Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Road to Publication: Part Nine

[This is part 9 of a summary of Spookygirl’s journey toward publication. Use the Progress tag to access all related entries.]

Ooh, ooh! The mail brought me an excuse for a new progress post.

This is the Fall 2012 catalog for Penguin Young Readers Group:

(What a marvelous moose!)

And this is pg. 37 of the catalog:

Squee!! I happen to think pg. 37 is the best page of the whole thing, but I might just be a little bit biased. Just a little bit. Tiny little bit.

The catalog itself is 364 pages. I find that both wonderful (the world can never have too many books!) and sobering (because I'd like my book to stand out from the crowd, and that's quite a crowd, and that's just the Young Readers division of one publisher).

If you're interested, you can browse PDFs of Penguin's various catalogs here

I should have another progress post up soon. It's a biggie. *tents fingers*

Sunday, March 25, 2012

On Agents: Part One

I've gotten a couple of questions lately about literary agents, so I figured now would be a good time to write a few posts about my experiences with the Great Agent Hunt. Those of you currently looking for an agent have my respect and sympathy -- it's not an easy game to play. I spent my time down in the trenches, believe me.

Late last year I signed with Danielle Chiotti of Upstart Crow Literary. Danielle is awesome; it's because of her enthusiasm that I finished the Underbed draft as soon as I did.

Believe it or not, winning the ABNA contest and having a contract with a Penguin imprint doesn't guarantee you'll have agents groveling at your feet. (Actually, I'm pretty sure groveling isn't in their DNA.) I did hear from a few after the 2011 finalists were announced, and I queried a few more, including two who had already rejected Spookygirl. Danielle was one of those -- back in 2009 she turned it down because she had a client with a similar project. She did, however, compliment the partial she read, calling Violet "very real and likeable." Her rejection was one of the nicest I received, and I requeried her last year in case circumstances had changed. They had.

But landing an agent when you're already under contract is trickier than it sounds. The sale's already been made, so there's no commission there. An interested agent is betting on two things: related rights and future books. I knew I needed representation for the former, as I was starting to get questions from production companies about Spookygirl's film rights. And of course, I wanted to find an agent who would look beyond my first contract and help me shape my career. Danielle and I discussed that during a great phone conversation; I guess she liked what she heard, because she made an offer of representation that I gladly accepted.

That's where my Great Agent Hunt ended, after nearly ten years and close to one hundred rejections. I'll go into more detail on all that in future posts -- I can share tips, admit to some of the awful mistakes I made, and mutter under my breath about a few of my not-so-great query experiences (without naming names, of course!). If there's anything else you'd like me to cover, let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Congrats and a Shout-Out

Congratulations to the quarterfinalists in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards! I know it's hard, but try not to let the suspense keep you up at night while you wait for next month's semifinals...

In other ABNA news, be sure to visit Gregory Hill's website for more information about East of Denver, the 2011 ABNA General Fiction winner. East of Denver comes out July 5, and I can't wait to read it.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Monster of a Manuscript

I'll continue my series about ABNA and Spookygirl as soon as I have more news! Meanwhile...

Why is it that a brilliant editing brainstorm is always bound to hit right after you've submitted a manuscript? You can pick at a project for weeks, but as soon as you send it off somewhere, BAM, that's when you realize how you can make it even better.

Or maybe that's just me. I sent off the current draft of Underbed to my agent, and minutes later the ideas began to hit -- a way to restructure and strengthen the climax, a detail that will tighten Jeremy Serpent's connection to one of his enemies, etc.. Oh well. I'll be revising again soon enough; those things can happen then.

I'm not sure how I feel about Underbed. The concept's been lurking in my head since last year; I originally meant to write it during last year's NaNoWriMo, but November was taken up by Spookygirl revisions and holiday monster sales. So I took the idea -- a teenage girl revisits the childhood nightmares that still lurk under her bed -- and filed it away for later.

I finally wrote the first Underbed draft during the last three weeks in January. I revised it while I was out of town in February. That's the fastest I've ever churned out a revised draft, and it's still too fresh in my mind for me to be objective. I always go through an UGH IT'S TERRIBLE TAKE IT AWAY phase with new projects, and I'm still there with this one. Still, some of its details make me smile, and at least I finally found a story for Serpent. (He's been waiting for six or eight years. He's shown extraordinary patience for a monster.) So maybe there's so merit in the mess. We'll see.

Now it's time to let it simmer, wait for feedback, and tackle more of my own monsters in the meantime.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Road to Publication: Part Eight

[This is part 8 of a summary of Spookygirl’s journey toward publication. Use the Progress tag to access all related entries.]

