Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Decision

Thanks for all the well wishes. A big part of me wanted to not say anything about signing with an agent until the book actually sells. If it doesn't for whatever reason, (and trust me, getting a great agent does not guarantee a sale) it will be annoying to admit that. But most of you have been with me a long time. I want to be able to share with you all of the ups and downs of this writing life I've chosen. When I do make a sale, you will be the first people I celebrate with. When I don't, I'll painfully admit it here. And the thing to remember is, even if you don't sell your first book through your agent, you still have a great agent. And something WILL get sold.

Which is not to say, I think Demon Spawn won't sell. In fact I can't remember ever being so excited about a book before. I love the story, the characters, and especially the setting. All of the agents who were interested in this have really raised my hopes about how this book could succeed.

This was an incredibly hard decision. I would have been happy with any of the agents who offered to represent me. I lost a ton of sleep. But ultimately the agent who I thought had the best chance to sell Demon Spawn is Michael Bourret, of Dystel and Goderich. Michael has an incredible track record--especially in YA. He has done very well with foreign rights. He really seems to know the industry inside and out. And he is a great guy from everything I've seen.

For those of you who don't know, Michael represents three other Utah authors: Sara Zarr, Emily Wing Smith, and . . . James Dashner. I know, I know. This was actually a pretty big concern for me. James and I are great friends and he has been an incredible support on everything I've been trying to accomplish. But there was a part of me that knows people will be saying, "Oh, look, he's just riding James' coat tails. That's why he got the agent."

The truth of the matter is that if I was going to ride on anyone's coat tails, James would be an awesome choice. I have learned a ton about the industry from talking to him. His feedback definitely played a big part in deciding who to go with. I know that Sara's feelings were a big part of the reason James chose Michael as well. But it's also true that knowing an author who is represented by a certain agent doesn't get you a special "pick me" card. I know this for sure, because I pitched another project to Michael several months ago and was rejected. It's still about the work.

So there it is. The plan is to write and polish over the rest of the year, as most publishers tend to take the holidays off, and start submitting in January if all goes well. In the mean time, I have just a few other books out there. So go buy them for your friends! And stick around. I'll keep you updated.

Monday, November 23, 2009

What to do When the Answer is—Finally—Yes!


Most of us have had plenty of experience with what we do when an agent says no. We pout, cry, pound our fists, and after [choose one or more: __eating, __running, __screaming,__ stabbing stuffed animal repeatedly ], we get back to writing. (Side note: If you checked off number four, you are one sick puppy. Get help immediately and/or stop writing/submitting.)

But what do you do when an agent says yes? Or even tougher when more than one agent says yes? Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve begun submitting proposals for my YA novel, with the working title of Demon Spawn. Here’s the “pitch” section of my query letter.

Blaze, a sixteen year old demon spawn, thinks her biggest worries this year will be fitting in at academy and getting used to guarding the humes damned to a lifetime of servitude in Hell. That’s before her close friend, Jazz, a third year, is involved in an attempted hijacking of the J-trans that bring new humes from Judgment every month, and an injured seraph shows up in the dorm room of Blaze and her best friend, Cinder, asking for help. In order to clear Jazz’s name, the three friends agree to help the Seraph return to his home before the atmosphere of Hell kills him. They are joined by a mute hume who seems to have memories of the outer circles of Hell and what dangers lie on the way to the mountains of Judgment, and the woman who translates for him.

On the journey, Blaze and the Seraph become attracted to each other—to the point that he lowers his blinding aura enough that they can touch and even kiss. When they finally manage to reach the city Blaze must decide whether to stay in Hell with her friends or live a life of hiding with the man she thinks she loves. But all of that is about to be turned on its head when she learns the real truth about Judgment, Hell, and the identity of the Seraphs.

Of course the day after I e-mailed out my query, I received two rejections. One was a form, the other said that the first chapter didn’t live up to her hopes. Form too? Maybe, it was hard to tell. Of course I immediately did one or more of the above listed actions and convinced myself that my story was lousy, my writing was lousy, and I’d be better off selling shoes in the mall. Then, an amazing thing happened. Several of the agents asked for the first fifty pages. And then, an even more amazing thing happened. A wonderful agent offered to represent me. Hurray! Right? So I let the other agents know I had an OOR. (Publishing speak for Offer of Representation—with caps and all!)

