Getting Published: Setting Achievable Goals

My life goals typically look like this:

  • Acquire matching socks.
  • Acquire fingerless gloves.
  • Buy a stupid mango and actually eat it instead of forgetting it exists and throwing it away two weeks too late.
  • Acquire fresh produce and cook a meal. It’s been a while, and I’ve gotten lazy at this.
  • Accomplish list of things required to maintain the frimbly facade of being an adult (including, not limited to: go to bank, schedule ophthalmologist appointment, research cars, probably call internet company?)

Basically, my lists are now-oriented. I’m not a big fan of Bucket Lists or Life Goals. Why? Because I want attainable goals that I know I can accomplish. I want to dangle the cookie just within reach, because then I’ll fight for it. I don’t want to hang the cookie on a distant star in outer space where I can only see it through a very expensive telescope that I can’t afford.

There’s a metaphor in there, I promise.

Anyway, my goal lists are always concrete and reasonable. This goes for things like basic human functions, and larger scale goals that are linked to my passions.

So when I set the goal as a wee child to publish a book, I knew I had a lifetime to do it. It was my cookie in the stars. But as I grew up, I broke that goal down into cookie-on-a-string tasks. Here’s a brief list of goals I set:

  • Write 100 poems and 100 short stories during high school.
  • When, among one of those stories, a premise had enough promise to potentially be a longer story, I set the goal of writing a novel.
  • I set the goal of finishing it while I was in high school. Two years later, as my high school graduation neared, I finished it with less than a week to spare.
  • My first year at college, I set the goal of writing my first NaNoWriMo book during my first year of college, where I wrote 12,000 words on the first day, and I finished the book by that January.
  • I set a goal to revise my first book and write my first query letter.
  • Then I read the entire Query Shark archives to actually learn what a query letter is supposed to look like.
  • I set the goal of researching and querying 10 agents.
  • After I graduated college, I had written three books, and I gave my first manuscript another pass on revisions.
  • Then I gave myself an end-of-year goal: apply to grad school for creative writing or get a job. I got a job as a technical writer three months out of college (which I love).
  • Instead of moving on, though, I entered Pitch Wars 2015 on the last day of submissions. I’ve talked a lot about my Pitch Wars experience here (and feel free to ask questions about it here), but a hop, skip, and boat ride away, I got multiple offers from agents. Then I got multiple offers from publishing houses. Then, suddenly, I had a book deal for two NAMELESS books.
  • But my goals didn’t stop there. Now, my goals have been things like:
    • Cut the opening 100 pages to 50 pages.
    • Write my first outline (it ended up being 13 pages long!) to guide my revisions.
    • Write an outline for book 2.
    • Do line edits for a friend’s book (which I’ve never successfully done before) ((and guys, she’s awesome))

Things are crazy. This place I’ve found myself is crazy. Setting goals makes it seem less crazy and stressful and makes it seem possible. It makes it achievable.

At times, it’s incomprehensibly and phenomenally lightning fast. Sometimes it trudges like dregs of unmixed hot cocoa: delightful and painfully out of reach. Sometimes its simplicity is astoundingly sharp.

Sometimes I get to write blog posts about the hundreds of tiny steps and goals, the relentless and torturous ambition, and the unending thrill of finally being so close to my sky-cookie that I can taste it.

And guys? It tastes like starlight.*


*not literal starlight, which tastes more like electric blue and unsaturated nebulas… so I’m told.

