The Road So Far

This Tuesday marks just one week until my debut novel, AMBER & DUSK, hits shelves! I couldn’t be more terrified thrilled to share this book with the world, but with that release day on the horizon I’ve been thinking a lot about the road that got me here. When I first started on this crazy journey to traditional publication, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. But if there’s anything I’ve learned along the way, it’s that nothing happens over night, and the only real secret to success is perseverance. So–just in case it’s useful to any of you out there pursuing your own traditional pub deal–here’s how I got from scribbling story ideas in the margins of my college notes to seeing a real live book on shelves.

I’ve written my whole life, but it never really occurred to me that I could be a writer until near the end of undergrad. I started fiddling around with half-baked story ideas, and even wrote about 20k words on a very bad novel, but wasn’t super serious about it. The year after college, when I was living outside of D.C. and bartending 50+ hours a week while sending my resume to every non-profit in town, I bonded with my roommate at the time (erstwhile Scribe Emmie Mears) who was writing pretty seriously and beginning to send their work out to literary agents. I didn’t even know what a literary agent was, but a spark ignited inside me. What if this was something I could do, like for real? As a job? As a career?

In 2011, I moved to London where my fiancé was finishing grad school. My visa meant I wasn’t going to be able to work for at least 6 months, so I made a challenge to myself–treat writing like a job, and see if I could really do this. And so, 7 years and change from today, I started writing seriously. Buoyed by delusions of grandeur, I gleefully penned my first few short stories, and then I wrote my first novel, a deeply derivative YA fantasy set in a mythical Ireland. But it was my first novel! I had arrived! Visions of sugarplums (or more accurately, six-figure book deals) danced in my head. I sent out a deluge of query letters full of vague stakes and rhetorical questions (for a primer in how not to write a query letter, see below). I got back a corresponding torrent of form rejection letters. 

I am seeking representation for my young adult fantasy, DARKLING, complete at 88,000 words. DARKLING is Lloyd Alexander meets Holly Black, rooted at the crossroads between the contemporary world and ancient Celtic mythology.
Kyla didn’t ask for uncontrollable dark power for her 16th birthday. She got it anyway.
Orphan Kyla Quinn has built a happy, ordinary life–her biggest worry is whether the track star will ask her to prom. But when she ignores a headache in favor of a night of dancing, Kyla unwittingly awakens her hidden powers and blasts her carefully constructed normalcy to pieces. Guilt-ridden and haunted by memories of that night, Kyla spirals into a self-destructive depression.
In a last-ditch effort to save Kyla’s sanity and soul, her guardian moves them both to an Irish country retreat. In the land of her ancestors Kyla discovers that her destructive power is mysteriously linked to a fallen race of long-forgotten immortals known as the sidhe. Her very life hangs in the balance as she seeks the truth of her identity hidden deep within the myths. Will fickle warrior-prince Tam help her find the answers she needs? Or will he betray her to the shadowy figures stalking ever closer?

I had such unwarranted high expectations, and received only rejection in return. Little did I know, that would be the name of the game for the foreseeable future. I sometimes wonder–if I had known how hard the road to traditional publication would be, would I have stuck with it as I did? I like to think so, but sometimes I don’t know.

I’m still not sure what made me jump back in the saddle. But I did. I participated in my first #NaNoWriMo, and wrote the precursor for what would be my second novel, BLOOD KING, a YA urban fantasy set in London. I queried it through 2013 and early 2014, with no better results. After nearly two years of querying two different books, I hadn’t gotten so much as a partial manuscript request from an agent.

I then wrote my third novel, REVERIE, a YA genre-bender set in a futuristic world where dreams were banned. After several months of unsuccessful querying, I was fortunate enough to be accepted as an alternate in #PitchWars 2014 (the following year, they nixed alternates, so this still seems incredibly lucky to me). My pitch received positive attention, and I received my first partial and full manuscript requests. After an R&R (otherwise known as a Revise and Resubmit) that took me nearly 6 months, I finally got an offer of representation from an agent. In May 2015, I signed with my amazing agent Ginger Clark. 

