Category Archives: Success stories

Some of us write great stories. But all of us live them.

For those of you still looking for ideas for Christmas, here’s one: Chicken Soup for the Soul O Canada by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Amy Newmark.

This week, I received a call to do a media interview for Chicken Soup as I am a contributor to this edition! My story, From Vile to Vegas appears in Chapter Nine: Life Lessons and is about a home reno project—one that was full of drips, drama, and dazzle. Sure, renovations aren’t typically associated with celebrating Canadian culture but why shouldn’t they be? I think being Canadian is about having a story—and we all have them. I had written the story based on personal experience, and my writing group encouraged me to submit it. The journey to flow, form, and function (it was a bathroom reno) was honest, humorous, and oh so frighteningly real.

Chicken Soup for the Soul O Canada is full of inspirational, amusing, and encouraging stories that will touch the heart of any Canadian. Stories include a wide range of topics written by Canadians, from daily life to Canadian holidays, along with tales from tourists and visitors. In addition to the 101 stories contributed by everyday Canadians, personal bonus stories from Amy Sky, Marc Jordan, Matt Duchene, George Kourounis, Laura Robinson and lyrics from Liona Boyd’s upcoming album, “The Return,” start every chapter.

Being a part of the Chicken Soup for the Soul family has been a positive experience for me. If you like to write (and need some publishing credits under your belt), check out their submission guidelines at www.chickensoup.com. They are always looking for new contributors to share stories of hope, courage, and inspiration.

Has anyone else been published in Chicken Soup? What was your experience like?

BJas

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Filed under Author Interviews, Book Reviews, Books and stuff, Getting published, Success stories

Hollywood calling…and waiting on the one

Taking the lead from our wordbitches friends, and given that fall is staring me in the face, I thought I would recap what I wrote this summer and set my goals for fall.

As for my writing summer, it all started with a phone call from Hollywood. A major studio was interested in a screenplay that I co-wrote. I can’t believe I just typed that. The script required a slew of revisions. So, we revised, we stressed, we cried, we screamed, we revised some more—then we resubmitted. This script (a psychological thriller) generated increased interest, particularly in other genre samples. So, we dusted another script off (this time, a sci-fi/comedy) and polished the hell out of it. Then, we were asked, “what else are you working on?” GULP. So, we resurrected yet another script (a mythological horror). Are you counting here? This is screenplay number three in the span of a month. Lesson: when pitching, always have at least three projects ready to pimp.

I can tell you that three’s a charm. The response from the studio was that’s “the one.” So, naturally, we revised some more. Lots more. And into the wee hours of every. single. night. My summer was a blur. We managed to turn a solid treatment into a polished, albeit draft, screenplay. The experience was excruciating and even unbearable at times, yet somehow gratifying beyond belief. This screenplay now sits in the hands of fate and we wonder if it has that x factor; will it be “the one?”  

While I was engaged in this process, I was also doing revisions with my agent in response to publisher feedback on a picture book (currently on submission). And again, I revise. And I wait. I’m almost certain my next flurry of revisions will be on my middle grade novel which is also ‘somewhere out there’ on submission. Lesson: fall in love with your characters because you will be spending a very long time with them.

Between revisions and more revisions, I also managed to paint an entire house, landscape @LoriDyan’s backyard, tend a vegetable garden, plant fifty trees, read three novels (not enough), contract a flu (followed by an eye infection), reno a kitchen, tremclad the house, build a shed with the hubs, attend Pilates each week, and let’s not forget—work full time.

I need a vacation from my summer. Hear that, universe?

On that note, I formulate my goals for fall as I do every year at this time.

Here goes:

1) Plan a fruitful and wordalicious writing retreat with the Restless Writers.

2) Review my MG novel (a hefty yet inevitable task). Oh, the revisions I’ll make!

3) Put a serious word-count-dent in my new YA novel.

4) Begin book 2 of a 3-book children’s picture book series. Book 1 was published in Spring, see it here.

 5) Promote Chicken Soup for the Soul: Oh Canada where my story, From Vile to Vegas appears, to be published this November.

