Writing Buddy

I’m part of an online global writing group (which is actually attached to my workout program, My Peak Challenge, that I’ve been a part of for a year and a half now), and I love it. Having a community that is supportive and encouraging is such a necessary thing for a writer for so many reasons (at least for me). We share memes and resources and motivational posts. We talk about the challenges we are facing and the successes we have. We swap writing and give feedback. (It’s still amazes me that someone in Germany read my work and liked it.)

One of the things I talk about a lot on our group page is how important having a writing buddy has turned out to be for me. While the group is such a safe haven for me, my writing buddy is even more so.

My writing buddy is Jack Lelko, author of the soon-to-be published book Christmas Bitch. It’s a story full of sass and snark and complicated plot lines – just like Jack. (Kidding, friend. Sort of…) He’s read my stories and provided feedback. He’s hopped onto FaceTime with me when I’ve needed help talking through a troubled plot point. He’s even provided encouragement when I’ve found seeds of story ideas and helped them to grow. He talks about my characters like I do – as though they are living and breathing people walking about in reality.

Now, I’m a firm believer that a writing buddy doesn’t need to be another writer to be effective. Just needs to be someone who loves stories and can be honest with you (a writing buddy who is just going to fluff your ego isn’t going to do your story any good).

That being said, it’s FAR more rewarding when they are a writer because you can return the favor.

I’ve just finished up my third reading of Jack’s book, and it’s such a fun experience to see the way it has evolved since the first time. I feel quite honored to be trusted with his manuscript – to be trusted with giving my feedback. I enjoy getting to have chats about his characters, to see him work through a particularly tricky plotline. And I really can’t wait to hold the finished printed product in my hands (for which my multi-talented friend has also designed the cover). There’s a special spot reserved on my shelf, just waiting for this book.

If you are a writer (especially one who is feeling particularly isolated in your writing), I recommend checking out writing groups (whether in-person as it’s safe to do so or online). They can be game changers for so many reasons. But also – find a writing buddy that talks about your characters as though they are real people and who wants to see your story succeed just as much as you do.

If you are interested in holiday stories with sassy MCs, check out Jack’s social media:

Jack on Twitter

Jack on Instagram

Jack’s personal website and his Christmas Bitch website

I’m Still Here

I know it’s not news to say that life has been strange these last 492 days. (I used a date calculator to figure that number out – I’m honestly lucky I know today is Saturday…) It’s difficult for me to believe that I haven’t stepped foot inside of a classroom in over a year – and likely won’t in the Fall, either.

The last few months have been a struggle, and that’s saying something after this last year and a half. End of semester grading is always rough, made even more so with some “fun” health subplots (I’m fine thankfully). Then after what felt like a too-quick breath, summer session started, and it’s been nonstop ever since. I swear, I blinked, and we’re five weeks in.

Time really has no rules anymore, does it? (This is all to say sorry I’ve been MIA.)

In the midst of all of this, I did manage to get some words on the page for a couple new WIPs. I also buried myself in reading when I could fit it in. (If you have any interest at all in what I’ve been reading, you can follow me on Instagram.)

And I’ve been knee-deep in research Scottish fairy lore – which is helping with the writing just as much as it is making me pine to return to the country. (I was supposed to last summer, but, well… you know.)

Just know I’m still here, whoever you are that is reading this.

Writing Slump

On the morning of Friday, March 5, I received All Falling Things back from my editor. I asked for a timeline since they didn’t offer a deadline, and the response was by the end of April if possible. I returned the manuscript March 18. [strained smile] Any moment I wasn’t working or sleeping, I was editing. It felt really good to get back into Alice’s story after not visiting for over six months. Once the overwhelming feelings faded, I was just excited to see the story fill out.

After I sent the manuscript back, I decided to take what I had learned from the process and apply it to Lucy’s story (now titled Wherever Would I Be), which took about eight days. And then on to the YA WIP, which took about four. (They move quicker when they’re shorter. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) Between the three manuscripts, I added 11K words. And it felt GOOD.

I spent a solid twenty-one days editing. And I’ve been trying ever since to shift back into writing mode. But nada. I’ve gotten a couple hundred words down for the newest WIP, but it was a struggle, feeling like I was wrestling the words onto the page. To be fair, there’s been a lot of grading, and after spending an entire day staring at a computer screen, the last thing I want to do…is stare at a computer screen.

Writing is such a roller coaster.

