24 June 2012

Look-A-Like Alert: Lolo Jones & Penny Harrison

For those of you who aren't big sports fans, you may not know that Olympic Trials are being held this week. The gymnastics trials begin on Thursday and I'll be in attendance, but I digress. This afternoon, I was watching the Track and Field trials and they aired highlights of yesterday's competition where a 2008 Olympian named Lolo Jones qualified in the Women's 100 Meter Hurdles. Yay for her, but really what this post is about is who she look like: Penny Harrison. She really looks like her...A LOT. In fact, she and Penny share a similar cultural background as well.

Many of you will remember that I've used a couple of different stock photos of Penny since I started this blog, because it's just been really hard to find a picture of someone who actually looks like the girl in my head.

Now granted, Lolo has about 10 years on Penny as she appears in Game. Set. Match. but if you want to see someone who is nearly identical to Penny as I imagine her, here she is:




22 June 2012

Never Give In: Part 2 or On "How I Wrote a Novel and Snagged an Agent"

So, where did I leave off? Oh, right, I started writing.

As I said in my previous post, I'm a plotter. I outline, usually in detail and so when I start to write, it generally flows pretty well. I know exactly what goes in each chapter and since I try to do as much character sketching before I even outline, my characters don't tend to freak out and take me on plot detours.

That doesn't mean the writing process is easy for me. In fact, thanks to my point of view and perspective choices, this novel was one of the most challenging projects I've ever taken on. Developing and maintaining distinctive voices for each of the three "point of view" characters was incredibly difficult.

A great thing about writing a novel in the 21st century is that there are thousands of resources to help you write that novel. I'm not going to lie, when I was hovering around 15,000 words, my progress came to a screeching halt. That's when I saw one of my friends tweet the hashtag #YALitChat. I stumbled into one of their weekly chats and a quick google search led me to Georgia McBride's website. After a little research (i.e. asking around) I hired Georgia to edit the first chapter of my floundering work-in-progress.

To say her comments jump started my muse again would be an understatement. She nailed the problem on the head and I was off and running again. Now, hiring an outside editor isn't for everyone (for whatever reason), but all I can say is that it worked for me and that if you're looking for one, Georgia is incredible (for more than just her mad editing skills, but I'll talk about that later).



I also convinced some of my smart, literate, amazing friends to critique my work. I cannot stress enough the importance of having someone who is NOT YOU (or your mom) reading your work. They'll spot something you thought was clever and call it ridiculous (and 99 times out of 100, they're right). They can see a plot hole coming from a mile away and most importantly, they can tell you if your book is actually readable or not. If you're writing with the intension of publication, get yourself some awesome critique buddies and FAST.

So there I was, plugging along, with comments and suggestions from Georgia and my Critique Partners (that could be the name of a very dorky band, no?) when I realized that eventually I would be finished. I know right? Obvious, but it wasn't something I'd thought about much. A few pokes and prods from my friends had me researching literary agents and the process most aspiring authors have to go through in order to snag one: querying.

Some people will say that you shouldn't even start to think about query letters and the querying process until after you're finished with your manuscript. To that I say, BAH! Of course you should be thinking about what comes next, especially since it takes some time to accumulate the knowledge necessary to query correctly. And yes, there is a correct way to query. We'll get to that in the next post. Researching the querying process and the publishing industry in general was what I did when I didn't feel like writing. It was a procrastination tool and really, the perfect one. Usually while I was researching, I'd get myself all worked up about wanting to query a particular agent or wanting a book deal like the one a blogging author got and it would inspire me to get back to my manuscript. As much failure and rejection as there is in this industry, there are a lot of success stories and reading about those is important too.

Then I wrote a query letter and despite all of that research it was terrible. So I tried again and it still wasn't quite right. I ran it by the amazing Query Kick-Around group at YALitChat and they really helped make it shine. If you're not a YA author or a member of YALitChat, you can try the forums at AgentQueryConnect and the AbsoluteWrite forums.

(BTW, if you want to check out my query letter, head over to my friend Ashlyn Macnamara's blog, where I'm featured in her  "First Query, Last Query" series on the art of query writing.)

Now, this is where things get complicated. Agents. Finding an agent is basically Step 2 on the traditional "Getting Published" check-list. Are there ways to be published without one? Sure. You could self-pub or submit directly to an indie-press or even join the slush pile at a major publishing company. Those are all perfectly acceptable options, but for me, I knew I wanted an agent. I wanted a publishing deal and I wanted someone along for the ride with me who knew what she was doing and who could open doors that were closed to me simply because I'm not a literary agent.



So, I started making a list. I went to AgentQuery.com, Publisher's Marketplace and QueryTracker. If you're serious about this whole "getting published" thing, those are three websites you should familiarize yourself with ASAP. Seriously. I don't care where you are in the process, just start poking around and figuring things out. It'll save you a lot of time and effort later on. It's also helpful at this point to try and figure out what's important to you in an agent. Are you looking for someone with an incredible sales record? An agent whose client's love her? Do you want someone with an editorial background or someone who expects you to submit a totally 100% ready to go finished product? Trust me, you think some of that stuff isn't important to you, until you've got multiple offers of representation and you have to decide which agent to go with. If you've thought about all of these things beforehand, it'll make your decision that much easier.

