Literary Agents: A Short Saga

I went to the SFWC and it was wonderful. Worth every penny. When I originally found out about it years ago, it would have been such a foolish thing to try to show up. I’m really glad that I knew myself well enough to gauge when I would be ready to head to a professional conference. Any earlier, and I wouldn’t have had a promising product to pitch. I attended a lot of fantastic panels, speakers, talks, and a few events that gave me feedback on my pitch and first page. I got to sit with agents at lunch, meet other young adult authors between sessions, and talk to a few different editors about my work. I also had a chance to pitch my project to agents.

So, for those of you who aren’t up to speed on the literary industry, here’s a few quick facts. There are FIVE major publishers in the US, and these are responsible for 80% of trade books. If you walk into a book store or library, four out of every five books are going to come from one of five publishers. Authors don’t get talk to these publishers. They need to get an agent to make the call for them. There are too many authors out there; publishers filter them by only looking at those who have agents.

I’ve been trying to get an agent by explaining my project since my junior year of high school. I didn’t know what I was doing back then, I didn’t know how to write, and I certainly wasn’t ready for publication. A lot has changed since then. However, almost a hundred queries later, I still don’t have an agent.

I stopped sending out queries a few months ago to regroup and think about my plan. I decided to go to the San Francisco Writing Conference because I thought I might come across better in person than I do on paper. Even if my writing is good, agents see a lot of good writing. I wanted to convey my energy and enthusiasm in a way that, quite frankly, I just can’t do on paper.

It worked.

Presenting to them was just like going through the motions of DECA competition all over again. I felt in my element, and I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. While I’m sure it would be unprofessional to talk about the details, suffice to say I had an agent request the first fifty or so pages of my manuscript. This is a fantastic step forward for me, and if they like what they read, they will (hopefully) request the full manuscript. I’ve got my fingers crossed that someone will think the book as a whole is saleable and offer to represent me. In the meantime, I’ve got to be building my platform and readership. Brace yourself for more blogs. Things are going well, and I don’t think its so outrageous to think that they might keep on heading upwards.

Wish me luck.

My Boyfriend Didn’t Believe I Actually Bought a Tablet

I never buy things for myself. When I do, it’s usually a chocolate bar, a cup of tea, or a book. Everything I’ve bought for myself in the past two months falls into one of those categories, except for one day last month when I took myself out for froyo.

That’s a little baffling, isn’t it?

Even if I weren’t living in Silicon Valley’s Palo Alto (the capital of American materialism as far as I can tell) it would still be a pretty low entertainment budget. I like putting money away. I like knowing its there when I want to go somewhere or do something. I’m in a cozy little space with my boyfriend right now, but what about the next time we move? It took everything I had to move to California in the first place and get set up in the pricey-insane Bay Area, but as soon as I did I started tucking money away waiting for the next move. I don’t have a plan. I’d like to think the money will eventually go to backpacking around Europe, but life is uncertain and there is no use speculating.

So that’s why it’s crazy that I bought a tablet to take to the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, use at work, and keep as an excuse to do more writing outside. My only computer at the moment is a massive gaming laptop that is comically not-portable. I never go to coffee shops anymore, I never sit out in the grass and write…I find myself spending extended periods of time glued inside the dorm room because that’s where my word processor is. I wanted something that would change that, and so far (two days in) I’m having an absolute blast writing and working wherever I want.

I didn’t tell anyone I was thinking about buying a tablet, or even that I had, until I opened it up and my boyfriend saw it. He was flabbergasted. I wanted to pick it out all myself though. I knew my needs. Primarily, cheap and word-processing. I can’t believe I got a tablet, case, and keyboard all for under $75. It’s a magical world we’re living in. To be fair, the keyboard sucks, but other than that, I’m incredibly happy with it.

For those wondering, I got a hold of a 7″ Tagital tablet running the latest Android Kit Kat 4.4. It’s brand new and there are next to NO reviews on Amazon, so I really felt like I was taking a risk on it, even if it had half a dozen happy reviews.

What does a $75 tablet look like, you may ask? It looks fantastic if you don’t have experience with tablets. I took advantage of the fact that I didn’t know what to expect and bought something cheap because literally anything would impress me. The speakers are tiny, the resolution isn’t great, but I’m not planning on watching anything more intense than a Youtube video, so it’s all fine by me. Webpages don’t always display well at first, but it doesn’t take long to figure out if you should head to the mobile version or not, or which way you ought to turn the tablet to optimize your view of the content. The battery life seems good for about a solid eight hours of use, and the onscreen keyboard works well once you get in the swing of it.

I’m mentally writing this off as a work expense, seeing as though the catalyst for buying it was so that I could have a computer at the SFWC and make my life as a private English teacher better. If I happen to get an insane amount of writing done on it while outside, soaking up my vitamin D, that wouldn’t be a bad thing. It’s too soon for me to start recommending this thing, but so far the Tagital seems like a perfect tablet for writers.

