Getting published is a real be-yatch! Hear about my ups, downs and a few random rants in between.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Writing By Numbers

Writing is no numbers game.

You know how you can do just about anything else and use time to gauge your progress?

Working out
Work out for thirty minutes and you'll get your sweat on, lose some fluid, burn some cals. Do this a few times a week and soon the ol' LBs start melting.

No doubt, you read for a few hours and you're at the crux of the plot. Hell, for me, a few hours of reading usually means I'll finish a book.

Gardening, cooking, anything else can be done by the numbers. Put in the time, get the job done.

Key word being DONE.

Well, you can't do that with least, not with edits and revisions.

Play the writing game by the numbers and you'll lose.

Here's how I know...

I'm deep into second round edits on DRAMA. Being that the full-time gig isn't easily blown off, I've tried to write by numbers to meet my deadline i.e. today I'm going to write for at least four hours OR I'm going to get through forty pages.

Well, let me tell you - when you're not relying on your muse or a writing whim to get you through, it ain't easy getting through forty pages of editorial feedback.

Unless we're talking pure line edits.

And you can write for four hours and still be on one damn scene.

I can't be alone here.

God, I hope not. If so, I'm the most hoplessly dense writer on earth.

The other day, I promised myself I'd get through twenty pages. Seemed realistic, given I had other things on my plate that couldn't be ignored.

How about ten pages in, I ran into a single scene that ended up taking oh...about two hours to finesse.

I managed to get through the next ten pages, eventually, only because they,Thank God, were mostly line edits.

Then today, I'm rolling along rather smoothly. I look up and I've been writing for five hours. FIVE.

I was pleased as hell until I realized that 1) ninety percent of the meaty editorial remarks were in the pages I hadn't gotten to and 2)I'd only gone through about twenty pages in that five hours.

Not saying twenty pages isn't progress...just saying, I felt like I should have been farther along.

Considering I have another twenty pages to go, you'd think - okay maybe another five hour will do it.

But I have twenty pages chock full of editorial remarks, not line edits!


The only time the numbers game works in writing is when you're trying to mandate writing time in the day. If the page is blank and you say you're going to write fifteen pages or write for at least two hours - you can proudly look at your progress when you're done.

Sadly, it doesn't work quite the same when you're revising.

C'est la vie, eh?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Nah, that ain't me

I took this personality test and knew right away it wouldn't truly reflect me.

The thing is, I'm both a thinker and a feeler. I don't know how both these things exist in me so equally. They just do.

The professions they picked out for me are dead wrong. I wouldn't last two seconds as a mathematician or programmer. Math makes me retch and programming takes way too much attention to detail.

I answered the questions honestly. There are some things I'm 100% analytical about, while others I'm much more free-spirited. and willling to let my muse handle.

Just goes to show, some of us can't be boxed in.

You Are An INTP

The Thinker

You are analytical and logical - and on a quest to learn everything you can.
Smart and complex, you always love a new intellectual challenge.
Your biggest pet peeve is people who slow you down with trivial chit chat.
A quiet maverick, you tend to ignore rules and authority whenever you feel like it.

You would make an excellent mathematician, programmer, or professor.

Friday, July 21, 2006

I Heart New York!

It's almost that time, again. P is heading to NYC.

That's right, the Big Apple. La Grande Pomme.

My love affair with New York goes all the way back to pig tails and knee socks. My dad had fam in Brooklyn and it was nothing for he and my mother to go all spontaneous and pack the car up and head to New York. Mind you, it's a five-hour car ride all day long. Maybe four.

Either way, if that were me, spontaneity would run out somewhere around Western Maryland, 'cause that alone is about two hours away from where we lived.

Thank God my parents were so wild and crazy, because their spur-of-the-moment jaunts exposed me to the hustle and bustle that is New York City. And I've had a special place in my heart for it since.