Then I got another OOR. And another. Wait, what? More than one agent is saying yes? Great news. But also kind of scary news. I know what to do if all the agents say no. Cry loudly. I know what to do if an agent says yes. Dance joyously. But what do you do when multiple agents says yes? I got on the phone, checked the Internet, talked to other published authors, and learned a few things. Now—assuming you kept reading after I told you about my great luck, as opposed to cursing me and punching the computer, because Savage of all people doesn’t deserve this good fortune—I will share my gained wisdom with you.

1) When you finally get an offer of representation, don’t immediately say yes. Talk to the agent and let them know you will consider their offer carefully while you let the other agents you have queried know that you have an offer. Ginger Clark, of Curtis Brown has a great post about this, here, http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2007/10/guest-blog-ginger-clark-on-how-to.html.

2) I assume if you are like me, you will want to know how many books each agent has sold, what type of books they have sold, and maybe even the range of the advances. You would then like to be able to compare one agent to another to see who might be the best match. There may be some magical free site to do this, but I couldn’t find it. However, there is a magical fee-based site which provides a ton of useful information. It is http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/ and for the agent researching author, it is a godsend. Best twenty dollars a month I ever spent! You might be surprised at how some of the top selling agents in your genre are not with the agencies you’ve heard of the most.

3) With all your stats, comparisons, and research gathered, it’s time to talk to each of the agents who has offered to represent you. I know you are scared to death. These are conversations that could change your life. Believe me, I was pacing like a caged panther as I awaited the time for each call. What if I say something dumb? What if it’s a mistake and they think I am someone else? Please tell me they really like me, and, even more important, that they like my work. You need to set aside those fears, and remember, you are interviewing them. They are people like you. Write down all your questions so you don’t forget any. You’ll have your own questions, but here are a few I asked:


What about my work appealed to you?

Who do you see selling this to?

How do you handle foreign rights?

Can I speak to some of your other clients?

How will you communicate updates to me?

Do you feel this is ready to send out now or are there changes you think I should make?

What types of manuscripts like this have you sold lately?

Do you have other clients with this type of story?

How could that help or hurt me?

How can you help me shape my career?

4) Talk to other authors represented by this agent. Make sure you get their dislikes as well as the likes.

5) Remember that each agent has their own way of doing things. If you get conflicting ideas or proposals from one agent, contact the other agents and get their thoughts.

6) Be careful of being blinded by the bright lights. One of the agents I spoke to worked for an agency that has some extremely well known clients. But when I talked to her, I found that she had a way of doing business that I wasn’t comfortable with. Nothing unethical in any way, just an approach that felt less like a team approach to me, and more of being on trial. I want an agent who is with me 100% and will put in the time and commitment to provide me with the best chance of success.

7) Finally, give yourself the chance to think rationally and calmly before making a decision. It’s easy to get swayed by one conversation. But you have to weigh all of the pros and cons with no pressure from anyone else. Remember, you are tied to an agent for life contractually, but hopefully they will be with you for the rest of your career. So choose for the long term.

Tomorrow. Who I chose.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fun in the Sun

Heading down to Southern Utah and Mesquite, NV for some additional warmth, and lots of fun visiting schools. Drop by the St. George Barnes and Noble at 5:00 this Wednesday the 18th for a book signing if you are in the area.

Speaking of schools, a big shout out to my friends at Valley and Kanab Elementary schools. You guys were great! I had an awesome time making up stories with you and talking about writing and reading. And Canyon books totally rocks!

And speaking of Kanab, I've lived in Utah for over eight years and never visited the Coral Pink Sand Dunes until last week. I am not exaggerating when I say it absolutely took my breath away. If you haven't been there you need to go. The pics below don't come close to doing it justice!













Finally, things are starting to move forward with Demon Spawn, a national project I told you about a couple of months ago. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, November 16, 2009

You Have to Convince Yourself First

Saturday night, I had the chance to a speak to a NaNoWriMo group. (For those in the non-writing crowd, that’s National Novel Writing Month.) We talked about a lot of things, but one thing that we discussed has stuck with me since. The question was asked, “What advice can you give us that will help us push through writing 50,000 words in a month?”

Of course there are many answers relating to outlining, plotting, perseverance, etc. But the thing that occurred to me first is belief. As an author, you are going to have to sell your work to a lot of people. You sell it to your agent, your agent sells it to an editor, the editor sells it to the committee, the publisher sells it to the reps, who sell it to . . .

