Friday, November 30, 2012

A Big Wave Hello from Heather Marie: The Writer Who Wouldn't Give Up

When Stefanie and Leah invited me to be a part of The Secret Life, I didn't think twice. If there's one thing I love as much as writing, it's the chance to encourage other writers to keep going. Getting an agent is not easy, which was something I learned pretty quick. But thankfully, I had some amazing friends, both published and unpublished, who gave me all sorts of great advice and even took the time to read my work.

When I first started writing YA, which was around July of 2011, I didn't even know about the writing community on Twitter. I had an account, of course, but I didn't start following any agents or authors until well after I finished my first manuscript. Writing has always been a big part of my life, and as a kid I swore one day I'd become a published author. That dream dwindled after a while, because I knew that college wasn't for me and assumed I wouldn't get a chance if I didn't take classes. Silly, I know. It wasn't until one night last year that I decided it was now or never.

I wrote my first YA Fantasy titled In the Light of Anastasia. It revolved around a girl who discovered she was a Healer whose power came from the stars. Believe it or not, I later found out that there was a self published book with an identical premise that had almost every single thing similar to what happened in my book. I swear I'd never read it before. So anyway. It was complete at 43K and I was like, "I'm amazing! This is the best thing ever! I should query this." *shaking my head* Wow. What a newb! Needless to say, I got nearly a hundred rejections. However, I did get a request from a publishing company that was a complete joke. Though at the time I didn't know it. Nothing came of it, but even that little bit of hope (even if it was for nothing) gave me what I needed to continue.

I wrote a vampire novel titled Crimson shortly after. I mean, we all write a vampire book at some point right? Right. As you could imagine it got major rejections. No one even wanted to look at it. Now I get why, but at the time I was crushed. Let's not forget to mention that I knew nothing about critique partners or beta readers. This was all strictly me reading through my manuscript two or three times and thinking it was good to go. *le sigh*

My third book was titled Revival. It was a YA Urban Fantasy about yet another girl who had powers. I thought bringing a Paladin into the YA world would be original. Side note: One thing you learn along the way is that no idea is completely original. That's just cold hard facts. There's always gonna be something similar to your manuscript, whether it's big or small, it's there. With that, I collected yet another round of about seventy rejections.

Did that stop me? Nope.

My fourth book was THE one. It had to be. I remember telling my husband about it and he said, "This is it." I doubted him, because I didn't want to get my hopes up. He still says, "I told you so." HA!

So here's my query for the book that got me an agent.
Dear Michelle, 
Darkness surrounds sixteen-year-old Bailey Green when ghostly Hannah Melbrooke seeks to consume Bailey’s life––a life she believes should be her own. 
Having a ghost attached to you isn’t exactly what Bailey would call ideal. The victim of a drowning––an unknown force locks Hannah within the confines of Bailey’s bedroom for years. When Hannah escapes into the outside world, Bailey’s haunting burden becomes an impossible secret to keep. Bailey soon begins to see Hannah for who she really is––a spiteful soul looking for vengeance. 
When Hannah threatens the life of Bailey’s best friend, Eric Montgomery, she demands Bailey’s cooperation in her resurrection. Realizing her love for Eric is more than friendship, Bailey is willing to give whatever it takes to save him. But Bailey doesn’t know that the more she believes in Hannah, the stronger she becomes, granting her freedom from her prison. Bailey must find a way to defeat Hannah before she kills Eric and destroys Bailey’s life and soul.  
DROWNING BAILEY is a YA Horror with romantic elements complete at 56,000 words. It will interest fans of Anna Dressed in Blood and The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. I can be contacted at: and xxx-xxx-xxxx. 
I can also be found on Twitter at: xheatherxmariex
Thank you for considering my manuscript. 
Heather Marie
This goes to show that having a friend critique your query is a MUST. My original query was so long that my friend Jessica Taylor had to cut it down for me. She used everything I said, but helped me refine it so that it would capture an agent's attention, not put them to sleep. I was also very picky about who I queried this time around, making sure to pick the agents who really wanted horror/supernatural manuscripts.

