Another Win and New Release

I found out Finding Frances placed 1st in the YA Novel category of the NEST (National Excellence in StoryTelling) contest run by the Central Region Oklahoma Writers. You can check out the winners page. So that’s nice, too. 

But bigger news is that I’ve released a new book, on the new serial platform, Kindle Vella. This is the Sarah stories, which I’m now collectively calling Always the New Girl. I released it as seven separate stories, as #1 (Now Would Be Good) through #6 (The Weight of Choices) plus the prequel (Binding Off). If you are interested in reading it, you can search for my name or the series name on the Vella page linked above. To read the entire series, you’ll have have to have 703 tokens, which you should be able to get with the free 200 and a purchase of 525 for $4.99. I’d love it if you could:

  • Follow the story
  • Like each episode
  • Review the story
  • Fave the story (you can only do one a week, and only after you’ve purchased tokens)

One downside to this is that you can’t read on an actual Kindle, only in the app or on the website. But I’m really hoping this takes off a little and gets me new readers for Finding Frances (probably wishful thinking, but why not?). 

Another Contest Update

So I know I posted last week after ages, so posting again one week later is a little odd… but I found out Finding Frances got another award, an Independent Publisher Book Award (an “IPPY”). This is another one with tons of categories, but it’s still nice to get some more recognition. Last year they had close to 5000 entries (I couldn’t find this year’s number). This time the book placed third (in another tie—what the heck is up with that?) in the Juvenile/Young Adult Fiction E-book category, which can be seen on this page. 

On the heels of these wins, I felt emboldened enough to apply for another BookBub Featured Deal. And got a big fat rejection a couple days later. So I’ve signed up for another Bargain Booksy deal for June 26 (the ebook version will be on sale for 99 cents from June 25 through July 1, in case that is of interest to anyone... anyone?). Because I found out—and it’s a little embarrassing to write this, but whatever—I have not sold a single book in 2021. A couple books (maybe 3?) sold on Amazon, but apparently they had a few in stock, so not a single one has been purchased from the publisher (I did confirm this with them). No Kindle or other ebook, either. I knew this was going to be hard, but not this hard. Ugh.

Maybe if I can make some progress with the Sarah stories, starting with “Now Would Be Good,” on Kindle Vella, I’ll get some new readers for Finding Frances. I mean, it can’t make things any worse, as it’s not possible to have a negative number of readers. Also from the department of maybe-not-bad news: I heard from my developmental editor on this book that she started reading this past week, so I’m hoping she’s as fast as she’s been in the past, and I get it back in a week or two. I can get “Now Would Be Good” ready to post pretty quickly, as I’m not going to worry about sending it to a copy editor first since it’s been gone over so many times as part of my thesis and more. I am still going to send the whole book to a copy editor, so if they do find anything wrong with that story, I can always update the text later. The only thing that will slow me down is if my developmental editor suggests any major structural changes that impact that story (or anything that comes later but I need to set up there). 

Random image: here’s a self-portrait I had to do for a class. My mom says it’s “frownier” than the photo I drew it from. Maybe I was subconsciously depicting how I feel about my less-than-stellar writing career? 

May 2021 Update

So it’s been a couple months since my last post. Although my break has actually been kind of nice, I’m in a weird place. I haven’t been able to read YA lately (or anything other than picture books, really). Still, things have changed a little since then. I decided to send Ugly to a developmental editor my book coach recommended, as she thinks this editor could make the difference for me. So I’m going to give it one more shot. I should get it back from her soon, and then I’ll have to dive in. 

Additionally, I’ve decided to clean up the Sarah stories and publish them through Kindle Vella, which is a new serial platform that hasn’t been released yet, but is coming soon. This book is odd and was always going to be hard to sell. But it’s perfect for serialization, because it’s always been a novel in parts, where each part is a self-contained story, with all of them adding up to a larger story. So each novel part can be one “story” in Kindle Vella, with each chapter (or maybe a few chapters) making up an “episode”. Here’s an article if you’re interested in learning more about Kindle Vella. I’m in the process of finishing up the full draft (meeting with my critique partner today to go over the revised last story), and I’ll make any needed changes and send it to a developmental editor this week. Then, once I make any of her recommended changes, I’ve still got to send it to a copy editor (I could skip this step, but I probably shouldn’t—though I might be able to get away with it for the first one, since it’s been edited so heavily in preparation for going into my thesis). I’m still hoping to get the first story (I’m starting with “Now Would Be Good,” which is technically the second story chronologically, but I’m planning to do the actual first one at the end, as a prequel) published on Vella before it releases, but that probably won’t happen. But I can hope. 

