I didn’t get my agent through #pitchwars. Here’s why you should join Pitch Wars anyway.

Okay, so Pitch Wars time is coming around, and I’ve got some things to say about it.

I didn't win Pitch Wars, but THE OUTS is coming out in 2017

I didn’t win Pitch Wars, but watch for THE OUTS coming out in 2017, anyway

For starters, let me just put it out there that I didn’t get an agent out of Pitch Wars specifically. I do have an agent (the absolutely AWESOME Erin Young at DGLM), but not because of my Pitch Wars manuscript.

I loved my Pitch Wars submission. THE OUTS is a YA sci-fi thriller with mind-bending Inception-level craziness, comics references, and a Jekyll/Hyde relationship that gives me the creeps. My mentor J.A. Souders (her new book REBELLION just came out… buy it!) was awesome. She worked with me through the whole process, and when we queried I got lots of bites from some ah-MAZ-ing agents, many of whom I still communicate with.

But the agents weren’t quite sold. Something about the manuscript just didn’t fit for them all.

That’s okay, though, because the manuscript was picked up by Curiosity Quills off a completely different Twitter competition. NOTE: THE OUTS is scheduled for release Jan 24, 2017. Watch for it.

So no, Pitch Wars didn’t get me an agent. Technically, Pitch Wars didn’t get me the small press deal, either. But right here, right now, I’m telling you that if you have a great manuscript you’re undyingly excited about and want to keep moving forward into a publishing journey, you owe it to yourself to participate. And here’s why…

No, Pitch Wars didn’t get me an agent, but it did give me one of the most amazing support groups I’ve ever seen. The Pitch Wars class of 2015 are some of the best people I know, and some unbelievably talented authors. I talk with last year’s mentees daily. They share their publishing journey with me, and I get to do the same. Many are some of the best advice givers I’ve met (looking at you, Mike Mammay). A ton of them have given me awesome beta reads on my new manuscripts, and they’re always there to give their insight and experience when I have a question. And the support… man, that support…

Publishing can be a lonely business, and there aren’t a lot of affirmations along the way. If you’re accepted into Pitch Wars, you’ve got an awesome affirmation. You’ve got people to share the struggle with. You’ve got others to give you wisdom when you need it, and talk you off the edge when you’re freaking out about all the rejections, and the silence, and the why-don’t-they-see-what-I-see-ness.

No, Pitch Wars didn’t get me an agent right away, but being connected with an awesome support system and people who lift one another up gave me some of the confidence to keep going, and some of the insight to make my next book better, and some of the experience to know what to look for. And now I’m looking to go on sub with an amazing agent in September, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Pitch Wars didn’t get me my agent, but the Pitch Wars community helped, more than I can express. And if you’re an author who’s serious about getting into this business, you owe it to yourself to connect with people like this.

Do it. Submit. Submit.

Rachel Caine’s Great Library series reminds me of Fullmetal Alchemist, and that’s a great thing

The Great Library is great

Paper and Fire, by Rachel Caine

I just finished reading through an advance copy of Paper and Fire, book two in Rachel Caine’s Great Library series, and I can’t stop thinking how much I enjoyed it. A lot of the time I’ll rush through a book extremely fast to get the core of it and move on, but this one I savored, just like I savored Ink and Bone (the first book in the series). But I couldn’t figure out why the series kept hitting all the right notes for me. What is it about the Great Library I love so much?

Then I started rewatching Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood with my family and it hit me. The Great Library has pulled me so deep because it reminds me of FMA, which sill stands as one of my favorite stories of all time and one of the richest worlds I’ve spent time in.

Paper and Fire and Alchemy

Awesome to finally get to introduce my family to this fun world.

Awesome to finally get to introduce my family to this fun world.

On first glance Rachel Caine’s series might not look all that much like the world of Edward Elric and his armor-bound brother Alphonse. Paper and Fire doesn’t have a bunch of magical-science-wielding kids hurling spears they made from the ground with mechanical arms. There’s magic of a sort, sure–teleportation chambers and blank books that mirror text and alchemical formulae that make automatons come to life–but it’s nowhere near as prevalent in The Great Library as it is in Fullmetal Alchemist. You don’t need magic action to craft a deep story about young adults discovering the corruption in the world and fighting back from within, though. And that’s exactly what both Fullmetal Alchemist and The Great Library do, to amazing effect.

