Wow, it’s been a while since I posted (guess I was in the writer cave longer than I thought). I looked at my last post, where I had 19,000 words in the sequel. HA. Now I have 115,000 and it’s DONE! That’s right–this book is going to exist. It’s going to come out this September. And it’s going to be really freaking awesome (but I think you guys knew that part already). And if you’re wondering what 115,000 words actually means, I’ll tell you that the first one was 85,000 words, making this a much bigger book. I would estimate that gives you guys another 100 pages to read.
Of sex and math jokes.
Just kidding. There aren’t any math jokes in this one.
I had so much fun writing this book. And drank so much coffee. And, while I miss the characters again already, it feels good to have it done. I finished the first one nearly six years ago. Six freaking years. And there were times since then when I was absolutely certain there would be a sequel, and times when I was absolutely certain there would not. But you guys kept writing to me, telling me how much you loved Renegade X and asking when there would be another one. And if it hadn’t been for you guys telling me all that, I don’t know if I would have ever written it. But you did, and I did, and now I’ve finished the best book I’ve ever written. And I can’t wait for you guys to get to read it in September!
And since, no matter how much planning I do, books have a way of morphing and getting away from me as I write them (or at least the best ones do), I reworked the book description. The old one wasn’t inaccurate, but it wasn’t so much the story anymore either. So here’s the new blurb:
Can a half villain ever be a full hero?
Damien Locke didn’t choose for his supervillain mom to disown him—just because he sort of defied her and ruined her evil plans to take over Golden City—and he didn’t choose for his superpower to be flying, a superhero ability that involves his least favorite thing: heights. But now that he’s living with his dad’s superhero family and enrolling at Heroesworth Academy, he’s ready to embrace his new life, get his H, and finally belong somewhere. But belonging isn’t as easy as signing up for classes, and Damien finds himself struggling to fit in more than ever.
Just when he’s sure his fate as a hero has been decided, though, he gets a new villain power that he can’t control. And things only get worse when he accidentally screws up one of his sidekick Sarah’s gadgets, altering her personality and turning her into a crazed, anti-supervillain vigilante—leaving him no choice but to team up with her annoying superhero boyfriend if he hopes to have any chance of getting the old Sarah back, before she captures—or kills—another supervillain like him.
Newsletter subscribers got a sneak peek at this last week, and now, as promised, I am proud to present the description for The Trials of Renegade X:
Can a half villain ever be a full hero? Damien Locke didn’t choose for his supervillain mom to disown him—just because he sort of defied her and ruined her evil plans to take over Golden City—and he didn’t choose for his superpower to be flying, a superhero ability that involves his least favorite thing: heights. But now that he’s living with his dad’s superhero family and enrolling at Heroesworth Academy, he’s ready to embrace his new life, get his H, and finally belong somewhere. But belonging isn’t as easy as signing up for classes, and Damien finds himself struggling to fit in more than ever. Of course, it doesn’t help that his sidekick Sarah has a new hero boyfriend—not that he’s jealous or anything—or that, just when he’s sure his fate as a hero has been decided, he gets a new villain power he can’t control. And it’s so easy to slip into his old ways when he catches his supervillain girlfriend Kat committing a crime at Heroesworth and covers for her, charming his way out of trouble. But as Damien’s attempts to lead a purely hero life continue to backfire, he’ll have to learn to embrace both his hero and villain sides, or else risk pushing away everyone he cares about and losing any chance he has of ever finding his place in the world.
And there it is! I’ve tried to keep it exciting but not too spoilery. I’ve got about a week left on the current WIP, and then I’ll be back to working on Trials full time!
P.S. Today is coincidentally the four year anniversary of the day I got the offer for The Rise of Renegade X. Crazy how time flies!
Am almost done with WIP. Disclaimer, it is not Trials, which I know is what everyone is waiting for right now. (Understandable!) But it’s still a book that’s very important to me. It’s much darker than my other work–sort of a dark fantasy YA version of Dexter–and I am, like, 8 scenes away from being done with it, though some of those scenes might turn out to be more like plot points and actually be 2 or 3 scenes, especially near the big climactic boss battle part.