Taking the “fun” out of Sleep DysFUNction

All indicators are either my unconscious nightmare-state is either a product of daytime anxiety, or childhood trauma (because, let’s face it, Freud just makes sense sometimes)

Imagine our surprise when my boyfriend came back from a frat party after an evening of alcohol, smoking, and so much caffeine he developed a bright red mask-like rash around his eyes only to find out that I (who had gone to bed early reading Milton) was in a much worse condition than he was. Sober by the time he got home, he found me afflicted with the following:

1) Audible teeth-grinding

2) Loud moaning in my sleep

3) Flailing, tossing motions

4) Pressed down into the bed on my stomach

5) Muscles like steel, an entire body full of more tension than I am consciously able to reproduce

6) Near-conscious cries of pain when he attempted to massage/relax said muscles for 20 minutes

7) Apparently I also clamped down with impossible strength on his leg, trapping it between my thighs

I have no memory of this. I vaguely remember him coming home, and then coming into the room again after he went to the bathroom at one point in the night. I did, however, remember my dreams. They were pretty bad. I don’t want to get into the details of that “childhood trauma” but I had a nightmare I haven’t had since I was a kid, and while I felt anxious and uncomfortable about it, my dream primarily focused on a friend’s six-year-old daughter who was trapped in this dungeon setting with me. I like kids. I love kids. It’s really hard to see them suffer. It was a bad, bad dream.

This was the worst anxiety dream I’ve had in a while, but I record all of my dreams and I have anxiety dreams about every other night. Maybe this is why I’m always tired, and kind of wake up feeling awful every morning…? I was assured that “everyone is groggy in the morning” and it “takes time to wake up” but I’m beginning to suspect the charmers who wanted to convince me I was normal and fine didn’t really have an idea of the scope of what I have to deal with at night. I usually wake up in a blind panic over something, whether it’s the contents of my dream, whether or not I’ve been robbed while sleeping, or lost one of my boyfriend’s favorite socks in the laundry.

This feels like a frustrating new development, but I’ve always had issues sleeping since I was a little girl and got hung up on all the nightmares and parasomnia problems I started having in third grade. It’s so hard to start living with someone, simply because they draw attention to everything you just assumed was normal and now feel like is too far advanced to fix. I should be happy I have a chance to see my sleep dysfunction for what it is, but it’s no fun thinking about what a long road I have to hoe if I want to make progress with this.

Other Writers and the Anderson Center

I think that getting a chance to explore your field through others who have already established themselves in it is the best way to move forward with your own goals in the area. I know that for me, other, older writers have been simply invaluable. Right now, I’m working on putting an application together for the Anderson Center, hoping to get a residency out there in Minnesota for some part of the summer. I’m not sure why I’m trying to do this, seeing as though I’m relatively certain I have no chance of it, even if I do polish my submission materials to the best of my ability. Regardless, an older writer once encouraged me to apply to workshops and other opportunities, so here I am trying to pave my way with a bit of advice and a lot of gall.

In an American Literature lecture I attended today, the professor mentioned that Benjamin Franklin got to his station in life with “a lot of pluck and luck.” I liked that rhyme, and it struck true since it echoed his own Poor Richard’s advice that God helps those who help themselves. Pluck makes luck. I guess that’s what I’m doing with these applications: being plucky and waiting for luck.

For the application though, I needed references who were “authorities in my field” who were “familiar with my work.” I feel like that requirement (along with the fact that the 70+ page application has to be submitted in print, via mail, with a self-addressed stamped envelope) might turn off some people from applying. Surely the pool of applicants for a Minnesota retreat with such old-fashioned submission guidelines can’t be too competitive, right? I’m probably wrong. I usually am. That doesn’t discourage me.

Anyways, the point I am slowly winding to is that I feel incredibly lucky to actually know editors and publishers of speculative fiction who are able (and willing!) to vouch for me as a candidate for the residency. Yet, that’s only this fringe benefit to having them in my life. Access to people willing to read my writing (even just short bits of it) and then point me in a direction means I have a compass where other writers are just blind in the ocean of literary adventure. Upon reading my submission materials, one of my references remarked on the nature of my short story, and suggested I take it to Shimmer and try to publish with them. I’m going to try just that. Even if nothing comes from it, at least he’s got me trying to publish my short stories again. A little inspiration goes a long way when it comes to the advice and encouragement of people who have been at this game a little longer than you have.

I’m so excited for my million-to-one odds in this.

A Very Giddy Novel-versary

So yesterday was the 6th anniversary of the day that I became a novelist. I don’t know if most writers make a note of the day they finish their first book, or if they continue to observe it once they’ve managed more impressive feats (like, you know, getting someone to actually read it) but I certainly think that it’s neat and important to remember there was a time before I had even drafted a book. I can get so caught up worrying about editing, querying, and publishing, it’s easy to forget that there’s this massive milestone I accomplished years ago that actually gave me the title of novelist. I don’t ever want to undervalue that title.

