow period is the calm before the storm. The last four months of the year are insanity--and that's putting it mildly. Never mind the back-to-school rigamarole, the impending holidays, the changing weather that manages to surprise everyone every year, and all that other stuff that goes on in Pumpkin Spice Season. In the publishing world, fall means book awards, fall releases (often the biggest of the year), writing conferences, acquisitions pick back up, everyone starts thinking about the next year, and so on. Whatever side of the publishing world you're on, September means it's back to the grind, writing, reading, editing, promoting, submitting, etc etc etc, and trying to cram as much as possible into the end of the year.
Despite the fact that I dread being uber-busy with the kind of lackluster passion only the truly lazy can pull off, fall is my favorite time of the year. Fall is pumpkins and hot apple cider, changing colors and falling temperatures, darker days and softer clothes. In my house, fall decorations come out, the horror movie schedule is made, spooky new releases I've been dying to read shuffle their way to the top of the reading queue, and everything starts to smell like cinnamon and cloves. I start spending a lot of time in craft stores and clicking around on Pinterest, thinking about stuff I'll never bake and never sew. My daily usage of quotes from movies like Hocus Pocus and The Nightmare Before Christmas become even more than usual and I start stocking up on soup-making supplies. And, once the kid goes back to school and the days start to wane (which, here in Alaska, can't come quick enough after the wretched endless summer daylight hours, ugh), I settle in for the most productive writing time of the year. For me, there is nothing that sets the mood for a more productive writing day than cloudy skies and blissfully grey days. It truly is a harvest--all that idea-percolating and reading and inspiration sowing I've been tending to all summer is finally ready to be harvested, word by word.
So, with that in mind, here are a few of my tips and techniques to getting back to the writing grind after the summer lull.
Know when to write, and when not to write.
If you're an early morning writer, write in the morning. If you feel more inspired in the evening, write when the sun goes down. Adhering to a writing schedule and scheduling writing time are not the same thing. Make time to write every day, but set yourself up for success by choosing a time (and being flexible) when your writing will be the most productive for you. For example, I tend to write better at night, when distractions are low and the natural darkness lends itself to my stories' settings (usually between 11pm and 3am). But, I set aside time to write blogs and answer emails and other writing tasks first thing in the morning, when I'm sipping coffee and eager to get some checkmarks to start off my day (usually between 7am and noon). I'm useless during the middle of the day (that's when I do stuff like errands and chores and wander around the Internet thinking about anything other than writing), and I'm totally fine with that. Find your own schedule, and don't let anybody tell you that you're doing it wrong.
Gauge writing success by story progress, not word count.
We've all fallen victim to the standard of counting words instead of enjoying the process of writing them. Yeah, word count is important and there's a pretty strong correlation between approaching a word count goal and completing a draft (and, yes, we all know that Stephen King defines a good writing day as a Six Page Day), but--and we all know it's true--sometimes a mere 100 words of really great stuff is a heck of a lot better than 2000 words that basically suck. Instead of relying on word count to make you feel productive, try to gauge by story progress. If you only write a few hundred words, but spent hours researching something and are in love with what you wrote, then that trumps word vomiting out a whole bunch of yuck that you're going to have to feel bad about writing tomorrow. Or, maybe you didn't write any actual paragraphs, but you plotted out a stellar outline and got some really impressive one-liners stitched in. Cool. Quality is better than quantity, IMHO. Those big word count days will come; there will be days you get so sucked into the story your fingers just can't keep up and you blast out a number of pages that makes even Mr. King blush. But there will also be days when it's like squeezing blood from a stone. Both are okay. Just keep writing.
And, finally, find what inspires you.
Read. Watch movies. Play with your kid. Go to the library. Wander around outside. Chat with your friends. Lose yourself in Reddit. Whatever it is that you do that 1) relaxes you and 2) inspires you - DO IT. And do it often. Inspiration is like fuel for creativity. Without it, your creativity well runs dry, and that is true for the most novice to the most seasoned of writers. Being a "full-time writer" doesn't mean you're a veritable fount of nonstop ideas and imagination, and it doesn't mean than Name Brand Authors are some kind of creative geniuses, either. Really, it just means you've figured out how to keep your well full and set up good writing habits that help you write. This blog has 99 ways to get inspired to write...there is bound to be at least a few that work for you.
