Um, beg your pardon?

Yesterday evening, my husband and I spent FOUR freakin' hours at the Philadelphia airport, utterly stranded. Our flight kept getting delayed and delayed and delayed and...well, you get the picture.

As we roamed listlessly through the long gray hallways, I suddenly had the urge to eat something scrumptious. The following conversation ensued:

Me: Mmmm, you know what I'm craving right now?
Justin: What?
Me: A caramel apple! 
Justin: Okay...
Me: Doesn't that sound so good? Yum.
Justin: That's kind of a weird request. Did I impregnate you or something?

Sheesh, can't a girl crave a caramel apple without accusations of pregnancy?!

Merry Christmas!

I know, I know, it's only Christmas Eve, but I wanted to wish you all a very merry Christmas! What are all y'all doing for the holidays? Visiting grandma's? Traveling home? Eating lots of yummy food? Please eat plenty of ham and potatoes and pumpkin pie for me!

As for my husband and me, we will be flying from Seattle to DC tomorrow. (Boo!) Still, we'll be together and that's what counts, right? Plus, I get to see my little sister who has been gone at college for the past four months. *Sniff* She's gettin' so old! 

Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas to my Mom, who's in California right now visiting an ailing family friend.
Merry Christmas to my brother, who's in Taiwan studying Chinese.
And Merry Christmas to my wonderful father-in-law, who passed away on the 19th. Terry, we miss you already.

Merry Christmas to you and your family!

After The Call: What happens after you sign the contract?

"After the Call" is a new feature on my blog! It chronicles what happens after an agent offers you representation: how to choose the right agent, how to communicate with your new agent, what the revision process is like, etc.

Right after I signed my contract with Agent Jim, I was floating on Cloud Nine. Okay...the term 'Cloud Nine' doesn't do my emotions justice. I was on Cloud Ten! Cloud Eleven! Cloud Twelve even! Suffice to say, I was very, very happy.

And I was also a bit clueless.

Now that I had an agent, I had no idea what I should do. I had done so much research on writing queries, studying publishing trends, refining my agent search, etc. But what happened after I signed on the dotted line? I had no idea.

Should I call Jim up for a chat?
Should I start working on revisions?
Should I send him cupcakes, thanking him profusely for taking me on?

I was fumbling through the darkness. And so, I ended up sending Jim a couple emails to try to get to know him better. Hahaha. He was probably like, "Um, why are you asking me this stuff?" Fortunately, he was very gracious and answered all of my questions with patience.

Looking back now, here are a few things I've learned about what generally happens after you sign your contract.

1.) Celebrate! Rejoice with your friends and family with ample amounts of cake, candy, and champagne!

2.) RELAX! After the initial exuberance faded away, I started worrying and fretting about my newly agented status. Why hadn't Jim replied to me yet? Did my email get lost? Did he lose interest in me already? Did he hate my book now?! Waahhh! Yes, I was a mess... So, relax! Chill out! Realize that your agent has other clients and other responsibilities, like contracts and queries and a life outside of agenting! 

3.) Patiently await your revision notes. Generally, it will take a few weeks for your agent to send you the revision notes---perhaps two to three weeks because agents are super busy and because it takes awhile to comb over a manuscript. If your agent doesn't get back to you in the time frame you've discussed, I'd send a gentle email as a reminder. No need to call though! Most likely your agent has been swamped and will get you the notes ASAP.

4.) Work on your next book. Seriously. It will take your mind off of your newly agented manuscript and it will get you excited about a new WIP! At the end of the day, you want to make a career out of writing, right? Then get started on another book!

5.) Dream big! 'Cause once you go out on submission, you're gonna start pulling your hair out again. But for now, you can totally be the next Stephenie Meyer! Hell, the next J.K. Rowling! Revel in this moment. :o)

Writing as a Refuge

Every now and then, I start to look at writing as a bit of a burden. Don't get me wrong! I absolutely love it. But writing can be hard, you know? Slogging through the rough draft, tackling massive revisions, and receiving rejections from left to right. It's not always a walk in the park.

But writing is also my refuge. When times get tough--and they've gotten really tough as of late--I look to writing as my getaway. My peace. My solace. It whirls me away from the stress of daily life and it takes me into the world of my story. For an hour or two, I can stop worrying about nurses and chaplains and pills, and I can focus on my characters and plot and tone. It's the ultimate escape.

