The One Where I Get A Book Deal

One night, October 2013, I wrote four words. It was a very simple line, but I sat back and stared at it for a while:

“Two o’clock was missing.”

“Huh,” I said.

I wrote a lot more words after those ones. Soon, I had an exceptionally rough draft of a book. This process wasn’t new to me; I had written a dozen books before this one, ever since writing my first (very long, very bad) novel at 15.

But this was different.

 

 

First, it was YA, and I was used to writing adult. Second, it was historical fantasy, not high fantasy. I really had no idea what I was doing, but I was writing about boys and clocks and depression and how it’s possible to regain lost hope—and it weaved a spell over me.

I’ve been through a lot of highs and lows with this book. I loved it. I hated it. I dreamed about it. I shoved it into a corner. I revised and revised and revised and revised.

I wrote two more books, turning it into a trilogy.

“What the hell am I doing?” I asked myself. “Why am I making this harder?”

 

Tom Hiddleston Shocked animated GIF

 

It had branded itself on me. These books, these characters, refused to let me go. I went to conferences and took notes and entered contests and rewrote my query a million times. I did everything humanly possible to understand—really, truly understand—how this game works, how this story works, how we fit into things.

Then, a miracle: an agent loved my book enough to offer representation. Since signing with the wonder that is Laura Crockett, I have traveled a million miles in just a few months. (Kind of literally, since I had a huge trip to India right in the middle of all this).

It was so crazy. Revisions, and submission, and hoping and despairing and bouncing between high and low, high and low. Caught between manic flights of euphoria and black days of wondering what the point was.

I’m going to annoy all of you and just say it: It really only does take one “yes.”

 

Doctor Who Yes animated GIF

 

Now I can finally, finally, finally say that my YA trilogy, TIMEKEEPER, is going to be published by Sky Pony Press. The first book comes out fall of 2016. Here’s the official announcement:

Timekeeper announcement

I’ve learned recently how scary and exhilarating it is to trust someone else with your story, but if that someone loves your characters and world as much as you do, like my editor Alison Weiss does, then you are gold. I’m thrilled to be in this situation, to learn more, to see where everything goes from here.

I’ve written thousands, if not millions, of words.

But I never imagined that the doorway to my dream would appear with just four.

 

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Ten Things About My Writing

Inspired by my agent sister Clarissa Harwood, who posted ten random things about her writing process, I thought it would be fun to do the same. Writers can get so deep inside their own heads that we sometimes forget others have quirky, weird habits too. Without further ado, here are mine!

 

  1. I use Post-It notes. A lot of Post-It notes. I have to organize my notebooks a certain way, so if I think of an idea, need to remember a detail, or write a question that’ll need to be answered later, I slap on a sticky note.
  1. When I’m REALLY in the groove, I will not stop for anything until I finish the scene/chapter. No bathroom breaks, food, tea, etc.

  1. The music I listen to changes depending on what project I’m working on. For instance, TIMEKEEPER is a lot of Lindsey Stirling, Ellie Goulding, and the Hunger Games soundtracks. My adult fantasy series makes me turn to Keane, Imagine Dragons, and Florence and the Machine.
  1. I have a thing about green eyes. A lot of my protagonists have green eyes, but I’m getting better about that.
  1. When I’m not in the mood to write in the actual MS, I write drabbles. Lots and lots and lots of them. AU drabbles, before-story and after-story drabbles, “between scenes” drabbles, sexy drabbles, sad drabbles, “what if” drabbles, etc.

  1. Reading the opposite genre of the one I’m currently writing tends to inspire me more than reading in the same genre.
  1. When I have a “eureka!” moment I get so excited I go “OH, OH, OH” and pace around and grin maniacally. I am so glad these happen when no one else is around.
  1. My cat knows when I’m in the middle of an important scene, because she will start crawling all over me.

  1. One of my favorite (if not my favorite) writing techniques is foreshadowing. I like to write a book/series all the way through and go back to the beginning to add levels of foreshadowing. The sort of details a reader won’t actually notice until they reread it and go “OHHHH!”
  1. I like doing personality-type things for my characters. Like figuring out which Hogwarts house they would be in.

 

So, there are my ten random writing facts. What are yours?

The Importance of Worldbuilding in Contemporary Novels

If you’re an avid reader and writer of fantasy books (like yours truly), you know how important worldbuilding is. Worldbuilding is the backbone of any good fantasy story; without a unique world, you have very little to run with.

