Seven Things You Need to Know About After the Book Deal

By Maria E. Andreu

18079898Have you ever noticed that, in romantic comedies, the end is very often a wedding? What’s up with that? Love stories don’t end at a wedding. That’s when real life begins, the business of figuring out who does the laundry, where you’re going to live, and how in the world you figure out where you spend Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s the same thing with publishing. The day you ink the book deal may be the happy ending in the movie version, but in real life it’s just the start of the story.

After many years of dreaming of being a writer, I got my movie-worthy happy ending. I got the first agent I pitched for The Secret Side of Empty, from a house so prestigious just reading their client list gives me goose bumps. We sold the book in the first round of submissions to a publisher who has done amazing things for the book, truly an ideal publisher for my first time at the rodeo. (And there was more than one offer to weigh). Anyone who hears my publishing story wants to stop me there and sort of bask in the moment, happy in the knowledge that it does happen that way sometimes. And it does.

But then you wake up the next day.

Just like no one tells you what to do once you get back from the honeymoon, here are 7 things no one will tell you about what it’s like AFTER the book deal.

  1. Editing is terrifying. Sure, you’ve edited before. You’ve joined critique groups. Maybe you’ve been brave and gone to pitch slams and other places where your words have been torn apart and criticized. Great. Now you’ll have a team of bona-fide professionals poring over your every word. I got an editorial letter so detailed that I shut the document immediately after seeing its page count (let’s just say this: it was in the double digits) and couldn’t make myself open it for 2 weeks. Be prepared. It’s not about you. It’s about making the work the best it can be.
  2. Book promotion is exhausting. Yes, you’ve waited your whole life for it. Yes, you’re going to love most of it. And you’re going to be exhausted anyway. You’ll be thrilled to learn that your publisher will schedule a blog tour for you (maybe, if you’re lucky). You’ll forget that it means you’ll have to actually write all those posts, answer all those interview questions, send head shots, book covers and photos of your frizzy hair in the 8th grade or the bicycle you learned to ride on. Then you’ll go to schools, libraries, festivals, and grocery stores and auto body shops too, if they’ll take you. Fun, yes. Mostly. Take naps now.
  3. Your launch date is not real. Just like a lot of brides stress the wedding and forget it’s actually a marriage they should be planning, so too a lot of authors obsessively plan the Twitter party and Tumblr extravaganza that will be their Launch Day, forgetting that it isn’t really even a Real Thing. My books shipped almost 3 weeks early. When I asked, a helpful professional told me, “Unless your name is J.K. Rowling, no one’s taking up warehouse space to perfectly orchestrate your big reveal.” It will help you to remember that book promotion, like a marriage, is something that you’re in for the long haul. So don’t stress the day so much and come up with a long-term strategy.
  4. It’s a crowded marketplace. You thought it was hard to get attention when you were in the throng of hopefuls? Wait until you see your book on a shelf full of all the others who broke out of the pack. You’ve got a couple of seconds to catch a potential reader’s attention, online and off. If the competition of trying to get published bothers you, you should know it doesn’t stop after your book is out in the world.
  5. Reviews hurt. Bad reviews can cut you to the quick. Even good ones can sometimes leave you scratching your head. Much ink has been spilled advising writers not to let critics get to them. That’s great advice. Also pretty hard to follow, particularly at first when you’re hungry for any sign of how your book is doing and what people think. My advice is to ignore reviews completely – good and bad. It is advice you will not follow. Hold on, I’ve got to go check my Goodreads page real quick.
  6. People will find things in your book you didn’t realize were there. I’ve had readers ask me about love triangles I didn’t intend to include and legislation I didn’t mean to reference. I’ve had readers write to tell me they love a character and a whole bunch of others reach out to tell me how much they loathe that very same character. All with supporting evidence. When you release your book out into the world, it is no longer yours alone.
  7. It will be hard to find time to write. Do you struggle with finding time now? Imagine having all the responsibilities you have now, except take away a lot of your free time on weekends and evenings (because you’re at book festivals and you’re writing blog posts). Now write. That’s what it’s like to try to write books # 2, 3 and beyond.

Lest I seem like too much of a downer, let me say that publishing my debut novel has been magical, the culmination of a lifelong dream. I’ve been honored to speak at schools and libraries and events all over the country and have received wonderful attention from the trade reviewers. I’ve gotten the tingles when I discovered that my book is in libraries as far away as Singapore, Australia, and Egypt, as well as across the United States. Just imagine… my words being read by someone right now somewhere halfway around the globe. Amazing! I share my “things no one will tell you” not to discourage you, but to invite you to look at the whole picture. Like anything worth striving for – a marriage, parenthood, career – publishing a book is a massive undertaking with highs and lows. Once you reach the peak of Published Author, there is another one, just as big, right in front of you. Then another, and another, all the way to the horizon. And that’s what makes it beautiful.