6) Plan my Oscar speech? (okay, so a girl can dream)

What are your writing goals for Fall? Are you waiting on “the one?” 

BJas

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Filed under Getting published, Inspiration, Life and stuff, Motivation, Success stories

Agent aficionado

Pinch me, please. I have an agent!

After many months of queries and pitches, it happened. I received an offer of representation. And not just for one manuscript, but for three of them: a middle-grade novel, a children’s picture book, and a non-fictional proposal. My head is still spinning. Spin, spin, sugar!

Prior to the offer, I received plenty of the standard rejection responses, with the usual one-liner pass. Then I started to receive referrals to ‘other’ agents, invitations to query ‘other’ manuscripts, and even personalized feedback—still in the form of rejection; however, it was some of the nicest, kindest, rejection yet. And for me as a writer, this was truly encouraging. In speaking with these agents by email and phone, I learned that my submission was one of value, even if additional work was required to make it shine.

Then I met Kathy LaVergne of Word|Link USA—and the rest was simple. I said “yes” to her offer of representation and signed, sealed, and mailed the agreement!

I’m thrilled to bits to be represented by Word|Link. In the short time I have worked with Kathy, she has been incredibly kind, supportive, and quick—with all three manuscripts currently on submission, and editor’s comments surfacing in my in-box. I’m fantastically fortunate to be working with an agency that, according to Publisher’s Marketplace is one of the top 20 dealmakers in the United States.

My hubby, the analogy-king, sums it all up like this: “It’s like you’re Danica Patrick, you have a car, but now you’ve gotta go to the races.” He’s right, I’m in the driver’s seat and I’m on my way,  über excited, as I enter this next chapter in my writing life—one step closer to publication.

And I must must must extend a gargantuan thank you to my readers (friends, family, beta testers), and especially my critique group and fellow Restless Writers, for helping me get my manuscript to a level worthy of submission.

Having an agent still means more waiting, more finger-crossing, more cringing, and of course more rejection. But I am stoked. Bring it on!

BJ

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Filed under Getting published, Success stories

The Book Launch of Carrie Bradshaw’s Dreams

Okay, not quite. I don’t have a best friend who is a publicist, but I can assure you, THIS book launch will fit your itsy-bitsy writer’s budget. And let’s face it; it all comes down to you, the author, unless your name is Rankin, Rushdie, or Rowling.

For the last year, I have had the pleasure of writing a book within the realm of my ‘day’ job. The book was published in May and just this week was the book launch bash. It’s a book for children, and clearly, whenever you involve kids in an event like this, you can’t lose. The launch included everything from a media release to fancy cupcakes (with feathers on top), an animated book reading, buttons, stickers, photos, free gifts, book signings, and interviews with the press. OMG—the local media showed up, notebooks and cameras in hand. And I did my very first book interview, ever. The inner workings of my mind now exist in the public domain, for all to praise and scrutinize. Umm, bring it on.

I couldn’t have asked for a more successful book launch. The kids had a blast and the media had all but good things to say. It was blogged, facebooked, and tweeted—a perfect day, that made for a great week of coverage. Now just emerging from this super satisfying experience, I thought it might be nice to share some of the gems that made it great. When it’s your turn for a little exposure, try these book launch ideas. They worked for me.

5 Tips for a successful book launch:

Be realistic. Plan a launch within your means and splurge on the right things. Since my target group was kids age 4 – 8, I splurged on “themed” cupcakes, because they are 1) pretty, 2) kids like them, and 3) so do I.

Location, location, location. A childcare centre was the perfect place to launch a picture book. Staff loved the exposure and there were no rental fees. Be warned however, there are REALLY small chairs at such places.

Cultivate relationships. With the popularity of social networking, I secured a handful of sites to blog about the event and link back to the book site.

Get your ‘press hook’ on. Inform the media. Promotional interviews score some big bang and large readership—at no cost to you. Sending personal invitations with a media kit to these folks is a super duper idea.

Be prepared to chat. You will need to speak at your book launch. It’s a given. Be ready to talk about the book and where the inspiration came from. This was the #1 question to me at the launch.

