getting a book published

New York Trip Part Two: Book Expo America (with lots of pics!)

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Since my return from New York, I have of course been way behind on everything, but I am belatedly getting to one of my favorite events there--Book Expo America (BEA).

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Let's be clear--I have never been to a book event of this magnitude before. It's thousands of square feet at Javits of ... BOOKS. Yes, it is truly, amazingly booktastic, and now they open it to the public one day, so you should def check it out next year.

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But anyway, my publisher had set up a half-hour signing for me in the autographing area. It felt super official (and super nerve-wracking). You had to go sign in at this special booth and then make your way through this behind-the-scenes curtain (where they stored boxes of everyone's books) to pop out just as the author before you left and make everything look super seamless. Then a bunch of people get in line and you just sign your book to your heart's content. Since I'm such a new, unknown, I was a little worried I'd have the sad empty line, but I didn't. It was full the whole time. I met a lot of cool people, and got some great practice on my autographing skills :) It was awesome to meet people who'd seen the book in the show catalog and had marked it down as one to pick up!

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After that, the publicist swept me back to the F&W booth, where we did another impromptu signing with my tower of books. See above. (It's not really allowed, so shhh, but it was really fun.)

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All in all, it was truly an amazing and humbling experience. I felt like a real author for maybe the first time. One of the women walking by even said, "You're the author? You look to young to be an author!" I'm going to take that as a compliment.

Other highlights included cool LEGO structures and getting a glimpse of the Ron Hubbard scientology booth. See below.

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I want these.

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Really bad.

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That's right, a book really is sold every 2 seconds... If that's not terrifying, I'm not sure what is.

How my writing process completely changed, a new piece for Distraction 99

awesome GIF, frustrated GIF, best GIFs, writing GIFs Yesterday, I did a post on Nova Ren Suma's blog, Distraction 99. Nova is an inspiring YA author who I met several years ago in New York, and I was excited to have a chance to guest post for her. As part of her regular series, she asked me to talk about my "turning point" as a writer. It's a tall order, because as a writer, we have so many "turning points". The day your 3rd grade teacher tells you your a great writer, the day you finish you first "book" (mine was in elementary school and about an enchanted rose garden, illustrated by yours truly), the day you get your first rejection letter, the day you get an agent, the day you get a book deal, the day you realize that getting a book deal is nothing like you thought it would be.

But a lot of that is business, not the important stuff. And I chose to write about process. I've touched on it here, but let me just say, at least for me, it never gets easier. While I cranked out my first complete manuscript with an outline in only four months (revisions were necessary, of course), I didn't have a similar experience at all for The After Girls. And that was not exactly easy (see the GIF above). But it was worth it.

Here's a little bit from my piece for Distraction 99:

My turning point didn’t come in my first foray into novel writing. It came when I began The After Girls. The idea for the book came first as a title and a question: What would take a group of friends from before to after instantly? The concept came quick enough as I filled in the gaps—two high school friends shaken by their best friend’s suicide right after graduation, set against the eerie backdrop of a rural Appalachian mountain town—but the details were another thing. I was writing from the point of view of two girls instead of one. I added characters and removed them. I was walking a fine line between magical realism and contemporary. And I had no outline.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. I wrote outline after outline, hoping to find one that would work like the first one, with no success. I wrote 50 pages, rewrote those pages, and didn’t look at the manuscript for weeks or even a month at a time. I felt like a failure. I was the girl who could crank out a novel in mere months. Now I’d been months and months at a single idea and had very little to show for it. I wasn’t writing on a schedule. I wasn’t even writing regularly, for that matter, but I was writing—a page here and a chapter there.

At a certain point, The After Girls began to write itself. It was like that great E.L. Doctorow quote: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Page by page, I made the trip. The characters took over—they surprised me. The plot took twists—the ending changed multiple times. I even added a character in a few hours before I sent a final version to my agent, one that came to me in the shower when I thought I was almost done. At page 50, 100, 150, 200 … I still wasn’t sure of what would happen beyond the next ten pages. But in the end, the flexibility was what I needed to uncover the mystery of why a beautiful, smart young girl with great friends and a whole future ahead of her would take her own life.

See the full piece here.

And one last thing, thank you everyone for your support on my "book birthday" yesterday. It was a great one, and I can't thank you all enough!

The After Girls is officially out! A little on how it all began

the-after-girls So The After Girls is out today. I could talk about how nervous I am, but I already did that to excess yesterday. So I thought I'd share a little on how I got from an idea to a book that's out in the world and that I really hope you all love.