You get the idea. All along this path there is not only the chance—but the likelihood—of multiple rejections. Unless you are the very rare exception, you are going to have people tell you, “This story did not work for me.” How are you going to react to that?

Depends on what you believe. When I was twelve, my family moved from the bay area of northern California, to New Jersey. I wasn’t the most confident kid, and for whatever reason, moving to the East Coast only exacerbated the problem. By the time I started high school, I had almost no friends, and lost myself in books. I believed I was quiet at best, and probably a loser. Does it surprise you that most everyone I knew looked at me the same way?

Fast forward to the summer before my junior year. My family moved back to California—San Jose to be exact. I was painfully shy, and had very little confidence. But an odd thing happened. The second day of school , everyone in drama had to try out for the Fall play. Amazingly, I landed the male lead in the Woody Allen play, “Don’t Drink the Water.” I was the exact same kid I had been three months before. I didn’t grow six inches, or learn to dance, or discover I sparkled in the sun. But getting that part flipped a switch inside me. I viewed myself differently. I wasn’t the shy, quiet boy, who always had his head in a book and got beat up way too many times to count. I was the guy who got the lead. I was part of a group. Because I believed in myself, other people believed in me too.

Writing is a funny thing. The creation of a story is done in the most private of places—your head. But then you have to take it out in the bright sunlight and show it to people who often will tell you, “Meh,”, and much, much, worse. How much, “meh” can you take before you start looking at your own work and saying, “They’re right. This stinks. I’m a lousy writer?” And once you tell yourself that, how long can you keep on writing? And if you do keep writing, how much can your own voice come through?

Good writing requires confidence. It requires forgetting what the “good” writer in your critique group sounds like. It requires ignoring the voice inside you that warns you to you’ll never be as good as the writer of the book on your nightstand. Good writing requires a belief in yourself that nothing can shake. A belief so strong that even when your writing feels like it’s not the best, you keep going. If you believe in yourself enough, you’ll stop trying to copy whatever you just read and listen to the voice inside you.

So how to you start believing in yourself, when the voices inside you have some serious doubts? Here are a couple of ideas.

1) Stop comparing your first draft to the polished novel by the best-selling author you love. For one thing, that best-selling author probably wrote some crap before they got that good. For another thing, the book had three, four, or a dozen rewrites. It went through some of the best editors money can buy. Comparing your work to a best-selling novel is like comparing a chunk of rock to a polished diamond.

2) Give yourself permission to write some crap. You are not going to paint a masterpiece the first time you pick up a paint brush. So why should your first manuscript be the one that sells for a million dollars? Unless you’ve produced some garbage, you won’t be able to recognize the good stuff when you write it. The person who goes back and rewrites every chapter to death, will never finish a novel. And the person who does not finish their novel, can never make it better. The time will come when you can sit down and write a couple thousand words and say, “Yep, that’s pretty good stuff.” But it won’t come without practice.

3) Go to Goodreads or some other book review site and find a scathing review of an author you admire. Print it out and put it on the wall next to your desk.

4) Beside the review print out a page of your very best work. Every time you start to feel depressed, look at the bad review and remind yourself that no one can please everyone. Then read your page and remind yourself that the person who wrote that has real talent.

5) Give yourself permission to skip a section or a chapter when things aren’t working. Stuck on what should happen after the butler find the dead body? Write a placeholder that says something like, “Put something really cool here.” Then move on to the chapter you do know. Pretty soon an idea will come for what should go back where you put the note.

6) Don’t set word goals when you are struggling. Set scene goals. If I told you that you had an hour to write a thousand words right now, could you do it? Would you feel pressure? If you only wrote 700 words would you feel like a failure? What if I told you to write a scene where a boy and girl discover that their father has been killing and eating their pet rabbits. If I gave you enough details and dialogue, could you write it? Do the same with your work in progress. Instead of saying, “I will write 1500 words,” decide exactly the scene you want to write. Sit at your desk and see the scene in your mind. Then write it to the best f your ability.

7) Finally, find what works for you and stick with it. One of the things I’ve learned about myself is that starting a chapter cold is like starting a bike ride in 12th gear at the base of a hill. It’s much easier to get going if you have a little start first. Same with writing. Instead of stopping when you finish a chapter, write two hundred more words while you’re in a groove. That will give you a head start when you sit back down the next day.