Offer incentives. This includes everything from signed copies of the book to cool prizes (free books/DVDs) for doing an online review. These reviews are promo pieces you can use and quote later.

With some creativity and a modest budget, you can make a nice splash. Sure, a book launch may not make or break your book, but it can certainly help, so do whatever it takes to make it memorable. And above all, treat yourself—to a cupcake or a swig of champagne, YOU TOTALLY DESERVE IT. Cheers!

B Jas

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Filed under Author events, Getting published, Success stories

Confessions of a Reformed Pantser

(That's not my scrunchie)

I hate outlines. I prefer to write like I read: with no idea what will happen next. While writing without a plan may be thrilling, it is also a very time-consuming, painful process for me.

My last manuscript was written in a few months; however I then spent the next year revising it, which included scrapping the first seventy pages. Although I liked the idea of pantsing my way through a manuscript along with Stephen King and Nora Roberts, in practice I ended up writing myself into all sorts of corners.

For my newest WIP, I’ve gone the planning route and the results so far have been outstanding. The feedback I’ve received from my fellow Restless Writers on my outline has allowed me to control the pace of the story, delete superfluous scenes that haven’t even been written yet and flesh out my protagonist (thereby ensuring that the first seventy pages of this WIP aren’t full of unnecessary character sketches).

In one sense, it feels like this process takes a lot longer, but I know that the bulk of my work is already done. If only I could apply this newfound organization to things like grocery shopping, I figure I’d have three or more hours a day to actually write.

Are you a planner or a pantser? Are you committed to one method? Why does it work (or not) for you?

LD

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Filed under Inspiration, Motivation, Starting up, Success stories, Trials and Tribulations

How To Almost Win An Agent

A few weeks ago I was waiting for my kids to get ready for school and decided to check out Twitter. As luck – as in, horseshoe up the butt luck – would have it, @knightagency had just tweeted about their latest and greatest contest, She’s Just That Into You, which would be starting in moments.

In a nutshell, Deidre Knight would be looking for a new client via the agency website. The first 175 people to leave a comment on the Knight Agency blog could send in a query letter. From those, Deidre would pick her top 30 entrants, who would then send the first 10 pages of their manuscripts. It would then be whittled down to 10 entrants and 3 chapters, then 3 entrants and full manuscripts.

All of you querying writers know that this is a fairy-agent-god-mother situation, so I immediately bribed my kids to give me 10 minutes of peace so I could enter. My typing lessons from high school (yes, I’m a fossil) didn’t fail me and I managed to get into the first round. Since this step was based on luck rather than writing, I didn’t get my hopes up.

But when I saw that I’d made it to the second round, fantasies of book tours and Oprah appearances filled my head. Daydreaming turned to obsession. I even considered holding off on my queries until the contest was over, lest I disappoint the legion of agents out there looking at my contest-winning-worthy query.

Needless to say, I did not win. Nor did I make it to the next round. I did, however, learn an important lesson – one that I’m always telling my kids but have never truly put into practice myself: You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. In other words, I didn’t win (this time), but that’s okay. At least I tried.

LD

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Filed under Awards and contests, Starting up, Success stories

How I survived my first call with an agent

I feel like the luckiest writer on the planet right now.

I am currently querying three projects: a Middle Grade Novel, a Children’s Picture Book, and a Non-fiction Proposal; and this week, I was freakishly fortunate to receive a call from a literary agent (Squeee!). I’m thinking the solar flare this week had something to do with it—that, or maybe the countless months of hard work.

It kinda went down like this: Can you hear me? Yes. Yes. Followed by some giddy small talk (aka: personality test, no doubt); the writing (well, obviously); and next steps. End. Crash (this part was presumably, just me).

The opportunity to win the attention of an agent for an entire hour feels a bit like winning the lottery. It also somehow authenticates that hey, I might just be a real writer. I have graduated from queries to…CALLS! This particular agent was fan-friggin-fantastic; she was kind, complimentary, helpful, and attentive. She believes we are a writing community and should help each other out wherever we can. Afterall, we are in the business of promoting the importance of literacy.