Editing Alice

I will say this – the process of turning a manuscript into a book can be a humbling experience. I mean, here we are – finally ready to query. Because we’re done. The book is done.

[enter sad laughter here]

When I received my manuscript back from my editor, I felt like someone had doused me with a bucket of ice water. HOW ON EARTH did I feel like I was done writing Alice (All Falling Things)? It’s so strange to think there is this woman in New York (who I have never met) who is reading over and steering the fate of my book – but it’s also a really helpful process (at least it has been so far *fingers crossed*). My editor had done a detailed edit with tracked changes for the first fifty pages, which I was then to carry out through the remainder. Her comments, as well as coming back to the manuscript after not touching it for a good six months, let me see the story with fresh eyes.

I just email the manuscript back – and I already know Alice is better for this. 🙂 I’m looking forward to the next step in the conversation – because this book is not yet done.

Celebrate Good Times (Even During COVID)

A couple weeks ago, the U.S. passed 500K deaths from COVID-19. So many others have lost their jobs, their businesses, their homes. They’re struggling in ways they weren’t even a year ago. There is so much chaos and hate. It’s staggering. This last year has been nonstop.

It’s been 363 days since I’ve been remote for work. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to work safely from home – but I am still so saddened that I didn’t know until the week was over that this was happening – that the last time I was in the classroom with my students would be the last time I’d see them in person. The last time I’d set foot inside a classroom for a long time. Remember that hope? We thought moving remote for two weeks was all it would take. We’d be back soon.

It’s also been almost six months since I first signed a contract for publishing my first book. In the midst of chaos and uncertainty, a dream came true. I haven’t told a ton of people about it just yet, partly because it hasn’t felt real, or like something could still happen that will rip this dream right from my fingers – but also because it feels a bit out of touch to be celebrating (even when rationally I know it’s emotionally important to celebrate the good things at times like this). I was reading an article a few months back in Bustle, an interview with Dan Levy about the added success his show Schitt’s Creek has found amidst the pandemic. In the interview, he said, “There are moments when I think it is important for your sense of self to also be OK to say, ‘Something good happened to me this year, and I worked really hard for it.’” This struck a chord with me. (Also, if you haven’t seen the show, what are you doing??)

On Friday, I received my manuscript back from my editor. She had gone through and edited the first three chapters to give me an idea of what she is looking for, and I’m to take it through the rest of the book before handing it back. My initial reaction, of course, was an emotional one. Not a bad one, just emotional – this is my baby – and a woman I have never met is telling me what to do with it! I understand the process, though, so I allowed my feelings to romp for a bit, throw their little tantrum, run off to Kavarna for some lunch – and then I set those feelings in the corner for a timeout so that I could get to work.

All I want to do is edit my book. That’s it. Well, edit and sleep. But there is life to attend to – there is work and cleaning and cooking. I have cats demanding snuggles sans laptop. Even so, I’ve managed to edit my way through a third of the manuscript so far, and I’m feeling good about the process and how the story is filling out.

I’ve also started telling a few more people the last few days. This step in the process is making it feel a bit more concrete.

Research Rabbit Hole

I really love doing research for a project. I love learning random facts and exploring places and meeting people – even if it’s only via the internet. I definitely would not have been as productive with my writing during this quarantine if not for the internet. Well, the internet and my training on how to suss out credible sources.

I can’t even tell you how I landed on it, but in the midst of researching for a project yesterday, I ended up in an ancestry rabbit hole. I have a book for my mother’s side of the family (put together by her aunt). We’ve always known from where her family lines had descended – Germany, France, and Poland.

My dad’s side is a bit a more of a mystery, but we were always told Germany, Italy, and Norway. Well, it turns out, we can add Luxembourg, Austria, and Ireland to that list – and that’s just from my paternal grandfather’s line. I’m even more of a mutt than I originally thought! 🤭

The Irish ancestry caught my attention, and I did a little more directed digging. It seems we descend from Clan Ó Duibhgeannáin (anglicized to Dignan), which was a “family of professional historians in medieval and early modern Ireland.” Suddenly, my love of research and Irish Whiskey makes a lot more sense… (Looking at you, Writer’s Tears – which I had sought out because I loved the name, and now it’s one of my favorites!)

I realize fully what a privilege it is to know as much as I do about my ancestors, and there is still so much to learn. (My paternal grandmother’s line is a bit of a mystery beyond the Norwegian.) It is mind boggling to consider all of the people that had to line up for me to exist.