Rachel Caine’s series puts our book-smuggling hero Jess back on the front lines of government plots and battles that can have no real victor once again. He sees the futility of war, realizes how power has corrupted his world, and wants to change things from within. And, while the government tolerates and manipulates and uses him and his friends as chess pieces in its deadly games, he does everything to take care of his people. All this should sound familiar to fans of Fullmetal Alchemist, and I can guarantee you that Rachel Caine is doing just as good a job with her story as Fullmetal did with its.

"We're all just paper on a shelf, in the end." - Rachel Caine, Paper and Fire

“We’re all just paper on a shelf, in the end.” – Rachel Caine, Paper and Fire

To top it off, the Great Library’s magic is founded in alchemy, too. Those of you who know me know I’ve got a huge affinity for that whole mythos–alchemy even plays a huge role in my upcoming YA debut, The Outs, though it’s a very different take on the concept from start to finish. I don’t know whether Ms. Caine has traipsed down those same research paths, but I totally loved her work as much as I love my own, and that’s saying something!

In short, if you are or ever were a fan of Fullmetal, you owe it to yourself to dive into Rachel Caine’s world, too. You won’t regret it.

Paper and Fire Giveaway!

And to that end, I’ve got a few advance copies of Paper and Fire to give away to subscribers, as well! Follow the link to enter to get your own early copy.

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Servant Authors See Success Differently

This is a follow-up to my previous post on What is a Servant Author?

Servant Authors Have a Different Definition of Success

When I talk to people about being an author, and about the amazing things happening in my author journey, inevitably the conversation turns to imagining what could happen if my books take off. “Could you imagine what it would be like to get a $1m advance?” “Do you think that movie deal is going to go through?” “How much will you make if…?” And I’d be lying to say those things didn’t cross my mind. But there’s something else that crosses my mind more than all that.

How can I keep doing what I’m doing?

People sometimes wonder why I’m not more excited about the prospect of movies and becoming a bestseller. But there’s a reason I temper my excitement. At the end of the day, I know the most important thing is that I’m establishing a foundation from which I can help and serve others. I’m not trying to sell manuscripts–I’m trying to build a platform. I want this career to benefit the world; not just me.

Therefore the central story question in everything I’m doing right now is, “How can I keep doing what I’m doing?” The pie in the sky dreams of fame and fortune can be alluring, but for me they’re an albatross. If I’d been overly worried about making a fortune on my work, I wouldn’t have gone with a small press. My career would be on hold. In fact, if I were to focus on those monetary measures of success I probably wouldn’t make it in the publishing world at all. Because contrary to popular opinion, there isn’t a lot of money in being an author.

Selfishness Is a Servant Author’s Weakness

I’m reading Brandon Sanderson‘s Reckoners series right now (yes, Brandon Sanderson fans, I’m WAY behind…he’s just got too many GREAT books for me to keep up), and one of the concepts there has really been poking my mind lately.

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

In book 2, Firefight, people with super-abilities have taken over the world and rule as malevolent super-villains.There are ostensibly no superheroes, because the use of super-abilities corrupts the user’s mind, making them prone to evil and murder and all sorts of general nastiness. The power these people possess can ruin even the best people, turning them into monsters.

This is also true in my upcoming book The Outs. An honor student allows himself to take a step down a destructive path, and before he knows it he’s dragged kicking and screaming into America’s Most Wanted, becoming a different kind of monster entirely. And it’s all because he embraced selfish thoughts.

Selfishness is at the heart of pain. It destroys people, in both fiction and real life. And in the end, it destroys more than it creates. It’s humanity’s weakness, and I’m not prepared to give in.

What a Servant Author Values

If I’m to stay on the path I’m on, I have to angle myself away from selfishness. I’m a creator, not a destroyer. I want my words to bring life to the people who read them, and that can only happen if I’m setting my eyes on the good goals. In the words of Dumbledore, I need to “choose between what is easy and what is right.”

