Friday, May 20, 2016

The Writer's Voice: Where Is Laura J. Moss Now?

Today's interview features Laura J. Moss, a member of my TWV 2013 team and co-founder of Laura writes YA fiction (as you can see from her awesome entry), so when her agent suggested that she develop a proposal based on her recently launched website, it was something of a leap of faith. I think it's safe to say that the leap paid off:)

This is Laura's cat, Sirius. I'm sure you can guess where the names come from:)
KV: Congratulations on the sale of ADVENTURE CATS: A GUIDE TO LIVING NINE LIVES TO THE FULLEST! What inspired you to write it?

LJM: I never actually envisioned as more than a website with an active Instagram community. The book was all my agent’s idea--and it was an “ameowzing” one. She had this incredible vision for it that got me very excited about the possibility of writing a book, and now here we are. I’ve found that as Adventure Cats has evolved, it’s often because other people have shared my passion for it and brought their own vision to the table, and I’m so grateful for that.

KV: I love the idea of a book based on a website! What inspired you to launch it?

LJM: Adventure Cats came about for a few reasons. I’ve been working as a journalist for years and have done a great deal of pet writing, so I’d interviewed some of the more famous adventure-cat owners like Craig Armstrong and Stephen Simmons. I’d started leash training my own cats, but there wasn’t really a resource out there that explained how you go from a stroll around the yard with your cat to hiking, camping and paddling trips with your cat. Last spring I mentioned to my husband that I wished such a website existed and he said, “Well, we could make that.” So he designed the site, and I got to work creating content and launching social media for it. Then I roped in some talented friends to help with writing and marketing, and soon we had a site!

However, while the website started as an informational resource, it evolved into much more as I learned just how much our negative perceptions of cats and cat owners can hurt shelter cat adoptions. Currently, more cats are killed in U.S. shelters (1.4 million annually, according to the ASPCA) than dogs, and I think one reason for that is because of how cats and cat people are stigmatized. Last year, a PetSmart Charities survey found that 49 percent of Americans buy into the “crazy cat lady” stereotype and that the adjectives often associated with cats are ones like “lazy” and “aloof.” But Adventure Cats is proof that cats and the people who love them don’t necessarily fit this mold, and I hope that changing these attitudes will lead to more adopted shelter kitties.

KV: A lot of nonfiction is sold on proposal. Did you sell this project on proposal, and if so, how was writing that proposal different than writing the YA fiction you're used to?

LJM: ADVENTURE CATS was sold on proposal, which was a whole new ballgame for me. With fiction, I’m used to sitting down, seeing where a story takes me, and sort of disappearing from the writing in a sense. But with the proposal, you’re not only trying to sell your idea but also yourself, so there’s a lot more focus on platform and why you’re the one person who can write this book and how you have the ability to get press for it and sell it. In addition to the platform discussion and the requisite sample pages, the proposal also includes sections on sales and marketing, so there were definitely moments where I thought, “I am so not qualified to write this!” But my agent, Myrsini Stephanides, is a pro with this sort of thing and has sold numerous books on proposal, so she made the process as smooth as possible.

KV: Tell us about the submission process. Did it move fairly quickly, or did it take some time? And if it took some time, what did you do to stay sane?

LJM: It actually moved so quickly that I will be spoiled for all future submissions. Within a day of sending out the proposal, my agent said we had interest and she was going to start setting up calls with editors. We had the calls the following week and went to auction the very next week.

Despite the swiftness of how it had happened though and how amazing my agent and all the editors were, I still had plenty of anxiety about the whole thing. But I can get anxious about a trip to the grocery store so that’s not especially surprising.

KV: Now tell us about getting the good news. I understand that you had quite a bit of interest in the project, so what made you pick Workman?

LJM: It’s still unreal to me that there were so many offers to choose from. It was an incredible position to be in, but also a bit paralyzing when it came to making the actual decision. There was a lot to consider--the editors’ visions for the book, the type of book they wanted to make, the advance, etc.--so I ended up making a spreadsheet, which made my Type-A husband very proud.

At that point, I could see all the variables clearly and it really came down to gut. One of the first editor calls I had pre-auction was with Workman, and after I got off the phone with their team, I’d raved to my critique group about how they really “got” what Adventure Cats was about and how they were so easy to talk to and had tons of great ideas for the book. Plus, Workman does a phenomenal job with these quirky types of books. I’m sure I would’ve been in good hands with any of the editors I talked to, but Liz Davis and Evan Griffith at Workman were definitely a natural fit for ADVENTURE CATS.

