What a Difference a Year Makes

DSC_3058

The 2013 Ozarks Romance Authors Conference was on Saturday. I was having a horrible hair day. I thought I’d lead with that, because in every other way, my day was so fantastic, I feel obnoxious even talking about it. Not that that’s going to stop me.

My day started bright and early as I set up my portable photo studio for author headshots. I made a new friend who helped carry my equipment and set up—thanks, Quillen! Every single person was on time and an absolute pleasure to work with. I photographed twenty-three people and only had to miss one program to do it. Woohoo!

Next on the agenda: my pitch session with Foreword Literary Agent Laurie McLean. If you read my last blog post, you know how my first pitch went at ORAcon 2012. Well, this year I was ready with a carefully honed and rehearsed spiel—and I didn’t need a word of it. Laurie was one of the final judges in the ORA Weta Nichols Writing Competition, and my novel, The Amulet of Isis, was a finalist in the YA category. That meant she’d already read the first twelve pages and knew she wanted to see more. She was so easy to talk to, the pitch was actually fun. Honestly, I don’t know how it could have gone better.

After that, I had about an hour before my next round of photo sessions, so I squeezed in Shawntelle Madison and Jeannie Lin’s packed program on world building. My head was spinning, but I tried to focus on the great information being presented. All of the programs were fantastic. Our conference chair, Cecily White, did an incredible job once again rounding up amazing speakers for us. I have lots of notes to go through!

DSC_2689

And then lunch. Yum. Seriously. My mouth is watering just thinking about that pecan pie.

For me, one of the highlights of the afternoon was the Query Letter Gong Show, where agents and editors read query letters looking for problems that would make them stop reading. It’s nerve-wracking and sometimes painful, but getting that kind of feedback can be invaluable, so of course I submitted my letter. It was the first one up. My voice shook as I read my text, but I made it to the end with no gong. Then Laurie said, “It wasn’t fair to start with this one, because it’s perfect!”

DSC_3052

After that, my day really didn’t need to get any better. But it did. As I mentioned, my novel was a finalist in the annual writing competition. I was convinced the best I could hope for was second place, but I was wrong. First place. I teared up.

DSC_3075crop

I could write pages about all the high points of the weekend—the things I learned, the great conversations with other writers, the huge turnout for the conference . . . . But I’m out of energy. And superlative adjectives.

Yes, my head is a little swollen after a day like that. But no worries, my friends, I have painfully blunt critique partners who will help shrink it back to size.

A Pitch–and a Hit! (Sort Of)

The 2013 Ozarks Romance Authors convention is a week from tomorrow. Know what that means? Time to get ready for my agent pitch!

Batter Hitting Baseball

Nothing to stress about, right? After all, I’ve pitched this book before. Well . . . sort of. Here’s what went down.

I walked into my first-ever pitch session with two pages of story notes clutched in my shaking hand. Notes for a story I’d only begun plotting in earnest two weeks before.

When I signed up, I assumed I would be pitching the contemporary romance I’d been working on for the past year. It still wasn’t finished, but the conference organizer assured me it was okay to practice pitch an unfinished novel just for the experience—as long as you’re upfront about it.

As the conference approached, I realized I would never finish this novel. It wasn’t the right project—or genre—for me. If it was going to be a practice pitch anyway, why not pitch the book I really wanted to write? Um, because I hadn’t even started it yet and only had a rough idea of the plot? Yeah, that little voice of reason inside your head can be annoying, can’t it? Ignore it. I did.

I hated feeling like I was wasting the agent’s time. Guilt and nervousness make a really unpleasant combination, by the way. But I ignored my roiling stomach and walked into the room. The agent stared back at me, disapproval radiating from her face as I explained this was a practice pitch for an unfinished novel, and that I’d been told that was okay.

“No. You don’t pitch a novel until it’s complete.”

Boom.

Now what?

I couldn’t think of a single thing to say.

Finally, the agent sighed and said, “You’ve got ten minutes. You might as well talk.”

So I did. I’m not sure what I said, but I guess I stumbled through a semi-coherent version of the story, because at the end she told me it was right up her alley and to send it when it was ready. I actually got a manuscript request (a partial, anyway) out of that debacle.

