Hangin’ Tough

It’s been an eventful couple of weeks in my writing life. I’ve learned this is completely normal. Sometimes things move like a slow emotional ballad. Other times, they move like the thumpin’ beat of a dance track.

(Note: I’m probably not going to give up on the boy band music analogies any time soon. You’ve been warned.)

Since I last posted, I made it into Round 3 of Query Kombat. I’m thrilled and humbled by this accomplishment. My Round 2 competitor (a book I know will be published and I want to read) ended the contest with a whopping 14 requests from agents—more than any of the others. So, while she didn’t win. She SO won. And I get to carry on in the contest, honing and strengthening my query/first page until the time when I’m out and can start querying. Win/Win.

While things were moving in QK, I also attended the Arkansas SCBWI conference, where I got to meet some amazing professionals and gained a lot of knowledge, plus hang out with my writer friends. No, scratch that, friends who are also writers.

The overwhelming take-home I get from these experiences is this phrase: Everything is subjective.

In QK, there is feedback posted by judges and by other “kombatants.” My round 2 had 18 comments. That’s 18 different opinions. And I mean 18 DIFFERENT opinions. I got comments that read “love the peanut butter line” and those that said, “I’m not getting the peanut butter line.” A lot of comments said my MC is a too cocky, yet I had almost as many that said they loved him and he had a great voice.

I even had one comment that read they suspect Derrick’s narcissism my actually be MY narcissism. I’m still not sure what to do with that one, but it’s certainly something for me to think about. I appreciate the person taking the time to comment on it.  (Would a narcissist say that? I’m not sure. Anyway…)

Then when I went to the conference and pitched my book to one of the editors there, he told me some things I didn’t want to hear. (Along with some other awesome things that were perfectly in-tune with my little writer heart.) At the end of our session, however, he said, “But that’s just MY opinion. Someone else may say something different.”

*Looks at QK entries* “This new query is better.” “I liked your first one a lot more.”

At the conference, the fabulous agent, Molly O’Neill, presented a workshop on dealing with rejection. I ate every word she said up with a spoon. The essence of her presentation was that it takes only one agent to “get it” and every rejection you receive before you find “the one” isn’t something to take as personal. There are dozens of factors that can contribute to a “no thanks” and just as many that can lead to “the call.” Outside of writing a killer book, most of those are out of my control. I hope I’ve done the killer book part. We’ll see, I suppose.

Listening to the professionals at the conference, different variations of the same theme kept coming up in presentations, in pitches, and in casual conversations at dinner.  Basically, if someone doesn’t like your work, it’s their opinion. Take it, consider whether or not there’s merit to it, implement it (or not), then move on.

It’s just one person’s opinion.

That sounds pretty straightforward, but it’s easy to get bogged down when someone gives you a critique that’s harsh or you get yet another rejection from an agent. I’m learning to navigate the waters by trying not to let the things I don’t like get under my skin. Or rather, make my skin tougher so those harsh crits and rejections don’t hurt me as deeply.

It’s not easy, but I’m getting better at it. I think the key is remembering that my worth (as a person and as a writer) isn’t tied directly to my manuscript. A harsh crit or rejection doesn’t make me a bad person or poor writer. A harsh crit or rejection means that one individual did not believe the work was where it needed to be for them. Maybe that means I need to revise or maybe it means I need to find another person. It really doesn’t mean I should give up or that I suck.

Because I won’t. And I don’t.

(Ah, maybe there’s something to that narcissism thing.)

My MS is getting better as my skin is getting tougher. It just might be where it needs to be for that one agent to “get it.” If not, I’ll be here Hangin’ Tough

(What? You KNOW Donnie Wahlberg is your Home Boy.)

 

All I Have to Give

A quick update:

Though the battle was fierce, the Query Kombat first round voting is over. I’m stoked beyond all reason to announce that I moved on to Round 2! My worthy opponent made a strong second-half surge and almost came out on top, but in the end, I scored the winning vote. 5-4.  I’m very pleased to see that one of the hosts of the contest picked my opponent as his “Host Save” so she and her epic MS will be moving on as well.  Cheers all around!

