What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

Hey all,

Wow has this been a whirlwind week! I guess I’m still floating and spinning and grinning over finally signing with my agent. Click back to read last week’s post if you haven’t already!

But seriously, my head is swirling. Like I have no clue what day it is. Or if I already made breakfast for my son. I did right, or was that yesterday? Over the weekend I couldn’t remember what day I signed the contract. Was it last Tuesday or the week before? The kids go back to school soon, I know that. But is it next Wednedsday or the week after? Yikes! How many more days of summer vacation are there? (For the record, there’s 7. ) I’m usually an on-top-of-things kind of girl, but this week has knocked me off my game. Even if it is in the best way possible!

I remember when my daughter was born and I was about to be discharged from the hospital. The midwife told me I couldn’t drive for two weeks. I felt fine and asked her why exactly. She said she had no medical answer to give me, but merely a practical one. She told me that new moms are in la-la land after giving birth. They have so many thoughts and worries and random images (especially of the baby) swirling in their heads that they can be easily distracted while driving.

Hmm. I remember that time, and she was right. And I haven’t felt that way again—until now.

I guess my book baby has sent me to la-la land this week too!

Feeling this way has made me ask myself over and over,”What have I gotten myself into?” Not in a bad way, but in a OMG, am I ready for all this, kind of way.

Embarking on this next stage in my writing journey is like teetering on the edge of a cliff ready to dive into the azure waters below. It’s scary and exciting facing the unknown, even though no one is pushing me off this cliff. I’m opting to jump into this crazy adventure on purpose!

But still. Will I be able to handle the deadlines? Will I be able to polish this story to shine, sparkly enough that it will sell? Will I be able to write any words again? Will my next book live up my agent’s expectations like this one did and become something that people want to read?

And then I think of how long I have been walking towards this cliff (I mean waiting for this next step!) and all I can think is “Of course, I can!” Besides, I get to work with agent of fabulous, Rebecca Angus. So bring it on!!

And I also think of all the comments and good wishes I’ve gotten in person and through Facebook and on Twitter…all this amazing support. And I definitely know I can do it.

The thing is, all this attention (even for a few days) on social medial IS a little overwhelming. I didn’t think it would make me feel uneasy. I didn’t think sharing the details of my journey so publicly would be a big deal. Like I said, it’s amazing to feel the love, and to know I’m inspiring even one writer to keep at it.

But then a well meaning friend shares my agent announcement on Facebook which is so sweet BTW. But in doing so she mentions that I am about to become a published author.

Wait. Whoa. Hold on! That’s not what I said. I have an agent. I’m hoping she can sell my book baby to a publisher. But let’s not get ahead of outselves. That hasn’t happened yet. Gulp. Getting an agent is a huge deal to me. But by announcing that, I didn’t mean for people to think I’m published yet.

*cue the head spinning and feeling like a fraud because I’m not actually published yet*

I forget sometimes that not everyone is fully engrossed in the writing world like I am. Like my writing friends are. They don’t know exaclty what it means to have an agent. They are just happy to hear my news. So instead of allowing my head to spin off my shoulders, I breathe deep breaths and thank them for being happy for me. Even if they think my book is about to magically appear on bookstore bookshelves tomorrow!

Maybe that’s why jumping off this cliff is so exciting. I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen next. I don’t know how this next stage in my quest to get my book baby in the hands of young readers will play out. But that’s okay. It’s kind of like watching one word after another magically appear on the page when I’m drafting a new story. It’s a feeling like no other. One word. Then the next. And then somehow, I have a whole bunch of words dancing together. It will happen the way it’s going to happen- one day and one milestone at a time. And hopefully somewhere along the way, there WILL be dancing!

And besides, I won’t be jumping off the cliff alone. I have a very dear friend jumping into the azure blue waters with me…

I am so ecstatic to share that just yesterday, my fabulous CP signed with her dream agent too!!!

Congratulations, Melyssa Mercado. I am bonkers happy that this is happening for you and that we will be cliff jumping together!! (Hopefully the water will be warm. And we won’t crack our heads open on any rocks. Oh, and our bathing suits don’t fall off.

So guys, click to read Mel’s Agent Announcement. You’ll know just from reading her post why she is well on her way to getting her book baby out there. She’s funny, adorable, and has the Best. Voice. Ever!