KV: Once you officially accepted the offer, what were the next steps?

LJM: Once we accepted the offer, there was some email celebration, and then I got to work. We’re planning a spring 2017 publication date, which is very fast in the publishing world, so I’m really writing this book in a matter of months. (I just don’t let my anxiety-addled brain focus on that detail too much.)

And next week I’ll get to meet my agent and the amazing editorial and marketing teams at Workman, which I’m very excited about! Adventure Cats is co-hosting a cat-hiking event in Central Park with Purina, so it’s the “purrfect” opportunity to get to meet everyone face to face. 

KV: Any last words of advice or encouragement you'd like to share with us?

LJM: As cliché as it may be, I’d say don’t give up. Publishing can wear you down, but the people who succeed are the ones who pursue their dream in the face of hardship and rejection. I participated in The Writer’s Voice three years ago, and I later queried a manuscript that got me a slew of rejections and R&Rs but no offers of representation. Now I’ve sold a book, which still seems unreal to me!

Also, keep in mind that your path to success may take unexpected turns. This is something my critique group and I discuss a lot because many of us had a tendency to think of ourselves as only YA writers, and we saw the only path to success as having those novels traditionally published. But we had to realize that we’re so much more than that. While we’re YA writers and some of us have sold those books, several of us have dipped our toes into other writing waters and found incredible success in self-publishing, blogging and ghostwriting. While everyone is still working toward traditional publication, there’s joy--and a real confidence boost--in seeing people respond so positively to other things you’ve created. While I never thought I’d write nonfiction, selling ADVENTURE CATS has been an amazing experience that’s opened so many doors for me, and I’m ridiculously excited about it. It’s not the path I originally envisioned for myself, but it’s clearly the right path for me.

So don’t limit yourself. Follow your passions. And surround yourself with people who believe in you and challenge you to be the best version of yourself. (Mad love to #Twitterbloc for being those people for me.)

Wonderful advice, Laura. Success can come in so many different forms these days that it's important to keep an open mind. Thanks for sharing your journey with us!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

When It Feels Like the Race Is Passing You By

I've been writing this post in my head for longer than I care to admit, but a part of me hasn't wanted to come out and just say it. I didn't want to sound like a whiner, and I certainly didn't want to come across as ungrateful. Because I've been extremely blessed. Most writers are still waiting to see one of their books on the shelf, let alone two. But I've been inspired by the insightful, honest posts that my friends have been sharing. When your motivation starts feeling less like circumspection and more like cowardice, you know you have to take the leap.

You probably haven't noticed that it's been almost three years since I announced my last book deal. You probably haven't even wondered what I've been working on because you've just assumed that I've been being a Published Author. But I'm never too busy to write. Writing is just what we do. Even when we don't have time. Even when we want to sleep. Even when we're so hopped up on cold medicine that we can barely string three coherent words together. I'm sure you know what you mean.

It's just that none of the things I've written in the last three years have sold*.

How I feel about this fact changes from day to day (and sometimes from hour to hour). It's unfortunate that the qualities that make us good writers--like empathy and internalization--are the very qualities that make the publishing industry especially difficult to maneuver. Here are several ways I cope:

1. Step away from the computer. There is nothing wrong with taking a few days, weeks, or even months to reorient myself. I usually remember why I love telling stories and crafting pitch-perfect sentences when I'm not actively doing it.

2. Take breaks from social media. I love keeping up with writing friends, but sometimes I do have to turn off Twitter. The constant deluge of good news can get overwhelming, and while I don't think it's okay to succumb to bitterness and jealousy, I do think it's okay to know your limits and stop torturing yourself.

3. Do something nice for someone else. There is absolutely no substitute for genuine service. When I'm focused on another person's needs, I spend a lot less time and brainpower worrying about myself.

4. Pick up a new hobby or develop an old one. When I got into genealogy almost six years ago, I never imagined that it could or would become such an invaluable lifeline. Anytime I need a break from this mentally and emotionally draining business, researching my dead people always fills my well back up.