I am in Seattle right now. I've been here for nearly a week and I'll probably stay until early January. My father-in-law is very sick. His cancer has spread from his colon to his liver and he entered hospice care two weeks ago. It's...hard. It's hard to see such a wonderful man dying before his time. And it's hard to see my husband mourn for a father he will lose far too soon. We sit and wait, sit and wait. We wait for Death to arrive on his dark black horse. We can already hear its hoof-beats. 

When I get some free time for myself, I check my email and I read. I don't have much energy to comment on my favorite blogs or to even reply to comments on my own blogs, but I do try to write. Sometimes it's hard to get started because all I want to do is close my eyes and cry. And yet, writing is my solace. My refuge.

There are times when I get so frustrated by writing that I want to throw my little netbook at the wall. But right now, I'm really glad I have it. New book. New scenes. New plot. It gives me some hope, you know? 

After The Call: How Do You Choose Between Multiple Offers?

"After the Call" is a new feature on my blog! It chronicles what happens after an agent offers you representation: how to choose the right agent, how to communicate with your new agent, what the revision process is like, etc. To read previous posts of this series, click here.

In early April 2010, I was kind of depressed about my querying stats:

Over 60 rejections. 
Most of them form rejections. 
And no revise-and-resubmits.

I was just about ready to give up on my little space book...

But by the end of the month, my luck had taken a 180-degree turn and I I had three offers of representation. Eeeep! I was utterly blown away. These agents wanted to represent me? Really? Did my mom send them bribes or give them the evil Chinese stink eye?

The point of my story is this: you can totally find yourself with multiple offers of representation. Don't believe me? Then listen to Agent Kristin Nelson! In a recent blog post, she remarks on the rising number of writers with multiple offers of rep:

For the last six months, any project Sara or I have wanted, we’ve had to fight for. In other words, when we offered rep, the author already had, bare minimum, five other agent offers on the table in addition to ours.

Crazy, huh? So if you find yourself in this position, I've geared this post for you! Below, you will find four points in which to assess the agents who are banging down your door.

1.) Sales Record
A few months ago, I spoke with a writer who received an offer from a newish agent. This writer was super excited about this, but she asked me for some advice. And so, I did some research and I became a little worried for my friend. See, the offering agent had worked as an agent for a few years but had only made a couple sales to very small presses.

I was really concerned: how could my friend land a good publishing deal when this agent didn't seem to have the right industry connections?

So...before you sign on that dotted line, you need to research each agent's sales record. Look at the agent's website or Publisher's Marketplace profile. Or even better? Get a subscription to Publisher's Marketplace! (Of course, not all agents post their sales on PM, but it can give you a general idea.)

Also, be sure to research what type of sales each agent has made. Has the agent sold books in your particular genre? For instance, let's say an agent has had very healthy sales in adult non-fiction, but not in picture books---which you write. If this is the case, you might want to ask the agent about her connections within children's publishing. Ideally, you deserve an agent who has experience selling books in your genre and who has sold to legitimate publishing houses.

Keep in mind though: don't discount newer agents just because they don't have a lengthy sales record. Which brings us to our next point...

2.) Job Experience
Not all agents will have significant sales records for you to dissect. New agents, for example, have only been in the business for a short amount of time and thus may not have made a sale yet. To evaluate these agents, you should start looking into their job experience. 

  • Where did this agent work before entering the business? Did he work at a literary agency or a publishing house? For how long?
  • What kind of books did the agent handle at her last job? Did she work with books in your genre? 
  • Does the agent work with other agents who can mentor him about the publishing industry?
  • How long has the agent worked in this field? Has she made any sales in this time period? (If an agent has been in the business for over 18 months without a sale, I'd be a bit anxious.) 

IMHO, I think new agents can offer great opportunities for their clients, such as faster response times and a bit more hand-holding. I truly believe agents like Mandy Hubbard and Kathleen Ortiz---both of whom hung their shingles in 2010---will become rock stars in this business.

3.) The "Click" Factor
Ah, the elusive "click" factor! This is perhaps the hardest trait to assess, but it's also one of the most important when choosing the right agent. At the heart of the matter, you want an agent that you can "click" with---someone you'll feel comfortable working with for many years to come. A few things to consider:

  • During your phone call, does the agent answer your questions with patience? Or is he pushy, vague, or dismissive? 
  • Does the agent's vision for your novel mesh with your own ideas?  
  • Does the agent make you feel like you can place 100% of your trust in her? 

Think about hiring a new doctor. Don't you want someone who answers your questions and listens to your concerns? Don't you want someone you feel absolutely confident in to take care of you? This is exactly what you're looking for in an agent. You don't need an agent to become your best friend or to stroke your ego (although a good agent will offer moral support), but you do want someone you have complete faith in.