Even the most productive writers sometimes need to take some time away from the keyboard (or the notebook!) and refresh those creative juices. For me, the need to recharge always seems to hit at the most inopportune moments (typically when there is a deadline looming). Sometimes that low-battery warning signal flashes daily; other times you might go a whole month(!) before you feel your tank starting to rumble for fuel. BUT, no matter if you're writing your first novel or your fiftieth, or even if you're not writing a novel at all but tackling a short story or a stack of college essays, taking time to recharge your batteries can only help you, and that fantastic new world you're building, stay alive.
Whether you do it between drafts or between projects--or, maybe even between chapters because we've all been there--here are a few of the techniques I use to recharge my writing batteries when I'm feeling a little low on creative juice. (Some of them are even useful to keep up with all those other author-ly duties beyond crafting new stories--bonus!)
1. Go Read Something (and review it, too...maybe)
Whether it's a book you loved as a child or another perennial favorite, nothing keeps you ensconced in the written word but free of the writer's headspace like losing yourself in a good book. There's no shortage of research that touts the merits of reading: reading has been associated with a host of benefits from a greater sense of empathy to a decreased risk of dementia. There's even new research that focuses on the benefits of reading in bed, which can reduce stress by up to 68%.
Reading is an incredibly integral part of being a good writer. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find an author who says anything to the contrary. Being an avid reader is not only great for inspiration, but it allows you to do two very important things:
But, whatever you read, for the love of Coffee please don't read your own book's reviews. Here's what my friend and author Sam Hooker says about that.
2. Go on a Mini-Vision Quest
At heart, a vision quest is anything that provides an important connection between the participant, something beyond the self, and--usually--nature. Go for a walk (even a quick one). Research reports that hiking can boost your creativity by up to 75%! I'm particularly fond of beaches, whether of the tropical or more northern variety, so the first place I go when I'm stuck is the water, but maybe you're more of a tree person, or a mountain person, or maybe an animal sanctuary person. Just Go Outside.
Rainy, snowing, or otherwise just don't feel like putting on pants (word.)? Find other visual sources of inspiration. Flip through a magazine or old photo album. Check out stuff online. If you're stuck on a scene or description or image you just can't seem to nail, pictures can help. Pinterest is a great place for that (it's also a great place to find totally unattainable recipes, but that's another story). Binge-watch something on Netflix. Did you know when we "watch" stories an impressive eight different areas of our brain light up? Yeah. Not only is watching stories a great way to generate new ideas, see incredible imagery, and step into worlds other than our own, it also stimulates areas of our brain that deal with language comprehension and memory development, too. Oh, and it also generates oxytocin and, literally, makes us feel good, so, yeah. You're welcome.
3. Get Out of Your Own Head
Sometimes we all manage to write ourselves into some dark, weird spot deep within our heads that gets a little too stuffy, even for us. Recharging is as much about boosting up writing battery as it is giving our brains a change to breathe and reboot. And, I get that a lot of writers (maybe most, even) aren't the most social of creatures. Still, introvert or extravert or ambivert, there are a ton of ways to free yourself from your own writing shackles and get out of your own head...just for a little while, I promise.
For the introverts among us, consider indulging in a tangential hobby. Maybe writing is your primary creative gig, but there are tons of other options. I quilt, mess around in my herb garden, and occasionally bake when recharging (my neighbors refer to these random loaves as "Writer's Bread"). Try sketching, or adult coloring, or--hell--Legos if you want. Anything that doesn't involve writing. Just make sure you enjoy the process and don't worry over the results. It might be the clumsiest stitching you've ever done, or the most completely inedible cranberry walnut cake you've ever made (I'm looking at you, Pinterest), but hey, at least it's not a couple hundred wretched words you're just going to end up deleting later and feeling bad about.
