FAQ from Real Life


I get some funny questions from friends who are not familiar with the writing/publishing world. I certainly don’t blame them. I think it’s really difficult to understand anyone else’s industry unless you are a part of it. That’s why I’m always thankful that Nate and I were on the same sports team in college. Otherwise, I feel like I’d never have a clue what he was talking about. Same goes for writing. Although I think writers are probably a bit more sensitive toward “silly” questions.

I think there are several reasons for writers particular sensitivity. There is certainly a perceived feeling from the general public that writing is this weird, unrealistic dream that people just talk about. People tend to view it in the same light as someone saying “I’m moving to LA to become an actress AND a singer” without ever having taken an acting class or a singing lesson in her life. There are times when so-and-so finds out that you write, and so-and-so responds “oh yeah, my dad [insert relation here] wrote a book once.” And you have to smile and nod and say that’s great.

I don’t think that outsiders realize that there is an actual industry going on in the book world. There are certain ways to do things and steps to success that involve much more than daydreaming about the Great American Novel that I’m going to write.

So, I think that is one of the reasons writers feel a bit wary when outside-folks ask uninformed questions. But, really, that’s not a good response. I mean, I have no clue what my friends day-to-day lives are like in big-time consulting firms. Heck, I can’t even understand what my dad does!

But, we can still commiserate, right? About the funny questions? The ones where you inwardly shake your head and are just like “Bless their little hearts!” (Which is Southern for, “what a simple-minded question”–kidding! kidding!)

Well, here are a few of my favorite. (And for anyone that lives with a writer in their midst, I hope these help enlighten.)


1. So, if your agent is looking for a publisher, huh? And that publisher is in Texas? Like in Austin?

My in-my-head response: Wait, what? No, no Texas publisher. Do you know of a Texas publisher? I think you are very confused about what is going on, my friend. My agent is subbing to Random House, Simon & Schuster, Penguin…the works, yanno, like real life, you’ve-heard-of-them-before publishers.  This isn’t some weird mini version of dress up or a tea party with plastic crumpets. My agent is in NYC as are most (but definitely not all) publishing houses.


2. So, your agent is just like a middleman, huh? That’s annoying. Everywhere has a middleman these days. I bet when you graduate law school you’ll be happy because you can be your own agent.

My in-my-head response: Wait, what? No! I never, ever, never, ever would want to be my own agent! Even if I were an agent I wouldn’t be my own agent! An agent does more than draw up a contract. They manage your career. They know where your project should go. They know what terms are boilerplate and what to fight for. Your agent may be your one constant throughout your career. And can keep up the good relations between you, your editor, and your house. My agent reps awesome people like Ingrid Law and worked with Christopher Paolini. I should only be so lucky to have him!


3. You act excited that you got an agent, but don’t you just hire one? And, oh yeah, how much do you pay your agent?

My in-my-head response: Nothing! I pay my agent nothing! That is the awesomeness that is an agent. Someone believed in my project enough to dedicate free labor to it because he believes he can sell it. He gets paid if I get paid. That’s it. I’m excited because I was plucked from the horridness that slush and deposited onto the client list of a super awesome agent. I went through lots and lots and lots to get there. You don’t just hire an agent. Even though he *technically* works for me. The agents choose who to take on and it is a selective process. One to which pages and pages of writerly angst have been dedicated. Signing with a reputable agent is a major milestone in most writers lives.

4. So can I go buy your book? [says person that knows I just signed with Agent Man fairly recently]

My in-my-head response: Even if he sold my book the day I signed, the answer would still be no. Not in the next month. Not in the next year. At this point, we’re looking at 2010 at the earliest! Some editors have already started buying for 2011 lists. There is editing and more editing. Talented folks have to come up with cover art. There is marketing to plan. There is copyediting. And ARCs to give out. And blurbs to get. So much to do! Goodness, I’d have a heart attack if it happened as fast as people think it does.


5. My dad wrote a book. It’s on Amazon. Will yours be on, like, shelves? Or how much do you pay to get it published?

My in-my-head response: Again, nothing. In fact, a book deal (garnered by a reputable agent) makes you money. Otherwise agents would not be very pumped about this biz. And yes, all the places that my work is being subbed to have bookstore distribution. It would be on shelves and in real life. Very cool.