Instead of heading to the beach after prom, me and my now husband went to New York. I'd post pictures, but I swear I have on this one outfit that I have yet to figure out the origins. Either I was still very hung over from prom night or the 80's was just whack!

Unfortunately, I am not nearly as free-spirited as my parents.

Yikes! Did I actually write that?

What I meant was, the thought of driving somewhere for five hours is about as appealing as having someone stuff bamboo shoots under my nails. Still, any chance I get I'll head to New York. So me and Amtrak got a little special thing going on.

In two weeks, we're packing up the girls and heading to the bright lights of Midtown. It's part business and part P's obsessh with New York City.

I finally get to meet my wonderful eddy (Hi Stacey!)and she'll get to see I'm not nearly as insane as my emails portray me.

Now, this is going to make me seem really un-spontaneous. But I'm sitting here trying to map out an itinerary for the trip.

Wait. Before you roll your eyes. I'm not usually an itinerary person. Honest!

When we go on vacation, the schedule is strictly: eat, sleep, relax, start over! We end up where we end up and there are no mentions of scheduling or being somewhere at a certain time.

But NYC is not Myrtle Beach. And since we're only there a few days - a portion of which I'll be doing book biz - I feel strongly that I need to map out the best way to get some sites seen.

I'm a firm believer that the best way to see New York is with a New Yorker. But since my schedule is a bit bizarro, two meetings stuck in the middle of the afternoon, I may have to resort to a...::sigh::: guided tour!

I know, I know. It's so not New York to do that.

But I want my daughter and my cousin, who we're bringing along for Princess A's company, to see some of the things they only hear about on television. Yeah, yeah to some that's not the real New York. But to two 11 year-olds it is. And I'm happy to indulge their vision of New York. A tour may be the only way.

I no longer have family there. And it would be an imposition to ask someone to remain on stand-by just to show us around. So I'm seriously considering one of the Hop on/Hop off type tours.

Meh, we'll see.

Last time I was there, Princess A and I went for a little walk to Central Park, in the rain, then had coffee at Trump Plaza. She was thrilled. So it doesn't take much. The mere sight of the sky scrapers and the MTV building is fascinating to her. So, you know, we'll wing long as it falls in line with the itinerary.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

YA Authors Rock!

I went to the book signing for Diana Peterfreund's, Secret Society Girl, tonight. Nevermind that it was hot as Hades today. Or that today was my cheer squad's annual pool party (and I only got to stay for thirty minutes). Or that the prospect of running into traffic on the beltway is a given on almost any day, any time. Or, that by the time I got up to White Flint, a storm was a' brewing.

I was determined to attend this signing.


Because the YA author community is among one of the most supportive I've ever been a part and this time I wanted to show some love back.

I couldn't make it to the Hopkins Lit Fair in the fall to see my girl, Kelly Starling Lyons, because Princess A was getting micros that day.

And it's always going to be something. So today I pushed through it all and dove in, hoping it will make it that much easier next time.

I've met some really great authors, mostly women, over the last year since venturing into the Yahoo Teen Chick Lit Loop and Verla Kay's. Some of these women have book deals so sweet, it would make your toes curl. I'm saying, they make getting a book deal look easy - when most of us know, it ain't so.

When you see it done all around you, you feel like, "Yeah, maybe I can do this." And then you look up and you are doing it.

But it's the sharing that gets me every time. No matter how many times a fellow YA author shares their experiences, contacts, or a few pints of cyber chunky monkey in the wake of another's rejection, I'm in awe.

We don't have to share. We can be selfish if we want.

I mean, we write our books alone. Why bother to help out another?

But the YA community just isn't built like that.

It's wonderfully open and gregariously girly when it embraces newcomers (sorry fella's - I know you're out there too.)

So, nothing was going to keep me from Diana's signing. And I'm so glad it didn't.

She had a great crowd at the White Flint Borders Books & Music.

I marveled at the people who, while waiting for her to sign, started reading the book as if they literally couldn't wait to get home.