Life & Book Updates — June 2016

Hey there! It’s May (June? It’s June? Wow, I forgot what month it is. Month #6). Here’s a random list of the things I’ve done over the past year:

  • Got accepted into Pitch Wars, and sort of got second place (in that there were no places, but I had the second-highest number of requests from agents).
  • Signed with literary agent extraordinaire, Pete J. Knapp, at New Leaf Literary & Media Inc.
  • Went on submission prompty thereafter, and sold North American rights for my debut novel, THE NAMELESS QUEEN, to Phoebe Yeh at Crown Publishing of Penguin Random House.
  • Spent 6 months waiting for the contract to be finalized so we could announce the deal.
  • Got an edit letter from my editor (can I scream and fall over yet?)
  • Announced the deal on Publisher’s Marketplace! (*screams and falls over*)
  • Got interviewed for my own job (so I can get through the red tape and become a permanent employee)
  • Finally got the internet at my apartment after a year and half without it.
  • Launched the Ask Authors blog on Tumblr (where you can ask questions to over 100 writers!) (@AskAuthors)
  • Rebuilt the transmission on Ninja Car for almost what it cost to buy it in the first place.
  • Systematically broke my laptop through a series of accidents that were totally not my fault (at least one of them was my fault).
  • Have not yet purchased a new laptop.
  • Saw an innumerable number of fabulous movies (mostly kid animated) and watched way too much television.
    • New Movies of note: C.A. Civil War; Zootopia; SWFA; Inside Out; FINDING DORY THIS FRIDAY;
    • New TV shows: Lucifer; Supergirl; Sherlock s03e04;  binge-watching Supernatural
  • Got a second credit card.
  • Bought a lovely new set of throwing knives.
  • Spent a lot of time on Twitter.
  • Taught my sister and nephew how to throw knives. (And also slightly disassembled my grandmother’s deck to retrieve a stray runaway knife.)
  • Received the official offer for my job! (You’re lookin at a professional Technical Editor, kids! Woohoo!)


Do you have questions for me about any of this? Ask me!

Designing a Writing Portfolio

wp-01I have to apply for my own job. I know. It sounds weird. It is.

I’m getting hired as a permanent employee instead of a contractor, but they still have to go through the interview process.  Part of that involves updating my resume, which is a whole different beast. But part of it is pretty straightforward:

Have a stellar writing portfolio.

Writers are in the unique position that it doesn’t matter as much what your experience or job history is. What’s important is the writing portfolio. (The same goes for designers and illustrators.) You could have 2 years of experience or 20, but if your writing/art is stellar (or crap), then that’s what counts. It’s what they look at. Beyond that, they look for typical interview stuff: do you fit will into the team, are you clever, a fast learner, organized, filled to the piping brim with initiative?

Putting aside interviews and resumes, I’m going to talk about how to tailor your writing portfolio to the job you’re after, and what really makes it shine. (Grain of salt: if I don’t get my job back, then feel free to ignore this advice and also give me free cookies since I’ll be terrible and despicably jobless. Oatmeal raisin.)

  1. Diversity of writing samples
    • You better believe I’m including an excerpt of THE NAMELESS QUEEN in my portfolio.
  2. Purpose of the writing samples.
    • This is where you want to describe what the goal of the piece is. Developed for a specific client? To display data or communicate a specific message? Charity work or a paying gig?
  3. Demonstrated skills of the writing samples.
    • What does this piece of writing say about you as an employee and worker?
    • Does it demonstrate collaborative skills, translating technical material, long-term project management?

Materials for Your Portfolio

Technical Material

If you can, include material that demonstrates you either have knowledge in the area tey are concerned with or that you are capable of communicating content clearly when you don’t have a background in it.

Example: Chemical Analysis Report

  • Prepared and presented analysis of “science something” for collegiate faculty at Symposium of Science Stuff. [purpose]
  • Demonstrates ability to understand and communicate technical materials to a specific audience. [demonstrated skill]
  • Involves collaboration with other writers and technical personnel. [demonstrated skill]

Here’s what this says to an employer:

  • This employee can understand materials that they don’t necessarily have expertise in.
  • Can work collaboratively with others when necessary and deliver a final product.
  • Can display and interact professionally and present work to authority figures.

There you go! You just took that science presentation from college and made it into a business experience asset! And make sure that if they ask you about your writing samples, you expound on these skills.

Remember, they don’t necessarily care WHAT your writing is about, but what it says about your skills as a writer!

