Moving Forward, I Guess

So things are not going great. I’m pretty sure I posted earlier about my plan to give myself a real chance of getting an agent and getting published by a large press. My book coach told me that while she thinks my writing is good, it’s not quite at the publishing industry standards of quality. She said I was close, but just needed a little more to get my work all the way. Current wisdom says that agents won’t take on a project unless it’s publication-ready. No more do they take someone on and develop them. Or so it’s said. But I’ve heard plenty of stories about people being taken on by agents who then work with them on several revisions of their manuscript(s), so I don’t really believe it. Still, it does seem that I'm not going to be one of the lucky exceptions. I’ve done everything I possibly can to improve my craft to the point where my work is publication-ready, and I’m still falling short. Whatever the situation really is, I am not good enough to get an agent. 

So my book coach felt like with the right editor, who could make a deep dive into UGLY, maybe I could get it all the way to publication-ready. The trick was that this needs to be exactly the right editor. Someone who really knows the industry as it stands now, and would therefore know what I need to change to make it pass muster. She suggested one developmental editor, only to find out they weren’t taking on new work. I also got another recommendation from a Printz Honor author who is really good friends with a really good friend of mine, but she also wasn’t taking on new work. Then my book coach came up with another name she also felt confident would be able to help me with my specific needs. 

I sent the manuscript off in the first week of May. At first she was really helpful—she even looked at a query I had to send by the end of the month because of an opportunity I had to submit to Delacorte that month. I understood that it would take her about six weeks, which would mean that I’d have the manuscript back by the end of June. At that point, I followed up and got an answer that made it sound like I’d have it in less than two weeks, because she was just finishing up the second read and would then only have to transfer her comments to the document and write the edit letter. Two weeks passed and I followed up, and that is really where the nightmare began for me. Fast forward to October now, and I have had promise after promise that it would be delivered, and still don’t have it. The reason I let it go on this long is because she was having some really big and awful family and medical stuff going on. I don’t think she was lying. Though I’m not sure when it all started. But I would follow up about every two weeks, and every time I’d hear promises of an imminent delivery. At one point when I hadn’t heard back, I asked my book coach to follow up (they know each other), and then I heard back from the editor with more promises. She also claimed she loved the book and did have suggestions, but really believed in the book. Every time she was very credible, and I’ve become convinced that this was one of those things for her where you just get stuck on something, and can’t do it no matter how hard you try. But she still kept promising. By early September she was promising to refund me the first payment I’d made and still get me the feedback (earlier she had told me she wouldn’t be charging me the second half of the charge). I told her I didn’t want a refund, just the manuscript. I talked to a couple other writing friends who said I should just give up on the feedback and cut her loose. So I emailed a couple Saturdays ago telling her that if she couldn’t get it back to me by the following Sunday (last week), I just wanted a refund. As that date approached, an idea started forming in my head. Sunday came and went, and the next day, I got another email promising to get me the manuscript in what sounded like the same day. Didn’t happen. So Tuesday I finally officially gave up. I emailed her telling her I didn’t care about the feedback anymore and just wanted a refund. 

This whole thing has been hard for me because it has always been my dream to be agented and published by a major publisher. I have worked like crazy to get there. UGLY is my best work, and it still has collected over 100 agent rejections (adding to the mountain of rejections for Finding Frances, over 200). It just seems delusional to keep believing that me getting an agent is really possible. So telling the editor I don’t want the feedback anymore is giving up on a major dream I’ve been working toward for almost ten years.  

The editor did respond, saying she would be refunding me in a few days. She also said some nice things about the book and my writing—I know she did read the book—but I just think it’s not a good time to try to get an agent. It’s not going to happen. She again said she’s going to send me feedback. I believe that she will, but not necessarily this weekend like she promised. 

So, I have decided to publish UGLY on Kindle Vella, even though the Always the New Girl stories have completely bombed there. But supposedly your stories have a better chance of getting discovered if you are actively publishing episodes, so I will be publishing maybe two episodes a week. I have no idea how long it will take to get through the whole book, because I’ve got to break the manuscript down into episodes first. I am going to go the Vella route because I think if I publish it as a standard novel, I will never find readers. Most of the promotion things I know how to do target adult readers. And we all know that adult women do read YA, but this particular story is really going to appeal to teens more than adults. And supposedly Vella has teen readers. So that’s what I’m going to try. I do not anticipate success this time, either. I’m just not top-tier. But I have been wrong before, so maybe I’ll get lucky this time. If it doesn’t work out, when I finish publishing all the episodes on there, I can pull it off and publish it as a novel. So I was planning to send the manuscript as it is—and has been for over a year—to a line editor. She’d be able to get it back to me by the second week of November, and I’ll be able to make the necessary changes and split it into episodes hopefully by mid-November. But I’m thinking it might make more sense to wait until January to publish it, which means I have to time to see if the developmental editor really does send feedback, and attempt to incorporate it. Either way, between now and then, I need to get a really good book description written, a cover image ready, and figure out seven good tags to use. 

So I guess I’m forging ahead.

