Upcoming July Contests for MG and YA fiction

Two exciting contest opportunities this month for unagented kid lit writers:

1. The Writer’s Digest 16th free “Dear Lucky Agent” Contest: Middle Grade. Happening now until July 30, 2014. Judged by Peter Knapp of Park Literary.

  • Submit: the first 150-200 words of your unpublished, completed book-length work of middle grade fiction; title; logline; proof of shares (see below).
  • Special rules: must mention the contest twice via social media and submit proof of shares with your entry.
  • Prizes: Top 3 winners all get: 1) A critique of the first 10 double-spaced pages of your work, by your agent judge. 2) A free one-year subscription to WritersMarket.com ($50 value)! But there is always the potential extra excitement of clicking with the agent who’s judging, too!
  • Full details here.

2. The Miss Snark’s First Victim July Secret Agent Contest (for YA, MG, and chapter books). Entry by lottery only. Enter on Monday, July 21, 2014 from NOON – 6:00PM EDT. Judged by a mystery agent whose identity will not be revealed until the contest is over.

  • Enter the lottery July 21 for one of 50 spots in the contest.
  • Submit: the first 250 words of your COMPLETED manuscript; your name/screen name; title; genre.
  • Prizes: vary each round. In May, THREE “winner” entries were awarded full MS requests (Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index was one of them! :) ).
  • Why this contest rocks: All 50 entries are posted on the MSFV blog and receive critique from both fellow entrants and the mystery agent. So even if you don’t win, you get helpful feedback! Can’t go wrong with that.
  • Full details here.

Happy submitting!

26 Things I’ve Learned So Far

I recently turned 26. Goodbye, quarter life crisis! Hello, glorious new year of awkward transitional 20s. (Don’t listen to me. I love my 20s.)

Taken on my bday. I am not 22.

Taken on my bday. I am not 22.

I don’t feel older, but I do feel more adult. There are still many regards in which I do not, but some things (liking chocolate doughnuts with rainbow sprinkles and YA books, for instance) will never change. I look forward to the next year of growth and experiment, and in the meantime present a handdrawn list of 26 things I have learned in recent years (inspired in equal parts by Laekan Zea Kemp’s traditional bday blog post and the 7 Things I’ve Learned So Far column in Writer’s Digest). Typed list follows for ease of reading.

26 things ive learned so far - 2 doc size

26 Things I’ve Learned So Far

1. Beauty, like humor, is subjective.
2. It’s better to buy one thing you need than two you don’t (even if the two things are cheaper).
3. True motivation can only come from within. You have to want something for yourself.
4. Everything you don’t absolutely need in order to exist is a luxury. Notice it. Appreciate it.
5. No two people, living or deceased, experience the world exactly the same way.
6. Life is a series of choices. You will have to make them.
7. No effort is wasted if we learn from it.
8. Love is free. Give it openly and make the world a better place—one smile, one affirmation, one kindness at a time.
9. People are sponges. You are what you eat, read, watch, do, listen to, associate with.
10. Don’t rely on other people to make your life meaningful. Make your own meaning. (But do let others add to it.)
11. Choose commitments with care.
12. If you don’t believe in yourself, how can anybody else?
13. Stress is a sign of growth. It means you are out of your comfort zone.
14. It is better to fail than to not even try.
15. Kindness can move mountains.
16. A person who shames others for loving something is arrogant and narrow-minded.
17. Confidence is everything.
18. Don’t judge a shirt by the way it looks on the hanger.
19. Small luxuries bring great joy.
20. Surround yourself with people you admire.
21. Remove yourself from negative/draining influences.
22. Pursue the things that energize you.
23. Keep electronics higher than liquids.
24. If you want more time, change how you spend it.
25. The longer you look, the more you see.
26. ENK (Everyone Needs Kindness).

Homemade Calendar – June

june 2014 calendarThis month is brought to you by tropical Skittles. Skittles: taste the lurid color!