Now I’m getting ready to pitch that story again for ORAcon 2013. I’m still working on revisions, but at least the manuscript is mostly complete this time.

What about you, my writer friends? Have you pitched to an editor or an agent? Are you getting ready to?

Tag! You’re it!

Tag

Author Jeanie Franz Ransom recently invited me to join a blog hop. She compared it to a kids’ game of tag—she tagged me, now I answer her questions, then tag three more writers who will continue the game on their blogs next week. Swing by Jeanie’s blog to learn more about her and read her answers. What a fun way to get to know other bloggers and learn a few things about old friends, as well!

What are you working on right now?

An upper middle grade fantasy adventure called “The Amulet of Isis.”

While traveling in Egypt, four kids find a magical amulet that transports them back to ancient times. Before they know it, they’re swept into a whirlwind of murder plots, vengeful mummies and a perilous trip through the dark underworld.

If you’re a regular visitor to my blog, you probably saw last week’s post celebrating the completion of the first draft. Woohoo! Now I’m knee deep in the first round of edits.

How does it differ from other works in its genre?

I’ve seen a lot of time travel fiction that is almost entirely a product of the writer’s imagination—inspired by history, but not truly rooted in it. Those stories can be a lot of fun, but for me, this genre offers an unparalleled opportunity to whet kids’ appetite for history and mythology, firing their imaginations and making them want to learn more. I take plenty of artistic license to create a magical, fast-paced adventure, but it’s always grounded in the real history and mythology of the culture they’re visiting. Education can be fun!

Why do you write what you do?

I LOVE research. I completed most of a master’s degree in ancient and medieval history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Although I decided teaching was not my calling, I could happily spend days on end reading about the wonders of ancient civilizations. History is full of fantastic stories screaming to be told, and I want to bring them to life.

What would you like to try as a writer that you haven’t yet?

I love writing in a middle grade voice, and with so many cultures to visit, I could spend many years writing about my time-traveling kids.

There’s something else, though, that I need to write someday—a set of adult historicals set in sixth-century Gaul. I spent years compiling research for this project. I envision novels combining the epic life-and-death political struggles of “Game of Thrones” with the intimate female characterization of Philippa Gregory’s work. They’re truly compelling stories that few people have heard.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a bit about me and “The Amulet of Isis.”  Now I’d like to hear about you! Please drop me a comment sharing why you were drawn to your current project.

And don’t forget to check out the fantastic authors I’ve tagged for next week!

Beth Carter, July 24th at http://banterwithbeth.blogspot.com/

A. M. Buxton, July 26th at http://ambuxton.wordpress.com/

Virginia Lori Jennings, July 26th at http://www.virginialorijennings.com

Riding High

I FINISHED IT!

DSC_0243crop

The first draft, anyway. 12:27 a.m. Saturday, July 6.

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, then I’m sure you’ve already heard the news. I sat in my bed, my husband half asleep beside me, shouting my joy from the virtual rooftops.

This must be the highlight of the whole writing process—the afterglow of a freshly finished manuscript. Any author will tell you that writing is an emotional rollercoaster, full of highs and lows, but this has to be the highest of the highs.

Part of me never believed I could do this. Somewhere along the way, it would become too difficult, or I simply wouldn’t know what to write next. Well, those moments happened. There were days when I actually cried because it was so hard and scary. But I pushed through.

I slogged through the tough parts, cleaning up the mess later and shaping it into something worthwhile, and by the end the words were flowing easily. On Friday, I didn’t want to step away from my computer. I took it with me on our family day at the lake, squeezing in words here and there between boat rides.

When we took our final evening ride to watch the fireworks show at our local marina, I knew the end was within reach. I was only pages away, and could finish it that night. I sat in the boat with my family, watching the reflections of the fireworks sparkling across the water and listening to the booms echoing off the hills, and felt like this was my own personal celebration.

I can’t imagine a better feeling.

Now I know there’s still a tough road ahead. I’m already deep in my first round of edits, with at least two more rounds planned after that. Perhaps far more. Then it will be time to face the almost inevitable heartache and rejection of the querying and submission process.

But for now, I’m riding the high, and life doesn’t get much better than this.

Does Editing Kill your Creativity?

I’m closing in on the end of my manuscript, with just five or six thousand words yet to write. I am SO excited about that! And even though I haven’t quite made it to the end yet, I’m already starting to look back at the process that got me here, comparing my methods with those of other writers I know.

