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Kelly I. Hitchcock Posts

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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Portrait of Woman in Ink free for Kindle!

Good morning all my Kindle-loving friends! Today is your lucky day because you can get my latest novel, Portrait of Woman in Ink: A Tattoo Storybook for free in the Kindle store. Tomorrow and Thursday are your lucky days, too, because it will be free then as well (so tell your friends). This is a new edition of the book that includes a sneak preview of my work in progress novel Community Klepto.

Get it HERE and get it now!

.. and do me a solid – leave a review after you read it. The Kindle gods will shine upon you if you do.

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Portrait of Woman in Ink available in paperback

After some deliberation and figuring out what to do with Portrait of Woman in Ink: A Tattoo Storybook now that my contract with my publisher is up. Since I’m in the middle of a career change, uber-frequent visits to my doctor, and deep in the throes of editing my third novel, I opted to go the way of the Amazon and just put it out there as part of my growing “backlist.”

I was partially lucky because I had already done the long, time-sucking work of formatting a print copy of my manuscript: sections, section headers and footers, right-facing pages, page numbers, front matter, back matter – pretty much everything you don’t have to worry about for electronic format books. Even so, it still took a good couple weeks of back and forth with CreateSpace to get my cover positioning just right, which proved to be a frustrating couple of weeks. But at long last, the print paperback is complete and available everywhere (CreateSpace print paperbacks are sold).

So if you’d like your very own dead tree version to add to your Kelly I. Hitchcock collection of works, you can find it here!

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Portrait of Woman in Ink on Kindle Unlimited

Now that Portrait of Woman in Ink: A Tattoo Storybook is in my purview, I’ve enrolled it in the Amazon KDP Select program. This probably doesn’t mean anything to you, unless you’re an Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited subscriber. If you’re an Amazon Prime-ate, you can borrow my book from the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library for absolutely free. Because this is America. If you’re Kindle Unlimited folk, you can buy it for zero dollars and zero cents.

It’s a beautiful thing. So check it out.

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An afternoon with @JudyBlume #MondayBlogs

Last weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a talk and book signing with one of America’s most loved authors at BookPeople (I promise this will be the last time I mention the fact that Judy Blume and I have shared the exact same stage), pimping her newest book In The Unlikely Event, which I cannot wait to read. I don’t even remember the first Judy Blume book I read, but I remember that my mother forbade me–and by forbade I mean I picked it up as soon as I got the chance–from reading Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, not because of all the adult themed content it contained that my pre-teen brain could not possibly grasp, but because its title implied that it questioned the existence of God. Oh, Mom…

As a writer, I think I will always measure the honesty and authenticity of my own work against Judy Blume’s, not that I think I can ever even come close to her level. I remember after I wrote my first book, my mother was so unhappy with me for the things that I shared, and I had just finished reading Wifey, which exhibited a level of honesty that couldn’t even be classified in the same realm as what I portrayed in my book. I don’t know that I would ever have the courage to be half as honest as Judy Blume is in her books, especially the more adult-oriented ones. For that alone, I will always have undying respect and love for Blume’s work. Even Superfudge.

But back to the event! Blume is 77, but certainly doesn’t look it. I hope that when I am 77, I am A) still writing books and B) look as youthful as Judy. That Key West air must contain Retinol-A or something. I never knew how engaged she was/is with her fans. It never occurs to me to engage with an author I enjoy unless they share the same level of notoriety as me (so, very little); however, there were people in the audience who had been writing back and forth with Judy for YEARS, without ever losing touch. It’s now my life’s goal to keep in touch with all my fans, especially those who have been with me from my very first book, even after I write the career maker (which could very well be Community Klepto… who knows?).

She also talked in depth about censorship; in short, how fucking stupid it is. Just let your kids read. Let them be exposed to the world and form their own opinions of it. She also offered great advice for how to get your children to read something, saying “leave the book laying out and when they ask about, say ‘I don’t think you’re ready for that yet’.” It’s possible that’s what my mom was thinking when she made Are You There, God? verboten, but unlikely. To Mom’s credit, though, she never kept me from walking down the street or riding my bike to the public library, where I spent a lot of time and maxed out the balance on her library card. Nowadays, kids attempting to do the very same (and innocent) thing I did might draw the attention of Child Protective Services.

But my favorite moment of the event was when I was waiting in line for my brand new (and new book smelling) hardback copy of In The Unlikely Event to be signed. For the record, even though they have staff whose sole job is to take ‘pics or it didn’t happen’ at book signings, I decided I didn’t want to partake. It just seemed nice to have a private moment with her that I didn’t have to share with anyone else. The person in front of me was a mother with her young daughter (twelve or so), who told Blume that she (the daughter) was beginning to write short stories. To this, Judy replied, “You know, maybe my next thing will be to finally learn how to write short stories.” If I could say one thing in response to this, it would be, dearest Judy Blume, leave the impostor syndrome at the door. You’re one of this country’s most beloved storytellers of all time. You know how to write short stories; you just may not know it yet. Or maybe you were just trying to make a young writer feel better.

If you ever get a chance to see one of your favorite authors at a local bookstore event, take it. Even if it’s standing room only (which BookPeople was), the air conditioning doesn’t want to work (which it didn’t), or you can’t see (which I couldn’t–God bless the height challenged). It is SO worth it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to crack the spine of In The Unlikely Event.

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