For the extroverts, whoever you are, get out there and mingle! Catch up with non-writing friends, call your mom, or chat up the postman or whatever it is you chatty types do. Go out and rekindle relationships! Go to the gym! Fetch groceries at Trader Joe's during prime sampling hours! Do whatever it is that you do, but do it Away. From. The. Screen. Psychologist Susan Pinker says that face-to-face interactions drive both health and longevity, too, so there's that...which I assume is worth people-ing.
4. Do Something GOOD
As painfully and grammatical cringeworthy as it is to write: doing things that make you feel good, does you good (yes, even sleeping).
Doing volunteer work is a creative goldmine. Not only are you able to contribute to causes that you feel passionately about (we meet again, oxytocin), but you're doing good for others--whether it's animals, the environment, children, or whatever--and you're lowering stress levels, strengthening communication, and giving your brain something else to prioritize in the meantime, all of which helps you write better later. Now, I'm not saying you have to go out and organize a food drive or build a Habitat for Humanity or anything as lofty as that (unless you want to, and in that case you totally should). Doing something good can be as self-focused as treating yourself to a spa day or maybe helping out your local librarians by shelving books for a few hours. Read a story to a group of people at a nursing home (it's soooo amazing--I once met a 102-years-young arthritic mountain lady who was teaching herself calligraphy--she was easily one of the Top 5 most inspirational people I've ever met). Go pet ALL THE KITTIES at the local animal shelter. Whatever it is that brings you joy and gives joy to others, do it. You can't reap what you don't sow.
Love and creativity are intrinsically intertwined--even Einstein thought so--so you definitely deserve to give yourself the opportunity do something you love and enjoy the benefits doing that thing, so that you can come back refreshed and ready to write your next greatest story!
Ever since I first learned how to read, speculative fiction has been my happy place.
How could it not be? From fantastical worlds to near-dystopian realities, speculative fiction has the ability to transport the reader to an exciting new setting where we can fall in love with incredible characters, human or magical or otherwise. And, while it's taken some time for speculative fiction to earn its due literary respect, we're finally here. In fact, these days everyone from startups to academia is touting the benefits of reading speculative fiction. Why? Well, as the author of a recent Medium article succinctly pointed out: science fiction and fantasy can inspire, motivate and warn us.
Speculative fiction encompasses works in which the setting is anything other than the "real" world. It may involve supernatural, futuristic, or other imaged elements. It might be science fiction, fantasy, superhero fiction, science fantasy, horror or supernatural (or paranormal) fiction. Basically, any story that is outside of the grounded-in-reality every day world and explores something "unusual" is a work of speculative fiction.
Harry Potter? Speculative fiction.
The Lord of the Rings? Speculative fiction.
World War Z? Speculative fiction.
Diversity is at the heart of speculative fiction, and the reason is two-fold. First, we're writing diverse characters (human and non-human alike). Secondly, we're writing diverse worlds, some much like our own but only slightly different, and some wholly unique. Luckily, there's a few ways literary orgs are supporting diverse writers writing these wonderfully new diverse worlds!
Since 2014, the Speculative Literature Foundation has annually offered two diversity-centered grants: Diverse Writers and Diverse Worlds, both intended to foster the creation of speculative fiction work rich in diversity.
Writers may apply for either or both grants. Please note: your project does not need to center on identity issues. SLF also do not expect or want work that simply attempts to check off all the boxes in a tokenistic way, but rather are looking for writing that offers deep characterization, complex cultural landscapes, and strong literary quality overall.
For example, an excellent novel is Nicola Griffith’s award-winning Slow River, which features queer women protagonists; another is Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan series, whose white male protagonist deals with a host of personal disability issues, while ethnic, gender, and other issues play out in the cultural background.
The 2019 grant period is open for applications now and this year I am honored to be a judge.
More information about the grant, as well as instructions to apply, can be found here.
Ya'll, last night I got to party like the villain I am.