Around three years ago, I had an idea for a title--The After Girls--it came to me out of the blue, and I loved it. I immediately saw it as about friends, and I started to think about what would take a group of friends from before to after in an instant. The answer was suicide. And the story began to unfold from there.

I didn't start working on it in earnest then. I was finishing up another project, and I still wasn't sure how it would all pan out. Instead, I tried (rather unsuccessfully) to write an outline and started talking about the idea with any friends who would listen (a big thanks to my NY friends for listening to my ever-changing plotlines). I took a writing class in New York and shared my idea with my classmates and soon-to-be friends. I still wasn't sure where exactly the story was going.

I wanted to set it in the mountains of North Carolina, because, honestly, what setting is more fun or creepy than that? I had only been to the mountains a few times there, but I had it all laid out in my head. And the summer after I got the idea, I visited my sister in Boone, NC (in the picture above), and everything was exactly as I had imagined--only better. It was the perfect setting, the one that would become the fictional Falling Rock, NC.

I began to write, following Ella and Sydney, two best friends as they mourned and  tried to understand their friend, Astrid's, suicide. I probably knocked out about a hundred pages. Slowly but surely I was making progress.

It was around this time that I got a call at 4 a.m., learning that a friend from college had passed away. She'd had cancer for two years, and it was very progressed, but none of that matters. When someone dies at 26, someone who is strong and beautiful and full of life, it's a shock. It's horrible.

My roommate at the time and I flew down to North Carolina to attend the funeral with the rest of our college friends. We spent the weekend crying and laughing and getting sunburned or tipsy on the beach. Our friend would have wanted it that way. She was one of the most happy and fun-loving people I've ever met in life.

It was also that Spring that I met and fell in love with my boyfriend. And it was only about a month before I would leave my job and travel to California and decide that I wanted to make the move to the West Coast.

There were a lot of changes in my life, but more than anything, highs and lows, grief and joy were more real to me than they'd ever been before. The story I had thought up a year before became more than just a story. I'd seen how much friends mean to each other, especially during times of loss. I'd seen how sometimes the most wonderful and inspiring person in the world dies way before they should. I'd seen the hole that they leave when they go, all the people they affect, all the people that miss them and remember them and still think of them all the time.

These are the things I was thinking about while I was writing it. And that's what I want to share with all of you.

As always, thanks for the support.

Leah

My advice for up-and-coming writers in Sadie magazine

Happy Saturday! I'm excited to share a little piece I did for Sadie magazine, a very cool online pub for young women. Sadie asked me to share tips and tricks for breaking into writing/publishing, culled from my experiences getting my first book published. Here are a few:

1. Stop stressing about how to get published and just write. Before you bother yourself about the whole business angle, remember that the only people who get published are the ones who have a finished product to sell. Whether it’s a novel or a screenplay or a magazine article, put in the dirty work (the creative expression that inspired you to write in the first place) before you make your business plan.

2. Start calling yourself a writer. Assuming you’re ready to commit to the first tip, start backing it up by the way you speak about yourself. Long before I wrote The After Girls—long before I completed a full novel, I began to start to call myself what I was—a writer. I wasn’t yet published, but by telling people I met at parties and events about my ambitions, it not only helped in building contacts, but it gave me a reason to be accountable—and it reminded me to shut off the Hoarders marathon and write.

3. Chill out about your “contacts.” It’s time to ignore the guidance counselor again. When it comes to publishing, it’snot all about who you know. I signed with my agent by humbly sending my manuscript over to her slush pile. Then she did the rest. Even if you do have a connection, unless you’re famous enough to entice a publisher on your name alone (ahem, YA novelists Lauren Conrad and Hilary Duff), all your connection will do is move you to the top of the pile. Publishing is a business (and a tough one at that), and no agent or editor is going to take a chance on you out of the goodness of their heart—or because you went to college with their half sister.

4. Make friends with other writers. Now that you’ve stopped stalking agents and editors on their Twitter pages, think about making the contacts you will need—writer friends. They’re good for critiquing, discussing plot ideas, guzzling wine post-rejection, etc. Simply knowing them will inspire you to write—and very likely write better. (And when you do sell your book, they’ll all attend your launch party.) To find writer friends if you don't have them already, join a Meetup, start a critique group, email that girl from your college English course whom you haven’t spoken to in years, or take a class yourself. I made some of my closest and most dependable friends from a Mediabistro course I took in New York.

