Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Because we writers need all the good news we can get....

My friend Jenn Johansson, whose book sold last year in Italy and Germany, finally sold in the U.S.! Her YA debut INSOMNIA will be out Summer 2013 from Flux. I've known about the deal for more than a month now, and after hearing about Jenn's road to publication I don't think anyone deserves it more than she does.

Go check out Jenn's post, and be sure to congratulate her!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gratification

**Want to know what a day in my life is like? Probably not, but go check out Sophia's blog anyway!


As a competitive athlete from a young age, I learned a lot about delayed gratification. Exercising is hard work. The summer before my sophomore year, I dragged myself out of bed at 6 a.m. for a four-hour early morning conditioning session, went home, napped, went back to the field for two hours of evening practice, then forced myself to take a 3-mile cool down jog once dusk set in. At times, I would come home so exhausted I didn't think I would be able to continue.

But I grew up a gymnast, and I knew that when soccer season finally rolled around, I would be glad that I put in the work I did. In a way, writing is similar. Sometimes I don't want to write (particularly when revisions are involved). There's this little voice inside my head, the voice that wants immediate gratification. This voice tells me to watch Grey's Anatomy or Pretty Little Liars instead of sitting my ass down to revise. This voice tells me to eat pizza and ice cream and french fries for dinner every single night, because I'm in college now and I DO WHAT I WANT. This voice tells me to stay home instead of dragging myself to the gym, because I'm tired, and I didn't sleep much last night, and I have homework to do.

My parents taught me to delay gratification. They taught me that I can do anything, but in order to do it, I have to be willing to work hard and let go of instant gratification in favor of long-term success. I credit them for my successes in life so far, because they nurtured my internal motivation rather than bribing me with external motivations. I don't get money for receiving good grades. My parents never bribed me to write, or practice my violin, or exercise. And when it comes to being a writer, internal motivation is key to success.

I think that's what we, as writers, need to learn. We need to be able to delay gratification. Writing won't always be fun, but even when it's not we need to force ourselves to write anyways. Instead of bemoaning the agony of revising, think about how good it will feel in three week's time when you have a brand new shiny manuscript.

So today, I'm going to the gym. I'm going to write. I'm going to eat healthy but still allow myself dessert :). I'm going to forget that little voice in my head and look at things from a long-term perspective.

What are you going to do?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

When it happens

The first time I got a rejection, I cried. Even though three agents had already requested fulls of my manuscript, the rejection came from my dream agent. During the long weeks of querying that followed I became convinced I would never get published. When I got an agent, the high didn't wear off until two or three months later. I made it! I had one of the best agents in the country! There was no way my book wouldn't sell.

Maybe AILLEA'S CARDS will sell, maybe it won't. There are a million reasons an agented book doesn't sell....the market's wrong, the publisher already has a similar book on its list, economic downturns, the content isn't quite right for the imprint, an editor who might've loved the book is on maternity leave, it needs to be more commercial, or the book just plain isn't good enough. And if your book doesn't sell, you'll never know. You'll never know the exact reason. It could be one, or a combination of many, or you could be just plain unlucky.

This thought used to terrify me. I used to get totally worked up over rejections. I would think about what might happen if AILLEA'S CARDS got rejected everywhere, falling short of both my expectations and my agent's.

But here's the thing: it will happen. If you want to get published, if you're willing to put in the work, it will happen. I'm confident I'll get published. Whether it's this book or the next book or even the one after that, some publisher is going to take a chance on me. So whenever I start getting worried about AILLEA'S CARDS, I think of my WIP. I know my next book is better; every time you write something new, you get better. And someday I'll write a book that's so good someone will have to take it.

Fifty years from now, it won't matter which book got published first. As a writer, I need to think about my career, not a single book. There are writers I know who worked on a single book for years, revising over and over, and when it didn't sell, they turned to self-publishing because they were so desperate to finally see their work in print. (This, of course, doesn't apply to all self-puslished authors....I think self-publishing can be a legitimate venture if done for the right reasons.) But me, I'm holding out. I'm holding out for traditional publication. Sometimes it's best to let go; if I have to give up on a few projects along the way, so be it. Those books obviously weren't good enough, or lucky enough, to land an editor, but that's okay because I've got nowhere to go but up. My writing will keep improving so long as I apply myself.

And when I finally obtain that goal of being traditionally published, it will feel all the more sweet because I struggled for it. I endured rejection after rejection and I even gave up on projects that took years to write. And I am confident that my debut, whatever it turns out to be, will be the right book for me. It will happen, and fifty years from now I'll probably be glad I didn't publish those manuscripts that got rejected.

So when writing gets me down, I take comfort in the fact that my WIP is the best thing I've written so far. I think it's good enough, and hopefully someone else will as well.

As writers, I think we (myself included) need to fixate less on individual projects and more on our careers as a whole. Sure, we love each of our books as we'd love a child. They're all unique and special and they contain pieces of ourselves. But if you want a career, it's important to look at the bigger picture. One book is just a small segment in your long path to success.

So this is my advice for dealing with rejections: keep looking to the future. Try to retain some perspective. Don't accept a sub-par deal, or sign with an agent you're not completely comfortable with, or self-publish just because nobody else will buy your book. The truth is, maybe you're not ready. Maybe I'm not ready. Don't sell yourself short for a single project, when it's the career you should be thinking about.