Diana was all smiles, warm and inviting. That's her waving to my mom, who I dragged along as my camera lady. Actually, she's also a total author groupie like me...where do ya' think I got it from? (Yeah, yeah the pix is blurred. Mom was also pulling double duty keeping an eye on Princess Bea.)

And there we are again...boy, am I really that short? Darn red carpet paparazzi...I thought they were supposed to call our names so we'd know which way to look.

Diana and I were meeting, in person, for the first time tonight. But you would never know it. She promoted my book as she introduced me to a few of her friends and family. So much so, the woman behind me in line asked me write down my name and book title so she'd remember in March.

Now see what I mean?

I come out to show Diana some love and she ends up showing it back, already.

Shoot, I forgot to slip her that $20 on my way out. Ha,ha!

Monday, July 17, 2006


A friend of mine is seven months pregnant. One day I came into the office and her desk was neat and organized.

I noticed this because both of us tend to have very stream-of-consciousness explosion type messes all over our desks. I like to blame mine on being a creative mind. And for those of you saying "BS, P, you're just a slacker when it comes to filing," I say, touche and live and let live.

But, her desk was so clean I had to point it out. I mean, why on earth did she clean her desk? It made mine look twice as cluttered.

She said she found herself nesting. The instinct started when she was home, prepping the baby's new room and clearing the house of clutter, then simply extended to the office.

I'm quite envious of her desk. It looks so pristine. Sadly, I have no urge to delve through the multiple piles of paper on my desk. Besides, it will completely ruin my filing "system."

However, I too have begun to nest for my baby due to arrive in March. The last week I've awoken, each day, with a burning in my gut to get moving on marketing and PR strategy.

For months I've tried to ignore this component. Editing can be difficult when my mind is wandering towards school visits and book fairs. So I've managed to keep thoughts of marketing at bay until now.

On Monday, I began thinking about book reviewers. On Tuesday, actively seeking more teen reader friends on Myspace invaded my thoughts. By Sunday morning, I was up at the crack of dawn writing down how far out I'll focus my primary marketing and PR efforts.

I'm chomping at the bit to speak to my editor about such things. For the most part, I'm sure my pub already knows what they will and won't do from a marketing perspective. So my urge to have a discussion about this is less about my influencing their decision and more about ensuring that the thoughts in my head will indeed supplement their initiatives.

And while my book is certainly not a newborn child, my instinct to nest is very, very real. It wakes me in the morning (just like my novel used to when it was begging to be written), nags at me mid-day and lingers at the edge of my mind at night.

I find myself writing random notes of potential activities and researching more than ever to link up with the right organizations, people and places. It's a comforting feeling, makes the whole process real.

I'm about seven months away from book release and the call of PR is as strong as the call of the wild for Marty in Madagascar (sorry, I watched that with the Princesses last night for like the billonth time). It's about as good analogy as any.

I imagine, the way I feel is similar to how an animal feels around mating season - so attracted to a notion that you wander toward it, never really knowing what you're walking into until you're in the middle of doing it.

I may wake up in March standing in a classroom talking about creative writing with my book in my hand and think, "Hey, wasn't it just July?"

Let's just hope it's not one of those crazy naked dreams. Just me and DRAMA in our birthday suits.

Look away, kids, look away!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Ol School, Nu School, No School Rules

Everything is either old school (rooted in the traditional) or new school (a contemporary take). But, now hear this! Often they can peacefully co-exist without one having to be better than the other.

I don't know if it's the old schoolers refusing to acknowledge that some change is good - indoor plumbing, anyone? Or if it's cocky new jacks always thinking progress equals better. Have you looked at kids' handwriting these days? Penmenship's gone to hell thanks in large part to all that time on the PC.

Progress is good. But nothing, I mean nothing, is wrong with keeping some things rooted in tradition.

So, P, you're saying, what the hell are you ranting about now?

Well, I recently read Sharon G. Flake's Begging For Change. Really good book about a young girl who is no stranger to hard times. It's a story about redemption and friendship.