A Year Since…

It’s hard to believe it’s been an entire year since I completed All Falling Things, but Facebook reminded me of how I had posted this picture when I finished.

Life looks a lot different today than when I typed those two little words. For one, we’ve been in quarantine for almost ten months due to a world wide pandemic – I’ve forgotten what three dimensional people look like. And yesterday, a mob breached the U.S. Capitol while the House and Senate were attempting to confirm the electoral college votes. The H/S members were forced to evacuate, and the mob ransacked offices and hung confederate flags in place of American flags. (The Capitol was eventually cleared, and the certification did finish a bit before 3 a.m. CDT – and yes, I was still awake for it.) And so much chaos has happened in between. The mind boggles.

For me, life has been relatively small and quiet. I’ve been working remote since March 13, and we are slated to be remote again in the spring (*sobs with understanding and gratefulness for being able to stay safe and still work but also with the missing of my three dimensional students*). I spent the two weeks after finals to get spring up, and so I’ve been “off” since Dec 24, and it’s been lovely to not be glued to email and constantly grading and putting out figurative fires (I teach over summers, so this is my first true break since…well, last winter break). But I miss being in the classroom so so so much. It’s going to be so weird the first time I get to step back into one.

I’ve been able to spend extra time with my nephews. Starting over the summer when school ended, I’ve helped out watching them (both my sister and brother-in-law are essential workers). When my oldest nephew, my lima bean, was a baby, I watched him a bunch – we spent a lot of nephew/auntie time together for the first few years of his life before he started school. I was a bit sad that I didn’t get the same experience with the second, my mini muffin. And then voila – that all changed. (This is me trying to be all silver lining – when in reality, the reason behind this chance to spend time together is devastating.)

I’ve gone in fits and spurts with reading. Sometimes I just can’t get myself to sit still. Sometimes I get this insatiable thirst that can’t be quenched. Stress sure does interesting things to a person. (I’ve been stalled at starting the second chapter of Little Women for almost two months. I had to look it up – and I was shocked to realize it’s been that long…what is time?)

Probably the one truly consistent thing for me has been writing. Well, writing and my youngest cat’s demands for constant lap snuggles. It’s astonishing to me that it’s been a year since I finished the initial draft of All Falling Things. Partly because it took me two years to write it. Partly because it seems much longer than that. Since then, I wrote the initial draft of my second novel, still untitled (and I’m waiting on feedback from two of my beta readers), and I’m 3/5 of the way through my third. Amazing how much time one has to write when they aren’t driving eight or nine hours every week. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

It’s also astonishing because that year also feels so short. In the eight months that followed me finishing it, I edited and revised it several times, got feedback from my beta readers, edited and revised some more, and then started querying agents. Eight months after I finished it, I was offered a contract to publish it. Eight months seems so very short considering I had been dreaming about this for almost thirty-eight years.

At the moment, I’m waiting on the editor (my book is in their queue) and to see the cover design. I know publication is a slow process, and I’m doing my best to be patient – especially since there are so many other things to be impatient about. Like the vaccine and the chance to teach in the classroom again. Or the package I ordered from Singer that has been making its way from Ohio to Wisconsin for *checks calendar* eleven days now. (Please know – I fully understand the issues COVID and the holidays and people not traveling and instead mailing their presents have causes. Just confused since three other things I’ve ordered since then have already made their way to me. Again, I say ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

If someone had told me all of these things a year ago, I never would have believed them. And yet, here we are.

Sounds Like Me

Sara B, St Paul, MN, 2007

The first time I heard Sara B perform, it was at an in-store signing/meet & greet at a Borders in MN. My significant other at the time had been a fan of Sara’s music ever since seeing her playing a song in the background of a movie called Girl Play. They had looked her up (a much more difficult thing to do in those days) and found a copy of her first album, Careful Confessions. At the time, I was in graduate school in Mankato, MN, and my SO was in town for a visit. It was October of my second year, and I knew of but hadn’t yet heard any of Sara’s music. This day was a birthday present for my SO. Including me driving up to and around St. Paul in a time before GPS. For me at least. After the mini performance, we got to meet with Sara B and chatted with her and took pictures and got signatures, and we found ourselves outside and my SO was flying high and said – I’m good. We can go home now.