My first novel remains my longest, and the reason I now ALWAYS outline. If I don’t outline, I just let my characters go on way too many only-tangentially-related-to-the-plot adventures. I need outlines to contain myself and give structure to my imagination. It was a NaNoWriMo novel that took me until Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday to finish. Over 125,000 words, all total.

In order to commemorate that accomplishment, I picked out the most fitting celebration this year…I finished my 2014 NaNoWriMo novel at a brand new writing group I’ve resolved to start attending this quarter. Admittedly I could have finished this book several weeks back (I was so close to the end!) but I shelved it in order to write an epic 11,000 word short story for my mental health. (December is a weird month, and sometimes I have to write weird stories in it.) Anyways, it feels good to know I’ve got a full draft done, and I don’t have any open ended stories…at the moment. It’s nice to take a break from drafting new fiction, because as soon as I stop this laborious, tedious, gruelling, creatively-exhausting process, I’m forced to remember just how much I love and miss it when I don’t have it.

My new writing group is interesting, and we went to dinner afterwards at my favorite campus cafe, the CoHo (literally, the Coffee House) against my better judgement, though totally in-line with my celebratory mood, I got a large chai latte and pumped myself full of caffeine at eight o’clock at night and told all the wild stories I have that influence my writing. I tried to get other people to tell stories and talk about their writing, but I suppose I stumbled onto some very introverted writers. My boyfriend says that no one comes to Stanford for creative writing, but surely somewhere out there on this campus there is someone who is passionate and prolific and wants to talk about writing! I’ve met one, true, but I was expecting much more from the most exclusive university in the country.

21 and Freaking Out for the SF Writing Conference

I’m absolutely thrilled about the SFWC, but of course that goes without saying. It’s my first professional conference. When I was in high school I used to go to the International Career Development Conference to compete with other teenagers (and whoop their butts, I might add) in sales and marketing presentation DECA competitions, but this is so radically different. This is about my dreams, and what I want. I’m chasing it as directly and vigorously as I can.

This is the most expensive thing I’ve ever bought. It’s strange finally being financially independent of my parents; no longer a child, no longer in school, no longer in the realm where I can go to them when I want something. I’m not complaining…I’m revelling in it. I got a job after college, and I used it to pay for an investment in my future as a writer.

I’m trying not to delude myself into thinking that something fantastic is going to happen at the San Francisco Writing Conference. I’m not going to find an agent and have a Disney-esque happy ending with a publisher. However, I might learn something invaluable. I might meet someone of importance. I might network my way a step closer to wherever it is I need to be in order to actually get myself published.

I’ve been going through the schedule again and again thinking about how grown up this is, and how totally, utterly a child I still am. I am so not ready for this. It’s like doing your first-ever cannonball into the pool. I have no idea what I’m doing; I just hope I make a sizeable splash.

This is going to be such a high-intensity event, and I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll be among the youngest of the attendees. I still get mistaken for a high schooler all the time. I’m going to get carded at bars until I’m on the other side of fifty. I look young. While it’s a long-term advantage, right now it just stops people in their tracks as often as not. They want to know how old I am that I’m acting like a professional and looking like I should be at a Bieber concert. I actually find it kind of novel and fun. The way I figure it, anyway I can catch people’s eyes is good. The hard part of art is getting people to look in the first place. Once you have their eyes, all you have to do is be competent and interesting enough to continue holding their attention.

The Height of Luxury: Midday Showers

Most people I know shower in the morning before they go out. Some people shower at night before they go to bed. Very few people share my sentiment for showering in the middle of the day, and there’s a reason for that.

Most people have things to do in the middle of the day. They go off to work and are there for eight hours everyday with break just enough to eat lunch. Even the folks I know who aren’t working traditional jobs or regular hours, they tend to be busy all day, running errands and meeting up with people as long as their up and out. Very few people have the luxury of taking a shower in the middle of the day…which is precisely why I consider it a luxury.

Granted, I don’t always get to take midday showers, but when I do they remind me of everything I love about the idea of being a professional writer and setting my own schedule. I think it’s a wonderful way to break up a day, to give myself some thinking time and come back to a story with a fresh, clean feeling. Knowing that I can waltz into the shower whenever I want then makes it this nice, relaxing event rather than some utilitarian form of hygiene.

When I think of all the ways people measure success with impressive degrees, job titles, nice cars, and big houses, I just want to ask anyone that has those things, Yeah, but can you shower midday? I feel like big houses are more fun to look at and dream about than actually live in. Midday showers, however, are the absolute pinnacle of freedom in today’s 9-5 workaday world.