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Author: Kelly

2020 in review: it wasn’t all shit.

I started 2020 ready to get busy with a local publisher on getting Community Klepto on shelves. Then of course, COVID-19 trickled into the US and all of a sudden my publisher wasn’t my publisher anymore. Meanwhile, my day job changed to remote in my home, and my kids’ daycare closed down for awhile. Life was unbelievably hard. Every day was longer than the last one and I felt like I was failing at everything. My writing, at this time, was not even on the map. The publisher wasn’t returning my emails or texts and though I knew the writing was on the wall, it wasn’t until they finally responded to me saying it wasn’t going to happen that I accepted it wasn’t going to happen.

By July, I was ready for a win. I made time every night to query at least two publishers or agents about Community Klepto. I followed through, even though many nights I was working on queries while ushering my children back into their room to go to bed (those summer solstice months when it doesn’t get dark til what feels like midnight are brutal for parents with young children). There were nights it took me hours to get those two queries done, but I did it. I knew that if I had already had two publishers interested enough to offer me a deal, even though both of those fell through, chances were that a third one would, too.

I got a fair number of rejections, some coming mere minutes after spending hours working on the query, but one of the bright sides of COVID was that it made me a lot more immune to rejection. One of the first queries I made in July was to She Writes Press, and they accepted my manuscript a couple months later. I still queried up until I signed with She Writes Press, but I slowed down a lot. Now I am working with my SWP project manager on all the business-side things of the book. I won’t get to brag about it until the year-end post of 2022, but things are chugging along.

Despite all the shitty things that happened this year, there was also plenty to have gratitude about, too. I mean, I signed with the 2019 independent publisher of the year, so that’s kind of a big deal. And while my job moved me into my spare bedroom and didn’t give any of us raises this year, I still have a job, which is more than a lot of people can say. My children were able to go back to in-person preschool until the middle of this month. My 15-year-old dog is even still kicking! So what else happened this year?

In reading…

According to Goodreads I read just 24 books this year. It was definitely more than that, but updating Goodreads doesn’t always happen and this year has turned my brain to mush. Here were my top 5 favorite reads of the year, in no particular order:

Educated by Tara Westover
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Mother for Dinner by Shalom Auslander
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
The Interestings by Meg Wollitzer

The worst book I read all year was American Skin by Don de Grazia, and the fact that it took me months to get through it was a good indicator that I should have put it in the DNF pile.

In writing…

After my summer querying escapade was over, I decided to dedicate a few hours a week to just sitting and writing, even if I had nothing on my mind. I wrote some random things and had a flash fiction piece published by the Rose City Sisters. Right now I am working on something that started out as a romance satire piece, but I’m not sure what it will end up being, only that it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written so far (but my opinion could be changed completely once I go back to edit it). Like everything else in my life that is not my day job, my children, or all the other crap I have to do every day, writing must be dedicated focused time, planned and scheduled out.

Favorite things of the year…

Favorite internet thing of the year: Man Who Has It All – the Twitter account, the website, the store – any time I needed a laugh in 2020, Man Who Has It All came through.

Favorite new album this year: Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple – I could listen to “Ladies” on repeat all freaking day.

Favorite new show this year: The Mandalorian – I can’t even stop myself from cooing and doing baby talk when Grogu comes on screen. But I also watched Cheer more times than I am willing to admit.

Favorite game: Blather Round – we spent all the time we would have spent in bars and at people’s houses playing Jackbox over Skype instead.

Favorite wine: Noble Vines 337 Cabernet Sauvignon – rich yet affordable.

I’m looking forward to saying goodbye to 2020 by playing Jackbox over Skype with a bottle of 337 cab and doing the diligent work of getting Community Klepto ready for the world – and hopefully by then herd immunity can allow us to have a real book launch party.