Which would have been fine – other than we had tickets for a concert that night, Oct 1, 2007, at the Xcel Center. Had I known about the signing prior to shelling out the money (which when combined with the gas money it took to get there and back, was a lot for me at the time), I wouldn’t have bought the tickets. But I had bought them – and we were going. And we were going for the sole purpose of seeing the opener for the opener of the headliner – Sara B. Again. This was time number two – Sara and her piano up on stage playing to a half empty arena singing her heart out.

Sara B w/her band, St. Paul, MN, 2007
Sara B, Madison, WI, 2008

The third time I saw Sara perform was at a small bar in Madison, WI, called the High Noon Saloon. This is also the night that, while we waited after the show for Sara to come out and do signatures, my SO leaned over and asked me to marry them. I said yes. And because of this, when Sara B finally did come out, and I walked up to her, my hands were shaking quite noticeably. She asked what was up – and when I told her what had just happened, she smiled brightly and hugged me. This is an anecdote we told for years to come as a part of the proposal story since upon my return to my SO’s side, they replied, “So, what was that hug all about?”

The fourth time I saw Sara B was a little over a year ago at the United Center in Chicago as she supported her album Amidst the Chaos. At this point, I was divorced several years and wanted a memory of this great singer in action that wasn’t tied to my now ex. It was yet another stellar night of music and storytelling.

Sara B, Chicago, IL, 2019
Sara B, Book Tour, 2015

There was one other encounter in between the third and fourth, though not a concert. Two days before my sister’s birthday in 2015, I sat in a small auditorium listening to Sara B, on her book tour, call herself a “salty angry woman” and give writers the advice to “make yourself sit the fuck down and write.” (The notes I took from this event five years ago are still in my phone.) I bought two copies of her book that night, and even though we were instructed by the folks running the event that she wouldn’t be personalizing them beyond our name (thankfully written down on a post-it so that it would be spelled correctly…if I had a nickel for every book I own inscribed to Amy…), I whisper-asked if she would add a Happy Birthday to my sister’s copy that I was buying to gift to her in a couple days – and she smiled that smile and said sure.

The thing I hate to admit is that even though I did start reading the book when I first got it, I maybe got ten pages in and then stopped. I have no idea why. But when I was telling a friend of mine about all the heavy books I had been reading lately (of the last four, two were historical fiction about Shoah/Holocaust, one about biases, and one a memoir about female incarceration and starting a movement to aid women recently released from prison), he suggested that maybe the next book I read be something light. When I scanned my bookshelf, I saw this title sitting there still waiting to be read.

It was exactly what I needed in this moment in so many ways – the break down of her songs were interesting, her honesty and openness were welcoming, and her vulnerability was much needed at this moment in my life.

COVID and Reading, Part Two

I hit another reading slump after my frenzy back in August. Part of this might have been because on top of everything else, the Fall semester began. It would be several months before I would read anything other than student papers – but once again, I suddenly became ravenous for it.

I opted to switch between fiction and non-fiction – all of these have bee on my bookshelf patiently waiting to be picked up. I can’t wait for the day I can wander around a bookstore. Until then, I have plenty of lonely books waiting for me here.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn — Back before COVID, my friend Jack and I would meet up when he was in town and wander around bookstores and drink tea and eat chocolatey goodness. Three of these books came from the last time we did this. I do love historical fiction, and Quinn did a great job of putting me into the shoes of a spy in 1915 in enemy-occupied France and into the shoes of a young woman, pregnant and unmarried, in search of her missing cousin in 1947. There’s even a charming Scotsman – so how was I to resist? I will definitely be rereading this sometime.

Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer Eberhardt, Ph.D. — This book should be required reading for everyone. Everyone. Eberhardt does an incredible job of explaining bias and bringing the receipts. I’ve done a lot of reading and work in the realm of bias, and still, I was blown away. This was a book I found through Eberhardt’s Armchair Expert interview – if you don’t have time to commit to the full book (though you should find the time), then at the very least give her episode a listen.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris — Ok, so this book, it’s noted, started out as a movie script that Morris wrote after interviewing Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew who was imprisoned in Auschwitz in 1942. During his time there, he became the tattooist of the camp, having to permanently scar those imprisoned with him with the telltale numbers on their arms. It was through this position that he met Gita, a woman he would fall in love with. Lale also risks his life, along with the help of some of the women he befriends, by smuggling jewels and money to workers who come and go – trading these for food and other supplies. The story itself is an account of Shoah/Holocaust that I have never experienced before – but I do have to note that the novel still reads very much like a script, which makes sense since that was its first iteration. It’s a lot of telling when I ached for showing.