And now on to July, in which I will continue the first draft of Rory and the Crow and have plans for several short term art projects. Stay tuned for details!

In the meantime, if you’re a fellow writer or book lover on tumblr, I am finally starting to get the hang of that young person’s jungle gym. You can find me on tumblr here.

Hope your summers are off to a good start!

 

From Chaos Comes Order, or: This is How You Write

This is something I have come to realize recently. I mean, really realize:

Writing is messy.

There’s simply no right way to do it. (There are, however, plenty of wrong ones: baking cookies, watching Dexter, and checking your email every seven minutes to see if Mr./Ms. Agent has finished reading your manuscript among them.)

You start with an idea. Probably a half-baked one, if even. We may be talking quarter or eighth or sixteenth-baked here.

The good (or stress-inducing, depending on your perspective) news is that you’ve got another fractionally-baked idea to pair it with. Yay! A salt and pepper set!

And then there are all those other little fragments of something rattling around in your head like broken filaments or a pick stuck inside a guitar. They want to be part of your story, too.

You shake all the pieces out, line them up on the carpet. Really, it’s a bit like emptying one of those $19.99 Everything jars from Goodwill onto the floor and looking at all the Legos and buttons and friendship beads and Canadian money and googly eyes and plastic dinosaurs and popsicle sticks with the jokes on them and stale candy and God knows what and saying, From this I shall build a DeLorean. A sane person would answer: You’re off your rocker and halfway to the moon.

But somehow you string the pieces together. Somehow your choking hazard avalanche of disparate ideas and disorder becomes an outline, then a draft, and then a novel. Give or take 3-300 revisions between.

How do you get from Chaos to finished product? It’s a mystery to me, and frankly some kind of miracle. But there are a few things that do seem to help:

  1. Time. Ideas need to steep. Suggestions need to sit. Parts need to come together. Most of which is outside the actual writing.
  2. Effort. Sometimes the only way to find the path that works is to try all the ones that don’t first. Multiply x 3,756 for all the individual challenges/creative problem-solving issues you might encounter in a single novel.
  3. Determination. Just keep showing up. And showing up. And showing up. You have to work and work some more until it’s done.

Those are the bases. Your ideas are the flavor.

What you make (and how) is up to you.

 

1) Walk into library 2) Pick a book off the shelves.

Today I’m writing because I’ve recently rediscovered the pleasure of something I haven’t done for fun since high school: walking into a library, picking up a novel I’d never heard of and had no prior plans to read, and getting sucked in from jacket to epilogue.

As a writer, I’m also an avid reader, but here is my issue: I almost always know what I am going to read. I like structure: I work from lists. I’ll read what a friend hands me, what catches my eye on Goodreads. With purpose: books that play off one another, novels I will later be able to watch the film adaptation of, research/background reading, comp titles, work whose writing mirrors what I intend to do next. I read on a mapped route. And to some degree, if you read a lot of the same author, or work through trilogies or series, or even have a favorite table or shelf you always check at the bookstore, you might do the same.

Here is what I think.

I think, like writing, our reading should sometimes surprise us. And not just surprise us; knock our socks off and eat them and spit out a pair of mittens. Okay, maybe minus the eating and mittens. Point is, a good story has the power to floor you. A good, unexpected story can obliterate you.

In the best possible sense.

So here is my reading challenge for you:

  1. Walk into a library or bookstore.
  2. Pick up a book you’ve never heard of (though by all means, read the jacket and go with one that snags your interest). Bonus points for a genre or age group you don’t usually read!
  3. Take the book home and read it.

If you’re lucky (do not underestimate luck), somewhere in number three you will enter a time warp because the book you’ve brought home to read is so ridiculously engrossing you can’t set it down ’til it’s over. Try it. See what happens.

Here are my latest treasure finds, the two books-off-the-shelf that inspired this post:

Wool by Hugh Howey

Thousands of them have lived underground. They’ve lived there so long, there are only legends about people living anywhere else. Such a life requires rules. Strict rules. There are things that must not be discussed. Like going outside. Never mention you might like going outside.

