Pre-pub

8 Practical Tips for the Debut Author

Recently, I shared five tips to help you survive your debut year (I mean, they helped me, so).

It was pretty touchy-feely, because, well, have you met me? But I know how much people need something concrete when they’re lost at sea and flailing about for anything solid, anything at all.

So I thought a a bit more about what advice/knowledge I wish I’d had last year and came up with these eight somewhat random but wholly practical tips for debut authors:

1. Don’t read the reviews.
We’ve all heard the warning. At some point, people you don’t know will start reading your book and they’ll share what they thought about it. This is great! But also harrowing. But great! But aaaah. Because even the smallest critique can feel like someone’s insulting your flesh & blood child and can take the wind out of your Second Book sails.

Reviews are for the reader, not you. Your chance to learn and make changes came during the beta read and during developmental edits. You can’t go back and fix all the things readers will pick up on, and you shouldn’t even try. Some will have wanted a faster pace; some will have wanted more details. Some will have wanted more stabbing; some will have wanted less. You can’t please everyone. You should only ever try to please yourself and maybe your editor. Scratch that: definitely your editor.

Reviews are for the reader. An angry one star review about the gay content will convince more people to read the book than to skip it. A glowing five star review might turn off an equal number of potential readers, because maybe they don’t like long self-reflective scenes about starfish as much as the reviewer does.

One or five stars doesn’t ultimately say anything about the effort you put in, the many mornings or late nights you yanked sentences out of your heart and carefully smoothed them onto the page, and they don’t reflect that one person who so needed your book in that moment. And that’s ultimately who you’re writing for, right? Those people who need your book.

So: don’t read the reviews. Easy, right?

2. If you read the reviews, glut yourself on them.
Okay, maybe it’s not that easy. There’s a second camp of writers who appoint a trusted friend to read reviews and pass along the best. An excellent and sane strategy.

So of course I set up a tent in the somewhat lonely third camp aka Camp Just Give Into Temptation and Read Them All.

The first few bad reviews will be painful, like ripping off a bandage on the same area of skin over and over and over again. But at some point, the skin gets numb and it won’t hurt as much. The reviews will blend together into a general, seamless whole that gives you a bigger picture of what readers think, and maybe some areas you could work on in your writing for next time.

But you have to read all of them. Not just the bad ones. Not just the good ones. You have to read the head-scratching ones, the “are you sure you read my book?” ones, the “wait why two stars when you said you loved it?” ones. Because only then will you understand how truly subjective reviews are. And only then will you be able to let go of reviews and be free.

You’ll finally understand: reviews are for the reader.

3. Pick one social media platform and have fun.
It’s easy to feel like you need to be on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and Snapchat and Goodreads and Bookbub and WordPress and Dreamwidth and Tumblr –

Oh goodness, I’m getting anxious just listing them all out. Let’s stop there.

It’s been said again and again: it’s better to use just one platform well than to try to use a bunch poorly. And you’re going to do best on the platform where you feel most comfortable.

For me, that’s been Twitter. It doesn’t take much thought, it’s conversational, and it’s easy to find and connect with other writers and readers. I also have an Instagram, but Instagram’s refusal to play well with desktops has been like running into a brick wall for me. Call me old, but I like using a laptop instead of my phone.

Once you’ve picked your favorite platform(s), the second most important thing is: have fun. Be yourself, even! If everybody else is doing something a Certain Way and you feel uncomfortable doing that – don’t! If you see advice that you should Do a Thing, but that thing fills you with anxiety bees – don’t! Self-promo is hard enough without feeling sick to your stomach about it the whole time.

Instead, promote other authors/writers/artists/cool stuff. Yell happily and unabashedly about those things and you might just find it gets easier to yell about your own stuff.

Pro-tip: Sometimes, if you absolutely need to Do a Self-Promo, try scheduling it in advance.

4. Everything takes foreeeveer – until it doesn’t.
It’s very normal to feel like you’re waiting and waiting and waaaaiting. There will be whole swaths of months where nothing at all is happening – at least not that you can see. And then a bunch of stuff will all happen at once – cover! copy edits! proofs! ARCs! – and just as you’re getting into the grove of handling all those things, you go right back to months of nothing.

This is normal. Trust me. Appreciate the quiet while you can and use it to work on something new.

Because before you know it, you’ll be in over your head again.

5. Use a productivity app.
Funny thing about being a debut – you’re still checking your email as often as you were while querying. You also might find yourself online more often, haunting the same circle of three or four websites. When your phone is always within reach, it’s easy – too easy – to just pick it up without thinking.

So try a productivity app. My go-to has been Forest, a handy little app that lets you set a timer and then encourages you to put down your phone with a happy little tree. You can still use your phone, but if you do, it kills the tree. Every time you successfully avoid using your phone and let the timer run out, a happy little tree shows up in your plot. Enough trees, and you have a forest.

Ah.