Just as a good doctor will take excellent care of your health, a good agent will take excellent care of your career.

4.) Client referrals
I'm a strong believer in asking for client referrals. When I was trying to pick the right agent, these referrals really helped me to cement my decision. In fact, Jim's clients were so enthusiastic about him that I knew I had to sign with him ASAP!

So...make sure to ask each offering agent if they'd be willing to give a couple client referrals. 2 to 3 is plenty. When you contact these clients, consider asking them about the agent's revision process, the agent's response times, and what it's like to go on submission (Does the agent forward all correspondences with editors? Or just the good news?).

Granted, these most of the clients will have mainly positive things to say about their agents (why else would the agent refer you to them?! Haha), but you can gain valuable insight on how each agent works. For instance, is the agent a phone person or an email person? Does the agent like to get her hands dirty in revisions or does she prefer to focus on business stuff?

Well, I hope this is helpful! Again, please feel free to email me if you have any questions or if you find yourself fielding multiple offers! I'll be out-of-town for the next couple weeks, but I'll do my best to get back to you as soon as I can. :o)

After The Call: When an agent offers you representation...

I'm starting a new feature on my blog! "After the Call" will chronicle what happens after an agent offers you representation: how to choose the right agent, how to communicate with your new agent, what the revision process is like, etc.

I've noticed that a lot of blogs focus on how to gain representation, but there seems to be a lack of information on what happens after you sign on the dotted line. So...hopefully I can help fill this void a little bit!

Today, I thought I'd write about what happens right after an agent offers you representation. You might be tempted at first to scream "YES!" to the first agent who offers you a contract, but it's important to take a step back and set up a phone call. After all, this is a professional relationship--you are hiring this agent to represent your work. Would you hire a contractor to remodel your kitchen without talking to him first? No! Then why would you sign an agency contract without talking to the agent?

Here's a brief timeline of what happened to me when I was trying to choose the right agent. 

1.) April 25, 2010. Received an offer of rep via email! Proceeded to celebrate with Nutella and jumped with joy. Then fainted.

2.) April 26, 2010. Alerted all of the agents who had my full/partial/or even a query about my offer. Let them know that I needed to get back to the first agent by May 4. Most writers ask for seven days to make a decision, but I asked for ten since I was a blubbery mess. Agents are flexible!

3.) April 26 - 30, 2010. Some of the agents bowed out of the race. Some of the agents requested to read the full. And another offer! *Dies*

4.) April 26 - 30, 2010. Set up times to speak to each offering agent on the phone. Before each call, I wrote a list of questions I wanted to ask so I wouldn't forget anything. During the conversations, I would scribble down notes. Some of the questions I asked:
  • What made you want to represent my novel? (It's fun to see why an agent wants to represent you. Plus, this question can gauge how enthusiastic he/she is about your work.)
  • If we decide to work together, do you want me to revise the book before going on submission? What sort of revisions do you have in mind? (It's important to see if an agent's revision ideas mesh with your view of your novel.)
  • How many clients do you currently represent?
  • Do you prefer to communicate via email or phone? (Some agents still prefer to speak via phone when it comes to revision notes.)
  • How often do you stay in contact with your clients when their books are on sub?
  • What happens if my book doesn't sell?
  • Does your agency provide a contract that I will need to sign? Can I take a look at the contract? 
  • Do you take on clients on a project-by-project basis or do you sign them for their long-term career?
  • Would you be willing to refer me to a couple of your clients? (Definitely ask this! When I spoke with a couple of Jim's clients, they simply RAVED about him. It totally cemented my decision.)
5.) May 1 - 2, 2010. Chewed my fingernails, pulled out my hair, and stopped eating as I tried to choose between Agent #1 and Agent #2. I also sent both agents a few follow-up questions (ie, Do you charge any copying fees? What do you think about my WIPs?) 

6.) May 3, 2010. Received rejections from a few more agents. an offer from Jim! The first two agents offered rep via email, but Jim called out of the blue. I was wholly unprepared and I stammered through our conversation. 

7.) May 4, 2010. Let Jim know that I wanted to sign with him! Once he sent me the contract, I sent emails to the other agents. *Cringe* That was very awkward! 

8.) May 5, 2010. Signed and sent off my contract! Proceeded to eat nutella and jumped for joy! 

At the end of the day, I was impressed by all three agents. Agent #1 was very enthusiastic about my book and Agent #2 was lovely to talk to on the phone, but I ended up going with Jim due to his sales record, his client referrals, and his friendliness during our call. If he had been aggressive or dismissive during our chat, I probably would have gone with someone else. So...I really do think it's VITAL to speak to each agent before signing anything. 

