This week I had an interesting turn of events: a publisher contacted me about the possibility of writing a new book. It’s a book I’ve been thinking about writing for a while so I already had a lot of thoughts about the topic and the book. It was one item on my very long to-do list of writing that shot to the top of the list because of this inquiry. The publisher asked me to pitch my idea for the book so I did and we’ll see what happens. Could be something. Could be nothing. It taught me a lot.
Many times, this is where the story ends and it may just seem like a wonderful stroke of luck to get an email like this from a publisher. It is and it isn’t. The serendipity springs from a lot of hard work over a very long time, much of it a labor of love. First, the book idea is based on my long career in product development that had had very high highs and very low lows. It’s also a result of my work as a writer (also with its peaks and valleys), and most recently in going back to graduate school (for the second time). The publisher’s note to me happened after they saw that I shared a post on LinkedIn with a relevant hashtag about some of my recent writing of a TV pilot script that was entirely unpaid and that I don’t even know will ever get off the ground.
This recent interaction taught me that we have to make our own luck, that we have to talk about the work we’re doing to find people who share our interests and passions. Many times, we talk into the void. Sometimes, that void ends and we find an audience. Working in secret and staying quiet about our work is a completely fine and personal decision. If we want our work to have impact, to inspire and reach other people, to build a better world, then sharing it (when we’re ready) is key. The creative world is weird. The publishing world is weird. Life and career is a wild ride, and I think it’s absolutely worth the price of admission.
Do you have a story about how sharing your work led to an unexpected opportunity? I’d love to hear it.
Social media is a wild ride. Stories abound about connections made, connections lost, and connections we wish would get lost. Once the conversation about social media starts, it doesn’t take long for the topics of cyberbullying, loneliness, detachment, and trolling to rear their heads. In his debut young adult novel, Don’t Read the Comments, author Eric Smith serves up all these issues—the good, the bad, and the ugly—on a silver platter for us to consider.
Divya Sharma (screen name D1V) reigns supreme in the virtual world of this year’s hottest online game, Reclaim the Sun, until a group of online trolls attempt to unseat her from her star status. The stakes of the story climb higher as we learn that her celebrity isn’t a personal ego trip; it’s the engine that drives sponsorship dollars to help her single mother pay their bills. For online gamers, this book hits close to home, and presents their greatest dream and worst nightmare wrapped into one story arc along with an intense look at the devastating personal impact of racism, sexism, and toxic masculinity. For people who aren’t familiar with online gaming, Divya’s story is a heart-wrenching scenario of a daughter willing to risk everything to help her mother who is her everything.
Much of the story focuses on Divya’s online travels with another online gamer, Aaron Jericho, as the trolling skyrockets out-of-control threatening everything, online and off, that Divya and her producer and best friend, Rebekah, have built. Aaron’s online admiration of Divya translates into a friendship and romance IRL. It’s these bittersweet moments, the silver linings that can only be realized through painful growth that precipitates drastic change, that keep readers turning the pages of Smith’s book, wanting to know how, when, and to what end Divya’s online and offline lives will collide. After the last page, we’re left wondering if there truly is or ever could be any separation at all between the world (or in Divya’s case, worlds) on screen and the material world. Or, is that separation a facade in and of itself.
I read Smith’s book in November 2019, and now in January 2020 I’m still thinking of Divya. I’m hoping that her life is working out exactly as she wanted. I’m wondering how things have evolved with Aaron and how her mom is doing with her new lease on life that Divya helped to create. I’m curious if she’s gaming, in the worlds of Reclaim the Sun or otherwise. Without me even realizing it, Divya became as real to me in the pages of Smith’s book as anyone I know. That’s the lesson of Divya’s journey for all of us—we don’t have an online life and real life. It’s all real. It’s all one life, no matter where we live it. And it all matters.
Don’t Read the Comments is published by Inkyard Press. It’s available on Amazon and Indiebound. You can follow Smith’s journey as an author and literary agent through his delightful Twitter feed @ericsmithrocks.
Shopping with gift cards today? Returning or buying gifts? My young adult adventure book, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters, is available again everywhere books are sold and on sale for $8.99 (book) and $2.99 (e-book).
At bookstores, give the store this ISBN if it’s not in stock: 1694109410.
It’s also on Amazon & Amazon Kindle in the U.S. and internationally. If you’re buying on Amazon, make sure to use this link so that you aren’t directed to any re-sellers of the old edition selling the book at a much higher price: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1694109410/
On Thursday, I participated in my first #PitMad, a quarterly Twitter event where writers put together up to three tweets about a manuscript they’ve written, add the #PitMad, age category, and genre hashtags, and hope that agents and / or publishers like their tweets. A like means that they’re interested in receiving your query. Think of it as a writer’s foot in the virtual door. With the likes in your notifications, you then research those agents and publishers, review their query requirements, and send in your materials. And then you wait, and likely wait and wait and wait.
I didn’t expect to receive any likes on my 3 manuscripts. I figured low expectations were warranted with so much competition. I was shocked and thrilled when all 3 manuscripts got some interest. I’m working on my queries this weekend, and am excited to see what comes of it. Of course, I’ll keep you all in the loop!