It felt like such a big step forward. And it was. But despite all the times I’d told myself, “If I can just get an agent I’ll be happy,” it turned out signing with an agent was just the beginning of a new road, and not its end. After more revisions, we went on submission with REVERIE. While the feedback was positive, no one wanted to take a chance on it. We went on a second round of submission early 2016, with similar results. 

Autumn 2016, we went on submission with my fourth full length polished manuscript, AMBER & DUSK. No dice. I’ll be honest–this was the first (and hopefully last) time I seriously considered quitting writing for good. After 5+ years, four novels, countless short stories, and about a million bad words, I just didn’t think I could handle the soul-bruising stream of rejection anymore. I felt like I was pouring my heart into these books, and industry professionals either couldn’t tell or didn’t care. It was starting to hurt,and I didn’t think I could take it.

In early 2017, we got the news that Scholastic Press wanted to acquire AMBER & DUSK. I remember missing a call from my agent, then seeing a text from her that read, “GO CHECK YOUR EMAIL.” I broke out in full body shakes and had to sit on the floor for a while. But it was finally happening–my book baby was going to be on shelves! I was over the moon.

And I still am. But just like signing with an agent, publishing a book wasn’t the end of the road. In fact, I’m quickly beginning to realize it’s the very beginning of a whole different road, one that will hopefully be much longer than 7 years (albeit with a little less rejection along the way). 

I know a few authors who published the first novel they ever wrote. I even know a few who got there with their second. But nearly every other author I know with a traditional pub deal has a story very similar to mine–3, 5, 7 or even 10 trunked manuscripts and years’ and years’ worth of rejection. And on the flip side of that, the only writers I know who didn’t someday fulfill that dream are the ones who gave up. 

So carry on, my wayward sons and daughters.

Preorder your copy now!
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Questions? Comments? Condolences for my wasted youth? The comment section is always open!

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We’ve Got Every Book Universe You’re Looking For

Every once in a while you gotta toot your own horn, create a little, well-deserved fanfare, even if it feels little self-serving.

I’m really proud of the writers at this blog, we’re a pretty damn talented group! And I think we deserve a little spotlight time. So if you’ve been looking for something to read, or are like me and enjoy having an ever-growing, teetering TBR pile, check out some of our awesome works:

First up, Liv Rancourt. Liv is an immensely talented writer who doesn’t focus on angst in her romance writing, so if you need a good pick-me-up, you need to check her out. Most recently Liv has placed her book, Aqua Follies, into Kindle Unlimited–so if you’re a KU user, now is a great chance to give her writing a taste if you haven’t yet!  And if you’re looking for a great #Pride read, this might be just what you’re looking for!

AquaFollies_Digital_WebThe 1950s. Postwar exuberance. Conformity. Rock and roll. 

Homophobia.

Russell tells himself he’ll marry Susie because it’s the right thing to do. His summer job coaching her water ballet team will give him plenty of opportunity to give her a ring. But on the team’s trip to the annual Aqua Follies, the joyful glide of a trumpet player’s solo hits Russell like a torpedo, blowing apart his carefully constructed plans.

From the orchestra pit, Skip watches Poseidon’s younger brother stalk along the pool deck. It never hurts to smile at a man, because good things might happen. Once the last note has been played, Skip gives it a shot. 

The tenuous connection forged by a simple smile leads to events that dismantle both their lives. Has the damage been done, or can they pick up the pieces together?

You can find all of Liv’s awesome books at her Amazon Author page!

Next up is Lyra Selene! Lyra has a way with world building that makes me so envious I can’t even explain. We’re very excited for Lyra’s first publication later this year, with her debut novel, Amber & Dusk! It is already available for pre-order and I have mine, so you should too! If a beautiful epic YA fantasy is more your speed, you won’t want to miss this one:

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Sylvie has always known she deserves more. Out in the permanent twilight of the Dusklands, her guardians called her power to create illusions a curse. But Sylvie knows it merits her a place in Coeur d’Or, the palais of the Amber Empress and her highborn legacies. 