6. Get on panels!
Aside from Tucson Festival of Books, I’d never attended any book-related convention or conference until after my contract was signed. And if it hadn’t been for my agent-siblings’ encouragement, I wouldn’t have signed up for any panels until well after my book had come out.

I didn’t understand how most cons worked. I used to think every single panelist was invited or otherwise solicited, but that’s not the case. Honestly, I’m still learning, but I do know now that most of those panelists actively asked to be included and put on panels. Smaller cons thrive on volunteers and panelists and if you have a book coming out or if you know anything about publishing or even if you’re just an avid reader, you should check out the requirements at your local con.

Sirens Conference, for example, accepts proposals from any attendee; you don’t have to be published, you just have to know something about what you’re presenting. And ConFusion, my home con, was totally cool with me being on a few panels even though it was January and my book didn’t come out until March.

So: look! Ask! Propose! It’s excellent practice for talking about your book and also a great way to meet other people in the publishing community.

7. If you want to do it, do it.
This is kind of a weird piece of advice, but if you want to Do a Thing, this is your permission to Do It. Did you want to run a pre-order campaign? Do it. Did you want to go say hi to your local indie? Do it. Did you want to write some articles for a website you really admire? Send them an email and do it. Did you want to do a cover reveal? Set it up. Did you want to order a bunch of stickers and stick them everywhere? Yeah, do that too.

Just as long as you want to.

Don’t feel obligated to do any of that, though. Pre-order campaigns are a lot of work for often minimal return. Writing essays gets your name out there but doesn’t usually sell a lot of books. Stickers are cool but, well, sticky. It all costs money or time or both, and that’s going to be in short supply. And your publisher might do some things, but if you really, really, really want to Do a Thing:

Do it.

8. Use Media Mail for sending books.
Last, but certainly not least, if you live in the U.S. and want to send a book to someone else in the U.S., go to the counter at your local USPS and ask for media mail. As long as all you’re sending is a book, and not any related swag, you will save so much on postage. And keep the receipts for all those mailers you’ll be buying – these do count as a business expense (hashtag I am not a tax advisor, so this is not advice, but).

 

I’ll share more advice as I get further along in this whole Author Thing, but for now, I’m curious:

What’s been your favorite / most useful piece of advice for debuts?

Pre-pub, Writing

5 Tips for Surviving Your Debut Year

It’s been over five weeks since my debut novel The Perfect Assassin came out into the world and I’ve been spending most of that time decompressing. Relaxing. Reading. Sleeping (!), even, when the Toddler allows.

But me being me, I’ve also been thinking about the past year – and beyond. It’s been a bit of a wild ride and goodness, am I glad it’s over. I wasn’t sure whether or not the other side of Being Published, No For Real My Book’s On That Table Over There would feel much different from pre-pub, and it didn’t for the first few days/weeks, but now that things have settled a bit and the confetti’s turned to dust, it does feel different.

More chill, for one. More concrete, for another.

I lived with a lot of anxiety last year, which seems obvious in retrospect but kinda hit me like an invisible bus at the time. Of course I was going to be in a state of perpetual worry when I had no idea what was going on or what to expect and I didn’t want to trip over my own feet and make an absolute fool of myself.

The debut year is a lot like that first day at a new job, when you’re not sure what their version of business casual is (are sleeves necessary? can I wear boots??), whose desk is where (Carol in HR to whom I must return this important form: WHERE ARE YOU), whether or not you should bring silverware (is there even a sink?), where the stairwell is (what about this door – nope: brooms), who takes a lunch and when, or – most importantly – what you’re actually supposed to be doing.

You’re hecka excited to be there – of course! it’s a new job!! you applied and interviewed and hoped for this!!! – but those first few days you come home exhausted and overwhelmed. You don’t even know what you don’t know and everyone else just seems so much more competent and on it. And you know making mistakes is just a part of the learning process, but every one of them feels like a personal failure.

Yeah, exactly like those first few days, but stretched over a year.

It makes sense that on the other side, things might be a lot more chill and relaxed. Sure, there’re still a lot of things to worry about, but just knowing what those things are brings the anxiety down to a reasonable amount. The road might yet be windy and full of fog, but I’ve come far enough that I know it’s a road and, well, that can be enough.

Also now I know where Carol is.

So here, from the other side of things, are five tips for surviving your own debut year:

1. Find your tribe.
I’m putting this first because it’s just that important. Join a debut group. Go on Twitter and find other baby or recently published authors. Find your agent siblings, your editor cousins. Follow them. Read their blogs, their posts, their tweets.

More importantly: talk to them. Embrace them. Support them and let them support you.

I’ve been a part of Debut Authors ’19 since the very beginning and they’ve been a lifesaver. Every time I felt like I was going crazy, I had a place I could check in where I knew they wouldn’t judge me. And that’s important – getting an agent, a contract, is kind of a privileged thing, right? It’s cool and amazing and awesome. But it’s a bit like suddenly owning a dragon. It’s super cool and not very common but also who are you going to talk to when it starts eating the neighboring village’s sheep??