In the end, I only sent out forty queries. Within two in a half months, I got seven requests. I've only ever received that one request from a not-so-reliable publishing company. So those seven requests were huge for me. I was ecstatic. I had originally stopped at thirty nine queries, but when Michelle Witte announced she had begun working with Mansion Street, I knew I had to query her. We had been corresponding through Twitter for sometime, and I knew she was interested in ghost stories and the like. DROWNING BAILEY showed me that writing horror/supernatural was my element and she was perfect for it.

When I got her request for a full, I flipped! She was who I wanted from the get go and I knew it in my heart. You can only imagine how I felt six weeks later when she asked to schedule a phone call. I had no doubts that Michelle and I would be perfect together and I know that even more so now. When she offered to represent me, a huge sense of accomplishment hit me. All of that hard work amounted to something and I have all my friends, betas, and critique partners to thank.

Well, this post got a little out of hand. I didn't realize I would write this much. Why don't we get to the giveaway, shall we? You have until Monday, December 3rd to enter to have the first 25 pages of your manuscript critiqued. Good luck!

Winner will be announced shortly! 
Thursday, November 29, 2012

Another Winner!

Yesterday's comments were so fun and kind and amazing to read. Thank you. I can't wait to get to know more of you writerly people out there!

The winner of my critique is...

Zoe M! 

Congrats, and I'm looking forward to reading your pages and query!

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Greeting from Kelsey Sutton: The Writer Who Kept Going

Hi, everyone! I am so excited to get the ball rolling for Secret Life, and to meet new readers, and to help and be helped as we all struggle along on this journey. So, that said, here we go. A post that will tell you way too much about me.

My name is Kelsey Sutton. I am a writer. (I know. I've shocked you, haven't I?) There has never been a time when I was not writing. As a child I would come home from school, pull out my plastic bin full of markers and paper, and arrange everything around me in a circle. I would then fold some paper in half, staple the side three times, and proceed to fill the white spaces with words and pictures.

Since a main focus of this blog is transparency - revealing parts of our journey that aren't usually shared - I'll go all the way back. The first novel I ever finished was so thick it could have served as a doorstop. It was about Victorian vampires. It was 2008, and I was sixteen years old. I've always been a huge fan of Libba Bray's, so I decided I wanted to follow in her footsteps in every way. Logical, right? So I did research on how to get a book published. I discovered what a literary agent was. And I promptly wrote a query to send to Barry Goldblatt, Libba's agent.

Understandably, that awkward, snail-mail query received no reply. As the days turned into weeks I reconsidered my approach. I concluded that maybe this manuscript wasn't the one I wanted to show the world. So I took another year and wrote a completely new novel, a contemporary-suspense kind of story. It was 2009 and I was seventeen.

By this time I had realized that agents accepted e-mail queries, and Barry Goldblatt wasn't the only one in the world, so I sent off a new query to a list of them. Beth was among that list. After a long, enlightening journey, I again shelved a manuscript. Time passed. I graduated high school in 2010, and immediately afterwards ran off to California and wrote another novel. Then I came back to my beloved Minnesota and got responsible, enrolling in college and finding a job. I would dive back into querying soon after this.

Unfortunately, I didn't know enough about the process when I first started to keep track of the numbers. I do know the lists of agents were long, and the rejections piled up. I queried for over two years and shelved two manuscripts. Which, yes, seems easier than what others have gone through. What most of the world doesn't know is that during this time - okay, something I've never put online before - is that I was very much a teenage nomad. I was moving from place to place, trying to work two jobs and pass my classes, basically just focusing on getting by. Surviving. Though I love my mom and we still talk often, she wasn't in the picture much. So, in many ways, writing saved me. In circumstances that could have driven me to a much darker place, I put all my efforts into the stories. Into publishing.

I hesitate to put this out into the world, because I don't want it to seem like I had it all bad. I have fabulous friends, and a great family, and everything has turned out okay. The reason I share this now is for those writers - as young as I was or older - who are dealing with difficulties that make dreams like writing feel impossible. Whether you come from a solid home or you're spending some nights in your car, don't give up. It may take months, or years. But sometimes having that goal, that thing to work towards... that can make all those hardships endurable.