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Community Klepto is coming to a bookshelf near you, courtesy of She Writes Press

After COVID reared its ugly viral head and caused my prior publisher to shelve all its projects, I thought long and hard about what I wanted for my book. I’m biased of course, but I knew it was a polished, funny, marketable book (it wouldn’t have had two offers to publish it already if it wasn’t). Not wanting to sell myself short, and feeling like I had nothing to lose, I submitted COMMUNITY KLEPTO to She Writes Press, after reading that it took the prize of Independent Publisher of the Year in 2019. I also started aggressively querying other publishers and agents, not letting the sun set on a day where I submitted less than two queries.

A couple months later, I woke up to an email from She Writes Press saying they wanted to publish COMMUNITY KLEPTO. Today, I made it official and signed the contract, making me She Writes Press’s newest author! COMMUNITY KLEPTO will be released sometime in the Spring of 2022 (hopefully by then, things like in-person book signings and launch parties won’t be frowned upon by the CDC).

It goes without saying that applying my signature to a book deal is the easy part and now 18 months of hard work begins to bring my newest book into this world, and I guess it also means that I’m finally going to have to go back to my hair salon since my last cover photo is now a decade old. Mask up, stay safe, and follow along on my ride as a SWP author.

About She Writes Press:

She Writes Press is an independent publishing company founded to serve members of SheWrites.com, the largest global community of women writers online, and women writers everywhere. She Writes Press is both mission-driven and community-oriented, aiming to serve writers who wish to maintain greater ownership and control of their projects while still getting the highest quality editorial help possible for their work.

In 2014, SheWrites.com and She Writes Press became part of SparkPoint Studio, LLC, creating a powerful combination that no other hybrid publisher brings to the table, including a strong editorial vision; traditional distribution; two award-winning hybrid imprints (She Writes Press and SparkPress); and an in-house marketing and publicity team through its publicity division, BookSparks. The SparkPoint Studio family is a female-run company with a strong vision, passion, and work ethic. In 2019, She Writes Press was named Indie Publisher of the Year.

– She Writes Press 2020
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New flash fiction piece!

My mind, like everyone’s right now, has been a swirling cesspool trying to process everything that’s going on in the world right now. The cesspool, mixed with a recent-ish encounter with my own children in a grocery store, spurned me to write this flash fiction piece which is now featured in the Rose City Sisters short fiction site. It feels so good to be writing and querying in the midst of the world going a new flavor of batshit crazy every day.

Enjoy! https://www.rosecitysisters.com/the-black-baby-by-kelly-i-hitchcock/

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2019 in review, author goals for 2020!

In 2019, I had only one writing goal – it was to get serious about submitting Community Klepto for publication and secure a book deal for it. On January 1, I hit the ground running and sent three query submissions. Then, I finally marked an item off my to-do list that had been on there for FAR too long; I dumped GoDaddy and (with the help of my husband who is way smarter than me) stood up hosting for my website myself and gave the website a little facelift. Before the end of January, a publisher wanted to see the full manuscript. Before I knew it, I had my first offer from the same publisher. I thought to myself, holy crap! How could it be this easy?!

Well, it wasn’t. The proposal was with a hybrid publisher who, while selective, required a pretty hefty investment on the part of the author. As attractive as the offer was, I said I wasn’t ready to commit to it yet. I told myself that if 2019 came to a close and I didn’t have any other prospects, I’d go back to the table and take the deal. Over the next 6 months, I sent over 20 more query submissions, one of which I didn’t hear back from until the last day of the year, and it was one of the three I’d sent on January 1! (That’s got to be some record.)

In July, I got a response back from another publisher. This one was local, a small but traditional independent press. The acquisitions editor and I sat down for coffee (outside, in August, in Austin… it gets hot in August in Austin). We discussed possibilities for Community Klepto, shook hands, and decided to move forward! This year, my primary goal is of course to put in the work to bring Community Klepto to market. We’re still editing, and there’s no date yet, but I’m excited about working with Lit City Press to make this book happen! Outside of Community Klepto, I have the following goals:

  • Write one poem per month. Even if they’re terrible Vogon poems. I only wrote one all year in 2019, and I need to do more.
  • Read 20 books. The first book I finished this year was Educated by Tara Westover. Technically I started it in 2019 but I’ll count it.
  • Publish a poem or short story in a literary journal. I did a decent amount of querying in 2019, but my material is so old, I need to get more works into the pipeline. I haven’t been featured in a journal since 2015!
  • Write a new short story. I have no idea what I’m going to write about – maybe returning PJ Masks toothbrushes to the grocery store because they were the wrong character.