Becoming Ms. Burton by Susan Burton & Cari Lynn — This was another Armchair Expert interview find, an interview with Susan Burton. Burton tells the story of her journey through sexual abuse at a young age and her subsequent battle with addiction and incarceration – and how one small thing changed the trajectory of her life – something that she has replicated with over 1200 incarcerated women. I gobbled this book up in one day – the entire thing. I couldn’t put it down. It’s heartbreaking and devastating and so full of hope. This is another MUST READ – a true testament to the difference one person can set into motion.

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antono Iturbe (translated by Lilit Žekulin Thwaites) — This book was a thing of beauty. Devastating, as it is also about Shoah/Holocaust – but beautifully written. It’s based on a true story about the family camp set up at Auschwitz and the brave people who created a school right under the Nazi’s noses – risking their own lives to educate the children kept there. Within the school are eight smuggled books – anyone caught with these will be punished by death. Even so, Dita takes on the role of the librarian, taking care of the books, having to fix their covers and sew their pages back into place – risking her life to make sure the children have access to these books and the knowledge and stories contained within their pages. And this book – I lived and died within its pages.

The following excerpt comes from Iturbe’s afterward in the edition that I have:

~ Antonio Iturbe, translated by Lilit Žekulin Thwaites

Things I’ve Learned on the Path to Publication

If there is anything that I’ve learned on this journey, it’s that there is no one set path to publication – though it can sure feel like there is a path and everyone is just keeping it hush hush. But there really is no chronological “to do” list that will guarantee publication – even if you have written the best book that has ever been written. It’s an isolating path, and it can seem overwhelming because so much of it is out of our control. I am in now way an expert – just sharing what I’ve learned along the way.

Beta Readers. Once you have a manuscript completed, and you’ve gone through and revised/edited it, the first step is to find beta readers (several – and try to make it an odd number so that if there is a disagreement on anything, it can’t be split down the middle) – specifically find people that you can trust to be completely honest with you. Having a love fest is not going to help you. You need people that can and will point out confusing passages and plot holes and things that just don’t work. This can be where having a writing group would come in handy – although your readers don’t have to be other writers. When you get your manuscript back, do your best to be honest with yourself as you go through and consider their feedback and your revisions.

Documents to Prepare. While your beta readers are reading, there are some documents you will want to put together. The first is the query letter. There are a lot of resources out there that can walk you through how to write such a letter, but the essentials are as follows: address the agent by name (obviously leave blank for now – but you should not be sending form letters with “to whom it may concern”), start with the hook and comps (titles of published books that would fall along the lines of your own), follow with a brief summary of your novel, mention why you chose to query them specifically, and end with a brief bio (mention platforms and previous publications/experiences only if they are meaningful). I emphasize brief – try to stick to one page/less than three hundred words.

Next, write up a synopsis of your novel. Again, be brief – one or two pages. If you are tipping over a thousand words, you are telling too much. Stick to the main characters and plot points – this is not a time for minor characters or subplots. On the flip side, this is not just a simple laying out of the plot – it needs voice, it needs character of its own. This is a chance to show off your own voice. Write it in third person. (NOTE: A lot of writers find it really helpful to write a two page synopsis before they even begin writing their novels.) Again, there are a lot of great resources out there for writing such a document.

Revise these documents. Have people read them over. Revise again. Edit like your life depends on it – because your book’s life depends on it.

Once you’ve done all that, attempt to write a Twitter pitch – it doesn’t have to go on Twitter, the point is just the brevity. If you had to sum up your novel in 280 characters, how would you do this? (Bonus if you can leave enough characters for a couple hashtags, such as those used for social media pitch fests.)

Editors. Before you send your manuscript to an agent, you may want to consider getting an editor. This step requires funds, though, and not all writers can afford this. An editor is not a requirement to submit to agents, but an editor can make sure your manuscript is truly ready. This is another place to be really honest with yourself about what you have written. Do you need a content editor? Do you need a copyright/line editor? Can you afford to do this? Your eventual publisher will assign an editor at their cost once you have a contract, but if your manuscript is riddled with plot holes and typos, it likely won’t grab the attention of an agent/reach a publisher. I often tell my writing students that an essay riddled with typos tells the reader that the writer doesn’t care about their work – so why should the reader? The same applies here. You don’t need to be an English major to be a writer, but if you don’t have a handle on grammar/mechanics, it’s best to get some help.