This summer, Walt Disney World is giving visitors the chance to have a wickedly good time with their favorite Disney villains -- Hades, Jafar, the Evil Queen, Maleficent (who has returned to her fire-breathing glory after a mishap in 2018), Dr. Facilier, and more -- and enjoy special dark treats (LIKE FREE MICKEY BARS, PEOPLE) this summer. The park, which had limited attendance to this ticketed-only event, stayed open until a glorious 2am, and was fully decked out for the villainous event, with "devilishly divine" special treats, ride enhancements (LIVE pirates in the newly-renovated Pirates of the Caribbean ride), special edition event merch, and a live DJ.
The Villain Castles
For more information on the event, click here.
THANK YOU to Disney for the invite, and the spectacular time!
Women fiction writers are coming!
SATURDAY, JUNE 8, will kick off the very first International Women’s Fiction Day, hosted by the Women's Fiction Writers Association, the premier organization for women's fiction. The day is intended as a celebration of the aspiring writers and published authors who create women’s fiction, those who work in the publishing and bookselling industries to bring these stories to market, and most importantly, those who love to READ this genre.
I've been part of the WFWA for many years, first as a member, then a contributor, a columnist, and now as the Director of Internal Communications. I cannot say enough about all the amazing things this organization does, and I am so excited to kick off Women's Fiction Day and show our support for all the incredible women who make this genre so inviting, supportive, and rewarding.
Join the Celebration
For me, summer is always a season of change. (Whether I like it or not.)
Sure, the days get longer and warmer. We take time off of school, and jobs, and responsibilities to relax, unwind, and enjoy life. But, for me, this time of relaxation also comes with deep reflection. Summer is the time that I not only rest, but I also think about where I am, where I want to be, and assess things in my life that may need changing so that I can keep to the path I've planned out for myself. It's a time of goal-setting, of reality-pacing, and--most importantly--of embracing the inevitable unforeseen and adapting to keep life on track.
Every summer brings change and transformation, and every year that change is magic. After all, while change can be good or bad, it is very rarely neutral, and we must learn to see the potential even in the changes we might not have preferred. That, sometimes, is much easier said than done. I am not a terribly optimistic person by nature, but if I have learned one thing in life it has been to roll with the punches, and to try to see the potential in anything. If you can keep moving, then you can keep surviving...and if you can keep surviving, then anything is possible.
The past year has seen much change in my life. After the release of The Isle of Gold in October, I signed with Gandolfo, Helin & Fountain Literary Management and was soon swept away on exciting new projects that I can't yet talk about (the agony of keeping secrets!). I joined the Havenwood Falls collective and have enjoyed meeting so many incredible and visionary writers--after all, writing a story is one thing, but working collaboratively to build a universe? That is no small feat! From my hair color to my writing schedule and nearly everything in between, change has been the story of my life over the past year.
More is changing. New projects. New collaborations. A new home, in a new part of the world. And as scary and sometimes overwhelming as change can be, I am embracing all of it. It is not always things that change around you, but sometimes the greatest change is that which you find in yourself.
So, what kind of changes can you expect, dear reader? Well, first is a more active blog--filled with regular book reviews and other literary shenanigans as I commit to working my way through my mountainous TBR pile and take a more active role reviewing both on my blog as well as providing reviews for other authors (I'm dipping my toes in the #bookstagram community, too). You'll notice some new branding on my website and social channels. More books, too, of course--I'll have news to share on that front in short order, including some anticipated sequels, a new prequel, surprise collaborations, and super-nifty-super-secret book-to-film projects that make my dark little heart happy. All in all, I am looking forward to another fantastic year and hope that you'll continue to follow along.
When most people think of Salem, Massachusetts, they likely (and rightly so) think first of the Salem Witch Trials that began in 1692 and tragically persisted into 1693, claiming the lines of nineteen women and men and two dogs.