Publishing is a high-risk, high-investment, low-reward profession. I have to always remember that, or else I will get discouraged. And I can’t get discouraged and quit, because if I really believe I’m a servant author, then I’m not doing this for myself. I’m doing it for something more important. Something greater than me. And that something is more valuable than million-dollar advances.

What Do Other Authors Have to Say?

If you’re an author and this resonates with you, good or bad, I want to hear from you. Please leave a comment down below telling us all what you think.

What does it mean to be a “Servant Author”?

Servant Author?

I’ve started adding something to my bio lately that is important to me, but might seem a little confusing to everyone else. That’s okay. Sometimes a little confusion is good, because it gets people to ask questions. But I want to go out of my way to answer those questions now and set a tone for what I hope to do in the coming years.

How Did I Come to Call Myself a Servant Author?

Image copyright Natalie Collins

Image copyright Natalie Collins

I struggled with how I wanted to communicate my goals for this whole writing adventure, but I need to make sure I’m clear with myself now that The Outs is moving forward with publication. There’s a really deep well of thought that’s gone into this career path for me, and none of it involves ideas of fame and fortune. In fact, anyone who thinks being an author is the road to wealth and fandom really ought to start running the opposite direction, because “Here be dragons.”

Instead, my goals for this whole writing gig are, at least in my mind, a kind of service. My background is in serving and helping people. My Masters degree is in education. I spent thirteen years of my life working with teens–counseling, teaching, coaching, and mentoring–so for me, it’s always been about people.

The Power Behind a Servant Author

There is power in the written word. Words can bring whole worlds to life and crush them just as fast. Words can show the world the truth of a person, or spread the most damaging lies. And words can heal broken hearts and start a movement to bring good to the whole world.

I want to use the power of my words not because I think it will bring me something special. I want to use it because words have breathed life into me when I thought I would be broken forever. Others used their words to give me hope when I was hopeless. Words helped me see myself for what I am, and set me on the path that has led me here.

And now I want to use words in the service of other people’s lives the same. I want to serve the author community and build it up. I want to use my words as a service of encouragement for people who feel hopeless, and help them find the hope they need. I want my words to serve as guideposts marking the road I’ve been on all my life, giving guidance to others along the way.

A servant author doesn’t write for himself. A servant author writes because the words are in him, and they beg to get out so they can serve others.

I want to be a servant author.

The Power of Words

The Power of Words–even a in small numbers–astounds me.

As an author, every once in a while I get knocked flat by the mechanics of what I do. It’s a very nuanced profession, full of aspects that I’ll never fully understand. One of those aspects I always come back to is the power one or a few words have to create and destroy worlds, determine how you feel, and breathe life into the lifeless.

Right now I’m working through revisions on one of my most recent works based on feedback I’ve received from a few wonderful beta readers. Some of the biggest feedback they gave me on this manuscript was that my character was missing his motivation in a few places, and that at times he felt “whiny.”

So I’m hunting down these problem areas and realizing what happened to cause this, and I’m realizing that very often my errors boil down to word choice. Sometimes I jump too far into my character’s perspective, and let him say things in narration he’d never say in real life. Like saying something is “stupid.” It’s amazing the power that word holds. We might think something’s “stupid,” but the moment we say it out loud, people think we’re jerks. The same is happening with my protagonist. He can be a little dramatic, but I have to watch his drama, or else he says he “hates” something, and alarm bells go off in the reader’s head that this character is hateful.

In some ways it’s like God. In the Christian Bible, God spoke the heavens and the earth into existence. In that story, he formed everything into being with a word. His word had unimaginable power to set a tone for everything that came after. But if the story said something like, “he looked at what he’d made, and saw how bad it was,” everything that came after would have been tainted. The same is true with my stories. The words have meanings that need to be as true in my readers’ heads as they are in mine. Communication requires two parties, and if the communicator is saying the wrong things, the recipient will balk at what they’re hearing.

And I think about the power a single word has when directed at someone. The moment you say something negative about another person, there’s a shift. A line is drawn between you and them, and between you and those who like them. I don’t want to draw lines like that unless I’m certain I want the lines to be there for a long time. Because they will be.

Words have more power than we admit most times. They have meaning. And sometimes they can do more damage than we care to admit, too.