So Sylvie sets off toward the Amber City, a glittering jewel under a sun that never sets, to take what is hers.

But her hope for a better life is quickly dimmed. The empress invites her in only as part of a wicked wager among her powerful courtiers. Sylvie must assume a new name, Mirage, and begin to navigate secretive social circles and deadly games of intrigue in order to claim her spot. Soon it becomes apparent that nothing is as it appears and no one, including her cruel yet captivating sponsor, Sunder, will answer her questions. As Mirage strives to seize what should be her rightful place, she’ll have to consider whether it is worth the price she must pay.

You can pre-order your copy on Amazon and Barnes & Noble now!

Next we have our in-house scholar, Nicole Evelina! I was a pretty studious person in school and I pride myself on the research I do for books now, but let me tell you, I cannot hold a candle to Nicole. When you get one of her books, know that hundreds (thousands?) of hours of research went into them. I honestly don’t know how she does it! But you can see for yourself in her amazing Guinevere’s Tales series–the first two books are available now with the third set for publication later this year!

Nicole's booksBefore queenship and Camelot, Guinevere was a priestess of Avalon. She loved another before Arthur, a warrior who would one day betray her.

In the war-torn world of late fifth century Britain, young Guinevere faces a choice: stay with her family to defend her home at Northgallis from the Irish, or go to Avalon to seek help for the horrific visions that haunt her. The Sight calls her to Avalon, where she meets Morgan, a woman of questionable parentage who is destined to become her rival. As Guinevere matures to womanhood, she gains the powers of a priestess, and falls in love with a man who will be both her deepest love and her greatest mistake.

Just when Guinevere is able to envision a future in Avalon, tragedy forces her back home, into a world she barely recognizes, one in which her pagan faith, outspokenness, and proficiency in the magical and military arts are liabilities. When a chance reunion with her lover leads to disaster, she is cast out of Northgallis and into an uncertain future. As a new High King comes to power, Guinevere must navigate a world of political intrigue where unmarried women are valuable commodities and seemingly innocent actions can have life-altering consequences.

You may think you know the story of Guinevere, but you’ve never heard it like this: in her own words. Listen and you will hear the true story of Camelot and its queen.

You can see all of Nicole’s books on her Amazon Author page and if you “follow” her there, you’ll find out when the third book, Mistress of Legend, is available for pre-order, releasing September 15th! 

And, finally, your’s truly! So I’m what you might call, your resident witchy-writer as witches and magic are my happy place, but my most recent work isn’t about witches or potions or magic, but rather about monsters and hope and survival. In 2015 I finished my post-apocalyptic trilogy, The Ash & Ruin Trilogy. But I had people asking, what happened before this? So I started writing spin-offs, first Dandelions, now Blackbird, which was just released!

Blackbird

What if YouTube warned of the end of the world? Would we even take it seriously? Or just assume it was some lame, internet hoax?

Maggie has her first college finals to prepare for; she doesn’t have time for pranks and conspiracy theories. But a super flu has broken out on campus and her dorm mate keeps coughing, threatening to get her sick before she can get through the tests and get home for Christmas.

More and more people are coming down with the super flu and the vaccines aren’t working for everyone and when one of her professors is dragged out of the classroom by cops and doctors, Maggie realizes she’s waited too long to leave campus.
Finals are the last thing she should be worrying about—she needs to get home, but can she make it in time?

You can find all of my books on my Amazon Author page (though all books are available on all online retailers) and you can follow me there so you never miss out on a new release!

Hopefully there’s something here that has piqued your interest! We’ve got something for everyone, that’s for sure! Happy reading!

Behind the Scenes of Self Publishing–Paperback Edition

As you know, if you’ve been following along with my posts, I have a new release coming out on June 1st–less than a month away, EEEEEP!

