Editors: How to Give and Take without Hair Pulling

If you’re going the traditional route with your novel, finally getting a publisher can feel like winning a war, at least until the editing starts. The editing process can feel like an insurmountable battle, especially with that first book. When you get the first round of edits from the editor at your publishing house, whose vision may or may not match your own, it can be a bit traumatic. You spent months, maybe years, on a work of fiction and now someone else thinks they can jump in overnight and be the new expert on your creation, telling you what does and doesn’t work and how they think you should change things.


It doesn't have to be a battle. In fact, if you start looking at it as a process of negotiation, of give and take with someone who wants your book to succeed almost as much as you do, it can be a lot less stressful and intimidating.

I learned from working with my wondrous beta readers that I should never respond immediately to feedback. I need to step away, tend my bruised ego, and breathe a little. Only then can I pick through the feedback I’ve been given with a practical eye to see what is and isn’t useful. When you get feedback from a professional editor at that publishing house you worked so hard to be accepted by, it feels different. You don’t want to be that author they talk about behind closed doors. The one whose ego is so big they can’t handle feedback and must make a dramatic scene about every change. The one they warn other publishers about.


Here’s the secret. Nothing your editor says is written in stone. You need to be able to recognize where integrating changes from your editor could create an even better story. As the author, you also need to push back on changes you believe will be detrimental to the plot/arc/character development of the story you wrote.

My first round of edits was easy. When I received the second round of edits, I was devastated because I felt like some of the changes they were suggesting would ruin the book. I felt locked in because this was my publisher, not just a beta reader. I was so upset I broke down in tears and talked to my agent to make sure I wasn’t overreacting. She agreed with me and I composed a letter to the editor detailing what changes I thought were good and what changes I wasn't willing to do, even if it meant losing my contract with them. I passed the letter through my agent first to make sure it was reasonable (always get another set of eyes when you are responding to something this emotionally charged) then sent it on to the editor.

Guess what happened then?

I learned a truly valuable lesson. Even with a professional editor, the editing process is a discussion, not one person cracking a whip while the other tearfully obeys. The letter triggered a round of negotiation. Whenever I had a solid explanation for why a change wasn't right for the book, my editor jumped on board with keeping things as they were. Whenever his explanation for why something needed to change made more sense and, in many cases, strengthened the overall story, I happily made those changes. In the end, I didn’t do anything I felt was bad for the story and I discovered that my editor is pretty awesome.


The relationship of author to any editor can and should be one of open discussion. It may seem intimidating at first. They have the experience and market knowledge you may feel you lack as a new author. The one thing they don't have is the intimate understanding of your vision and that is as critical to the success of your book as anything they bring to the table. Don’t feel that you have to make a change because your editor said to. Explain your decisions and negotiate where appropriate. It’s your book. Their goal is to make your book sell, but they aren’t in your head and they don’t know what your vision is. Art is subjective. They can only make decisions based on their understanding of the book as they read it. Sometimes you should change things because those changes will improve the book. Sometimes you have to stand your ground and help them see your vision. The editing process is a conversation and one that can be quite fun if you remember you both have the same goal of making your book the best it can be.

Happy writing!

Mercy and Some Books

In the name of mercy, I've decided to do a quick post so that the first thing you see when you come here isn't a sad post about the loss of my old Thomas kitty. If you haven't read it already, you should read I Remember You so that you can properly appreciate how merciful I am. h075E9CFD

However, because I am also super busy editing and writing and...you know, author-like stuff, I'm only going to take a minute to tell you about upcoming books from a couple of authors you should have on your watch list.

The Book of Kindly Deaths

For the middle-grade crowd, I offer you an upcoming dark tale by the mysterious Eldritch Black.


The Book of Kindly Deaths is coming out this year through Spencer Hill Press. While you wait, enjoy his creepy Wall of Weird or visit his Books page for links to other stories available through Amazon.com.

The Masked Songbird

For the adult crowd, a quirky superheroine(?) novel by Emmie Mears.


The Masked Songbird (Scottish Songbird, #1) will also be released this year by Harlequin E. Learn more about it and read some of Emmie's shorter works on her Books page.

The Girl and the Clockwork Cat

Writers Conference: Pitching the Book

Lastly, my debut novel will be coming out through Entangled Teen. More on that (including official cover art and such) as it comes along, but you can add The Girl and the Clockwork Cat to your Goodreads list now if you want (which you do, right?).

Happy reading!

