True confession time: I can be a little uptight.

Not about everything. When it comes to my house and my kids, I’m fairly easy-going. Dust is just topsoil for your home, right? And what’s childhood without a few opportunities to wallow in a muddy creek?

But when it comes to my writing, I’m pretty regimented. All the strategies I recommended in my post on prepping for your debut year NOW are ones I implemented well before selling my debut novel. And once I signed my name on the dotted line, I took up a few other organizational and time-saving activities that you might find helpful during your own lead up to publication.

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Practice To Do List Triage

This is something I do when on a deadline. Stuff can really pile up when you have to spend as much time as possible on your writing, especially if you’re not a full-time writer (I’m not–I started out as a stay at home mom and remain one, which easily takes up 12 to 13 hours of my day). To get a handle on things during deadlines, I take a hint from emergency rooms, where triage nurses decide which patients need to be cared for first. This means that when I’m on a deadline, I only do the essentials outside of writing, and let everything else slide until said deadline has passed.

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Implement Marketing Mondays

After I signed my book deal, I got into the habit of using any available time on Mondays for marketing research. I read whatever I could about marketing a book in order to get a better handle on what that entails, and when certain aspects of promo should be coming into play. This has been one of the best decisions I made, because now I have a fairly clear grasp of things and can devote my attention to the actual background work of promotion, as well as the all important writing another book! If you plan to start your own Marketing Mondays, Beth Revis’s Paper Hearts Volume 3: Some Marketing Advice is a must read. Following established writers on Twitter is also a great way to glean marketing and promo wisdom–many of them will tweet advice from time to time, and I’ve learned a lot just by listening.

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Work Ahead of Schedule

Probably the most consistently helpful thing I do as a writer now is keep ahead of schedule whenever possible. When I have a deadline, I work as hard as I can to keep a bit of margin so that if life gets in the way, I have a few grace days to use up while still staying on track. I try to stay ahead of schedule as far as future marketing and promo endeavors go, as well. Whenever I don’t have a deadline to meet, I’m already lining up blog posts, planning giveaways, and doing background work like putting together graphics and extras for newsletter subscribers. A lot of these things won’t come into play until summer or fall, but I’ll be at work revising my second book then. Time off-deadline means time you can spend getting non-essential tasks taken care of to make life easier for your future self 😉

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Don’t Expect To Do It All

You could make an entire career out of marketing your work and platform-building and never have time write another book. Choose a few things you enjoy doing to focus on (I’m not the first person to give this piece of advice, but it’s very true!) For instance, a lot of writers I know get involved in the Bookstagram community, and use their IG accounts to promo books by other authors as well as their own work. I LOVE looking at all their gorgeous book photos. But taking the time to plan and shoot beautiful Bookstagram pics just doesn’t appeal to me. I concentrate instead on my newsletter (use the subscribe bar found everywhere on this website to sign up!) and this blog. Figure out where your strengths lie and what you enjoy doing, and capitalize on that when it comes to marketing and platform-building endeavors. Do what you love and do it well, then don’t worry about the rest.

These are things that have worked for me when it comes to managing time during my debut year and the months leading up to it. Take what works for you, and leave what doesn’t <3

Journal of a Debut Year will be back the week after next, to talk book launches!

Journal of a Debut Year, Uncategorized

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So.

Last month, I was invited to HarperCollins to meet my editor and my publishing team. It was a truly amazing experience, a highlight of my life thus far, and just…did I say it was amazing? Because it was.

I’ve tweeted and Instagrammed pictures, but I want to share with you exactly how it went down, as well as tips on how to make your own experiences with visiting your publisher go smoothly and stresslessly (that’s a word now, because I wrote it).

But first, isn’t this an adorable trio of publishing peeps? I certainly think so…

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My editor, me (the perpetual blonde), and my intrepid agent

Anyway, let’s talk details.

If you get invited to visit your publisher, it’s likely that means traveling to NYC. I am NOT a city girl. Not at all. My preferred activities are animal husbandry and woodland frolicking. Plus I am a, shall we say, less than confident flier (planes are highly dangerous germ boxes and you will never convince me otherwise).

HOWEVER, there are a few things I did to keep my nervous self more confident on my trip to the Big Apple.

