Category Archives: Guest blog

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Guest Blog: Louella Dizon San Juan: What I Learned When You do it Yourself

As promised, today I am thrilled to announce a guest post by my friend and fellow blogger, Louella Dizon San Juan.  Louella is an author/illustrator and playwright. Her staged and published dramatic work, as Louella Dizon, includes The Color Yellow: Memoirs of an Asian American at La Mama Etc., The Sweet Sound of Inner Light at The Public, and Till Voices Wake Us at the Soho Repertory Theater and, more recently, the Echo Theater in Dallas, TX. Louella’s work is featured in the collection, Contemporary Plays by Women of Color, edited by Kathy Perkins and Roberta Uno, and is archived at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in the Roberta Uno Asian American Women Playwrights Scripts Collection, 1924-2002. The Crowded Kingdom is her first children’s novel and the first book in the children’s fantasy series of the same name featuring the girl heroines, Jada and Jinny.

As a working mother and businesswoman, Louella is an active advocate of empowering girls and women in math and science, and holds both a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Princeton University and a Master’s Degree in Computer Science from New York University. She lives with her husband and two children in Brooklyn, New York.

What I learned when you do it yourself:

Part I — The Self-Publishing Leap

Dear Louella,

Thank you for sharing The Crowded Kingdom with us.

It was not the sharing of the stories, nor the drawings, nor even the insights into my life, that was most difficult.

It was finding someone or some thing, some entity, to take a chance on me — more specifically, The Crowded Kingdom.  I kept a spreadsheet of literar210px-And_to_Think_That_I_Saw_It_on_Mulberry_Streety agent and publisher names:  address, status, contact information, and preferences.  I kept in mind that Theodore Geissel (Dr. Seuss) was rejected 27 times; Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time rejected 26 times, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone rejected by a dozen houses until the young daughter of the CEO at Bloomsbury persuaded him to accept the wizardly manuscript.  I kept typing “Query…” and pressing “Send.”

The responses started coming back.

Several came with requests to see more.  As time went on, the dialogue with the outside world began.

Dear Louella,

Thank you for sharing The Crowded Kingdom with us.

We found the story interesting.  I think it will make a fabulous 
illustrated chapter book. As much as I would love to work with you, 
and while I believe that your ideas might have market appeal, 
unfortunately...
I don't feel I'm quite the right agent.
I'm regretfully going to pass.
The novel is not in line with our current publishing goals.
We just don't have the resources right now to do it 
justice.

Best of luck with this project and all your endeavors.  
I really hope that you find a great publisher for this!

I began to get nervous around Query Number 26.  The dialogue had not changed.

But I had written and published before, and had seen the impact of my written word on stage.  I took to heart the feedback that this little fairy story was something different, something that grownups and kids could both like.  It seemed to delight my peers in writing workshops, and my teacher, who was a respected and beautifully accomplished writer.  And it delighted my children, my girls, my first and true audience.  Could it not delight other little girls and boys too?

And then my dear spouse gifted me with an iPad Mini for Christmas.

fred_wilma_flintstones_arguingMany a time my electronic gifts from my husband are the modern age equivalent of Fred Flintstone giving Wilma a bowling ball for her birthday:  something truly cool and useful for one human being — “something that I would use myself” — bestowed on another who is, at best, mystified.

But the iPad Mini opened my eyes to the beauty of the electronic book when I downloaded and read Gone Girl from cover to cover.  Of course, Gillian Flynn‘s acclaimed suspense writing stood on its own, independent of the media.  But I loved how the pages languorously turned at the flick of a finger; how I could bookmark pages with an electronic sticky or electronically jump back to a previous page as I easily as I could a real book.  It felt like reading a book when you looked past the flat plane of the screen.

I downloaded a sample of Alice in Wonderland for the iPad and loved it.  It promptealicescreen480x480d visions in my mind of being able to hyperlink and browse other fanciful things if this were that kind of children’s story.

So…

…as you know, I made the decision to self-publish The Crowded Kingdom as an e-book.  I felt that the chance to publish what I wanted, when I wanted, given the outlets now available today through Lulu, Smashwords, Amazon Createspace, Lightning Source and Vook  — among many other options — were too prominent a growth channel to ignore.  On the one hand, I couldn’t quit my job as primary breadwinner and devote one hundred percent to the production and marketing of my craft.  On the other hand, perhaps naively, I thought I had the focus and financial independence to leverage third-parties that could do it for me.