Searching for an Agent. Agents are the gatekeepers to larger publishing houses. There are a number of publishers that won’t accept unsolicited/unagented work. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, there are a lot of places out there that will provide searchable lists to help you locate agents that are interested in the genre you are writing in. Two such lists are AgentQuery.com and Manuscript Wish List (MSWL also has an editor search). The key here is only submitting to people with interest in your genre and who are currently open to submissions. It doesn’t matter how good your book is – if you don’t meet their requirements, they will not even open your query. (The same goes for works outside their stipulated word count range.)

Also, make sure you only submit what they ask you to submit. The majority of agents will ask you for a query letter. Some might ask for a synopsis. Others might ask for a specific number of pages (I’ve seen requests for the first five, ten, twenty, or fifty pages). There may be other things they request. Biggest note: only send your manuscript when you are asked to do so.

If all goes well, you’ll get a request for a manuscript and then an offer to work together. The agent will then work to get you a contract with a publisher.

I would advise tracking which agents you have submitted to (you can submit to multiple agents at once) and when you sent them. Some agents will send letters (via email, generally) letting you know they aren’t interested. Others won’t respond – they will just note that if you don’t hear from them in, for example, six to eight weeks, that means they aren’t interested. (I had submitted to seventeen agents. I only officially heard back from six of them.)

Alternate Routes. If after a time, you find that you are not getting the bites you hoped for, or even alongside sending agent queries, there are other ways to get your manuscript noticed. One is contests – smaller publishers may offer contests that allow them access to manuscripts. The winner of the contest is usually published. (There are also usually reading fees associated with these contests; sometimes, there is a monetary reward for the winner in addition to what they will eventually get in royalties.) You can find these by searching for publishers that publish in your genre and see what they list on their websites. Another is a pitch fest on social media. For example, there is #PitMad and #DVPit on Twitter. (#RevPit is a contest to win a free edit of your manuscript.) Like contests, pitch fests can be tailored to specific genres, author identity, etc.

Small publishing houses are also (sometimes) open to unsolicited manuscripts. Get to know books that are in the same genre/line as your own – see who is publishing them, who their agents and editors are – then see if any of them are open to queries.

Contracts. My first piece of advice if someone does offer you a contract is to take a deep breath. Take five. Sleep on it if you can. This was an exciting experience for me – and it was a bit strange because they emailed me to let me know they wanted to offer me a contract and was I interested. I said sure since it couldn’t hurt to look – and looking didn’t obligate me to anything. When they send you the actual contract, read over it – but take a few more breaths. I was not given a date I had to decide by (I even asked if there was one, and they said there wasn’t). If the publisher is rushing you – that might be a red flag. You should have the time to explore legal representation (which is again going to cost money).

A piece of advice offered to me that I took was to apply to the Authors Guild – this was given to me about a week after I was sent the original contract. I wish I had known right away – so I’m telling you, whoever is reading this. Please note, this is ONE option – you do NOT have to do this. There is a fee associated with membership – but when you have a published book or a contract offer, you can apply for a membership level that includes free legal assistance in a couple of ways – including reviews of contracts. This will allow someone who does this for a living to catch any red flags that might exist within the contract.

Another piece of advice I offer you is this – ask the publisher if your contract is open to negotiation or if it is the finalized offer (i.e. take it or leave it). While you want to make sure you have someone look over the contract, you should know what they should be looking for – are they only looking for red flags, or are they looking to offer advice on what you should negotiate for? This will affect the time you then take to consider the offer – either you are looking for a straight yes/no, or you are considering the points the legal advice offers and deciding what you will then turn around and ask the publisher. Understand negotiations are a discussion – they may say no; they may come back with a counter-offer. Just don’t waste the time coming up with that initial response if their offer is already finalized in their eyes.

The biggest piece of advice I can give you is this – you have a right to walk away, and if you feel at all uncomfortable with an agent or a contract offer, walk away. I know this sounds bonkers considering this is the goal – but you wrote the book, and you deserve to feel comfortable with how it will be handled moving forward. Don’t sign everything away just because you want to see your book in print.

The next piece of advice – ask questions. Even if you feel like you have asked too many questions. Get your questions answered before you sign anything.

Last bit of advice – read rules/stipulations carefully. Some agents will note not to send to other agents at the same agency until you have heard back from them. Some contests will stipulate things like unpublished authors only or stipulate things like an author’s sex or race/ethnicity. Don’t submit to things that you don’t qualify for.