  1. Make use of 21st century technology. The MyTransit NYC app is now your best friend. Big Brother may be watching you, but at least he knows where all the subway entrances are. However, if you’re taking the subway, sort out your line changes *before* getting onboard. The cell signals down in the city of the mole people are sketchy at best, except at stations. Oh, and get a MetroCard, then pretend you’re a New Yorker and know what you’re doing. Trust me, it’ll help. Put those headphones in and avoid eye contact at all cost.
  2. Find accommodations as close to your meeting location as your budget will allow. The less you have to worry about on your way to your publishing house, the better. If you are a HarperCollins author like myself, I’m pleased to inform you that there’s a hotel in the same building as Harper. If you stay there, all you have to do is walk around the block. Either way, figure out your travel arrangements in advance, so it’s not something you need deal with on the fly.

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Once I navigated the perilous mazes of New York’s underground world and ensconced myself above Harper’s offices, I was ready for meeting and greeting. My agent and I rendezvoused in Harper’s lobby and went up to connect with my editor. Then the three of us went on to the actual “meeting” part of a meet and greet.

Here is where my next VERY IMPORTANT debut year tip comes in.

If you have *any* kind of social anxiety, or even are just a dyed in the wool introvert, find out exactly what your meet and greet will entail beforehand. How many people will there be. How long can you expect it to last. What will the format be like. What sort of information should you be prepared to give.

I did not ask any of these questions, because I knew I didn’t have to. I’m an introvert, yes, but also the rare gregarious type who has no problem walking into a room full of people and addressing them. That kind of thing is not remotely nerve-wracking to me. In fact, I rather enjoy it (planes, on the other hand…).

This particular quality served me well at Harper, because I’d had this vision in my head of sitting down in a windowless, dimly lit conference room with maybe my editor and agent, my future publicist, and someone from marketing. This was NOT the case. I don’t know how these things usually go–I only have my own experience to draw from. But we walked into a glass-walled conference room where a good 15 or 20 people were sitting around a table waiting to do a Q&A.

Again, if social unknowns stress you out, ask for the exact parameters of your author meet and greet ahead of time.

Fortunately, I *am* that rare chatty introvert, and had a great time talking about book inspirations, my love of C.S. Lewis, my research process, and social media strategies. All in all, it was a lot of fun.

My final and more frivolous tip for any of you looking towards your author meet and greet is this–do something fun while you’re in NYC. At least one fun thing that will favorably dispose you towards the city. I was able to do several, and despite my chicken-wrangling, forest-walking, anti-urbanite ways, I’m really looking forward to going back to the city.

To sum up:

  1. Use your Smartphone to make city travel (somewhat) painless
  2. Stay as close to your publisher as you can (or sort out your route there well in advance)
  3. Make sure you get specifics on your time at your publishing house if you have a hard time with social unknowns
  4. Have fun, and remember: everyone you meet at your publisher is there because they love your work and are invested in its success <3

Journal of a Debut Year will be back the Monday after next, offering tips on time management during the year before your book release!

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A short while ago I commissioned Bethany Stevenson, a talented teen artist and fellow writer, to create character art of Evelyn and Philippa Hapwell from The Light Between Worlds. They’re still a work in progress, but Bethany gave me a preview of the line art, and I was so thrilled I immediately asked if I could show my future readers as well. Bethany agreed, and also let me pick her brain a little on her creative process as both an artist and a writer.

Here’s our interview–throughout the text, there are samples of Bethany’s gorgeous art, and once you’ve read through, you’ll find the first glimpse of my beloved Hapwell girls <3

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Hi Bethany, it’s great to get a chance to chat with you about your creative work! Why don’t we start by letting readers know how long you’ve been drawing and writing for?

I’m not sure what my first picture was, probably scribbles, but I’ve been drawing as long as I could hold a pencil. Between ages 6 and 8, I loved to make little construction-paper books and illustrate them with stamps and markers. I learned to read extremely slow though, so my early stories were acted out in the backyard. 