Authorial Duties: Picking an Author Photo

I know I’m behind on my blog and I blame editing, and writing, and holidays, and illness, and all those other things that cause a person to fall behind. As much as I love connecting with people here, some things have to come first. Of late, edits on my novel The Girl and the Clockwork Cat for Entangled Teen have been my biggest priority. Now that the first round is back to them, I am trying to catch up on other things, including smaller work items like getting an author photo together for them. I’m lucky to be married to a fantastic photographer who could do the photos for me, but now I have to pick one.

This is where I am hoping you all come in. I’m posting several options below. My debut novel, The Girl and the Clockwork Cat, is young adult steampunk. I’d love feedback on which photo you like and why (or why not).

Photo 1Photo 2Photo 3Photo 4

Happy writing!

The Dreaded In-Betweens

One of the most frustrating things I deal with as a writer (this is in terms of writing and editing, not the process of actually getting our work published) is the ominous in-between stage. It’s that moment (or seemingly endless period of subsequent moments) after I am done with a book (all the way done) and I need to start work on the next project. I must write new material sometimes because I go a little batty and become something of a monster to live with if I don’t. I mean REALLY batty.

However, I also have four completed novels waiting for additional editing (not including the three that are sequels to books my agent already has), eight novels that are partially written and placed on hold for assorted reasons (two of these are also sequels), a novella awaiting editing and numerous rough outlines for other novel ideas. These are all books I want to bring to completion and send out into the world. The problem is deciding which one’s next?


The process goes something like this: I’ll start to work on one, then something in that book or in my daily life will make me thing of a different one and I suddenly find myself yearning to finish that one next. It’s almost as if my characters are in my head battling for my attention. It’s a cerebral Thunderdome and THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!

Yeah guys, I just did that.

Do I force the issue or wait until someone wins? Writers, do you suffer this problem? If so, how do you deal with it?

Super Squee! (and the Pain Dumbs)

This is going to be short and sweet as I'm suffering from the pain dumbs (the lack of mental capacity that occurs when part of your brain goes into hibernation until your pain levels go back below what's tolerable). This is a result of my frolicking recklessly on the back deck and subsequently crashing down on its rather unyielding surface with as much velocity as I could muster. I don't recommend trying this at home. The crashing part that is. I highly recommend frolicking as much as possible. frolicking

So, on to the squee part.

I was delighted to announce last June in my post An Agent and Geeky Goodness that I had accepted an offer of representation from the fantastic Emily Keyes at L. Perkins Agency.

Now I get the pleasure of announcing that my debut novel The Girl and the Clockwork Cat, a young adult steampunk, will be published in Spring 2014 through Entangled Teen.

It was announced on Publishers Marketplace on September 18th.


My agent also posted about it on Twitter the next day... twice. Thanks Emily!


So that's my story. More to come as things progress. Now, back to the pain dumbs.

Happy writing!

Writer’s Conference Strategies: Volunteering

h44A5BE23I just survived another great PNWA Writer’s Conference. With the event fresh in my head, it seems a good time to offer up a little of my experience for anyone who’s considering a similar conference for the first time or just looking for ways to better their experience at a familiar conference.

Writer’s conferences can be stressful, especially if you’re pitching a book to agents and editors. I picked up my agent, Emily Keyes, just before the 2012 PNWA conference. Since I was already registered and no longer needed to pitch, I decided to volunteer. I can strongly recommend volunteering for many reasons and suggest doing so even if you are pitching (or perhaps especially if you are pitching).

Benefits of volunteering:

  • If you’re pitching, volunteering can help take your mind off that stress. If you’re not pitching, it can take your mind off other stresses like wondering if a publisher is going to make on offer on your book or if the blood work on the cat living in your shop is going to come back showing some horrible disease.??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????
  • Volunteering gives you a look behind the scenes. You get to see how things run and how much amazing work goes into putting a conference together. If you help with early pitch sessions, you can also get helpful insight into how those sessions are run before your turn to pitch comes up.
  • You meet great people. Not just other volunteers and aspiring authors with their own fantastic stories to share, but also the agents, editors, and published authors sitting on the other side of the tables. They are great people and sometimes they’re just as nervous as the attendees are.
  • In a business that can seem really lonely and unforgiving, you will be appreciated. It takes a lot to run a conference and more help is always needed. The conference staff will appreciate you for your help, as will the attendees and presenters.

The down side:

  • You might miss a session you wanted to attend, but usually volunteer coordinators will try to work with you to find a time for you to volunteer that allows you to make the sessions you most want to attend.

As you can see, the balance is in the positive. There are many good reasons to volunteer and only one notable down side that I have run into. I strongly recommend the experience.

Have you volunteered at a conference? If so, how was your experience? If not, what concerns might keep you from doing so?

Happy conferencing!