If you find yourself in the position of choosing an agent, definitely feel free to email me! I'd be more than happy to answer any of your questions and to cheer you on!

Friday Five! (Birthday Edition!)

1.) Today is my birthday! I am a whopping 28 years old. I'm excited because Justin has made reservations tonight at a restaurant in Georgetown. But I'm also scared because this means I turn 30 in two years. Eeek!

2.) I know, I know. I'm a Polyvore addict! I made a birthday wishlist...

Out of all of these items, I think I'd like the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" boxed set the most. Clothes may go out of style, but Star Trek is forever! *Cue Justin laughing at me*

3.) And here are a few more things I wouldn't mind getting for my birthday:

* A fairy godmother
* A good health insurance plan that won't break the bank
* A tub of Nutella
* For Democrats and Republicans in Congress to stop hating each other
* A Ragdoll cat to cuddle with and that won't make me sneeze
* A book deal :o)
* A voyage on the Starship Enterprise with Captain Picard as my personal tour guide

4.) On the writing front, my YA dystopian is chugging along slowly. I absolutely love writing the beginning and ending of a novel, but I hate writing the middle. It's so hard! Must. Slog. Through. It.

Still, I'm excited about the book's premise and I'm doing research on it by looking up info on Catholic monasteries and fertility treatments. Random yet fun!

5.) And lastly, thank you for reading my blog! I really mean it. I love reading your comments---it always makes me laugh and smile. I hope you guys have a great weekend! 

A Room of One's Own

I think every writer dreams about having a cozy place to curl up and write. A place where we can lock the door, ditch our phones, and focus on drafting and revising our manuscripts. Ah, a room of our own!

I really love interior decorating so I've thought a lot about my perfect office. (This is kind of funny since my husband and I probably won't buy a house for a LONG time. Grad school and what have you...) But a girl can dream, right?

And dream I have! 

Once again, I have turned to my good friend Polyvore to come up with a few ideas...

To top it all off, a perfect office needs to have a perfect view. This would be mine: a beach-front vista of the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

Lovely! Now I just need to make a million dollars to buy my perfect house on the perfect beach so I can make my perfect office. Come on, little book, I need you to sell! 

So what would your perfect office look like? And what would be your perfect view?

Be you ever return purchased books?

I'm in a bit of a quandary.

Last week, I finally got my hands on a book I've been salivating to read for over six months. I was really giddy to find it at the bookstore and stake a claim on my own copy. Then I went home and read, read, read until well-past midnight. 

When I finished the last page, however, I felt...kind of disappointed. Okay, I was really disappointed. The characters fell flat, the pacing seemed off, and the plot became predictable. All in all, not a terrible read but not a terribly good one either. 

So here's my little quandary. Should I return this book to the store? 

On one hand, I think this would be okay because I really didn't care for the novel and I'd be more than willing to exchange it for something else. Plus, I've taken good care of it---no creased edges or folded pages. It's like new. 

But on the other hand, I feel guilty about returning something I've actually read. I've already used the merchandise so wouldn't it be dishonest for me to return it? 

Decisions, decisions! Why is my life so hard?! Hahaha. 

So what do you guys think? Do you return books that you haven't enjoyed? I'm over-thinking this, aren't I?


Friday Five

Friday already? Really?!

Okay then! Onto the Friday Five!

1.) Feel free to meander over to Alexa Barry's lovely blog because I have a guest post up today! Every December, Alexa asks fellow writers to discuss their favorite couple from TV, film, or books; and she was nice enough to invite me to join in on the fun. 

Wanna hint as to who I picked as my favorite couple? Here it is: "Tooooe Piiiiiiick!" 

2.) Want another hint? The Pamchenko Twist! 

3.) Justin's out-of-town until the tenth for a business trip so I plan on a non-exciting Friday night: 

       * working on my dystopian novel
       * eating nutella out of the jar
       * watching "Law and Order: UK." Man, I really love this show. 

4.) So everyone on my Twitter feed and on the YA blogs I read are simply raving about Stephanie Perkins' debut novel, Anna and the French Kiss. Hmm, this book shall definitely go on my birthday wish-list! 

5.) Why yes, I've been wasting more time over on Polyvore! Yesterday night, I thought it would be really fun to put together a spring wedding ensemble. Ta-da! I drew my inspiration from this vintage dress. Isn't it sassy and fun?

Hope you guys have a great weekend! Any fun plans going on? Doing some Christmas shopping? 