When I hit 9 years old, I decided I wanted to be the next George Lucas, which is funny because I preferred books such as Narnia at the time. So I wrote my first 100-page novel before my 10th birthday, consisting of space princesses wielding swords, hamburgers, and match-making. It started everything. At 13, I wrote a 110,000-word long novel and a trilogy over the summer.

I successfully completed my 40th full-length novel before my 18th birthday (which already took place by the time you’re reading this!) and happen to be the only one who’s read most of them, but I’ve become a turtle-writer over the years as art became more prominent. (starting my last semester of high-school doesn’t help, haha) 

 

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What’s your process like when creating art versus writing? Do you find there’s overlap, or are they relatively different artistic forms for you? 

In some ways, there’s a TON of overlap, in others, my art and writing don’t connect at all. I haven’t thought too hard about it until now!

Drawing characters or scenes have always helped me brainstorm when I’m not quite ready to write something but feel inspired. Things I’ve drawn sometimes turns into scenes in my writing.

At the same time, they don’t connect, because in writing there’s action and voices and scents and sounds and emotions within words. Art has those things too, but it’s all visual. In art, you see something and fill in what’s taking place in your head. In writing, you’re reading what’s happening, and fill in the images in your head.

 

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Are there any particular places you go for inspiration for your art and stories?

For my stories, childhood experiences or dreams always come back around to inspire me Surprisingly, I still love a lot of the same things I did half-my-life-ago. Themes of large friendship groups, family, astronomy or meteorology related things, and something sparkly or forest-related always shows up.

For my art, I often don’t look for inspiration, because a lot of my favorite drawings started when inspiration found me at unexpected times.Whether it’s a sunrise at the begging of a long car trip or someone’s prom-dress advertisement, it comes on its own and I’m usually left staring into space trying to figure out what to do with it.

 

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Obligatory Top 5 Books question!

In no order…

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli (Kristen helped edit one of my chapters once and now we’re friends and she’s the best ever, go read her book!!!)

Keeper of the Lost Cities Series by Shannon Messenger 

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (and the rest of the Quartet, if adult sci-fi and philosophy is your thing)

Neverending Story by Michael Ende (not the movie, go read the book. It’s a masterpiece)

And a toss up between the Maze Runner by James Dashner and Ms. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs… can’t decide.

 

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Where can we follow you online to see more of your art?

Oh, I’m so glad you asked!!

Instagram and YouTube are my art worlds. Twitter is my writing world with bits of art posted here and there… (such as promo art for amazing authors 😉 ) Here’s my handles and links, it’d mean a lot if you click follow/subscribe because it’s the best way to support me as a young artist/author right now:

Instagram: @bethanystevenson_art (https://www.instagram.com/bethanystevenson_art/ )

YouTube:  Bethany Stevenson – Art ( https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrR8im16mXvLJzi0Shg36aA?view_as=subscriber )

Twitter: @bethanypeep ( https://twitter.com/bethanypeep )
And now, I’m very pleased to be able to show you Bethany’s line art of Evelyn and Philippa Hapwell!

 

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Evelyn Hapwell, by Bethany Stevenson

 

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Philippa Hapwell, by Bethany Stevenson

Aren’t they lovely??? Thank you so much to Bethany for sharing with us <3

The Vanishing Kingdom, Uncategorized

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debut year journal1

This week, I’m introducing a new feature to the blog. Every other Monday, I’ll post thoughts and insights on an author’s debut year, as I’m going through mine. It’ll be part advice, part diary, part publishing process retrospective, and I hope authors looking forward to their own debut years will find it of use <3

To kick things off, I want to talk about a few things you can do NOW, no matter what stage of the writing journey you’re on, to make your eventual publication process and debut year go smoothly.

Learn To Work To A Deadline

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Without a doubt the most useful thing I did prior to signing a book contract was train myself to work to a deadline, and learn what sort of deadlines are realistic for me. I did this by setting personal deadlines throughout the novel-writing and querying process. Deadlines for drafts, deadlines for revisions, deadlines to incorporate feedback from critique partners, deadlines to write and rewrite (and rewrite and rewrite) pitches.

Once you sign with agent, you’ll begin working to deadlines. Depending on your agent they may be a little more flexible at first. My agent will generally ask me things like “How long do you think you need for this revision?” Having set myself deadlines consistently during the writing process prior to querying, I have a good sense of how much time I need for set writing tasks, given the constraints of my life.