Wait...aren't most stories?

Nevermind. It's a good book. It's also the type of book that many stories revolved around African American characters are modeled: urban family + struggle = cha-ching and/or Coretta Scott King or Caldecott Awards.

The other traditonal formula is sharecroppers (or slaves) + struggle = cha-ching and/or Coretta Scott King or Caldecott Awards.

Seeing a pattern here?

Ahh, thought you would.

Old school YA's with black characters are almost always inspirational stories, message-based.

Though Begging For Change has a more contemporary twist - it isn't heavily saturated with message like most old school African American YA's are - the use of the "formula" makes it an ol' school/nu school hybrid of sorts.

And you know what? I'm cool with that.

A little message and inspiration never heart anyone. But neither did a fun, escape from the serious.

Sometimes you've gotta feed your mind, other times your funny bone. Neither book is better than the other.

I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Mildred Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry series. Gushed like a girl being asked out by her crush, this past spring, when talking to my daughter's teacher about the fact that she'd chosen it for the class to read. But when I was my daughter's age, those were the only type of stories that had black characters.

A girl can only read so many stories set in the 1930's.

When I looked up a few years ago, I realized that in addition to the proud, sharecropper family, there were also the hard-luck inner city stories growing in popularity. Great.

Come one, come all but...about seven decades and a more diverse portrayal of African Americans remained missing from YA lit.

As I read, Begging for Change, a thought - not so new - coursed through my head. Will my book, in it's bubble gum outlook on life, be embraced by the faceless, nameless pundits that speak for the black community?

Without a message, will it fall flat? Not among readers, but among educators, judges for lit awards - you know, people who help get your book placed in libraries and such.

I don't know. And I'm not losing sleep over it.

But, before March 2007, I would like for the old school and new school to bury the hatchet.

Let's agree to disagree on whether the original bell bottoms or today's flared leg jeans are sexier; if classic soul is more relevant than Hip Hop; if Denzel Washington has made greater strides than Sidney Poitier and if books with black characters absolutely must teach a lesson or uplift the race.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Growing Pains

It's tough to push your baby bird out of the nest.

You've assured them that if they simply flap their wings they'll soar. Yet, as they topple uneasily, from your safety, headfirst toward the ground, you hold your breath muttering, "fly, fly dammit," and pray they don't go splat. Finally, they dip and head upwards rising to the treetops, chirping at their success.

You sigh, relieved, then crow, "See? Didn't mommy tell you it would be okay?" as if you had no doubts at all.

It's all about the growing pains - yours and theirs.

Yesterday, Princess A started summer camp.

Dread is the best word to describe how she felt about going to camp, this year. Actually the last few years. She hasn't looked forward to day camp since about third grade.

But hey, working parent here. What else is she going to do? Sit home and become an MTV Jams Zombie?

When the King and I dropped her off, her face was long. You would have thought it was a P.O.W. camp instead of a Teen Extreme camp that takes the kids on field trips every day. This week alone they're hitting an amusement park, going canoeing, to a swim club and lazer tag. Tough life!

She took a quick glance at the kids, gathered around the tables, and groaned. The only familiar face was some girl, for reasons only known to her, she hated.

And I'm not unsympathetic. She's in middle school and I understand. Middle school kids are all about cliques, their safety blanket. God forbid they attend any function without their friends. The attitude is - I have all the friends I need. I don't need or want to meet any new ones.

I assured her for the fafillionth time that she'd make friends. She always did. And, I reminded her, she always ended up enjoying camp, no matter how reluctant she felt at the start of the day.

Yet, as I drove away my stomach was as full of butterflies as hers. I fretted off and on, all day. I thought about calling her cell phone, mid-day, to see how things were going. But give me a cookie. Because I didn't!

When we drove to the Pavillion for pick-up, she was sitting around the table shooting the bo-bo with several other girls, smiling and laughing. And I didn't waste one minute with my, "Ha! Told you so," as she settled into the car.

