The office for my day job (which has been my guest bedroom since March) was closed for the MLK holiday today. In my mind, I was going to use this unexpected day off to focus on finishing editing Community Klepto and work on some other documents for my publisher, since they’re due at the end of the month. However, because I am a working mom, my day off ended up looking more like this:
Get the children off to school
Take the microvan for an overdue oil change and an overdue state inspection
Finish paperback (Dry) waiting for microvan
Take microvan through car wash because bird shit happens
Vacuum fossilized french fries and Reese’s Pieces out of the microvan
Pick up more Zyrtec-D because it’s cedar season in Austin
Barre class (yay! I usually have to do this before anyone else in my house wakes up)
Take bunch of bags of crap to the Goodwill, also the box spring for old bed, now bungeed to the top of the microvan
Goodwill won’t take box spring – attempt Habitat for Humanity Restore
Restore won’t take box spring – succeed at Salvation army 10 miles away
Start editing, realize I need to start crock pot
Start crock pot, realize I am too tired to stare at computer screen
Finish audiobook (Fight Club) falling asleep
Get up, finish editing book before retrieving children
The reality is that even when I have a day off my day is really just filled with the backlog of things that I haven’t been able to get to because I either can’t do them when I am working during the day or I can’t do them while I’m with my children on the weekend. This is the reality for all working parents, especially moms.
As a mom with a full time job and a book coming out next year, time for writing, editing, or doing author platform building comes at a premium, and often comes after my children decide they’re done jumping off their beds for the night and decide to actually sleep on them. So even when my “day of editing” gets derailed by a jillion other tasks that have to be done, I can feel a great sense of gratitude in actually getting editing time in when the sun is out.
And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that the manuscript is now officially ready for the publisher. And the children loved the crock pot soup.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This dumb virus has affected everyone differently. For my part, I’ve been working my day job from home since early March, like everyone else, often while one or both four-year-olds comes in to inform me of the latest happenings (someone just pooped, a lego brick got lodged somewhere, Netflix is asking if they are still watching PJ Masks, etc.). I said at the beginning of this quarantine that I was going to do two things: get super fit and get a lot more writing done. Spoiler alert… neither has happened.
It sucks, too, because I have more fodder for my writing than ever before with all the crazy shit and emotional turmoil, but I am so burnt out from being a work at home parent I don’t even have the energy to tell Netflix I’m still watching most nights. A short time after the pandemic took its hold in the US, I reached out to the publisher I had been working with since last summer to get COMMUNITY KLEPTO on the shelves. I figured it would be a good time to get things rolling, since a lot of people stuck at home are reading more, but making manuscripts into books takes resources and capital that the publisher no longer had, so they are shelving all projects until further notice, including mine.
So, it’s back to the drawing board for now. Maybe they’ll come back to the table, or maybe I’ll find a new one. All I can say for certain is that coronavirus sucks, this isn’t the end for my writing, and I’ll probably never fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans again.
A couple weeks ago I took my girls to their first reading at BookPeople, a really great independent bookstore here in Austin. I know the children’s book author and I must of course get my children used to behaving like complete angels at book readings for when COMMUNITY KLEPTO comes out. It also helped that the girls are obsessed with turtles right now, and the book is The Box Turtle.
As a reward for them being generally well-behaved during the reading and other activities (even if one of them pulled a sex book off the shelves and wanted me to read it to her in the middle of the turtle’s journey of self-discovery), I told them in addition to The Box Turtle they could each pick out one new book to take home. As soon as we meandered over to the children’s book section, me trying to keep them from breaking things, they were immediately drawn to a spinning shelf with all the Dr. Seuss books on it.
We spun the shelves for less than a minute, at which point a young couple with a baby (yes, just one) in a carrier walked by us. The mom must have assumed that my shrieking 3-year-old twins rendered me hard of hearing, because she turned to her partner and said “I would never read Dr. Seuss to our children because those books are sexist.” The dad looked horrified as he registered the fact that I was not in fact, deaf. I must have also looked horrified because I now felt like I was doing my girls a serious disservice by feeding their brains with the rhyming couplets of a sexist pig.
We’ve read plenty of books about girl empowerment – some I’ve enjoyed and some I wish would fall behind the couch forever (I’m looking at you, Olivia). We’ve read books about climate change and gay penguins. But my girls always come back to their Dr. Seuss books. We don’t have the entire collection, but here’s my take on the sexism in the ones we do have:
The Cat in the Hat: I should probably be more horrified that this neglectful mother left her young children at home, unsupervised, without a list of mind- and soul-enriching activities to do. Thing 1 and Thing 2 appear to be gender non-binary, so that’s a good introduction. And my girls need to know that cats cannot be trusted in real life.
Green Eggs and Ham: There are only 2 characters in this book and we’re pretty much led to believe Sam is male, but I’m far more worried about the message this book sends about asking for something over and over so much that the other person relents just so you’ll STFU.
The Foot Book: His feet. Her feet. Scary clown feet.
Oh, The Places You’ll Go: I’ve never actually finished this one because my girls get bored halfway through and ask for Are You My Mother?
Fox in Socks: It’s not about an attractive lady wearing fishnet stockings. It’s about a fox. Wearing socks. To the great chagrin of Mr. Knox.
Maybe these books are sexist, but they’re definitely not as blatantly sexist as some of the things I had to read in my 18th century British literature classes in college, and I have no intention of shielding my girls from Ben Jonson or Lord Byron either. We don’t live in the world of Dr. Seuss any more than we live in the world of Byron. Maybe this mom will manage to get her kid off to college without ever hearing Horton Hears a Who, but good luck with that, Judgy McJudgerson. I guess they’re also never going to take a history class or go to the movies with their friends lest the film not pass Mom’s Bechdel Test.
As for me and my house, we will read One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish and not dwell on the gender identity of the marine life. And apparently Dr. Seuss once wrote books called Boners, More Boners, and The Pocket Book of Boners, so I know what I’m getting myself for my birthday.
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…
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!
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.
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:
E-books happen. Some publishers resist all changes. Others pop up looking to cash in early.
E-books gain popularity. Some publishers still resist all changes. Others adapt and innovate. Shitty books get self-published.
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.
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.
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.