Because this experience is all new to me (and I knew when the call was coming), I did oodles of research in a short period of time. And I’m sharing it with you IF and WHEN you get a call, or even “the” call.

7 things to do BEFORE you get a call from an agent:

  • Research the Agency, the Agent, & her clients. 
  • Read: “Getting THE CALL” (Rachelle Gardner’s Rants & Ramblings Blog).
  • Read: “What to Ask an Agent” and prepare a list of questions.
  • Review the status of your manuscript submissions: who has it & who has expressed interest (be prepared to talk about it).
  • Think about marketing your book & how you would bring it!
  • Think about your future plans & next projects (you’re not a one-hit wonder, are you?).
  • Relax (Yeah, I tried that. It was pretty much impossible).

Okay, so you’re wondering if she offered representation, right?

Status: she’s looking at all my projects, has offered some incredible feedback and has asked that I do some revisions and resend. She would like to continue the conversation, but has not offered representation…yet.

Beckie

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Filed under Getting published, Success stories, Writing resources

Author Denise Jaden chats with the Restless Writers

If you’re a writer and you want to get published, listen up. Author Denise Jaden has some advice for you!

I first met Denise at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference and I must say, this girl has got it goin’ on. She is smart, savvy, and one talented author.  LOSING FAITH, released by Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster in September, has been named a best book of 2010. I read LOSING FAITH and could not put it down. The characters jump off the page and into your heart. A great read for teens!

Thank you Denise, for being our first author interview on the blog and for talking to us about writing and the writing life.

Tell us about the moment you got to first hold your book and see your name in print. Did you do a happy-dance, or better yet, a Polynesian-happy-dance?

What I did was not nearly as dignified as Polynesian dancing! Lots of jumping up and down, and screaming. When I first received my ARC’s, I only got two of them, so I treated them like precious jewels for the longest time. Anyone who wanted to touch one had to wash their hands with soap first. This may seem a little over the top, but seriously, after so much work and waiting, it does feel a little like a baby.

What inspired the story of Losing Faith?

I lost a close friend when I was sixteen. I think there’s a lot to explore with losing someone close at a young age, and especially when your questions about what happened to them are not clear.

What exactly is a blog tour, how did you organize it, and was it worthwhile?

To be honest, I didn’t really know what a blog tour was when I began organizing mine. That may be the reason that mine’s probably not typical. From what I understand, a blog tour is a string of guest posts, interviews, or other promo surrounding a central theme (i.e. the release of a book) during a condensed period of time. I’ve seen blog tours that run from anywhere between one week and two months, but I really didn’t want it to lose momentum, so I went with two weeks. I think next time I would try to condense it all into one week, actually. As bloggers and other writers asked me for interviews or guest posts, I kept a schedule and asked each one if I could fit them into my official blog tour. They were all happy to be a part of it. Then I added extra prize packs to encourage people to follow along on the tour. I think it was worthwhile. It didn’t cost me anything except time, and it really did get word out on the internet about LOSING FAITH.

What other marketing strategies would you tell authors to do upon publication and down the road?

I tried to say yes to almost everything that came my way. It’s hard to know what is useful, and I think some marketing ventures may be totally successful with one person and not at all with another. I kind of enjoy marketing, but if it was a real bother, I wouldn’t have done nearly as much. As far as what I recommend, I guess I’d say do what you enjoy. If you enjoy handwriting postcards and sending  them to bookstores, go for it. If you enjoy hanging out on Twitter and coming up with fun ways to get people talking about your book (because hopefully you won’t be doing all the talking-up yourself – that’s no fun to read) then do that. Bookmarks have been a great thing to have on hand, and I use them in place of business cards now.

Do you outline before you begin a new piece of work or just make it up as you go?

I’ve done both, but I’d say that I prefer outlining now, even if it’s just a loose outline. I try to write a new book (a first draft) each November, and it’s difficult to sail through and write a book so quickly without some guidelines of where you’re going.

Do you have a set writing schedule/word count goal every day or just try and cram in whenever you can?

