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The Gathering of Wits and Nerves

A long time away from blogging, a lot of excuses. Last school year was tough—emotionally exhausting and stressful. It was hard to come up with anything to say that wasn’t venting, and no one needs that.

Then the momentum was gone. Still not sure I had anything to say.

Things happened, though. I survived the school year. I lost my editor as she got an amazing-awesome job at another house. (For those keeping count, this is the second time this has happened to me. Editors should flock to me if they want promotions.)

I also went to Las Vegas for the American Library Association (ALA) annual conference and signed ARCs—my first-ever author event! Look, here’s proof:

Me and my signing buddy, fellow Hyperion author Melissa Landers

Me and my signing buddy, fellow Hyperion author (of awesome!) Melissa Landers

I’m advising student council at my school for the first time ever, and I also went to a leadership conference with most of the kids over the summer. Lots of fun there.

Now the school year has started … well, actually, we’re almost through the first quarter. My classes feel more balanced for the most part, and I’m making things up as I go with student council. Generally, I feel like I have a better grip on things.

Well, except for the fact that my debut novel launches in ten days. Not sure I’m gripping that just yet. I keep expecting it to feel more real, but it doesn’t quite yet. Not even with a hardcover in my hands:

It even FEELS pretty.

It even FEELS pretty.

Maybe it’ll feel real when I’m standing in front of people, talking about it at the launch party. (If I don’t pass out and/or run screaming from the venue.) Or maybe when I see it stocked on shelves at the bookstore.

Maybe the rational, logical side of me took charge of this and accepted it as “real” ages ago, and that’s why I’m not noticing a difference. Maybe two years of students saying, “You wrote a BOOK??” helped it sink in. (If so, thanks, kids!)

So now it’s time for me to pull together. To gather my nerves for everything happening around the launch, and to hopefully gather my wits and come up with a few things worth sharing here now and then.

Wish me luck. :)

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Wherein I Have a Cover

First, a note that it’s time for me to get back into blogging, so keep an eye out here as well as Tumblr to hear all the news and random musings.

If you follow me on any kind of social media, you already know this, but here it is for the record: my cover for Stitching Snow!

The awesome people at YABooksCentral hosted the official reveal, and the giveaway is ongoing. Be sure to visit and enter.

Stitching Snow Cover Final

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Patience Is More Than A Virtue

Several decades ago, a series of studies were done, known as the Stanford marshmallow experiment. Here it is in a nutshell: Young children are presented with a treat (such as a marshmallow) and told they can eat it now, or if they wait fifteen minutes for the tester to return, they can have two. Some children waited the full time. Some didn’t wait at all. Some tried to wait, but gave in and ate the marshmallow before time was up.

Over the following years, the kids who were able to delay gratification were more successful in a variety of life measures. Self-control puts us on better footing in society.

More recently, a follow-up study at the University of Rochester played with the variables a bit. Half of the children experienced the tester breaking a promise before the marshmallow experiment began. The other half experienced the tester keeping a promise. No surprise which group was able to wait longer during the experiment.

To me, this has implications for all aspects of our lives, including writing and publishing.

As far as I can tell, the most successful authors—on both sides of the traditional/self-publishing aisle—practice not only persistence, but patience. (And I consider “success” not only straight-up dollars, but also quality of product, strength of work, and longevity of career.) As both a reader and a writer, signs of impatience strike me as red flags. Some examples:

– A slapdash cover (or better, one with a stolen image) on a self-published book because “it’s what inside that matters.”

– Lack of editing because “the story is good, and who cares about grammar or craft if it’s a good story?”

– A query put up for critique, only to see that the writer self-published the book within the past few weeks.

– Queries sent out, only to have the writer self-publish before several agents even have a chance to respond.

– Querying every agent who lists that genre, without further research, and signing with a “schmagent” just because they offered.

– Submitting to every publisher who doesn’t require an agent (sometimes while querying agents simultaneously), and signing with any who offers.

I’m sure there are others.

Seriously, what’s the hurry? If you choose to go the traditional route, it’s a long process. Learn to love waiting, because you’ll do a lot of it. There will be times you have to rush—quick turnaround on copyedits, maybe—but the patience will serve you well.

If you’re still looking for an agent, it’s worth it to take your time and do your research, improving the odds that you’ll land with the right agent. In my case, taking my time and not giving in to the urge to bail and self-publish also ensured that my writing improved. Now it’s to a point where I’m fairly comfortable with the idea of it going out into the world. (It’s fine to switch tracks from querying agents to self-publishing. Just do it thoughtfully, not as an emotional act of desperation.)