Being self-published that means a few different things than it does for a traditionally published writer–including being able to try out a Friday release instead of the traditional Tuesday. And, as we’re all writers here, offering insight into the whole writing process, I thought I’d share a little bit of that with you guys.

The beginning is exactly the same. We all start with a spark of inspiration, then develop that into a story, then kill ourselves over the next 4 to 156 weeks trying to write the damn thing.

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Then we put the book away (or at least, we should). For me, I’ll set a book aside for between 1 to 6 weeks depending on how difficult the book was to write. Then I print it out and go over it for revisions/edits/plot holes/etc. Then I put those changes into the computer. It’s at this point I awkwardly ask betas/critique partners to read it for me.

And then you wait.

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Once I get it back from them I compare notes. Then it’s revision time again.

Then, on to the editor!

Some self-published writers will try to avoid this step because it is the most expensive step, but there’s a reason for that: editing is the most important thing you can do after you’ve written the book. You need an editor to rip that thing apart and fix it. I don’t care how awesome you are. I have a New York Times best selling author I used to love, but I could tell when she finally made it to the point where she could include a no-edit clause in her contracts. I don’t read her books anymore.

At this point, when the book is with my editor, I’ll start on the cover. Now, depending on the book, either I will do it myself, or I’ll hire a digital artist. I cannot stress this enough, if you are not savvy with digital art, don’t do this yourself. I will only do simple covers. If my cover is for something more magical or detailed, I hire someone experienced. And when I do it myself, I don’t just pick a stock photo and stick my title on it in a white bar in simple font. I edit and digitally paint/alter the photo to fit the mood of the book.

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An example of something I feel comfortable enough doing myself.

Water before and after
And something I would have commissioned because holy crap, how do you even?

I pour over my title in fonts until I find the right one–just picking out the fonts can take me a few days–even if I’m having the cover commissioned, I like to pick out the fonts unless my artist has a better one in mind, which she often does. I go through photo sites for the cover for days until I find the one(s). I spend at least a week in my art program putting the cover together, usually mocking up three to choose from before I’m sure I’ve made something that fits the book and sells it. This takes a lot of time even without all the tricks my preferred cover artist does. Your cover is important. Even if you’re not going to do hard or paperbacks, the cover is still important. When someone is scrolling through the Zon or B&N or Kobo or wherever, the cover might make them stop and look at your book.

(If you’re on a tight budget, the two things I would recommend you spend your money on are an editor and a cover artist. And if you’d like to use mine, you can find my editor here and my cover artist here.)

Usually this is when I’ll set up pre-orders. Now that all the online retailers have finally allowed Self-Pubbers to set up pre-orders, we can finally get in on that action. Once I have the cover ready, I’ll write my book blurb and set it up the pre-order pages with temporary files for the manuscript (once you have the final draft, you come back and upload the final file before the publication date).

Now, once the book is edited and the ebooks are all taken care of, I’ll start on the paperback.

No, self-published writers don’t sell nearly as many physical books as traditionally published authors do. But I like to have the option. I just do paperback, mostly because I have so many titles, setting them up with hardback would be cost prohibitive for me. With Createspace I can get my paperback onto all the online retailers including libraries and BookBub.

And they have a guided, step-by-step process to help you get your book ready for publication.

You pick your book trim size and they give you a Word template to format the interior of your book. At this point, you want to make sure your line spacing, font size, page numbers, and chapter headings look good. Don’t forget your title page, your copyright page, your table of contents, dedication if you want, all before the first chapter page.

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Then, once you have that sorted, you can tell the site your dimensions (book size, paper color, page length) to get a cover template. This is the file you would send to your cover artist to ask them to expand your cover to a paperback cover. Or you use it yourself to make yours.

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Then, once CS approves it (or emails you and tells you you screwed up, fix it please and you do it all over again and again until you get it right), this is what it looks like.

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Another cover I did myself — I even took the photo on the back cover!