During Nanowrimo, I try to write 2500 word per day. Other times of the year, I stick to a time schedule. I usually work for about an hour to an hour and a half a day without interruption (not even Twitter!)

How do you balance time to write vs. everything else in your life?

Very badly. Haha. But seriously, it’s not easy. I homeschool my son, which is time consuming, plus I do bookkeeping for my husband’s business and I’m a professional Polynesian dancer. It all keeps me very busy. I don’t let anything get in the way of my one hour of writing time each day, but I still haven’t really found a logical place to fit things like blogging, marketing & promotion, and returning emails. Those get done eventually, but usually under duress. LOL.

On your website, under advice for writers, you say “Writing can be lonely, but it isn’t a lone process.” Do you have a support group that you turn to for critique, advice and motivation?

Yes! And I could not be a published author without them. And you can’t have them! I’ve met my writing friends from various places—many I made on Critique Circle and one is a long-time friend who I’ve known since before either of us were writers. It took me years to nail down a solid group of people who I work well with—I enjoy their writing and can help strengthen it in ways they can understand and vice versa. We don’t work as a group—just all as individuals—and we usually swap full manuscripts via email. I don’t have anyone local that I work with, so this has all been done via online networking.

For those of us querying our pants off and getting partial/full requests, can you tell us how many full requests you received for “Losing Faith”? And how long did you query before you got “the call”?

Oh gosh, this is hard to remember! From what I can see in my past emails, I think I queried about 30 agents over the course of about four months. I had at least 8 full manuscript requests and I’d say another half-dozen partials. I started querying in July 2008, stopped querying to revise in October, and then when it went back out I got a really high request rate and had several agents interested by November. I signed with Michelle Humphrey (now at ICM) in November, 2008. I also queried two other manuscripts unsuccessfully before LOSING FAITH, so I’ve racked up my share of rejections, and know all about the pain and suffering!

If and when an agent contacts you, what 3 questions should a writer ask before hanging up the phone?

I’ll assume first of all that you know the basics: make sure you’re querying reputable agents who aren’t charging you money other than a percentage of any sales. One of the most useful things I found out during the author agent interviews was how the agents felt about the premises of other books I had written. I wanted an agent for the book I was querying, yes, but I also wanted a career agent—someone who hopefully wouldn’t turn down my next book, because that leaves an author in a very awkward and unfortunate position. I’d also ask about their communication style. How soon can you expect to hear back from them on questions? How many other clients do they have? Do they have any editors or imprints they have in mind to pitch your book to? How many will they send out to at once? Will the agent be working with you editorially on your books? What is their sales history in your genre? Okay, that’s more than three. But really, you should not be afraid of this phone call. Most of it will be the agent telling you what he/she loves about your manuscript. Let the agent carry the conversation, and if they don’t cover any of the above questions (which they probably will) you can ask them as you feel more comfortable. Agents are in the business of sales, so they’re generally pretty comfortable carrying a conversation.

What’s the one thing you would tell yourself about writing/getting published if you could go back in time?

It’s very exciting and I’m enormously thankful for where I’m at, but self-doubt does not disappear with a publishing contract. In fact, it probably increases, as people will feel free to tell you exactly what they think of you and your writing once you’ve gone “public”.

Do you have a favourite writing snack?

Sugar snap peas – the crunchiness helps me think!

For more about Denise and other fun stuff, please visit her website. And while you’re there, watch the book trailer for LOSING FAITH.

BJas

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Filed under Author Interviews, Diablogue, Getting published, Success stories

Ask an Author. Answer a Dream.

It’s Friday and I need your help.

I am going to try something new on the blog, and not just because @restlessmaria’s new favourite word is “diablogue.” But because we, Restless Writers, made a lovely new friend at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference and she has oodles of intelligence to share with writers. And well, I/we want to know everything when it comes to getting published—in this lifetime.

I am talking about YA author Denise Jaden (LOSING FAITH) and she will be visiting our blog next week to answer YOUR QUESTIONS. I am prepping my must-answer-list for Denise and would love to include your questions in the interview.