I would love to be able to say this is me right now:

BSB IWITW

Really, I’m more like this:

BSB scream

The agent round starts tomorrow. After that, we get on to battling it out in Round 2. It’s going to be an anxious time waiting to hear if I get any agent requests or move forward to Round 3. But, if neither of those things happen, I’ve already got a stronger query and first 250 words. And I can rest in the knowledge in that I gave it All I Have To Give.

 

At The End of the Day

I struggled a little writing this post. One one hand, through hard work and determination, I’ve accomplished something I’m proud of. On the other hand, in less than a week, I might be exactly where I am now with nothing to show for it. I tried to think about how I’d feel when this is all over and I decided to blog about this to help strengthen my ability to put myself out there. Because, at the end of the day, no matter what happens, it’s part of my journey and that’s the purpose of this blog.  So, here it goes.

I was picked as an entrant to an online writing contest. Specifically Query Kombat.

I have a love/dislike relationship with writing contests.  At the end of the day, I’m unagented, so most would say that contests have been failures for me. I’ve been picked for several contests and passed over for many more. (Several different manuscripts too!)  I don’t consider myself a failure at writing because I’ve not snagged an agent or sold a manuscript yet. I consider myself “still on the road” to those things. Participating in contests is just one step along that road.

Failing to be chosen for a contest can hurt almost as much as rejections do. This is the aforementioned dislike part. When you work hard preparing materials and get your hopes up and the contest hosts/judges don’t pick your entry, it can feel like a waste of time and it can certainly knock you a few pegs down the confidence ladder. But the longer I’ve been “in the business” of writing, the more I’ve come to understand, it is all subjective. ALL OF IT.

Hosts/judges/agents/editors/publishers/readers are influenced by factors that are simply out of my control. Sometimes it can be something as simple as a bad day or someone having an ex-boyfriend with the same name as my love interest. Perhaps an agent enjoys my writing, but has just picked up a similar title for their list. Or maybe publishers aren’t buying my MS because they believe nobody wants to read [insert genre here] right now.  (*Gazes longingly at the dystopian MS sitting in my drawer* One day…) All of those things can lead to heart ache, but at the end of the day, it does not mean I’m not a good writer or that my MS is bad. It simply means I haven’t found the right agent/publisher/readers yet.

Contests can go a long way to getting my manuscript in front of many agent/editor/publisher eyes at once. That’s a good thing and that’s one of the things I love about contests. If the world didn’t love a fast track, there’d be no microwaves or McDonald’s or Disney Fast Passes. I’m all for a group of people considering my MS at once because it FEELS like I’ve been writing for a lot longer than I have. The hunger to publish tends to make that happen. But at the end of the day, participating in, or even winning, a contest might not make the process go any faster for me. And that’s okay.

Because at the end of the day, I’m getting something else from contests. I’m getting valuable advice from professionals, making writer friends, and improving my craft. I believe this is the biggest advantage contests hold.

Having lined all that out, I’m thrilled, shocked, and elated to announce that my latest Manuscript was chosen for the Query Kombat contest hosted by Michelle Hauck, Michael Anthony, and Laura Heffernan. The contest will be tournament style, with brackets. Think College Basketball playoffs. Over 300 people chose nicknames for our MS and entered query letters and the first 250 words. Sixty-four of us were chosen to battle it out head-to-head.  Like this:

light saber fight

Though now that I’ve “Twitter-met” some of the competition, it will probably look more like this:

dance combat.gif

It’s going to be tough. Half of us will be eliminated in the first round. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a competitive person and I want to WIN, but even if I don’t make it past the first cut, I know I will have gained something.