I started this book about a year and a half ago now, or at least this version of it, and as I mentioned in my last post, I was pretty dead last year, thanks to poor thyroid treatment. It feels like I’ve been working on this book a lot longer than that. I keep recounting the time in my head and being like, “Are you sure it wasn’t two and a half years?” Still, very slow for me, and there were times when I worried I was just going to be stuck in the middle of this book forever. And I finished no books at all last year, and it wasn’t very long ago that I was also worrying that I might never finish any books ever again. Even though I know from experience that that’s not true, it certainly felt true when I was a thyroid-less zombie with hardly enough thoughts to survive, let alone put in a book.
This also isn’t the first version of this book I’ve written. I’ve talked about this before, but this is a book I first wrote 6 or 7 years ago. That version was pretty flawed, though I loved it so much at the time. And it got me my first requests from agents, though ultimately that was all it got. And it kind of broke my heart that nothing ever happened with it. I spent years blaming this book for being a failure, and resenting myself for loving something so horribly flawed. Well, the book had issues, but there were still things about it that made it good–reasons why it got any agent interest in the first place–and so I’ve taken those good things and transported them into a new, better book.
So, anyway, my point is that while it’s always amazingly awesome to finish a book, finishing this one is going to be extra awesome. And then, once it’s done, I will be working like mad to finish up Trials. Which is also awesome–I know because I was rereading some of it the other day and had to force myself to put it down and not get sucked in, at least not until I’m officially working on it.
What about you guys? Are you close to any finish lines of your own?
So, I don’t think I ever mentioned why I chose to self-publish Harper Madigan: Junior High Private Eye. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a noir detective story. It’s also MG, so self-publishing it isn’t the most obvious path to get it into the hands of readers. A lot of people have misconceptions about self-publishing, or at least that’s what I’ve been noticing lately. (I did not notice much last year. Last year was a dead sort of year, what with my doctor mistakenly putting me on way too low of thyroid meds and turning me into a zombie, which made for very little writing and even less of everything else. But I got a new doctor and better meds and a better dosage. There’s more to the story, but that’s another post for another time.)
Anyway, the hard truth of publishing is that good books do not always get published. The Rise of Renegade X came this close to not finding any love at all and fading into obscurity on my hard drive. In fact, Harper Madigan got more editor love than Renegade X, with three separate editors falling in love with it and wanting to buy. But editors alone don’t decide what gets bought, no matter how much they love it, and their houses said no, they couldn’t sell it. So here’s me with this awesome book that I still want people to get to read, but no publisher.
So what’s a girl to do? Put on her DIY hat and PUBLISH IT HERSELF, that’s what. And you know what? Putting it all together myself was a lot of fun and I was able to do it quickly and easily and pretty much stress-free. It was also a great way to get started in the world of self-publishing before putting out The Trials of Renegade X. I am very pro hybrid-career at this point, and while I hope to continue to find traditional publishers for some books, it’s not something I can control. I can, however, control how many books I self-publish.
And speaking of Harper Madigan, I have some good news to share about it! But not yet. Soon, precioussss. Soon. And I have good news to share about Renegade X, but if I wait a little while, it may turn into really freaking awesome news, so, again, we must all wait.
Mark your calendars for September, 2013! That’s right, The Trials of Renegade X will be released next September! This might seem like a long way off, especially when you guys have been so patient–a lot of you have been waiting for this since 2010. But September is when everything can be done by–both on my end and for others involved in getting the project out the door–and it’s going to be amazing.
And I have another book coming out next spring that hopefully I will be able to announce soon. It’s not Renegade X related, but if you like the voice in Renegade X, you’re going to love this one, too.
In other news, The Rise of Renegade X came out in Russian! I found out from a Russian fan messaging me on Facebook–one thing you learn very quickly in this business is that nobody tells authors anything. I knew we’d sold Russian rights, but I had no idea when it was coming out. Damien’s name in the translated version is “Damien Loki,” which seems appropriate. ;) Oh, and according to Google Translate, the Russian title is “The Desperate and Undefeated Renegade X.”
Frankly, I think writing fiction is the most important, most noblest career anyone can aspire to. That may just be my years of wanting it so badly brainwashing me into thinking that, but stories are important. They change lives, they comfort us when we’re sad (no one understands you like your favorite book, you know?), they let us glom up all the experiences of another person, both the fictional experiences of the characters and the real thoughts and emotions and tidbits of reality put in by the author. Stories are transformative and allow us to experience change in a safe setting.