But first, a quick introduction to Denise Jaden by way of 6 random factoids:

  • She is a professional Polynesian dancer
  • She once was a mushroom farmer
  • She is one tough cookie and can kick your ass
  • She just passed the 43k mark on her NaNo novel
  • She brought the biggest bottle of wine to our Hotel Tweet-up
  • Her debut novel, Losing Faith has been named a Best Book of 2010!

So, if you are living in the world of query mayhem and manuscript submission (like me), and you have burning questions on how to get published—post your question in “comments” and check back to the blog next week for a response.

 Stay tuned!

 Bjas

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Filed under Diablogue, Getting published, Success stories

“Passion, honesty + fun”: Restless Writers chat with the Wordbitches

On AirWriting groups have their own chemistry. The Restless Writers thrive on spontaneity, adaptability and flexibility (not to mention butter tarts). We’re not sticklers for submission deadlines or critiquing guidelines. When @restlessbjas and I found out that our Twitter friends in a writing group from Calgary have actual rules for their meetings, we got curious.

The women in this group, who totally own their “wordbitches” hashtag, are a kick-ass group of writers working in a variety of genres. At the Surrey International Writers Conference (SiWC), they told us a little about their writing group, but I wanted to hear more about how they operate. So, we organized a little Twitter chat last Sunday so the Restless Writers and the Calgary crew could continue the conversation.

We kicked off the chat promptly at 10:00pm EST. A bit late for me, but perfect for those who have to put kiddies to bed first. Using the #wordbitches hashtag, we jumped right in.

First up—what makes this group tick? According to @trish_loye, it’s the diversity of genres and backgrounds in the group that makes them gel. @Ironic_Mom also pointed out that, while they don’t take themselves seriously, they take their craft seriously.

It turns out that SiWC and the Writers’ Guild of Alberta played a part in how this group came together about four years ago. While the number of members has gone up and down over time, they’re sticking to what they consider capacity at seven members. And the chemistry is working. @Ironic_Mom said “Only those who can stand passion, honesty + fun stay.”

They have a sophisticated system for managing the five or so critiques that happen at each meeting: @Ironic_Mom says “ding” when time’s up. (The Restless Writers might have to adopt this tactic. We’re a bit chatty.)

Another of their tricks is to do the readings and critique in the order the submissions are received; so the earlier you submit, the better the chance you will get feedback in that week’s meeting.

Each writing group has its challenges starting out. We swapped stories about the colourful characters who didn’t quite fit with the group at the start. (What was the exact phrase, @RestlessLori? “Newbie wing-nut”?) That first meeting can be terrifying, as @elenaaitken said, and I’m impressed this core group of gals stuck it out.

We had a few Twitter friends join in the chat, including @comedyoferrers, @DancesWithChaos and @offbalancepaige. This gave us the chance to observe that women in writing groups = enthusiasm for wine and Brie.

We were blown away by how much this group gets accomplished. They work, they blog, they commit to 500 words a day, they manage kids and DHs (short for “Dear Husband”—we learned some new terms during this chat). How do they do all this? The answer: their work and the group is a priority. Everyone has their ways of squeezing in mini-writing sessions during the day. While carrying pen and paper around at all times, learning to say “no” to the boob tube and bribing your children are all effective tactics, it also sounds like having a supportive family makes a huge difference.

We got a lot accomplished during the chat:

1) @Ironic_Mom purchased the wordbitches.com domain name.
2) We decided that we absolutely must organize a joint writing conference/Brie-orgy in Banff in 2011.
3) @RestlessLori coined the word “booey” (see her blog post for definition).
4) @elenaaitken finalized that day’s word count at 1904.
5) I decided that “diablogue” is an awesome word and I must have it at all costs. (We’re writers. We get to make up words all the time.)
6) @trish_loye snagged the remaining peanut butter cups from her kids’ Halloween stash.
7) @restlessbjas became an unofficial spokesperson for www.grocerygateway.com.

The hour-long chat passed too quickly for me. There’s still so much we can gain by sharing our best writing practices with each other. Here’s to next time!

If I missed any very important points, ladies, please share them here. Later, #wordbitches!

Maria

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Filed under Diablogue, Group meetings, Success stories