That said, there are downsides to being in a debut group. You do get to see all the possibilities of publishing, some of which you never would have dreamed of. And seeing them, you know better than to dream, but you do, a little. If you’re a competitive type, the comparison game can become overwhelming. And even if you’re not competitive, it’s hard not to see something cool and wonder “why not?”

(The answer to this is, of course, because That Is Not Your Book. Your book is different and unique and other things will happen for it, many you can’t even imagine now.)

There’s something to be said for being able to go through the whole debut process in blissful ignorance of those other possibilities. But then, the community you build in those groups is a community that will persist for years after. These are your peers, your colleagues, your coworkers, your friends. I’m ride or die for a number of them, and there’s nothing sweeter than cheering on a friend’s success – or yelling loudly about how great they are.

That community is priceless.

2. Be kind.
Be kind in your words. Be kind in your actions. Be aware that someone, somewhere, is looking up to you as a Real Author. Your actions will carry more weight, whether it’s encouragement or a review or a smile emoji. Ignoring that weight isn’t being humble – it’s doing that person a disservice.

So be kind. Be thoughtful. Be the kind of person you’d want to meet and the kind of person you want in your community.

3. It’s okay to feel other emotions than excitement or elation.
We humans are complex and contradictory creatures. We are also highly predictable. You are the same person you were yesterday, and a book deal doesn’t change that. It can certainly be validating, but you’re still you and your life is still your life.

And that means every day ain’t gonna be a complete picnic.

In fact, sometimes it could be worse, because you might have a little voice in the back of your head berating you for being tired, exhausted, depressed, or just generally blah when you have so much to be grateful for and excited about.

But if anything, you should allow yourself even more leeway for extreme emotions on both sides of the spectrum, because this is something you have been working toward for years and decades, because this is something you care deeply about. The fact that you get a bit overwhelmed or upset or worried sometimes isn’t a failure – it means you are thoroughly and completely invested. It means that this is important to you.

4. Excitement is physiologically indistinguishable from fear.
And it’s just as exhausting.

Both fear and excitement cause a spike in adrenaline, which rushes through your system causing your hands to shake and your pulse to elevate and 100+ other stress responses to occur. And there is a lot of excitement as you get to see your cover, as other authors start reading your words, as you start seeing your book on lists and in reviews.

I was really confused at first why an amazing email or bit of news would cause me to short-circuit and need some downtown, but after realizing it’s that same shock of adrenaline you get when you’re scared, it made a lot more sense.

Enjoy, but also remember to take care of yourself. It’s a lot.

5. This is only the beginning of your career.
There’s a lot of waiting and waiting and… waiting… when you’re a debut. Case in point, I signed my contract in 2016 and my book didn’t come out until 2019. So I get it – it can feel like you’ve been at this a while, and it can also feel like everything has been done and it’s all over once you actually hit pub date.

But in reality, it’s only the very start. You did the equivalent of a PhD program and survived, which is no small feat, but you’re only just now entering the job market and the beginning of your career.

Everything you do now is another step along that path and it will take you places you have never been before and you will meet so many new and amazing people.

Just keep your feet on the warm stones and move forward.

Bonus: One thing I wish I could tell myself a year ago.
Find a therapist. Now. Find a psychiatrist, too, and get yourself on anxiety medication. It’ll make a world of difference. You’re welcome.

Aside from that, I would tell her it’s fine. It’s going to be fine. Feel all the feels, wallow in the emotions, take a walk, take a run, take a hike – and keep writing.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, Pre-pub, The Impossible Contract (Book 2), The Perfect Assassin (Book 1)

January Recap (Madcap?)

It sure has been a month. I don’t even know how to begin, so let’s just run through it, shall we?

I started a new job. Winter finally showed up. I moderated my first panel and gave my first reading at ConFusion in Detroit. I wrote a bit more of my WIP. The cover for book two entered the world. Book one got two excellent trade reviews. Our laundry machine broke. A Polar Vortex shut down our city –

Wait, wait, WAIT – you say. Book two’s cover?? Went live???

Oh yeah. I guess that’s important.

Okay that’s an understatement. It’s pretty important and I’m REALLY EXCITED about it. If you’ve been following my posts for any length of time, you know Book Two was once Book Only and I poured my heart and soul into it. Then I wrote Book One and poured my heart into that too, but Book Two will just always have that place in my heart as the First.

There’s just something about writing a book for just you, never knowing if it’s going to get an agent’s attention let alone reach the light of day – or the hands of readers. I love all of my book children equally, in their own ways, but The Impossible Contract just feels different. For The Perfect Assassin, covers and blurbs and reviews weren’t daydreams – they were expectations. I had a contract, after all. But for TIC, well. They were dreams.

And when I got to see TIC’s cover for the first time in December, it was literally a dream come true.