6. I edit a lot of work. I was my school’s newspaper editor. I could be your editor!

My in-my-head response: That’s really sweet. But, editors are actually the people at the publishing houses that acquire the books. They do the professional editing. Before that, my fabulous critique partner edits. Nate does some editing. And my agent helps in the editing process as well.


7. Cool, can you hook me up with your agent?

My in-my-head response: Oh dear. Awkward, awkward, awkward. When I have a book sale under my belt, I’m sure I’ll feel a bit more comfortable doing this for people whose projects I believe in. I’d have to be really really familiar with someone’s work and would probably want to be the one to bring it up. Although who knows? I’m just not at that point yet. The only person’s work that I know well enough is my critique partner and she already has a fabulous agent of her own.

2009 Debuntante Author Interview Series: Cindy Pon

While this is the 2009 Debutante Interview Series, I’m pretty sure this week’s deb would get kicked out of the ball on account of her incessant bootay shakin’. Yes, it’s Cindy Pon (aka Xiaotien) and she’s here to chat with us about her journey from waging query warfare to her three book deal with Greenwillow. Her first book, SILVER PHOENIX, hit shelves in ’09.


No one wanted Ai Ling. And deep down she is relieved—despite the
dishonor she has brought upon her family—to be unbetrothed, free, and
not some stranger’s subservient bride banished to the inner quarters.

But now, something is after her. Something terrifying—a force she
cannot comprehend. And as the pieces of the puzzle start to fit
together, Ai Ling begins to understand that her journey to the Palace
of Fragrant Dreams in search of her beloved father—missing these many
months—is so much more than that. Bravery, intelligence, the will to
fight and fight hard . . . she will need all of these things. Just as
she will need the new and mysterious power growing within her. She
will also need help.

It is Chen Yong who finds her partly submerged and barely breathing at
the edge of a deep lake. There is something of unspeakable evil trying
to drag her under. On a quest of his own Chen Yong offers that
help…and perhaps more.

Congrats on your debut novel, Cindy. The cover art is beautiful and I can’t wait to see it on shelves! But can you give us a little statistical rundown on how long it took you to get to this point? How many books? How many rejections? How many days, months, or years?
It took me about three to four months to write the rough draft. Then I spent a year revising it with comments from my two critique groups to help me. SILVER PHOENIX was the first novel I’ve ever written.

I queried 121 agents and i’m sure was rejected by at least 90 of them. I started agent querying at the end of january 2008, and landed agent bill in early april. He sent an email on sunday afternoon saying he loved my novel and I literally jumped up and down in the kitchen.

My bubs thought mommy had gone nutso. =)

The book went to auction in my fifth week of submission to publishers.


That’s fantastic and couldn’t have happened to a nicer person! Which “Call” thrilled you more? The call in which you landed an agent or the call in which you landed your book deal? Can you describe to us what it felt like?
Oh, such different emotions there.

I approached querying for an agent like all out warfare. and i would “revenge query” each time i got a rejection. if i had nothing in my query email box for a few days, i’d zap out a few more. It’s a strange thing to say, but many times, seeing a rejection was better than seeing NOTHING at all. (that’s the worst!!)

As I said, I was truly ecstatic when Agent Bill sent me an email to arrange THE CALL for monday morning.
It had been such a roller coaster ride. and all along, I never really knew if what i had was good enough. I only knew that i loved it–and i had to try. try hard!

Going on submission to editors was entirely different. It was utterly and completely out of my
hands. There was no more revising a query, or fiddling with your first pages of prose. Your novel was OUT THERE. and the only thing you could do was try to stay sane and wait.

I think I was in a state of disbelief when my novel went to auction. it was a very high stress and emotional time for me. Here i was, scheduling talks with editors from major publishing houses (what?!) in between picking up the bubs from preschool and their nap times. It was all very surreal.

When I said yes to Virginia and Greenwillow books, I was spent. and still in utter disbelief. It’s very strange
to want something so long and call it a dream, then to actually get it. i was thrilled and terrified. The whole experience was incredible.


Ahhh! I love stories like that. So inspiring, but staying sane while waiting? I’m working on that one…  This is Fumbling with Fiction, so I have to ask, in your writing career have you ever had a big “Oops!” moment?
I sent out partial requests too soon. I think many writers make that mistake. We’ve been fiddling with the story for so long, we’re just itching to get it out there already. But you have to learn from your mistakes. That’s why you should send out in batches–so if you get a lot of rejections, you know it’s time to regroup and revise.