Book Review: Sex and Death in the American Novel by Sarah Martinez

SandDWhile I try to read a lot, I rarely review novels. I don't have the time, what with trying to find time to write and edit my own. I especially try not to commit to reviewing a novel when I've met and liked the author because there is always that chance that I just won't like it. I can say with complete honesty and relief that it is truly a pleasure when a book delights me enough that I can feel good about breaking that rule. Sex and Death in the American Novel by Sarah Martinez isn't my typical fare. I'm a fantasy and science fiction geek. Reading something in literary erotica was a bit of a dive off the deep end for me. I truly expected not to like it and I was very pleasantly proven wrong.

The protagonist in the novel, Vivianna, is a woman who, on the outside, seems to know who she is. She's an erotic fiction author. Her relationship with her mother and brother are convoluted, tense, loving, and relatively typical of many family relationships on the surface, with a clear bit of unsettle history around her deceased, Pulitzer Prize winning father. Viv has some good friends, a successful career, and she's confident about her body and her sexuality in ways that most of us can admire.

On a high level, the story is a romantic, sensual and erotic tale that never slips into the common pitfall of becoming crass and vulgar, but on a deeper level, this is the story of a woman who lives her life crushed in the shadow of a father who, while dead, still rules over her and her family. It's a moving and beautiful tale of one woman's struggle to overcome the destructive need to prove herself to a man who is long gone and the devastating effect that same need has wrought upon her mother and brother. This is her journey to discover that, only by accepting and loving yourself for who you are, can you truly come to accept and love the people around you.

At least that is what this tale was for me. Your mileage may vary. Regardless, Sex and Death in the American Novel is a novel I strongly recommend.

Happy reading!

The NaNo Novel That Could (or How I Got My Agent)

I started out looking for an agent the way many people do, by cold querying any agent who handled my type of books. I thought I had an amazing book and, honestly, we should think that of our work. If we don’t love it, why the hell did we write it. I just knew someone was going to snatch up this spectacular masterpiece. They didn’t.


I was naïve, but it’s okay to be naïve. The important thing is being able to learn and grow. In the beginning, I only researched agents and editors to make sure they handled my genre. But that’s not enough. Information is everywhere. There’s no excuse for sending something to an inappropriate agent or editor. Just handling your genre doesn’t make them an automatic fit. That’s like assuming a shoe will fit simply because it’s the right color.

When you’re looking for an agent, you want someone who will be as passionate about your book as you are. You want someone who will promote it enthusiastically to publishers. To get that, you need to care enough about your book to find the right person for the job.

How do you do this?

The turning point for me came when I attended my first conference, the 2010 Pacific Northwest Writers Conference.

One of the most important things I got out of the experience was the disappointing but crucial realization that the book I was pitching wasn’t ready.


I wasn’t thrilled about the discovery, but I had learned something that would prove to be a solid stepping-stone to getting where I wanted to go. I learned what I needed to do to make the book ready.

The second thing I learned was that meeting face-to-face and showing people that you’re serious about writing is priceless. I got submission requests from all seven agents/editors I pitched to at the conference.

Wait! Didn’t I just say the book wasn’t ready? Yep. But now I had a leg up on the slush pile. I just needed to fix the book and send it.

Lastly, I learned that ideas are simply floating in the air at a writer’s conference.


A single comment made at one session gave me the idea for the book that landed me my agent (more about that book in Writing the Right Book).

Did I get my agent from that conference?

Nope. I sent the manuscript out and received those dreaded rejection letters, but they were different now. The letters from agents and editors who looked at that book provided feedback, suggestions, and positive encouragement that helped me improve that book and my writing in general. The process also helped me understand that agents and editors really are people like the rest of us, not wicked gatekeepers cackling evilly as they hit send on a thousand form rejections a week. They want your book to be good almost as bad as you do and, if you put forth the effort to show them you’re serious, they’ll sometimes help you get it there.

The following year I attended two more conferences pitching the book I wrote during NaNoWriMo 2010, the one that stemmed from the idea I got at the first conference. I learned more, got many requests for the new book, and made some awesome friends. Every partial submission garnered requests for more and the fantastic feedback helped me polish and tune the book between sets of submissions.

During this time, I also stepped up my research and began searching out other ways to get my work out of the slush pile and in front of agents. Online contests are great opportunities. I got my work in front of several agents through contests like those run by Cupid's Literary Connection.

After communicating with numerous agents, I also began to understand that it was important for them to be someone I wanted to work with.

Wanted: Someone to sell this book while I'm busy... writing the next one.

I started taking time before each submission to read up about agents on their agency website and to read entries from their blog if they had one. This research also gave me material with which to personalize my query letters, resulting in even more requests even from cold queries.