And now that it’s live elsewhere on the internet, I can finally share that dream with you:

The purple! The gold! That expression! That garrote! It’s THANA. My Thana, who started out as a lone figure on a rooftop almost five years ago and now has a whole family to rely on. She has come so very far and I can’t wait to talk more about her and share her with you in November.

But BEFORE THAT I have a whole ‘nother book coming out.

And The Perfect Assassin has been getting some awesome reviews.

But Kai, you say gently, You just dropped a cover on us. You can tell us about the reviews later.

I mean, yes technically, I could but in reality, this is probably the only blog post I’m going to make for the next month or two, so you’re getting this now.

Here – if it’s any easier, you can take a break and come back in a week or so and pretend this is a whole new blog post. Good?

Good.

Welcome back!

I’ve already flailed and hyperventilated about this elsewhere, but The Perfect Assassin got a starred (!!!) review from Publisher’s Weekly! You can read the whole thing here, but if you want to avoid some very light potential spoilers, here’s the choice quote:

“Doore is a force to be reckoned with, blending a stirring plot, elegant worldbuilding, effortless style, and diverse, empathetic characters.”

!!!!

!!!!!!

I might have shouted “a force to be RECKONED WITH” every chance I had for a week straight. Honestly, I’m still riding that high.

And then there’s also this amazing review from Booklist. It’s behind a paywall, so if you don’t have access, here’s another good quote:

“Doore’s thrilling fantasy debut is a suspenseful murder mystery wrapped around a coming-of-age story […] Ghadid, set on platforms hundreds of feet above shifting sands, is vividly described, with a fascinating history and culture that Doore folds in naturally. This author is one to watch.”

WATCH ME.

IF YOU DON’T, WHO WILL.

AND IF NO ONE DOES, DO I EVEN EXIST?

Anyway: *flings confetti*

I guess this means I can’t pretend I’ve just been bribing/threatening everyone for good reviews. Or maybe it does and these are two flukes that will never happen again! Who knows! I sure don’t! You might find out in just 48 days!

 

Photo by Georgia de Lotz on Unsplash

City of Wraiths, Draft Zero, Writing

Promises

The next few months are going to be a whirlwind – and not just because I have a book coming out (in 74 days [not that I’m counting {okay yes I’m counting}]). New job, ConFusion, new WIP, edits for book 3, (presumably) copy edits for book 2, cheering on my fellow 2019 debuts, trying (somehow) to keep up with All the Books, physical therapy, and in amongst that also, you know, time for family and keeping the house from falling apart.

There are only so many hours in a day was already my mantra for most of 2018, and it looks like so it’ll be for 2019. I foresee a lot of brutal prioritizing, and at the top of that list will always be the Toddler and my wife. Below that, my promises – to myself and to others.

Here’s to not taking on any more promises until at least April, though.

But for now, these are the promises I’ve already made, at least to myself.

For January, my promise to myself is to take it easy as I go back to working fulltime and in an office. Balancing dayjob and writing will never be easy, but at least it was easier when I had a full day each week to devote to writing and could do chores during any downtime at work. Now I can only hope that the Toddler is strong enough to help vacuum.

Which is why my only writing goal for January is to show up every morning and get words down. I’m focusing on a WIP that has no deadline and is all draft zero, so I really don’t have to do much more than get a messy outline down. No one’s waiting for this and no one’s going to read this any time soon, so no pressure.

For February, I’m hoping I’ll have my new routine down – and also be free of the four weeks of training the new job requires. That seems like the perfect time to return to Ghadid and finish the edits on book 3. My current goal is to have those done & polished & turned in by my pub date. Because March.

March.

Well, March I plan on not planning. I have no idea what to expect around my publication, but I can expect that I’ll be mentally distracted by it all. So better if I don’t set any particular deadlines for myself that month, at least not creatively. If I have the mental space, I’ll continue noodling on this WIP. If I don’t, well, hopefully I can still read.

I think those are some fair plans for the next few months, don’t you?

And since it’s January, here’s current progress on my rage! against! the! patriarchy! WIP, working title City of Wraiths, an adult fantasy about lies covered in secrets heaped upon more lies, now with bonus! promises of necromancy, attempted murder, and creepy mists.

Deadline: None, but aiming for July for betas

Current word count:
28,167 out of 60,000

Body count: 2

# of Times Only One Bed Trope Used: 1

Attempted stabbings: 3

Draft Zero, Life, Writing

On NaNoWriMo and Failure, Or: How I’m Learning to Embrace My New Writing Process

It is November 28th. There are three days remaining in November, which means three days remaining in National Novel Writing Month, that time of year when thousands – hundreds of thousands – of writers try to plunk down 50,000 words in the span of a single month.

In years past, I have diligently hit the daily goal of 1,667 words and reached 50,000 with little to no problem. Maybe I missed a day or two here and there, but I always made it up.