Lots to come in 2020! Hope y’all will be along for the ride…

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COMMUNITY KLEPTO is officially happening!

I started writing this silly humor piece about a sociopath who stole from people at her gym way back when my gym was a community center in Mission, Kansas – before I moved to Austin, before I birthed two humans at the same time, before my hip joints started hating stairs. What started as a silly short story turned into a concept for my first long-form novel (I’d grown so comfortable with the short story collection form, writing novels seemed like it wasn’t really for me). I finished writing the book in the middle of a severe thunderstorm, workshopped the chapters while I was in my second trimester with the twins, finished editing it while toys were being thrown at my head, and sent queries after singing the good night song one last time.

Today I’m ridiculously excited (and a little proud) to announce that what started as this silly short story will soon be a novel called Community Klepto thanks to Austin-based independent publisher Lit City Press. I’m honored that they’ve chosen to take a chance on me and my work, and eager to work with them to get this book on shelves in 2020. The ink’s just dried on this little deal, so this journey is just starting and I hope my readers will follow it with me!

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Authors, your query is your book’s dating profile

I put off writing my query letter for Community Klepto for way too long. After all, it feels almost reductive to turn years (many years, in my case) worth of work into a three-paragraph sales pitch some acquisitions editor at a publishing house who doesn’t give a crap about my work. It IS reductive. And it’s hard. But it’s also necessary, and will make or break you as an author. So, I made myself sit down and do it.

On some advice from the brilliant Rachelle Gardner, I pulled a couple of my favorite books off the shelf and took a look at the back cover. I was able to get a few lines out but still struggled with how to write about myself. At one time in;  my life, I had a side job as a freelance writer, doing other people’s online dating profiles, so I am intimately familiar with people not being good at writing about themselves. The more I spun my wheels with writing my query, the more I felt like I was trying to write an online dating profile…

So I did just that. I started applying the same principles that I employed as a profile writer to my query; and you know what? It worked. I was able to step out of my hamster wheel and actually come up with a pitch that was worth a damn. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that the query letter was really just a dating profile for my book. So if you’re struggling with how to write a really good query, try applying some of these dating profile writing techniques –

ADJECTIVE LISTS, NO.

No one wants to read a dating profile that’s just list of boring adjectives that you think describes you. Likewise, no publisher wants to hear you talk about how your book is visceral, humorous, horrifying and uplifting. It’s just not convincing. What is convincing, though, is humor that comes through in your voice when you talk about your book’s plot, its characters, its setting.

PAINT A PICTURE

Reading is an experience. A publisher can’t get a feel of what that experience will be like for a reader if you don’t give it to them in your query. Rather than describe or summarize your work, paint a picture of what it’s like to be inside your book. Pick out a specific scene or character trait that can take the place of those boring lists of adjectives you’re supposed to be avoiding.

KEEP IT SHORT

Yes, publishers and agents read for a living. That doesn’t mean they want to open a query submission only to be confronted by a wall of text. Keep your query to three paragraphs – four max. Here I employ another freelance writing gig’s strategies: Groupon. First paragraph, introduce the concept and create an experience the publisher can be a part of. Second paragraph, tell the publisher what they’re buying if they get your book. Third paragraph, talk about you. You have to do it at some point and this keeps the focus on the work. (Of course, these rules are completely different for non-fiction authors.

Of course there is a lot more advice on query letter writing out there, but the dating profile strategy really helped me make my query into something I can be confident putting in front of publishers and agents. Now I just have to actually do that… stay tuned.

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What is this “book” thing the hipsters keep tweeting about?