Anyway! Enough with the seriousness. Violin player, you may cease.

It was in the beginning of 2011 - soon after I got back from California - that I queried Beth again. I was eighteen years old, with a story that was new and strange and exciting. I had written it during a time when I was living with people I didn't know that well, in a place that was a little frightening, during a time when absolutely nothing was certain. That third query I sent out - the one that ended with me signing a contract - looked something like this:

Dear Beth, 
I am seeking representation for SOME QUIET PLACE, a young adult paranormal romance. The novel is complete at 88,000 words.  
The very definition of humanity is the quality to be humane. Ironic, since Elizabeth Caldwell appears every bit human, yet sorely lacks in the latter. As a child she somehow lost the ability to feel any emotion. While her best friend slowly dies of cancer and her father comes home in drunken rages, Elizabeth searches for the truth.  
Among her other abnormalities, Elizabeth has the ability to see the unseen. Emotions are personified beings. They’ve all stopped seeking her out, save one: beautiful, stubborn, adoring Fear. Fear wants the truth just as much as she does. There’s a stranger in town that might know something. 
It soon becomes evident, however, that there’s something more pressing out there besides the mysterious stranger and the haziness of Elizabeth’s history. Creatures are fleeing Edson in terror, and people have begun to discern that something is amiss with Elizabeth. Will she have enough time to put the pieces together? What’s coming for her? And is finding out the truth really the key to survival? Secrets are buried for a reason… 
I can be reached at 000-000-0000, and my e-mail address is Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you. 

Beth quickly got back to me. The subject of her e-mail read, RE: Query: SOME QUIET PLACE. The rest, as they say, is history.

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The Winner!

Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who entered the giveaway! A hundred and ten entries on our first blog post...not too shabby :)

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for... *drumroll* .... the winner is Ashley Turcotte! Ashley, please email your address to and I will get your giftcards heading your way. If your manuscript's pages and your query are critique-ready, then feel free to send those as well! Thanks for entering! :)


P.S. Be sure to check back later today, as a new Secret Lifer's introduction (and giveaway!) is coming up!

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Monday, November 26, 2012

A Hello From Stefanie Gaither: The Writer Who Almost Wasn't

Pssssst. I have a secret. Which seems an apt way to start off this blog, doesn't it? Right. So, here it is. Don't tell anybody, though, okay?

I, Stefanie Gaither, was not always going to be a writer.

I know, right?

In fact, I basically came into this career kicking and screaming. Of course, now the thought of doing anything else for a living makes me want to kick and scream even harder, but I'll get to that in a minute. 

First, let's talk about that moment when you decide - really decide - that you're going to do something incredibly difficult. Impossible, almost. But more importantly, something worthwhile (if only because it makes you so very, very happy).That decision is not always easy. But you know how sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same?

Yeah. That.

Okay, flashback time. Picture me: young, adorable (of course) kid. Like most writers, I constantly had my face stuck in a book. And around age nine-ish, I got the crazy idea that, "Hey, this whole book business doesn't seem so hard!" (Ha. Ha. Ha). I added a notebook to the pile of books I always carried around with me.

Pen in hand, I was unstoppable. I filled my own books with gibberish and bad poetry, elaborate maps and magic systems and details on fictional races. On school writing assignments, I was that obnoxious kid who wrote three times the required word count on anything. Teachers started noticing the wildly creative (and let's be honest, the wildly weird) stuff I would write in my journals. They told my parents. They told the other teachers. It was the first time in my life that I remembered actually being good at something. Better than most people were at something (I'm allowed to brag about this because I failed really hard at math... like oh-my-god-does-she-really-have-a-functioning-IQ? hard).

So I had the support of my teachers, my family, and a fresh pen and a fresh pad of paper... and I lived happily ever after, writing best-sellers until the end of my days, right?

Please. That would make a terrible story.

Don't worry though - my story found its conflict, and thus became a lot more riveting (and by riveting, I of course mean painful, gut-wrenching, frustrating, etc, etc, etc... all the things good stories are, basically).

