Accountability 101: Give Yourself a Gold Star

CLICK HERE + download my favorite accountability tool

When it comes to writing, productivity and being able to stay on task through a very long process is KEY. Here's how I do it. It works like a charm, every time.

Dear Ninja Writer,

Sometimes I feel like I should have “if you want to be a published author, you have to finish” tattooed on my forehead. That’s kind of long though, and it might look weird on dust jacket pictures–so I’ll just have to settle for saying it over and over again.

If you want to be a published author, Ninja Writer, you MUST finish your first draft. There is no way around it.

I want to share with you my favorite accountability tool for getting that done. It’s something so simple, you learned to respond to it in kindergarten.

Give yourself a gold star every day.

Victoria Schwab is a YA author who has a deliciously simple strategy for keeping herself motivated to write, and keeping track of her daily word count goals. It’s so easy and so effective. I wish I’d thought of it years ago.

All you need is a calendar and a pack of small stickers. I like the nostalgia of stars, but use whatever works for you. I think Victoria uses owls in her video, which I’ll link to below.

Seriously, all you do is write your goal on the calendar. I do it every morning, because I know myself well enough to know that trying to plan ahead in this case will lead to me stalling out if for some reason I can’t do something next Tuesday that I was sure today I could.

When you complete your daily goal you give yourself a sticker.

Victoria made a video about it, because it worked so well that people started asking her about it.

Trust me. Watching that calendar fill up with shiny stars is addictive. You won’t want a gap just because you didn’t feel like working that day. The stickers will be a nice visual reminder to plan your writing time into your week. It’ll give you an incentive to prioritize those hours.

Victoria uses a sticker for every 1000 words and looks to me like she has one or two stickers for just about every day. We’re not writing that fast. Remember, A Novel Idea is the slow road to a finished novel that doesn’t suck. I simplify it even further and just give myself a star for completing whatever the writing task I set for myself that day is. One day, one goal, one sticker. If you wanted to, you could use a sticker for ever 1000 words–that would work if you’re only writing a couple of times a week. Or every 250 words (that’s one double spaced page) or every 500 words.

I personally like the momentum of doing at least something on my book every day when I’m writing one. I’m going to lay down the law right now, though, and say you’re not allowed to feel bad if you’ve decided that you’re only doing to designate two or three nights a week for working on your book. Your goal might be doing a little research, or watching a TV show from your inspiration list (Click here if you’d like that exercise. It’s a good one.)

I want you to promise me that you aren’t going to let missing a sticker derail you. Not completing your goal is a learning experience. It means that you need to work on your time management. Just write tomorrow’s goal in the morning and work for that star. Writers have a tendency to be right-brainers–and I can tell you from deep personal experience that right- brainers have a habit of letting guilt completely derail us.

Not. This. Time.

Say that out loud, Ninja Writer. And mean it. We are all going to finish the first drafts of our Works in Progress. And we’re going to have fun and build community and kick some ass while we’re at it.

So, get yourself a calendar and some gold stars. Today if possible. By far my favorite tool for this kind of accountability is my FRED (that’s a Folder for Reaching the End of my Draft.) It’s just a simple printable calendar and writing log, stapled into a manila folder. Over the course of the month, I use my folder for notes, lists, brain dumping, mind mapping–whatever I need it for. Artistic, super effective, and FUN. You can download your own FRED here. Or use your planner. Or a wall calendar. Whatever will motivate you.

(Note that I didn’t get a star on March 11. I had a weird day and I just didn’t do what I’d planned to do. But I didn’t let it stop me from moving forward.)


Okay, Ninja Writer. Go forth and write good stories. 



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Meet the Writing Planner

Meet The Writing Planner--the only planner designed just for fiction writers. If writing a book is on your list--you need this! Come watch the video to see what's inside.

I’m willing to bet that I’m the most right-brained person you know. Even if you don’t know me, I’m more right-brained than anyone you know. I can (almost) guarantee it.