While I was procrastinating further on writing the pitch for Community Klepto tonight, I decided to go through my Twitter list of publishing people. It’s a list that I’ve been building ever since I joined Twitter, which Twitter tells me was 7 years ago, so most of the accounts I’ve followed on that list about about as old as I am, in Twitter years. As I opened profile after profile, URL after URL, I had waves of mixed emotions as I saw the following:

  • 404 Not Found
  • Domain for sale
  • We have ceased operations
  • We are no longer accepting new submissions

I admit that between switching careers and giving birth to two children on the same day, I haven’t kept up with all the happenings in the publishing industry like I maybe should have; but at the same time, I think I can outline the trajectory of the 7 year Kelly’s-Twitter-publisher-list timeline easily enough:

  1. E-books happen. Some publishers resist all changes. Others pop up looking to cash in early.
  2. E-books gain popularity. Some publishers still resist all changes. Others adapt and innovate. Shitty books get self-published.
  3. E-books soar. Some of the publishers who resisted all changes die. Some who adapted and innovated succeed, some don’t. More shitty books get self-published. Readers start to realize most of the free books they downloaded are shitty.
  4. E-books sales to fall off. The resistors shout that they were right, even as they continue to publish marketable turd sandwiches. Authors of shitty books stop making money on their shitty books. Some of the innovative co-op ventures find they are no longer viable.
  5. Hipsters make physical books cool again. Resistors decry TOLD YA SO. Everyone else is saying Now what?

Now what. Some publishers have died horrible deaths because they refused to innovate. Some died because they were counting on a fad to sustain its growth indefinitely. This is a sad but predictable reality. Some of weathered the storms, adapted where they needed to, and are doing really cool things now. This makes me happy and excited to see what’s next.

I’m not going to go so far as to say that e-books were a fad. I mean, I still read them so they must be cool, right? And I like the papercut and smell of an old book as much as the next hipster. But in a world where evolving technology is changing every industry, publishing is not immune. Their battles for market share aren’t over, even if the e-book is losing ground. The future may be uncertain, but I am certain that as more traditional publishers broaden their horizons (and re-open their wallets), it’s a good time for me to be diving back in.

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Running on empty, not on fleek #MondayBlogs

On top of finishing my third novel, working a full time job, and taking care of two 10-month-olds, I have also recently been training for the Austin half-marathon, which I ran last weekend. By ran, sadly, I mean I injured a muscle in my back in the lamest way possible a couple days before the race, got to run about 5 minutes before my body compelled me to wuss out, and got to walk my gimpy ass back to the car. Not my finest moment. In fact, it was even worse than the day during training that I needed to complete a 7-mile run…

Unlike my protagonist in COMMUNITY KLEPTO, I much prefer running trails to running on pavement or even worse, surrounded by four walls and digital beeps. There is a relatively new trail (it’s been there for quite some time, but the city only recently made it official) that I’d been wanting to try out so I decided to drive to the trailhead and do my long run for the week there. I was curious to explore it A) because the trail connects to the one that leads to my office B) to see if it was a stroller friendly trail I could take the girls on sometime. (I’ll spare you the suspense. It’s not, and that will not happen for many years, if ever.) I parked the car with my full set of keys inside and took my spare car key with me, tucked securely in my flipbelt along with my phone, ID and – in case of emergency – my medical insurance card.

As soon as I finished stretching out and started jogging on the trail, it started raining. It had rained the day before, too, but I’ve always found running in the rain to be masochistically exhilarating so I just kept going. Within two minutes, I hit my first “low-water crossing,” where the creek was running over the trail. I managed to hop over some rocks sticking up out of the creek and got right back to running. It was about a minute before I hit another one. Then another. Then another. About this time, I said screw it and just decided to start running through the water. After all, it might pour rain the day of the half marathon (it didn’t) and I needed to train for every possibility. Plus if I tried to pussyfoot around every low-water crossing, all of which were completely submerged by the creek, I’d be running for half the day. I splashed through a couple more sections of trail covered by the creek when I hit a crossing so low that water was rushing right up around my knees. I was determined to stay undeterred, so I started jogging through it.