So, wish me luck. The first battle begins 8:00 am Friday, June 2. My entry “Boy Band Ninja Assassins” is going up against “Girl Takes Back White House” (which I totally want to read!) Judges with nicknames will be posting their VICTORY votes on the blogs. So, unfortunately, you can’t help me win.  But if you want to read our entries (because I’m sure many of them will make their way to publication in the future), you can find them by clicking the following links.

Boy Band Ninja Assassins will be on Laura’s blog.

Some more great stuff on Michelle’s blog.

And here’s Michael’s outstanding lineup.

Best of luck to all the Kombatants. I’m really proud to be a part of this, no matter the outcome at the end of the day. 

BOY BAND SOUNDTRACK SONG FOR THIS ENTRY: At The End of the Day

GIF source: giphy.com

Query Trenches

I’m in the query trenches again. This is what it feels like:

happyscared

Most days I’m feeling pretty good about my manuscript, then suddenly I’m hit with the thought that I sent it out and it’s wrong.  IT’S ALL WRONG!

Of course, the panic passes, but boy does it feel real in the moment.

I’m not sure why it’s called the query trenches. That phrase conjures up images of war, guns, and olive green clad soldiers either clinging on for life or lobbing ammunition. Querying doesn’t have to be as bad as all that.

I’m approaching querying a little differently than I have in the past. Not in the process itself, as that has stayed the same for me, but in the way I’m thinking about the process.Going with the soldier theme, there are a few things I’ve discovered that writers must have in their arsenal when querying.

  • Belief in your manuscript. It may seem strange to say that, but I’ve known writers who’ve queried with the idea it isn’t really good enough yet, but I’ll take a shot. I will even go so far as to say I did that myself several years ago just moments I typed THE END. That didn’t get me anywhere. Now, I spend as long polishing as I do writing the first draft. I make sure that what I have is the best it can be. That doesn’t mean that some future agent or editor won’t have ideas for change. It means that I’m no longer revising scenes, substituting words, or throwing new ideas in. I believe my manuscript is good, it’s fresh, and is high concept. I’m not bragging, mind you. I’m believing in the story I’ve told. I’ve enlisted in this army of writers and I think my campaign will be a winning strategy.
  • A thick skin. Rejections aren’t fun. But you will get them. It doesn’t mean your manuscript is bad or that you’re not talented. It means you haven’t found the right agent for your manuscript. It took me a while to get to this point. In the past, I would sink into a depression with every rejection I got. Now, I’m a little bit better about it. Continuing with the theme, I’ve tried to adjust my attitude and look at finding the right agent as a game of Battleship. You know, the one where it was Blue vs.Red and the little plastic ships? ( Totally showing my age there. I think they’re actually electronic now.) But when I’m querying, I’m firing missiles at the board. The rejections, are misses.  Requests are hits.  From there, it’s just a matter of picking a few strategic shots to sink the Battleship. (Partial request, hit. Full request, hit. Phone call, hit.) YOU SUNK MY BATTLESHIP or YOU ARE MY AGENT!
  • Patience. This is tough. I am not a patient person by nature, but I’ve learned that Publishing is a long process and while some things can happen very quickly, the majority of the business doesn’t. I’ve found the best way to handle this is to keep writing. I’ve already started another project and that’s taking up a lot of my brain time. It keeps me honing my craft while I wait to hear back from my queries.

And now, off to practice some of that patience… and read a good book.

 

 

Riding It Out

Today was a good day. Today I:

  • Wrote a query letter for “Boyband” that I don’t hate
  • Wrote a 3-pg synopsis that can probably be trimmed to 1-pg if necessary
  • Researched (AND FOUND) a list of YA agents seeking boyband and/or humor MS
  • Boybanded by listening to One Direction all day (#inspiration)
  • Decided that “boy” and “band” could, in fact, be smashed into one word and used as a noun or a verb
  • Did I mention the query? Because I hate queries
  • Wrote a blog post about all the boybandy things I did today
  • Decided boyband can also adjective if needed