My head is SO FULL of ideas and I’m constantly starting things with huge amounts of excitement. The trouble is that I have to work really, really, really hard at sticking with something through to the end. If I didn’t do that work, I’d have a million (okay a hundred, at least) half-written novels and nothing publishable. Because publishable = finished.

It’s so easy for my brain to side track me onto the next thing before I’ve finished this thing. So, I have all of these little systems for making sure that when I start a book, I actually finish writing it.

The one thing that has helped me the most when it comes to being a right-brained writer is The Writing Planner. I developed it about two years ago and it has just been the biggest help. It’s like an accountability partner, a log book, a traditional planner, and a story planner all rolled into one awesome package.

Since it’s nearly impossible to adequately describe The Writing Planner to you, I made a little video showing it off. (Be warned, I suck at video. This isn’t a slick, fancy, video. It’s just me, showing you The Writing Planner while I’m sitting at my desk.)

There you have it. The Writing Planner, in all of it’s awesome glory. You can buy one by clicking here. If you’d like to get it at a huge discount, I’d love to send you a coupon code. Just click the yellow button!

Click here to get a big, fat discount on The Writing Planner!

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Meet FRED: My Favorite Writing Accountability Partner

FRED--your folder for getting to the end of your draft. Fred is the best accountability partner a novel writer could ask for! Want a copy? Click through!

I’m pretty sure we’ve discussed before that writing is damned hard work. And you have to do so much of the hardest work up front, before anyone even knows you’re a writer. Probably before you’re even ready to admit out loud that you actually are a writer. And long before you have any one official, like an editor or an agent, standing by to give you deadlines and remind you to put your butt in a chair and write.

So, I have this tool that I use that has made a big difference for me. It keeps me on track, gives me a little boost everyday, and is just an awesome inanimate accountability partner that lives in a manila folder on my desk. I call him FRED–the Folder for Reaching the End of my Draft. Fred is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, efficiency wise. He keeps me on track. He kicks me in the butt, without saying a word.

So basically, Fred is a calendar and a writing log stapled into a file folder. Fred isn’t fancy–but that’s okay. Fancy isn’t required. What matters is that he works.

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Trying Out Kindle Scout

Trying out Amazon's new crowdsourcing program: Kindle Scout. A great idea for indie writers? Maybe.

The other day I posted about my manuscript called WASTED.

I swear, this book. I love it so much. The story means so much to me. It was inspired by a murder trial I covered when I was a young reporter in rural Northern Nevada, and by my time as a drug court counselor. The main character is a fourteen-year-old boy named Noah, and his story I’ve ever written that just came pouring out of me.

I’ve been through two agents and a failed round of submissions to traditional publishers trying to sell WASTED the traditional way. It isn’t happening, for a couple of reasons.

The big one is simply that publishing on a whole is in a huge state of flux. Because of that, it’s become very rigid in some ways. Right now, publishers aren’t sure what to do with a fourteen-year-old protagonist who’s smoking meth with a homeless pedophile when his best friend snaps and kills his own family.

Noah is too young and his story is too dark to fit neatly in YA–and adult books with fourteen-year-old protagonists aren’t being snapped up by traditional publishers either these days.

Especially, I suspect, not when they are written by an author whose decidedly-YA books were sold to an adult imprint of Penguin and struggled to find their audience.

So, now I have this manuscript for a story that I adore and feel very strongly about putting out into the world. And I figured, what better time then to experiment with less traditional options? Not only will I get to see if maybe there is a place in the world for Noah’s story, I get to take you along for the ride and we can figure them out together.

I’m going to try two platforms over the next few days. Kindle Scout and Thunderclap. Both involve crowdsourcing and both make me pretty excited.

Kindle Scout is a fairly new Amazon (obvs) program. Basically, you submit your novel, they put it up on their site with a sample and the cover you provide them. For 30 days people can read the sample and nominate the book if they think Amazon should publish it.