And that’s when I fell in the creek. I didn’t go completely under, but got everything below the waist and the entire right side of my upper body submerged. As I trudged myself up out of the water, my first instinct was to pull out my phone and make sure it was okay. Plus I needed to check my GPS tracker. It hadn’t told me I’d gone a full mile yet, and I definitely felt like I’d done at least a mile. My phone was fine, and it informed me I’d almost gone one mile. Just 6 more to go! About this time, I was feeling dejected from falling in the creek and continuing to get rained on, and I started to consider taking a mulligan and trying again next week. But then, just as I turned around to go back to the car, the opening lines of Beyonce’s Halo started playing in my ears, and it was as though Queen Bey herself was lifting me up out of the creek, cheering me on to keep going.

So I pressed on, running through a few more low-water crossings like an excited toddler before I finally reached the part of the trail on higher ground and hit my stride (meaning a faster than 16-minute mile, which is how long that first one took). Things were going great right up until I hit the section of the trail where I believe the intention was to become Spider-Man to get across…

I later discovered that there used to be a bridge here but it got washed out by a freak storm. Of course the knowledge did not help me at the time, and I was forced to find another way to cross the water. This is when I started to veer wildly off the trail. I found myself dodging vines and trying to avoid tripping over fallen tree branches, but I was 3 or so miles in and I wasn’t getting rained on anymore, so I counted it as an adventure. Or I did right up until one of the vines ripped a hole in the ass of my brand new running pants.

This was where I had to pull out my phone again, see how hopelessly lost I was, and backtrack my way to the broken bridge. That super squiggly part on the map? That’s me, post-butt-hole.

The trip back to the car was far less eventful, having familiarized myself with the trail. It also went a lot quicker than I expected, so when I reached the trailhead where I entered, I realized I was still a mile short of my goal. Since I still had Beyonce as my ear-cheerleader, I was not motivated to cut my run short. That loop on the opposite end of the map? That’s me running laps around a liquor store. Classy.

I get back to my car, proud of myself for completing the full run despite the many adventurous obstacles thrown at me along the way, and go to pull my spare car key out of my Flipbelt only to discover it isn’t there. No worries, I think, knowing that the other set is in the car and whenever the key is in range, the hatchback can be opened. There must be a time limit on that convenience feature (that’s less than 1:33), because that didn’t work either. I ended up calling AAA and waiting in the parking lot of a liquor store with part of my butt poking out until the guy showed up to rescue me.

So, I ended my run 7 miles richer and one car key poorer, and I didn’t even get to run the damn half-marathon anyway. So much for my glorious post-pregnancy comeback! I wouldn’t even be able to write this kind of scenario up for my Community Klepto character because it would be completely unbelievable as fiction, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t recount it for y’all. Like Beyonce said, a little sweat ain’t never hurt nobody. I guess my glorious comeback will just have to come in the form of my next novel…

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Dead tree editing redux! #MondayBlogs

It’s been only since the Jurassic era that I last blogged, but that’s life with 9-month-old twins, who just happen to be simultaneously napping for maybe another 10 minutes.

So what have I been up to besides channeling my inner moo-cow and changing poopy diapers for the last 18 months? Believe it or not, I’ve actually been making a great deal of progress on editing my third novel – working title Community Klepto. The latest thing I did in the editing process is a step I have not taken before, but now that I did it I am inordinately glad I did. I edited a complete “dead tree” version of the book – meaning I went to Kinko’s, had computer them make a spiral bound paper copy of it, and used that for a cover-to-cover read-through/edit.

I’ve done straight readthroughs on both computer and Kindle screen and found there to be some definite benefits I hadn’t experienced before by doing this on paper – things I think will definitely make it a better book.

1. Relative spine thickness

This seems obvious, but looking at my word count in a document file is one thing. Seeing the thickness of your book spiral bound is another. It didn’t sound like a long book when I said the word count out loud, but I was shocked when I saw how thick it was printed out. Holy crap I wrote a big ass book!