June Cleaver, I ain't.

Secretly, I was very pleased. Not because I was right. But because, in the back of my head, I worried that this might be the year she ends up having a terrible camp experience. Ostracized by both kids and counselors, destined to spend the summer off in a corner swaddled in gemp (that colorful, plasticy stuff). Cursing myself for not being one of those moms who can be home with my kids.

I can still identify with the awkward teen in myself. I remember how painful ice-breaker moments are. Guess that's why I write YA.

I also know that, in the end, she'll be a much more well-rounded person thanks to being pushed out of her comfort zone each summer. None of her friends have ever attended camp with her. She's had to start from square one, each summer, and make new ones. They're summer friendships. None of her camp friends have gone on to become BFF's beyond August.

But that's beside the point.

I don't mind her cherishing her clique. But there's always life outside of it. And I love to see her fly on her own.

Now that I think on it, mom could take some of her own advice.

I have my own growing pains when it comes to my writing. My agent is the mother-figure. And let me tell you, she's a much more patient mom than I am.

Late afternoon calls with me worrying about some component of my writing career or another and long-winded emails as I ponder my options, are all versions of me circling the nest afraid to jump.

And her advice is the nudge, necessary, to topple me out of the tree.

The difference between me and Jen vs. how I deal with my daughter?

I usually only have to nudge my daughter out of the nest once a summer and maybe one other time during the school year. Poor Jen has to nudge me out of the tree with ever new step I take toward publication.

Sorry, Jen!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Hurry up and Wait!

That should be the official tagline of the entire publishing industry. Just about everything about publishing is rushing (us writers, eager to turn out good material in hopes of snagging a contract) and waiting (lots and lots of waiting).

I've become so "good" at waiting that I fear no lightning strike if I say, the one thing writing has taught me is patience.

And while my agent is reading this laughing her ass off and muttering, "Patient? She wouldn't know patient if it poked her in the eye." The scary part is, I am MUCH more patient than I was before I jumped headfirst back into writing and began the submission process, three years ago.

But, ahem, back to the matter at hand.

Writers always want to know how long different parts of the process takes. And the overall answer, no matter the question, seems to be "It varies."


Want to know the average advance for a first book?

It varies.

How many words the average YA book should be?

It varies.

How many hours it takes P to put on her super cool rock star author face?

It varies.

Nah, only a few minutes. I'm a low-maintenance chick when it comes to getting glam -lip gloss, smack and go.

But "how long" is a typical question in writer's circles. As if knowing the answer will make the waiting any less painful. I'm not so sure that's the case. But "it varies" only served to frustrate me when I was doing my research on industry standards.

Some of us Type A's need a real answer, if only to have something to obsess over later.

So get out your notepads, class, because I've broken down exactly how long it takes for things to move from point A to point L.

NOTE: My book isn't out yet. I can't honestly sit here and tell you how to get to point Z until March.

So here it long does it take to:

Finish a book?

39 months give or take a few years. Because there's finished and there's FINISHED.

Some of us are ponderers and can take YEARS (literally) to finish a book. Others are more Speedy Gonzalez and write books in a matter of weeks (moi).

Finished by a writer's standard means it doesn't suck eggs and is good enough for people outside your familial circle to read without laughing directly in your face.

But I did say there's FINISHED and that's when the people who are paying you says it's done. Get back at me in about a month, because I'm still revising my very first book.

The little ticker in my head says, from the day I penned the novel until now is right around 39 months.

Get an agent?

Three months to a year.

This one is a toughie. But I promised not to waffle on any of these answers. You will always walk away with a hard figure...a soft figure...okay, an estimate based on my own experience.

Agent hunting - which, by the way, does not involve prowling the streets of New York with your manuscript and an oversized net - requires a great deal of research to sift out the nuts, whack jobs and scam artists. But once you do and begin submitting, it truly varies.