And I assumed that somehow, deep down inside, I had no expectations.

The reality was quite different.

Make sure to Follow Louella’s blog to read Part 2  – Making Contact.  And click here to buy The Crowded Kingdom.   Now out in paperback as well as e-book.

Connect with Louella Dizon San Juan

Let the Querying Begin … Again

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy (patient and supportive) followers know: if I’m neglecting this blog, it’s because I’m letting my other writing take  center stage.   Still I wanted to update my home page because I have some exciting entries coming up, including a guest blog and hopefully an author interview.  Several of my fellow bloggers,  Louella Dizon San Juan and Robyn Oyeniyi have recently self-pubbed and I have to say I am so proud of them and very much in awe.  I’m also in the process of writing reviews for Amazon, which is a daunting task in itself!  For my part, I’ve decided to hold out for now and go the traditional route, which means all (well, much) is riding on one teeny weeny little document that can make or break me.  I mean, of course, my query letter.  A query letter is your calling card to agents (one of whom will hopefully rep your book one day, and go on to find you a deal with a publisher).   The most important part of your query is the plot summary, which you write to entice–just as the blurb on the back of your book will do for readers.   It should be grabby–not gimicky–intriguing enough for an agent to ask for pages, and–according to various sources at the many, many query letter writing, and pitch prep seminars I’ve attended-NO  MORE THAN TEN SENTENCES LONG.

Of course, your query letter is meaningless if your book isn’t done–really done.  I have learned this the hard way.   When I first wrote Birch Wood Doll, I struggled so much with the query letter; I just could not find a catchy way to summarize the plot in ten sentences.  I revised my letter over and over, never satisfied that I had correctly portrayed my book while making it sound interesting.  This, I have to say, was a red flag.  The reason I struggled with my query letter, the reason it sounded like a different book each time ai rewrote it, was that Birch Wood Doll, though I had gotten to the end, was not finished.  What was it even about?  It didn’t know.  I didn’t know.  Sure, it was a biracial jewish girl with an eating disorder, torn between two men, struggling with dual identity, unresolved about her career in ballet versus her academic life at University.  And her father is dead.  And her grandmother threatens to disown her.   And her friend falls off a building high on cocaine.  And there’s this guy who whittles her a doll made of birch and … Yikes.

So I took the book back, whittled away myself, figured out what I was trying to say and finally … no I didn’t get it published, but I was able to come up with a heck of a pitch. No fewer than five agents asked for partial or full manuscripts when I attended the Pitch Slam at the 2012 Writer’s Digest Conference.

Just for fun, here’s my “Before” pitch for Birch Wood, followed by the “after” letter that worked for agents.

BEFORE:

Birch Wood Doll (mainstream fiction, complete at 85,600 words), is the story of a biracial, bulimic ballerina’s search for self and true love.

Navigating two cultures, two divergent career paths, and two lovers, Amy, a biracial (black/white/Jewish) dancer, uses sex, cigarettes and starvation diets to cope with stress.  Forced by her wealthy grandmother to give up a ballet contract and attend Princeton University, Amy meets and falls for two men: smooth, sexy Jack, also biracial, quick with a love song and access to cocaine—and sweet, noble Kole, a white, rural-bred, wood-whittling, football player who wears his heart on his sleeve.  Over the next fourteen years, as her identity  unfolds in the context of the love triangle, Amy learns—with the help of a symbolic doll made of birch—to let go of the past, trust her instincts, and find her own way to self-respect, wholeness and love.

Set in the 1980s and 1990s, Amy’s story is inspired by my own experiences as a Jewish, biracial dancer who took a leave from Princeton to join the Cincinnati Ballet, as well as by my own eating disorder struggle and recovery.  Like Amy, I stopped dancing to become a clinical social worker and later hung out a shingle as a psychotherapist.

This wasn’t my first attempt at a pitch by any means (I’d be too embarrassed to share that) but, I think any agent who made it to the part about “over the next fourteen years …” probably checked out then.  Now here’s my after-pitch, the one that more or less worked.