The Best Book I Read in November

I think I'm going to start a new feature on my little blog: the best book I've read each month! This way, I can keep a list of the books I've read and I can have more book reviews on my blog. Wahoo! Gotta love book reviews, right?

So I read four books in November:

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds
The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
Matched by Ally Condie

I absolutely adored three of these books, which made it really hard for me to pick a winner. (Sorry, MATCHED, but I just couldn't get into you.) If push came to shove though, I'd probably choose THE RAPTURE OF CANAAN as the best of the bunch due to its stunning prose, its heartbreaking plot twists, and its well-drawn characters that felt so real I truly believe they exist in rural South Carolina.

Here is a quick blurb about this novel, which was an Oprah Book Club pick in 1997:

At the Church of Fire and Brimstone and Gods Almighty Baptizing Wind, Grandpa Herman makes the rules for everyone, and everyone obeys, or else. Try as she might, Ninah can't resist her prayer partner, James, and finds herself pregnant. She fears the wrath of Grandpa Herman, the congregation and God Himself. But the events that follow show Ninah that God's ways are more mysterious than even Grandpa Herman understands.

I was truly dazzled by the writing in this book. Author Sheri Reynolds proves herself not only as a great storyteller but as a masterful artist. There were so many passages in this novel that simply blew me away with their lovely, lovely descriptions. For instance, here is the first paragraph of the work:

I've spent a lot of time weaving, but you'd never know it by my hands. With threads, hair, and twisted fabric, I weave in fragments of myself, bits of other people. I weave in lies, and I weave in love, and in the end, it's hard to know if one keeps me warmer than the other.

Another thing I loved about this book is how the characters all felt so real to me. It would have been easy for Reynolds to demonize Grandpa Herman as this domineering, arrogant, hardliner preacher who ruled his church with an iron fist. Yet, she doesn't that. Grandpa Herman may have some prideful traits, but he can also be kind, loving, and vulnerable. The same goes with the rest of the characters: they are all developed so three-dimensionally that I wanted to reach into the book and give them hugs or slap them across the face.

All in all, I would highly recommend THE RAPTURE OF CANAAN. It has already become one of the favorite novels of all time.

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day. This means I'm thinking about one of my old co-workers, a man named George.

Back in 2005, I had recently graduated from college and I started an internship at a small art/history museum in Salt Lake City. When I say this was a small museum, I mean it was very small. The museum had opened only a couple years prior and it had a very bare-bones staff: the director, the assistant director, and me. That's it!

About two months into my internship, the director left to take another job and so the assistant director decided to hire someone to help with our daily housekeeping. Enter George. He would come to the museum about 15-20 hours a week to greet visitors and to clean out the cluttered basement.

George was an interesting character. Tall with a trimmed mustache. Handsome in a disheveled sort of way. He loved talking to people and he loved antiquing. George also had an interesting quirk: he was a bit of a kleptomaniac. It was completely innocent, but he would take things from the museum if he didn't think they were needed, like a picture frame or a space heater. My boss had to make numerous phone calls to George's partner to ask if our lost items had found their way to their house.

Over the course of a couple months, I got to know George. Oftentimes he would meander to the second floor and chat with me during his lunch break. Bit by bit, he told me about his life. A Utahn born and bred, George was raised in a Mormon family and he was quite devoted to his faith. He went on a Mormon mission, he married a Mormon woman, and he volunteered at the local Mormon temple. All in all, he was the ideal Mormon male.

But George had a secret: he was gay.

For years, George tried to cure himself from this "ailment." He even agreed to shock therapy treatments. None of it worked, of course. Eventually, George decided to divorce his wife and he decided to leave his faith.  When I met him, he had been openly gay for decades and had been with his partner for many years. He still had immense affection for the Church of his youth, but he said he felt much happier without living two conflicting identities.

As my internship continued, I noticed George didn't come to the museum as often as he once did. Some days he wouldn't come in at all. When I brought this up with my boss, she only shook her head.

"Is he sick?" I asked.
"George has AIDS," she told me. "He's not doing very well."


I spent the rest of the day staring blankly at my computer screen, fretting and thinking and worrying about George.

Fortunately, George bounced back. He returned to work later, but he did seem quieter. Weaker. A couple months after that, I finished my internship and moved back to DC to start my first real job at the Air and Space Museum. I lost touch with George.

I haven't thought about George in a long time, but on this day---World AIDS Day---he is at the forefront of my mind. I hope he's okay. I hope he's healthy. I hope he's happy. I hope he's strong. I know he probably has long forgotten about me, but I will always remember him.

George, if you're still out there, Caroline says hello.