And writing is hard. You could take a writing class, turn in all your assignments, and get an A but still be a crappy writer. It’s learnable, obviously, but it takes a lot of time and effort. People often say it’s a ten year apprenticeship, which it definitely was for me, though I guess it depends on how quickly you get in your million words/10,000 outlier hours. But that’s a lot, and that’s just to be publishable, just to start a writing career. And most people don’t have the discipline to put in the crazy time and effort it takes to become a pro writer. Everyone who’s read your books has a little piece of you in their minds now. That’s pretty amazing. More amazing, I think, than going to grad school or earning lots of money.
Once upon a time, in 2004, in a faraway land called Bellingham, WA, where the sky, the earth, and the sea are all the same shade of gray, I got it into my head that I wanted a portable writing device. I had a desktop at the time and I wanted to be able to write anywhere, whether that meant when I was out of the apartment or just when I was sitting on the couch. I did a lot of research and discovered the NEC Mobile Pro. (Which, as you can see if you follow the link, is also gray.) It was super portable, had an actual keyboard (not full size, but it worked), and it turned on and off instantly, which meant no waiting for my computer to boot up in order to write down any brilliant plot ideas I had at one in the morning.
I got a refurbished one off of eBay. It had a spot where you could plug in your dial up internet (LOL), and the one I got came with a WiFi card so you could connect to the network, even if it was kind of slow. But I never ended up using the internet on it. It was a little tiny box with Pocket Word and a word count meter and almost nothing else. There were no distractions, and it changed my life.
Or at least my writing life, which was pretty much the same thing. Not only was it light and portable and I could sit wherever I wanted with it or write in the quiet room at the university library, but I became way more productive. And it’s not that I’d never experienced periods of high productivity with my writing, even with the internet, but it was so much easier to get into that mode without having the option of turning to distractions every time I got stuck.
In the summer of 2007, the same summer I finally graduated college and the same summer that the last Harry Potter book came out, I wrote The Rise of Renegade X, all on that little computer. Then, two years later after I’d sold the book and gotten paid for it, I bought a shiny new laptop. I love my shiny not-so-new-anymore laptop that literally sparkles in the sunlight (there are blue sparkles on the lid, but they only show up in direct sunlight), and at the time I’d badly needed a computer that actually functioned, since my desktop was, on its good days, barely still functioning.
So I got the laptop, and it did all the computery things I wanted it to do, like play games and play videos (with sound! and without blue screening at random times!) and check my email 1,000 times a day. And gradually I stopped using my MobilePro. My laptop didn’t have a spot for the sync cable, my MobilePro had no USB ports, and my laptop couldn’t read the card that the MobilePro could actually save to, at least not without hooking up a separate card reader, and the card itself was unreliable and would frequently forget everything that I’d saved on it.
Anyway, since then I’ve been writing exclusively on my laptop, which has about a million distractions on it, including the internet, which I can’t stay away from. And if it’s not the internet, then it’s Spider Solitaire. And lately I’ve been especially prone to these distractions and I have a lot of writing projects I’m not making enough progress on, if any. So I decided it was time to go back to an internet-less computer.
This netbook ended up being the perfect combo of everything I wanted. USB ports, card reader, runs actual Windows (instead of CE) so it can handle Open Office and doesn’t screw up formatting when I’m passing files between computers. It’s lightweight and gets almost 10 hours off one battery charge and it comes out of hibernating instantly, and the boot up time when I turn it on is super fast, too. And the keyboard, which you can see in this next picture, is just how I wanted it. Chicklet style with a hard base.
(As you can see in this pic, I am clearly working hard on The Trials of Renegade X.)
I uninstalled any unnecessary programs, deleted all the games, and left the whole thing not connected to the network. It has my writing programs and that’s pretty much it. It’s amazing how big a difference not having those distractions makes! Instead of being unfocused and looking for ways to procrastinate, I’m actually, you know, working.