Deadlines set by editors are a little different. They’re generally less flexible, and in this case, having set deadlines previously means you’ll know what commitments need to be reorganized and how much time you need to dedicate per day/week to meet a firm deadline.

Either way, learning to work to deadlines is an invaluable skill to take into the publishing process, and will hold you in good stead well beyond the confines of your debut year.

Learn To Incorporate Feedback

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Chances are, you won’t get to the publishing contract stage without at least editing to a set of notes from your agent. But learning to incorporate feedback from multiple critique partners is an important skill, and one that will give you an advantage when it comes to working with an editor.

You can find writers willing to critique your work on Twitter, via hashtags such as #amwriting and #CPmatchup. Developing the ability to work with different critique styles, and to sense what feedback is right for your work and what is not, will be of significant help when you end up revising with an editor.

In the best circumstances, the editorial stage of novel-writing is a collaboration between partners who want the best for your book. Learning to be a willing and creative reviser who’s able to rethink their ideas and cooperatively brainstorm solutions will not only help smooth the path as you edit your novel, it will make you a great author to work with.

Start Finding Your Community

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Some people refer to this as “platform building”, but I’ve seen far too many aspiring authors approach developing their community in an impersonal and business-minded way, all to their detriment. The fact is, in this day and age of instant access social media, your future friends, critique partners, supporters, and readers want a personal touch.

“Platform building” is a numbers game. Finding your community is about meeting like-minded individuals you can develop relationships with. Will they sometimes be mutually beneficial relationships? Sure! But they don’t always have to be. Don’t approach community development with the mindset of “what will I get out of this social interaction?” There’s no quicker way to send people running for the hills and turn the entire exercise into a joyless experience for you.

Instead, find the other members of the online reading and writing communities who love the things you love. Be willing to courteously enter conversations about things you’re interested in. You never know who you might meet. Think about what you can give back to the book community, rather than what you can get.

Define Your Brand

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I’ll be honest with you–this is one of those marketing things that gets talked about almost everywhere and which I found completely baffling for years. I’m an author, I don’t have a brand other than myself, right?

Sort of.

Your online presence is a curated form of reality. You pick and choose what to share with other people. Is that dishonest? No. Is it the whole truth about you as an individual? Also no. Your brand exists at the cross-section of what you love, what you’re willing to share, and what your community is interested in.

It may take some time and some trial and error to hit on what your personal brand is, which is why figuring it out prior to your debut year will give you an advantage. It took several years for me to figure out that people love when I share pictures and stories of my house and garden. I live in an area with lots of wildlife, have a forest in my backyard, am putting in some beautiful gardens, and keep chickens. The pastoral, serene nature of this aspect of my life has really resonated with the online community I’m a part of.

I thoroughly enjoy curating the version of “Weymouth Manor” that my community gets to see. It’s peaceful and an escape, not just for the people who follow me on social media, but for myself as well. Online, there’s a version of my home where you rarely see the messy, annoying, unpleasant bits. Though I do try to show them occasionally to stay genuine 😉

Consider what your brand might be. What do you love, that you’re willing to share, and that would be of interest to your community?

To sum up, you can prep for your debut year NOW by…

  1. Learning to work to a deadline
  2. Learning to incorporate feedback
  3. Finding your community
  4. Defining your brand

Hopefully these tips on how to prepare for your debut year (and beyond) well in advance will be helpful to you in your writing journey.

Journal of a Debut Year

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Alternate title: On Never Giving Up, But Maybe Moving On.

Alternate alternate title: Why You Should Write The Book Of Your Heart.

Four years ago, I started writing a book. I’d been writing fiction regularly for a decade at that point, though only actually finished one (never to be read) MS before. So I started something new, and it took me two years, but I plowed through and finished the first draft. After that I spent a year on revisions. I did everything right–I found other writers to swap work with, I work-shopped my first chapter, I learned to write and rewrite (and rewrite again) a query letter. When I’d finished and had something I was really proud of, I entered Pitch Wars 2015.

