ANOTHER BLOG ABOUT WRITING?

I love words. Long ones, short ones, even made-up-ones. I love writing words, putting them together in new and different ways that make people think, feel or do something. I love the words in songs, the words in movies, books and TV shows. And much to the dismay of every art director I’ve ever worked with, I also love a good em-dash—they’re seriously great.

I spend most of my days writing ads and many nights and weekends working on the novel I FINALLY finished writing—so why add a blog to the list?

Because like most writers, I have many opinions about many different things. And over the years of taking creative writing classes at the University of Florida, studying copywriting at The Creative Circus, attending writing workshops at Story Studio Chicago, writing a novel and working in the advertising industry for almost 15 years, I’ve learned a thing or two. And what good is knowledge if you keep it to yourself.

So follow me here to read my thoughts and advice when it comes to writing for ads and for fiction. The two aren’t as different as you might think. I’ll also invite other writers—copywriters, novelists, songwriters, poets, comedians, even agents—to share their wisdom. And last, but certainly not least, I’m going to play along with  #WordCrushWednesday and share the words I’m crushing on each and every Wednesday.

Now, who’s with me?

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2018: ONE FOR THE BOOKS

Most of my life, writing was just a hobby— something I did in my spare time. I thought of myself as an ‘aspiring writer’ until I wised up and dropped the ‘aspiring.’ If you write, you’re a writer. I was a writer.

But I didn’t feel like I was accomplished enough to use the ‘A’ word. Author. I still don’t totally feel like the word belongs to me, but I’m working on it.

When my mom gave me this gift, traditionally for couples on the year they got married, it made me laugh—and think.

 

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At first, I wasn’t so sure about it. Those signs are made for couples to mark the year they got married. And I am very single. But then I realized how well it fits, because 2018 was the year that I got a literary agent, a book deal and a film agent. It’s the year I can proudly say that I was established as an Author. At least in the logical sense—hopefully I’ll catch up to it emotionally soon!

If you’ve  been following the blog, my personal Facebook page or my author one in the past year, you already know the details of what a dream-come-true year this was. I could probably fill another novel with all the events of the past twelve months, but instead of boring everyone with that again, I decided to go month-by-month with a few highlights from my writing journey, and some of the other wonderful things that fill my life!

 

JANUARY 

  • After a year of freelancing, I went back to work full-time at FCB, this time as a VP Creative Director, running an account I worked on years ago as a Senior Copywriter. (I officially started the end of December, but work didn’t really start until January.)
  • With the help of some amazing writer friends, I reworked the query letter for You & Me & Us.
  • The last week of the year, I sent out a brand new batch of revised query letters to agents on my list and crossed my fingers!

 

FEBRUARY 

  • Set sail on my 17th Rock Boat, one of my Happy Places where I reunite with some of my favorite people and some of my favorite bands every year for four or five incredible days.
  • While on board, I got my first full request from the new query letter! I had a feeling 2018 was going to be my year—I had no idea!
  • At the end of the month, I got an email from an agent that I met and really liked the previous June asking if I was still looking for representation.

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BEST BOOKS OF 2018

This year, I read a LOT of books. For me, at least. Like most writers, I have always been a voracious reader—when I have the time. But between my day job, my writing, sleep and an attempt to have a social life, there isn’t always much time to sit and read.

But then I discovered Audible.

I know some people say it’s cheating—that it’s ‘listening’ not ‘reading.’ I understand the argument, there’s a part of me that almost agrees with it for a similar reason that the book is usually better than the movie.

When it’s just the words printed on the page, you bring something to the story as the reader. You hear the characters voices in your head, their tone, their accents and inflections. You don’t get to do that with audio books since a lot of that is interpreted by the performance of the actors.

There have been a few audio books like ‘An American Marriage’ where the actors’ performance added another layer of amazing depth to the story. And there are others (which I won’t mention) where the narrators voice annoyed me so much that it kept me from connecting with a story I otherwise might have loved.

But for me, audio books were the only way I could achieve the 50 book Goodreads goal I set for myself. And for me, that was a big stretch. I picked the number because two of my writing friends set a goal of reading 100 books. I should note that they both have four kids, one of them also works as a doctor, and they both also have to make time for writing. I don’t have any kids, so I figured I could try and at least read half as many books as they did.