I think you are right. That’s a problem a lot of writers run into. I know that was one of my problems as well, so great advice!

Now that you are a soon-to-be-published author, seeing the view from the other side, what has been your favorite moment in the publishing process so far? What part of the process has most surprised you?
My favorite moment would be getting my first editorial letter from virginia, my editor! It was just such a sense of achievement for me. I had fumbled very long by myself over this story. Labor of love is exactly what it is. And i knew i was at a point where I had nothing more to offer to the prose or the story.

I had done as best as I could as a writer, with what little resources I had. To get that first editorial letter and see how my novel could be improved–and improved in such great ways–I just loved it!

Seeing my book jacket comes in as a close second. That was very emotional for me. They did such a fantastic job on it. I was floored.


You and Agent Bill seem to have such a collegial relationship. What do you think the secret to sucess has been of your extremely functional agent-author relationship?
I don’t think it’s a secret. Open communication is so key. I frequent the writing forums and I know the prevailing feeling of “not wanting to be a bother” walking on eggshells because it was so hard to find an agent. No one wants to lose an agent!

Communication is important. And so is trust. And respect. If you have a question or concern, ASK YOUR AGENT. That’s what s/he is there for!!


A valuable reminder for those, like me, who are newly agented. I hear you got an offer for a picture book thrown in your deal as a result of your editor reading your blog. What new challenges come with shifting to writing for much younger readers?
It’s a different mind set. And it’s going to be a great challenge. I’m very intimidated! I need to submit a dummy (which is a mock up of the picture book) and I’ve seen some fantastic dummies–that look like an
actual picture book.

So I’m trying not to panic. I don’t want to send Virginia a few pages stapled together and have her think, what the heck did I get myself into? =X

I have a lot to learn. But if anyone is going to guide me well, it would be Virginia.


Your brushwork is beautiful and I know you’ll do a wonderful job.

Finally, if you could have written one book previously published by another author, which book would it be?
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’dell.


HUGE Congrats again and I look forward to hearing all of your future success. Keep us updated!!

Topical Tuesday: Email Snafus Can Happen to You

“One of the most embarrassing moments for me is an email flub. I met an agent at a conference and queried her soon after we met. Several months later, I had signed with my agent, then six months later, on New Year’s Day I got an email from the conference agent. She loved the samples I had sent her and was requesting fulls of two of my manuscripts. I then quickly emailed my friend and said can you believe this agent took one year to get back to me! Ah, except I sent the email back to the agent and realized a second after hitting send. I felt so awful, but she was very nice and actually wrote back apologizing for taking so long and wished me best of luck with my agent. So the moral of the story is, always check the address before hitting send.”



“I once wrote an author I admired, raving about her latest book.  Which wasn’t out yet.  She was lovely about it and told me it wasn’t out yet, not even in ARC form and that I could buy it when it came out.  I realized in a major Dolt Moment that I had written the wrong title when I was emailing her.  I’d read one of her other books (and loved it), but written the title of the one that hadn’t been released yet.
Of course, I couldn’t write back and say, *embarrassed giggle* “The book I meant I read was . . . ” without it sounding totally lame.
That was only one of my horrible experiences with email.  It is an amazing medium and yet, potentially very dangerous.”


“I have my basic query letter that I keep in a word document and copy and paste into the body of an email before sending it off to agents. I always personalize from there. But one time, while I remembered to personalize the body, I left the heading for a previous agent in. It said Dear X, then under it Dear Y. Needless to say it was an instant rejection!”


We’ve all done it. It’s so easy. That itchy, little pointer finger ready and rearing to hit “Send.” I’ve done it. Don’t lie, you’ve done it, too.

So I’d like to prescribe the “Don’t Screw Up” Method:

Step 1: Compose your email in a word document.

Step 2: Check for red squigglies and green squigglies, too. Sure, spell check and grammar check aren’t right 100% of the time, but do make sure you understand why you are disregarding your trusty computer’s sage advice.

Step 3: Paste the text into the body of an email. Check formatting.

Step 4: Re-read your email. I know, it’s perfect, of course, and you don’t want to re-read it because it takes a whole one minute, and you could have done something important like chugged a glass of milk, but do it anyway. For me.