Creative Material

An interview and portfolio is NOT the place to discuss how you’ve written five books, 231 short stories and 23,000 poems but still haven’t gotten published. You might think “look how much I’ve done!” but they’ll think “and you don’t have ANY publication credits, yikes!”

Avoid the bitterness and suppositions that come with the numbers. Focus on the hard work of the process. There’s a method for using creative material to your benefit.

Example: Novel Excerpt

Let’s see that same format again, but this time for creative material.


  • Involves long-term time management, dedication, and marketing.
  • Represented by New Leaf Literary & Media.
  • Large scope approach to writing project through various stages: drafting, revision, copy-editing, and proofing.

Mentioning the representation is sort of an ethos thing to prove that my work has the snuff to get represented and published. If you are citing work that isn’t published or represented, make sure to keep it succinct and clear.

Here’s a (not-so-secret) secret about writing: people think it’s easy. They think you write a book as a weekend hobby, and then you’re magically a mythical portmanteau between JK Rowling and Stephen King. They think you’re a Jphen Rowlking. Or something.

So if a potential employer asks about your Work-in-Progress (or even if you’re published), make sure you give them just enough insight to show them the hard work involved, but not enough to seem like a bitter wannabe.

Here’s a good example:

Interviewer: “Oh, I see here you’ve written a book? Are you going to get it published?”

You: “That’s the dream, isn’t it? Writing a book is all about time management and dedication, and it really involves a complex process of drafting, multiple revisions, fielding external feedback, and then marketing the book for representation.”

Did you hear all those buzz words in there? If not, I bolded them for effect. You can turn writing a book (what most people think of as a hobby for old folks and hermits) into a business venture. If they ask for more details, be prepared to discuss your life’s greatest passion as if its a logical business project. In reality, it is. You want to make sure your attitude and tone reflect that. After all, you’re after a job here, not validation for your personal work.

Picking a Good Excerpt

If you’re struggling with what to pick, just do the first 250-300 words. That’s the equivalent of the first page, which should be a stunning example of your writing. After all, that first page has to convince agents, editors, and readers alike to keep reading–so why not convince your future boss? If you’re not feeling confident enough to include it in your portfolio, don’t. It’s better to have a few excellent writing samples than a bunch of crap ones.

Remember When I Mentioned Diversity?

Be prepared to include unique forms of writing and associated work. Especially if you’re lacking a good number of pieces to include, it’s a good way to pad the portfolio and display diversity.

In fact, try not to have more than one of the same type of work. Don’t include three excerpts from your various unpublished books or two essays about similar renaissance literature. You want to display DIVERSITY. Show them your broad range of skills.

  • Did you make a style sheet while copy-editing your book (or at a previous job)?
  • Did you design a landing page for a local business on a school assignment?
  • Did you do any writing-related support work? For instance, I’ll be included some HTML/CSS web page layouts that I created, because I also did the writing for them, ergo: totally acceptable for the writing portfolio.

A lot of what you put in there will depend on what the job description is and if you have anything that can remotely display exposure or expertise in those areas. This is the same as the technical materials section. Use what you have to show how adaptable you are.

The diversity of your portfolio should shine and show that you are capable of tackling different types of projects with different types of content.

In the Interview and On Paper

They’re going to ask you about your writing excerpts. Or at least they should. Or at the VERY least, they’ll be holding onto the portfolio to look it over when you’re gone.

If they DO ask about any of your writing/work samples, make sure you can speak about each of them in an educated, professional, and objective way.


If you use fancy English terms, like syntax, copy-editing, proofing, etc.,  know what they mean! And know how to explain what they are or how you do them to an interviewer who may not have writing experience.

For instance, if they ask about your book excerpt, etc., be prepared to discuss (briefly and succinctly, as always) the differences between drafting, revision, and proofing, and the different tactics and timetables for each. Or be able to display that you know that different areas of writing require different focuses.

Know You Aren’t a Secretary

Be prepared for people to think you are a secretary or that a secretary can do your job. Be prepared, but don’t believe it.

Like I mentioned before, people think writing is easy. They think anyone can write.