If you’re self-publishing, have the self-control to take your time and do it well. Just because it’s easy to throw a first-draft out there doesn’t mean you should. If part of your motivation is that traditional publishing takes too long, that’s okay. Even taking your time, you can likely get it done well more quickly than a big publishing house.

There’s something to be learned from that second study, too, and the effect of whether the kids believed the promise would be delivered. We’re grown-ups. Don’t give in to excuses like “But this self-published book is crap and made a million dollars” or “But this Big Publisher book is crap and they made it a movie.” We shouldn’t be worrying so much about the promises of the market or the industry to make sure “the cream rises.”

We should worry about whether we can keep the promise to ourselves that we’ll BE the cream.

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First Conference: The Aftermath

I’m back. As expected, I survived despite my anxiety. The trip to New York was great, and I gladly accept the resulting exhaustion. Since I went primarily for a conference, and conferences are for learning, I’ll share a few things I learned.

The bottom line is that I need to head back to NYC before too long. (And yes, I know my sister will insist on coming along that time.)

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Why Casinos Aren’t Publishers

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, it’s another math-centric spiel on probability.

We all know why casinos work and make money, right? It’s because they know the odds are stacked in their favor. They go to great lengths to safeguard against cheating. As a player, some games have better odds than others, but the numbers are what they are. You can’t change them—all you can do is know the parameters, consider your choices within them, and take a chance.

As writers, we talk about trying to increase our odds of getting an agent, getting published, making a bestseller list, etc.

It seems a natural statement, but we can’t do it. There are no odds. Odds assume all things are equal—the dice aren’t loaded, the roulette wheel isn’t rigged. In the writing and publishing world, nothing is equal.

We’re all have different strengths and weaknesses. We’re all at different stages of progression. Some have a story agents/editors want right now; some have a story they might have wanted a year or two ago; some have a story agents/editors won’t want for a year or two (or five) yet.

Seriously, no probabilities or odds out there at all.

I can understand the urge to think of it that way, though. Just like the casino, much of what happens is out of our control. And like the casino, there is some luck involved, if only as far as timing—getting the right agent’s (or editor’s) attention at the right time with the right project.

When things aren’t within our control, we tend to think of them in terms of chance, odds, hoping the cards fall our way.

When we think that way, we may forget things that are within our control. Working hard to continually improve our craft. Looking ahead to the next project (and the next, and the next) when the stars don’t line up for one, rather than staying stuck on that one, never moving forward. Educating ourselves on the industry and our options within it.

There is no magic bullet or shortcut, no counting cards or rigging the machines. We can do everything right and still not “win.”

Because there are no numbers to work. There is only work to be done.

Well, there’s one number out there. If we quit—or never get out there in the first place—our “odds” of success are precisely zero. As long as we avoid that number, we’re on the right track.

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The Awesomeness of Terrible/Wonderful, No-Good/Very-Rad Days

Remember a couple of months ago, how I had the most hectic day ever, yet it was still awesome?

It happened again recently, where my “real life” had me pretty occupied, yet my “literary life” demanded sudden attention.

Here’s the upshot of it, as reported in the Publishers Weekly Children’s Bookshelf:

Catherine Onder at Disney has acquired debut author R.C. Lewis’s Stitching Snow, a sci-fi YA thriller due out in summer 2014. In the book, a royal teen runaway is scraping together a living in a mining settlement on the far side of the universe, until she is discovered and “rescued” against her will. Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary Agency brokered the two-book, six-figure pre-empt.

Mind = boggled … maybe even scrambled Saturday-morning-egg style.

Thanks to friends who’d been through the process before me, I’d been prepared for the long slog of submissions. More months of waiting, more rejections, maybe some close calls where we didn’t quite get through acquisitions. Even when we had whispers of possible good news, my stupendous agent was great about keeping me grounded. Yay, step in the right direction! But nothing’s guaranteed.

I was ready for that, I think. But I was very fortunate things fell into place just as they did. Maybe I just shouldn’t bother having expectations anymore, because nothing ever turns out quite as I expect.

I’m beyond grateful to Jennifer for everything she’s done and continues to do. She pushes me in just the right ways. I also have amazing critique partners. Big group-hug to everyone at AgentQuery Connect. Mindy in particular (Yo, BBC!) has talked me off the ledge more than once. (You know the ledge … the one every writer visits now and then that says, “I Can’t Do This!”)

So, what does this all mean?

It means it’s time to get to work.

*rolls up sleeves*

*dives in*

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