Sometimes it pays to know what works best for you. If the internet is there, I will poke at it. I won’t be able to leave it alone, and I know this about myself. And it can make working on my laptop a source of stress. In contrast, the netbook feels like a quiet, stress-free workspace that is just me and my books and the tools to make them better.
So, I can admit that the beginning of the year was a lot busier than I expected (A LOT busier). I pubbed my middle grade noir mystery, Harper Madigan: Junior High Private Eye. I expanded from doing commissions on DeviantArt to an actual Etsy business. I was taking grad school classes. I spent my spring break working a (stressful) temp job. And I finished up another temp job earlier this month.
If I never work another 9-5 job, I will not be shedding any tears. I am seriously not cut out for it. Probably most of us aren’t. I keep reading about how more and more of us are turning to freelance work, so I know it’s not just me.
But anyway! Some of you have been asking about The Trials of Renegade X and how it’s coming along. And now that my workload has mellowed out and the nervous breakdown meter is no longer on orange alert, I’ve finally been able to sit down with this book again and make some progress. (For those of you not reading this directly from my site, the word count bar is up to 5,700, about 8% of the expected total.)
And this isn’t really a surprise, but I LOVE this story. Even though I’ve had it planned out for months, it’s hard to get back into writing when I haven’t done it in a while, and especially when I haven’t been writing regularly. But the more time I spend working on this, the more I love it and the more into it I am. I’ve crossed the threshold of “Juggling all this stuff is hard! *WHINE*” to “OMG, I can’t wait to put in this and this and this, and THIS cool thing goes here, and wait, there was a better way to phrase that sentence I wrote five pages ago…” It’s like the difference between pushing a piano upstairs and sliding down the banister. (Not that I can slide down banisters. But, you know, if I *could,* then I’m sure that’s what it would be like. For the record, I’m pretty sure I can’t push a piano upstairs either. In fact, I’m more likely to pull off a really awesome banister slide than I am to move a piano at all.)
And The Trials of Renegade X now has a Facebook page. It’s where I’m posting my daily word count. Go there, press like, and you can watch the book grow (and shrink and then grow again, as books are wont to do…) and show your support and tell your friends and all that. I mean, you do have friends, don’t you? And you wouldn’t want to be accused of depriving them of something awesome, right? RIGHT? *makes squinty accusing eyes*
Anyway, you might be wondering when this book will be done, and, more importantly, when can you have it??? Well, according to my estimations–*types random numbers in giant calculator with one of those paper rolls coming out the back*–I should be done with the first draft in 2 – 3 months. But you never know when I might get crazy obsessed and not be able to stop myself from doing anything besides writing. But you also never know when life will get completely overwhelming and get in the way. So, yeah, 2 – 3 months. Then there’s editing and revising to do. And then–THEN–you can have it. And by my calculations, that means it will be out some time this fall, late November at the latest. Which means it’ll be out in time for the holidays and you can surprise all your friends you “forgot” to link to the FB page with copies and you will be crowned the best gift giver ever. (Or at least until next year.)
So that’s the scoop on the sequel. I’ll know more about the release date as I get closer to finishing the book. In the mean time, go read Harper Madigan. It’s awesome and it made this Top Ten Underappreciated Books List.
Taking a break from work and school related deadlines to answer another publishing question! Mel asks:
If I sent my manuscript to an agent about a year ago (who requested a full) , but since then have significantly revised it, would you suggest resubmitting it?
Definitely! Just make sure to be up front about it in your query letter and mention it’s the book they’d seen before, only significantly revised, and mention some of the big changes. They may say thanks but no thanks and not want to see the new version, but it’s worth a try. A year is plenty of time for you to have given your manuscript an overhaul and for this to not come across as pushy or annoying.
Now, if this agent in question has had your full sitting around for a year and hasn’t responded at all, then that feels a bit more iffy. That might not be the case here, but I want to address it anyway, for anyone who might be in that situation. Not that you can’t resend your manuscript here (you can, just mention that since they hadn’t responded to the full, maybe they haven’t had a chance to read it yet and would they like to see the new and improved version?), but a year is a long time with no communication. I would do more research on them and find out if this is a typical wait time and how responsive the agent is with their clients.