Those years, unfortunately, appear to be firmly in the past. In 2016, I wrote 22k for NaNoWriMo. In 2017 I was finishing edits on book 2, so I didn’t bother. And this year I’m on track to hit 20k on a new story. Not even half the official goal.

Perhaps those years will come around again. Perhaps in another time.

But that time is not now, and if there is one thing I’ve learned from this past year, I can mourn my past and What I Used to Be Able to Do and try and fail and try again to meet those old standards, but after all that effort I’ll still be no closer to my goal. All that does is leave me feeling defeated. Less than. Worthless.

My life has changed quite a bit since my first NaNoWriMo in 2001 and my writing has, too. Things changed most drastically in 2016, with the birth of our daughter, but the fallout from that has been gradual. I clung for a long time to the idea that Things Would Return to Normal and I just had to keep trying to reach the goals I’d had before, keep trying to do things as I always had. If I just kept doing the same exact thing, eventually it would succeed, yes?

…hmm, isn’t there some quippy adage about doing the same thing over & over again and expecting different results?

This period was prolonged by the fact that I was working in a world I’d already built, with (relatively) established characters, mythology, history, plot, etc etc et cetera. So it was easier to keep reaching, to de-prioritize my own health, to get up early and stay up late and have very little time to read or really do anything outside of housework – because at least I was still hitting my word count each day.

And I was! Until I wasn’t.

This summer was the first time I hadn’t met my own personal deadlines in a very long time. And I kept not meeting them. But I pushed on regardless.

I turned in Book 3 and then… well, I didn’t so much as crash as fall apart. At first it was a deliberate & planned falling. I read instead of writing and it was amazing, don’t get me wrong. But a consciously quiet month off turned into a not so consciously quiet two months off turned into three.

Not for want to trying. When November rolled around, I decided I’d participate in NaNoWriMo. That would be the kick in the butt to finally get back to writing like I used to. As I did over the summer, I set my daily writing goals and I tried to hit them. But when I didn’t, and I fell further and further behind, I just felt like a failure. I was plagued with doubt. What had happened? What had changed? Why did it feel like I had no time anymore?

As I cut another morning writing session short because my daughter had just woken up, crying, and needed me, I finally realized

My life had changed.

So shouldn’t how I write change as well?

I am not the person I was five, three, even two years ago. I am not in the same situation, I don’t have the same amount of time or energy or brainpower. The background processing I used to do throughout the day on my characters and plots is simply gone, taken over instead with the innate ability to know exactly where my daughter is and what she’s doing at any given second of the day. It has simply become impossible for me to write as quickly as I used to. All that processing has to happen in front of the laptop now, in the spare minutes I can find and gather in the morning.

And while I might mourn the last of that past self – so much time! how did I never realize how much time I had? – I wouldn’t trade where I am now for the world. But that means accepting I am the person I am now, and that no amount of wishing or planning or goal setting or staring covetously at other people’s free time will change that.

Perhaps it’s about time I meet myself where I am, now.

In 2016 I wrote 22k words for NaNoWriMo: a failure. I went on to write another 20k words in December and another 16k words in January and finished the first draft of a book that comes out in less than four months.

This year, I will probably hit 20,000 words. I can’t write 1,667 words a day anymore, but I can write 500. I can write 1000.

So I will keep writing, 500-1000 words a day, throughout December. And I will keep writing, 500-1000 words a day, throughout January. And I will finish a first draft. It won’t matter in a year that it took me three months instead of one month to write that draft. The time will pass. The only thing that will matter is that I wrote a book.

I wouldn’t call that failure.

Querying, The Impossible Contract (Book 2), Writing

Hey What About Your Query, Kai?

A picture of a cat, not a query letter.

As some of you already know, I’ve joined this year’s Pitch Wars mentor crew. For those unfamiliar with Pitch Wars, this means that one (not-so-)lucky writer will get the chance to have their manuscript beaten (literally and figuratively) into shape by me. But to get to that point they – you, possibly – will have to first write a query.

If there’s one thing all authors/writers/agents/human beings can unilaterally agree on, it’s that queries were devised to torture storytellers. You spent what feels like a million words (by that 24th revision it’s probably been more) carefully building a story and now someone wants you to do it again in – *gasp* – 250-300 words. Mon dieu!

Thankfully that’s not really what a query’s meant to do. All it’s gotta do is entice. And to do that, you just gotta distill your plot down to a few lines, pick out some awesome details, snag the voice, do the Macarena, assemble the Avengers –

Wait. No.

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but I’m sure an example is worth just as many. So, here – have one successful query letter that just happens to be mine. It’s been a few years (*cough3cough*) and if I could I’d change a few things, but I’m going to resist and let you see the exact query that led to pages being requested that led to a full that led to a call that led to an offer and so on.

[Side note: This query was for The Impossible Contract, which is now Book Two (and if you want to know that story, go here). I don’t think there’re any spoilers for The Perfect Assassin (aka Book One) in here, but you have been warned if you care about those things.]