If Amazon chooses to publish the book, the author gets a $1500 advance and a contract. And a book that is chosen gets the power of Amazon behind their book. Plus, the possibility of an editor. The fact that the contract doesn’t guarantee one is kind of a bummer, but my research showed that the books that have been chosen for publication so far were assigned an editor.

I keep reading that Kindle Scout is the American Idol of publishing, but t looks to me like this isn’t exactly a popularity contest. The books are evaluated by editors before an offer is made, just like at any publishing house. The nominations seem to be a way for an author to show that their work will have support if it’s published. Also, a bunch of nominations probably puts a book on the editors’ radar. But having a lot of nominations doesn’t guarantee publication.

I submitted Wasted on February 15. It took maybe fifteen minutes. I’d already made the cover on Canva a while back. It’s pretty basic, but I’m happy enough with it. Amazon got to me in about eighteen hours to tell me that I’d been approved and that my page would go live on February 18 at midnight. The campaign will end on March 19.

Anyone who has an Amazon account can nominate a book. Every person who nominates a book gets a free copy of the ebook when it publishes. That’s pretty amazing, really. The ebook goes out ahead of the launch, with a request from Amazon for a review.

A couple of notes about the very beginning bits of submitting to Amazon through Kindle Scout.

  • Make sure your book is edited as well as you can manage before you send it in. That means having someone other than you edit it. At the very least, have a friend who’s good with grammar and spelling have at it. If you have the resources, consider hiring a copy editor. I’m unsure of the level of editing you get through the program and I saw a couple of blog posts that seemed to suggest it wasn’t a lot and some that made it sound like you get an average amount. Your book means it’s your responsibility to make it the best it possibly can be.
  • If my book is chosen, but isn’t assigned an editor, I’ll be using my advance to hire one. You have the opportunity to make changes between your book being picked up and it launching.
  • You have to have a cover. The Internet is a highly visual place. People are definitely going to judge your book by it’s cover. You can hire someone to make a cover for you, or you can do what I did and make one yourself in Canva. I have no idea whether or not Kindle Scout books that are chosen for publication are given professional covers. If you really can’t make a compelling cover, spend the money to have one made. You can use it if you go indie, even if Kindle doesn’t pick your book up.
  • You’re really putting yourself out there with this. You have to write a note to nominators when you send your book in, thanking them whether or not your book is published. There is a ton of rejection in publishing, but it isn’t often that you have to announce your rejection to all of the people you’ve been begging to nominate your book. Steel yourself.
  • Everyone who nominates your book gets a copy of the ebook when it publishes, whether that’s through Amazon or self-publishing. That’s a great marketing tool, as all of those people will be encouraged to leave reviews. And they’ll be invested in your book, which is always nice.

My observations from my first week are that this might be a good way to give your book a boost of buzz. More than 700 people have visited my campaign page. I have no way of knowing how many of those actually nominated it, but I can see through the stats that only about half are people who I sent to the link. The rest are people who just saw the book and wanted to nominate it. That’s pretty exciting. If you can get your book on the Hot and Trending list, which Ninja Writers definitely have the numbers to do, then momentum takes over. As I’m writing this WASTED has spent 119 of 140 hours on the Hot and Trending list, and that’s mostly because of Ninja Writers who responded to the email I shot out when it went live.

We’ll see how this goes. Stay tuned.

I thought I’d give another crowdsourcing program a try in connection with my Kindle Scout campaign.

Thunderclap is a program that lets people agree to blast your message on their social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) all at the same time.

It’s free to sign up for a campaign. Mine took about half an hour to put together. I had to write a Tweet that participants will send out on my behalf, as well as a bio and a couple of paragraphs about my project.

You can choose to set the bar for your campaign at 100, 250, or 500 participants. Just like Kickstarter, if you don’t hit your bar, the blast doesn’t go out.