Just look at Tolkien. He wrote hundreds of pages of worldbuilding, and as a result, readers know exactly how his world functions. People made video games based on his world. They made role playing games set in his world. They made movies about his world. People get into fights all the time about small nuances in his world!

But what I think some people forget (and I’m not excluded from that generality) is the fact that all stories need worldbuilding. Whether you’re writing a fantasy or literary novel, it needs to be there, in some capacity. The only difference will be how much you need, depending on genre.

Recently I decided to embark on a journey that I never thought I’d take: writing a contemporary YA book.

I read a lot of contemporary, and what I’ve found is that you can’t just rely on quirky, fun, or meaningful characters; you also need a world to put them in. I imagine several people think, “Well, it’s the real world. That’s the world.” Trust me, I thought the same thing, once. It’s why I write so much fantasy.

BUT.

Even if it is set in our world, we need to be specific. Which country? Which state? Which town? Where do they like to eat? Are there any monuments? Are there any weird laws? What’s the society like? Are there dog parks, or are people petitioning for one? Is there a creepy guy with a rifle who sits out on his porch at night? Are there any unique festivals or customs?

The best stories, no matter the genre, draw you not only into the characters’ minds—they draw you into their world.

Example: In SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, we see unique details through Simon’s eyes, such as the sheet cakes his friend brings in whenever someone has a birthday (and the fact that no one can get a piece unless they’re wearing a party hat). We also see the preparation for homecoming and how their location in the south influences Simon’s class to choose “country music” as their theme.

These might feel like small things, but when you put them together in a book, they develop a world for your characters to explore. And through those characters, the reader can enjoy the world too.

 

Book Soundtracks – Writing with Music

A lot of writers I know have particular songs they associate with their projects. Famous authors such as Rainbow Rowell keep playlists for books they write and then share them with their fans. I think this is a really cool idea: sharing your book music with others. It helps both the writer and the reader envision the story better.

So, what sort of music should you be looking for? That’s entirely up to you. For me, when I hear a certain song and the lyrics and/or tone fit perfectly with a character, or theme, or even just one particular scene, my brain floods with images of my story. It even pumps me up for writing and editing later on.

If anyone is interested, I compiled my Timekeeper soundtrack here: https://play.spotify.com/user/tssim53/playlist/2kQ7JKXm7OIg0U03QqkHD9

What sort of music best fits your book?

How I Got My Literary Agent (A Tale of Heartbreak and Stubbornness)

I just have to lead into this by saying: I NOW HAVE A LITERARY AGENT! And wow, that feels great to say. The path that led to this was not easy. It is one of the most difficult things I have ever done, but I am so glad I pushed myself to get to this point.

I’ve known that this is what I wanted ever since I wrote my first book at 15. The book that got me this agent is my 10th. Some of these books are unfit to see the light of day, and I only tried querying a couple of times before I got too intimidated and just focused on writing new things instead. This eventually led me to my latest project, a YA trilogy. And I knew this would be the one.

I wrote the first book late 2013, taking a grand total of two weeks. Yeah. The first draft wasn’t great. I didn’t touch it again until 2014, when I went to the San Francisco Writer’s Conference in February. THAT was an eye-opener. I was one of the youngest writers there (“You’re how old?!” was something I heard a lot) and I certainly felt like it. YA is a new category for me writing-wise, so I spent all my time at the conference learning, taking notes, talking to writers experienced in the category. I was once again intimidated, but energized.

I slunk back into the writing cave and took a grindstone to the book. I felt curiously confident and not-confident at the same time. After a while, I decided to finally send out the dreaded queries.

“It’ll be fine,” I thought. “I’ve gotten rejections before.”

It was not fine.

When I first started writing at 14/15, I had an ego. The first short story I ever submitted got accepted, people praised me all the time in high school, etc. Over the years, however, this ego steadily deflated, until I started to quake behind my manuscripts. As the agent rejections kept rolling in, the more and more my book, my shield, kept shredding in my hands.

I changed my query multiple times. I kept tinkering with the book. I didn’t know what else to do. But then I heard about this awesome thing called Pitch Wars. I entered and was chosen by an amazing mentor, Liz Briggs, who helped me patch the book up. It was that book that I sent to my now-agent, who had initially read the partial and told me, “This isn’t enough. I need more.”

Then followed one of the most stressful months of my life.

stress

I felt like everything around me was being sucked into a vacuum. I suffered panic attacks and days where I didn’t want to do anything but stay in bed. I even wondered what would happen if I just deleted the book completely. It was extreme thinking, but I was in an extreme place, and while I got used to agent rejection, every single one of them still hurt like a dagger between my ribs.