Maria AndreuMaria E. Andreu is the author of the novel The Secret Side of Empty, the story of a teen girl who is American in every way but one: on paper. She was brought to the U.S. as a baby and is now undocumented in the eyes of the law. The author draws on her own experiences as an undocumented teen to give a glimpse into the fear, frustration and, ultimately, the strength that comes from being “illegal” in your own home.

Now a citizen thanks to legislation in the 1980s, Maria resides in a New York City suburb with all her “two’s”: her two children, two dogs and two cats. She speaks on the subject of immigration and its effect on individuals, especially children. When not writing or speaking, you can find her babying her iris garden and reading post apocalyptic fiction. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

The Secret Side of Empty has received positive reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly, among others. The novel was also the National Indie Book Award Winner and a Junior Library Guild Selection.

The Road to Publishing: Giving Good Feedback to Fellow Writers

By Stephanie Guerra

Last month, I began a two-post series addressing the most productive ways to work with beta readers and critique groups. The first installment focused on receiving feedback; in this post, I’ll focus on how to offer good feedback.

Beta readers and critique groups are critical to the writing process, and many successful authors find a long-term writing partner with whom they work productively for years. How can you nurture critique relationships—notoriously sensitive—so that they grow and flourish?

Here’s a quick and dirty list of strategies:

peer review1. Ask the type and level of feedback your partner is seeking. Type addresses the range of feedback your partner desires. Global? Character-focused? Plot-focused? Language-focused? Line-editing? Level addresses the thoroughness of your feedback. For a first draft, many writers want general, light feedback, including global impressions of plot and characters. If you pick apart the draft line by line, your partner may be overwhelmed. Be sure to clarify what he or she is looking for before diving in.

2. Offer an even trade. If someone has given you careful, in-depth feedback on one of your manuscripts, be sure to reciprocate in full. Do not read through his or her work quickly and toss off your thoughts as you hurry to get back to your own project. Your writing partner is relying on you and may make significant changes to their manuscript based on your advice. So give his or her work the time and respect it deserves.

3. Link up with writers who are roughly in your skill/professional range. Great disparities in talent can cause awkwardness, and trades may not be productive for the more advanced partner. That said, if you’re willing to consider a mentor relationship (no matter which end you’re on), go for it! Just don’t expect that trades will be “even”.

4. Find the positives. This seems obvious, but having been through an MFA, I know it needs to be said. Critique partners should be honest—but not brutally honest. Remember that no matter how elementary or flawed your partner’s work appears to you, it represents their effort and passion. Find at least three things to praise before you point out what’s not working.

5. Watch for cues. In the case of verbal feedback, watch and listen to the writer’s facial expressions, body language, and words as they receive feedback. If you sense distress, stop. Bring up the positives. Inspiration is a fragile thing and people have varying degrees of sensitivity about their work. You don’t want to be the Dream Crusher.

Editing16. Know when to back out. Sometimes (especially on first trades, but
occasionally with tried-and-true partners) you’ll run into a piece you simply can’t stomach. Maybe the writing is terrible. Maybe the message goes against everything you believe. Maybe the manuscript feels too commercial. Whatever the reason, if you can’t stand it, you won’t be able to offer a good or fair critique. Be diplomatic: “I’m having a hard time with this piece. I’m not experienced with this genre/topic/style. I’m afraid my political views are getting in the way of my ability to hear your story.” Whatever. Let the writer know you’re biased, and wiggle out gently.

7. Have boundaries. This is a good life rule, no? It definitely applies to writing. Critiques are so personal, and for many, so emotional, that they can unleash a storm of follow-up emails and phone calls. If you feel that someone is demanding more of your time and hand-holding than makes you comfortable, repeat (in as many different ways as you need to): “I really don’t have anything to add to what I’ve already said. But good luck.”

8. Don’t argue. Some writers can’t help themselves; they’re compelled to defend their work in the face of a critique. If you’re the partner giving feedback in this situation, don’t engage. Offer your counsel, and let the writer argue and justify if they need to. It’s all part of the process. Some people work things out verbally.

9. Don’t be the alpha critic. I borrowed this one from William Zinsser. Nobody likes the snide, superior critic who has scathing reviews of everything! ‘Nuf said.