I made it, barely. As of the first of December, I had 9 books left to reach my goal. (I admit, I looked for shorter books to power through at 1.25 speed.) But I know I wouldn’t have come anywhere close if I hadn’t traded listening to podcasts for audio books.

I listened in the morning while I got ready, on my walk to and from work, in Ubers, while doing laundry, cleaning around the house. If you think about it, it’s a dream for a reader—I could read while doing pretty much everything! Except for drying my hair, I never figured that one out.

But I digress—the real reason most of you are here is to find out which books made my top list this year. There were so many good ones that I had to make it a Top 14 list instead of a top 10. And with that, here are the Top 14 books I read in 2018! Keep reading if you want to hear more about each one and why they found a place on my ‘best of’ list.

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It would be impossible for me to list the the books in order of preference (there are a few vying for the number one spot) so I decided to group them by categories I’m making up 🙂

BOOKS THAT ARE SOCIALLY IMPORTANT

My friend and fellow writer, Nancy Johnson, wrote a powerful article about writing as resistance and using the power of words to foster understanding and build empathy. And that’s exactly what the authors of the first three books on my list did.

 

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“This Is How It Always Is” by Laurie Frankel

If I was forced to pick my favorite book of the year, this might very well be it. Not only does it tell an important story of a family with a Transgendered child, but oh my.  The writing was beautiful, but not in an over-your-head literary sense.

Frankel uses very approachable language and manages to create a rollercoaster of emotions in a single paragraph. You can go from feeling the characters’ stress and sadness to unexpectedly laughing out loud in the next sentence. It reads like real life.

Rosie and Penn have a busy, noisy house in the Midwest where they are raising their six boys, including the youngest Claude who dreams of being a princess. This story made my heart swell and it made it break, watching this family love their daughter and do what they believed was best for her. But secrets kept with the best intention are still secrets.

Words have so much power, and this book has the power to open minds, create compassion and understanding if it gets into the right hands. One of my favorite reads this year.

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YOU & ME & US, COMING SPRING 2020!

I shared it on Twitter, I shared it on Facebook—I even shared it on my brand new Facebook Author page. But I somehow missed an important spot to make my big announcement.

A few months late, I am beyond excited to share the news that I am going to be a published author! My debut novel, You & Me & Us has found a publishing home! It will be coming out in Spring of 2020 from William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins. I also have a film agent. What?!

Here is the official announcement than ran in Publisher’s Marketplace—the website where all literary deals are announced. If you’re actively querying, it’s a good resource to consider for researching agents. It is on the pricy side, $25 a month, but it can give you a lot of valuable information when you’re deciding who to query.

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And speaking of who to query—none of this would be happening if it weren’t for my amazing agent, Joanna MacKenzie. The $29 I spent to have 10 minutes with her last June was the best money I’ve ever spent. I’m so grateful that she believed in me and this story, that she helped to make it stronger and get it in the hands of the right editors.

There are so many people to thank, it’s a good thing I have over a year to work on the acknowledgements page. Let’s just say there’s a reason my new favorite saying is that writing is not a solo sport. I owe so much to my family, friends, beta readers, my WFWA tribe and my incredible CP, Bradeigh Godfrey.

Along this journey, I have tried to be really open about the process—the ups and all of the downs. People tend to keep what happens on submission pretty quiet because we are talking about business deals, but I’ll share what I can.

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I’M NOT A SONGWRITER, BUT I HELPED WRITE A SONG.

I have written a lot of things in my writer-life. I’ve written three novels, a handful of poems, countless billboards, print ads, tv and radio commercials, emails, direct mail, twitter posts. You name it, I’ve written it.

But there was always one thing I couldn’t write no matter how hard I tried. A song.

While I love music, I’m more of a listener than a player. (Just ask my middle school band instructor!) But a little more than a year ago, I had a chance to help write a song. And it wasn’t just any song—it was a song loosely inspired by my first novel, Face The Music. (Note that while this was the first novel I wrote, it won’t be the first one published. Right now it’s hanging out in a virtual drawer, possibly to be revived and revised at a later date.)

The opportunity to help co-write a song came about thanks to an amazing organization I’ve been involved with for the past twelve years. Rock By The Sea is a non-profit organization that hosts music festivals and events to raise money for meaningful causes including Lyrics for Life, the UF Pediatric Brain Tumor Program, Franklin County (FL) Humane Society, Down Syndrome Association of Tallahassee and many more.