Back in part five of this series, I mentioned I expected to see Spookygirl's final cover design soon. Dutton totally delivered. All I knew was that the final version would be close to the placeholder design, but with changes to the necklace and the title. Let's check them out side by side:
Placeholder on the left, final version on the right

I seriously love the final design. The pendent is Violet's favorite color now, which makes a lot more sense than the random green stone. I adore the changes to my name -- font, color, placement, everything. I also like the slightly warmer tones, especially in Violet's hair.

(If we were going for total story accuracy, Violet's necklace would be black tourmaline, and her hair would be black. However, that would result in an awful lot of uniform darkness. The splash of purple is more eye-catching.)

Overall, this design captures the book just about perfectly. The story is dark in places; it deals with supernatural themes and the loss of a family member, so the overall darkness of the cover and the ominous stormclouds behind Violet are appropriate. But we also have Violet's trademark smirk front and center, which is a great representation of the narrative's tone and attitude.

...Can you tell I'm pretty thrilled about this cover?

In addition to the final cover design, I also got a copy of the galley PDF, which I had a week to review. Last I heard, the galley was supposed to go to print at the end of last week. Here's hoping that means I'll have a copy in my hands soon.

So, hey -- what are your thoughts on book covers? Do you have a favorite cover? If you've written a book, what would your ideal cover look like?  Does it drive you nuts when the cover doesn't match the story? Have you ever *gasp* judged a book by its cover?

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Road to Publication: Part Seven

[This is part 7 of a summary of Spookygirl’s journey toward publication. Use the Progress tag to access all related entries.]

In addition to the revisions, I had a few final details to take care of recently. For one thing, I had to sort out my dedication and acknowledgments. Sounds simple, I guess. Right?

Hah. Writing the acknowledgments may have been more stressful than writing the book. I forgot people. I’m sure of it. Here’s hoping they forgive me.

(From now on I should just keep a running tally for each new manuscript. “Memo to self: Don’t forget to thank X for Y.”)

The dedication was easier. I haven’t revealed it to anyone yet, so I’ll probably wait to blog about it until the book’s out.

I also needed to update my author photo. Although I liked my contest headshot, it was a rush job – I needed a photo right away for the final ABNA round, so my dad took this one in his front yard: 

For my final headshot I wanted something more polished, so I considered hiring a professional photographer. In the end, though, I recruited Rhonda Jones, one of my closest friends (and fellow haunted pillar hugger), while I was visiting her in Georgia. We wandered downtown Augusta, taking pics here and there. One shot taken near the New Moon Café came out just about perfect:

 I’m not sure I can express how much I love this photo (which is an odd thing, since I’m not usually a big fan of pics of myself). It’s just what I wanted. The fact that it was taken by such a good friend in a city that’s come to mean a lot to me makes it even more special. 

(Yep. Purple hair. That's my lucky streak.)

Up next: Final cover design!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Road to Publication: Part Six

Sinuses, man. ANYWAY.

[This is part 6 of a summary of Spookygirl’s journey toward publication. Use the Progress tag to access all related entries.] 

One thing I quickly learned about editing: Every time you think you’re done, there’ll be one more suggestion to act on, one more alternative to consider, one more change to okay.

After working with Julie Strauss-Gabel on the initial major revision of Spookygirl, I worked with Liza Kaplan to clean up the details and get things polished. After a few more minor revisions (mostly involving the locker room storyline), we moved on to the line edit.

I had no idea what to expect from that, but the process was kind of fascinating. After Liza sent me a copy of the manuscript with lots and lots of notations about minor changes and small suggestions (usually several per page), I quickly learned how to use the Track Changes feature in Word. I approved, declined, or acted on each detail as necessary. Most pages weren't nearly as marked up as that screencap up there, but that gives you an idea of the process. Every change -- even the addition of a comma or the correction of a spelling error -- got its own notation.

So we got through all that. Then we did it all again. Oh yes.

Then came the copyedit (done by Rosanne Lauer), which was essentially more of the same, only on an even more detail-oriented level.

You know how, if you repeat a word over and over, eventually it sounds like nonsense in your head? Imagine going through your entire manuscript over and over until your story feels just like that.

Again, everything we did made the final story stronger, and that’s a great thing to realize. The only times Liza and I butted heads were over tiny things like keeping a line about a character's t-shirt, or whether Dutton's preferred style guide required us to spell out longer numbers in dialogue.

(Oh, that t-shirt. That could be another blog entry all on its own. I wasn't about to lose Peter's favorite geeky tee.)

Up next: Dedication, acknowledgments, author photo.