I also found out that Finding Frances has won an indie award called the Next Generation Indie Book Award. There hasn’t been a press release yet, but I was notified earlier and you can see the list here. Once they’ve officially announced it, it will show up on this page. The book tied for first place in the First Novel (70k-90k) category. Now, this award isn’t exactly prestigious and there are a million categories, and I really would have rather placed in the YA category, but it’s still really nice to get some recognition. Somebody somewhere thinks it’s a good book, even if nobody is buying it. Also, the prize is $100, which I assume they’ll split in half since it was a tie. Which increases my income from this book by more than 50%. This book hasn’t exactly been a rousing success. 

Other than that, I haven’t been working on any other YA stories, instead focusing on my picture book venture. I’ve got two different drafts that are coming along nicely, and another new one I wrote a first draft of on Friday. I’m going to be starting drawing up thumbnails for the first one, even though it’s going to be a while before I can actually do the artwork. I’m taking Life Drawing this term, and let’s just say my ability to draw people… needs to develop a little. 

Here is a sketch I did in my Life Drawing class that doesn't suck.

 

A Change

So I’ve made a decision. Despite years of my best efforts, I can’t get anywhere with the gatekeepers in YA publishing. So I’ve decided to stop writing YA, as it’s not worth continuing to put this much energy into something when there’s no hope of getting what I want out of it. Ugly was supposed to be the one that got me an agent, because it’s exactly what they’re all claiming they want: something diverse and different. But despite over 115 queries to agents on it, fewer than five requested anything, and nobody’s giving me anything but form rejections (most don’t respond at all). I do still have one full out on it—my only thing out there, which she’s had since December—so maybe I’ll change my mind if she decides to take me on. But that is unlikely, given my track record so far. I’m 95% done with the Now Would Be Good stories, but that is virtually unsellable because it starts when the main character is 13 and ends the summer she’s 18. Nobody buys YA with protagonists that young, at least not without some serious convincing. I’ve always known this was a problem, but I thought I’d have a chance with it if I could get an agent on Ugly, which for so long I believed would happen. I’ve been working on Sadie Speaks, too, and my book coach thinks this one could make it, but from what I’ve been hearing at conferences, the YA suspense/thriller market’s saturated and it’s hard for new writers to break in. 

I’m still debating what to do about the romances I write under a pen name, because those I’ve long planned to self-publish, so I don’t need to convince anyone I’m worth looking at there. But I never cared about those as much as my YA, so I don’t know.

As you might have noticed from my blog here lately, I’ve already been sort of shifting my focus to my art and learning how to make picture books, so I’m just going to make that my only real focus. 

I’m not sure what this means for this site. I don’t plan to delete everything, but I’m not sure if it makes sense to switch to talking only about picture books when it’s been so focused on YA for so long. Do I start reviewing the picture books I’m reading here, or should I make a new site for that? I have no idea. I am planning to publish any picture books I make under my real name, so maybe I should just keep the site as it is and change what I blog about. It’s hard to know. 

I guess I’ll just figure it out later. 

Feeling bit lost at the moment…

End-of-Feb Update

Well, I didn’t manage to post last week and I don’t have a lot to say this week. I should get a review up next week, however. 

Amazon took away one of the reviews of Finding Frances, so that’s extremely annoying. Those things are hard enough to come by. Other than that, there’s no news on the writing front. 

I finished my second term on the art degree and am starting three new classes this week. Due to some scheduling weirdness, I’m in two art history classes and one digital art class, so no physical art at all this term. I’ll have to figure out some stuff to make, anyway. I am still taking a weekly watercolor class, so I’ll continue that. Since I don’t have much to report in the writing world, I figured I’d share some of the art I made over the last few weeks. 

This is my first complete watercolor still life. 

Small pumpkin watercolor still life

We had to do a bird’s eye city scene with a character “falling.” That sort of creeped me out, so I gave the character an out. And made it a cat. Why not?

Winged cat over city

This one’s called “The Prize.” It was supposed to be three characters involved in a conspiracy of sorts. I figured a couple of boys arm-wrestling for a kitten would be close enough. Not that they particularly look like kids… I’ll get better—I take life drawing 1 next term. 

The Prize - two boys arm wrestling over a cat

Oh, and I figure I’d post a picture of my new cat, Xander, because why not? (Isn't he cute?) I’m working on a watercolor version of this picture because I love it, so if it turns out okay, I’ll post it here. 

