Friday, December 30, 2011

My Year in Writing--2011

It's sort of become my tradition that my last post of the year is a month by month summary of my writing journey over the past twelve months. (You can find 2010's post HERE and 2009's post HERE). And since this year was a BIG year, it was kind of crazy to look back and see how far I'd come. Lots of ups and downs and twists and turns and unexpected happiness. I hope you guys enjoy!

January
Saved from myself
I had high hopes going into 2011, promising myself that THIS would be the year I'd sell a book. But a number of revision woes paired with the realization that it'd been a year since I first met Laura at a conference and had nothing to show for it except a pile of discarded revisions (and, of course, an AMAZING agent--which I was very grateful for) made me start to doubt that this project was *really* going to get me anywhere. So I started considering a terrifying option (starts with "sh" and rhymes with "delve"). I even asked Laura if she thought we should put the project aside--but she convinced me to keep going. A few days later I went to ALA midwinter and ended up talking with someone at the Simon & Schuster booth. She asked me about my book and after I described it, she strongly recommended I have Laura submit the project to Liesa Abrams when it was done, saying it sounded like something she would like. That turned out to be a VERY good suggestion--but more on that later.

February
Broadening my horizons
Back in December, I'd made plans with a friend to attend the San Francisco Writer's Conference--and the time had finally come! But I was excited AND terrified because it was my first time traveling anywhere by myself (probably hard to believe with all the traveling I've done recently--but this was the beginning of that). And I'll admit, I was more than a little nervous when I got there. Fortunately, it didn't take me long to adjust and I realized, Hey--I can do this traveling-by-myself thing! I even figured out how to catch a train to meet my lovely agent for lunch (got off at the right stop on the first try--you have no idea what a miracle that is!!!!) And while Laura and I were talking, she suggested I attend the Big Sur Writers' Workshop in a few weeks to get some additional feedback on my draft. It took a few calls to convince my husband, and several emails to get squeezed in after registration had already closed, but then it was settled. I was traveling again--this time by road trip!

March
Committed
Not sure if it was the 7 hour drive I did (by myself!) to get up to Monterey for the conference, or the amazing (albeit somewhat intense) revision advice I picked up while I was there--but I came home from Big Sur feeling like I could conquer the world and DETERMINED to make my publishing dream a reality. Cue a chaotic three weeks where I pushed myself harder and wrote and revised more than I EVER thought I could. And... ended up sick as dog because of it. (I am such a bad example when it comes to taking care of myself).

April
Unexpected
Thanks to the Head-Cold-Of-Doom (which I'm fairly certain was actually walking pneumonia--go me!) April was a bit of a slow month. Especially since it also involved a bit of WAITING. (Oh publishing, why do you do it to us?) But it ended with a bang. I was still under the hazy fog of cold medicine when my phone rang out of the blue one evening with Laura's name in the caller ID. Her first words were, "I'm so sorry for the emotional roller coaster I'm about to put you through" and my heart sank thinking, she's dropping me as a client. But no--it wasn't that (thank goodness). She'd heard from Liesa Abrams about my book (yes, my book was on submission--hence the WAITING)--and Liesa had loved what she'd read. BUT, before I could get too excited, Laura told me she needed a synopsis for books 2 and 3--A.S.A.P.  And...I didn't have one. *head explodes*

May
Dreams Come True
After much scrambling and panicking and pulling-of-all-nighters, I managed to assemble the synopsis we needed and Laura sent it to Liesa and promised she would let me know when she heard back. Naturally that meant I kept TRYING not to think about it, whilst stressing and worrying and thinking about it constantly. Four days later my phone showed Laura's number again and I answered it, preparing myself for the worst. BUT IT WAS AMAZING NEWS. A three book offer.  I... kind of went into shock. Especially since it was a pre-empt, which meant decisions had to be made quickly. A few hours later, Liesa and I had "the call" (most amazing two hours ever!!!) and, after two days of back and forth phone calls and emails with Laura to iron out all the details, it was official. Liesa Abrams was my editor. I WAS GOING TO BE PUBLISHED!!!!!! And then Laura had to go and say, "but we won't announce until we have the contract." Major buzz kill. :D

June
Waiting
Keeping secrets is hard. Keeping huge, life changing secrets is even harder! But even though my book deal was The-World's-Most-Impossible-To-Keep secret, it was also very much a reality. I got my first round of edits (equal parts scary and exciting) and set to work on them. And at the end of the month I flew to New Orleans to meet some friends at ALA and got a tiny glimpse of what it's like to be an S&S author. Everyone at the booth knew who I was--and they even snuck me into the S&S party one of the evenings. But the best part was that the girl I'd met at ALA in January was there, and I got to personally thank her for suggesting we send my draft to Liesa. I will be forever grateful for her amazing matchmaking skills.

July
Still waiting
Another month of secret keeping. I was starting to get really good at avoiding questions or giving the kind of vague answers that don't actually tell anyone anything. (I would make an excellent politician at this point). But I kept myself busy by finishing up my revision and going to Comic Con--where I got to meet more of the awesome S&S team and became thoroughly convinced I'm with the best publisher ever. All I needed was for their legal department to get me my contract so I could share the happy news.

August
STILL waiting!!!!
Still no contract (have I mentioned that publishing is slow?) but this month I had far too much going on to really feel the waiting. I had SCBWI LA, where I got to meet my awesome editor in person (it's amazing I didn't tackle hug her right there in the lobby!) and spend three days following her around like a lost puppy soaking up as much Liesa time as I could and realizing just how lucky I am to have such a kind, smart, funny, FABULOUS editor to work with. And the rest of the month was swallowed up by the chaos that is WriteOnCon. I really can't explain how we pulled together such an amazing (and exhausting) conference--but we were able to help far more people than I ever thought possible. The success stories are still trickling in. (And I'm still recovering) :)

September
OMG--are we seriously still waiting????
Okay, I'll admit, at this point the waiting was getting a *tiny* bit old. Especially since I FINALLY got my contract (huge, HUGE moment, btw). But we still couldn't announce because S&S had decided that we needed to change my title and Laura wanted to use the new one in the announcement. And unfortunately, I SUCK at titles (no really, I have a blog post percolating on this subject--titles are NOT my friend). So I spent the next few weeks sending lists of suggestions--which were all rejected (because they were horrible)--and driving Laura and Liesa (and probably everyone else I talked to) crazy because I could not find a name for my impossible-to-title book. But all the frustration finally paid off when we landed on KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES, a title I absolutely love. And I promise I will tell you the story of how we got there someday--it's a good one.

October
FINALLY!!!!!!
With the title in place, Laura put the announcement into PM and PW and the news was FINALLY out there. Which led to one of the most surreal weeks of my life. Everyone's support and enthusiasm was seriously overwhelming, and I will never be able to properly explain how much it meant to me. And it was SUCH a relief to be able to talk publicly about what I had going on--especially since my copy edits arrived and DUDE. I am not a fan of those things. Thank goodness I could finally whine about them to all of you (somehow I suspect you guys were less excited about that). 

November
Reality
Now that I was done with the waiting I expected life to go back to normal. But what I didn't realize is that my life has a slightly new definition for "normal" now, one that includes lots of switching gears, and balancing different things. So November became all about learning how to juggle. I wish I could say that I've perfected the system for it, but it's still very much a work in progress. In the meantime I'm getting really good at setting priorities and making To Do lists and tackling things one at a time. 

December
Bring it on!
Still lots of chaotic things going on, but I've switched my primary focus to the item with the highest priority: writing book 2. Not gonna lie--it's SCARY writing a sequel, and I have spent more time than I'd like to admit worrying that I won't be able to pull it off. BUT, I finally realized that every step of my journey so far has been nothing more than me doing the best I can, working hard, leaning on people who are smarter than me, and trusting that I can do it. So... I'm just going to keep doing that. Word by word, page by page, revision by revision, I'll get there. I just have to believe.

*Whew*

Yep--it's official. 2011 was a CRAZY year. And I have a feeling 2012 is going to be even more exciting/chaotic/eventful. I really have no idea what I'm in for--but I have no doubt it's going to be a wild ride. I really hope you'll come along with me!

See you in the new year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A New Look for the New Year!!!

Okay, I know it's not *technically* 2012 yet--but what can I say? I'm impatient--and I HAD to launch my shiny new blog design the second it was ready.

ISN'T IT PRETTY?????????????????????

I've been blogging for two and a half years and this is my first time having an actual, custom template/header. It's so cool to have one that's just so... me. Every tiny detail is 100% Shannon now. A perfect way to start what will probably be one of the most exciting years of my life--the year my book finally hits shelves!!!!

MORE EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!!!!!!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(Hee--can you guys tell I'm writing this with a fever? Stupid head cold won't go away!)

Anyway, huge, HUGE thanks go to my friend Erin Bowman, who seriously deserves a prize for her long suffering and patience (and ability to wade through lengthy emails filled with lots of, "maybe we should try this, or THIS or THIS!!!!!!!") and coming up with this PERFECT design. I pretty much owe her a lifetime supply of cupcakes. Or maybe my first born child. (Erin, if it were me--I'd go with the cupcakes) ;)

And btw, if you guys don't know Erin already I STRONGLY recommend you get thee to her blog straight away. Not only is she one of the sweetest people ever, but she's an incredibly talented writer with a crazy-awesome YA trilogy launching in 2013. Trust me--you want to know her. And you want to read TAKEN.

Okay, I *think* that's enough all caps and exclamation mark abuse for one day (well... maybe FEW more) (!!!!!!!!!!!).

There. That should do it. See you guys tomorrow for a contest and Friday for a special end-of-the-year post. Hope you're all having a good week!

Monday, December 19, 2011

In which I become determined to be productive

So... I had this crazy, I-knew-it-was-impossible-but-I-made-it-anyway writing goal for how much progress I wanted to make on Keeper book 2 before the end of the year.

And... well... lets just say I'm NOWHERE NEAR it.  In fact, I'm so far away from it I'm already conceding defeat.

That--however--does NOT mean I'm giving up!

I have a new goal. A slightly-more-realistic-but-still-relatively-impossible goal that I AM DETERMINED TO DO EVERYTHING IN MY POWER TO MEET.

So, since this week is generally a super quiet week in the blogosphere--and I could REALLY use the extra writing time--I've decided to take the week off of blogging. (I know, I'm sure you're all DEVASTATED by this news.) But I will be back next week for some end-of-the-year posts and contests and whatnot that I hope you'll stop by for.

In the meantime, I hope everyone has a lovely, lovely week filled with all kinds of wonderful, happy things. Me? I have a date with my W.I.P. And I intend to kick some serious MS boot-ay. ;)

Oh, and despite the slow blogging week (and my total failure to support my own meme--#Shannonfail), there are a few MMGM's going on:

- The lovely Shannon O'Donnell always has an MMGM ready for you! Click HERE to see what she's featuring this week!


- Pam Torres takes is RACING THE MOON. Click HERE to read her review.


- Deb Marshall is spreading the love for SCARY SCHOOL--with an author interview AND a giveaway! Click HERE for all the details.


- Gabrielle Prendergast is championing THE IRON MAN. Click HERE to see why she loves it.

See you next Monday!

Friday, December 16, 2011

It's that time again!

Those of you who've been following me for a while know that every year, right around this time, the Hubs and I head to Vegas.

It's a weird tradition that has mostly to do with SUPER cheap hotel rooms and awesome shopping--not to mention Vegas is empty and I hate crowds. But it's also just our fun getaway to soak up some kitschy scenery, eat at some amazing restaurants, and hey--maybe try to relax a bit (I know, we might be the only people who go to Vegas to RELAX instead of party!)

Anyway, if you need me, I will be eating steak frites along the fake Champs de Elysee and hailing fake Caesar with my credit card at the Caesar's forum shops, shopping all the sales. But no, I most definitely will NOT be at any of those crazy shows like Thunder Down Under. Nor will I be--no matter how much the Hubs tries to convince me--at the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop.

(If you watch Pawn Stars, you know what that is. And no--I'm not a fan of the rather boring show. But the Hubs is--and tough, we are not going to a Pawn Shop!)

(ahem)

Anyway, I hope you all have lovely weekends with whatever you will be doing. I'll see you all on Monday!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Learning how *I* write a book

I'm finally diving back into KEEPER book two drafting (these days my writing schedule is all about juggling). Which meant I spent most of yesterday rereading the few chapters I'd already written--before my last deadline interrupted things--trying to get back in "the groove." And I discovered something surprising:


I actually liked them. 


No, that does not mean they were shiny and perfect--I promise you, they weren't. In fact, they need a lot of work. But that's actually what I liked about them--crazy as that may sound. Because what I could really see in those rough chapters was: 


I know what I'm doing this time.

As all of you now know (thanks to my post last week) it took me a while to learn how to write KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES (*coughs* twenty drafts *coughs*). But through that hellish ordeal I learned something important: How to write a book.

More specifically, I learned how *I* write a book.
  • I learned my drafting process. How I need to overwrite and cut back, because that's how I surprise myself with unplanned scenes that add so much to the story. Even though it means I end up throwing away thousands and thousands of words.
  • I learned how to really listen to the characters and trust what they're telling me--even if it totally screws up all my plans. 
  • I learned that I can find a solution to any problem I come across. Sometimes it doesn't come easy, but if I think it through and keep at it I will figure it out. There's ALWAYS an answer.
  • I learned that it's okay to let the early draft be a mess. To keep pushing forward anyway and deal with cleaning it up later, once the whole story is in place
And I could see all of that reflected in my first few chapters. Sure, there were lots of places where the writing needed some polish or trimming, and the characters were already starting to steer me a few places I hadn't planned on going. But... that's my process. And I can see that this time. I can see where the strengths and weaknesses are, what's working and what isn't, and what I need to do. Which is the most important thing I learned throughout those twenty drafts.

I've learned to trust my instincts. Sure, those with a sharper eye than me (*waves to Laura and Liesa*) will ALWAYS catch important things I miss. But... I also know what I'm doing. I know the process I need to go through to write MY books. And as long as I know that, I can do it. 

Which is probably the best piece of advice I can give any writer. Figure out how YOU write. Sure, craft books and other writers can give you pointers. But in the end, that can only tell you how THEY write. You need to figure out how YOU write. Try different things. Figure out what works for you and what doesn't. And once you find your method, stick to it and believe in it. 

That's what I'm doing, anyway. I'm wading back into the muck of book two, believing I'll find my way through if I just keep pushing forward. Here's hoping I'm right! Bring it on Book Two--I am CONQUERING YOU!

Huzzah!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

AHHH--It's Getting Official!

So... THIS happened yesterday:













Ahhhhhhhhhhh--thats ME!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

ON AMAZON!!!!!!!!!!!!*

It only has the ebook version so far (don't worry, the hardcover WILL be added--these things just have a weird way of updating in their own inexplicable order)--but it's there!

THAT'S MY BOOK!

And ... I know things like this are GOING to happen (if they didn't that would be kind of bad, I mean, I kinda need my book to become available to buy places).

But yeah, getting a google alert for my book and finding it on Amazon with my name as the author was one of those seriously surreal moments.

(and my author name is a link--you can click it and everything!!!) (*clicks*) (*clicks again*)

(I'm betting most of you don't find that nearly as exciting as I do!)


But... YOU GUYS--THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


And it's happening soon. In fact, since Amazon has spilled the beans for me, I guess this means I can share my current, official release date. KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES is scheduled to launch into the world on...

*drumroll*

...

10 . 02 . 2012

(!!!!!)

I really <3 all those pretty 1s, 0s, and 2s in there

:)

Oh, but I wouldn't go tattooing that anywhere if I were you guys (since I'm SURE you're all planning on doing that). Release dates are notorious for changing, so it's very possible that will not stay my release date. But, for the moment, that's the official date. And um... holy crap that's SOON!

*bites nails*

*stares at pre-order button*

*wonders if she should order one just to see if it works*

*realizes how lame that is*

*isn't sure she cares*

So... that's my week so far. How's yours going?????

*My mentioning this is NOT any sort of "buy it on amazon" endorsement, btw. Obviously I am happy and honored if anyone decides to buy my book--anywhere, in any format. But... my heart will always truly belong to Indies.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The History of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday--and linkage!

I get asked a LOT of questions about MMGM.

What is it? 
How did you come up with it? 
How can I be a part? 
Why are you such a genius?*

*Okay... it's possible I made up that last one...

So I thought I'd use this week's post to give a quick history of MMGM, and explain how it works for those who don't already know. (I swear--this has nothing to do with me being behind on my reading) (okay, fine, it does) (but I do actually get asked those questions a lot) (so there!) (hee)

Okay, so... MMGM stands for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, and it's a meme I created to help spread the love for middle grade in the blogosphere. If someone wants to be a part, all they have to do is blog on a Monday about a middle grade book they love--ANY middle grade book they love--and email me a link to their post so I can add it to the master list on my blog. Then everyone can hop from blog to blog, soak up all the awesome book recommendations, and connect with other middle grade fans. Simple, easy--and a whole lot of fun.

And I came up with the idea because... well... honestly? I'd realized that I was being a HORRIBLE middle grade supporter. 

No really--I was.

Not only had I noticed that middle grade didn't get a lot of attention in the blogosphere, but ... I'd noticed that whenever I blogged about anything middle-grade related, it was my lowest trafficked post--by far. And since I was working hard to build up my following and increase my traffic, I'd started avoiding talking about middle grade as much as possible. Especially on Mondays--which were my peak traffic days. 

And then, about a year ago, I realized: WHAT AM I DOING??????

I am a middle grade writer and I'm avoiding talking about middle grade?????? 

So I decided I needed to change that--stat. If my middle grade posts weren't popular that just meant I wasn't trying hard enough. I needed to make them more exciting--and I needed to find other people who loved middle grade and connect with them. And so MMGM was born.

I chose Monday specifically because it was the day I'd previously given an "absolutely-no-middle-grade-mentions" policy. Plus, I figured if I wanted to give the books a PROPER spotlight, they deserved my highest traffic day. (And of course, it had that handy alliteration). 

I decided to focus on one book (or series) a week, and to try and feature them in a way that made it clear who would best appreciate them, which ones were more adult friendly, etc. I also decided that my features would always include a contest--partially to generate more traffic, but mostly because I couldn't think of a better way to spread the love for a book than to help someone else read it. (though contests are not required for other people who participate. That's up to each individual blogger). And then... I decided I would TRY and encourage other bloggers to join me.

I'll admit--I was terrified no one else would. And for the first few weeks, it was just me.

But then... it started to grow. Little by little, my list of links slowly got longer. And every week it grows a little bit more. 

Sure, it's no Waiting on Wednesday or In My Mailbox--and it probably never will be. But it's an awesome group of bloggers with a serious passion for middle grade posting about books they love every Monday. To me, that's a huge victory, and I'm amazed every week when I put the list of links together and see all that middle grade love. It's proven that there IS a place for middle grade in the blogosphere.

So I now proudly present... this weeks awesome MMGM links!

- The lovely Shannon O'Donnell always has an MMGM ready for you! Click HERE to see what she's featuring this week!


- Joanne Fritz has chills for WINTERLING. Click HERE to see why.


- Sherri Larsen has a special treat: a character interview and a giveaway of THE MAN IN THE CINDER CLOUDS. Click HERE for all the fun.


- Pam Torres takes us to WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON. Click HERE to read her review.


- Michael Gettel-Gilmartin is in love with MOST WANTED Click HERE to see why you should be too.


- Sheila Calderon Blankemeier reminds us why we shouldn't miss THE UNWANTEDS. Click HERE for her review.


- Deb Marshall is featuring DOGSLED DREAMS--with an author interview AND a giveaway! Click HERE for all the details.


- Danika Dinsmore has a lovely multicultural read for us this week: HABIBI. Click HERE to learn more about it. 


- Gabrielle Prendergast is championing a classic about a kid, a farm house, and a blue ribbon. Click HERE to see what it is.


- Myrna Foster falls in love with DRAGONSDALE. Click HERE see why you should too.



And if you want to join in the MMGM fun, all you have to do is blog about a middle grade book you love (contests, author interviews and whatnot also count--but are most definitely not required) and email me the title of the book you're featuring and a link to your blog. It's easier if you email me before Monday, that way your link will be included in the post from the moment it goes live. But if you decide to spontaneously join the fun, I do update the post at several points throughout the Monday. Just email me a link and I'll add you when I do!

Happy Monday!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

All in this together

WOW. I am overwhelmed by all the love and enthusiasm you guys showed for my post yesterday.

Other than my book deal announcement, it was--by far--my highest trafficked post, and I was stunned and amazed by all of you who posted links in forums, or on Facebook or Twitter to share it with other writers. I really had no idea it would garner that strong of a reaction.

(if you missed it and you're curious, you can find it HERE.)

I think that's the best thing about being a part of the writing community--it's a COMMUNITY. We support each other, root for each other, share each other's highs and lows. That's the reason I decided to write the post in the first place. I knew there had to be many of you who were going through some version of what I went through and feeling discouraged/frustrated/heartbroken. And I wanted you to know that you are not alone.

You really aren't, I promise.

Aside from a VERY small handful of flukey exceptions, every author has their own war story of what they had to push through in order to get where they are. And it never really stops. Writing isn't easy. Publishing is even harder. You have to WANT it, and be willing to put the work in and to keep going even when you have a million reasons to give up.

But the bright side to that is, I firmly, FIRMLY believe that the only difference between a published author and an unpublished writer is time. Keep going. Keep writing. Sooner or later you will get it RIGHT. And then you will get where you want to be.

In the meantime, we all have each other. To lean on. To learn from. To share battle scars. And to celebrate. Thank you all for always celebrating with me. I very much hope to do the same for each of you someday.

((group hug))

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

20 ways to NOT write your first book

Ever since I announced my book deal, I've had a LOT of people ask me if KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES is my first book. And... technically it is.

I'd written a few not-so-good screenplays and the first 1/3 to a very bad grown-up novel (me? writing for grown-ups? seriously--what was I thinking?????) before this, but KEEPER is the first book I've ever finished.

However, you should NOT take that answer to mean that I cranked out this story and--bam! A few months later: awesome book deal with dream editor!!! That was most definitely NOT the case. And since I'm all about keeping it real, I thought it was time to share the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth with you guys as far as just how NOT insta-success my writing journey truly was.

So strap yourselves in because in order to properly do that we have to rewind allllllllllllllllllllll the way back to February of 2007. (Yes, really) That's when the idea for KEEPER first came to me.

Two of the main characters were actually part of a short story I was working on. But the more I thought about them, the more I realized they had BIG EXCITING STORIES TO TELL. And even though I knew this series would be incredibly challenging to write, I also knew that it was "The One."

So I started with research. Lots and lots and lots of research.


Every single one of these journals is FILLED with notes, brainstorms, and other odds and ends written in super tiny print. I also put google and wikipedia to very thorough use, printing up all kinds of (often boring) articles and writing lots of notes for myself in the margins.

It took me until December of 2008 to reach a point where I felt like I'd figured out all I needed to figure out in order to tell the story. Then it was time to start writing. Too bad I had NO idea how to do that.

At first I was just sort of... playing around. I'd pick a scene that interested me and I'd write it. I didn't work in any sort of order. I didn't try to connect the scenes together. I'd created a file called Master Draft 1--but I psyched myself out of pasting anything into it because it felt like if I put something in there it had to be PERFECT. So I just kept creating separate scenes in separate files. Which is how I ended up with 103 deleted scenes before I ever wrote one word of a real draft.

103!!!!

Mind you, many are the same scene written 7, 8, 9 different times. But yeah. NOT a smart way to write a book.

I stuck with this ineffective writing method until April of 2009, when I went to Project Book Babe. Then I got to hear real authors talk about their approach to drafting and realized, I'm doing this ALL wrong. More importantly, I realized that I really, really, REALLY wanted to be a published author. So it was time to get my butt in gear and actually write this dang thing for realz.

I came home from the event and started Master Draft 2. And this time I started at the beginning and just wrote. But about halfway into the book I realized yeah... something's wrong. So I copied and pasted the few salvageable parts and started Master Draft 3. Got about halfway into it and realized I was on the wrong track again. Rinse and repeat with Master Drafts 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10, with each draft falling apart by the time I reached the middle. And by draft 10 I was getting afraid that I'd never figure it out.

So I went back to brainstorming. Reread all my idea journals. Read a truckload of other middle grade novels trying to learn what they were doing right. And after a few weeks I finally had an epiphany. It wasn't that something was WRONG with my idea. It was that something was MISSING.

I'd held back too many of my ideas, thinking I should save them for books 2 and 3. But I hadn't done enough with book 1 to make anyone want to continue with the story. So I needed to go back and add MORE.

Which... basically meant throwing out everything I had and starting all over AGAIN. But at least I had a plan this time!

Well... sorta.

It took me Master Drafts 11 and 12 to figure out the best way to properly weave the new plotlines in. I'd also started working with crit partners, and they caught several fundamental plot and craft mistakes, all of which made me go back and re-write a lot of things to fix those errors. So I didn't actually type "The End" and have a complete draft of the entire story until Master Draft 13.

13!!!

That was in January of 2010. And sadly, that was STILL only the beginning.

I queried Master Draft 13 at the end of February. Two weeks later I had an offer of representation from Laura Rennert, my #1 wish list agent. It was very, very exciting. BUT, Laura's offer also said this:
"I want to be completely upfront with you about the fact that there is still work to be done on the ms, so you can make the decision about whether I'm the right agent for you or not. I hope I am!"
She went on to elaborate her revision ideas, most of which involved building on things she felt were currently underdeveloped in the draft--and she was spot on with all her suggestions. So I accepted her offer of representation and she sent me my VERY detailed revision notes (5 single spaced pages!!!).

I worked through each and every note, and sent her back Master Draft 14--which earned me an email that basically said, "you're close." She also included another two pages of notes, but at that point I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, so I cranked through the revision super quick. Which brought me to Master Draft 15.

I'll confess, I really really thought it was "The One." So did Laura. And in some ways, it was close. But it still wasn't RIGHT, as we found out the hard way when it started piling up rejections. And in the end Laura told me:
"I think you're extremely talented ... and I believe we're going to get there, but maybe not with this iteration."
Yeah ... that was hard.

What made it harder was that I really didn't know where to go from there. All I knew was that I needed to change things--but I had no idea what to change. So I just sort of dove in blind and started tweaking stuff--NOT the best approach to a revision.

Especially since I wrote that revision from a place of fear and insecurity--which was NOT a healthy mindset to be creative. I knew it was probably affecting my writing, but I couldn't squelch the self-doubt. So I just did the best I could, sent off Master Draft 16 and hoped Laura would be happier with it than I was.

She wasn't.

Instead I got what I now lovingly refer to as The Email of Doom. The first sentence was:
"You've done good work on this... I'm wondering, though, if you need to step back and consider going deeper still..."
Followed by 13 (yes--13!!!) single spaced pages of comments/suggestions. And this time she was suggesting BIG changes.

I ... cried for an entire day.

I felt like I would NEVER get the draft right--and I wasn't even sure if I wanted to work on it anymore. I was SO tired of tearing my book apart and trying to piece it back together. I didn't know if I could do it again.

So I typed up an email saying, "I give up"--and then emailed my crit partners begging them to stop me from sending it to Laura. They told me to ask for a phone call, and then they helped me brainstorm a plan of attack to discuss with her. Laura and I talked a few days later and I felt a little better and decided to try one. more. time. But when I finally got to work it was still the hardest revision I've ever done.

Every time I opened the draft I got nauseous. I lost a lot of weight. I barely slept. Eventually I caved and asked Laura to check the first few chapters to see what she thought, and definitely cried when I heard back:
"I think you're totally on track!"
And I should pause here and also emphasize that while yes, Laura was pushing me HARD throughout this process, she also did do her best to encourage me. She always slipped little notes like this in her emails:
"I completely believe in you. We are going to get there one way or another."
And that helped, because I really needed to hear that--and I *tried* to believe her. But it was still a super painful process, and when I finally turned in Master Draft 17 I was a nervous wreck waiting for feedback. Every time I saw an email pop up in my inbox I got a stomach ache, worrying it was going to be another Email of Doom--and wondering if I'd survive it if it was.

But when I did finally hear back, I got this:
"I'm wowed by what you've accomplished with this revision! You've done an amazing job and have been willing to go deep in a way that I know is daunting, and I believe the results are superb"
She still had some small tweaks and adjustments for me (would you expect anything less at this point?), so I created Master Draft 18, made the changes and sent it to her. And that's when she finally, FINALLY said the words I'd been waiting to hear:
"Absolutely fantastic work! We're ready to go, and you've done a phenomenal job with the revision."
I had to read it three times to believe it. And yes--I TOTALLY cried. But they were happy tears this time. :)

It'd taken me 2 years of research and another 2 years of writing/revising--and 18 drafts!!!!--but I was finally, FINALLY done.

Not long after that we went on submission, and I'll admit, after all I'd been through with the project I had a hard time believing it could really land me book deal. Which was why I was totally confused when my phone rang with Laura's name in the caller ID. I NEVER expected her to tell me I had a three book pre-empt offer from an editor whose books I'd admired for years.

But Laura forwarded me the offer so I could see it myself. And it was REAL. And probably the most amazing thing I'd ever read.

Well... until Liesa sent me this, after the deal was finalized and she was officially working as MY editor:
"I did my closer read/edit of the manuscript, and had SO MUCH FUN doing it. Seriously, I loved the book even more this time, which I didn't think possible, but it helps getting to read it knowing it's something that's officially mine now. :)"
And amazingly enough, when I got my edits she didn't have too terribly many notes for me (at least not compared to the Email of Doom). But she did of course have SOME (that is kind of her job, after all). So that brought me to Master Draft 19.

I've never officially created any further drafts for the project, but I did make some changes during copyedits--and will probably make a few more tweaks in the next read-through. So I think it's more than fair to say that when it finally goes to print you guys will be reading Master Draft 20.

Yes, that's right. 
20!!!

It took me 20 drafts to write my first book. 

And I'm telling all of you that (well... those of you who've stuck with me through this rather lengthy post) because I don't want any of you to ever get discouraged if you have to scrap a draft and start over--or shelve a project and move onto something new. Writing is a process. 

Yes, sometimes that process goes smoother for some authors than others. (Or for some books. So far Book 2 is coming MUCH easier than Book 1). But the majority of the time authors will tell you their journey was a long, hard, revision-filled road to get that first book deal--and that even then it was only the beginning. That's definitely been the case for me.

I'm not embarrassed that it took me that many drafts to write my first book. Sure, it would've been nice if it hadn't been *quite* such a painful process. But that was the path I had to take in order to learn how to tell this particular story. And in the end, all that mattered was that I stuck with it and kept going, despite how brutal it was at times. Which is--in my humble opinion--the secret to publishing success. Keep going. Keep writing. Keep pushing yourself to grow and improve. 

Your journey *may* take longer than you think and it *may* be more work than you expected. But if you stick with it you WILL get there. I promise!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeek--the winner!

Sorry guys--been a super crazy working weekend and I TOTALLY forgot I had a winner to post. Major #Shannonfail

Anyway, better late than never, right?

So without further ado, the winner of the signed JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW is....



Yay!

*flings sparkles everywhere*

If that's you, please email me at packratx (at) hotmail (dot) com with your mailing address and I will ship off your prize! (and please put JACOB WONDERBAR  WINNER in the subject line so I don't miss it) 

For everyone else, check back next week. I have more awesome contests to come!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The roller coaster of change

It seems to me that the old cliche about change being the only constant in our lives is very, very true. Careers change, friends come and go, people move, they start families, we lose people we love. Nothing ever stays the same. At least not forever.

And that's not necessarily a bad thing because with change comes the New, the Unexpected, the Exciting.

This year especially has been a turning point year for me. Lots of new, unexpected, exciting things.

And lots of change.

Most of it amazing. Some of it overwhelming. But mostly it's all been such a whirlwind I've had a hard time keeping up with all the shifts and adjustments. And I know it's only the beginning. Next year is sure to bring even more incredible, unbelievable, chaotic things. And lots more change.

Honestly, I feel like I'm on that point in a roller coaster where the chain is slowly pulling my car up the steepest hill. Any second it's going to release and I'm going to be in for one heck of a wild ride. Which is awesome and scary all at the same time. But I'm committed either way. I just have to hold on tight and get ready to scream my head off.

So I wanted to take this moment and say that I'm incredibly, incredibly grateful I'm not doing this alone. I'm SO THANKFUL I have you guys.

Sure, my following has changed. It's grown. It's shifted. Different people stop by for different reasons. But you are all amazing, inspiring people and I'm thankful to have each and every one of you. As a group, you guys are my constant. You've proven to me time and again that you will be there in surprising and incredible ways and I couldn't ask for a better support system.

So thank you. Now I don't have to be on that crazy roller coaster alone. I have you all right there with me. And we can all scream our heads off together!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Congratulations Karen!!!

It's not every day one of my friends has their first book release--so when I found out Karen Amanda Hooper's novel TANGLED TIDES was coming out today of COURSE I wanted to take part in the huge celebration she has going on.


Karen's organized a massive underwater web war between the sea creatures--and I've chosen to side with...

MERMAIDS!

(I mean, really, like there's any other option. As a kid Ariel TOTALLY convinced me I wanted to live Under the Sea.) :)

Wanna join in on the fun? Go check out the details at Karen’s BLOG. She's giving away a signed copy of her book and some other sea creature themed prizes. 

There's also an underwater web war on Twitter. Tweet which sea creatures you’re rooting for and if you include the hashtag #TangledTides--you could win!!!!



But before you go, here's a little info about TANGLED TIDES:

Yara Jones doesn’t believe in sea monsters—until she becomes one.

When a hurricane hits her island home and she wakes up with fins, Yara finds herself tangled up in an underwater world of mysterious merfolk and secretive selkies. Both sides believe Yara can save them by fulfilling a broken promise and opening the sealed gateway to their realm, but they are battling over how it should be done. The selkies want to take her life. The merfolk want something far more precious.

Treygan, the stormy-eyed merman who turned Yara mer, will stop at nothing and sacrifice everything to protect his people—until he falls for Yara. The tides turn as Yara fights to save herself, hundreds of sea creatures, and the merman who has her heart. She could lose her soul in the process—or she might open the gateway to a love that’s deeper than the oceans. 

HAPPY BOOK RELEASE KAREN!!!!!!!!

*massive Sparklefetti toss*

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Writing "like me"

You know that feeling you get when you read an amazing book by an amazing writer and you think: DANG--I wish I could write like that!!!!!!!

Yeah... I have that feeling all the time.

But I do my best to shake it off, because I don't actually think it's a healthy feeling to have as a writer.

Sure, I can admire someone else's writing. I can be awed by the way they string sentences together, or impressed by their solid world building, or laugh myself silly at their wonderful use of humor--or even be inspired to push myself in new directions. But I can't let the feeling go any further than that, where I actually let myself WISH I could write like them. Because I can only write like me.

And sure, I can (and should) grow and learn and improve my craft in many many ways with every word I write. But I will still always write in MY voice and tell stories MY way.

Which is actually why I always fall SUPER behind on reading when I'm drafting, because I often can't read when I'm trying to crank out a rough draft. I read all the pretty, revised-and-edited-a-million-times words by authors who write very differently than me and think: MY DRAFT SUCKS BECAUSE IT IS NOTHING LIKE THIS!

So this week (and weekend) I'm going to get some serious reading done. I've met all my deadlines--and I'm about to dive into writing book two (AHHHH!!!), which will mean I won't be reading as much. So I'm taking the time now to crank through as much of my TBR pile as I can. And I've got some AWESOME ones in there guys. It's going to be a good, GOOD week!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ever have one of those weeks?

I gotta say, the whole back-to-back deadlines thing is... well... EXHAUSTING. 

It's partially my fault. I let my husband book a vacation at the beginning of the year--before my book sold and I knew anything about deadlines and whatnot--and the trip officially has THE WORST TIMING EVER. So I'm scrambling, trying to get everything done before I leave on Friday and, well... 


So, *heavy sigh* I think I have to duck away from blogging again. Probably until Monday, November 14th, when I get back.

I'M SO SORRY! 

I'm so going to miss you guys. But I'm crashing and burning here so... it has to be done. I may pop in if something important comes up--or if I suffer too many blogging withdrawls. (And I still have some winners to post--I'll make sure I don't miss that).

Otherwise I'll see you guys in about a week and a half. And I promise I'll be back with a contest or something to reward you for  your long-suffering when I get back!

Have a great time without me!!!!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Chapters of DOOM!

Maybe you're luckier than me, and don't have this problem. But every book I've written has at least one Chapter of DOOM!

*thunder*

*lightning*

*ominous music*

No matter how many times I rewrite it. No matter how many different ways I revise it. EVERY time I get revision notes I have to go back to that same STUPID chapter and rewrite it all over again.

It.

Is.

So.

Frustrating!!!!

It's so ridiculous that even my CPs know my Chapters of DOOM!, and as soon as I start to say, "would you mind taking a look at a chapter and telling me if I'm finally on the right track with it?" they reply back with, "it's chapter X, isn't it?

*sigh*

So, it's probably no surprise at this point that I'm battling a Chapter of DOOM! at the moment. And I am not exaggerating when I say it has been absolute and total DOOM. 

DOOM!!!!

But after several weeks of stressing/panicking/going-emo-tastic-and-shoving-my-revision-notes-under-the-bed, plus SEVERAL lengthy emails to my amazing editor filled with what if??? and but then... and HELP!!!!*--I think hope am-ready-to-promise-my-firstborn-child-to-the-forces-of-the-universe-so that maybe, MAYBE I have FINALLY figured out what the problem is and will actually GET IT RIGHT this time.

It is far, FAR too early to tell--and I'm sure I will probably still be making small tweaks to this cursed chapter right up until text lock (and then probably crossing things out and scribbling in the margins of the finished book). But I am REALLY hoping this will be the last major overhaul. 

Please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please let that be the case. 

PLEASE!!!!

*twitch*

*flail*

So wish me luck, everyone. I'm going in!!!!

*NOT recommended author-editor communication style. *is very lucky her editor is so stinking awesome*

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Finding Balance

Given the CHAOTIC week I just survived trying to crank through my copyedits, I've been thinking a LOT about balance lately. Most specifically: HOW will I make time for everything I need to do without letting anyone down and/or snapping-and-running-around-with-manic-hair-and-wild-eyes-and-scaring-small-children???? 

(Which *might* be a tad counterproductive being that I'm a children's writer and all.) 

Seriously, I don't know how some authors do it. I don't have kids, I don't have a day job, and I am SLAMMED. (Mind you, my schedule has some SUPER insane things going on that I'm probably not supposed to reveal yet--but STILL) It. is. DAUNTING.

And while the awesome Jen Rofe (an agent friend of mine--ABLA FTW!) has been giving me some excellent tips on making "winning" to do lists and setting priorities and stuff, (btw, Jen will actually be interviewed on my blog tomorrow--make sure you stop by!!!) I still can't help feeling like there's this MOUNTAIN of things to do and clearly not enough hours between now and the release of my book to do them all. 

But... I'm starting to realize that that's okay. 

I'm pretty sure there ARE going to be things I don't have time for, and that it's not going to necessarily be so much about juggling and trying not to drop balls as it will be about learning which ones to set down for a moment and pick back up when I can.

Like last week, for example. I HATE taking blogging breaks. (I miss you guys!) But... it had to be done. So I set that ball down and picked it back up again this week when I had the chance. And when something else gets thrown at me that I need to make time for, I'll set it down again. 

So I guess the point I'm trying to make (because really, I DO have a point) (at least I think I do) (my brain IS pretty tired after all those copyedits) is that the next year is going to be a lot of... "figuring it all out."

I've never launched a series before--and I have NO idea what I'm doing. So I'm just going to do the best I can, and hope it's enough. And THANK YOU in advance for bearing with me. My email response time may get a little slower and I may occasionally miss days of blogging (or swap in some guest posts or something...) But I will always pick things back up again as soon as I can. 

It's going to be stressful. It's going to be crazy. But I have a feeling it's also going to be pretty darn awesome. So I hope you'll stick around to watch it all unfold.

(if nothing else "the crazy" should be pretty entertaining to watch)

:)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Epic Milestones!!!

Sorry again for disappearing on you guys last week--those copyedits were a LOT more work than I expected. Here's a TINY glimpse of what my week looked like:


This represents THREE WHOLE DAYS--no, that is NOT an exaggeration--of me mapping out my book page. by. page. trying to figure out where I lost two months of "book time" in the revision and then finding places to fit it back in. Holy Headache, Batman!

And don't even get me started on the "stetting" and grammar correcting and fact-checking for consistency. Seriously, copyedits are NOT FUN.

BUT I FINISHED THEM!

Copyedits are done, fed-exed off to S&S, and I got word from my editor that she got them--and that it even looks like I did them right!!!!!

 *dances* 

Another milestone officially passed! I'm now one. step. closer to KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES becoming a REAL BOOK!

*dances more*

And speaking of milestones, I had another one happen this weekend. I have been going to SCIBA events for a couple of years now (love SCIBA--SUCH a great organization!). But I was always sort of attending unofficially, since SCIBA events are technically designed to put book sellers, teachers, and librarians in touch with published authors--which... I wasn't. (I will be eternally grateful to SCIBA for letting me come anyway). Well, this time, in light of my news--even though I wasn't officially on the program because, uh... my book won't be out for about a year--they wanted me to know that I had crossed over to being "official" now. So they gave me one of THESE badges this time:

(Sorry--took the pic on my iPhone so the resolution's a bit iffy)

Yeah, the red ribbon totally clashed with my outfit--BUT I SO DIDN'T CARE. So, so, so, SO cool getting a real author badge for the first time. Can't wait till the day I can also see my name in the program as one of the "participating authors." SOON! :)

And while we're on the subject of milestones ... I actually had one more happen last week. A BIG one. One that totally made me cry--in a good way, of course.

I can't tell you anything about it--and I certainly can't show you. But... I can give you a *tiny* clue:


Yeah... I got my first cover proof. AND IT HAS MY NAME ON IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(I know that seems like a given--but dude, there is NOTHING like seeing a book cover with my name on it. NOTHING!)

The font and text color and background color are all just placeholders right now and are probably all changing, so... I really haven't shown you anything. But now you know it exists. KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES HAS A COVER!!!

And.
I. 
LOVE. 
it
!!!!

NO IDEA when I'll be allowed to show you but trust me when I say IT IS GOING TO BE PERFECT!!! 

*hugs the cover proof*

*cries again*

So... that was my week. HOW WAS YOURS???????

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

10 Things I've Learned From Copyedits

So, I opened my door on Saturday morning and found THESE on my doorstep:


Copyedits for KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES!!! 

*jumps up and down*

For those who don't know, copyediting is a different kind of editing. It's all done on paper, and your draft is COVERED in the strangest and most confusing marks EVER. Most of which--THANKFULLY--apply to the typesetter, not you. But there is a lot of very technical, very grammar and detail oriented stuff you DO need to address, which has taught me ten surprising things:

1. I should have to give back every single "A" I ever earned in English. (No really, I'm sure my copyeditor agrees.)

2. Whenever a copyeditor's note starts with, "Technically," you're going to feel really dumb.

3. Spell check failed me. A LOT.

4. I apparently have NO IDEA how to use commas. (They are being added, deleted, and moved on pretty much every. single. page.)

5. I also seem to have no idea how to use hyphens. And there are a TON of words that are apparently supposed to be hyphenated. For example: good-bye. I have been spelling that wrong MY ENTIRE LIFE!!!!! #mindblow

6. I also have no idea what a dangling modifier is, but I apparently had a bunch of them that needed fixing. (And I still can't tell why the suggested change is better!)

7. But the bright side is, if you consistently break a grammatical rule (even totally unintentionally) you're allowed to keep breaking it. They just mark it as "consistent with the style of the MS." Like... okay, we know this is wrong, but she keeps doing it so we're just going to let her and call it her "style." :)

8. It's also a good idea, if you're going to capitalize something, to do it consistently every time you type the word. Sporadically switching back and forth seems to confuse copyeditors. A lot. 

9. Also, if you're going to make a statement toward the end of the book along the lines of: "X amount of months have passed" it would be helpful if X amount of time had actually passed in the timeline in the book. 

10. And, most importantly: fixing all this stuff takes FOREVER. 

Not gonna lie, this process is TEDIOUS. And I'm actually on a pretty tight deadline for it. So I'm sorry to already be doing this to you guys, but I'm going to take the rest of the week off blogging, and maybe part of next week--however long it takes to get. this. done. 

And then I promise I will be back to normal blogging again. I still have all kinds of exciting things I want to tell you guys about. But it will have to wait till I meet this deadline.

In the meantime, I'm also holding a pretty darn awesome contest--if I do say so myself--that you definitely don't want to miss out on. If you haven't entered yet, I strongly recommend you do that HERE.

Hope everyone has a great rest of the week. See you all once I turn these darn things in!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Just when I think this week can't get any cooler...

I keep waiting for all of this to feel less surreal (and to stop talking about it CONSTANTLY and probably driving you all crazy!) but... stuff keeps happening that is just so overwhelming it's like... THIS IS THE COOLEST THING EVER HOW CAN I NOT GUSH ENDLESSLY ABOUT IT???????

So... sorry guys, you're welcome to ignore me if you've had enough. But I just. can't. help myself!

I mean, how can I not get all choked up/insanely excited when a PM announcement pops up in my inbox with MY BOOK DEAL IN THERE???????

From Publisher's Marketplace:

Children's: Fantasy
Shannon Messenger's debut middle-grade series KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES, about a girl who discovers there are secrets buried in her memory that others would kill for, and has to figure out why she is the key to her brand-new world before the wrong person finds the answer first, to Liesa Abrams at Aladdin, in a six-figure deal, in a pre-empt, in a three-book deal, for publication starting in Fall 2012, by Laura Rennert at Andrea Brown Literary Agency (North America).
ljrennert@mac.com 


Obviously I knew it was coming. But still--when it finally did, yesterday? It was ... a "moment." And there was a lot of staring at the email and thinking.... OMG THAT'S ME!!!!!!!!

Also surreal? More than 100 people have already added my book on Goodreads in the last 4 days.  

O.O

I... I don't even know what to say about that. Or about Goodreads giving me a real "author page" of my own. Or about the discussion someone started, where they suggested my book--MY book--was going to be a top book--and so far no one has argued with them! (no agreement, either. But hey--I'm GOOD with no arguing!!!) (And btw, there are whole new realms of panic and pressure that come with that suggestion. Holy High Expectations, Batman! *bites nails*)

And then there are the hundreds and hundreds of comments, tweets, emails, FB posts, text messages, and phone calls I've gotten from all of you, filled with so much love and support I really don't know how to process it all. I'm doing my best to reply to them, because seriously they mean SO much to me. And I'm back from LA now--after spending a crazy few days researching a scene and connecting with some amazingly awesome people--so hopefully I'll be able to catch up on the rest. But if I miss yours accidentally--I'm so sorry. Please know that I read it, loved it, and so so SO can't thank you enough for it. 

I also know I keep promising you a contest--and I PROMISE I have one coming for you. But I'm saving it for Monday because my brain is totally floopy right now and I don't trust myself to organize the last final things.

Plus, a few of you are calling for something... else... to happen first. 

Not sure how many of you have really been following my blog long enough to know this but... a LONG time ago I made a certain deal with my followers that when I sold my book I would post a clip from the humiliating performance I gave a long time ago on a low budget game show (the story behind that can be found HERE.)

Well... the time has finally come. I scored five extra months with the whole not-being-able-to-announce thing (there were SOME advantages to that.) But alas, I can stall no longer. 

SO TOMORROW IS THE DAY.

There will be bangs of doom. There will be humiliating YouTube Clips. There will be SHANNON SHAME GALORE!!!!! 

And then... I will probably flee to Mexico to start a new life as a maraca player. Ole!