10. Be open-minded. You’ll run into all kinds of manuscripts on the trade routes, not all of them your cup of tea. Remember, you’re not buying the book. Unless you have a visceral hatred of the work (see number 6), give it a fair shot. Try to separate your personal taste from your professional knowledge of character development, plot trajectory, etc. If personal taste is causing your review to slant negative or positive, rethink your approach.

A New Year = New Goals and Features

Happy New Year, Feliz Año Nuevo, Feliz Ano Novo from Latin@s in Kid Lit!

We’re excited to begin our first full year online. With this new year, we have added features and ambitious personal goals. First, though, let’s recap our last few months.

We launched on Sept. 16,2013,  to coincide with National Hispanic Heritage Month. Since then, we have published 20 posts, which included our “Road to Publishing” series, guest posts, and Q&As.

We gave away 12 awesome books during our 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway, and we’ve had more than 4,000 hits from visitors all over the world. Our top 10 countries are: U.S., Canada, Philippines,UK, Netherlands, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Uruguay, Spain, and Ireland. Our single best day was when we posted a Q&A with illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal, and our most popular post overall was about our 2014 Reading Challenge.

The Reading Challenge will be a year-long project. We’ll check-in on our participants and post links to reviews of books by/for/about Latin@s. So far, we have 22 official participants, although many others have spread the word and given us positive feedback. We’d love for more people to join us, which you can do any time during the year.

We were planning to craft a post about why it’s so important to support diversity in kid lit not only in general, but specifically through our purchasing and reading choices. But, then Kayla Whaley did it so well, we reblogged her post. If you haven’t read it, you should. She makes the point so well. We can SAY we support diversity in kid lit, but we should also DO something about it. What we all can do is be more conscious of what we buy, borrow from the library, read, and review/share.

To further celebrate Latin@ kid lit, we are adding a new feature on Thursdays called “Libros Latin@s.” These will be “book talks” of children’s, middle grade, and young adult books that are written by or feature Latin@s. The book talks will include: information about the book and author, teaching tips, Lexile level (if available), other books by the author, and links for more information.

Sujei Lugo, our newest member and a children’s book specialist, will handle the picture book “book talks.” She is also beefing up our Children’s Book Lists with English, Spanish, and bilingual titles. Because of her additions, we have split the category into two sections! We encourage authors, editors, and publishers to alert us about titles we should add to any of the lists.

In addition to working on the site, we each also have personal and professional goals. Here they are:

Yoda WisdomZoraida: In 2014 my motto is “Do or do not, there is no try.” It’s a reminder to myself to do my very best. Plus, wisdom from Yoda never hurt anyone. I’m going out with an adult contemporary romance proposal, as well as a YA urban fantasy that centers around a family of Brujas. If there is time (*has a Jesse Spano moment*) I want to revisit the first YA I ever wrote, about a rebellious Ecuadorian girl who turns her quinceañera upside down.

Then there’s the non-writing stuff: have a six pack (the ab kind, not the beer kind), go to the beach, visit Disney for my birthday, learn to play the ukulele (I already bought one), make more art (the painting kind), and you know, fall in love.

Also, Zoraida’s The Vast and Brutal Sea (The Vicious Deep 3) comes out July 1, 2014!

Stephanie: My resolution is to write a picture book for my daughter.

Ashley: Writing goal: take 15 minutes a day to plant and water seeds for novel #4. Personal goal: cook a wider variety of foods (using menus from “The Fresh 20”). Academic goal:  finish and defend my dissertation.

Cindy: Writing: I will do whatever’s needed to support my debut novel, which will be in production this year! I’ll also revise my second book and get it ready for submission. Reading: I’ll read 12 or more Latin@ kid lit books and as many debuts from the OneFour KidLit crew and ARCs from the Fearless Fifteeners. Personal: I’d like to lose 10-20 pounds, and as Zoraida said, you know, fall in love.

Lila: My resolutions are to finish the middle-grade novel I’m working on, to read 12 or more Latin@ kid lit books, and to lose ten pounds. Guess which will be toughest?

Quote for 2014

Best wishes to everyone this new year! May you reach all your goals and may all your dreams come true!

The Road to Publishing: Receiving Feedback from Beta Readers & Critique Groups

For this series of posts, we are writing about the road to publishing. You should start with our overview. Today, Stephanie discusses beta readers and critique groups.

By Stephanie Guerra

How important are beta readers and critique groups to the writing process? Take a look at any acknowledgments page for a quick answer: very. Beta readers provide much-needed perspective for authors who’ve seen the same pages often enough to recite them from memory. They contribute feedback that ranges from formative to collaborative to editorial to cosmetic. Some of the feedback is valuable; some isn’t. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

I’d like to share a list of tips for the most effective ways to work with beta readers and critique groups. This list is focused on productively receiving feedback; I’ll post another later on giving effective feedback.