I went for 100. Maybe more of you than that will want to join my Thunderclap, but I wanted to make sure I have a good chance of at least hitting the minimum.

Here’s the Tweet/FB message that will go out if 100 people agree to lend me their social media platforms for a few minutes on March 10:

“Nominate the dark, gritty YA thriller WASTED by Shaunta Grimes on Kindle Scout & get a free ebook when it publishes.”

With a free campaign, it takes up to three days for approval. Mine went live in one.

I think Thunderclap has great potential for indie writers who don’t have a big publishing house’s promotional machine behind them. And, to be honest, even if you are with a big publishing house you probably won’t have much in the way of promotion unless you’re a bestseller.

When my debut novel launched, Berkley Romance tweeted it and my publicist sent it to a few romance book reviewers. My book is YA science fiction–zero romance.

I think that it will be interesting to see if we can make the Thunderclap go, because there are enough Ninja Writers to make ANY Thunderclap go if we wanted to pool our resources. It might be a great way to promote any Ninja Writer’s book’s launch. Let’s see how it goes.

Have any of you tried Kindle Scout or Thunderclap? Share your experience in the comments. I’ll keep you posted.

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3 Selfish Reasons I Want You in My Ninja Writer Gang


3 Selfish Reasons I Want You in My Ninja Writer Gang. The world needs your story. I want to teach you how to write it well. Let's set the world on fire.

I made a decision today.

We are Ninja Writers, you and me. That’s right, I decided. Ninja. Writers.

We’re Ninja Writers and we’re going to set the world on fire with our stories. I can feel it in my bones.

One of the first assignments in The Plotting Workshop is one of my personal favorites to do when I’m planning my own books. It involves inspiration and I invite everyone to send the results to me.

Just the inspiration for your stories fills my writer heart with so much joy and excitement.

You have amazing stories to tell, and that feeds my own mojo as I work on my own stories. And yeah–it’s heady, intense, amazing stuff we’re doing.

I really, really want you to be a Ninja Writer with me, because I want it for you, but also for some entirely selfish reasons. Here they are:

  1. First and foremost, I want your stories. I’m grabby-hands eager for your stories. I want them. And that means you have to write them. I want to teach you to write them well, and then support you while you get them done so that I can have them.
  2. Do you know how powerful even a handful of dedicated, focused people can be? Imagine what Ninja Writers could do, if we put our minds to it. We could break the publishing industry. We could change everything.  I want to be part of that.
  3. I never want to let the publishing industry dictate my creativity again. I feel so strongly that we can have far more control over how our stories are told than writers have ever had before. We can have a deeper connection with our readers. We can decide which stories need to be told, without gatekeepers who are worried about the bottom line. Again: I want to be part of that. We don’t have to put our careers completely in the hands of a system that isn’t keeping up with a swiftly changing world.

Why Ninjas? Well, because I want to be something as awesome as a Ninja Writer. And I don’t want to be the only Ninja Writer, so I’m hoping you’ll come be one with me.

Ninjas are stealthy. They sneak attack. And they know it takes a lot of work on the front end to be able to be an effective ninja. They train. They hone their skills. And when they strike, no one sees it coming.

The world needs your story. Are you ready to do this? It all starts with The Plotting Workshop.

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Do What You Never

Life is full of Always and Never. How could doing what you never change your life?

Facing your fears sometimes means doing the thing you never do. It means risking failure. Or giving up something that’s important to you when it isn’t working anymore.

I had an incredible opportunity in the summer of 2014. I was invited to sign my books at the American Library Association conference in Las Vegas. My publisher put my daughters and I up in a fancy room at a fancy hotel. We got to meet Judy Blume! A very nice man sat me at a table with stacks of my books in a massive conference room booth. I gave away all my copies. People were happy to have them. It was the most fun.

It was what I’d always dreamed about.