The experience of entering Pitch Wars was amazing. I got connected with so many incredible writers who I remain in contact with today. I found my incomparably fantastic CPs (hi Jen! hi Joanna!), one directly and one indirectly, through Pitch Wars. And waiting to hear back from the mentors I’d submitted to was great practice for querying.

I didn’t have long to wait. Soon, I had three mentor requests come in. One mentor in particular read my full and let me know she was deliberating between my book and only one other. I waited until Reveal Day and…

Didn’t make it into Pitch Wars 2015.

However, Sarah Marsh, the brilliant mentor who’d been considering my work, sent me an email letting me know that while she loved my story, the changes she thought it needed would likely take longer than the Pitch Wars window to implement. The thing is, she saw so much potential in my story, and is so generous and awesome (you can buy her debut novel here or follow her on Twitter here) that while I wasn’t chosen as her mentee, she still sent me a full set of revision notes, and helped me with the entire revision process, for both my MS and my query.

Sarah, you are my significantly more attractive Yoda.

By the beginning of 2016, I’d torn my book apart and almost completely rewritten it. The story was faster-paced, the characters were better developed, and I was ready to query. So I sent out those first tentative queries.

And I got requests.

I had a pretty reasonable request rate, and received a lot of kind feedback from agents, but they all told me the same thing. They loved the actual writing, and my characters, but didn’t think my story line was original enough to compete in such a competitive market. Business is booming in YA Fantasy, after all.

I kept doggedly querying, but because I’ve always been the kid who does all her homework, I started a new MS. That is, after all, what you’re supposed to do. I had an idea, sparked by an editor’s MSWL post, and it took hold of my heart. I didn’t know if it was saleable, didn’t know if anyone would love it but me, and thought the format I was using might be a little too Out There. However, Sarah, the aforementioned attractive Yoda, advised me to write what I want to write and not worry about the end result. I took her advice, and I wrote the Book of My Heart.

I’d nearly finished the first draft when I got an R&R on the other MS I was querying.

So, I set Book of My Heart aside, and went back to work on MS1. I tore it apart again, and put it back together. Then I returned it to the agent who’d made the suggestions, and sent a few new queries to others. I got requests, again. I got the same feedback, again. “We love it, but it doesn’t stand out.” As a last ditch effort, I entered that MS in Pitch Wars again.

Second verse, same as the first. I had lots of mentor interest, just not quite enough.

While that feedback was coming in, I finished Book of My Heart. It poured out of me in a matter of months, and revisions went equally quickly. I sent it to CPs, who adored it. And finally, I decided it was time.

By this point, I’d been working on MS1 for four years. It had gone through 18 drafts, including all the minor tweaks, and two MAJOR revisions. It had been through Pitch Wars twice, and been seen by all kinds of wonderful agents. The feedback it had garnered wasn’t completely negative, but it just wasn’t there yet, and honestly, I wasn’t sure how to change it in such a way that it would stand out more amongst its competitors.

Reluctantly, I withdrew outstanding queries on MS1, which I’d spent years, time, and so much energy on. I did so to clear the slate before I started querying weird, wistful, maybe unsaleable Book of My Heart instead.

With a fair bit of trepidation, I sent out my first round of queries for Book of My Heart. When I received requests, I tried not to get my hopes up. I’d had requests come in before, only to be disappointed.

Ten days after sending out my initial batch of queries, I received an offer.

I ended up fielding multiple offers on that book I love so fiercely but had been so unsure about, and in the end, I signed with Lauren Spieller from Triada US, who is smart, determined, energetic, and also loves my odd little book. I’ve never heard of an agent working quite as hard as Lauren did to convince me to  choose her, and I’m over the moon that we’re now working together!

None of this would have happened if I hadn’t decided it was time to set aside that first MS and focus on something new. It can be a wrench to take a break from something you love and have worked so hard on, but there’s more than one story in you. There’s a vast well of them, and each one will only be stronger for the experience you had writing the one before. Never stop telling yourself “if not this book, then another.”

<3 Laura

PS: Book of My Heart, which I queried with such uncertainty, spent less than 24 hours on submission before going to auction. In Fall 2018, you’ll be able to read it under the title The Vanishing Kingdom, and I’m thrilled to be able to share it with you all.

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