See, the older I got, the more people I met. The more books I read. The harder I looked at the publishing industry and the more I started to think to myself: "Hey, maybe this isn't as easy as it looked at first" and then "Hey, pretty much everyone chasing this publishing dream is their own special breed of crazy, and maybe I should just go to clown college or something" (although I'm sure clown college has its difficulties, too. Also, clowns are frickin' creepy).

Because for all their wonderful variations of crazy, I couldn't help but notice a few recurring experiences of every writer: 

Failure. Rejection. Big-Ugly-Tear-Crying.

These things absolutely terrified me. Another secret of mine: I don't like to lose. I never have. I'm very competitive; I still race my husband to the car, and a part of me dies inside whenever I lose. Plus, I was comfortable with the way things were, still secure in the praise that all my grade school teachers had given my writing all my life... so why mess that up? Why pursue a career in writing when there was such a small chance of ever succeeding, and if even then, it would only mean that criticism was going to start flowing in along with that praise?

There are a million reasons why, as I eventually discovered, but at the time all I could think about was the possibility of failure. I was so afraid of failing at something I'd always felt like I was good at, that I just started avoiding putting my writing to the test anymore. I stopped working on stories, stopped reading books. I started hating words, as though it was all their fault. I changed my major in college six times, trying desperately to avoid the English/Creative Writing major. 

And I was very, very depressed for what seemed like a long time.

Then I realized I was being very, very stupid.

I realized that if you're going to be successful, it starts with giving as much energy to your goals and dreams - however crazy impossible they are - as you do to your fears. And believe me, I was feeding my fears LOTS of energy. An embarrassing amount of energy. Sometimes I still do.

But at the end of my sophomore year of college, I switched to an English major and I haven't looked back since. That was the same year I decided I was going to write a book. From start to finish. I was going to write a book, and not care if it was awful or wonderful or "good, but not good enough" or if I failed and got rejected a million times by every agent under the sun. I would write because I loved writing, because of all the times words had pulled me out of the dark and made me feel something again. And as for the business part of things? As for making this a career? Well, I could learn to lose gracefully, if that's what being a writer meant (and a lot of times it does). I could learn to take criticism. I could learn to fail. And I could - and did -  learn to keep going, in spite of it all.


And oh yes, I failed.

In the interest of transparency (one of our goals with this blog), how about some stats? I loved stats when I was querying, and I stalked the crap out of authors to get them. But I'm going to make it easy for you guys:

First Book: 90k YA Paranormal Romance (yes, there were werewolves)
Time Spent Writing/Revising: 8 months
Queries Sent: 35ish
Requests: A whopping three. (8.5% request rate)

Second Book: Another YA Paranormal Romance, with grim reapers this time
Time Spent Writing/Revising: 3 months
Queries Sent: 25ish
Requests: Five, plus three more from contests. Getting better, but still mostly form rejections in the end. (32% request rate)

Third Book: 95k YA Sci-Fi-that-I-think-might-have-unintentionally-been-part-fantasy
Time Spent Writing/Revising: 5 months
Queries Sent: 25ish
Requests: nine, and also a revise and resubmit (36% request rate)

I know a lot of people query way more people than I did before moving on, and there's nothing wrong with that. There are certainly more than 25-35ish awesome agents out there. I write fairly quickly though, and so by the time all the rejections rolled in from the first batches of a manuscript's queries, I generally had a newer, better project ready to go and so I just moved on.

And now, the stats I don't mind posting at all:

Fourth Book: 80k YA Sci-Fi with clones and murder mysteries and fun stuff like that
Time Spent Writing/Revising: 2 1/2 months
Queries sent: 20
Requests: 12  (60% request rate)
Offers of representation: 4

And I'm now represented by the very first agent who ever rejected me, Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary, who I adore. I feel like I should put an inspiring quote about persistence here, but all I've got is this gif:

Just imagine "Eye of the Tiger" is playing in the background,  alright?