I’m not posting this list to brag or make other writers feel unaccomplished. Because yesterday I:

  • Spent two hours formatting my manuscript and I’m still not done
  • Whined to my Crit Partner about how much my manuscript sucked and how worried I was about it being too long and too over-the-top
  • Removed almost 150 instances of go-to filter words like: just, really, and smile
  • Agonized for far too long over the name of one of my minor characters. I still don’t have it right yet.
  • Considered abandoning my boyband manuscript because I can’t quite narrow it down to the proper genre and category yet

And that’s the life of the writer: up and down and up and way over there to the side, then up again, then down into the pits of despair, then up again.

I’m truly thankful that I’m along for the ride, no matter how crazy it is.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.

Pimpin’ My Bio for #PitchWars

Hey there! Though this isn’t Tuesday, I’m blogging for a specific reason today. Welcome to the #PitchWars bio of Michelle Collins, YA writer, voracious reader, occasional blogger, and fulltime fangirl of many things. To learn more about me, follow me down the rabbit hole yellow brick road cobblestone path strewn with boyband t-shirts, gerbera daisies, and zombies.

Follow Me Four

I’m a married mom of two kids who are older than I care to mention. We recently moved back home to Arkansas after a year of living in Vegas, where I got to do a lot of cool things. These things definitely do NOT stay in Vegas.

I met my favorite author, Jennifer Armentrout (and her hunka-hunka cover model and all-around delightful human being, Drew Leighty.)

Jen and Drew

I was an extra in a movie with my favorite actor, Matt Damon. MATT. FREAKIN’ DAMON. And I have to say, he definitely earned his reputation for being the nicest guy in Hollywood. He was super. (Look for me in the convention scene!)

Bourne movie

And I also got to finally meet one of my favorite bands, O-Town. Yes, O-Town from MTV’s Making the Band. (Nope. I do not consider my love of these guys as a guilty pleasure. Not even a little bit.) They’re the hardest working, most down-to-earth and appreciative band I’ve ever met. Go see them, if only for nostalgia’s sake. They do not disappoint. Townie for life!

Me and my boys

KMore about me: I’m a card carrying Sci-Fi geek (my complete collection of Empire Strikes Back collector cards qualify me). Some of my favorite fandoms are: Doctor Who, Firefly, Game of Thrones, Buffy & all things Whedon, Star Trek, The Walking Dead, Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Marvel Universe, X-Files, & The 100. Here’s where I come down on the important issues: Ten over Eleven (and light years beyond Twelve); Picard over Kirk; Spike over Angel; The Order of the Phoneix book, The Deathly Hallows movie;  and Bellarke forever.

My zombie apocalypse team would consist of Daryl Dixon, Jon Snow, and Spike from BtVS.  Yes, they will brood the zombies to death and finish them off with their hotness.

My favorite authors are Jennifer Armentrout, Veronica Rossi, Stephen King, Marie Lu, Madeleine L’Engle, and who doesn’t love JK Rowling? A favorite books list would include A Wrinkle in Time, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Divergent, The Lux Series, Brave New World, & To Kill a Mockingbird. I also adore the Shadow and Bone series, which I use as a comp for my #PitchWars entry.

I’m entering VALLEY OF MIST AND MEMORY this year. It’s a YA historical fantasy based on ancient Mayan culture that was inspired by a dream and an episode of Ancient Aliens. The manuscript is a magical retelling of the Mayan creation myth told in two POV’s—a girl from the valley who believes the Four Elements guide her and a prince from the mountain who’s directed by the stars. They must overcome their differences and team up to find the “somewhat disputed” thirteenth crystal skull before it falls into the wrong hands, specifically the prince’s crow of a brother, who’s determined to gain the skull’s power and destroy the valley.

Oh, and there’s kissing in it.

Hot kissing. We’re talking literal fire here.

(Because it is completely impossible for me to write anything that doesn’t have a lot of kissing in it.)