Stuck

This past week I tried my first advertising on Facebook and Instagram. I made an ad for “Now Would Be Good,” the first story in Always the New Girl as posted on Kindle Vella. I can’t say it’s working at all. People are clicking on it, but not a single episode from the series has been read this week. I have no idea how to get the message out. This writing thing is so hard. But I do think I’m going to go ahead and make an ad for Finding Frances. I suspect that one reason I’m not getting reads on “Now Would Be Good” is because people aren’t familiar with Kindle Vella.

I’m still waiting on the Ugly edits from the freelance editor, who’s having some (pretty awful) personal issues and can’t seem to finish the last step in getting it back to me. I’m just in limbo without it, though. I don’t want to start anything new. I want to wrap that up and start sending it out to agents again.

If it still fails to get me an agent, I don’t really know what I’ll do. Maybe I’ll just self-publish, even though I already know nobody would buy it. I just don’t seem to have the marketing chops to make it happen. But after that, I’m not sure if I’d start working on Sadie Speaks again. As much as I love YA, it doesn’t seem to feel the same about me. I do think I’m going to work on some of my romance projects and get those out there (self-published) to see if I can do any better in that genre (which is much more self-publishing-friendly). So most likely I will continue my break from YA for a bit.

On the other hand, if I do manage to land an agent, I will probably refocus and get back to Sadie Speaks. Or I might dive into the sequel to Ugly, for which I have the premise and main characters already worked out.

Anyway, time will tell.

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…

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

Shakespeare… Or Not

So I was supposed to write a review this week, but I didn’t finish the book I’m reading, so it will have to wait until next week. Instead, I’m going to share with you something interesting I ran across on Goodreads. Goodreads has this feature called Similar authors. If you go to my author page, you can find the link Similar authors under my books. I was curious what they would say.

Apparently I am most similar to William Shakespeare.

Under him are a bunch of authors, including several award-winning ones.

Somehow, I feel like their conclusion is a bit questionable. What it probably means, most likely, is that Shakespeare’s works are the most commonly read among all my readers—so I guess my readers are a bit more highbrow than I am.

Wend f'rth and seeth what thee findeth.

Notes from Lockdown

Story Genius book coverThis won’t be a very exciting post. Not a lot to report. Like everyone else, I’m stuck in lockdown, going stir crazy. I usually do most of my writing at Starbucks, so it’s been a challenge to learn to work at home. Especially when I’m working from home for my day job, too. I just sit in the same chair from 7 am to 8 or 9 pm, swapping out computers at about 3:30. One nice thing that is helping me not go crazy is that some of my writing friends and I meet on Zoom every day and chat and do writing sprints. It helps to talk to other people.

What I’m most busy with is my thesis (specifically the 15-20 page paper about a craft element in novels). I had to totally rewrite (well, reorganize) it this weekend. It’s due a week from Friday so I’ve only got one weekend after this one to finish it. It isn’t the final final version, since I can still work on it during next semester, but I don’t want to have too much to do on it.

I’m also working on planning out the final-to-be-written Sarah story, which will be the second-to-last in the collection. I’m using a method outlined in the book Story Genius (pictured here), but I signed up for the Story Genius Workshop, which is a self-paced online class that walks you through everything step-by-step. There are videos explaining everything, and then long worksheets to fill out. They also have the option to pay extra for a coach, someone who will give you feedback on every step. I applied for that and am waiting to hear how much it costs. We’ll see if I do it. One interesting thing about this process is that it is going to require me to change some things in the earlier story, especially the long first one.

I’ve also got Ugly out with a bunch of agents, though nobody’s biting. I keep getting form letter rejections. The gatekeepers hate me.

Postponement!

This post was supposed to be about my book launch party, a month and a half after actual release, which was supposed to be yesterday. I sent an eVite and had about 30 people planning to come. However, because COVID-19 is really bad in Seattle, I felt obligated (and selfish enough worrying about attendance) to postpone it indefinitely (because who the heck knows when this mess is going to be resolved). In that vein, here is a hilarious (and sort of depressing) cartoon I found, which I was going to share in my report about the party, but will instead share in the face of cancellation.

Maria Scrivan cartoon "book signing: a portion of proceeds go to the author"

Sad but true, really.

In a way, this might be a blessing because I am so overwhelmed by my thesis right now that getting most of a day back is helpful. I have until April 24th to finish the second draft of my extended annotation, a 15-20 page paper. The first draft is due March 27th. And I am scrambling (already). Here is a stack of all the books I’m looking at for this paper (another book and numerous articles I’ve read electronically not shown).

Stack of books for MFA thesis

Please feel sorry for me.

That is all for now.

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.

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.

A Release Date Is Coming

I made the last edits I’ll make on Finding Frances and my editor sent it off for formatting. Once I get that back, I’ll approve it and then I think I’ll finally get a release date.

One of my critique partners did a full read of Ugly and gave me a few recommendations. I’ve implemented two of the three I plan to deal with before submitting to the agents and editors who requested it at PNWA and ECWC. Just need to do the last one…

Another critique partner is working her way through Sadie Speaks a few chapters at a time. That book needs quite a bit of revising, but she’s giving me some good guidelines for doing it.