Here’s what I learned during my first run at #PitMad:
1.) Take your shot
Yes, there will be thousands of tweets in competition with yours. Yes, the odds are long. And yes, it’s worth it. Your manuscript deserves every shot at being published, even the long shots. In publishing, it’s all a long shot. Take as many as you can.
2.) Relatively minimal effort on your part
It’s three well-composed tweets. You can write them ahead of time and schedule to publish on the day of #PitMad. Yes, they take time to write but think about how much time querying takes, and most of those queries fall into the void. Write the tweets, post them, and see what happens.
3.) Love shines bright in the writing community
The best part of #PitMad for me was seeing all of the love fly around the Twittersphere that day. People retweeting and commenting on posts that piqued their interest made my day. Twitter can be a bullying garbage pile sometimes with so much disrespectful criticism, and it was nice to see it as a force for good for writers during #PitMad.
I will absolutely participate again, and if you have a finished manuscript, I encourage you to participate, too. For more details and the 2020 dates for #PitMad, check out https://pitchwars.org/pitmad/.
The day before Thanksgiving, I wrapped up my third run at NaNoWriMo and hit my 50,000 word goal for my third novel. I’m giving the novel a good long rest on my desktop until I pick it up again to begin editing in early 2020.
Here’s the draft synopsis:
“After a succession of personal tragedies, Libby Farina runs her family’s Italian bakery on Mulberry Street in the year 1910 in New York City’s Little Italy. As the city around her swirls with innovation and its often dire consequences, a stranger arrives on her doorstep near death. Who is he and how will his presence in her life, however brief, forever change her world?”
I write a book the way a painter covers a canvas, the way a scientist arrives at the lab, the way a baker arrives in the kitchen. I have an idea in my mind of what I want to create, what I want to discover. It’s a bit fuzzy at first with soft edges, a hypothesis, a dream.
I start to sketch some lines, some ideas, a recipe via my outline. It’s broad at first and then gets more and more refined as the story becomes clear in my mind. I experiment by writing some passages, bits of dialogue, setting descriptions, and character sketches. I watch and listen and read. Then I add some more lines and then maybe some color and shading with scenes that are more fleshed out with more detail and more purpose. Every draft is adding more detail, more information, more frosting.
My point in this metaphor is that I don’t see editing as onerous. An artist doesn’t paint a canvas in one sitting. A scientist doesn’t prove a theory in one trial of one experiment. A baker doesn’t perfect a recipe in one swift action. It takes multiple efforts over a very long time. It’s trial, error, and trial again.
First, I have to zoom way out. I take in the whole world surrounding my characters, the context in which they live their lives. Then I move closer step-by-step, taking note of the details, the times they live in, the circumstances swirling around them. Eventually, I’m standing beside them, eavesdropping on their interactions. And finally, they’re telling me their deepest darkest secrets.
We don’t get to know someone all at once. Their story unfolds for us over time. The same is true for my books. I wish there was a short route, an easier, faster path. To date, I haven’t found one and honestly I think that’s for the best. What builds slowly, lasts. I have no doubt that eventually every story will come into focus. Much of that is out of my control. What I can do is show up every day and get down what’s clear in the moment.
I say this to myself as much as I say it to you: give yourself a break. Just keep showing up and getting it down as best you can. Just keep moving forward a step at a time. You can’t do it all, all at once. Just do today’s part today. Refinement takes time.
This is what it’s all about, you magical, imaginative, creative being. You can create worlds out of thin air. Characters, settings, desires, motivations, losses, victories, love, joy, disappointment, and healing. The full breadth and depth of human emotion lives in you. As a writer, you’re trying to get all of that out of your mind and heart, into your hands, and out into the world so you can connect with others, so we all feel less alone. What a noble, generous, and loving thing to do. Writing is service in its highest, most selfless form.
I started my first nonfiction book proposal tonight. I wasn’t sure how to craft one so I turned to Eric Smith’s website. Eric is an agent, author, and one of the most generous people in the publishing industry. I highly recommend all his Twitter and website to every writer I know!
He shares his tips for a successful nonfiction book proposal he put together with one of his clients. He also links to several excellent posts by Jane Friedman, Nathan Bransford, and Brian Klems who provide amazing advice for nonfiction book proposals on their own websites.
Happy proposing, and writing!
The writing moment I love best: I write a scene, do research for the next scene, and find an eerie, wonderful synchronicity with secret history I uncovered in my research and never knew before. These magical moments makes me feel that the story I’m writing is meant to be written by me. It’s happened to me many times, especially in the course of writing my second Emerson Page novel. Every single time it happens, I’m amazed.
Thanks to everyone who weighed in on the genre for the novel I’ll be writing during National Novel Writing Month in November.
Can a bread bakery in New York City be the setting for a book that’s historical fiction, an immigrant story, and a romance novel? I’m going to give it my best shot. Let’s see what I find. Regular updates will be provided in November.
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? If so, I’d love to know so we can support each other through it!