As part of their event in May 2017, they raffled off a chance to write a song with LOVESWEAT—a fake band that’s “totally real,” according to Steve Everett, one of the four singer/songwriter members, and VP of Rock By The Sea. Other band members include Paul Pfau (season 8 of The Voice), Connor Pledger, an LA-based singer/songwriter and JD Eicher, who recently got a lot of attention for his song ‘Two by Two” that was inspired by a Nicholas Sparks novel of the same name.

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Only 50 tickets were sold for this raffle, and five winners were selected to join the band at a beach house for a songwriting session. Originally, only one of the five winners was going to help actually write the song, but as a group we decided it would be more fun if everyone participated.

The big day came and the raffle winners, myself, Karin Reichensperger, Meg Allen, Chris Malin and Theresa Simmons joined the band at a beach house on St. George Island in Florida.

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Posted in Creative Process, Music, Writing | 1 Comment

ADVENTURES IN QUERYING—HOW I GOT MY AGENT, PART TWO

If you’re just joining us, start here to get the full impact of how long and crazy the querying process can be.

For everyone else, the story picks up in June 2017 after more than a year of querying my first novel, Face The Music. While I wasn’t ready to give up, I had a feeing that my second manuscript, You & Me & Us, might have a better chance of “making it.”

This realization came at the perfect time, right before the Writing Day Workshop in Chicago where I had booked ten-minute sessions with an editor, three agents and one literary scout (I’m still not 100% sure what that means).

My first appointment was with an associate editor from one of the Big 5 publishing companies. This was a big deal because other than conferences and programs like The Manuscript Academy, writers don’t typically have the opportunity to connect with editors.

While it’s an unwritten rule that you’re only supposed to pitch one project at a time, I decided to do something a little differently during my ten minutes with the editor. Instead of treating our meeting like a pitch, I used the time to tell her a little about both of my novels and ask for her advice. She confirmed my instincts and suggested that my second book, You & Me & Us, was more marketable and I should lead with that.

So I tucked the queries I had prepared for Face The Music back in my folder, and asked the agents and scout I met with to look at my query for You & Me & Us instead.

The very first agent I pitched the novel to was Joanna MacKenzie from the Nelson Literary Agency. I liked Joanna from the start—and not just because I had heard great things about her from a mutual friend and fellow member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA). I’m pretty sure I found out they knew each other because I saw they were mutual friends on Facebook. Not too stalkery, I hope?

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After reading my query letter, Joanna asked me a few questions which led to a great discussion and some spot-on suggestions on how to better position the story. She requested the full manuscript and also recommended that I check out a YA novel that had similar themes to my manuscript. I immediately downloaded the book. I wasn’t even halfway through before I realized that Joanna really “got it,” and I was cautiously optimistic that she would like my novel when I was ready to send it to her.

At the time of the conference, I had been about halfway through my third revision of the manuscript, so a few months passed before I was ready to send it out. (While you aren’t supposed to pitch projects that aren’t complete, there’s a bit of forgiveness around conference events and most agents don’t mind waiting.)

I finished the revision in mid-September and sent it to all the agents (and the scout) who had requested it during the conference. I also sent it to the agent who had given me an R&R on Face The Music because she had mentioned that she would be happy to see my next project.

A few weeks later, I heard back from Joanna asking me to upload the manuscript to a portal her agency used.

Several months went by and I didn’t hear anything else. They tell you it’s okay to nudge an agent after they’ve had your manuscript for three months, but I figured a nudge would turn into a ‘no,’ and I preferred to have the possibility of a ‘yes’ out in the universe. So I kept crossing my fingers and wishing on every 11:11 I saw, even though it seemed more unlikely the more time went by.

I did, however, send Joanna a new version of the manuscript at one point after I had made some changes that the original R&R agent had suggested before ultimately passing on the project. I heard back from someone at Joanna’s agency saying that they had replaced the old file with the new one and that it was still in Joanna’s queue to read.

While I waited, I continued to send out more queries. I got a few more requests and a few more rejections. Mostly there was silence, so I waited.

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ADVENTURES IN QUERYING—HOW I GOT MY AGENT, PART ONE

This is the post I’ve been dreaming about writing for the past two years. But when I sat down to tell the story, I realized it wouldn’t be true to the experience if I jumped to the happy ending. So I’m breaking this post into two parts, starting at the very beginning—back to the book before the book that helped me sign with my amazing agent.