Thanks for reading my rambles today. Now go out there and write something. You know you want to. And remember, I’ll be cheering for you every step of the way!! 🙂 And now I’m off. I have another story to write while I wait for my revision notes from Rebecca to come. Yay. I can’t wait! This jump off the cliff is going to be fun! 🙂

I Have an Agent Announcement!

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but the moments that take our breath away.

Hey Everyone,

I have news that I can finally share…

I have an agent!!!

After 8 years of writing, revising, querying, waiting, hoping, dreaming, and wishing to find the perfect Literary Agent to represent me and my middle grade work, I am thrilled to finally say…

I am now represented by the amazing Rebecca Angus of Golden Wheat Literary!

Please excuse me while I faint a little on the keyboard of my laptop. And then pinch myself, because I’m still overwhelmed and shocked that I’m not dreaming any of this. I mean 8 years, three manuscripts and loads of rejections in a supremely competitive marketplace has been my world until one week ago!

If you’re interested to read on, I’ll share with you the story of how my writing career changed in one normal day. Just one. It wasn’t too long ago that I mentioned on this blog that I’ve never dreaded Mondays the way many people do. I see each Monday as a day full of endless possibilities for the week to come. ( A little sappy, I know!) At the time though, I had no idea how true that statement would soon become for me.

My writing journey began eight years ago with a middle grade manuscript and a dream to become a published author. I whipped out an entire novel in 6 months flat and sent it out to one literary agent after another, positive that each one would be the one. If I knew then that it would actually take me three manuscripts, many more revisions, countless rejections and all this time to get to this point, I’m not sure I would have pressed on. Wow, am I glad I’m a patient person.

So how exactly did this big moment finally happen for me?

In May of 2011, I was in the process of querying my second novel. I was also fresh off a trip to the University Maryland for the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals (a creative problem solving competition) with my team of 11 year-olds. It was an unforgettable experience and I decided right then, that I needed to write a new middle grade story. Not about Odyssey of the Mind specifically but about 5 kids who embark on an unforgettable journey. What that journey would be, I wasn’t yet sure, but I knew that it had to be special. It had to be amazing. It had to be over the top.

And so I spent the next year brainstorming what this story should look like. I began drafting in the spring of 2012, and by late spring of 2013 I had a completed draft and somewhat revised manuscript. I wasn’t ready to query yet though. The story needed polishing, and many more revisions.

I continued to revise over the summer and in the fall I found an amazing soon to be published critique partner on a blog I had been a long time reader of, Miss Snark’s First Victim. And though separated by hundreds of miles, she was able to help make the story stronger. She also walked me through her publishing process. I learned so much from her and made a special friend as well. Faithful readers to this site will know I’m talking about Beth Hautala, author of the amazing MG novel, Waiting For Unicorns. I am so grateful for her early feedback on this book.

While Beth was reading for me, I began work on my query letter, knowing that I’d be sending it out to literary agents  eventually. Soon after, I saw that a well respected agent was hosting a query letter event—a mock slush pile read. In it, she would tell participating writers whether or not she would reject it if it came across her desk (and why) or if she would request additional pages. I was anxious to hear what she thought because she had requested the full of my second novel ( and eventually passed) the year before. To my shock and surprise my letter was one of 5 out of 616 that received a request for the full manuscript! As in, she wanted to read the whole MS, giving me a shot at representation (again)!

Say what?? I nearly fell off my chair when I got that email.

So naturally I panicked because this story had been read by no one yet. (Except a few chapters by Beth, but I hadn’t gotten her feedback yet). My two critique groups for my earlier manuscripts had kind of disbanded and I hadn’t found anyone else to read  for me yet. My husband, like the Prince Charming with no writing experience that he is, offered to read it—to at least let me know about any glaring mistakes. So on a business flight across country, he emailed me and texted me page numbers where he needed clarification and where he saw typos. I was so thankful for his sharp eye and support on the fly!

Months later, the agent politely declined to represent me. But what she offered instead was priceless. She emailed me pages of feedback detailing the strengths of the MS and her suggestions for how to make it stronger.  She loved the concept, characters, and story but advised me to make some changes to make it strong enough for representation  before querying other agents. She saw potential but not for her own list. I couldn’t believe an agent would take the time to help a writer who she had no plans to represent.

It took me over a year (with work and family commitments) to make the changes based on Beth’s feedback and the agent’s feedback too. It was a frustrating time because the changes were not major but I had little time to work on it! But as I chipped away (lots of late nights and early mornings) I saw my manuscript  improving.