Step 5: Double check your greeting. Don’t say Mr. if it’s Miss (unless you are writing to me because I’m used to it so I don’t care anymore.) Don’t use the wrong name or spell it incorrectly. Also, make sure your greeting makes sense. “Yo” might not be the wording of choice when writing to Dream Agent #1. Just sayin’.

Step 6: Sit on your hands for 10 Mississippi. I know, I know. You’ve spent like two extra minutes on an important email. I’m so strict. But it’s ok. You’ll make it up on the apology email you’ll inevitably have to write afterward.

Step 7: Make your finger happy; hit send!


Now…to get myself to follow my own method….


Any personal anecdotes???

Keep on Fumbling!


Status: Stressed. The end.

Topical Tuesday: The Upside of Aging?

As a young writer, I’ve heard many times to play my age close to the chest as long as I can.

I mean, on one hand I get it. I still microwave every meal. It’s been less than six months since I attended my last frat party and, hey, let’s face it, I still use the word “like” where it doesn’t belong.

But, then I’m thinking, it’s not as if I graduated from Huggies last week. I have a college degree. I’ve been able to write words for the past, oh, eighteen years. (Can four-year-olds write?) And I’m in law school, darnit!

So what’s the deal? Is age a barrier to getting an agent? A publisher?

At a whopping 22 years old, how much experience could I have?

And yet, there’s a whole bunch of writers that are extremely successful young authors. Jennifer Lynn Barnes is the first that comes to mind. Her debut novel, Golden, sold just a few days before her twenty-first birthday. And I’ve got to admit that her relative youth was one of the reasons I picked up her book, Tattoo, in the first place. Is some of Paolini’s success based on the fact that he’s so young? I think so.

So, in that case, shouldn’t agents/publishers be pumped to get their hands on a young author? After all, we’ve got long careers ahead of us. I’ve got a good forty-five years left in me. And that’s retiring early!

So what do y’all think? How does ageism work in the publishing industry?

Writing: How to find an agent

So, I’ve been extra excited for my first post about writing. So many things I want to talk about, but, yanno, one thing per post I guess and someone asked about how you go about getting an agent. And, since I realize not everyone here is a writer, I’ll cover that because…

I’m in the middle of that process myself.

The first step to getting an agent for a newbie writer like myself is–big surprise–writing a book! And yes, an entire book. An entire edited book. Edited, edited, edited and edited again book. Once you have that book in your hot little hands or, at the very least, saved ten different ways in case your computer throws a fit and your house catches on fire simultaneously, then…

…You write a query letter. Writing a query letter is NOT easy. A query is a letter you write to an agent to interest him or her in your project. It needs to be as short as humanly possible while still pitching your book in the best possible light. A query reads a lot like the back cover of a published novel. So, you have that back cover summary that’s not too general nor too particular and then you add a little something about yourself and why you are qualified to write said book. Then, you put a paragraph up front about why you decided to query this agent (i.e. you repped so-and-so and I love so-and-so and my work is a bit like so-and-so’s SO I hope you are interested in repping me, too).

Once your query letter is out in cyber space, assuming it has followed the instructions on the agent’s website to the Nth degree, you wait. And pretty soon, you get a form rejection in your inbox or maybe even your real mailbox. But, every so often, if you did a great job, you get a non-rejection. Bigshot Agent will say, “Hey, send me 75 pages.” Or, if Bigshot Agent really loves your work, he’ll say, “Send the whole thing!” That’s when you jump up and down. After that, you get progressively more insane waiting.

Yep. That’s where I’m at right now. Waiting for what is known as The Call. The Call is when an agent rings you up and you try not to squeal in her ear and make her regret her decision to offer representation in the first place. Then, you, as a writer, need to collect your wits and ask the necessary questions to make sure you and the agent are a good fit.

That’s it. I’ve got 5 manuscripts out in the world and if any of them result in Calls I will…I can’t even imagine. Even if the two partials out there result in requests for fulls, I’ll be beyond thrilled!


Status: Just hanging out for most of the day, watching Scrubs on DVD. Tonight, I am going to take a stab at the first scene. I’m someone that just has to dive into the book. Still, I’m going to try to do substantially more outlining than for my last book. For now, I need to work on finding my protag’s voice because I’m writing a full-length novel in first person for the first time.