Writing can be a tough business. None of the questions are right or wrong, and all the “teachers” grade on different things. For every gold star placed on your forehead, you’ll find a dozen red check marks on your paper. You are going to have people who tell you you stink—and maybe you even do, we all stink at times. But if you can sell yourself on the fact that you are a writer who will one day be published, sooner or later other people will believe it too.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Happy One Year Anniversary

I got a call today from a previous co-worker congratulating me on a year of writing full time, or as we in the industry like to call it, living hand-to-mouth. Wow, has it really been twelve months since I put my family’s finances in the hands of the American book-buying publics? Apparently so. In honor of that, I thought I would list the top ten things I have learned from a year of writing fulltime.

10) Nothing comes as easy as you think. And if it did you probably wouldn’t appreciate it. Many years ago, I read a Q&A with a fulltime author who hadn’t held a “real” job since he was in his early twenties. He stated that writing is just like any other job. What? Really? Are there a lot of other jobs out there with no commute, that let you set your own hours, that pay once every six months, with no guaranteed income, and that are up for renewal pretty much every year? Do those jobs allow you to decide what you will do that day and pay you for thinking up crazy ideas? If so, yeah, writing is just like every other 9-5 job.

Clearly this guy did not appreciate the struggle of working full time and then coming home to your “other” job. He either didn’t experience or had forgotten the pain of rejection and the fear of never making it. Yeah, I know it’s tough trying to break into the market. And it isn’t magically perfect once you get there. But it’s the pain of the journey that lets you appreciate the destination.

9) Full time writer is not an occupation for people without a lot of internal drive and willpower. When you only have an hour to write, you have to get to it. You don’t have time to waste. You dream of how much you could accomplish if writing was your only occupation. Then when it is, you suddenly find a million things to do other than write. If you don’t treat writing with the same dedication as a full time job, it won’t stay one for long.

8) For most fulltime writers, the actual writing is less than a third of what you do. The rest of the time is spent on all the marketing efforts that actually sell what you write. Yeah, I know most people know of a writer whose publisher takes care of all the marketing details, but those are the small minority. And even they spend a lot of time on blogs, tours, conferences, e-mail, and all that good stuff.

7) You need to make a lot more money than you think to make ends meet. That’s because you are paying everything your company used to pay: insurance, social security, office equipment. Plus every time you travel or eat on the road or make a phone call or print a post card or send a letter, that comes out of your pocket. Plan on needing to make 1 ½ times as much as you used to make.

6) Some of the things you least expect end up being the greatest experiences. Like:




Going to a school where a boy is painted blue and has white hair because he is a character from your book.








Meeting a real Land Elemental







Meeting a bunch of junior high students that are actually excited about reading and writing.









Getting invited to play a game with the student who made it, and . . .












Realizing it's the game of Trill Stones from your book!







5) It’s still cool as heck to wear the same jeans and t-shirt to work for three days just because you can.

4) You get to receive e-mails like this:
Dear J. Scott Savage, hello! This is Sarah, from xxxx Junior High School. I was your hero in your story when you were telling the audience how to write their own stories? Well, you had my best friend, a zombie, kill me! Ha Ha Ha just kidding. Anyway, I was just writing this email to tell you that I am very glad you cam e to our school. You came to my school last year, xxxxx Elementary. But I just wanted to tell you thank you for inspiring me. When you cam e to my school last year, you got me thinking, "I can write my own story and possibly become an author?" Wow, that was a huge surprise. I had no idea that a small town girl like me could do something that big. Since that time you told me that, I've written 1 book, it's called "Seventh Grade Secrets" and it's more of a realistic fiction book. I'm working on another book, it's a fantasy book. I am so happy that you were able to tell me that. I was talking to my homeroom teacher about you, and I had realized that you had been my inspiration all along. Thank you so much, for helping me gain courage in myself. I hope I can meet you again.

3) People ask all the time if your hand cramps up from doing long signings, but having done tons of “signings” where I signed no books at all, I will never ever complain about a signing that goes for three hours.

2) A lot of times you forget that the rest of the world is still going to work every day. You forget how lucky you are to get paid to do what you love, even if the pay is not as regular as you’d like. But every so often you have absolutely magical moment where you get up, have a glass of juice, head into the office and go, “Whoa my job today is to write something that will make people’s jaws drop. How cool is that?”

1) To quote somebody or the other, “There must be a better job than writing, but I’m having too much fun to spend time looking for it.”