I love to read my friends’ blogs—I learn so much about how different people approach the challenges of writing that way. I recall one friend in particular, Sheila McClune, writing about her difficulties switching between “writer head” and “editor head.” Once she stopped working on her first draft to go back and edit, she had a terrible time beginning to write again. That internal editor just wouldn’t shut up and let her create.

One would think I would have learned from her experience and avoided editing until I had a completed draft in hand. But no.

From the very beginning, I’ve been obsessively editing and seeking feedback to help me identify my personal foibles. Some chapters have already been through multiple rounds of revision and more than a dozen beta readers. I know writers who would cringe at the idea of letting so many cooks spoil the broth.

So was it a mistake? I don’t think so. As long as you get to your goal, it’s all good, right? No doubt I could have completed a first draft more quickly, but since this is my first attempt at a novel, I was on the steep part of the learning curve. Having that ongoing feedback helped me identify mistakes early on, and my writing improved immensely because of it. I may eat these words in a few months, but I’m hoping that means I’ll have less of a mess to clean up when I officially enter the revision stage.

The biggest thing I have learned is that every writer is different, and no single approach works for everyone. So how about you? Do you edit as you go or wait until your first draft is finished? I’d love to hear your experiences!

When Life Gets in the Way

I often hear my friends say they couldn’t write this week/month/year because life got in the way. And I’m as guilty as anybody. It’s easy to imagine that once we finish this project/season/insert-almost-anything-here, life will calm down, and we will be able carve out a peaceful space for our writing. Yeah, right. Never happens.

What I've been doing this week--vacation with the family.

What I’ve been doing this week–vacation with the family.

Because life goes on in all its messy glory, continually bringing new chaos. Work, kids, health problems—everybody’s challenges are different, but we all have them. Now sometimes there truly is something extraordinary happening in your life that requires all of your attention, but what about the rest of the time? How do we continue to make progress under less-than-ideal circumstances? Here are a few thoughts on the subject.

Prioritize. Take stock of your life every once in a while and think about what is most important to you, then continually remind yourself of those priorities. Don’t let all the ephemeral day-to-day concerns, like whether your house is perfectly clean before your friend comes over, steal all your productive hours.

Clear out the clutter. Hey, wait, didn’t I just encourage you not to spend so much time cleaning your house? I mean life clutter. Facebook games and TV shows you don’t even care about and all the little time sucks that are lurking out there waiting to get you. I’m soooo guilty of this one.

Find your happy place. Maybe you have or can create a home office. Maybe you like to write in a coffee shop, or a park, or your bed. The brain learns to respond to familiar stimuli, so having a favorite writing spot can help you slip into your creative mode more quickly.

Schedule writing time. Make it sacred. Make it happen. It works best if you can set up a consistent time, like writing an hour or two every morning before you begin your day. If your life doesn’t allow for that, don’t worry—you’re in good company. Look at your schedule for the week and find some time each day you can devote to writing. If you don’t plan ahead and put it in your schedule, chances are your day will slip away without a good time to write ever presenting itself.

Get your family on board. Let them know that writing is important to you and what a challenge it is to find time to flex your creativity. Make sure your family knows when you’ve scheduled certain times for your writing. If they understand what you’re doing, and that you’ll be available to them again soon, they’ll be more likely to leave you undisturbed.

Find a writing buddy. If making a commitment to yourself to write at certain times isn’t motivation enough, make that commitment to someone else. Set a date to meet a friend for writing time, either in person or online. Agree to write for half an hour, an hour or whatever works for you, then compare word counts at the end. The goal isn’t necessarily to write quickly, but simply to stay focused on the task for that period of time.

Grab snippets of time where you can. I haven’t been able to make this one work myself, but I have a friend who turns out amazing word counts this way. Carry a small computer or notebook then add a few sentences whenever you find yourself with a free moment—waiting for your lunch order, at the doctor’s office, you get the idea. Just like adding pennies to a jar, these little bits add up.

And with that, I’m off to squeeze in a few words before a vacation day of go-karting and swimming with the family. What are your ideas? How do you keep life from getting in the way?