But still my manuscript was not ready. Call me picky but I knew it needed more work.

Enter fall of 2014. A new reader of this blog contacted me about becoming critique partners. She and I were in similar situations. We both wrote MG. We both had written several manuscripts. We both had received countless rejections, but we both also had a fiery determination to improve and make our stories stronger.  We clicked right away, and I knew at once that not only would her feedback be invaluable, her friendship would be too. And I was right! The feedback I got from Melyssa Mercado was spot on and amazingly insightful. My story is what it is because of her and I value her friendship and support immensely. I began the querying process soon after, even though Mel was still working on my chapters. I couldn’t help it. I knew it was too soon but I was impatient and had waited so long to get this story out there.

So I sent the first round of queries out – 6 in all and got one partial request.  That agent eventually passed so I stopped querying. I did however participate in my first Twitter pitch event, #Pitmad. It was a great experience. I made many new great writer friends, received two requests on my pitch, and soon submitted my query and pages to those agents. One requested additional pages, but ultimately she passed as well.

During this time, I also submitted to Pitch Wars, an event hosted by Brenda Drake, where published authors can choose to mentor you in order to make your manuscript perfect and attract the attention of agents. I was not chosen, but the feedback on my query letter and first chapter was extremely helpful. Each mentor had a fresh perspective and made me look at my story in a new way. It was just the kick in the pants my query letter and opening pages needed.

Throughout the winter, I worked hard to revise based on those comments and Mel’s feedback too, but decided to wait on submitting until she was finished with my book.

In May 2015, after Mel finished, I began round 2. I queried six more agents. This time, I received no requests. Discouraged, I began to think I was pitching this book all wrong—again.

In June, I decided to enter the next #PitMad Twitter event, in hopes of attracting the attention of agents (again). I received several favorites on my pitches this time, three from small presses, one from an agent who had already passed on my MS, and one from Jessica Schmeidler at Golden Wheat Literary, a brand new literary agency. Intrigued, I submitted to Jessica the first three chapters and synopsis, and waited for her response.

Soon after, in July, I changed my query letter and my opening pages and decided to go ahead with round three—another six agents. I received a few rejections from these and honestly just waited for the rest of the rejections to come in.

Weeks later, I learned that Pitch Wars, the mentor competition I had entered last year was coming up. I decided to enter, thinking even if I didn’t get picked for mentoring, I may get useful feedback on why my query letter and opening pages were not hooking the right agent for my book. (As I did the year before.) So I decided not to query another agent or enter another contest until I got their feedback. I figured it was a waste of time anyway. If my query and opening pages weren’t strong enough, why bother? So, I spent the next week polishing my submission materials for Pitch Wars.

But around 7am on July 15th, I woke up, glanced at my Twitter feed, and noticed another pitch party was happening that day, #Pit2Pub. I wasn’t at all prepared to participate in this one. I didn’t have a ton of pitches ready and I didn’t feel like being tethered to Twitter all day, getting my hopes up once again. Besides, I had decided enough was enough for a while. But something convinced me to throw a couple of pitches out anyway and see what happens.

So I tweeted two pitches. Just two. Definitely not enough to catch an agent’s eye as the fast moving twitter feed rolled by. I actually did get two favorites though, but from small e-book publishers. I was happy they were interested, but really I was still holding out hope that an agent would fall in love with my book and help me get it traditionally published.

The next day, On July 16th, I got a notification from Twitter. I had another favorite on my pitch! And it was from an agent, Rebecca Angus. I looked her up and (almost) to my dismay, I realized she was also an agent at Golden Wheat Literary. Translation: It was the same agency that I had already submitted my chapters to, not another agency interested in my book. But I was excited thinking that maybe my book would be a good fit for their agency since now two agents there had favorited my pitches! So…since Jessica had not yet responded about my book, I sent a her a message asking how I should proceed. I also thanked Rebecca for her interest but pointed out that Jessica had my chapters already. Later that day, Jessica forwarded my chapters to Rebecca, whom she thought might be a better fit for my book.

Okay then. I was excited, but not jumping for joy. Why? Well, lots of agents had read the opening chapters of my manuscript—16 so far. And they had all rejected it. And I had been through this whole process with my other two manuscripts also, so I was used to not getting my hopes up. But still the wait began—again!

On July 22nd, I received an email from Rebecca Angus. She told me she loved my first few chapters and would like to read the full manuscript if it was still available! So of course I did a mini happy dance and sent her the full within the next few minutes.