Right next door was my publisher’s young reader’s booth. Where EVERY YA librarian in attendance visited to choose books they wanted to put on their shelves in the next year. My books weren’t there. They were with the books set up for adult librarians.

My young adult books sold to an imprint of a massive publisher that doesn’t actually publish young adult books. At least, not very often. And it turns out that the young reader division and the adult division don’t work togehter. There was no way for me to move my books over to where the interested librarians might find them.

I’ve been thinking about something a lot lately.

Two somethings, actually. Always and Never.

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10 Steps to Finding a Literary Agent

You've finished your first draft. You've polished it to a high shine. Now what? Here's a primer that will teach you what you need to know to find a literary agent.

Ideally, getting a literary agent is something a writer only has to do once. The querying process works, you sign with someone amazing, they champion your work until they retire. Done and done.

If only we lived in an ideal world.

I’ve successfully queried agents twice. Once in 2011, when I signed with my first agent, who sold my first two novels. Eventually it became clear that she wasn’t that into anything else I wanted to write, and we parted ways. Amicably. She is amazing. Sending a parting-ways email to her was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

I found another agent last summer. She sent a manuscript around to a few publishers, then decided almost immediately that she didn’t want to represent young adult books anymore. She parted ways with me.

So, here I am again. I finished another book. I sent out my emails to a long list of agents. And I’m waiting. Waiting. Waiting. So much waiting. And checking my email. Thank God you can’t wear out the refresh button on a Gmail account. Seriously. The waiting is insane. You have to have an unnatural amount of patience to be a writer. That level of patience is matched only by the unnatural ability to withstand rejection that any writer has to build.

Because there is an incredible amount of rejection in publishing. Even if you’re successful. My first book? I sent out 180 agent queries. I had forty agents ask to read it. That means 140 times, agents rejected it. And of the forty? Four offered to represent it. Four–do you know how amazing it is to have four agents wanting you to hire them so that they can try to sell your book to a publisher? Very, very, very amazing. But it also means that 90 percent of the agents who read my manuscript rejected it.

Wow, right? So much rejection.

I thought I’d take some of my waiting-waiting-rejected-waiting-some-more-send-me-a-full time to share some thoughts with you guys about this whole querying thing. I give you my top ten bits of agent querying advice.

A Guide to Finding a Literary Agent

Join Query Tracker. Sign up for the free service at least, but consider paying the $25 a year for the premium service. You can query multiple projects if you do. For instance, I can see how agents responded to both of my last forays into querying-land as I’m working on querying this new book. I know which agents have read my other books, which responded well to them, even though they didn’t offer to represent them. It’s an awesome site and well worth the $25. At the very least, it’s a fantastic tool for keeping track of all of those queries.

Do your research and choose agents who represent what you write, who have sold other books in your genre, and who you think would be an fantastic rock star to have in your corner. It’s okay if there are a lot of them on your list. In fact you want a lot. But, start with ten or so at first. You don’t want to paper the industry with a bad query letter. It’s hard to come back from that. Send out five or ten, and wait to see the response. You’re looking for a ten percent request rate. That means, out of ten, you get at least one request for all of or part of the manuscript. Remember this. Your query letter is a sales tool. Its whole job is to convince the agents that they want to take a look at your work. If it doesn’t do that, it’s slacking. Tweak it. Find a few people to send it to for advice. Query Tracker has a forum where you can post your query for feedback. Tweak it some more. And try with another five or ten agents.

Once you know you have a good query (at least ten percent request rate), send that sucker out. I mean it. Don’t let yourself get sucked into thinking you have to query one agent at a time or stop querying when an agent requests your manuscript. Do your research and send it to every agent you think will be interested. That means agents who represent the type of book you’ve written. Don’t send you romance novel to a children’s book agent. That’s just a waste of everyone’s time. But go ahead and send it to every agent you can find who represents romance novels. If you’re using Query Tracker, click through to each agent’s website and make sure you follow their submission guidelines. Some will want just a letter. Some will want a letter and anywhere from a few pages (the least I’ve ever seen is five) to the entire manuscript. Some will want a synopsis. Give them what they want.