Orange tabby cat on a chair

I’d Love a Review

As I’ve mentioned, I’m on a quest for reviews for Finding Frances. I want to run a promotion on Book Bub, and the rumor is you need at least twenty reviews to have a chance. This past Tuesday, I ran a promotion on the book that resulted in at least some sales, so that’s cool (my rating on Amazon went from 1,702,055 on November 4 to 27,553 on November 10). Obviously that’s nowhere near great success, but it’s nice to not be in the millions for a few days. Maybe someone who bought it will review it… I can hope. I’m also still in the middle of a review tour where I’m supposed to get eleven more reviews. I did get my first review that was lower than four stars, so that was interesting. I’m not upset—it still counts toward my total reviews and I still have a fairly good average rating.

I did decide to do NaNoWriMo for sure this year, and I’m barreling ahead with it, way ahead on word count because I’m working off an existing draft that has some usable parts (i.e., I’m cheating). I’m rewriting one of my romances.

At the end of October, I revised the first five chapters of Ugly and wrote a new chapter that comes between chapters one and two. I’m hoping these changes will be enough to make the editors and agents like it (though I have the rest of the chapters yet to do—that will happen after I finish my NaNo draft).

I also got my feedback back from Lou on the revised Sadie Speaks (the first 20 pages, anyway). He was mostly positive but had some tips I can use. I have just one more submission for him, and one for my research class, and I’m totally done with the MFA. My thesis was accepted by the library for binding earlier this week, so I’m officially done with that.

Bookshelves

It feels like there really is not much of interest going on right now. The thing I’m most excited about is the bookshelves in my bonus room that are finally ready for use. Here’s a picture of them before the top was finished (the railing is because there are stairs leading into the room):

Bookshelves with closet

And here is a picture of the top, finished except for a final sanding and painting:

Bookshelves with top compartment

I’ve started loading the shelves, but it’s a real struggle to decide what goes where, between the shelves downstairs, the shelves in the office, and the new shelves. It’s a nice problem to have, though.

In other news, I have finished my thesis except for formatting. I had a few minor edits from my advisor, and I’ve done them, but the thesis requires specific formatting and I’m working on that. I’ll get it to her in a few days, and then it will be officially done, except for printing and submission to the college library. I’m not exactly sure how that’s to be done remotely, but I’ll find out.

I ran Finding Frances through a promotion that went out to 75,000 people, and at least one person bought it. Maybe just one, but still. I’m still struggling to get enough reviews to try for a BookBub deal (supposedly having 20 gives you a much better chance, and I currently have 16).

August 2020 Update

I don’t have much to report about my writing. I did sell a couple copies of Finding Frances in June, and one in July. It’s pitiful that this is exciting, but there you go.

The final semester of my MFA has officially started. The main work is preparing my thesis, but I have that almost done. My mentor has the full creative thesis now and will be giving me feedback on it, and I have a few little tweaks to make to the critical part of it, and then I’ll submit that to her later this month. I’m also taking two classes in addition to the thesis. One is on suspense and thriller novels with Lou Berney (author of The Long and Faraway Gone, one of my favorite such novels). He’s got me reading a handful of novels for the first packet and then writing a short paper about what suspense is, and then for the second packet he’ll read a synopsis of my rewritten Sadie Speaks, and then pages from the novel for the two later packets. The other class I’m taking is on research for writing, with Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, who’s Oklahoma’s Poet Laureate. I’m researching Irish history now, because I’m thinking of writing stories set in Ireland in various points in history, since I spent so much time and effort delving into it in college. I don’t know if I’ll ever really write it, but if I want to, I’ll have all my research ready.

Other than working on that, I’ve been drawing more. Here’s an oil lamp I did in stippling (which I will probably never do again—tedious) and a mannequin I did using hatching.

drawing of oil lamp

drawing of artists mannequin

I’ve also started studying math again, because I’m planning to start the stats degree back up next fall, because I need that much time to study. It’s amazing how much you can forget when you don’t use it… I'm using Khan Academy as a starting point, which is pretty amazing. I'm guessing it's getting a lot of usage during the pandemic.

The only other thing going on is that I’m getting some work done in my bonus room, the room over the garage. It has a slanted ceiling but is otherwise a decent-sized room, and I’m getting bookshelves installed on the long, tall wall, along with a closet built at the end of the wall. The idea is to make it count as a bedroom. I’m not sure it will work, but I am sure I will have a lot more bookshelf space to store my many boxes of books. They’re starting the work tomorrow, and I’ll post pictures once it’s done. For your amusement, I’ll post a terrible but related poem I had to write for my residency (the assignment was to write a ghazal, which is an old Arabic poetry form—I didn’t do it quite right, but I got most of the elements right (writing about a desire with lots of repeating words and naming yourself near the end)).