Dear Agent –

THE IMPOSSIBLE CONTRACT is a fast-paced adventure fantasy complete at 128,000 words. I’m sending this query to you in particular because I noticed you expressed an interest in LGBTQ stories in any genre and this novel includes a lesbian romance.

In the desert city of Ghadid, assassination is a family business. To learn the trade, Thana trained with her older cousins for years, but she’s still nervous when it’s her turn to take a contract. But it’s not just the responsibility: it turns out that her mark is the Empress’ own marabi, a highly skilled and powerful priest. Any qualms Thana might have had about killing a holy man, though, are soon put to rest when she learns the mark is involved in the blasphemous practice of binding souls.

The contract should have been straightforward: steal into the mark’s room, circumvent his magical protections, and slit his throat. Except that someone else wants the marabi dead. Before Thana can deliver the killing blow, a half dozen men break into the room and attack them both. Even outnumbered, the men should have been no match for fast and lethal Thana, but they have a key advantage against her knives and garrote: they’re already dead and someone – another blasphemer – has bound their souls. Thana barely escapes with her own life, let alone the mark’s.

The mark is determined to discover what these men are and who sent them. Thana is determined to follow the mark and finish her contract, even if that means leaving home to cross the desert. If she fails, not only will her family be shamed, but Thana’s life will be up for contract. But along her journey, Thana learns of the ancient evil behind the dead men and bound souls and realizes that the price of her success may be the destruction of all she holds dear.

Aside from writing, I also practice photography and weightlifting while living in the Sonoran Desert. I have the writer’s prerequisite small but significant cat collection and caffeine addiction, as well as a number of chickens, a degree in Classics, and way too many (never too many) knee socks.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

Here’s a few things to note:

First off, you’ll notice I front-loaded the query with the title and wordcount and a little personalized intro for that specific agent. Typically, you’ll want to go straight into the query proper, but if you have a reason you’re sending this to a specific agent, it can help to put that up front.

In this case, my query doesn’t have room for the romance in it, but since I knew the agent was specifically looking for queer fic, I pointed that out as part of the personalization.

Second… this is a little long for a query. Related, that wordcount is about 30k too long. I got dinged a lot for that, by the way (multiple agents specifically cited the wordcount in their rejections), and part of signing with my agent meant cutting as much as I could – and then cutting more once I signed with Tor. So take it from me, you really want to stay within the acceptable word count ranges for your genre (this has a good rule of thumb btw).

On the positive side, it still worked. So.

Third, I know a lot of writers worry about not having any pub credits to their name to rattle off in the bio section. You’ll notice I, too, had no prior publications nor anything really of note, so instead I used that space to add a little more of my own personality.

But wait, there’s more! Don’t just take my word for it – you can read a breakdown by another agent over at the Weekly Workshop as to why, exactly, my query worked for her.

I’d also recommend taking a deep dive into the Query Shark archives as well as reading all the queries the other mentors have put up in the last few days.

So there you have it. Just be short and honest and bleed a little on your keyboard and you’ll do just fine.

The Unconquered City (Book 3), Writing Tips

Book 3: Beta Time!

Book three. Is. Done.

Well.

Let’s caveat that.

It’s done enough. Enough that I need to put it in someone else’s hands and step away and breathe and focus. Enough that at this point, I’d be going in and tweaking and finetuning and adding details and subtracting paragraphs and not wholesale stripping out and rewriting chapters – which is what I spent most of May and all of June doing.

There’s a plot and events proceed (mostly) logically and it all comes together and actually ends, instead of dropping unexpectedly off a cliff. It’s not perfect, not by any long shot or under any fancy filter, but that’s good. It shouldn’t be perfect. If my betas do their jobs well – and they will – then I might still have some structural work to do. And better to do that and clean it up before the finetuning.

It’s a bit like building a body from scratch. You’ve gotta build the skeleton first, bone by bone by bone, and that’s your rough draft. And then you shove in the guts and veins and layer that all with muscles. That’s your second draft, the one that actually looks alive and might even function – it just wouldn’t be pretty.

At that point, you could begin putting the skin on and adding hair and all those little details that will turn your attempt at playing God into something less unsightly (you don’t want your story oozing on the freshly scrubbed lab tiles, do you?), or you could have someone look at it and make sure all the organs are properly connected and the veins go where they should.

Sometimes you’re so up-to-your-elbows in guts and organs that you don’t realize you’ve attached this ligament to that joint when it should really be attached to this joint or maybe you mixed up your orders for organs again and you’ve got a sheep’s heart instead of a human’s. How much easier it’ll be to fix if you haven’t already put the skin on and ratcheted up the lightning rods!

…okay I admit this metaphor got a bit out of hand.

But putting this gooey, skinless experiment of a book into my betas’ hands is scary. It requires a lot of trust. Trust in myself, that I know my process and I know what I’m doing. Trust in my betas, that they can see past the gore to the underlying logic and story. That they are willing to dive deep with me, get a little messy, and laugh the entire time. That they won’t just hold their noses and go “ew.”