My first novel, ‘Face The Music’ was definitely a labor of love. It took 15 years to turn the 20-page short story from my college creative writing class into something I thought was ready to be published.

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.

My writer friends told me I should be patient with the process and find some beta readers to look at the manuscript before I started querying agents. But I was too eager to be patient. I’d been waiting 15 years to reach this point and the idea of waiting a month or more for people to read and critique seemed impossibly long. So I forged ahead.

As luck would have it, there was a writing conference focused on the publishing process happening three weeks later, just a few hours drive from where I was living at the time. So I wrote my first query letter in less than a week, had a few author friends take a look, and sent it off for a paid critique as part of the conference.

Not only did I learn a lot at the conference, but I had the opportunity to meet with two agents, live and in person. I used my newness to my advantage, and went into both 10-minute meetings with a printed, personalized query letter ready to go. I explained my newbie status and asked if they would be willing to take a look at my query letter.

One of the agents gave me some great feedback. She asked a few questions which led to a good discussion that ended with her asking for the full manuscript. My first full request!

The other agent I met with also requested a full manuscript, but she didn’t have any feedback other than suggesting that I buy a book they were selling at the conference on how to write a good query letter. Since I was looking for an editorial agent who would work with me to make the book stronger, I knew the second agent wasn’t a fit for me and I didn’t send the manuscript.

Once I implemented the first agent’s suggested changes to my query letter, I had a few new friends from the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) take a look.  When all was said and done, I probably went through about 18 versions of the letter before I was confident it was ready to go.

On July 14, 2016, I sent my first batch of cold query letters out to the agents I had identified by reading and highlighting the Writer’s Digest Guide To Literary Agents. I had researched and ranked my top 25 agents, and in spite of all the advice I read telling you not to start with the top names on your agent wish list, I went right for it—querying my ‘favorite’ agents in the first group.

I shared the below Facebook post about two weeks into the process, and looking back, there really couldn’t have been a more appropriate start to the up and down and up and down process of querying.

 

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In spite of my novel being 120k words—at least 20k words too long for a debut Women’s Fiction project—I was getting a pretty decent response rate. At one point, there were three different agents reading my full manuscript. I was so excited that I actually stopped sending new query letters out. I figured with three different agents reading my manuscript, the odds were pretty good that at least one of them was going to fall in love with my book and want to represent me. Right?

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A TALE OF TWO NANOS

For years, I was fascinated by NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) from a distance, because the idea of trying to write 50,000 words in thirty days seemed impossible. Every time I came close to signing up or learning more, I talked myself out of it.

Until last year.

In November of 2016, I took the leap and tried NaNoWriMo for the first time. Not only did I “win”, but I crossed the 50,000 word finish line two days early. When it was over, I was both happy that I accomplished the goal, and pretty sure I’d never do it again.

But then July came around and I let myself get talked into doing Camp NaNoWriMo, the more causal, set-your-own-goal summer version. I used that time to finish the fourth draft of my NaNo ’16 project, YOU & ME & US.

Then suddenly it was November again, and while the idea for my next novel had been rolling around in my head for a few months, I had yet to do more than a little outlining and brainstorming. Still, I signed up for NaNoWriMo ’17, feeling a lot less prepared than I had been the first time.

But I did it again. And I “won” again. Two days earlier than the last time.

Although the end results were the same, the experience and the final output of my two NaNoWriMos couldn’t have been more different. So I thought it might be interesting to look at the similarities and differences between the two years.

They both started with champagne. 

I read a post in an online forum that it was a thing to have a glass of champagne and start writing at midnight on October 31st, right when the clock strikes November. I loved the idea, so a tradition was born! I just wrote a few hundred words each time, but there was something exciting about going into the morning of November 1st with a little head start.

Words were written every day. 

The first chart below shows my word count progress in 2016, the second one was for this past November. Just looking at the two, it’s pretty obvious how different the journeys to 50,000 words was.

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In 2016, I made the commitment to write every day, but I wasn’t specific about the number of words I had to get down. Some days I just wrote a few hundred, other days, a few thousand. The chart shows how I was constantly playing a game of falling behind, catching up, getting ahead and falling behind again.

This year, I made the same commitment of writing every day—but I made the goal a bit more specific. While the official NaNo goal is 1,667 words a day, I decided to make my personal goal 1,000 words a day. I hit that word count goal most, if not every day in November, which helped me reach and stay above the official NaNo progress tracker.

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