Shadowplay Launch: CSUEB Edition

Yesterday I had another event at California State University East Bay (CSUEB) as part of the English Department’s Distinguished Writers’ Series. I graduated from there with a BA in English with a Creative Writing option in 2009. And it was so, so, so cool. I’m still buzzing from it today. I thought there’d maybe be around the same amount of people as the SF launch, or a few more – maybe 35, 40 tops. There were over 75 people and it was even standing room only at the back. Just before going up I was understandably freaked out. It was so many more faces to stand in front of, and because two classes met there, it wasn’t mostly people I knew like the previous event.

But it went really well, or so I hope. Because I’d gone through the steps at Borderlands, I expanded on that, also reading from the start of Pantomime, putting both books in context, explaining my path to publication, and reading from Shadowplay. I opened it to questions as usual, and since it was a lot of English majors there were some really good questions. There were a few familiar faces of students because on Monday I went to one of my former professor’s senior seminar class to talk about the professional side of being a writer (and urging them not to quit their day jobs right out of university, heh):

After the event, there was a reception at my mom’s house. My mom teaches at the university I went to, so I met a lot of her colleagues that I hadn’t had classes with when I went through the programme. Overall, I sold around 45 books yesterday. I felt so thankful to my alma mater and how supportive so many people were. It was such a great night.

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The room! More people arrived after this.
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Waiting to go up.
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Reading.
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Posing with my books.
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Shows how full the room was! This was right after it finished.
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At the signing table.
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Cheesy photo with one of my best friends, Shawn.
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Signing.

2012 Restrospective: I’m Glad the World Didn’t End

2012 is almost done. And we’re all still here.

This didn’t happen

Last year, as I said in my previous end-of-year review, I landed a full-time, permanent job, which I am still in and I work for a great company with nice coworkers. In non-writing life, that gave me some much-needed stability. I was able to travel more this year, and I went to London a few times, Edinburgh, Chicago, home to San Francisco, and right now I’m in the Czech Republic and will go to Germany in a few days. I also made some lasting friendships, and though I definitely had some obstacles, non-writing life was pretty good.

Writing-wise, last year was a big deal for me because I started sharing my work with others. 2012 continued that trajectory in a very big way.

At the end of 2011 I had a rewrite request with Strange Chemistry and was working on revisions for Pantomime. I was a little over halfway, I think, and had no idea if my new version would land me an agent and a book deal. I finished the rewrite at the end of February. By the end of March I had both an agent a book deal, and had my own path to publication.

2012 was a year of firsts. First book deal, first ISBN numbers, first professional edit, first cover, first ARC that I held in my hands, first book reviews (and oh my word, it took some time to get used to the fact that people were actually reading my book. I felt so oddly exposed), first everything.  Every small step was a milestone.

Definitely a milestone

2012 was also the year where I wrote almost every day. I edited Pantomime several times, wrote the first draft of the sequel, and the rough 1/3 of another project, plus a few short stories. I also had to start marketing and doing interviews and guest posts, plus trying to keep this blog active.  It was hard to balance with full-time work and other obligations, but I managed, more or less.

Now, at the end of 2012, my baby book is all grown up and edited and has almost 100 ratings on Goodreads, mainly from strangers. I feel like I’m holding my breath a little now at the tail end of 2012. Just 36 to 38 days into next year, my book will be out on the shelves and it’ll be the moment of truth: how will it be received? I’ll be on the other side, able to walk into a bookstore and see my book on the shelves, something I’ve dreamed about since I was fourteen.

So, 2013: time for us to dance.

My Road to Publication: Or, the tale of 1,000 (100,000) email refreshes

I meant for this blog post to be fairly short. But I got carried away and so here is my somewhat long story of how I transitioned from an aspiring to professional author.

Right away, I’ll admit that I’ve had an easy time of it, comparatively. This is my first completed novel, and it went to the fist publisher to see it. That’s not to say it wasn’t difficult, and stressful, and frightening at times, but the whole process was shorter than many.

I dabbled with writing as a teen, starting and abandoning a truly heinous third of a fantasy novel in California, which was an utter mess of tropes. But I bonded with my future husband over it, because he was writing a novel as well, so all was not lost. His novel is salvageable. Mine most definitely is not.

I then decided to focus on reading instead, and so for the next few years I read 100-150 books a year, in all genres: classics, sci fi, fantasy, YA, contemporary lit, graphic novels, memoir, nonfiction, what have you. I was and am a promiscuous reader, though SFF was my true love. I wrote reviews of them for a time, several of which are still scattered about Goodreads, which helped me pinpoint what I liked and disliked about certain novels, regardless of format or genre. My favourite books tended to be ones that meshed several genres.

At university, I bounced between several majors and settled on English literature and creative writing. I wrote some short stories and poetry. I placed in a few poetry/fiction contests, which gave me some cautious optimism that I was a halfway decent writer. I came up with a cool idea for a novel and researched and started it, but my confidence flagged and I kept setting it down.

After I graduated university, I moved 6,000 miles to be with the afore-mentioned husband. I had my shiny piece of paper and thought doors of employment would magically open to me now that I had a degree.