And you can see what the inside looks like too!

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You can either approve the digital proof or, and I highly recommend this, you order a proof copy to be printed and mailed to you so you can see if the printing is perfect or screwed up.

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See how the spine wrapped around to the front cover on the top one, but not on the bottom one.

But, once it’s all done, and all perfect, then you can step back and admire your beautiful books on a bookshelf.

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This isn’t for the impatient. I promise you. Yes, there are people who you can pay to go through all of this for you. You tell them what you want your book to look like and they’ll do all the formatting for you and just email you the files you need to upload to CS and be done with it. And if you have the budget for it, go for it. But if you don’t, with a little patience and practice, you can do this yourself, I promise.

Pre-Order Announcement!

A little while back I shared the cover reveal of my upcoming young adult novel, Blackbird. Well, I’m very happy to announce the publication day and the pre-order links (if you’re so inclined)!

Blackbird

What if YouTube warned of the end of the world? Would we even take it seriously? Or just assume it was some lame, internet hoax?

Maggie has her first college finals to prepare for; she doesn’t have time for pranks and conspiracy theories. But a super flu has broken out on campus and her dorm mate keeps coughing, threatening to get her sick before she can get through the tests and get home for Christmas.

More and more people are coming down with the super flu and the vaccines aren’t working for everyone and when one of her professors is dragged out of the classroom by cops and doctors, Maggie realizes she’s waited too long to leave campus.

Finals are the last thing she should be worrying about—she needs to get home, but can she make it in time?

Coming June 1, 2018!

Pre-order from your favorite retailer now:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords | Kobo | iBooks

Add it on Goodreads now! 

Cover and Title Reveal!

When I went to check the schedule to see who was about to drop the  ball and miss their posting date I realized, as you can probably guess, it was me. Yup. Go team leader!

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But that’s okay. I had no idea what to post for a second and thought I was going to continue my series of “I’ve run out of creative juices, but I’m still trying!” posts, which I know, by post three, are just riveting.

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And then I remembered! This is the week I’m revealing the title and cover of my forthcoming YA apocalyptic novel! Huzzah! I have something to post! Go team leader!

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If you’re familiar with my Ash & Ruin Trilogy, this book is a spin off of that world. Well, it’s a spin off of a spin off. My first spin off (say spin off again), was Dandelions, a novel about Gwen, a young teen orphaned by the plague, waiting for her sister, Maggie, to make it home at the end of the world. While I was writing that book the character Maggie became more and more interesting to me. Gwen barely recognizes the person her sister has become, so I wondered what happened to her to change her so drastically.

And thus, Maggie’s first book was born. This first book in Maggie’s tale gives us a glimpse into the horror and panic she’s facing trying to get home as the world is falling apart around her. I had thought this story would be a duet, but there’s a chance it might be a trilogy too. I’m not sure yet. Yay adventure!

But I do have the title and cover ready. Pre-order date to be announced soon. Anyway, I hope you guys dig it!

Blackbird

Edits in 3…2…1…

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The other day I had a guest post over at the Rainbow Romance Writers blog. As often is the case, whatever I’m struggling with in my writing ends up in a blog post. It’s like my mind needs to process through my fingers before I can move forward .

The guest post was about editing, and described some of the strategies I use when I’m moving from rough draft to polished product. I have a novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo that I’d like to send to my agent, but it needs revision first. I sat down, made my plan, and sent off the post.

But I’ve spent this whole week spinning my wheels, which tells me that no matter how good my intentions, I was heading in the wrong direction.

I’m working with a rough (rough!) draft that has some good moments and characters I like, along with comments from my writing partner and alpha reader, Irene Preston. Irene and I have written two novels and two novellas together, and there’s no one on the planet who knows my writing better.

And let’s just say I’ve come up with stuff she’s liked better.