5. Read, read, read. Most writers were readers first, and that's certainly true in my case. I love digging into a new find or rereading an old favorite. That said, I'll be the first to admit that I sometimes avoid certain books. Some authors are so out of my league that I can bask in their amazingness without feeling threatened, but that brilliant debut that's getting all kinds of awesome press and winning all kinds of awards? Yeah, I'm not going to appreciate that book when I'm down in the dumps, so I hold off on reading it until I've dug myself out.

6. Develop meaningful relationships with other writers. Only other writers can really understand what it's like to be a writer. Also, I've found it's easier to be genuinely happy for a writer I've taken the time to get to know.

What do YOU do to keep your head above water?

*But that's not accurate, either. I probably should have said, "It's just that none of the things I've written in the last three years have sold YET." Against all odds, I'm still plugging away. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then fit me for a straitjacket and book my padded cell.

Friday, May 6, 2016

From Submission to Offer with Kristin Daly Rens

As you may have guessed, I'm a huge fan of historical fiction, so when I found out that Anne Blankman, author of PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG and CONSPIRACY OF BLOOD AND SMOKE, was releasing a third book this spring, I immediately reached out to see if her editor, Kristin Daly Rens, would be interested in answering a few questions about its acquisition. Ms. Rens graciously agreed, and when I sent her the questions, she knocked them out of the park. Enjoy!

KV: First off, tell us a bit about PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG. What is it about, and what did you love about it?

KDR: PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG is the story of Gretchen Müller, who has grown up in the Nationalist Socialist Party. Her father sacrificed his life to protect Hitler during the leader’s failed beer hall putsch several years earlier, and ever since, Hitler has kept the Müller family in his inner circle, safe and secure during unstable times. Gretchen is Uncle Dolf's favorite, and everyone in Munich knows it--until the night she receives a mysterious note that indicates her father’s death is not what it appeared to be. And Gretchen joins forces with a handsome young Jewish journalist to uncover the truth.

From the moment I cracked open the manuscript, I found Gretchen’s story absolutely gripping. The writing is lovely, and Anne has SUCH a gift for creating atmosphere--the historical detail throughout lends real authenticity to both the characters and the story. I was also intrigued by the fact that, when the story opens, Gretchen is a National Socialist, and yet as she comes to realize that everything she grew up believing is a lie, the reader can’t help but be on her side--it was a point of view I hadn’t really seen before.

KV: Do you recall how quickly you read Ms. Blankman's manuscript? Is that pretty typical of your response times, or do those vary?

KDR: Pretty darn quickly! I was really fascinated by the pitch, so I couldn’t resist starting to read right after I got the manuscript--which isn’t always the case, simply because I usually try to read manuscripts in the order they come in and so my response times can vary. It was a good thing I started reading PRISONER early, though, because within the week the manuscript already had strong interest from several houses, with one offer already on the table. From submission to end of the auction, the whole process took just about three weeks--which, considering the Thanksgiving holiday fell in the middle of that, was a whirlwind!

KV: Once you decided to take PRISONER to your acquisitions meeting/editorial board, did you inform Ms. Blankman’s agent of your interest in the manuscript? Do you typically keep in contact with the agent throughout the process, or do you prefer to have a final decision in hand before you reach out?

KDR: In part because there was already interest from other publishers as well, I let Anne’s agent know that I was planning to share the ms with the rest of the Balzer + Bray team, and then again when I put the project on our acquisitions agenda--I wanted both her and Anne to know how much I loved the book (and how much the B+B team adored it as well)!

KV: How did you prepare to bring PRISONER to your acquisitions meeting/editorial board?

KDR: The first step in the acquisitions process for me is always to share a submission I’m excited about with the rest of the Balzer + Bray team to discuss at our team meeting. Happily, they were all just as excited about Anne, and about PRISONER, as I was, and we were unanimous in our decision to bring the book to our acquisitions meeting for discussion.

For acquisitions, we generally share the manuscript with the group, as well as a memo detailing all of the reasons we think we should acquire it--and, with Anne’s books, there were MANY reasons!--as well as a tentative p&l form. We try to give materials to the group at least a week before acquisitions, whenever we can, so that they have time to read the manuscript to see how special it is beforehand--though sometimes, depending on the situation, they’re forced to read more quickly.

KV: How did you present your offer to Ms. Blankman's agent, and what was that conversation like? 