You want to get it out there, because once one agent offers to represent you, the fun begins. You get to send an email to every agent who has requested your manuscript, and even those who just have the query if you want to, with ‘offer of representation’ in the subject line. That subject line makes all the difference. You’ll have a whirlwind week or so, with emails flying in. All of that waiting you were doing, all of that patience you had to build? That’s all out the window. No patience required here. You’ll get requests, you’ll get congratulatory step-asides and rejections, and they’ll all come in quickly.

Eventually, you’re going to have to make a decision. The deadline you’ve given agents to read if they wanted to will arrive. You’ll have whatever offers you’re going to get. And now, maybe the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do. If you’re anything like me, you’ve wanted an agent for so long, and worked so hard to get one, that the idea of rejecting one of them (or more) seems impossible. What kind of crazy person would do that? You. You’re the kind of crazy person, because you can only have one agent. You don’t really want to pay 15 percent to more than one anyway. You’re going to have to make this huge decision while you’re on an adrenaline high. I’m not going to lie. It isn’t easy.

Write a list of questions to ask each agent. Please, write them down. You’re going to need the prompts, I promise you. You want to ask your potentially new agent things like: What is your communication style like? Can I tell you about my next project, so I can make sure we’re on the same page? How editorial are you? Where do you see this book going? How much editing do you think my manuscript needs? What other manuscripts in my genre have you sold?

Ask to speak to one of their other authors. This makes sense on a couple of levels. It’s nice to have a buddy, once you start the next wait-wait-wait phase of the publishing process (there are many of them.) It’s also a good idea to talk to someone about this particular agent who has been where you are. Make a list of questions, because chances are good you’re going to forget your own name while you’re talking to people.

You’re going to have to narrow the field to one. Don’t let your emotions do this for you. It might be tempting to be loyal to the first agent who offers. Or to go with that one agent from the big firm, over the others from smaller, boutique firms. You need to have a good idea of what kind of relationship you want with your agent before you get to this point. All that waiting you did when your queries were out is a good time to do some research.

Once you have your one agent chosen, you get to tell them that they’re hired, which is big, big fun. You also get to write emails to the others, rejecting them. Hard. Gut-wrenching. If you have any kind of tendency toward self-doubt, this is going to be rough. I won’t lie. But it has to be done. The agents are used to it. They’ll probably write you back and congratulate you and let you know they’ll be looking for your book (Not soon though. So. Much. Waiting.)

Now you get to wait some more while your new agent works on your edits. Guess what you get to do while you wait? Can you guess? That’s right. Put your butt in your chair and start writing again.

Would you like a printable copy of the ten steps to finding a literary agent? You can find it on the Super Secret Page. Subscribe below to gain access to it and all the other goodies you’ll find there!

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5 Ways to Find the Hours to Put Into Writing

5 Ways to Find the Hours to Put Into Writing. If you want to be a writer, you're going to have to figure out how to put your butt in a chair!My daughter, Ruby, is an 11-year-old athlete. Her main sport, the love of her life, is soccer. She’s a goalkeeper and nothing makes my little girl happier than having people kick balls at her head.

I was thinking the other day as I was watching her soccer practice about what an amazing work ethic she has.

It’s February right now and her coach is offering voluntary indoor practices and scrimmages. No one has to come. These practices are mostly just to give the girls something to do and help keep them in shape between seasons. Her official indoor winter practice with her U11 team is one hour on Friday evenings. There’s also a keeper practice on Saturdays for an hour.

Ruby wanted more. I told her she should ask her coach for more practice time. She did and wound up with permission to stay an extra hour to practice with the U14 girls who come in after the U11 practice is over (and she can stay up to two more hours to practice with the U13 and the U12 girls if she wants to–although four hours of soccer is a little much, even for her!), another hour with the U10 girls on Wednesdays, and an extra hour with the older keepers on Saturdays. So, at least five hours a week instead of two.