Last year, The House of Seven Gables, the titular homestead of Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1851 classic, preserved by a historic foundation in Salem, celebrated its 350th birthday. Also on the grounds is the house that was Hawthorne's true homestead, as well as other historic buildings, and an incredible garden (which was undergoing fresh planting when I visited!). I happened to have a chance to tour the estate shortly before the anniversary, during the few short weeks they allowed interior photography. You can check out the rarely seen pictures below, including a super secret staircase that fans of the novel will recognize!
The House of Seven Gables (in rarely seen photos!)
I've always been one of those kinds of people that has a really difficult time sitting still. I love to move around, to experience new people and new places, and I often find inspiration in these adventures which find their ways into my stories in ways that range from the largest ideas to the tiniest details. I'll be spending quite a bit of time traveling this year, so I thought I would share some of these lovely visits with you, in case they inspire you as well.
Of all my favorite places in this great big beautiful world, perhaps the one that holds the biggest piece of my heart is the open ocean and the beaches of the Caribbean. I shamelessly try to visit as often as possible, often repeating the same trip exactly and every time enjoying it as if it were a brand new experience. It was on these waters and in these sands that I wrote The Isle of Gold, both in terms of the inspiration for the story and a significant amount of the research that went into writing the details down as accurately as possible. I dreamed of Winters one night on the stretch of nautical miles between Port Canaveral, Florida and the Bahamas. I sat on the outer deck of a ship late at night and sipped on rum and brandy like Dunn while staring out at the open waters of the nighttime sea. I wandered museums and roamed the streets of Nassau and thought about quayside villages of the past. It was a wonderful experience to spend so much time writing a historical fantasy while entrenched in the places that the story might have lived and to feel the same salty air and see the same dazzling blue seas as 17th-century sailors would have sailed upon.
Here are some of my favorite snaps collected over the years when visiting the Bahamas. Spring or summer, sunny or overcast, this tropical paradise is - in this writer's ever-humble opinion - easily one of those most spectacular places on Earth.
Mary Shelley was a leading lady of horror before she ever penned Frankenstein. The daughter of a pioneer of feminist thought, Shelley was raised under the influence of both her father’s radical political ideas and her mother’s feminist thinking. When challenged by Lord Byron to write a “ghost story”—a task deemed inconceivable for women at the time—Shelley wrote Frankensteinand basically girl bossed the f*** out of the lot of them (though she would be forced to initially publish her work anonymously before paving the way for women in literature in the centuries to follow).
Last year marked the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Long considered a cornerstone in gothic literature and women’s horror fiction, Frankenstein is not only a personal favorite but also a potent feminist text—and one that pulls no punches as it explores the power relationship between men and women, both literally and figuratively. While on the surface a dark story of a mad scientist, Frankenstein is in fact a much deeper story, as through male narration Shelley depicts how her female characters—from Elizabeth, the soft-spoken love interest of Victor, to the strong-willed Safie, to the near creation of the Monster’s female companion—are thought of and treated by the male characters. While her feminism is plain to see (read), Shelley’s critique is not limited to the power relationship between men and women, but a larger allegory to the imbalance between the toxic masculinity of mankind and the feminine spirit of nature. Thus, the real story inside Frankenstein isn’t the dear doctor and his monster. Instead, another battle rages between the lines that was just as relevant two centuries ago as it is today—that between science and its relentless goal to subjugate nature.
The battle begins in the first paragraphs. After being rescued by the charitable hands of a northern-bound sea vessel, Victor Frankenstein, mad scientist, declares, “I pursued nature to her hiding places,” where he was richly (and rather vainly) rewarded “…from the midst of [this] darkness, a sudden light broke in upon me – a light so brilliant and wondrous, yet so simple, that while I became dizzy with the immensity of the prospect which it illustrated, I was surprised that among so many men of genius…that I alone should be reserved to discover so astonishing a secret.” It is clear that Victor, an ambitious and excelled student of science, considers himself to have been deserved of such an “awesome power.” Upon learning nature’s secret, Frankenstein toils endlessly to demonstrate his newfound power in spite of the natural progression of life and death, proclaiming, “my eyes were insensible to the charms of nature.”