For nine months, I wrote and edited and procrastinated by figuring out the whole "querying" thing and then one day, I looked down at the MSWord file I'd been slaving over and I realized, I was done.



Still with me? Great! More soon!

xoxo

Jen

16 June 2012

Never Give In: Part 1 or On "How I Wrote a Novel and Snagged an Agent"

"Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions or honor or good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to to the overwhelming might of the enemy."


- Winston Churchill

I love Winton Churchill.

I can see you, sitting there reading this thinking, "WTF!? I came here to read a post about writing and querying agents and you're going to talk about Winston Churchill?

Damn straight I am.

For years I've used Winston Churchill's quotes as sources of inspiration. In one of the darkest times in his nation's history, his words brought comfort and instilled confidence in his people. However, one of this more famous quotes, which has been bastardized through the years from its original form down to, "Never give up, never, never, never give up,"always gave my pause. Maybe if I'd known the actual quote as written at the top of this post, it wouldn't have, but I didn't. I only knew the, "Never give up, never, never, never give up," version and it always provoked the logical part of my brain. It whined, "Maybe some people should give up. Maybe some people aren't good enough and are banging their heads against a solid oak door that's never going to open."

Today, I tell that logical, snooty, whiny voice. "You're wrong."

If you follow this blog or follow me on twitter, you know that yesterday I signed with a literary agent, the utterly fabulous Michelle Wolfson. We're having lunch on Monday and it'll become official when I hand her my signed agency agreement and she adds her signature next to mine. It's real. And if anyone had told me in August 2011, when I started to write Game. Set. Match. that less than a year later I would have an agent, I would have laughed hard enough to cry. That was the furthest thing from my mind (though it was there, just buried really deep.)

So, all of that is to introduce this post as the first in a series about how I did it and hopefully some of you out there reading will find it helpful or at the very least interesting.

Step 1: Write a Manuscript

Three easy words to type out, but not nearly as simple in execution. Some people carry stories around with them for years before they ever put pen to paper, others wait only a day or two before they start writing. I can't tell you which produces a better product. All I know is that last year, in early August I was listening to the song, Penny and Me by Hanson (NO JUDGING! YES, I CAN FEEL YOU JUDGING. STOP IT.) and Penny Harrison popped up, fully formed, in my head. A biracial, eighteen-year-old, tennis star who trains at an elite academy and is destined to be the greatest tennis player of her generation.



I spent a few weeks fleshing out her "world" and the characters who lived in it and I can't stress the importance of this enough. Even if you're writing contemporary fiction, even if the setting is as familiar to you and your readers as your own backyard, you still need to build a world for your characters to live in. Every setting has its own quirks and its important to a well-developed story for those details to come out on the page. I am not exaggerating. In our first conversation it's something Michelle and I discussed at length and it's a problem with a lot of contemporary fiction floating around. I read sci-fi, fantasy and a ton of classic lit. World building was instinctual for me because of that. So I say it again: even if you're writing a contemporary story, with no paranormal or fantastical elements at all, you still need to world-build.

After I had my setting and maybe a dozen characters (main and secondary) I spent a few days stressing over character point of view and 1st or 3rd person perspective. My only advice with those issues is the mostly unhelpful: write what feels right. If it feels right, you'll execute it well. If you try to force it, you'll just write crap. Now, it's not that easy because I KNOW I was rejected by several agents because of my point of view choices (and I know because they flat-out said so), but that's okay. The cliche is true, you don't just want an agent. You want the RIGHT agent and the right agent will love your vision for your manuscript (even if she has a few or more than a few suggestions for improvement, as I'm sure Michelle does for me!)


Where was I? Right, I'd made my third person limited, three separate point of views decision. Then I outlined. A LOT. There are different schools of thought on writing a novel. Generally writers fall into two categories, "pantsers" (as in, writing from the seat of their pants) and "plotters" (those who outline, either generally or down to the tiniest detail). I fall in the latter category and I can't imagine writing without at least a simple outline. I filled legal pads, index cards, highlighted POV sections, color coded, arranged and rearranged plot points, noted down some dialogue that popped into my head and made sure there were no plot holes.

This....gradually                                                          became this....



And then - FINALLY - I started to write.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in a few days!

xoxo

Jen

15 June 2012

The Big Announcement!

So the big news I teased you all about the other day? I can announce it now!



As of this afternoon, I am officially represented by Michelle Wolfson of Wolfson Literary Agency.

I'll be posting about how it all came to be in a few days, but for right now all you need to know is that Michelle is amazing and she loves Game. Set. Match. as much as you guys do! 

Also, this means that I'm one step closer to publication. One HUGE step. 

Thanks to each and every one of you for reading and commenting and supporting me from the very beginning! 

More soon!




14 June 2012

Shiny and New: a couple of updates

A new layout and a new web address!

Make sure to update your bookmarks, this blog is now:

http://jenniferiacopelli.blogspot.com


Also, stay tuned, exciting announcement coming very, very soon!