Sorry. I hate to use the "V" word. But, we're talking a very subjective industry, here. I'm sticking with the 3-12 month average, assuming the feedback you're getting from agents is along the lines of "your writing is good, just not for me."

My own experience would only skew the numbers.

It took me 24 months, because I worked with one agent for a full year before he finally rejected the book. Then I took four months off to re-assess the project before re-submitting. So the 12 month average is based on continuous searching and fertilizing agent-land with queries.

Find a publisher?

Okay, this I don't know much about because I took the agent route. But from what I hear from writers who submitted directly to publishers, this can be a very slow process.

I'll throw out some averages and say 6 to 18 months.

Any writer who has taken this road, please jump in with more accurate numbers, in case mine are snickerifically under or over estimated.

Sell a book?

Two to fifteen weeks

Don't anyone go jumping all over me for this one if they feel this is a terribly low estimate. P speaks only from her own corner of the publishing process, which is lit by the flame provided by my agent and editor.

In my own defense, this is based on multiple submissions and not exclusives. Exclusives always add lots o' time onto the process.

I'd love to say my book sold on that two week end. But ah, it didn't. And my book was also being subbed right around the Christmas holidays - so who knows how that affected this highly scientific timeline.

Sell your first 10,000+ books?

Yeah, I wish I knew. And I hope my answer will be, three months. But let's leave that for next year, shall we?

Make lots of money?

Wow, these things are tougher and tougher to answer. First, I'd need a definition on "lots."

Whew, dodged that bullet!

Become a real writer?

Easiest question of all. You're a real writer the second you put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard?) for the sheer joy of wanting to share stories with the world.

So, what have we learned about how long it takes to go from aspiring author to hiding behind your stunner shades dodging gaggles of enamored readers clamoring for your autograph?

That it varies.

Class dismissed.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Split Personality

"Split personality, split personality. I can't control my split personality." - UTFO/Split Personality

Ya' gotta be true old school rap to know who UTFO even is, much less know this song.

Today that song lyric describes how I'm feeling about life, in general. I'm feeling highly nostalgic and very torn between my priorities.

At a time when I'm experiencing a high in my career, I was just dealt a low in my personal life. One of my closest friends died last night. It wasn't expected. Not sure death ever is, even when it is.

Eddie was one of five of my best friends. He was a brother to me. We met when I was a soph and he was a junior. He flirted with me then tried to cheat off my algebra quiz and a friendship blossomed from there.

When the rest of us were license-less, Eddie had a license and a car. He drove us around everywhere, first in this beat up blue...Chevrolet, I think. Then he upgraded to a brand new Cavalier. One night he drove down the wrong way as we entered the Marley Station Mall.

Forgot to say, Eddie wore glasses and had terrible night vision! But no one else had a license, so he had to drive. It was one of the scariest and funniest moments ever. Us screaming that he was going the wrong way and him laughing. No other car tried to exit, at the time. Lucky for us.

He looked older than he was. So him and Rodney were able to buy beer and wine coolers when they were only 17 and 18. One time we tried to "get rid" of the evidence and Eddie called himself throwing the bottles into the woods behind my house.

The next day my father found them at the edge of the yard. We ribbed Eddie for years about how weak his arm was and how just one little umph of strength would have gotten the bottle into the woods enough to be ignored by my father cutting the grass.

Despite our antics we never got into any real trouble. And my years with the clique were so powerful that my YA books are pretty much dedicated to that period in my life.

High school doesn't feel that far away. I knew Eddie for 21 years. But like my husband pointed out last night, that wasn't long enough. I certainly thought I'd look back on our friendship many years from now and still laugh about the same old things that bonded us.

But now there are five of us instead of six and I feel split between the 15 year old me and the 35 year old me. I ache for Eddie's family. He was the man of his family once his dad passed in '98. He moved back in with his mom about four years ago to make life easier on her. And now he's gone, leaving his mom, two sisters, many, many friends and the clique to mourn him.

R.I.P. Big Ed!