In the creation scene of Frankenstein, the intricacies of the creature’s birth are carefully avoided, conceding only that Victor himself “infuse[d] a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at [my] feet.” His scientific tools collected, Victor wields the power known only to him through the study of science (and careful dominance of nature) and brings to life the being he had formed: a man in his own image. But, though he had carefully selected each portion of his creature’s form, Frankenstein is displeased, even repulsed, by his own work upon seeing it alive. “Now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart”, confesses Victor after the birth of his Monster, after which he rushes from his laboratory, leaving his creature to survive and fend for itself, not unlike a snake, who abandons its young to the unknowns of the wild. In his single act of betrayal, Victor humanizes the creature in a creation story as vapid and callous as that of Genesis itself.
In the film adaptations of Frankenstein, extensive creative liberties are taken to illustrate the scene of Victor Frankenstein’s triumphant childbirth. In the 1931 classic, on the stormy eve that is to be the birth night of the Monster, Victor—along with his incompetent and creepy assistant Fritz—usher visitors into the laboratory, which doubles as a very untraditional delivery room, to witness the birth of his creation. Lightning flashes as Victor (recast as Henry), his white lab coat billowing in the tumultuous wind, harnesses the power of the storm (an angry outburst of a vengeful nature) and funnels the power of raw electricity into the corpse of the creature, endowing it with life. The delivery room audience watches in unbridled horror and amazement as Victor shrieks to no one and everyone: “It’s alive! It’s alive!” Similarly, in Kenneth Branaugh’s 1994 adaptation, a sweaty and heavy-breathing Victor pants his way through the assemblage of the scientific devices hooked to the creature’s metal placenta and watches in an open-mouthed, eyes glazed over daze as electric eels swim through the creature’s tubes of umbilical cord. Then, tearing the newborn creature from his metal womb, Victor attempts to wrestle the giant babe to standing in a sloppy, wet, clicking slime grossly reminiscent of embryonic fluid. The monster a failure, Victor looks on helplessly as the culmination of all his efforts hangs dangling from chains above the dirtied delivery room floor in a morbid demonstration of failed childbirth. “What have I done”, Victor whines.
The argument presented as to Frankenstein’s battle of science versus nature (and masculinity versus femininity) is beautifully surmised in critiques such as Anne K. Mellor’s Possessing Nature: The Female in Frankenstein. “When Victor Frankenstein identifies nature as female,” Mellor writes, “he participates in a gendered construction of the universe whose ramifications are everywhere apparent in Frankenstein.” Mellor goes beyond the symbolism of the creation scene of the novel and discusses the various female characters in the book and their sexist functions: “Inside the home, women are either kept as a kind of pet, or they work as housewives, child care providers, or nurses, or servants.” In a thoughtful analogy, Mellor examines the consequences of the division from feminism and the role of women in science as depicted by Shelley, and correlates this emotional vacancy in Victor as the reason he is unable to love or care for his creation and is such an unfit ‘father.’ In her conclusion, Mellor surmises: “At every level, Victor Frankenstein is engaged upon a rape of nature, a violent penetration and usurpation of the female’s “hiding places”, of the womb.”
Another thought-provoking critique is Mary Poovey’s My Hideous Progeny: The Lady and the Monster: “The monster is the victim of both the symbolic and the literal. And, as such, it is doubly like a woman in patriarchal society – forced to be a symbol of (and vehicle for) someone else’s desire, yet exposed (and exiled) as the deadly essence of passion itself”, writes Poovey. Later, Poovey further concludes that upon discovering the truths of his origin, from that time on the “monster’s attempts to deny its nature are as futile as they are desperate.”