Get More Twitter Followers–Part 3

TWelcome to the third and final installment of my series on how I gained 5,000 Twitter followers in six months. This is the fun part—where you really get to see those numbers climb. I’ve been adding about 1,000 followers per month with this method, the vast majority of them fellow writers. Once again, I’m writing with other authors in mind, but the basic methods should carry over to any profession or interest.

Step 3—Time to Fly

Naturally, the best way to attract followers is by being so fabulous that people flock to your profile, dying to see what tidbit of brilliance you’ll post next. If you can pull that off, I tip my hat to you. But the rest of us can still gather thousands of followers without resorting to the empty numbers of #teamfollowback and its ilk. For us, the name of the game is reciprocity.

The basic approach here is simple—follow people, and most of them will follow you back. Easy, right?  I’ll give you a little more to go on than that, however, addressing questions such as whom to follow, where to find them, how many people to follow at a time and how to keep your ratio of Following to Followers in balance.

Choosing People to Follow

The first thing many people do when they join Twitter is to follow their favorite celebrities. Writers might follow best-selling authors, agents and publishers. By all means, go for it—you can learn a lot this way. But don’t expect these people to follow you. Anyone who has far more Followers than Following is not likely to follow you back.

It’s not hard to find people who will, however. The Twitterverse is absolutely teeming with other authors and artists who want to build their online tribe just as badly as you do. Most of these people will follow you back, and you end up with a Followers list full of kindred spirits. You’ll probably even find a few new friends, readers and blog followers in the process. I know I have!

Where to Find Them

So where do you find these kindred spirits? Here are a few ideas:

Poach from your friends’ Followers lists. Go to a friend’s profile, click on Followers and scan through the list, clicking Follow for anyone who looks promising. This method works particularly well if your friend writes in the same genre you do.

Find other authors in your genre and go through their list. Many of my friends write romance or urban fantasy, and I wanted to connect with more middle grade fantasy authors. I scanned through the list of people who were following me, found a few in my genre and went to work. Soon, I’d connected with a whole community of middle grade authors.

Use hashtags. If you type hashtag terms in the Twitter search window, you’ll pull up all the recent posts using that hashtag. This is a great way to find others who share your particular interest. Since I’m writing a middle grade time travel story, I used #MG and #timetravel. Other good options are #author, #amwriting, #YA, #kidlit. Get creative and try different terms to see what turns up. And don’t forget to use these hashtags in your own tweets so that others can find you!

World Literary Café. You can add your link to a list of authors who want to build Twitter followers, Facebook likes and blog followers. This list is also an easy source of authors who are likely to follow you back. Go to the WLC website to sign up.

How many should I follow?

This really depends on how aggressive you want to be and how much time you have to devote. I typically follow 100-300 people at a time. Obviously, the more people you follow, the faster your following will grow. Be sure to allow time to interact with your new followers. You’ll get a flurry of welcome messages and retweets that deserve a response.

Remember to follow back!

The more your name gets out there, the more people will find and follow you. It’s only polite to follow them back. Plus, if you don’t, many of them will drop you, so if you want to keep that follower, follow them back.

You don’t need to follow everyone—I stay away from the ones that look like spam on principle—but you also don’t need to be too picky since you won’t be reading most of those tweets anyway (remember the lists we set up in Step 2?).

Don’t use TrueTwit.

If you want people to follow you, don’t create an extra step that will drive some of them away. So what if spammers follow you? Just don’t follow them back. Twitter isn’t the place for personal information you don’t want to share with the world, especially if you want to build a large following, so who cares who’s reading your tweets?

Unfollow Those Who Don’t Follow You Back

This is my final piece of advice, and it’s crucial. If you’ve followed people with interests similar to yours, most of them will follow you back, but certainly not all. If you’re actively following people as I have described, you’ll soon find you have hundreds more on your Following list than Followers. Not a good thing. In fact, Twitter won’t let you follow more than 2,000 people if your Following/Follower ratio is too far out of whack.

I like ManageFlitter for this purpose. It will show you a list of your followers who are not following you back, and you simply click the ones you want to unfollow. Quick and easy, and you’re allowed to unfollow up to one hundred people per day for free.

And there it is. The simple, common sense method I’ve used to gather 5,000 Twitter followers in six months. I hope you found some useful ideas. I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences!