Over the past few weeks, I’ve been sitting in meetings discussing what it means to have a meaningful brand. If you stop and think about familiar brands, brands you know and trust, you have an immediate sense, without seeing a product or service proposition, of what you can expect of that brand.
You know what Coke is supposed to taste like.
You know an Apple product is (mostly) plug-and-play.
You know JetBlue has TVs on their planes for every seat.
You know what to expect.
There’s been some hoopla about the slip by one of J.K. Rowling’s attorneys that revealed her identity behind an otherwise closely guarded pseudonym. She’s not pleased. I don’t blame her. But more telling is that a news story my husband watched the other night cited the Robert Galbraith novel as “Rowling’s first adult novel.”
Did they conveniently forget A Casual Vacancy?
Here’s the thing: I totally get why J.K. Rowling used a pseudonym. Her name, her brand, is synonymous with Harry Potter and Hogwarts. Anyone picking up a novel by J.K. Rowling would automatically expect another glimpse into the wizarding world. And can you really blame them?
There’s a reason Jayne Ann Krentz used the pseudonym Amanda Quick to pen her Regency romances.
There’s a reason Nora Roberts used the pseudonym J.D. Robb for her suspense novels.
There’s a reason we, as readers, pick up something by Ally Carter or John Green or Danielle Steele and have an idea of what to expect. Their bylines are synonymous with their style of writing. If I want something about snarky teenage girls, I’ll pick up something by Lisi Harrison. If I want to read a story rooted in mythology, I’ll pick up Rick Riordan. Why?
Because I know what to expect.
That’s what a brand does for consumers: It tells them, without being overt or blatant, exactly what to expect by purchasing something. It’s true of retail and consumer brands, and it’s just as true for musicians, artists, and authors.
I may be talking out of my ears because I’ve yet to sell my book, but these are the kinds of things I’m already contemplating, stuff I’m ready to ask about the moment my agent calls and says, “We’ve got an offer.” It’s why I repeatedly practice signing my pseudonym like a 14-year-old girl dating her first boyfriend, why I think of how an idea should be marketed before I even write the first sentence, why I obsess over marketing case studies as if I was still in business school.
A great product will bring a consumer in.
A great brand will keep them for life.
One of the new(ish) buzzwords in the publishing industry is “New Adult”. I can’t go a day without someone mentioning something about it in my Twitterfeed or seeing it talked about in a blog post or in a writing-related article.
New Adult is, for all intents and purposes, really just a shelf label. It’s a marketing tool, just like “Young Adult” and “Middle Grade” are both marketing tools. I mean, it was coined by a publishing imprint. If that’s not a sign of being a marketing tool, I don’t know what is.
I’ve been giving the whole New Adult thing a good deal of thought, since it currently seems de rigueur for an author to at least be thinking about a New Adult concept, or at least have an idea of how she might approach it. And here’s what I’ve decided:
New Adult is that time when you’ve left the structured confines of school and/or living at home and you’re striking out on your own for the very first time.
It’s not an age, per se. A New Adult novel could have a protagonist who is a recent high school graduate, someone in their mid-twenties, someone in their late twenties, or even someone in their early thirties. It’s not about age: It’s about the life stage.
“What are you talking about?” you ask. “Give me some examples!”
If you’d like to watch a few movies that illustrate the time period I’m thinking of, check out Reality Bites. (No, really. Click on the link to the trailer above if you haven’t seen the movie before, or if it’s been a really long time, or if you just want to drool over Ethan Hawke in all his yummy GenX glory.) This is definitely New Adult. St. Elmo’s Fire, too. I think Singles is on the older end of New Adult, but it definitely qualifies in my mind. Want something a little more recent? How about American Reunion?
Are TV shows more your thing? Consider Don’t Trust the B* in Apartment 23 or see if you can catch earlier episodes of Melrose Place. And of course Girls on HBO is a perfect example of what I would consider New Adult.
If Middle Grade is about capturing a time when anything is possible and Young Adult chronicles a time when everything is tragic, I see New Adult as the combination of the two. Anything is possible, but any failure is tragic. Gone are the rigid confines of school (though I think characters in grad school, law school, and med school would still qualify) and parental authority. Now the burden falls entirely on you, and you no longer have that safety net to catch you.
You’ve been on your own long enough to let your crazy side loose (if you have one), so you’ve already Been There Done That.
You’re embarking on your first career, maybe planning a wedding, maybe watching your friends get married and wondering if you’ll ever meet That Guy.
You’ve experienced just enough to think you’re worldly but haven’t quite realized there’s a hell of a lot more that you don’t quite know yet – and you hate it when people condescendingly pat you on the head and say, “Yeah, well, you’ll learn.”
You’ve survived adolescence and are back to thinking that you can do anything you set your mind to doing – and that’s awesome because you haven’t yet learned that there are limits to what you can do.
Like I said: I think New Adult is a life stage. Maybe your character is newly out of high school and is thrust into the very scary Adult World. Maybe your character is still in college and figuring out how to pay tuition and bills and expenses on her own. Maybe your character is a new college grad desperately seeking a job – any job – to make ends meet.
There’s way more drama in New Adult than in Young Adult, but on such a different level. There’s a lot more at stake – real things, like the potential of getting your car repossessed or facing eviction from your apartment. Sure, your character can believe anything is possible, but she’s got a whole lot more on the line if she fails because Mom and Dad aren’t going to be there to help pick up the pieces. (And if they are, she wouldn’t want them to be.)
Am I right in my approach to it? I have no idea. I’m not a published author (yet), nor am I an expert on the publishing industry. From what I can tell, the general consensus lumps college experiences in with New Adult, but I respectfully disagree. I also disagree with those who think New Adult is just “sexed up YA.” But I do agree with those who say that New Adult stories represent that time between being an Angsty teenager and being an established woman.
And based on my experiences, there’s no magic age when you’re suddenly “experienced.” That title comes after a lot of – you guessed it – experiences.
I think I’ve already discussed at length why I chose to go the agency representation route with my writing career. One of the reasons I didn’t want to self-publish WTRPCPSU is that I would prefer to have the backing of a publisher’s marketing group to help me market my work, and, as such, I would prefer to have an agent help me navigate the still unfamiliar world of publishing.
Note my use of the word help. I’m fully aware that I will have my own role in all of this, too. What that role entails, of course, I’m still figuring out.
This may sound odd, but I think of my agent as my boss. I mean, I sort of interviewed for her representation, and she chose me to be part of her team of writers. My job, as I see it, is to produce quality stories for her to then turn around and sell. We will have dialogues about my work. I may pitch ideas that she knows the market is not buying, and she will advise me to shelve those concepts until either my ideas are more developed and/or there is a renewed interest in them. I will send her manuscripts that I’ve painstakingly edited and revised to the point that I think they’re perfect, and she will provide feedback (including what works, what doesn’t work, what needs to be fixed, and what needs to be scrapped). And it is my job to take her expert advice to heart and execute her directives to the best of my ability.
In short, I expect to have the same relationship with my agent that I have with my non-writing world boss.
I absolutely adore my non-writing world boss. She’s fabulous. (And as she doesn’t know this blog exists, I’m speaking truly from the heart.) We maintain a very open dialogue about the different projects I work on, and I let her know when someone comes to me with a request for something that requires total reprioritization, especially when it falls outside my normal scope of duties. She provides valuable feedback on how I can be a more effective analyst, on how to look at things from a different perspective, on how to take my skills to the next level.
But her most important role? She ensures that no one takes advantage of me.
That last point perfectly sums up not only why I would walk across hot coals for my non-writing world boss but also why I chose to pursue the path towards agency representation. And the fact that Julia is based in Europe and has contacts on both continents is why I anxiously pursued her (or would have, anyway, if I took the regular querying route).
I’m the type of person who needs someone to remind me to keep my own interests in the foreground. I know not everyone is like that, but I firmly believe that we all should have someone looking out for us.
“When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. Then gradually I write one page and then another.” – John Steinbeck
I take a perverse comfort in knowing that a winner of both a Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature felt the same trepidation and prevailing sense of failure that I feel when faced with my own work in progress.
The problem with successfully writing a novel – and a good novel, no less – in 24 days is that it becomes the new expectation. Mind, I’m the only one who expects me to repeat this feat, but the pressure, however self-imposed, is still so prevalent. And as such, it becomes frustrating that The WIP seems to be taking so long.
Most people do not write novels in 24 days. I have to remind myself of this fact. Moreover, it usually takes a great deal of time to put words on paper (or onto the screen) in such a way that the prose and dialogue reads easily from the printed page. And yet, despite this knowledge, I refuse to believe that WTRPCPSU is an anomaly. In my mind, there’s no reason this can’t be the norm. I mean, why can’t I spew a couple thousand words each day and have them make perfect sense?
My approach to The WIP has been different from WTRPCPSU, though. In fact, everything about it is different. I mean, when I initially sat down to write WTRPCPSU, it was just for fun. I did it for the challenge. But The WIP is different. It’s not just that I’m terrified of the Sophomore Slump. It’s not just worrying about disappointing my agent or this overwhelming need to prove that I’m not a fluke.
It’s like when I trained last year to run my first 5K. I wanted to prove that I could do it. And I did it. It may not have been the best speed ever and my older niece may have run it faster than I did, but I didn’t care. I did it.
The next race was a 12K, and it wasn’t a much fun. Oh, sure, I did it, but my approach to training for it was different, and because I had expectations, it was harder. Even worse was the next 12K, but for that race, I really didn’t train much at all for it. I had fun doing it because I was with my sister and our friends, and I was euphoric when it was over, but I didn’t feel that same enthusiasm for it that I did with that first 5K, and I didn’t finish it as fast as I expected to.
And I think that’s where my problem lies. I have expectations. Normally, that’s not a bad thing, but in this case, it’s become debilitating. Back when my expectation was just to finish a story without regard to its quality, writing was no big deal. Now I feel like each of my words carry an untold weight. I shouldn’t feel that way, but I do.
I need to view each book as its own race, independent of the one before it. Maybe WTRPCPSU was like a race on a fast, flat pavement. The WIP, then, is like a race on hilly terrain, making it a very different kind of race. As such, I need to remind myself that it’s okay to take more time to finish this.
Just like I was always careful to take care of myself and ensure I didn’t injure myself when I was training or racing, I need to allow myself the same courtesy while I write. After all, I gave myself permission to take breaks whenever I ran.
I need to be good to myself when I write, too.
So, if you read my last entry, you’ve already seen the best seven words I’ve read in a really long time.
I’ve kept mum on some amazing things that transpired over the last week, mainly because I didn’t want to share something that I was still unsure about. But now that this story is complete, I can share it!
It began last Friday during a Twitter event. I wasn’t entirely certain that I (or my manuscript) was ready, but I took a chance and tweeted my pitch. I mean, the worst that could happen was that no one would respond to it, right?
But I got responses – and one of those came from an agent I had been
stalking studying following on Twitter. Her name appeared in one of Chuck Sambuchino’s agent posts, and when I first read about her, I immediately wanted to send her my manuscript and hear her tell me she loved it. But I didn’t. I read more of her interviews (of which there aren’t many) and guest blog posts (again, not many of those), and I followed her on Twitter while I dutifully honed my manuscript. And the more I read about her, the more I really wanted her to love my manuscript and represent me.
No pressure or anything, but I had decided she was my Dream Agent. (Oh, yes – the big D and big A are intentional.)
So Dream Agent was the third person who showed interest in my manuscript. (You’d better believe that I freaked out.) The fourth came from a new agent at a prestigious agency who (from what I could tell from the limited posts on his blog) is passionate about good literature and who I had already decided was my #3 agent choice, so I was super excited about seeing interest from him.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I made sure I sent out all the requested materials right away – and following each agency’s guidelines. I carefully read (and re-read – and sometimes re-read) guidelines before submitting just because I knew I wouldn’t get a second chance to get this right, especially with Dream Agent and #3 agent choice.
And then I waited.
Oh, that full manuscript request that came in Saturday morning? It was from a small romance imprint that reached out to me with an offer to acquire on Monday after the agent who wasn’t at the top of my List of Agents to Query rejected me. And the offer looked good. Really enticing, in fact. But Dream Agent hadn’t gotten back to me, and I hadn’t heard from #3, either, so I sent them both gentle nudges to say, “Hi, I hate to bother you, but I’m going to, anyway because this just happened.”
Dream Agent got back to me almost straightaway with a request for a full. I think I audibly squealed, ran down the hall to tell my coworker, then composed myself, calmly returned to my desk, and submitted my full manuscript. My hand was shaking when I hit send. She replied and promised to get back to me Friday. Meanwhile, #3 was silent, and I needed to acknowledge the publisher’s offer.
I reached out to the publisher and asked if I could call her late in the week. We set up a call for Thursday afternoon, and while I waited for Thursday to come, I kept checking my In Box hoping for a message from either Dream Agent or #3.
So I spoke to the publisher on Thursday. And I really like her. I made a mental list of pros and cons of the offer, and I decided that was my fall-back option, my “safety school,” if you will. I asked my cousin to (re)introduce me to colleagues who were familiar with intellectual property law in the event that I didn’t get accepted by my first choice (Dream Agent) or second choice (#3 – but that’s because I didn’t query the agent who would have been in the #2 slot). I made sure that I had everything properly set up so I would be in the position to accept an offer and sign a contract or agreement fairly quickly.
No matter what, I was poised to win. Either I would sign with an agent who would be my advocate and help me navigate through the crazy world of publishing or I would sign a contract with a small publisher so that I could get some published titles under my belt and use that as something that might later entice an agent to represent me.
Obviously, my preference was to have an agent.
Agent #3 emailed me last night apologizing for not responding sooner and requesting my full manuscript. As I promised the publisher a reply no later than Saturday morning, I sent him my manuscript and let him know my deadline.
Well, it wouldn’t hurt, right?
And then early this morning, I got The Offer from Dream Agent, and I bolted upright and accepted immediately even though she had even written a post saying that’s precisely what not to do. But she was kind and suggested we speak before she has to leave the country for about ten days, and we set up an appointment to speak via Skype.
The call lasted about 80 minutes. She knew my manuscript as well as I did. She loved my characters as much as I did. She suggested tweaks that no one had ever mentioned before. She called out areas that needed tightening and others that needed some expansion. She noticed that most of my extraneous characters’ names began with the letter C. Plus, when we talked about ideas I have for forthcoming manuscripts, she was enthusiastic and so eager to read my work. I felt the need to write the best possible manuscript just so she would (a) enjoy reading it and (b) have fun selling it.
It was incredible. It was exhilarating.
It was complete affirmation that she was DEFINITELY the right agent for me.
And so, it is with great enthusiasm and pride that I am ecstatic to announce that yours truly is now being represented by Julia A. Weber of J. A. Weber Literaturagentur GmbH.
Now, I’m certainly in no position to host big events like other authors have done to help their fellow writers find agents, but I do feel the need to pay it forward. When I think of it, I’ll share it.
In the meantime, I have another story to plot.
I checked the email I reserve for all things writing-related just before lunch today. I’m a glutton for punishment; there was a part of me that was
expecting hoping to see four emails telling me that my work wasn’t great and that they were passing on my novel.
What I found was one email:
Thank you for sharing your work with me. You write well, but I’m afraid that I just didn’t connect with this in the way that I’d hoped. Still, I hope you will continue writing and sending out your work.
Translation: It’s not you; it’s me.
The really crazy thing is that this particular agent is one that I had researched and thought, Hmm, I don’t know if she’d love my novel the way I’d want her to. But as she requested a query and a few pages, I submitted. It wouldn’t be the first time that my gut instinct was wrong.
So getting a rejection letter from her – and such a positive one, at that – was kind of, well, not heartbreaking. I described it to my friend thus:
It’s like when you only like a guy because your friends told you he likes you but then you find out he really doesn’t like you, after all.
Yeah, it’s like that. Disappointing, but not disheartening.
But here’s the thing: Everyone gets rejected at some point. I mean, not everyone will love my work. I guess I could hope that everyone loves it, but the reality is different. So it’s okay.
Anyway, another agent (one I had been
stalking studying following on Twitter) asked to see my full manuscript, so I’m not out of the game by any means.
All the same, a rejection is still a rejection, as subjective as this industry is.
Guess this makes me a real writer now!
There are two things that I’ve been told time and again that every good story needs: conflict and suspense. (I’ve since been told that a great voice is another thing, but that’s for a different post.)
I’m not going to lie: as a writer, I struggle with conflict. In my mind, conflict is this bigger than life thing. Yes, I know that there are three types of conflict (Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Man, Man vs. Self). I learned those in seventh grade. But I really have a difficult time working conflict into my stories! Or, maybe I just think I do. Maybe most of my conflicts are Man vs. Self and, because it’s an internal struggle, I don’t think it counts.
I don’t know.
I think part of my problem is that my characters have changing desires. I mean, who really wants only one thing? So, I’ve gone through Will the Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up? and have listed below what I think are the Desires/Obstacles/Outcomes:
Desire #1: Remain in current state. (Not an exciting “want”, I know.)
Obstacle: She’s named Homecoming Princess and captures popular guy’s attention.
Outcome: Accepts change and has a new boyfriend.
Desire #2: Wants her friends to like her boyfriend.
Obstacle: He’s controlling and becomes abusive.
Outcome: She tries to break up with him.
Desire #3: Wants to get away from her now-ex-boyfriend.
Obstacle: Now-ex-boyfriend is stalking her.
Outcome: Big Event involving the hero.
Desire #4: Wants to be with the hero.
Obstacle: There’s someone the hero is really interested in.
Outcome: Happy ending! (Hey – it’s a romance, okay?)
Even worse than conflict, though, is my struggle to get suspense right. I mean, I’ve written a romance novel. Just the very definition of that alone indicates that the Heroine will ultimately end up with the Hero. So that’s, obviously, going to be the outcome.
I wrote something a while back on how I can’t believe suspense is as simple as just making your reader wait. And I still can’t believe it’s that easy, but it makes total sense.
So how do I know if the story is suspenseful enough?
When one of my Beta readers writes, “Nooooooo!” in the margins of my first draft, I think I’ve done something right. But when a different Beta reader texts me to say, “Ok. I confess. I cheated. I have read ahead. Thank God!!! I will resume ch 18 tomorrow,” I know I’ve done my job.
Now to craft a query letter that will get an agent and/or editor interested enough in the concept to even look at the first thirty pages. That’s the hard part.
I am really torn.
I’ve been furiously editing my first novel, Will the Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up?, and I’ve passed around the second draft to a few friends to get their feedback. My sister asked if it would be okay to let my nieces (aged 9 and 11) read it, and since I ultimately wrote it with them in mind, I responded with an enthusiastic “yes!”
Miss M (my 9-year-old niece) finished the book in a single day (she was home from school because she was sick) and emailed me with the following feedback:
I read your book and it was a nice book and was very realistic. A thing I think you may want to change if you want my age group to read this is the curse words.(do we really need to read the b word and the a word not to mention the h e double hockey sticks one?)
Okay, maybe nine years old is a bit young for my novel. After all, my protagonist is a 15-year-old girl who has her first boyfriend – whom we later learn is rather abusive. Should a 9-year-old be reading about an abusive boyfriend? Well, I guess I did when I was that age; Sweet Valley High addressed that very issue early in the series. But SVH didn’t have any cursing in it, from what I can remember.
But the topic at hand is the cursing, not the content. So here is my curse-word count as it stands at the end of the second draft:
- Hell – 5 times
- Ass – 4 times
- Damn – 2 times
- Bitch – 1 time
The “F-bomb” and the “S-word” aren’t in the book at all. I used the list of unacceptable words for Prime Time TV as my guide.
Now, I’m certain I can get around “hell”. I’m also pretty sure I can eliminate “ass” and “damn”. But “bitch” is where I have a degree of difficulty because I really struggled with finding the right word for that scene. It’s kind of like when Rhett is leaving Scarlett at the end of Gone with the Wind and the movie community wanted David O. Selznick to remove “damn” from the scene. Sometimes, there really is no other word.
(And, as I tried very hard to be cognizant of my nieces as my audience, “bitch” is only used that one time.)
Okay, I suppose I can substitute another word. I guess I could use “whore”. And since the character exclaiming this epithet is a bad guy, anyway, I wouldn’t feel so bad about it. But to me, “whore” feels like a much stronger word, something laden with much more malice and venom. I mean, by definition a “whore” is a woman who is promiscuous in her sexual activities; a “bitch” is just an unpleasant woman. I’m not saying that I’d like to be called either, but I’d be less offended if someone called me a “bitch” than a “whore”.
I guess I’m just irked that a much more loaded word would pass through the censors.
Last spring, ABC News reported that foul language is popping up more and more in YA books. I don’t think it’s necessary to have a few hundred instances of cursing, but one or two epithets are certainly forgivable. I don’t want to sound like one of those authors that says, “Well, my character is 15 and all teenagers curse.” I’m definitely not saying that. But I’m of the believe that a well-considered, appropriately placed curse is not just acceptable, it’s also necessary.
I may be wrong.
So then I checked out Mary Kole’s blog, since she’s the author of Writing Irresistible KidLit, which is a great resource in terms of making sure I’m addressing issues correctly and with the right voice. (And it’s also helped me overcome areas where I get “stuck” trying to craft a believable response to something.)
And here’s what she said:
If you absolutely have to use a swear word in your manuscript, if there’s no other word it could be, then use it. You won’t get a squeamish look from me…. You might also alienate yourself from certain libraries, school administrators, booksellers and editors who work for more clean-cut imprints and don’t publish content. There will be parents who are too scared of their kids growing up, who are in denial of the words and ideas that fly around every middle and high school in every town in every country, too.
My niece is just one of about 10 people I’ve asked to read my second draft, so I’m taking her suggestions to heart and will address them in my third draft. And I may very well just decide that nine is too young for my book. I’ve written a Young Adult novel, after all. I never intended for it to be a Middle Grade book.
But I also don’t want my word choices to alienate someone that I kind of wrote this book for.
Well, I’ve done it. I’ve actually done it.
I’ve written an entire book – from start to finish – in 24 days. Fifty thousand words, all strung together to form a coherent story, and I did it in just about three and a half weeks.
I feel ridiculously accomplished.
(Shameless plug: If you feel so inclined to check out the first chapter of my novel, you can read it on Wattpad. Please feel free to critique my work and leave comments. Yes, even if it’s harsh. I can take it.)
What are my big take-aways from this experience?
- Writing 50,000 words really isn’t that difficult. Writing 50,000 words in a manner that tells a story is more challenging, but not impossible. But writing 50,000 words from the mindset of a naive 15-year-old? Painful.
- There is a certain kind of camaraderie among fellow WriMos that can’t be explained to non-WriMos. It’s almost like you have to live through the frenzied 30-day self-imposed deadline in order to fully appreciate the insanity.
- Putting the Calendar Widget on my blog was one of the best motivators to get me to write at least the minimum 1,667 words each day. I still had two yellow squares (not including today’s), but I would have had so many more if I didn’t feel like I would be judged by the four people who actually visit my blog.
- I like outlining and wish I realized it sooner. I certainly didn’t stick to my outline the entire time; there were still some twists I definitely didn’t see coming (and I’m the writer!). But it really helped me stay on track.
- It also helped that my friend’s 11-year-old daughter signed on as an early Beta reader and demanded chapters on a daily basis. You don’t ever want to upset an 11-year-old girl.
- I had a lot of difficulty silencing my Internal Editor (IE), but I also discovered that I rely on her a lot. Yes, I could have easily gone off on random tangents a number of times (and in my revisions, I may very well need to take some of those journeys to add descriptors to the story), but my IE kept me focused. And I welcomed that, especially since I had a Beta reader who just wanted to know what happened next. (See #5.)
- Writing a novel is a lot harder than reading one. But it’s infinitely more gratifying when you get to the end.
So, for me, anyway, my NaNoWriMo 2012 journey is finished. I’ll get my word count validated in the morning, receive my certificate, order my Winner’s Shirt, and bask in the knowledge that it’s done. Many of my fellow WriMos won’t be done for another week, though. Some may not even make it to 50K by the end of the month, but that’s okay. The important thing is that they’re still writing.
The important thing is that we are all writing.
But Camp NaNoWriMo begins in June, and I’ve got a character from this novel who is begging to have her story told, too. So as I wait for feedback from friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers on this novel, I suppose I can start the rough outline for the next. And maybe the one after that.
Because my biggest takeaway from NaNoWriMo?
I can do this – and I know I can because I already did it!
I’m Eileen Caines, and I’m a novelist.