Over the past decade, I’ve done an MFA in creative writing, I’ve had critique partners, I’ve participated in writing groups, I’ve worked with teachers who run student writing groups, and I’ve taken four books through the editorial process. Please take what’s useful from my thoughts; leave the rest. That’s the first rule for this list and any other advice you’re offered as a writer!

Seek criticism. Seems obvious, right? But many writers secretly want cheer leading rather than tough feedback—and many beta readers and critique groups are (understandably) hesitant to offer truly honest criticism. Writers tend to be sensitive and beta readers are often friends or colleagues with investment in the relationship. My strategy is to insist verbally and then repeat in an email that I want the toughest criticism my beta reader can offer, and that I see it as a major gift. If the critique still comes back too glowing, I’ll ask further questions, specifically targeting areas I know need work.

Don’t argue or explain. Resist the temptation to justify your work. When a beta reader offers criticism, take it as the gift that it is, take notes (if appropriate), and listen carefully. If the feedback raises further questions, feel free to ask them. But don’t tell the beta reader why they’re wrong or what they missed.

Choose your critique partners and beta readers carefully. Not everyone is skilled at offering useful feedback. It’s best when your partners are professional writers as good as or better than you, industry professionals, or literature/writing professors. Of course, that’s in an ideal world. Many people who are simply avid readers can give great feedback, especially when guided by questions from the author.

Try out different writing group formats. There are many ways of running critique groups. One popular method involves members reading aloud from their work while the group follows along on hard copies, making notes. After the reading, there’s a group discussion. I find this method frustrating in general but sometimes useful for moral support and fine-tuning. I’m a novelist and I need big-picture feedback on full manuscript drafts. However, this format works well for people who want to take a picture book, short piece of writing, or single scene to the next level.

Image from Creative Commons

Another format involves emailing work ahead of time to members, who then read it and prepare feedback (usually in writing) to be discussed at the meeting. I like this option better than the first; I think digestion time is conducive to stronger feedback.

However, after ten years of experimenting, I’ve decided writing groups eat up too much of my time without enough to show for it. I now focus exclusively on manuscript trades (or other trades) with trusted writer friends and beta readers.

Offer trades. Don’t lose sight of the fact that when you ask for feedback, you’re asking for a significant amount of work from someone. No matter how graciously your reader refuses, insist on a trade of some sort. If he or she is a novelist, offer a critique—even if it’s a future critique. If your reader is in another line of work, offer something. And don’t take no for an answer. Free babysitting, a gift card, a gift basket… something to show you recognize and appreciate his or her time and effort.

Don’t ask for another read too quickly on the heels of the first. (e.g. “I made some changes. Now could you read it again and tell me what you think?”) First of all, the changes you made probably aren’t as significant as you think they are. Second, it can be torture to reread anything but a cherished classic, let alone someone else’s work-in-progress. If at all possible, seek a different reader for the new draft.

Guide the feedback. Don’t be afraid to state exactly what you’re hoping to get out of a critique. “I’m ready to submit this and all I want is fine tuning and line editing.” Or “I’m struggling with the narrative arc, and need you to tell me where it feels slow.” Or “Can you read for Joanna’s character, paying attention to when you start to distrust her and when you know for sure she’s mentally ill?” Be specific and offer a written list of questions or areas of concern.

patienceBe patient. You handed off the manuscript yesterday, you’re doing the math, and if your book was really interesting, he’d have started last night and finished by now! So where’s his email? A joke, but not that far off from how some of us feel when handing off our newborn. Remember that the urgency is yours and yours alone. The manuscript is just another thing on your beta reader’s giant to-do pile. So cut him or her some slack. Don’t pester. I’d say two months is a fair wait before a nudge. (Although I’d skip nudging altogether if possible.

Notice trends. If you hear the same feedback from several readers, it’s definitely something to work on.

Know your readers and their talents. People have different kinds and levels of skill in offering feedback. Some are great at big-picture feedback. Some can nail plot problems and suggest fixes. Others have a feel for characters or language. And a few gems can do everything. Know your beta readers’ strengths and ask for critiques correspondingly. For instance, don’t give your copy editor friend a first draft. Do ask your character-savvy reader to take a look at an early draft to give a thumbs up or down to your cast.

I thought I’d stop with ten, but this one has to be said. Enjoy the process, take the criticism, and realize that none of this is a huge deal in the grand scheme. We’re just lucky to be writing!