2. Stale jokes

I found several places where I thought I was being high-larious, but it turns out past me was already high-larious. Since I went through the chapter edits one by one, I missed a lot of instances where I repeated the same jokes twice, sometimes even three times.

3. Missing words

For some reason, these just seem to jump out on the printed page so much more than they do on a screen. Since my brain wrote over them once, it tends to read over them a second time. It wasn’t until I read through again on a tactile page that I found a few more of these

4. Awkward chapter breaks

Again, since my previous round of edits was chapter by chapter, I wasn’t able to see how smooth the transition was from the end of one chapter to the beginning of the next one. When I find myself struggling to figure out where to end a chapter, I just cut it off when I think it starts to get awkward. This wasn’t as graceful as I’d hope in some spots.

I definitely think this process will make Community Klepto a better book. Now I just need to go incorporate all my bright orange chicken scratches on a screen once more.

So what else have I been up to? Besides diapers and bottles and snot suckers? We’ve been training for the Austin half-marathon, which has helped me channel my protagonist even more. I’ve had some interesting experiences with some of my training runs… but that’s a story for later.

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Are academia’s literary journals worth saving? #MondayBlogs

Yesterday, I received a rejection letter for four poems I sent as a manuscript submission to a literary journal. It had been a while since I had submitted anything – I’ve been heads down focused on getting my third novel ready for primetime – so I went and checked the submission record. Turns out there was a reason memory of this poetry submission had receded to the dark depths of brain nothingness; I had submitted it all the way back in February. For those counting, that’s nine months (and one day, to be exact).

By comparison, it only took Bank of America seven months to issue me the escrow refund from my refinance, but I digress…

I won’t name names or anything, but it’s a literary journal run by the graduate creative writing program at a college you would probably not know by name. They do have a couple things in their favor: they allow simultaneous submissions (so I didn’t have to have the poem under their sole consideration for the same length of time as a human pregnancy) and they do online submissions (so I didn’t have to send in a self-addressed stamped envelope in the frigidness of February). But looking at the auto-response I received when I submitted my poems way back during the last winter, it read: We’ll consider your work carefully and get back to you in as timely a manner as we can. Apparently the better part of a year is the timeliest a manner they can muster.

Not 2 minutes before I received this email, I also got one from another academia-run literary journal I have submitted to in the past (since once you submit, you receive their spam forever), asking me to donate so that the journal can be saved. It’s not the first journal to ask for “save us” donations, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. But it did make me stop and ask the question – are these types of literary journals really worth saving anymore?

No one reads them anymore.
Content in all forms has moved online and the departments still putting out annually published print journals are relying on smaller and smaller audiences of circulation. Even the journals I have been published in, I rarely read the other works that are included alongside mine. Everyone will say that if you’re going to submit to a journal you should also subscribe to it, but who really does that? I certainly don’t, and I don’t know anyone who does. Besides, if I subscribed to every journal I submitted to, I would go broke.

There is no money in it anymore.
In fact, many journals have taken to charging writers to submit to their journals, sometimes calling these “maintenance fees” to defray the cost of taking submissions online. Some journals say they will pay writers with copies, but (like I said) no one reads these copies and last time I checked, the self-checkout lane at my grocery store doesn’t have a slot that accepts literary journals as payment. Few of the journals that once paid writers for their work are still doing this, if they are even still in existence.

There is zero incentive for the writer.
Why would anyone spend the better part of a year trying to find a literary journal to publish his or her work for zero dollars’ worth of reward? Especially when they can publish a piece or a collection of their work on any number of online publishing platforms in minutes, not months, and sell it for more than zero dollars. For prestige? Of the literary journals I have been published in, very few of them are around anymore, and apart from the academic creative writing elite, no one has heard of them anyway.

Maybe you disagree with me and think we as writers need to do everything in our power to save the grand old institution that is the Clever Name Review, courtesy of the MFA program in creative writing at Nowheresville University. Or maybe I’m right, and we need be thinking about what we can do to usher in the next technology that will replace these outdated mediums. What do you think?

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