The quest for information led me to still more opportunities. I subscribed to Writer’s Digest online and began attending the occasional webinar, especially if the presenter happened to be an agent or editor I was interested in. I had to be selective because, while there are some free webinars, many of them cost and I haven’t found a way to grow money on trees yet (but I’m willing to learn if anyone has tips).

With all the positive feedback I’d been getting, I felt like I balanced on a fence, ready to fall to one side or the other.


Then it happened, sort of.

I signed up for a Writer’s Digest webinar, “How to Find and Work with an Agent in the 21st Century” being presented on January 19th, 2012 by Lori Perkins and Louise Fury of the L. Perkins Agency. I was interested in the agency and the subject, and a query critique by one of the agents was part of the package.

When the 19th came around, we were in the midst of Snowmageddon 2012, stranded at home with a few trees collapsed on the barn and horse shelter and, as of the time of the webinar, without power.

Snowmageddon 2012!

I plugged a headset into my iPhone, downloaded the meeting app (because there really is an app for everything), and crossed my fingers that my battery would make it through the 90-minute presentation. It did, just barely. I was impressed with both agents, but I directed my query specifically to Louise as the book was more up her ally.

On March 18th, I got e-mail from Louise (who had been out of the country) with a complimentary rejection and a referral to a new agent at L. Perkins Agency, Emily Keyes. Emily brought prior experience from the publishing world into this position and, after reading her blog, I liked the personality that came across. I submitted a personalized query the next day with a mention of the webinar and Louise’s referral.

Of course, I’d been submitting to others during this time as well. On April 27th, the editorial assistant at a larger New York publisher contacted me to let me know that she enjoyed the book and wanted to send it to their editorial director for consideration, to which I agreed enthusiastically. On June 5th, I received e-mail from the smaller local press stating that they wanted to move forward with the book.

I wasn’t sure how to handle the escalating interest. Did I jump to the small press? Did I ask them to wait and risk losing their interest? In an effort to solicit some wisdom, I sent e-mail to Emily Keyes letting her know that the book was garnering interest. She had, by this time, requested the full manuscript, but hadn’t read it yet. She provided me with some guidance and took the weekend to read the book.

When I got the offer of representation on June 10th, I finally understood what it meant to find someone with enthusiasm for your work. Emily was very excited about the book and that’s what ultimately decided me. Here was someone passionate enough about my book to put forth a real effort in finding a home for it. I accepted her offer and put her in charge of communicating with the publishers who had already shown interest.


That book is now making rounds and getting looked at by more publishers. I had the opportunity to meet Emily in person at a writer’s conference I attended in July. She is a delightful person and I am quite happy with her process of submitting the book. She’s managed to get it in front of several editors I never would have gotten attention from on my own. I also just finished making edits on another book (a much improved version of the one I pitched in 2010) per her suggestions and will soon have two books out making rounds.

What do I believe got me this far, aside from writing the best book I could (which I strongly recommend)?

  1. Networking and connecting with people.
  2. Finding ways to get my work in front of agents and editors outside of the standard cold query, such as conferences, contests and webinars.
  3. Recognizing that agents and editors are people and treating them as such by learning about them through blogs and other social media outlets like Twitter.

So, that’s my agent story and the story to date of my 2010 NaNoWriMo novel. Proof that NaNo novels can be good too.

Happy writing!!

Book Review: Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

You might think it was the awesome cover art or the kickass idea of a Japanese inspired steampunk novel that drew me to Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff, but I can honestly say that it was something else entirely. What drew me to the novel was the author himself. I stumbled upon Jay on Twitter and followed the link to his blog. As soon as I started reading, Jay’s cheeky humor and witty turn of phrase had me grinning like a fool. I knew immediately that, if his writing voice carried even a tiny glimmer of the voice that came across in his blog, I would enjoy reading his book. Unfortunately, the book wasn’t coming out in the U.S. until September 18th, but with a little persistence pursuing a variety of possibilities, I eventually obtained an advanced reader copy (ARC).

There is one aspect of the book I adored that not everyone may love (though I think anyone could appreciate the refreshing departure from the norm). The book is Japanese inspired, so the cultural influences, martial aspects, and array of Japanese names/words all sang to that part of me that is in love with Japanese martial arts, language, and history. I stumbled over name pronunciation less in this book than I do in a lot of fantasy and science fiction, which was surprisingly pleasant.

[hulu id=mxtzhbxze7q_xxejzqs4jw width=512 height=288]

Yes, that was really awful. Stormdancer has nothing in common with this.

