Reaching Past Rejection: How Dreaming Big Led to a Book Deal

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I wrote this in the sand the day before I met my agent in person, at this past summer’s SCBWI LA conference. I was in a bit of a creative/emotional funk, wrapping up months of revisions and getting ready to send my manuscript out into the great big world of publishing. I had one of the best agents in the business, (and her amazing editorial skills), but I had no guarantee that the doors I hoped would open, wouldn’t in fact—close.

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I stood barefoot in the surf and stared toward the horizon, making wishes on the waves. I picked up two sea stones, held them tight and thought of every dream I had for myself as a writer, and threw one of those rocks back to sea. I let the waves carry away the hopes and dreams I’d made, and kept the other stone, as a reminder to myself that those dreams were still out there—waiting for the right time and place to land.

As my feet sank into the sand, I gave myself a pep talk: if things didn’t go as I hoped, I’d allow myself a good cry, then get right back on that metaphorical horse. This wasn’t my first Rejection Rodeo. I had persevered through years of rejected queries and manuscripts to get to this point. The fact that I hadn’t given up was something to celebrate.

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One of the promises I made myself as I watched the August sun sink into the ocean, was that—whether I landed a book deal or not—I’d keep writing.

What I couldn’t know then, was that I’d make it through the ups and downs of the submission process with more than one editor who wanted the stories I had to tell. I couldn’t know then, as I drew those letters in the sand, what Sarah’s voice would sound like when she called and said, “how does it feel to know you’re going to be a published author?” Or how I would cry happy tears when she told me they wanted not just one, but two books.

As I threw my rock out to sea, I didn’t know that some of my dreams would find their landing just eight weeks from that day.

That sea-tossed stone now sits on my desk, a reminder of when I let go of what I couldn’t control, and celebrated what I had accomplished so far.

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If you are holding your own sort of sea stone, remember the dreams you painted inside your heart. Keep pushing. Keep running. Keep learning and growing and doing everything else but give up. And if you’ve been too afraid to go after what you love—maybe this is your moment. Whisper your dreams to the waves and be true to the courageous voice inside you that says “reach.”

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#8TerribleTitles

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My fellow Sweet Sixteeners Janet Taylor, author of THE DIM, and Jessica Cluess, author of A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING, tagged me on Twitter to participate in this blog hop! The rules are simple: Scroll through your manuscript and stop in random places. Whatever you land on becomes one of eight terrible titles. So, here are my beauties taken randomly from my YA debut (spring, 2016), ASHES FOR STARS:

  1. The water is hungry
  2. I am so, so close
  3. I still want my banana
  4. A sort of vibration
  5. My hands these days
  6. Five minutes to curfew
  7. Like it might bite
  8. “Huh-uh.”

Haha! #3 is my favorite. This is actually a timely post because my editor has suggested a title change for my book. Hmm, perhaps I should send her this list . . .? Who wouldn’t want to read a book called “Huh-uh”?

*pets tiny dog and muses about titles*

This isn’t my first title change. Every agent who offered me rep was like, “So . . . how attached to the title are you?” (Originally called SUBPARS) And my wonderful, amazingly-British super-agent Sarah was all, “I hope you’re not married to the title, attol.” *hear that in the queen’s English*

Fast-forward to much earnest re-titling and the editors I spoke to were all

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So, good times over here in Title-land . . .

I now tag fellow Sixteeners Jeff Garvin, author of SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN and Erin Schneider, author of WHERE THE WATER FALLS, as well as my amazeballs CP and author of TRUST ME I”M LYING, Mary Elizabeth Summer, my agency sister, Dawn Kurtagich, author of THE DEAD HOUSE, and hilarious writing friend Rena, who is currently outpacing me in NanoWriMo by like,15,000 words. *cues up blog distraction*

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Happy terrible titles day, everyone! (And wish me luck finding just the right one to (possibly) replace ASHES FOR STARS . . .

I Got a Book Deal! (The GIF version)

Things have happened in this writer’s world recently. Big things. Exciting, bookish, THINGS.

I went on submission. Within days, my agent sent me emails telling me about the editor interest we were getting. And I was pretty much . . .

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It was a whirlwind two weeks filled with highs and lows and so much

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Then Sarah called with the news and said . . . how does it feel to know you’re going to be a published author? And I was all

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And then she said the first book would be out spring of 2016 and I just . . .