My grand plan involved writing a synopsis to help sort out the plot threads, then revising scene-by-scene based on a complicated set of steps that I won’t bore you with here. After that, I’d planned to send it out to beta readers, and with their feedback in hand, start grinding down on the words themselves, looking for repeats and crutch words and passive voice.

Yeah, you know, I’ll still probably do most of that, but the synopsis thing was tripping me up. I got talking with my friend Kelly Jensen (who’s also the blog mama for the Rainbow Romance Writers) and she suggested I use a spreadsheet, with lines for each scene and columns for plot points and other assorted details.

And you know what? That’s what I needed to unstick myself. Here’s a quick screenshot of what I have so far…

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It’s not much, yet, but it’s a step in the right direction and such (SUCH!) a relief. If you’re interested, hop on over to the RRW blog for a more detailed look at my editing process. Otherwise, I’ll send you a virtual high five, and TGIF!!

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Oh, and before I go, Irene and I have a new novella that’ll be available as a giveaway this Valentine’s Day! Haunted is set in our Hours of the Night world but features different characters, and a lighter paranormal tone. I’ll put the blurb & Goodreads link below, and if you’re interested, come hang out with us on our Facebook page – After Hours with Liv & Irene – because for sure you’ll get the link for the free download!

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Haunted on Goodreads

Noel Chandler had a good reason for leaving the L.A.P.D. for New Orleans, but when he walks into a burned out Garden District mansion, he discovers there are some things he can’t outrun. The spooks can find him anywhere.

As the resident historian for the cable show Haunts and Hoaxes, Professor Adam Morales keeps an open mind about the supernatural. Or that’s what he tells himself, until he meets a man who puts that principle to the test. Noel’s smart, sexy, and has killer cop instincts. One glance from his bedroom eyes has Adam ready to believe anything.

But is Noel haunted, crazy, or just another hoax?

Whose Turn Is It?

I have been trapped in my office for the last week, finishing the line and content edits of my twentieth novel. Yup, 20th. I’ve been so consumed with it that I’ve lost track of days and hours and, for a minute, I was ready to email the Scribes to see who had dropped the ball on posting this week.

Well. Guess what?

It’s me.

Yup. This week is my turn to post and this is what happens when you use up all your words in the final stages of a book. You have no more space in your head for other things. It even took me fifteen minutes to write a four line email to my editor because I had to keep correcting it again and again. At the end I said, “I have no idea if any of this makes sense because I’m out of words.”

But, this morning, I finished the edits. It is done. The final draft is ready.

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All I have left to do is write the acknowledgements and format it so it’s all pretty and polished for ebooks and print editions and it’s done.

When I finished the first draft of Hexed and I realized it was my 20th completed novel I couldn’t help but do the math. Not counting some of the novellas I’ve written, just these 20 books, I’ve written somewhere in the ballpark of 1.75 million words in the last six years. If I include the novellas and short stories, I think I’m pushing 2 million.

That’s a lot of words, guys. I’m kinda tired, to be honest.

It’s strange too, because when I’m not writing, when I’m between books/projects, I feel guilty for not writing. I’m actually working on book 21 as we speak as a flash-fiction series for my Patreons right now. Seriously. And there’s nothing to feel guilty about! That’s a career’s worth of books in 6 years for Pete’s sake!

I think it has a lot to do with the shift we’ve seen in the publication market in the last 3-5 years. Readers don’t want to wait 12-18 months for sequels and writers really feel the pressure. I know I do. Of course, this is my full time job right now so I feel the pressure to write write write even more. But… I need a break.

I’ve said that before and allowed myself some time off, but not enough, honestly. I’ll give myself a couple of weeks and then I’m right back at it. But I think this time, I need some real, substantial time off. I’ll keep working with my Patreon posts because I need to, but my husband and I are taking our first real vacation in ten years exactly one month from today. So I’m going to take this month to try to decompress. I want to be rested for the vacation so I can enjoy it and not be exhausted. When we get back, it’ll be the start of October, and you guys know how much I love that time of year. I think I’ll be ready to write something new, something spooky, something fun.

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