The ongoing battle of male versus female rages covertly within the lines of Shelley’s watchful prose. Victor’s intense abhorrence of his disastrous creation, and the creature’s bittersweet revenge against his own maker, acutely portray the consequences of usurping the circular progression of nature, serving as a timeless reminder of the careful balance of ethics and responsibility inherent in discovery. Perhaps most horrifying in Shelley’s classic isn’t the monster itself, but the horror and despair wrought by the hands of a naïve and careless “man of genius” which acts as a beacon to remind humanity of our place in the natural world. Through the sadness and misery gleaned from the book’s unfortunate characters we are reminded that a step forward is not always progress and that nature will always exact her revenge. It’s a great lesson, beget at a great price—and it’s one we should be thinking about in today’s contentious climate where we continue to use science and technology to force the beautiful, natural world and its beings—particularly women—into subservience.
Last November, I achieved one thing that all (or at least most) early-career and aspiring writers dream of: I signed with a literary agency. I was lucky enough to achieve something of a double whammy when I signed with Gandolfo Helin & Fountain Literary Agency, earning representation on the literary side with publishing industry veteran Renee Fountain, and on the film/entertainment side with the ever-impressive Italia Gandolfo.
Now, everyone's publishing path is a bit different, and everyone's journey takes its own unique (and often very winding) road. Mine was the same. I've been writing for as long as I can remember. I've self-published under pseudonyms and I've published non-fiction with major traditional houses, but all the while my ultimate dream has been to be a novelist, replete with representation and a publicist and, hopefully, an advance nice enough that it kind of makes up for the hundreds of hours I spend in front of my laptop.
When I wrote my first book, The Isle of Gold, I didn't go the traditional route. I was lucky enough to land a publishing offer with an up-and-coming small press. The book itself--still a baby as it just released last October--has done well, but more importantly, it earned some really wonderful reviews from very well-respected outlets. It also introduced me to my publicist, Sarah Miniaci at Smith Publicity, who has coaxed me gently (read: pulled me kicking and screaming) into the barest bit of limelight with things like media interviews and blog tours (the horror). These experiences allowed me to parlay my very meager publishing success and footprint into my query for my next book. (I'm such a strategist...not really.)
When I finished my next project, I queried a few agents I'd had my eyes on. The process was sort of similar to sending in college applications; the list was comprised of the usual suspects, some pretty solid leads, and, of course, the reaches. I received some nice no-thank-yous, some non-responses, and a handful of requests for partials and fulls. But, along my journey, I also started talking to friends and peers in the writing community, particularly those who had endured good-bad-ugly experiences with their agents (or former agents). I spoke with friends, who talked about their agent experiences, I got active in Twitter’s booming #writersxommunity, I started writing columns and networking in the Women’s Fiction Association. Now, I know some people say publishing is more about who you know that what you've written, and I'm sure this is true in some cases, but it truly wasn't in mine even though I got “to know people.” Online friends became life support, colleagues became mentors, and slowly but surely I found a home amongst the bookish.
I found the agent I wanted to work with in Italia, who started out as a woman I was terrified of (in a good way!), became an ally, and a mentor, I polished up my package and sent it over.
About a week later, after Renee had finished reading the manuscript, Italia and Company made the very courageous and somewhat questionable decision (I kid, I kid) to sign me. I received other interest from my query attempts, but signing with Gandolfo Helin & Fountain had already begun to feel like home and putting my name on her contract was a no-brainer. So far, my manuscript has been sent to some pretty impressive houses, and while we're still working the process, I can't speak highly enough of these women who have brought me into their tribe. They're phenomenal, exercising the sort of patience and encouragement that a young writer needs in their corner. Between the two of them, they've answered probably hundreds of questions, listened to great and not-so-great ideas on my next projects, and talked me off a ledge or two. Most of all, they've shown me in just two months how empowering and inspiring having people who believe in you and your work is, and they've encouraged me to work even harder going forward.
For what it's worth, my best advice to writers seeking an agent is this: find your home. Find an agent who not only knows the business but who champions your project, and you. Find an agent you can be friends with because you will laugh, cry, and vent together, and probably both get on each other's nerves a LOT. And I know this sounds very trite, particularly when you're just seeking an agent, but at the end of the day I believe firmly that it's not just about the house or the agency or the royalty paycheck, it's about the shared passion for books, and finding an agent as passionate as you.