Birch Wood Doll, set in the 1980s and 1990s, is the story of a young, biracial ballet dancer’s search for self and true love.  Amy loses half her racial identity at 10: she’s mixed but looks “any race,” her black father dies and her white mother’s family tries to erase his memory.  Amy grows up searching for ways to define herself.  At first it’s ballet; she’s a gifted dancer with a knack for self-starvation and a cool stone-face to rival Morticia Addams.  Then—convinced she can only find herself when she finds love—Amy turns to men.  When she’s forced to give up a ballet contract to attend Princeton, Amy falls for two male classmates who satisfy opposite needs.  Jack is biracial too; he helps Amy rediscover her “lost black childhood.”  Kole is a linebacker, generously proportioned, which gives Amy a nice break from her eating disordered mindset.  Through college and beyond, Amy holds her position at the center of the love triangle, certain that either man could be the soul-mate who resolves her conflicts and heals her pain.  The devastating, unexpected result of her choice will break Amy’s heart but ultimately teach her who she is and open the door to real adult love.

It turned out that none of the agents who went for my pitch wanted to represent Birch Wood Doll, but the book did wind up being a Nilsen Literary Prize finalist.  Based on feedback the Nilsen people gave me, I now believe that Birch Wood is one last sweeping revision away from being really, truly done.  I’ll get to it, but for now, I’m focused on my YA book, Second Company (formerly known as Twice the Dazzle) …

…which is, I now believe, really, truly done itself.  Of course, a few months ago, I believed it was done, though I had not in fact heard back from all my beta readers.  And because I couldn’t resist, because I just couldn’t wait—even though my query letter wasn’t perfect yet either–I queried a few agents.  No big deal, querying before you’re ready, except that you may be wasting an agent’s limited time, as well as wasting opportunities for yourself.  Those agents I queried before I was ready are agents that might be great for my book, but agents I can’t query again.  Nor can I get away with querying other agents in their agencies.  That’s considered bad form too.  But you live and learn, sometimes the same lesson a few times over before you get it.

The good news is that my beta readers liked Second Company a lot (some said Love!) AND were really great about giving me fine-tuning suggestions.  One more revision, another month of well-worth-it hard work.  (Another tightening of the query, too.)

Now my query letter is good; my book is the best it can be (I believe).  I have changed the title (on the advice of a well-published friend) as well as reordered my chapters, so it begins in the middle of the action, rather than with an emotionally introspective scene.  You can read my new, improved first chapter here.  So I am really ready.  I’m also strong enough to say, bring on the rejections, because they’re not personal, because everyone gets them, and all you really need is one solid, enthusiastic “Yes!”

Wish me luck.

Guest Blog: Get Your Priorities Straight!

Today I’m thrilled to host my very first Guest Blogger:  Jodi Lobozzo Aman, L.C.S.W. – R., psychotherapist and healer with over twenty years of experience working with children, families and individuals.  Jodi and I “e-met” on SheWrites about ten months ago, at which point I began following her blog: Heal Now and Forever be in Peace.  Jodi also writes a weekly column for Healthyplace.com called Anxiety Schmanxiety , and is author of the e-book What’s Up In Your Down:Being Grateful In Seven Easy Steps.

 This is Jodi.

Jodi always seems to find the right words for taming anxiety, promoting self-patience and helping us look at life’s challenges in a new, healthy, manageable light.  Here she shares her wisdom on a topic I’m always grappling with: prioritizing.

 Get Your Priorities Straight!

 “Prioritize” is not a dirty word.  

 Even though it often makes you cringe to hear it. (It sounds so proper and oppressive.)

Being a mom, wife, business owner, author, runner, PR agent, blogger, homeowner, gardener, therapist, friend, facilitator, and yogi, takes up lots of “now.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like so many others of my generation, I have chosen a busy life. And, while I wouldn’t trade it for the world, we also need to do some major time finagling to keep all the balls in the air. (And, stay conscious with them.)

I have two tricks up my proverbial sleeve:

  1. Eliminate time wasters
  2. Feel empowered by choice

1. Eliminate time wasters

Have you ever felt overwhelmed with too much to do, paralyzed because you don’t know where to start, and then guilty because you feel you haven’t accomplished what you’d hoped for after stressing about it all day?

Been there.