My Pinterest board for this manuscript is here.

For the pimp portion of your evening, allow me to sell myself to my potential mentors.

smooth move baby

Though I’ve been a writer since I could form coherent thoughts, I’ve been formally attempting this publication thing for about four years now. I’m an active member of SCBWI and have an awesome group of crit partners who dig this story! (That’s got to count for something, right?) I’ve done contests and have come close, but haven’t found the right agent yet. I’m hoping this MS is THE one. I have not queried this MS yet, so it’s shiny and fresh for everyone to see. (Or it will be!)

Personally I’m a quick writer, hard worker, and will give it my all (…Or nothing at all.  O-Town.) Though I’m a sensitive soul, I’ve always understood that honest critique is the best way to improve and I Want it That Way. (Backstreet Boys) I’m fully ready to receive any comments/suggestions/criticisms/gifs. My mentor can expect me to respond to these things with a good attitude/honest questions/my best effort/and possibly boyband lyrics.

And this has been my life and times. The truth is out there. So long and thanks for all the fish.

so long dolphin

WRITERS with polished manuscripts: You can find more information about Pitch Wars on the amazing Brenda Drake’s website. Check out potential mentors and get your pitches ready by August 3!

Chasing After Motivation

Recently I was struck with a great motivational quote from what some would say is an odd source–a tweet made by a member of O-Town.

You remember O-Town, right? MTV’s Making the Band reality show where attractive and talented young men lined up to audition for their chance at stardom…back in the good ole days of Boy Band Supremacy.

(Are you singing “All or Nothing At All” right now? You should be.)

Yes, O-Town is still making music and touring. And yes, I have a ticket to see them in Vegas. YES, I am insanely excited about that. But this isn’t a post in which wax poetic about how amazing this particular boy band is. Maybe I’ll do that another time.

This is a post about motivation.

Last Wednesday O-Town member Jacob Underwood so aptly tweeted the following:

If you wait and want, you’ll spend a lifetime waiting and wanting. GO GET!!!

It really struck me because he’s right.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a child. It was one of those unattainable dreams that I answered when adults would ask me “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I never really thought I would actually do it.

Fast forward to adulthood: (I promise I am an adult) After having tried this writing thing seriously almost four years and not finding that big break yet, I can get a little discouraged. I have writer friends that are securing agents and getting book deals, indie publishing and I am thrilled for them. But sometimes it becomes difficult to not land in the “But why not meeeee?” zone. When I get there, it’s hard for me to pull out the WIP and make myself make it better.

But that’s what I have to do if I’m going to succeed.

Just this morning I emailed my crit partner whining about needing to finish line edits on this manuscript, and rewrite my pitch for another. I didn’t want to do either of those things. It was too daunting to think about it. To me, the fun part is the first draft where the words and images come easy. The rewrites are challenging. But the rewrites are where the magic happens.

So I ignored my huge pile of new books that I got at the RT Booklover’s convention and focused on Jacob’s tweet that’s been post-it noted in between my “We Bought a Zoo*” inspirational quote and “JSS**” reminder. I turned up the music (O-Town’s Chasing After You, specifically. I defy you not to love that song.) and I set about GOING and GETTING.

I’m pleased to say that I got a lot done and I’m even closer to my goals.

If you’re a writer that’s struggling with motivation, I challenge you to find your own boy band. Or heavy metal band. Or classical orchestra. Whatever you’re into. And if music doesn’t work, use magazine photos or poems or inspirational quotes with cat pictures. Whatever you find, grab onto it and don’t let go. Keep writing through the hard stuff, keep querying, smile through rejections and write some more. Don’t sit back and wait for something great to happen to you. Like Jacob says, GO GET!

 

*From WE BOUGHT A ZOO. (Imagine Matt Damon saying this): Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty second of just embarrassing bravery and I promise you, something great will come of it. 

**Just Survive Somehow from THE WALKING DEAD