I say this because I had a bad experience with my first agent. She’d requested a full of one of my manuscripts, by phone, and then never responded. Six months later I contacted her because I had a new book (Renegade X) and asked if she’d like to take a look at it. She apparently had finished the first book I sent her and liked it, but wasn’t sure if she could sell it, and just never got around to telling me any of this. :/ I thought, “Hey, aspiring authors are supposed to be treated like afterthoughts… she’d be way more attentive if I was her client.” Well, I did eventually become her client, but she didn’t become any more attentive. We never spoke on the phone again, and I never stopped feeling like an afterthought, though again I thought, “Once I make a sale, THEN I’ll be worthy of her time.”
Not true! For the record, if you’re a client, you’re always worthy of your agent’s time, whether you’ve had a sale or not.
But anyway, back to the story. This agent only got more aloof as my book gathered up rejections. Eventually she stopped talking to me all together and ignored my request for a status update on who had my manuscript. So I fired her! It was scary, but one of the best decisions of my life, and one that lead to a new, super amazing agent and a book contract.
So that’s my tale of caution on super slow responders. Some agents do have a lot of backlog, and emails can get buried and forgotten about. It happens. But a full is a big deal, and you should get a response, even if it turns out to be a form letter. But if an agent’s M.O. is to show their lack of enthusiasm by never contacting you again, I’d think long and hard about giving them another chance.
**I was asked to write up a post on queries, so I thought I’d give you guys a sneak peek at this article from my upcoming ebook, Breaking the Rules: a Guide to Intermediate Writing.**
If you’re submitting your novels to agents or editors, or even thinking about submitting, you’ve probably had to deal with query letters. And, if you’re anything like I was when I was sending out query letters, the thought of having to write one probably makes you want to tear your hair out and curl up in the corner and die. Maybe you’ve got a couple queries under your belt, but you’re not getting requests when you send them out. Or your beta readers go over your letter, say it needs “something,” but can’t tell you what that something is. Or maybe–and this is my personal favorite–you’ve got a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, telling you all sorts of spices and vegetables that need to go into your query soup, so that what comes out after all your revisions isn’t so much a soup as a puddle of unappetizing goo.
Sound at all familiar?
Don’t worry, it gets easier. Writing query letters is a craft, which means you can learn it. And you can bet mine used to be embarrassingly bad. I was practically the poster child for unreadable query letters, and I dreaded every minute of writing them. Tips like “make sure it has the same voice as your novel” or “less is better” weren’t very helpful. For the record, you do want voice in your letter to match the voice of your book, but it’s like saying that in order to make soup, you need to put in salt. Great! Very true! But… does that really tell you how to make soup? It’s a tip on how to make it taste better, to liven it up, but it doesn’t tell you what you really need to know to create it. The same goes for “less is better.” It’s true that you don’t want to bog down your query letter with everything that happens in your novel, but what do you put in?
Before we get started, let’s go over what a query letter is. You probably already know if you’ve gotten this far, but I want us all to be on the same page. The short and kind-of-bland version is that it’s a polite business letter in block format that tells an agent (or editor) what they need to know about you and your book to decide if they want to even read your work, let alone take you on as a client. There are straight up facts like your word count, genre, and contact info, but the tough part, and the part we’re concerned with here, is the story blurb. It’s the description, similar to what you read on the back of a book, that tries to hook potential readers. This is where it gets scary and where I used to get tripped up. You query letter has to sell your book to someone. Someone who sees thousands and thousands of letters just like yours, and what if you leave out the one detail that would have made them hit the request button instead of delete???
Relax. First of all, if there are thousands and thousands of letters out there that all sound the same, that’s awesome, because yours isn’t going to sound the same as everybody else’s. And second, the details aren’t what’s going to sell your story to anyone, so put them out of your mind for now.
So what does sell stories to people? The same thing that always sells them: characters and conflicts.
Start your blurb with your main character. Tell me what they want. Then tell me why they can’t have it. This is important because what a character wants conveys a ton of behind-the-scenes info about who they are. My cat Teisel wants to win fights and feel like he’s better than everyone. I could tell you that Teisel is furry and has both stripes and spots, but that’s not what’s important about him, and it doesn’t tell you anything about his personality or why you should care about his struggles. And if after telling you he wants to win fights and feel like he’s better than everyone I add that he’s lost every single fight he’s ever started because he’s too worried about winning to actually act, now we don’t just have a character, but the makings of a story. It poses the unasked question of “What happens next?”