But not everyone can be a writer. This is something that a lot of people (and maybe even your boss or boss’s boss or coworkers or friends/family) don’t understand. So if you’re being hired by someone who knows a lot about writing and English in general, that’s great. Prove you know your stuff.

If you’re interviewing with people who don’t quite understand what goes into it, be sure to give them the “creative writing as a business venture” impression. Throw in some technical jargon that gives them flashbacks to High School English. Mostly, make sure they have a sense that you know that solid technical, professional, and creative writing are all difficult and challenging pursuits with a myriad of details to know and tackle, but also make sure you convey that you are more than willing to do that hard work.

This goes for any interview, really. Don’t make it seem like your job will be easy, because they’ll think you’re just not trying hard enough or you’re not equipped for it. Make it seem like a challenge you are willing, ready, and motivated to take on.

In the end, that’s the type of employee they want to hire.

Libraries/Bookstores Should be Dismantled?

I came across an article recently that had a really catchy message. The headline was something along the lines of “Writers Need to Get Paid”. The article went on to begrudge used book stores as a resource for readers. The reason, the argument said, was that the author doesn’t get paid when someone purchases a book from a resale shop. The solution, the argument argued, is for consumers to purchase e-books. The reasoning behind this is that e-books are often similar in price to used books.

Fair point there. If you have a few bucks and you want to read a new book, maybe it’s easier for you to download an e-book than to peruse the dusty shelves. And yes, the author gets a royalty for the e-book whereas they don’t for the used/resold book.

But the article went on to say that used book stores (and libraries to boot) were abominations that needed disassembly,  dismantlement, and disparagement.

And no one disses my libraries, bro!

So. I understand the article’s outrage. Authors do not typically swim in the dough. Partly because the market is tough and complicated and huge, and partly because we, as writers, get distracted by the difficulty of swimming in a viscous substance like dough. But that’s a metaphor for ya–helpful until it confuses you.

Writers Unite

The article in fact began with the statement that Writers Need To Protect Their Interests–in a very stand with me against the evils of corporate greed way. Except, instead of railing against corporate greed, the article railed against small business greed.

The article was a slam against the resurgence of used bookstores, given the fact that used bookstores don’t actually produce income for the writers themselves. Ergo, argued the article, used bookstores should die instead of revive, because we should care about the author and not the bookstore.

*contains energy of a thousand suns*

This either doesn’t take into account or ignores the way a market works. It also demonstrates a focus so zeroed in on the authors that it sidelines the even more important player: the readers.

Yes, authors are important to the buy/sell system of books, but you can’t dismiss the readers’ roles. (For those of you who understand markets and business and math better than I do, it’s the consumer.)

Business and Money

Indeed, the article started off with the proposition that we consider writing and publishing and getting paid like a business instead of just a fuzzy-feeling-hobby. And I totally get that. Wanting to have validation (in the form of dough, cookie dough, doughy-eyed looks from an adoring public, [running out of dough phrases]… and… doughnut something something relevant imagery) is an important part of producing art.

So, putting aside my doughy-heart of I-love-libraries-and-bookstores-and-art-for-the-sake-of-art-ness, my biggest issue with the article was this:

The article disregarded the importance of the resale market. Yes, re-selling goods doesn’t pay the original seller/creator. And yeah, that kind of sucks for the creator. But this isn’t something restricted to used book stores.

Flea Markets, Clothing Resale shops, Goodwill Resale stores, second-hand anything shops, E-bay, personal sellers on Amazon, garage sales, selling your old TV to that kid down the street who really wants to suffer in the independence of living in the garage, but he totally needs a TV still.

Importance of Resale

The importance of the resale market, I think, is two-fold:

  1. It allows objects to transfer hands instead of getting thrown away/wasted/lost in the dark corners of your grandmother’s kinda-still-creepy-even-though-you’re-older-now basement.
  2. It allows people to purchase and experience and own things that they otherwise couldn’t afford, and it keeps the flow of money through the markets.


1. Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle, Reduce

OK, I know, I know. This isn’t the same thing as separating your plastics from your cardboard. But it is.

You’ll notice I rearranged the “reduce, reuse, recycle,” phrase and added an extra one. That’s on purpose, because it illustrates how people treat material objects when considering money.

It looks like this:

  1. Someone buys a Thing.
  2. Thing outlives its usefulness.
  3. Person either reuses it. (Rereading the book; moving the TV to the garage for the kid who wants freedom)
  4. Or person repurposes it. (Uses the book to prop up a table or decorate a mantle; use the the TV in a retro-art installation.)
  5. Or person sells it/gives it away. (Give this book to your BFF or donate it to a library or bookstore; sell it on Craigslist or leave it at the curb)
  6. Or they waste it. (Throwing it away)
  7. If person can’t do the above choices, person stops buying Things. (AHHHHHH)

What does this mean in the realm of writers and their books?

It means that if a person can’t flow through the process of acquiring and releasing and re-acquiring objects, they will simply stop buying those things in order to prevent either a massive build-up of Things or a massive build-up of debt. If people are only allowed to acquire and access books at their market price, you won’t see an incline in sales or popularity—you’ll see a decrease.

And you don’t want people just to throw things away when they are done with it. That’s being wasteful on all accounts. It applies to clothes (resale), food (leftovers and charity donations), books (resale and donations), and, well, everything!

2. Ain’t Made of Money, Honey


Speaking from personal experience, if I had to buy every book I read growing up, I would be at a vast cultural, educational, and personal disadvantage. That is to say that I would not have been able to read all of the books I did.

Because, to put it plainly, people can’t spend money on books (or any luxury) when dinner isn’t on the stove yet. That’s the beauty of libraries—putting books and knowledge and entertainment and joy in the hands of everyone, regardless of class and income.

Resale Markets

And let’s twirl it around to get a full perspective on resale markets:

Whether it’s food, clothing, materials, or anything really, a resale market is vital in order to allow people of lesser means to function and survive. Resale markets are necessary. And they aren’t going to go away.

Markets exist on all levels, resale to wholesale, because the economy and income and luck are vast, complex, and sometimes disparate.

What About You

Yes, it’s a bummer that writers don’t typically make bank–and sure, there are aspects of the system that are unfair.

Chances are, you’ve been able to survive or simply benefit from having resale markets available, and I’m absolutely certain that you’ve benefited from libraries (tax-funded education) and schools (tax-funded education).

And I know this mostly because you can read this, which is a luxury and privilege that so many assume is a burden and a right.

So keep reading, keep sharing, and keep learning!

Meeting Other Writers… IN THE WILD

I was at a coffee shop last weekend with Twister (Twin Sister). Coffee, coffee cake cupcake, more coffee, and basically more coffee.

We were discussing things about writing:

  • jump start productivity
  • start a project you haven’t worked on in a long time (sometimes years)
  • decide how to move forward with a nebulous plot
  • discover what themes you are inadvertently addressing and that you want to address

While we were mid-discussion, a group of people pulled together a few tables beside us. A few people gathered over time, and it ended up being a table with about 7 people.

Because I’m a secret ninja spy with terrible eavesdropping skills, I maintained a super level of coolness with Twister whilst occasionally turning my ear to their table.


They discussed Divergent books and movie adaptations, character development, the risks and rewards of second person POV, and past experiences they had with critiques. And one of them was drawing something for her book, and it was GORGEOUSLY FANTASTIC. I wanted to snag a picture of that picture, but I felt leaning over and snapping a photo was probably a step too far.

Yes, I was probably listening more than I should have.

(To be fair, they were literally one foot away.)

((To be additionally fair, it wasn’t so much “intentional eavesdropping” as it was “overhearing words someone is speaking one foot away in the natural lulls of conversation”))


Basically, what I had stumbled onto was OTHER WRITERS. Out in the real, proper world! IN THE WILD. Wild Writers, as it were.