Now, I 86 the worrying. Worrying is like doing the tasks over and over. I’ve done the task a million times in my head before I actually got to work, wringing my hands about how awfully tedious it would be, and whining to myself how badly I wished for magic elves to come and do it for me. By the end of all this bellyaching, I would be too tired, and have run out of time, to get the enterprise accomplished. Then, I’d berate myself for being a total failure. (I am sure this has never happened to any of you.)

Worry is like a ball and chain when you are running a race. It exponentially slows you down. It’s true, time is relative.

We still think of time in its linear sense. Linear time is not only limited (there never seems to be enough of it), but it is also limiting (of other possibilities). We feel like it rushes on and on without our consent. Believing we have no effect on time harbors our attempts to shift it in our favor. “I have no time!” becomes our most abject excuse to avoid change.

Webster’s Dictionary has ten definitions of time, but my favorite is: “The duration of one’s life; the hours and days which a person has at his [or her] disposal.” I appreciate this description since it makes the distinction that we are an agent in life, rather than just a passive recipient of it. It means that we can bend time to our will, instead of being a helpless victim to its constant ticking away.

2. Feel Empowered by choice

Stop saying, “There is not enough time!” I used to lament that there wasn’t enough time, and inevitably my plans were thwarted and tasks became more time-consuming. Now I say,

There is more than enough time for everything you want to do.

I’ll say it again in case you didn’t hear me.

There is more than enough time for everything you want to do.

Really? This is impossible. We have finite physical capabilities, our body cannot go on forever like the energizer bunny. There are only 24 hours in a day, and we physically depend on rest to keep going. How can we do everything?

Time can be bent around space and matter. (Remember Einstein?) Even though many of the things we do on a daily basis, (i.e., feed the kids, brush our hair) feel necessary, they are, in fact, choices. When we reject the alternative as intolerable, the option we chose seems like it is not a choice. But it was. We are essentially prioritizing.

If we already have the skills to prioritize, what would happen if we prioritized consciously?

If we prioritize fluidly and consciously, (without the time-hogs of judgment and worry), we can accomplish everything we want with time left over for joy. Without judgment and worry the tasks are joyful.

 Conscious Prioritizing

 This is what I aim for, and sometimes reach on my best days. Do as I say, not as I do…

  •  Make lists. The easiest thing to bring awareness into our tasks is      to see them in print. Bonuses: a) forgetting-worry disappears b)      cross-it-out-joy abounds c) our funny partners can add outrageous items to keep us real.
  • Get started early. A day begun lazily, is hard to turn around. Start to do’s in the morning. If you plan to sit quietly with coffee, relax, or chit chat with family-this is not lazy-do it consciously and enjoy every minute of it.
  • Do harder things first. This lifts the weight off of these pesky tasks, and gives you a boost of confidence to the next thing. Intertwine them with some quick, easy tasks so that you can feel accomplished. Being productive breeds productivity, since it feels so good to be done with something, it gives us energy for the next thing. You may have to cut back on TV or  Words With Friends. (Me, included).
  • Set boundaries. And be flexible within them. My priorities are aways  changing from moment to moment. Choosing one endeavor means saying no everything else.  Saying no is rad.
  • Do tasks in increments. Just start. Do one little thing, anything and it will give you a boost for the next thing. I am serious, being a little bit productive is like drinking a energy drink. Don’t just believe me, try it.   (All the cool kids are doing it.) I try to begin tasks without too much thought. (Oh, I think a little. The whole “Measure twice, cut once” thing is prudent.) What I avoid is talk-my-self-out-of-it thinking, which takes tons of time and energy. Also, I get all my supplies together ahead of time–while I am already out and about–so when I am ready for the project, I can simply dive in. When you slip in a little work here and there, before you know it the job is done.
  • Let go of perfection. Expectations of perfection sucks more time out of the day than anything else. It bears repeating: Let go of perfection! If you can do something 95% perfect in one hour, and 100% perfect in 6 hours, spend the 5 hours doing something fun instead.
  • Delegate. Work is so much better and faster when you have help.  Stop wondering if you are worth asking other for help. People love to feel useful. They would love to help you. Trust them, it saves you loads of time!

Jodi Lobozzo Aman, LCSW-R

Please note that Jodi sees clients over skype and in her Rochester, NY office for counseling, consulting, shamanic healing, and spiritual direction. (To make an appointment with Jodi, click here.)