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I was going to be a Sweet Sixteen!

Then she told me the publisher’s plans for Book Two and I

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I am beyond excited to announce that ASHES FOR STARS will be published by Henry Holt, spring 2016. I am honored to be part of the Macmillan family and MacKids Books.

Don’t give up on your dreams. I nearly did, so many times. It took me numerous books, countless rejections, and years to get to this point. But I love writing, so I was willing to learn and grow and keep reaching, keep putting myself out there. If you love what you do, it’s all worth it.

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I wish you all the twirly moments. Be brave, Reach for the stars.

Writing Crimes: Overused Words and Phrases

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On a recent run, I came across this violated stone lion. Look closely . . . it’s been embellished with blue glitter nail polish, eyeshadow, and yes—lipstick. At first glance, it looked like all the other neighborhood stone lions, but a closer inspection revealed that it had succumbed to a makeover.

Now, personally, I think it’s adorable that some kid took a look at that lion and thought it needed a little something special (sparkles, of course) and that those claws would look better with nail polish. For the purposes of this post, however, let’s call it a non-obvious crime.

Some writing mistakes rear up and smack you on the nose: plot holes, switching tenses, too many dialogue tags, not enough dialogue tags…Grammar, too, is often an easy fix: the right use of its and it’s, lay and lie, and good ‘ol punctuation and spelling. But word overuse is more insidious–often overlooked in first, second and even third drafts.

While polishing my manuscript for submission, I came across a phrase I tend to overuse: ‘my heart pounds.’ And by ‘overuse’ I mean—this pains me to admit—no less than NINE TIMES–followed closely by ‘my stomach twists.’

*face palm*

The worst part is that they’re not even good phrases–‘telling’ writing instead of ‘showing.’ Criminal, indeed.

The good news: I gave my manuscript that close second look (and third and fourth) and caught them. Every writer I know has words and phrases they tend to overuse. It’s the kind of writing crime that can easily go unnoticed (like the glammed-up lion.)

So, as I go through my manuscript and rework these phrases into moments the reader feels along with the character, I’m on the lookout for other such overused words.

Another I caught myself using too much: ‘groan,’ followed closely by its sister, ‘moan.’

O_O

*sigh*

Hey, that’s what the editing process is for, right? This is another instance where beta readers and critique partners are so helpful–they will usually see the nine million times you used the word ‘slowly’ and issue you a friendly citation. Better them, than an agent or editor.

If you’re in the revision process, I’d encourage you to do a ‘find and replace’ search (under ‘edit’ in Microsoft word) Type in a word or phrase you find yourself leaning in to, and see if you’ve committed any crimes. Hopefully, nothing as bad as my heart-pounding, stomach-twisting felonies.

Out of the Query Trenches

I’d been in the Query Trenches a loooong time. For the past few years, I’d pretty much lived there. I had my own mailbox and a clown with a little dancing dog that came by every so often to cheer me up. (Okay—the dog is real, but my husband would not appreciate the clown metaphor.)

Anyone who’s ever written a manuscript and sent their baby out into the daunting world of slush piles and literary agents knows the particular kind of hell this journey is for most writers.

It’s said that Mark Twain wallpapered his attic in rejection letters before he published Tom Sawyer. I used to print and save my rejection letters and post them on the wall until I realized that a room decorated with rejection was really depressing.

So I treated myself to cupcakes (or wine) whenever a pass came in, and for the really tough ones—rejections on full requests—I bought shoes. And a puppy.

Emmy and shoes

But today, I’m relinquishing my spot in the query trenches to another hopeful writer. Not because I quit, but because I didn’t quit.

And finally, finally . . . I HAVE AN AGENT!!!!

*pops cork*    *twirls *

I am so deliriously excited to announce that THE AMAZING SARAH DAVIES of The Greenhouse Literary Agency has offered to represent me!!!

Yep. I just looked down, and my feet are still floating off the ground. And yes, her name requires SHOUTY CAPS–she is that kind of agent.

It is such a gift to have a champion for this story, and I know my manuscript is in the very best hands.

I’ll soon be pitching my tent over in the Submission Trenches. I’m sure the clown and his little dancing dog will visit from time to time. Hopefully, before too long, my story will find a home with a publisher.

Whatever happens, I’m taking with me the most important lesson I learned in the Query Trenches–one I want to encourage you with, fellow dreamers . . .

Never-never-never-give-up