I’m still working on the “Now Would Be Good” story collection that I’m going to submit for my MFA thesis. My critique group is going through the last story I’ve written. I need to plan out the next (last) story, or maybe the last two if necessary—I can’t decide.

That’s pretty much what’s going on right now.

Moving Along

I don’t even remember why I missed posting last week. I think I was studying for the math class I just finished. I took the final for it yesterday. This was just a precursor—a review class—of what’s to come in August, when I’m starting the real classes. It’s going to be tough, but I’m hoping it’s worth it to my money-making career. 

As far as writing goes, I’m waiting on edits from my editor for Finding Frances. She should have them to me by the 29th, if not sooner. Then I’ll have 30 days to follow her suggestions (whatever they are; I have no idea what to expect). Apparently after that, things move fairly quickly. I’m hoping the book’s out by November. 

I’ve also got two partial requests out on Ugly, which is good, even though I’ve gotten about fifteen rejections. 

Waiting on the Editor

I’ve heard nothing from the editor about Finding Frances. I don’t know what that means, because I expected to hear something sooner, but I don’t really feel like following up yet, so I’m leaving it. Hopefully she just hasn’t had a chance to take it to the senior editors yet. Or who knows—maybe the process takes a while. Me = clueless. 

This month has been really rough. For reasons that I would be hard-pressed to explain, I’ve decided to apply to an online MS in applied statistics program (okay, there is a reason—I want to get better at stats for my job). I have to take a semester off from the MFA because of insufficient vacation days for the next residency, so I plan to start the stats degree this summer and take classes in the fall, then switch back to the MFA for a year, then back to the stats degree. I know, I know—I might be crazy. Anyway, the application requires the GRE, which I took today. Studying for that thing has sucked up so much of my time, and I still was disappointed by my score. Such is life. 

I went to Starbucks immediately after the test and managed to write another annotation, though it took me hours. I still have to write 1 short paper, 1 3-5-page paper, and rewrite another short paper, all by Friday. My poor little brain. 

Finding Frances Update

Although I’m mostly lost in MFA work, I did get some news about Finding Frances this week. The editor who’s had it likes it and wants to take it to a senior editor. She told me she needed a synopsis and a summary, and I had to ask her what she meant by a summary. Then it turned out that she meant something different by “synopsis” than what I’ve always understood that to mean in the writing world, so it was good that I asked. Apparently, her synopsis is a very short summary of the story, somewhat like a blurb, except it hits all the major points including the beginning, middle, and end (rather than being a teaser like the back cover blurb). A summary is a longer-form version covering basically everything significant that happens in the story. I sent those to her Thursday and hope to hear back soon. If this doesn’t end up working out, I’m putting Finding Frances aside for good (at least until I have someone interested in another book). 

I did also get a rejection from an agent on Ugly, the first of those to come in. Kind of disappointing, but it would have been quite a surprise to get some good news on my first round of submissions. One agent and two editors still have it, anyway. I also realized that one of the agents I intended to submit to somehow got missed and I never sent it, so I may send that one off soon. 

That’s really all that’s going on in my writing world. 

The Semester’s Wrapping Up

I’m in the final couple weeks of the first semester of the MFA, which is pretty exciting—almost 25% done. I took three “classes”—pedagogy (teaching English comp), elements of prose (basics), and the primary packet exchange (short papers on craft and creative writing). I finished the pedagogy one by sending in my reflective essay earlier this week and today I’m working on finishing up the final packet. For the last class, I have to read short stories by three other students and provide feedback on that, but of course I’m waiting on people to post them (I posted mine last weekend because I’m a big dork). I worked on two stories this semester. The first has turned into a 14,500-word novelette and the second is a 4500-word story (the shortest I’ve managed so far). I’m pretty happy with both, even though I know they’re not done.

The next semester starts in exactly a month and I’m already excited about it. The theme of the feedback I got this semester has been that I don’t go deep enough into my characters’ emotions so readers don’t get enough of a sense of who they really are. So I’ll be working on that more next semester, among other things. I also found out I’m going to get to do a secondary genre study of playwriting, focusing on 10-minute plays. I have to analyze several for three months and then I’ll write my own. I already know the basic premise of the one I’m going to write, though I need to come up with an ending for it. I’m looking forward to this because it will be sort of fun, but also it will help me develop dialogue, since that’s primarily what makes a play.

I’m still waiting to hear on my submissions of Ugly. It’s been less than a month, so I wouldn’t expect anything yet, but still. The waiting game sucks. It’s out with two editors and three agents right now. And Finding Frances is out with one last editor. I should hear within the month on that one. It’s the last gasp for it, at least in its present form.

No Review…

Another week without reading a new YA book, so I don’t have a review. I did reread (listen to, actually) All the Bright Places and still love that book. I should have something next week, as I’m reading a new one by Jenny Downham.

I also sent Ugly off to three agents and two editors. So we’ll see what happens.

I’m on my last month of the first semester of the MFA so it’s wrapping up, but I’m swamped. Next semester starts Jan 2 with the residency.