5. Use the tools the Internet provides. Once you’re ready for the business stage of the game, get thyself to AgentQuery.com. It’s basically the Facebook of literary agents. You can sort by fiction, nonfiction, children’s, sci-fi, chick lit—the list goes on. Each agent lists whether they’re seeking new clients and how best to query them. Plus, they’ve got helpful articles on how to write pesky things like query letters and synopses.

See the rest at Sadie.com.

Author copies of The After Girls are here!

author-copies-the-after-girlsThey're here! Delivered in two big boxes! With my name all over! It's definitely all very surreal. And when I open one up, it looks and feels like a real book. And it is. I don't really have much to say except for, wahoo! Oh, and I have a lot. So expect a giveaway in the very near future.

In the meantime, you can get yours here.

xo Leah

Getting that first bit of press for your novel

publishers-weekly-writeupSo about a week ago, I got two mentions in Publisher's Weekly (a clip from one of which is above). One was just an announcement of upcoming titles from different publishers and the other more of an in-depth feature about Merit Press, the new imprint of Adams Media that is publishing THE AFTER GIRLS (headed by the fabulous Jacquelyn Mitchard).  Both were small, but I wanted to share them anyway. When you're writing it's so easy to get into your head and imagine yourself, as Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird does, meeting ruin and having your "shitty first draft" discovered and mocked for the rest of time.

That said, there are bright points. And one is realizing that no matter what happens and how many copies your first, soon-to-come-out novel sells, and no matter how many good or bad reviews you receive, Publisher's freaking Weekly thought you were not such a horrible hack that they saw fit to include your book (and your name) in a story or two.

I know it's not that big of a deal, and most books get mentioned in one way or another there. But at the same time, it is. It's a good moment. And so I wanted to share.

You can see them, and hopefully more to follow, on my press page.

Parking spots and book deals

Puppy gifI was parking on Friday in my neighborhood and marveled at how I always seem to get a spot without much searching. And yet on the street where I park there is almost always only one spot left. Do I just have good parking luck? I don't think so. It's just that when I park I only need to find one spot. There only needs to be one person who has recently left theirs. I have a medium-sized car and live in a neighborhood where parking is, at least, a possibility. Odds are, in the two or three always-almost-full streets I go down, one will indeed be almost full and not full, and I will find my spot.

There are so many things in life like this, and so many ways to get discouraged when you look at the odds, when you try and try, and it seems like finding even one is impossible. But still, you only need one of them.

An agent, for example. You only need one person to really love your manuscript enough to want to sell it. And then you only need one editor to love it enough to convince all the people at the publishing house that it's worth taking a risk on. For each book, you only need one book deal (as much as we all may dream of being sold at auction). From Suzanne Collins to J.K. Rowling to many, many more, every literary success has had people in their lives and careers that believe in them--and people that weren't willing to take the risk.

Writing is difficult, yes, and there is absolutely no guarantee of success (though writing, in and of itself, is it's own kind of success) but lately, when I get discouraged, I find it's better to remind myself that I don't need to convince everyone I meet that my work is worthwhile. Just like I don't need to get offered every job in the world. And I don't need to find ten affordable apartments in New York or San Francisco. Just one.

Just like finding a parking spot, falling in love, making friends and almost everything in life, there is so much that you can't control or guarantee. But when I remind myself that every great success is made up of small victories--and a series of ones--it makes everything challenging seem a little bit more manageable.

Oh, and if that doesn't work, looking at puppies usually does.

Cover Debut, Catalog, and Amazon Link (This is Really Happening)

The After Girls Young Adult Novel Friday was a good day. A day when it really finally hit me. I have a book coming out and it is really, truly going to be published ... on paper ... with a cover and everything ... with my name!

A lot of things happened at once. A good friend of mine requested a catalog from my publisher to see if my book was featured. We were both surprised to see that it not only was in it, but it was on the front page! You can see it here.

About an hour later, I got a text from another good friend saying he saw my book on Amazon--another pleasant surprise! I knew it was all coming up soon, but I had no idea it would be available for pre-sale already. That's the cool (and at the same time trying) thing about  publishing your first book--you really have no idea how it works and are just along for the ride. Needless to say I was thrilled to see it actually for sale somewhere. It really made it feel real.

All that led me to the conclusion that my cover, which had been through some back and forth, was finally ready to be shown to the world. There is it up top (and on the side, and in the header, as well--don't judge me). I really love it and hope you guys do, too. When I first saw it, it wasn't what I expected, but I instantly knew that it conveyed the mood and the heart of the story perfectly.