Or you’ll get what you wish for.” –Goodreads

 

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

“Stephen King returns to the characters and territory of one of his most popular novels ever, The Shining, in this instantly riveting novel about the now middle-aged Dan Torrance (the boy protagonist of The Shining) and the very special twelve-year-old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals.” –Goodreads [abridged]

Full jacket copy here.

Homemade Calendar – May

may 2014 calendar

Here is the finished page I made for May, this month using nail polish, soft pastel chalks, and oil pastels to mark off the days.  Originally I intended to use nail polish all the way through, but the polish wasn’t having any of it. In fact, I thought I’d ruined the month by the third square– the paint came out sticky and uneven and looked like crayon! But I kept going, tried some other things, and in the end I rather liked the mix of smooth and painterly-looking strokes. And the colors, even the weaker ones, turned out like shades of ice cream and cake! Appropriate for Marie Antoinette.

Looking ahead to June, my main focus will be on writing the first draft of my new book: a MG project involving a girl who gets trapped in a world through the cupboard, and must use her wits and its wonders to get home. What about you?

 

Who should I submit to? – How To Research Agents and Target Submissions

Since my main goal for May was to get Juniper out on submission, I’ve spent the last several weeks combing through query and agent resources and selecting my own top candidates. In this post I’ll share some of the helpful things I’ve learned.

First, a full list of resources. I’ll explain more about what they are and how they can be used below.

Resources:

Julie’s Method

When first building your list of potential agents, I recommend using AgentQuery and QueryTracker, which allow you to search for agents by the genres they represent. This allows you to compile an EVERYBODY list from the get-go, so if your top choices don’t work out you still have a huge pool to choose from right at your fingertips.

Another great thing to do at the beginning is to search Twitter using the hashtag #MSWL. Sometimes agents tweet very specific things they’d like to see in stories, which they mark with the acronym MSWL (Manuscript Wishlist). This might help you earmark a few agents to investigate more closely as potentials, or you might even find the perfect match! Also worth noting, the MSWL movement is not unique to Twitter. If your work is high concept, try Googling “MSWL + [keyword(s) that describe your novel]” and see if anything comes up on agent blogs!

Once you have a full list, whittle the pool down to your top choices. You might have a top 20, a top 10, a top 5. The important thing is to target your submissions to agents you think A) will be a good fit with your work–this book, and potentially future projects B) you would like to work with or C) both of the above.

I found the easiest way to focus the list down in the beginning (from 100+ agents to 18 in my case) was to read what agents were seeking. Represented genres are neatly listed on QueryTracker, but agent bios and interviews offer more specific insight. For example, QT might tell you that an agent reps both young adult and middle grade books, but their personal page might specify they want contemporary stories or are open to fantastic elements. Use available information to your advantage.

Once you have a narrowed list, begin deeper research. When you have your top [5-25] choices lined up, go deeper. Now is the time to check client lists (QT), sales history (Publishers Marketplace, AgentQuery), career highlights (PM again), agent and agency reputations (Preds & Eds, Absolute Write), the agent’s personal pages (social media) and tastes (as reflected in interviews and the books they represent, which you can read summaries of on Goodreads). Form your own impressions of the agency by browsing their website, history, and the books and authors they represent.

Weigh all of these things carefully, and if you still need to tighten your list, consider these factors:

  • How experienced is the agent in question? A newer agent is more likely to be building their client list or accept revisions, but they have less to their name. A more experienced agent has a solid track record, but will be harder to interest since they’ll already have a substantial client list.
  • Does s(he) represent other genres/age groups you are interested in exploring in the future? If not, do they work with other agents who do?
  • What are your overall impressions? Does something on the agent’s blog impress you? Do they sound [professional] [rude] [like fun to work with] on their Twitter feed? Does something they say in an interview make you jump up and down and go “AHHH, OMG, MY BOOK IS JUST LIKE THAT”? Information is an invaluable resource, but instincts can be just as significant. Trust yours.