It’s easy to fall into the trap here of actually telling us what happens next and just listing events. For the most part, you want to forget about events. And you certainly don’t want your blurb to read like a laundry list of plot points. I could say Teisel gets in a big fight. He loses the fight. He feels even worse about it. You might notice how boring those sentences are, even though they’re about a fight, but the real problem with them is that they don’t give us a reason to care about it. Again, what makes us care are characters and conflict. For example, a conflict-focused version of the previous list of events might start out like this: Teisel challenges his worst enemy, Kitten the Undefeated, to one final fight to see who is permanently crowned king of the cat tree. Technically, there is an event here–a fight over a cat tree. But that’s not what’s important about it. What’s important is that Teisel is challenging his worst enemy (and this tells us a lot about him as a character, because even though he’s too afraid to act in a fight, he’s still bold enough to make this sort of challenge), who we see is undefeated (meaning Teisel, who has a 100% losing streak, has no chance of winning), and we see that there are consequences to losing this fight (the loss of the cat tree, which is also a high up place where Teisel can look down on others and feel important; losing both the big fight and his claim to the tree will mean he has no way to achieve his goals).
Pile on your conflicts, showing us the obstacles your character has to face to achieve their goal. Give them impossible odds to overcome, and make sure we know what will happen if they fail. Piling up the odds is no good if we don’t know the consequences, and the consequences are only as good as how badly they screw things up for our characters.
You don’t need to tell the whole story in the query letter. It’s okay to leave out or fudge things that are too complicated to get across in the two or three paragraphs you have for your blurb. And it’s okay to leave off the ending. My favorite way to end a story blurb is to leave the character with an ultimatum, one that could go either way and that leaves the audience wanting to know which choice they’ll make. This is easiest to do by giving them two equally important goals and a reason why they can’t have both.
So, to sum it up:
- Give us a character. Tell us what they want, why they can’t have it, and what will happen if they don’t get it. While doing this you’re sneakily showing us who they are and what their world is like.
- Focus on the conflicts and opposing forces your character has to deal with rather than events. Keep ‘em coming until achieving their goal seems impossible, but make sure we know why they absolutely have to succeed. Whatever will happen if they fail will be worse than facing all those impossible odds.
- Throw in a complication that makes the character have to choose between two things that are important to them. They can’t save their childhood sweetheart and the kids in the orphanage across town where they grew up–they have to pick one, but both are important to them, and both are choices they could actually make. Leave us there, desperate to know which one they’ll choose.
You can read the story blurbs I’ve written for my books on my site, www.chelseamcampbell.com, under Books. The blurb for The Rise of Renegade X is what I used in my actual query letter, and what my publisher ended up putting on Amazon. But I also wanted to give an example not based on a real book, to show that it doesn’t really matter what the story’s about, so I leave you with this:
Winning the world figure skating championship is boy’s only chance of winning a college scholarship and getting out of a lifetime of working at his family’s bean farm as soon as he hits eighteen. But when his girlfriend and figure skating partner breaks his heart by selling her skates to buy a guitar and go on a cross country road trip without him, boy scrambles to find someone else in his one horse hometown who can take her place, at least on the ice if not in his heart.
Just when boy thinks he’s found the right girl for the job—his goth girl neighbor who wouldn’t be caught dead in a frilly skating costume even if she didn’t hate him for pulling an embarrassing prank on her when they were kids—he sprains his ankle while attempting the super triple skate flip, the one move he’s sure could beat the odds and win him his scholarship. With the competition fast approaching, he’ll have to not only skate while injured, but pull off the most complicated move in the book.
Boy finally wins back goth girl’s trust, confessing that he only pranked her because he had a crush on her, and convinces her to skate with him. Romance kindles between them just as his ex-girlfriend whirls back into town with a new pair of skates in hand. She’s ready to take him back and do their old routine together, certain that, with his injured ankle, boy needs her skills now more than ever if he wants to win. Boy thought winning the competition and the scholarship was everything, but is it worth it if it means betraying goth girl, the only girl who’s ever stuck by him and might just be his one true love?