I think one of the coolest things about all of yesterday's revelations is that I got the news not from my agent, not from my publisher (they're busy doing about a million things to get it ready), but from my friends. It's so encouraging to have people in my life who are so invested and supportive, they're discovering developments about the book before I even have a chance to look for them.

Anyway, thanks to everyone for all the support along the way. Much love from the West Coast!

Inside the Publishing Process: How to Take an Author Photo

Leah-Konen-author-photoSo The After Girls is going to press soon, and I'm discovering that there are a LOT of steps to the publishing process. It's not just as simple as how to get a literary agent and how to get your book published. There is a ton more and, these days, more and more that falls on the author. So I thought I'd tackle some of the issues I've come across, in no particular order and from my limited experience only. So without further ado, a few tips on how to take an author photo for your book jacket cover. First off, you have a few options. You could plan ahead and and use whatever money as an author you can scrounge up to hire a professional. I'm sure that's what all the real big-wigs do, but if it's your first book, like me, that might not be a viable option. Second, you could find a friend who is a semi-professional photographer and offer them a small sum or beer or whatever you can find that's barter-worthy and have them do it. This would probably be ideal. Your third option. You could have a short deadline and have just moved across the country to a city where you know no one and do it yourself. That's what I did. You can see the result on the right.

1. Use a good camera. A DSLR is best (the one with changeable lenses), but in a pinch, I think you could even get by with an iPhone if you use the focus feature and take a lot of shots. I set mine to the lowest possible aperture and auto white balance (a professional photographer friend of mine suggested that this is the one thing that's okay to set to auto) and then had my boyfriend adjust the shutterspeed accordingly as the light changed. And don't forget to shoot on the highest resolution that you have.

2. Pick an awesome location. My advice here would be to choose something that expresses you, but just know that very little bit of your background is even going to show, and make sure you don't choose something too busy and distracting. Inside against a fairly blank wall with good light would work. Against a building with nice exposed brick. In the woods, in a park, at the beach. I chose the beach. I'd also consider the mood of your book and your writing. The After Girls is for teenagers and very moody, so a cloudy day at the beach was perfect.

3. Find good light. Contrary to popular belief, full sunlight is no good--it will make the shadows on your face appear really stark and harsh.  Morning and afternoon are better. Or overcast almost anytime.

4. Choose a friend/boyfriend/sister/etc. who has patience. Unless they're a professional, you're going to end up directing them. Show more of this. Take more photos. Not so close, etc. You'll probably have to take a lot, so just make sure they know, beforehand, that it's not going to be a matter of clicking the camera a few times and heading back. And be sure to thank them profusely once you're done.

5. Leave any self-consciousness or embarrassment behind. Or at least choose a semi-deserted location. You are going to feel awfully silly standing on a beach and watching people walk by while you do try to summon your most genuine and best faces. You just will, and you just have to decide not to care if anyone gives you weird looks.

6. Be yourself. I think this is the most important part. When you think of author photos, they tend to be ultra-pensive, serious, looking to the side, etc. I personally don't like the way I look when I try to be serious, and I'm not all that serious of a person, so I chose to smile and look at the camera. I tried doing it several other ways, but it just wasn't me. And that's okay. Plus, there are far too many book jacket photos out there already that are variations on Socrates's The Thinker. Basically, don't be afraid to let your personality shine through a little.

7. Look at the shots as you go, and keep going until you find something you like. You may feel stupid going through so many, but the perfect photo may be the next one you take. Don't feel like you have to stop just because you've been out there awhile. I suggest taking a break every few minutes to  look at what you've got. You can even bring a laptop with you so you can see them on a bigger screen. Don't stop until you've got something you're proud of.

8. Edit. Once you've got a few that you like, throw them on a laptop and go through until you find your favorite. There are lots of free photo editing programs if you don't have Photoshop. I use Picasa. Adjust the light and color if necessary, and clear up any blemishes using the clone function. Just make sure that you've got the originals saved in case you make a mistake. And don't go crazy.  It's a professional photo--not Instagram.

9. Share it with your friends. Get some honest feedback, because you're not always the best judge of yourself. I put mine up on Facebook and instantly had a ton of people saying that they liked it, and I also asked one of my more discerning friends what she honestly thought. She said that she loved it but it made me look a little young, which I was fine with because my target audiences is teens. It's always good to get a truly frank opinion.

10. Relax! Seriously, even if it doesn't come out perfect, it's going to take up about 2" of space on your book jacket. And very few people will even ever look at it, so don't kill yourself worrying about it. You can always hire a professional for the next one.