What’s left? Submit. Wait. Repeat as necessary (though you may want to query in batches, and allow time for feedback to filter in so you can improve your material as you go).

Good luck!

 

Revising Your Manuscript: A Flowchart Guide

Here it is, guys– the illustrated page I promised on revising your manuscript! I couldn’t decide what color I liked best, so I went for a Dr. Seussian/robin’s egg blue and am also posting the original black and white design for coloring purposes :) Click the images to enlarge them.

Please feel free to print this page, color it, share it– and by all means, use it!

Revising Your MS Flowchart - blue 2

Revising Your MS Flowchart

 

On Doubt

The subject of doubt seems to be coming up a lot lately in my conversations with fellow writers and artists. I’m not sure why that is, but I know it’s an intrinsic part of the artist’s life and since I’ve experienced it quite recently I thought this would be a good time to reflect on some of the observations I’ve made about it. I’m always curious to hear how other creative types operate, too, so feel free to chime in with your experiences in the comments below!

Now, stop me if I’m being biased, but I think I’m pretty balanced of mind. I do my best to look at my work objectively, I welcome constructive criticism, and I don’t freak out when something doesn’t work– I think about it, and then I fix it. I approach creative challenges eagerly, with the mindset that there is a solution; I just have to work to find it. Meaning, I think I have an overall positive attitude in my work. I address what I can, and mostly that keeps me too busy to experience any more serious, hard-hitting doubts.

But there are times when they find me.

When they get in my head and under my skin and blacken my heart with their hollow, faceless terror.

So far these occasions have been limited. In fact, I count all of two:

1) When I decided to pursue writing and artistic efforts as a career. This, however, was not a short-lived doubt. Even knowing in the back of my mind since the second or third grade that I wanted to be a writer (and/or artist); even having funds from a previous job squirreled away; even realizing that no other work could ever be as satisfying to me as the creative livelihood, I struggled for a very long time to put both feet in the water and really give myself permission to pursue that life wholeheartedly. I’m talking months, maybe even more than a year since the time I began my first real attempt at a novel. I’m sure there were many reasons for that, but perhaps the easiest to point to is the simple fact of being a black sheep among peers. I’m in my twenties: my former classmates are in grad school or landing real jobs, getting married, buying houses, starting families. Me? I’m writing books. I wouldn’t have it any other way now, but it took some serious time, commitment, and effort to get to the stage where I didn’t just realize I had found the thing I loved; I accepted it, and embraced all of the outlier implications that came with it.

2) When I send out queries. Yeah. Notice that this one’s present and not past tense, because (at least, until I have an agent and actually sell something) I have a feeling that queries will be a perennial source of self-doubt. Up until the query stage I have been writing primarily for myself: indulging in artistic fancy, directing my work after my own vision. But once I come to the point where I must show the precious thing I have made to a professional whose opinion is tantamount to validation (or lack thereof), the doubts come thundering down: Is my opening right? Does the rest of the manuscript deliver everything it promised? Am I trying to do too much? Is this part cheesy? Is that part too complicated? Am I doing myself a disservice in submitting the work as it is now, utterly dashing all chances I have of finding representation?

It’s not even rejection I’m afraid of. I don’t take rejection personally and am content to revise/improve, then

Keep Calm and Query On

I think my real fear– the fear that swells up and can swallow me whole at times– is the thought that my book isn’t good enough.

Then I get a full request…

…and the doubts evaporate. Or, at the very least, I know I did something right.

SWEET RELIEF, I CAN BREATHE AGAIN

I think that’s how the majority of the artist’s doubts are: recurring, perhaps, but temporary. There will always be bad days. Days when we question our work or even our life choices. But there’s only one thing for it:

…And pretty soon life is beautiful again. Because you love what you do, and that’s all that really matters.