So there you have it - a little bit of my background, a few of my secrets given away. And just so you have the whole story, I'll post my query that "landed my agent" (I really hate that phrasing, by the way, because then it makes it sound like Sara's a fish, and I don't think she's very fishy at all; but I'm writing this at two a.m. and sentences are hard). Anyway, here you go:

Dear Ms. Megibow, 
I’m currently seeking representation for my YA novel, FALLS THE SHADOW. Given your interest in science fiction, I thought it might be a good fit for your list. Here’s a quick look at the plot:
When Cate Benson was twelve, her sister died. Two hours after the funeral, they picked up Violet’s replacement, and the family made it home in time for dinner and a game of cards.
It's the year 2055, and Cate's parents are among the wealthy elite who can afford to give their children a sort of immortality—by cloning them at birth. So this new Violet has the same smile. The same laugh. That same perfect face. Thanks to advancements in mind-uploading technology, she even has all the same memories as the girl she replaced.   
She also might have murdered the most popular girl in school.
Or at least, that’s what the paparazzi and the crazy anti-cloning protestors want everyone to think: that clones are violent, unpredictable monsters. Cate is used to hearing all that, though. She’s used to standing up for her sister too, and she’s determined to do it now—even if proving Violet’s innocence means taking on those protestors and anyone else attacking her family. But when her own life is threatened—not by protestors, but by the very scientists who created her sister’s clone—Cate starts questioning everything she thought she knew about the cloning movement. About herself. About her sister.
And the answers she finds reveal a more sinister purpose for her sister’s copy—and her own replacement—than she ever could have imagined.
FALLS THE SHADOW is complete at 80,000 words, and is the first in a planned series. The manuscript is available, in part or full, upon request. Thanks for your time and consideration! 
Stefanie Gaither
Ta-da! My full holy-crap-I-have-an-agent post is also right here on my website, if you'd like to read more. Thanks for reading, and for checking out our new blog! We'll be back on Wednesday with another Secret Lifer's story and giveaway, so be sure to come back and see us!

Happy writing!


And now the fun part: IT'S GIVEAWAY TIME! Because free stuff is fun. Okay, so here's the deal, I'm really getting the warm-writerly-community fuzzies with the launch of the blog and all, so that's got me feeling generous. My giveaway is a package deal, and this is what it includes:
  • A book and a cup of coffee on me-- which means a $10 Barnes and Noble gift card and a $5 Starbucks gift card heading your way.
  • A line-by-line critique of your query
  • A line-by-line critique of your manuscript's first ten pages. 
The critiques DO NOT have to be for finished manuscripts. They DO NOT have to be claimed right away, either. They're also transferable, so if you've got a friend who might benefit more from them, but still want to the giveaway for the sake of getting the giftcards for yourself, then by all means go for it! There are multiple ways to enter, and you'll have until midnight, EST, tomorrow to enter. The winner will be announced on Wednesday's post, when ANOTHER secret lifer's giveaway will begin! Wheeeee!  

The Giveaway has ended! Check back first thing tomorrow for the winner!

Aaaaand We're Off!

The day is finally here! The five of us are all completely thrilled to be launching this blog together, and excited to meet all of you lovely readers. 

The Secret Life of Writers came together when the five of us realized what a big, daunting place publishing can be - even once you've "got your foot in the door" - and that it might be a little easier for us if we tackled it together.

Better still, we're hoping to make it a little easier for you by sharing all of our behind-the-scenes experiences, as much as possible, and shedding a little light on the road from fledgling writer to published author. We'll be focusing a lot on not just writing, but what happens after the slushpile, as we feel like that's an area that's still shrouded in too much mystery. There are a lot of blogs out there to help you shine up your query, with researching agents, and to prepare you for The Call... but then what? The anxiety of edit letters, of cover reveals, of first book events, of being the newbie whose book suddenly has to stand out among all the experienced brilliance that's already out there - all that and more is what we're all about. We're all agented, and/or we have books on their way to the shelves, but we're still all figuring this out as we go along, too.

Sounds like fun, right? Right. So be sure to follow us!

Over the next couple weeks, we'll be spilling our secrets about our own personal writing journeys, just so you have an idea of where we're all coming from. Stefanie Gaither is up first, and she'll be posting her story later on today, so be sure to check back! Rumor has it that there's going to be an awesome giveaway involved too!

See you soon.