Putting aside the narration in my head (a la: here we are in the natural habitat of the elusive Writing Group–the coffee shop. If we’re quiet, we might just see them in their natural social habits), I spent a good chunk of my outing working up the nerve to say HI.

Not just because I wanted to try to encourage Twister to see if she could join, and not just because I wanted to confirm to them that I’m a pseudo lunatic writer who semi-stalked them through their group meeting. But because I wanted to be brave and say hello.

Writers can be an introverted breed.


So more than anything, I wanted to take a measured brave step toward How To Human.

Just like blogging, writing, public speaking, traveling, taxes, and cooking, it takes practice.

And the conclusion was good, too! I met another writer whose name is Becca. I learned that they were a writer’s group from a (relatively) local library. I got a dash of contact details.

I thought I would be nervous or afraid to speak to them. Granted, as Twister so very helpfully pointed out IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR INTRODUCTIONS, I successfully completed my transformation to a red, red tomato.


BUT! I found, at the end, that I wished I had spoken up earlier, as opposed to getting last minute details before leaving. Not that they would have appreciated me muscling in on their group, but it would have been nice to do a general info-trade. Like what genres or story forms we write, how long we’d been writing, everyone’s real name and such.

So at the end of it all, I wasn’t regretful of my nerves or fear, I only regretted that I hadn’t been brave sooner.

Which, I think, is something most of us can say about bravery and regret.

Keeping Perspective (on your writing journey and life)

I recently quoted Amanda Rawson Hill as a Quotable Blog Post:

When you have to shelve another book and start over, you have to change your thoughts from “this is hopeless” to “This will be an amusing footnote in my life story.”

This quote from her excellent post on changing how you tell your own story struck me. Right in the feels.

Amanda’s post discusses how to keep keeping on as a writer when you feel like your career or dreams are stagnating.

This applies to all areas of pursuit, I think. All dreams, careers, sports, schools, rivalries, friendships, and just everything.

If you’ve been stalking my recent blog posts (x, x, x), you know that I recently became a client of New Leaf Literary & Media Inc., represented by the very wonderful Pete J. Knapp. Getting an agent is a HUGE deal on the writing journey toward publication. Agents are beautiful mythical creatures who guide you through the business of your passion (deals and rights and contracts and submitting to publishing houses).

So it’s a big deal.

But as with any journey toward a dream, there is a lot of self-doubt along the way.

How did I deal with it?

Well, Amanda had it right, I treated any downfall and deflation like an amusing footnote in my life story.

And it brings along The Three Feelings of Perspective (yes, yes I did just make up that title).

I wrote 4 and multiple fractions of books before The Nameless Queen. After each one, I had that feeling. The feeling of:

1. I have just finished an entire book and will soon by ruling the world! Come throw rose petals at my feet, mere mortals!

Of course, that was each time quickly followed by feelings of:

2. It will never be good enough to grace the shelves of my lovely mortal fellow humans, so I’m going to crawl under this here boulder for a while.

BUT! That feeling was just as quickly followed by:

3. I know I can do better. I know I can make something better than what I just did. And someday when I see my debut novel on a shelf*, the books I’ve written before will just be a number.

I’ll say, “Yes, I wrote X Number of books before I got published. And you know what? This is the one. Yes, my first book will always hold a special place in my heart. Then there was that one book I wrote, finished, and never touched again. Then there was that one that went on and on and on and on and I never got to the end. But that’s okay, because those are all just footnotes in my life story.”


After all, you only debut once, so you want it to be the best you can do. And then, after that, you have your whole life to keep writing and writing and writing. Years from now, the huge moment of getting an agent and getting published and being a debut author… those will be the highlights of the long story of Our Lives, and the moments that seem so big and tragic and full of doubt, will just be footnotes.**

And the same goes for your career and your family and your friends and travels and experiences and loves. There are footnotes and highlights, and it’s all a matter of time and perspective.


*the ultimate shelfie

**just in case your feeling a bit nihilistic: Yes, we are all footnotes in someone else’s story. But your story is the one you get to tell.