For days I tried to forget that my book baby was in Rebecca’s hands, tried to forget that she could be the agent that finally loved it as much as me, tried to ward off negative thoughts and stay positive. But it was hard! I researched Golden Wheat Literary. I stalked Rebecca. Lol She followed me on Twitter! (gasp!) I followed her right back. I followed her clients. And mostly I tried to not get my hopes up. But I realized a LONG time ago, that doesn’t work anyway. Think positive. Picture the outcome you desire, blah, blah, blah…

A few weeks passed and suddenly it was August 10th.

A Monday. The day of the week most full of possibilities. 🙂

Rebecca emailed me in the afternoon. She said she had read halfway through my manuscript and adored it so far. She wondered if it was still available and asked me a question.

I practically passed out. She adored it so far! She adored it so far! OMG she adored it so far!

I thanked her for her kind words, told her I hoped the rest could live up to her expectations, answered her question and then waited to hear from her again.  And then I held my breath.

But I didn’t have to hold it long.

Rebecca emailed me later that evening. She told me she had finished my manuscript and it was everything she hoped it would be and more! She said it again in all caps. She loved my story so much and wanted to set up a call to talk about representation. She wanted to call me!

I read her email and my eyes filled.  My breath caught and I almost broke down. Was this really happening to me? Had Rebecca just offered to represent me?

I raced down the stairs to find my husband (my prince Charming who saved the day with this manuscript two years earlier). He screamed and hugged me. I beamed and called for my kids. They screamed and hugged me too. I turned around in circles, and spewed some incoherent words, not sure what to do next.

I tried to respond to Rebecca’s email but all I could think to write was OMG! OMG! OMG!  So I decided to wait awhile before drafting that response!

Eventually I remembered how to think again and we set up The Call for three days later. That night we spoke on the phone for over two hours. She told me what she loved about my book, her very specific plan for submitting it, and more. So much more. We clicked immediately and I knew from the first few moments that Rebecca and Golden Wheat Literary would be the perfect fit for me and for my MG story.

She had been an Odyssey of the Mind kid. She understood the over the top world I had tried to create in my story. She loved the voice. She loved the characters. She loved the themes. She loved the futuristic elements. She loved the conflict. Listening to her gush about my little story, I felt like she loved it as much as I did. And I knew without a doubt that she was the right advocate for me and for my work.

At the end of The Call, she officially offered to represent me and a half hour later, I had a contract in my hand! Rebecca gave me time to think it over an urged me to let any agents who had chapters of my ms know that I had an offer on the table and give them a chance to respond.

As you can imagine, the next week was agonizingly slow. I nudged the other agents and had a request from one of the top ones on my list.  Ultimately though, my decision was easy. I really no longer wanted representation by any of the other agents. I had an offer from my dream agent. I didn’t want to wait! But I did wait the appropriate time. It was professional courtesy after all.

Rebecca and I corresponded all week. She answered my neurotic questions and sent me amazing messages about my book on Twitter. I was anxious and excited and just wanted to make it official.

Finally, I contacted Rebecca Angus, literary agent extraordinaire, thanked her again for the offer, told her I would be honored to work with her and Golden Wheat Lit, and signed the contract. Then I covered my face and let out a breath I had been holding for eight long years.

I have an agent! I have an agent! I have an agent! And I feel so very blessed!

So for all of you who think your time will never come, think again…

“All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”  ~ Walt Disney

Thank you to all of you (my husband, my children, my family, my friends, my critique partners, my writing peeps, and those involved in PitchWars and #Pit2Pub) who believed that I could reach this milestone. It means everything to me…

But now the hard work begins.  My book isn’t on bookstore bookshelves just yet. But at least this is a start! 🙂

It’s swirl and spark’s 2nd Birthday!

So, my Website/ Blog Baby is 2 years old today!

I love acknowledging milestones, both big and small and so I couldn’t possibly let this moment pass without letting you know!

I think back to my very first post and I can’t believe how long ago it seems. Back then I would refresh my computer every four minutes to see if anyone had clicked on the site. (Hardly anyone ever did!) I specifically remember one day when I looked and the site had gotten like 22 views. 22! I called out to everyone within earshot. Screaming, yelling, squealing! “Someone’s on my site. I’ve gotten 22 views in the last five minutes!” Only to hear the small voice of my then 13 year old son say, “Oh sorry, Mom. That was me I think. I’m on your site right now.”