Ahahaha. Haha. Ha.

I ended up working some very boring jobs that kept my hands busy but required no mental effort. And so I started daydreaming, and returned to that novel idea I had come up with in 2007. This time, I decided to write a “backstory” of my character, Micah Grey, as a teenager. I day-dreamed the plot while I filed, thinking up various scenes and sometimes scribbling during my lunch and tea breaks. I started it in December 2009 and finished in March 2011, while also occasionally working on the adult novel. I then promptly subbed the novel about the teenage Micah to Angry Robot Book’s Open Door Month.

That was a newbie error. You probably shouldn’t sub a first draft. But, I had no expectations of getting past the first round, and I was proud that I’d sent it off and harboured a tiny, little hope that they’d like it anyway. I subbed on the second to the last day. I didn’t show my cover letter to any of my friends because none of them had read the book and I didn’t want to spoil the plot. I wasn’t sure if it was even an adult novel or a YA novel—it seemed to me like it could be either. I’m glad I didn’t know as much about the publishing world then as I do now, or I would never have been brave enough to send it off with nothing but a deep breath and some crossed fingers.

Three months later I got a nice email message saying they’d enjoyed the first 5 chapters and would like to see the rest, signed by someone called “Amanda for Angry Robot.” I was road-tripping around the East Coast of the USA with my mom, and I hadn’t been on the internet that much. I saw it, freaked out, and really quickly read through the whole thing one last time while my mom drove from DC to Philadelphia, finding some last-minute typos and reading some of the sticky bits out loud.

And I sent it off again, certain it’d get rejected but hoping anyway.

One month later, I went to Amsterdam with my best friend, who was visiting from California. I should note that I’m not constantly traveling, by the way. I had a carefully neutral email from that very same Amanda for Angry Robot, asking a question about my book and if I had plans for a series. I sent her an email back and then flew back to Scotland.

And the next day I got another email saying that I’d gone to editorial! Said best friend, Erica, did not miss the opportunity to take a photo of me freaking out. So here’s me, without makeup, very excited. And very pink.

She also mentioned that she felt the book was more YA, but that she did know that Angry Robot were thinking of going in that direction. And so I started biting my fingernails and waited.

And waited. I had very short fingernails for months. They’re only just now starting to grow back.

You hear about the glacial pace of publishing all the time, but here was my proof of it. Every morning I’d rush to my inbox, certain something would be there. The weeks passed and obviously the level of panic I had at the beginning subsided, replaced by a low-level anxiety.

I also committed more newbie publishing errors: I started querying this book that was not ready, with an absolutely awful, 600+ word query letter monstrosity for the first ten or so, and then a more manageable 250 word query for the others. But that 250-word query letter was still pretty terrible, mainly because the manuscript had some lingering issues. Learn from my mistake: don’t do this. I burned through 20 or so agents, wasting their time and mine. I did more research than some, but I could have done a lot more.

During the wait, I turned to people online, which ended up being really helpful. 20-something of us made it to the editorial level out of 1000 or so submissions to AR’s Open Door Month. Most of us congregated on AbsoluteWrite’s Open Door Waiting Thread, and we ended up creating our own little private forum (calling ourselves the Anxious Appliances) where we could angst without the Robot Overlords potentially lurking. I’ve made some really close friends through this, and even though the Open Door period has long since passed, we still post on the forum. I’ve beta-read most of their work and we’ve given each other advice and shared resources. I hope our forum continues well into the future.

Additionally, I met Anne Lyle on Absolute Write, an Angry Robot author. Because I had someone I could speak to, I decided to go to FantasyCon in Brighton in late September. I found out that I really liked conventions and meeting other authors and industry professionals. I also met Amanda. I had a very scary but cool lunch with Angry Robot, where I pushed salad around on my plate and hoped I didn’t look as petrified as I felt.

I went to editorial in mid-July. I received my next verdict in late November. Amanda was the one who emailed me, because now she was no longer the reader—she was an editor in her own right of Angry Robot’s new YA imprint, Strange Chemistry. She gave me suggestions and then over the next few months, I worked really, really hard on my MS.

I finished the rewrite on leap year, 2012, and it felt auspicious to query the same day. The last agent I queried ended up being the one to offer. Juliet Mushens of Peters, Fraser & Dunlop requested the MS in 5 minutes, sent me an email an hour later saying she was loving it, and offered the next day. We spoke on the phone and just clicked. I knew there was no way an agent would be more enthusiastic an advocate for me than Juliet.

Amanda read the new version, loved it, and everything just clicked into place. I received The Call two days after Juliet offered, and now a day before Eastercon, I’m out there. I’m an author! There’s no going back! Not that I’d want to.

But it’s a heady rush of emotions. Elation, terror, painful excitement, holding in the burning desire to tell everyone but not being allowed to just yet. My book will be out there. Some people will love it, some people will not. A year ago, if you’d told me this is what would happen I have laughed. I’ve loads of other milestones to look forward to. So here we go.

Thanks for reading me prattle on, and I hope you’ll take a look at Pantomime in February 2013. You can read my press release here.  To read the first chapter, click here.