Whether or not you are a fan of the Japanese inspired aspects of the novel, however, it still has plenty for you to enjoy.

Jay weaves us into his dark, gritty world with a captivating tapestry of description that blossoms around the characters as they move through the story. With every sentence, the world becomes more vivid and real. I started the story floundering along, gazing in wonder at this foreign world, then, before I knew what had happened, I was choking down poisoned air with the hiss and clank of steam-powered machinery moving around me.

The protagonist, Yukiko, is one of the best strong females characters I’ve read. She’s smart, determined, a bit stubborn, and not once does she give in and become the damsel in distress that so many heroines seem to melt into at some point, not even when facing that samurai with the amazing green eyes. At the same time, she is still very obviously female, something that can become lost when an author is too intent on making their women strong.

Complex relationships, like the setting, slowly blossom throughout the story. At every turn, the characters reveal new depths to their personalities through their interactions with the people and the world around them. Yukiko’s burgeoning relationship with the thunder tiger, Buruu, and the way that relationship changes them both is worth the price of admission by itself, but you also get deeper and deeper glimpses into Yukiko’s tumultuous relationship with her father and their tragic past that make it impossible not to feel for these characters. Jay extends that complexity of character down to even the bit players in the story, bringing the world to life through their emotions and experiences.

At the end, there were still many unanswered questions. Enough to make me want to know what happens next and look forward to rejoining the characters in the second book, but I was satisfied with the ending Jay gives this first book in his trilogy.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who ever had an itch to fly on a griffon’s back (seriously, if you don’t think that’d be cool, there’s something wrong with you). Or perhaps you can be enticed by the urge to wield a chainsaw katana (not joking here). In case you aren't convinced, here is the book trailer for Stormdancer, releasing September 18th in the US and September 13th in the UK.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mei6yRz7pTU]

Happy reading!

Writing the Right Book.

When I wrote the novel that landed me an agent, The Girl and the Clockwork Cat, it wasn’t an attempt to cash in on a new trend. In fact, when I came up with the idea, I refused to write it because it was a trend. I went on to write the first draft of another novel that I had planned. Throughout that process, the main character for Clockwork Cat pestered me relentlessly, giving me an endless flood of ideas for the book while I tried desperately to cling to the manuscript I was writing.

Eventually she won, but not before I stubbornly finished the first draft of the other book (which needs major editing as a result). From the moment I started writing Clockwork Cat I found myself on a roller coaster ride with the main protagonist dragging me along by my throat. She’s easily the most determined character I’ve ever worked with and not one to take no for an answer. I love working with her, even if it is exhausting as hell. Here's a small excerpt from the book to give you a glimpse of her.


The steamcycles rumbled to life and she heard them pulling out of the alley. With fierce will, she managed to stay still until the sound of the engines faded in the distance. Then she scrambled like a startled rabbit, throwing disgruntled cockroaches in all directions in her desperate charge for the open air beyond the edge of the ashbin. One bony elbow smacked into the brick wall and she bit down on her lip to stifle a cry.

Sound is the killer. Silence carries one through the night alive.


Now I sit back and wonder. I know the book is good, it’s gotten too much attention to be anything less, but is it good enough to make it in the world of big publishing. My agent seems to believe so and I love her for that. Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t have sold already if I had just slipped a vampire in there somewhere like Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices books. (I actually love these books. I already have book three pre-ordered and it doesn’t come out until March of next year.) If I had made the steampunk element more of a character in itself as it is in the fantastic Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld rather than a more subtle environmental aspect à la The Difference Engine, would it be on shelves already?

In the end, I always come to the same conclusion. I wrote the book the way it needed to be written. It wasn’t supposed to be about steampunk or magic or the supernatural. It’s a story about a young woman who, despite her lowly origins and the questionable means by which she has learned to survive, discovers that she is capable of great things. It is her story.

Clockwork Cat is the book that got me my agent. I hope it gets me a publisher too, but there are no guarantees. That’s why I’m still writing and editing like a fiend to get more out there.

I guess this is just to say that you should always write the story the way it needs to be written. I think we need to recognize that telling the story that is in us rather than trying to make it conform to, or avoid conforming to, some trend will make that story shine. It will feel authentic, not forced. The passion that we put into it will come through.

In this new age, with all of the small presses popping up, it is much easier to find a home for a good book that crosses genres or doesn’t quite fit the ideals of a specific trend. In the world of big publishing, it can still be a challenge to find a place for such work (though I’m giving it a go anyway). Break the rules of the genres if that’s what your story calls for. Ignore trends and popular gimmicks if they don’t fit your story. Write the book you want to read and enjoy it.

Happy writing!