KDR: Oh gosh, it’s been about three and a half years at this point, so I’m not sure of the exact details, but I do remember that I called Anne’s agent to make the offer more or less the moment I got out of our acquisitions meeting--and that there was lots of gushing involved! And then I was on pins and needles waiting until the auction was over.

KV: PRISONER sold in a multi-book deal that ended up including its sequel, CONSPIRACY OF BLOOD AND SMOKE, and the just-released TRAITOR ANGELS. Were those books planned from the start, or did you and Ms. Blankman collaborate on the concepts over time?

KDR: From the beginning, we knew that CONSPIRACY OF BLOOD AND SMOKE would be Anne’s second book, though we weren’t sure at that point what book three would be. But when Anne sent in the proposal for TRAITOR ANGELS I knew that was going to be our next project--Anne and I share a fascination with Milton and “Paradise Lost” so it was clearly meant to be!

KV: How is TRAITOR ANGELS similar to PRISONER and CONSPIRACY, and how is it different? 

KDR: Like PRISONER and CONSPIRACY, TRAITOR ANGELS is technically historical, but it’s also a VERY different book--a heart-pounding adventure full of literary clues and puzzles, and an earthshaking secret that both the church and the king are desperate to conceal, so in some ways TRAITOR ANGELS is more akin to books like THE DA VINCI CODE. As always, though, Anne has woven true facts in with intriguing surprises to create an intricate and unputdownable story. With a heroine who is both a brilliant scholar and a fierce swordswoman, and a rich blend of romance, mystery, and historical intrigue, the book is a really compelling mix of historical fiction and code-breaking thriller.

KV: Oh my gosh, this book sounds DIVINE. Can't wait to get my hands on it!

Any last words of advice or encouragement you’d like to share with us?

KDR: Write what interests you, not what is trendy! One of my favorite things about Anne’s writing is how passionate she is about the topics she writes about--whether it’s WW2 Germany or the poetry of John Milton, Anne’s love for her subject matter shines through in every word she writes, leading her to create not only an evocative sense of atmosphere, but also fully-realized characters and rich, complex relationships that make the reader fully, and emotionally, invested. When a writer is passionate about what he or she is writing about, readers can see that passion on the page--and it makes them fall in love with that story as well.

Thank you for this wonderful advice, Ms. Rens, and for an information-packed interview. I'm sure I'm not the only one who will be coming back to refer to it:)

Have a great weekend, all. I'm out!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

What I've Learned in My First Year as a Published Author

One year ago today, THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING was published. I knew this day was coming, so I've spent the last week reflecting on my last year as a writer, and the truth is, I've come up empty. This ground has already been trod by so many other, better writers that I haven't been able to come up with anything to add to the conversation, and yet I couldn't let the day pass without at least mentioning it, so here we are.

My day-to-day life hasn't changed at all much in the last year. I do events very occasionally--other authors do a much better job of getting into schools and bookstores and generally putting themselves out there, so if you're looking for a tutorial, I'm afraid you've come to the wrong place--but for the most part, I just live life. I get out of bed, get my older kids ready for school, hop on my computer, feed Monster copious amounts of Goldfish® crackers, hop back on my computer, hang out with my family, and hop back on my computer after the kids have gone to bed (unless Honey Bear and I decide to watch a movie or an episode of Parks and Recreation, our latest Netflix binge). I'm one of those people who thrive on routine and consistency, so this quiet, non-stressful life is perfectly suited to my tastes (read: I'm an introverted homebody who doesn't like to interact with the outside world).

It takes self-discipline to write a book, to revise it, and to get it published, and in lots of ways, it takes even more to write the next one. When you have a book on the shelf (virtual or otherwise), it's easier to let yourself get caught up in extracurricular activities. Hanging out on Twitter can suddenly be chalked up to promotion, and school visits are fun (and also kind of terrifying, but that's another post). But if you want to sell another book, you actually have to write one.

That's both the bad news and the good news--bad news because there's no shortcut, not even if you're James Patterson (okay, a little bit if you're James Patterson, since, you know, he uses ghostwriters), and good news because the thrill of writing is why we took this gig in the first place. I only got to be a debut author once, but I get to experience the head rush of finishing a first draft over and over again.

If I've learned anything in my first year as a published author, it's that writers are writers, from Stephen King to you and me, and I wouldn't have it any other way.