One night, I noticed an agent who had my book had followed me on Twitter.

“That can’t be right,” I said. I tried not to get my hopes up. But in the weeks that followed I noticed a steady interest in my social media presence, and I couldn’t help but get my hopes up.

It got to the point where I actually had a dream about this agent accepting me (on the condition I brought a pot roast to the office. I don’t know, it was a dream, okay?) Little did I know that same day, my literal and figurative dream was about to come true, sans pot roast.

I had always fantasized about getting “The Call,” but when it actually happened, I just couldn’t process it. I was at my day job, stepped away from my phone to get lunch, and came back to the voicemail I had been pining for. I couldn’t eat. I just sat there staring at food that was getting cold.

I mean, I eventually called her back and everything, but those few minutes were totally surreal. I thought, “This can’t be happening to me, the book is horrible, I’m horrible, did she even read it?!”

Yeah, it was happening. To me.

No pot roast required.

You bet your ass I celebrated.

I contacted all the other agents to get their verdict, waited some more, and finally made my decision—which I’d known all along from the gut feeling I had since that first phone call. I am happy to say that I am now represented by Laura Crockett and Uwe Stender at TriadaUS Literary Agency, who have shown me nothing but excitement and kindness so far in this crazy turn of events.

While it’s not the last step in the journey, it’s still a big one, and I’m thrilled to have advocates at my side to help me the rest of the way.

Somewhere in the mess of time, 15-year-old me is throwing 25-year-old me a smirk and saying, “See? I told you.”

 

Stats:

Querying time: 11 months

Total queries sent: 44

# of partials requested: 7

# of fulls requested: 12

Offers: 2

My Third “Third Book”

I recently came to an interesting realization: I am currently in the middle of writing my third “third book.” The first was the last of a trilogy I started in high school, the second is the third installment in a series I started a few years ago, and right now I’m in the trenches of the third book of a YA trilogy.

And I realized something else: third books are the hardest books I have ever written.

I don’t know what it is, but for these three different projects, it all came down to the same exact formula:

Book One – “Eh, it’s not perfect and I’ll need to revise it a million times, but I’m still pretty proud of it.”

Book Two – “Holy crap this is awesome!”

Book Three – “Everything seems to be going oka—WHAT THE HELL IS THIS”

The first books are where you get the lay of the land, the feel of the story, the scope of the characters. The second book is a little more familiar, but still in that lovely stage of discovery.

The third book?

Well, the third book is usually when everything goes to hell, and apparently I go to hell right along with it. “Is this okay? Does this character’s journey make sense? Is this ‘big’ enough? Does it fit with everything that happened in the first two books?”

Not that I don’t think these third books aren’t good, or that I shouldn’t have written them. I just feel that by the third book, I get really tangled up in the world and characters, and it messes with me a bit. All I see is the ending, and instead of strolling to it like I would in the first two books, now I’m sprinting towards it and waving my arms and yelling like a lunatic.

JUST STAY RIGHT THERE I’LL BE THERE IN A MOMENT

 

Of course, all of this can be fixed in revisions, and I can address those questions when the first draft is finished. Still, the actual writing of a third book is intimate and challenging, and usually makes me want to rock back and forth while eating lots and lots of ice cream.

But I still love writing them.

 

Subjectivity (and Why it Sucks)

Recently, I participated in a contest on the “Adventures in YA Publishing” blog called Pitch Plus 5—and won! Well, I was one of two grand prize winners, but it’s still a win. It was a fun and exciting contest, and I loved reading so many different stories/pitches. But it also taught me more about how subjective the whole publishing market is.

For each round of the contest, we were scored by anonymous judges, ranging from bloggers to published authors to literary agents. By the last round, I got a lot of contradictory feedback. One judge thought my opening image was super strong, and another thought it was really weak. Someone else was confused by a story detail, another didn’t have a problem understanding it.

angry animated GIF

Basically, subjectivity is the worst. The actual worst.

I was also subjective about some of the stuff I was reading. One entry really wasn’t for me at all, but a lot of other people enjoyed it. I loved another that wasn’t getting love from anyone else. Agents function this way, whether we like it or not. If your story resonates with one, great. If not, then keep going until you find that one.

If you’re anything like me and second-guess EVERYTHING, then all this contradictory feedback can be detrimental. Somehow, you have to find a way to focus on what’s working and what you can do to tweak what isn’t working.

The important thing to take away from it? Your book is never going to please everybody. So write it for yourself, and for those who will rave about it—because they will. If you love it, chances are someone else will too.

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