Because we’re still a long way from done done.

But this is as far as I can make it on my own.

Pre-pub

How to Care for Your Debut Author

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Congratulations on your new debut author! Given the proper care, these creatures will make a wonderful addition to your family. They are generally quiet, complacent, and 120 proof, but while they may appear hardy on the outside, with frequent gruff vocalizations such as “no really, I’m fine,” “these aren’t tears; I have allergies,” and “I just have to meet this deadline,” you must be vigilant that they aren’t hollowed out by constant anxiety.

But don’t worry! To preserve the wellbeing of your debut author so that they not only survive the transition into your home and their new life, but also flourish and thrive and become a name you can drop to get into fancy places, just follow these five easy steps.

Step One: Water Daily
Try leaving a bowl of water out for your author. If you notice that the water level remains unchanged, remind your author that dehydration can lead to headaches, dizziness, death, or worse – a missed deadline.

Step Two: Feed regularly.
Be sure to include lots of greens in your author’s daily meals. If your author is a millennial, you can count avocados as a green. In a pinch, many brands of mint chocolate chip ice cream are also green.

But be warned: do not mix the avocados with the ice cream.

Step Three: Encourage photosynthesis.
An author will naturally shy away from sunlight, but it is in their best interest – and health! – for them to go outside daily. Try taking them for a walk, but be sure to keep them on a leash lest they start daydreaming and wander into traffic.

Step Four: Give general encouragement.
Picture a pristine lake, bordered by dogwood on one side, a meadow on the other. The surface of the lake is as clear and still as glass. Beneath that surface is a fish, dreaming of another life: a bigger lake, with more room to swim and grow, more fish friends like itself, and a publishing deal.

Now picture that fish dropped into the ocean. Rest assured that this was a euryhaline fish and therefore will not perish from the sudden change in salinity. The fish has everything it dreamed for: a bigger lake, lots of room to swim and grow, and millions of fishy friends.

But it’s also, understandably, a tad bit overwhelmed. Out of its depths. Feeling a bit like a fish out of water. Except, well, in water. Because we’re talking about the ocean. Ahem.

The potential for growth is nigh limitless, the possibilities unbounded, but at the same time, the chance for extreme anxiety is astronomical. The learning curve to survive the ocean is quite steep and while the fish is yet floundering, Here There be Sharks.

A few kind words can mean a lot during this time.

Step Five: Be patient.
Becoming a debut author is tectonic: it’s a process of many infinitesimal, invisible changes that eventually converge to create a new continent. You may have known your debut author since Before, and they have been many things along the way, and they are still those many things. But to the outside, they are now – as suddenly and irrevocably as a volcano – an Author.

This clash of creeping vs abrupt change creates a dissonance (not-so-)fondly called Imposter Syndrome. The debut author still feels in their bones that they are the fish in the pond, and that they don’t deserve to be in the ocean, that at any moment, someone will swoop in with a net muttering about “mix-ups” and “the wrong forms” and deposit them back in the pond.

They’ll continue to act like they’re in a pond and it will take them some time to accept that the ocean is theirs to thrive in and explore. They may swim about, first one way, then the other, as they try to understand their new home. They will need to learn, understand, and process, before they can accept.

A part of them will always be in that pond.

So be patient. When they cry about seemingly inconsequential things, give them a tissue and an ear – preferably attached. Likewise, when they can’t stop talking about something exciting that happened months ago, take them for a walk.

Your debut author may do strange things, like pee on the carpet, cling to the walls, or email you fourteen cover comps at 3am demanding your detailed opinion ASAP. Breathe deep and remember that this, too, is part of the way they’re processing the change. And maybe ask them to help clean up the pee. I mean really.

Bonus: Take care of yourself.
Your debut author is surprisingly resilient; despite what they may claim and occasionally deeply feel, they will likely survive living in the ocean. And they will need you for the long run. So remember to take care of yourself as well.

Set boundaries as needed. Be clear about what you are willing or not willing to discuss with your author. Because if you’re not careful, they may chew up hours of your time discussing the emotional depth and cultural resonance of particular fonts.

You may find yourself affected in unexpected ways. Feel free to talk to your debut author – or don’t. Whatever your choice, remember that your feelings are just as real and just as valid, and you deserve to be heard.

If you follow these easy steps, you, too, can have a happy and healthy debut author in your home or life, which will bring you years of delight, entertainment, and – of course – books.

[Pre-ordering their book will also soothe your debut author’s soul.]

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, Pre-pub, The Perfect Assassin (Book 1)

From the Debut Trenches: Galleys/ARCs

ARCs enjoying tea

Galleys/ARCs: WHAT THEY ARE

ARC stands for Advanced Reading Copy, and galleys are a variation on that theme. They’re an early print of the book with the post copy-edits but not-yet-finalized text and marketing verbiage all over because they’re, well, marketing tools. This is why sometimes they have a title and sometimes they don’t. Mine displays the tagline in lieu of the title, but the rest of the imagery is very much the cover.