They overflow from shelves and boxes. Books for me.
On tables and cabinets. History, math, linguistics for me.

Fiction, lots of fiction, of all different types.
Boxes of books, as far as the eye can see, for me.

They’ve come shipped from all over the world.
From Glasgow, Edinburgh, Pilsen, Milton Keynes, for me.

Even some from the Isle of Skye, in Gaelic.
The cats nestle amongst them, I read for me.

But they’re everywhere, too everywhere.
A place for them is what I need, for me.

A call to my contractor
And he’ll do some measuring for me.

A little bit of work in SketchUp
And they’ll be a virtual drawing for me.

A couple of weeks of sawing and hammering
So they can fit on the shelves neatly, for me.

Then you can call me keeper of books.
Shelves of books, as far as the eye can see, for me.

First Royalties

Not a lot to report at the moment. My MFA residency started Friday, so I’m busy with that.

I did make a post to Facebook post (my first ever) about Finding Frances a couple weeks ago, and a couple people bought it. But still, getting it in front of people is nearly impossible.

I got my first royalties check, which came as a pitifully small direct deposit. But it did come, and I’ve now made actual money from Finding Frances.

royalties payment direct deposit

The only other thing going on is I’ve decided to start drawing again, which means I’m practicing with books and an art teacher. A couple of the books I’m using are about drawing cats, so here are a couple of the ones I’ve copied from one of the books:

Kittens

Wrapping Up the 3rd Semester

My third semester is wrapping up, with just a couple things remaining to be done. Then all I have left for the degree is the thesis—both the critical and creative parts. Both are in decent shape, though I have opened back up the first half of the creative portion because of  something I’m writing further along the timeline, which necessitates changes all through what’s already written. But I should have that done before the fourth semester starts.

Now I’ve decided to pursue something even more: a PhD in creative writing. There is only one (maybe two) in the world that I can apply to. The US does not have any that are specific to creative writing—you can do a significant creative portion of your thesis in some English PhD programs, but none of these are low-residency/distance. But Bath Spa University in England (near Bath) has one and importantly, they are open to young adult writing (there’s another in England that is low-residency but specifically not open to any writing for children). So I’m going to apply to that. Applications are not due until next May, so I’ve got plenty of time (though the application isn’t easy, either). The dissertation (actually called a thesis in the UK (weirdly, they call the Master’s-level equivalent a dissertation)) is part creative and part critical, like for the MFA. The creative part is book-length (about 80,000 words or 300-350 pages), and the critical is 20,000 words, so about 80 pages. One difference from the MFA is that the critical part has to contextualize the creative portion. I’m not 100% sure what that means, but I’ll have to figure it out in the next year.

There’s not much news in the Finding Frances world. I’m still not seeing many purchases and I’m still having trouble getting reviews. At this point, I’m especially in need of reviews, more than purchases, honestly. I do have a list of book blogs that I am going to send review requests to. I’m also planning to try to get it reviewed in some Oklahoma newspapers (this was my dad’s idea, actually).

Finally, if you want to see a little interview with me, check out last Thursday’s post on The Wild Rose Press blog.

Not Quite Ready for March

Not a lot has happened since the release of Finding Frances, but the official release party is coming up in less than three weeks, so I’m planning for that. It should be interesting and I have no idea how many people are going to show up. I’ve picked a couple of very short readings to do and need to practice them, but it shouldn’t be difficult. I also need to write my little history of the book story and my thank yous out so I don’t forget anyone. I’m supposed to be sending out the invites today, and I haven’t even written them yet. Something for this evening…

This is going to be a busy month in general. There’s the release party, and I have to write the first draft of my 15-20 page thesis paper. My biggest concern is that I’m not actually sure that my premise is true; if it isn’t, it will be a problem if I can’t figure out something else to write about quickly. I also am going to be teaching a one-hour class on the role of relationships in character development at the end of the month. There is a lot of preparation to do on that one.

Yesterday I spent most of the day updating Ugly with some cleanup edits (instead of working on my March activities like I should have) and resent it to an agent that had requested a full and then left that agency before getting back to me on it. I’m hoping she will like it. It would be so nice to finally get through that stupid barrier. Still, I need to start sending it out in earnest again. I’ll send some queries out some evening this week.