And then this morning she burst in to tell me that she had a FANTASTIC IDEA. She wants to ask her coach if she can practice with the U12 girls as well as her own team when the regular, mandatory practices start in March. Her regular practice schedule is two hours on Monday and Wednesday and Saturday (until games start, then just Monday and Wednesday, plus games.) Her FANTASTIC IDEA is to add two hours on Tuesday and Thursday.


That’s especially amazing when you learn that last Friday, Ruby was the only girl on her team to show up at all (she got a private lesson from her coach) and the Friday before that there were only four girls total.

Ruby is a Rock Star and I really believe that one of these days I’m going to be writing a blog about being the mom of an Olympic hopeful.

Writing requires a similar kind of work ethic.

You have to put the hours in to learn the skills that will give you a shot at being successful.

Not everyone is going to be a bestseller, just like not every 11-year-old with a dream is going to make it to the World Cup, but it’s a guarantee that everyone who does reach the pinnacle of the dream had a stellar work ethic and put the hours in.

There’s a theory that you have to write a million words before you write something publishable. That’s 1000 words a day for 1000 days, or about two and three quarters years. If you don’t write every day, let’s say you can get your million words in by averaging 500 words a day for five years. That’s 2500 words on the weekends or 1000 words every weekday during your lunch break. That’s getting up at 5 a.m. every day and writing two pages.

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My Publishing Story (And Why I Chose Patreon)

My publishing story and why I'm using Patreon.


I don’t think I’ve ever done this here. I’d like to take a minute and share with you the story of how I became an author and my experiences with the publishing industry.

I wrote the first draft of my first novel, a romance book called Devil You Don’t, when I was very, very pregnant with Ruby. I wrote it in November of 2004, during Nanowrimo. Ruby was born on December 8. That first draft sucked. It was bad. I mean, it was really bad. But I found a fantastic critique partner and we spent an entire year going chapter-by-chapter through both of our novels. By the end of the year, my book didn’t suck anymore. It won a prize. It got very close to being published by Harlequin (after two rounds of editing, they passed.) I had a hard time letting it go, because every time I thought I was ready, someone else nibbled at it. In the end I self-published it.

Meanwhile, I kept writing new stuff. My fourth novel was my first young adult story. I called it Freaks and the Revolution. Here’s a pro-tip. Don’t get invested in the title of your book if you’re planning to seek traditional publication. Chances are very high that the title will be changed and that there will be nothing at all you can do about it. (Chances are also good that when an editor emails to tell you that your title is being changed, you’ll still be on such a high from learning that you’re going to be published that you won’t care what they want to call it.)

When you write a book that you think might be publishable, the next step is to find a literary agent. The agent represents you and your work to big publishers who otherwise wouldn’t even let you dive into the slush pile. I wrote a query letter for Freaks and the Revolution in November 2010. I sent it out to ten agents, and while I was waiting for a response, Ruby got very sick. She had pneumonia and I went with her to Las Vegas (from the tiny mountain town we lived in 300 miles away) where she was in the hospital for three weeks. During those three weeks, half of the agents who had my query letter requested the manuscript, and then still during those three weeks, they all promptly rejected it.

I didn’t do anything for a year. I was overwhelmed at first by Ruby’s illness. She got better, thankfully, but I just couldn’t bear the rejection of Freaks and the Revolution. I let it sit. And sit. And sit. I worked on another manuscript, called Wasted, and eventually I decided to self-publish Freaks and the Revolution. After all, 2010 was the start of the indie publishing boom. A lucky few were becoming overnight successes. I loved the story and I thought–why not? So, I hired someone to make me a cover and I read it again. Two things happened. I had fresh enough eyes to see the problems with my story, and I was sure all over again that this book was publishable.

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