ARCs go out to reviewers, booksellers, librarians, and anyone else in the publishing industry who might be interested to drum up buzz and pre-orders in the months before the One True Publication Date (TM). The author gets a few to do with as they wish – give to friends, drop off in the lobbies of prominent media establishments, scam into the hands of a beloved celebrity, build a (very) small fortress, bury in the backyard, etc.

Galleys originally weren’t due in for another two weeks, but my editor posted that they’d arrived on Tuesday and then next thing I knew, I had a tracking number for my share. I spent most of Friday on the porch, enjoying the randomly beautiful weather, and definitely not just waiting for the delivery truck.

Then the box did arrive and I promptly… sat five feet away from it, getting up the courage to open it. My wife had to talk me into opening it, using the very reasonable logic that the longer I let it sit, the more scary it would become. And that, reader, is one out of the many many reasons I married her.

So I opened them and kinda poked at them and then continued to sit at least five feet away, screwing up my courage. I’m not even entirely sure where the fear was coming from, except that this was a thing that I had created and now other people were reading it. And Amastan is on the cover and it’s a very strange feeling to see something plucked wholesale from your brain and just… out there. For other people to see. And I’ll always have a little guilt and shame tied up in this whole process, like there’s something innately wrong about wanting to share this thing I created and love with other people.

Then my wife brought out some wine and after a glass or two, I was able to pick one up. Thumb through. Read a bit.

And that’s when I finally realized: this is a book.

I’ve had inklings of that feeling ever since the copy edits stage, but seeing the words on the screen and seeing them in print, in a book, are entirely different things. The ARCs are still aways from the Final Form, but this is the first time I’ve looked at words I’ve read a hundred times, fretted over, smoothed over, deleted, and rewritten, and been able to turn off the editing part of my brain and accept them as Canon.

My characters are real and other people will read them and experience them in ways separate from me, ways I will have no control over and if that isn’t terrifying…

Well.

Now I have to send these babies out into the wider world and I have a few ideas for just how to do that, one of which involves screaming, and the other, more viable idea involves giveaways. So watch this space because that is gonna happen.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, Pre-pub, The Perfect Assassin (Book 1), Writing

From the Debut Trenches: Page Proofs

Well what do we have here.

No really. What do we have here? Gorgeously formatted pages with words on them that look vaguely familiar, like maybe… *squints*

OH GOD THEY’RE MY WORDS

Excuse me for a moment while I flail.

*flails*

Ahem.

Those beautifully-formatted words are from page one of the Perfect Assassin‘s page proofs.

Page proofs are all the words in the book laid out as they will be printed, which is why they look all Fancy and Real. Somebody has already gone through, page by page by page and line by line by line, and made sure everything is lined up just right and that there aren’t any pages with a single word/line on them or there aren’t any single lines/words just
hanging out.*

My job is to find any lingering errors, be they missing words, misplaced words, or misspelled words. My job is to make sure any changes made during copy edits made it into this version. My job is NOT to change sentences / paragraphs / entire chapters. If I attempt to anyway, I am 100% certain my editor will personally fly all the way to Michigan, find my house, and swat my hand.

Because at this point, this book has already been through rewrites, revisions, edits, copy edits, and countless eyes – including my own – that have checked and double-checked every word and phrase. One must just be able to let things go at some point, right?

Thankfully, after spending a week with these pages, I’m still not feeling the urge to carve them up wholesale. In fact, I wasn’t even tempted to pluck out entire paragraphs. I allowed myself a few changes for flow, a few changes for clarification, and a few changes for plot reasons, and then there was that final leech that hadn’t been changed to leach.

Seriously, I can’t be the only one who didn’t realize there was a difference.

Yet more than a few times I had introduced the practice of using blood-sucking leeches into a dry, sub-Saharanesque desert instead of simply leaching something away. Welp. Apparently I’m still learning English after all these years.

The changes were/are minimal at this point, so really I just got to take a moment and read the story all the way through. It’d been long enough, and looked different enough, that I could almost pretend to be a reader, almost see it as someone outside my head might.

And if the fact that I’ve read this ad nauseam and still get caught up in the second half is any indicator… maybe this book will do all right out there in the world.

Wow guys. Guys. Less than a year guys. Guys.

It’s hard to believe that this time last year I was still hacking through rewrites, uncertain if I’d ever make it work. And now, a year after I sent this thing to betas with so many apologies for how rough and choppy it still was, it’s in the final polishing stages and is very close to becoming real.

You’d think this would make me feel better about how choppy and rough book 3 is right now.

You’d be wrong.

So I’m going to allow myself a few days in the sun and air with the pretty and complete before diving back into the messy darkness of rewrites.

…preeetttyy

*These are called widows and orphans.