Because if you want it enough, you will get there. You will become a traditionally published author. And if I have to wait longer in order to find the perfect editor, one who really gets my projects, then I'm willing to do that. We should always strive for our best, and our best takes time.

And when you see your name on the spine of a book, with Random House or Harper Collins or any other press underneath, it'll be totally worth the wait.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Contest Winner - The Dark Divine

And the winner of a signed copy of The Dark Divine is....


*drumroll*


Gaylene! Congratulations. I will be emailing you shortly.

Friday, April 6, 2012

What are your guilty pleasures?

Lately I've been hearing a lot about this novel called 50 Shades of Gray, which apparently started out as Twilight fanfiction. I haven't checked it out personally, but I've read people's comments, particularly on the PubRants post by Kristin Nelson. Seems like many people consider it a guilty pleasure...not high literature, but an escapist novel to be read on a lazy day, away from friends who might tease you.

This got me thinking about my own guilty pleasures. When it comes to TV, I have several, including Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice, and Dance Moms. The last one is particularly awful....I'm embarrassed to admit I watch it, but the little girls are incredibly talented and it's fun to watch them dance.

But what about books? Have you ever read a book that's considered pure escapism? My reading guilty pleasure would have to be Pretty Little Liars. These books are completely addictive....I powered through the entire series in a matter of days, and occasionally I tune into the TV show, which deviates enough from the novels to still surprise me. Now, I doubt you'll find anyone who argues that Pretty Little Liars is great literature (nor does it aim to be). And as a writer, I do love great literature. But their appeal and enjoyability can't be denied. And sometimes, escapism is exactly what the doctor ordered.
So what about you guys? Do you have any guilty pleasures, reading or otherwise?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sex in YA

The other day I was perusing Amazon reviews (yeah, procrastination leads to useless wanderings) and I found a rather interesting discussion about sex in YA. In short, the reviewer didn't object to the presence of sex in young adult books; rather, she objected to the lack of consequences for sexual behavior. The book in question involves a female protagonist losing her virginity. The reviewer seemed to feel that as a teen, this girl should suffer from an unplanned pregnancy, an STD (despite condom use), or emotional distress, so as to impart the "sex is bad" message to readers.

I found this an interesting and somewhat strange perspective, and I decided to have a look around to see what other YA authors had to say. This is a quote from Sarah Ockler, author of TWENTY BOY SUMMER:


"Not every teen who has sex or experiments with drinking feels remorseful about it. Not every teen who has sex gets pregnant, gets someone pregnant, or contracts an STD. Not every teen who has sex does so while in a serious relationship. Not every teen who has sex outside of a relationship feels guilty, shameful, or regretful later on."


I'm still a teenager, and I'd say this quote applies to 95% of my teenaged friends. Most of them have had sex. Some became sexually active as early as freshman year, although late sophomore/early junior year seems to be the norm. None of my friends have ever been pregnant or contracted an STD. And, having spent a great deal of time talking with said friends about sex and relationships (hey, we're girls, it's what we do), I can confidently say that none of them regret their decision to become sexually active. Of course, I'm not claiming this is true for all teenagers. There are plenty of teens out there who probably regret having sex early in life, or who end up pregnant/infected. But in my experience, there are also teens who have satisfying, safe, and healthy sex lives. (Side note: my friends are all very self-confident people, which makes a huge difference when it comes to sex, because self-confident girls are less likely to have sex solely because of peer pressure.)

And as Sarah said, those teens don't necessarily feel shame. I think this is a hard thing for adults to accept, because we want children to remain innocent for as long as possible. But it's reality. Teens have sex, and sex, even at a young age, can have positive consequences as well as negative. I have friends who are in long-term relationships (5+ years). Sex is not detrimental to their emotional or physical well-being; on the contrary, sex enhances their relationships, and it's an important part of romantic intimacy.

There are people out there who believe (usually for religious reasons) that sex should only occur between a husband and wife. I completely understand this sentiment. I can respect such a belief, even if I don't necessarily hold it myself. So the real question is, what gives us the right (as authors) to shame teenagers who've made such decisions? Is it really our job to preach about whether or not teenaged sex is bad? Teens are smart, and we can tell when we're being preached to. Oftentimes, authors who try to insert morals into their stories come across as unprofessional, unsubtle, and just plain annoying.

For me, the key is separating your character's thoughts and feelings from your own. In other words, don't make your characters feel shame because you think they SHOULD feel shame. You have to get inside your protagonist's head. Would this distinctly unique, flawed character feel bad about having sex? Put your own ideas aside and try to see it from their point of view. If I'm writing about a character who grew up in a small conservative town, where her parents impressed upon her the importance of chastity, she would probably feel guilty about having sex as a teen. Shame isn't the message I personally want to send, but as the author I feel it's my job to forget about "messages" and write a story that's organic for the characters. And if one of my teenaged characters decides to have sex, I'm not going to "punish" them with pregnancy or an STD or emotional damage just to please parents. That being said, all actions should have consequences. If your story includes sex, there should be a reason. But those consequences (positive or negative) need to be natural for the established character.

And it's certainly true that not all teens have sex. Some choose to wait simply because they don't feel ready. My point is, whether or not your teenaged character has sex (and how he/she feels afterwards) should be determined not by your own personal beliefs but by the beliefs of your character.

When I read books, I want stories that are realistic. I don't care about the author's personal views; I care about believable characters, a strong plot, and authenticity, qualities I attempt to emulate in my own writing.