Lol. And oh well. 🙂

Wow. What a difference two years makes! I don’t refresh this site every four minutes anymore. And I get way more views than 22 now from people who aren’t even my family members. In fact, now 22 views would be a VERY slow day on the site and it gets views from all over the country and even in countrys from the other side of the world from me. How cool is that?? But the biggest gift this site has given me is a means to connect with other writers.

So, thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you who stop by to read what I have to say. I’m glad you’re finding something useful here. Please continue to reach out to me. I love interacting with you and hearing of your journeys through the publishing process, your love of books, or even about your love of creating stories. We’re all in this togeether, right? So feel free to tell me what’s on your mind!

It’s been crazy around here these last few weeks. I’ve been trying to take advantage of of summer with my husband and kids, all while tackling writing related projects and new possibilities.  🙂  So stop back, okay? I promise to resume my regularly scheduled Wednesday post next week!

In the meantime, for those of you who are wondering if your stories will ever make it, if anyone will ever love your story as much as you do…I say, “Yes! They will!” Just keep writing the story that means the most to you. Give it your heart and soul and the rest will work itself out.

Have an amazing weekend, my friends! xoxo

What Your MC Really (Really) Wants

Hey guys,

Sorry I’m a day late posting. Many times I’ve written my posts ahead of time, but this week was not one of those times. And so when I sat down yesterday morning to write, my thoughts were consumed with my query letter. (As they are sometimes.) I had this nagging suspicion that my query wasn’t getting to the heart of my story. And even though I’ve revised it like a million times and had my CPs give me their thoughts on it, somehow it felt flat to me. I just couldn’t figure out why.

I re-read it again, with one question in mind: Would a person read it and say, “Oh My Gosh, I need to read this story!?”

So here’s the thing. I think my story has a cool concept—like really cool. But my query letter was focusing too much on this really cool concept/ situation/ world, and not enough on the emotion behind the characters who will live there. Sure I talk about what my MC wants and what she needs to overcome to get it, but not enough about WHY getting it is so very important to her. Yes, my stakes are clear. Yes, the obstacles are clear. But is that really enough to root for her page after page?

Think about this. How many of you are sports fans? Well, even if you aren’t, I’m sure you’ve still heard about the Super Bowl. When two professional sports teams play in the covented game, both teams want to win. But how do we choose who to cheer for? If you’re a football fan, you may have a favorite team playing or a favorite player playing. That’ll make the choice easy. But for those of us unfamiliar with the teams, just getting into the action on SuperBowl Sunday, we need more information in order to choose. We need to hear some personal stories. We need to connect emotionally on some level to one of the players, the coaches or the teams. So we tune in for the interviews and the stories. Once we do that, we will cheer for them until the last touchtown, even if we don’t care one bit about the game of football.

Fiction is the same way. We don’t need to care all that much about whether your MC wants to win the world knitting championship. But if we know that said MC learned to knit while being teased during recess, and winning will make her finally feel good about herself, then we will cheer for her on her quest. We sympathize with her because maybe we were teased on the playground. Whatever the reason, we want to see the MC succeed.

And that’s what I think has been missing from my query letter. Sure, the reader will know what my MC wants to achieve, the obstacles in her way, and what will happen to her if she doesn’t succeed. But  what’s important to know and to include is WHY this is so important to her.

And so yesterday, (instead of writing my planned blog post) I dug deep to think about what my MC really wants—not the external (physical) goal, but her emotional goal.  And these are two very different things for her. The reason she wants what she wants (physical goal) is emotional in nature. This is basically the heart of my story. My MC really just wants to fit in someplace. She fears that if she doesn’t reach her physical goal, then she will never fit into the actual place where she will end up. And that to her, is a very scary, lonely place.

That’s the part that’s been missing in my query letter and even in my opening pages .

I think it’s important to completely understand what your character wants (really wants) when writing your story—or your query letter. Because what your character thinks she wants may only be a means to getting what she really wants deep down on an emotional level. This is the part that will hook your reader and make them want to read on. A solid emotional connection will make them follow your MC to knitting class or to an underwater fantasy land. It doesn’t matter that much if they don’t care why they’re going there. It helps if it’s a cool place, but it matters more if there’s a solid reason why.

I hope this helps you get to the heart of your story and ultimately to the heart of your opening pages and query letter. This realization today definitly helped me. 🙂

Have a great week, my friends! I hope it’s fantastic and fun… xoxo