Lastly, regarding Finding Frances, according to Amazon, only about 8 copies have been purchased. So it would be great if you’re reading this if you might consider buying it, if you haven’t already. 🙂 And if you have read it, it would be so helpful to me if you'd leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

First Post-Release Post

I feel like I should write a post for today since Finding Frances finally came out this week, on Monday. But in some ways it’s been a little anti-climactic. Nothing has really changed from my perspective. I know people have bought it, but I have no way of knowing how many, and I don’t have any reviews yet, so it’s all invisible. I think I can get a rough estimate of the number of books sold on Amazon with a week delay or so, so maybe I’ll get my first clue next week.

Still, it is kind of cool to no longer be a ”pre-published” author. All that work finally paid off. And man, was it a lot of work… Now I’m planning for the release party on March 21st.

Outside of regularly remembering I’m a published author now, I’m focused on the MFA and Ugly. One of the things I’m doing is a professional writing minor, and through that I’m getting some feedback on my Ugly query and the first two chapters. My instructor told me that the two chapters were maybe a little slow and that they didn’t hint at what the book is really about, instead making it seem like the main character just has normal teen problems. So I wrote a new short scene to start the book off, to be put at the beginning of Chapter 1. I’m waiting on feedback on that, but if she likes it, I will start querying again. Right now I have no queries out and only four few partials/fulls (sent in November). But I just figured out that one of the agents who had requested a full changed agencies after requesting it but before responding to it. So now I have to do some followup work on that one. I emailed the original agency, but I’ll probably have to requery the original agent at her new agency. I also followed up with another full I sent in November. So hopefully I’ll hear something soon on both of those.

The other minor I’m doing on the MFA is pedagogy. So I’m going to be observing a class in March and then teaching a one-hour workshop on the use of relationships in character-building. Both are with a former instructor who’s really nice, so I hope it goes well. I’m still developing the workshop, though I have the exercises ready. Now I just have to score books to find good examples…

Busy, busy.

Heading Home

Time for a somewhat rambly post.

Yesterday my third MFA residency wrapped up. It was a good ten days, but now I’m sitting at the Oklahoma City airport waiting on my already-delayed flight. And there’s three more hours for it to be delayed even more. It’s likely snowing in Seattle so I’m really hoping that I get in and home okay. I can’t wait to see my kitties.

On the writing front, it seems like everything is focused on promotion for Finding Frances right now. One of the classes I’m taking this semester is “Professional Writing,” which is going to basically be the instructor helping me figure out how to promote Finding Frances and how to sell Ugly. I’m supposed to be figuring out possible venues for my release party. I was hoping to have it at Barnes and Noble in Issaquah, but I’m not sure they’ll work with my publisher. So I’ve got to find some backup locations. And I’m also trying to find ways to get reviews. In other promotion efforts, I signed up for a blog tour starting release day and running for four weeks (a “book blast” where they’ll put info on my book on several blogs). I also signed up for a review tour, also four weeks, where I’m supposed to get reviews. I have no idea if these will really give me a return on the money I put in, but I have to try something.

The other extra class I’m taking this semester is in pedagogy of creative writing. I am supposed to observe a class and also teach one before the end of the semester. So I have to figure out what to teach on. I’m a little nervous about this—it should be on some element of craft, but the field is wide open. I did ponder doing one on outlining at various stages of the writing process. I’m not sure if that would count.

Besides that, my faculty mentor is looking at the writing I’m planning to use for my thesis (I don’t have to produce any new creative writing this semester since I’ve done it all already) and I have to write five short papers and one big one, 15-20 pages.

That’s what I’m looking forward to this semester. I’ll be busy, but it should be good.

Release Date

Finding Frances Book CoverSo, I finally got my release date for Finding Frances (!). It is:

Monday, February 3, 2020

I’d hoped it would come out before the end of this year so I could enter it in a contest through PNWA, but this is fine (I’ll have to wait until 2021 to enter it).

Other than that, there’s not much news. I’ve got my MFA residency coming up in January, and I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be my third semester.

I’m working on finishing up the Now Would Be Good collection about my character Sarah, which I’ve now decided is going to be a novel in parts rather than a short story collection. Each part will just have its own arc, in addition to the whole book having one.

My critique partner is almost through Sadie Speaks, so I may pick that one back up and revise it.

I’m still shopping Ugly around, without much luck. I’m a little irritated about that one—I’m not getting as many bites as I think I should. They all say they want something different (which this story is) but it seems like they really just want the same thing as always. Frustrating.