Finding Hope & Inspiration through Community

Sometimes, when you’re writing you lose sight of things. And sometimes, it’s easy to forget what you’re writing for. I know that I write for myself, for my story, for my heart. But, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I write so others can read my stories and find something to love too.

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This is when community helps me find my perspective. I love seeing people get excited about stories and books. It’s great to see people that I’ve always respected and cheered for getting book deals and debuting. This year alone, I have multiple friends and CP’s debuting and I am so excited I can barely contain it at times. I think it’s alright to find your happiness where you can. And taking some time away from your own work to be happy for others is not only nice, but I think it’s key to keeping your perspective on the publishing world. If we can’t find like-minded people and form these connections, writing and publishing will feel like a very lonely place. Especially since the writing itself is a solitary activity.

I live for the moments that my CPs share pieces of their work, or an aesthetic collage, or an initial outline of a new idea. These are the times when I can sit back and be in awe of the people I’m lucky  enough to call friends. And I can be inspired by the talent around me. I’ve heard a lot of advice that says when you form a critique group you should find people who are more talented than you, and I’m pretty smug about the fact that I’ve accomplished that.

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My Critique Group is as cool as f(x). Well, I think so at least…

It helps to give us moments of hope when we feel like all we’ve been doing is drafting and revising, drafting and revising. It’s wonderful to see a story that we used to read as CPs go from draft to final MS to sold to book. The thrill of that journey is enough to inspire us to keep going with our own work so one day we can see a book cover made from scratch for the stories we’ve created.

I also think it’s important to still be a fan. Everyone I talk to about their writing journey usually says something along the lines of “I’ve always loved stories and reading.” And I think that’s so key! Being a fan means that we can appreciate the craft and creativity that goes into the field we’ve chosen. We can still be in awe of the beauty and talent that goes into crafting a story. We can have hero authors that (if we’re lucky) we might meet one day (and maybe cry on. NO YOU CRIED ON LAINI TAYLOR).

And, I also believe that writing is not ONLY about the writing. It’s about living a life worth inspiring a story. It’s about reading other stories to get motivation and inspiration. And it’s about knowing what books are out there right now being devoured and loved by the very audiences we’re writing for.

I have this analogy I make about my creativity where I call it a bank. I have a certain amount of words saved up that I’ve collected as I read or watch other stories. And when I write too long without reading I spend all of my words. There are legit moments where I feel so burned out that I cannot form coherent sentences anymore and it feels like I’ve used up all the words in my word bank and I need to fill it again. I hate when these moments happen, but at least I know that I can just go to my TBR and I can be inspired from the very first sentence I read.

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I find joy in almost every part of publishing (reading, writing, revising, meeting other writers). Seeing a CP or friend find success helps because it shows us that good stories can find a home and that talent is appreciated. Taking a moment to bask in the glory of your talented friends can warm some of the cold nights spent revising your MS for the umpteenth time. And it also helps to live vicariously through them as their stories find their audiences. I believe these communities are key to creating a sustainability in this industry so we don’t burn out or lose sight of why we’re doing this all in the first place.

The Diversity Conversation

I’ve watched the conversation around diversity change over the past few years when it comes to literature and YA/kidlit in particular. I took interest for obvious reasons, I am a writer of color who wants to write about my own experiences and heritage. However, even as a POC I was not prepared for some of the hard lessons I’ve learned over the past few years. And I came to realize that it’s because I didn’t have the foundation for it yet. I had to build that first before I could enter the harder conversations and really understand what they were about (let alone partake in them! Which, I still don’t do that often because I am still learning).

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I’m going to make an analogy for this post with the hopes that I can shed light on my own journey and perhaps help at least one person understand how much time it takes to even begin to understand this ongoing conversation we call “diversity.” So, I’m going to compare the conversation about diversity to school courses.

When I was a senior I took a class that beat the snot out of my brain, Biochemistry. I was so wrung dry after a semester of it that I dreamed about it (or, more accurately, I had nightmares about it). However, I still got a very respectable B+ in that course. I know that the only reason I got that grade was because I’d prepared myself for it. I took a year of intro biology, a year of intro chemistry, a year of organic chemistry, plus labs for all of these classes.

My coworker was talking about her classes the other day and said that she was required to take biochemistry but half of the class hadn’t taken intro biology yet. I was floored at how that’s even possible. How could you understand the very complex subjects of biochemistry without taking the intro class first? It just didn’t seem logical! (unsurprisingly most of those students dropped the class)

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The reason I’m telling these strange school anecdotes is to say that I think people should learn the basics before they can join the more advanced classes.

If you look at conversations about diversity in the same way, you should learn the basics in the 101 courses about inequality, systemic/institutional racism, systemic misogyny, internalized sexism, systemic ableism, and how cis/het/straight is presented as the “norm” in our society.

Then you need to take the 201 courses to understand how those concepts affect big picture defacto treatment of marginalized AND microaggressions that happen daily.

After all of those foundational courses, it’s possible to join the advanced courses which are the ongoing conversations about why X book is problematic or Y movie is appropriative or Z author’s Twitter feed is insensitive to the very audience they write for.

I see people jumping into conversations on social media or at a house party to explain why they don’t understand why such-and-such is a big deal. And I can completely understand why they don’t get it. It’s because they don’t have a foundation built up yet. They don’t know the long and hard history of how we got here as a diverse country/society. It’s because they haven’t learned the basics of why this all matters. The issue is that when you take biochemistry without taking biology 101, the only one that suffers is you. When you try to push your way into conversations about diversity without understanding, you’re hurting other people. This is where my analogy ends and the real talk begins.

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We need to stop being so naive to think we already have all the tools to talk about the problems with society just because we live in it. The world is not perfect, we know that much. However, why the world isn’t perfect is up for debate. The thing that isn’t up for debate: other people’s pain. If someone says they’re hurt, that’s it. You believe them.

For me personally, I joined the YA community when I was still learning about my own identity and coming to terms with the idea of writing myself onto the page. I still defaulted to what society told me was the “norm.” I made my MC’s white because I didn’t know if YA audiences would relate to POC MC’s. I also did not know enough about other marginalized communities to speak about their issues. I still have a lot to learn when it comes to communities I’m not a member of, so I still sit back and listen to those kind enough to speak out about it (for free! Seriously, emotional labor is labor and many people do it for free).

On top of that, POC/marginalized can be biased too. Being a racial minority does not stop a person from being ableist or heteronormative, etc. I had to unlearn many off-hand statements I used in every day conversation because I didn’t realize that it was perpetuating an ableist norm. I also had to unlearn some phrases that were cruel to other POC and Native groups. I grew up in the United States, which means I was raised watching TV shows that told me white was normal; and men married women; and boys played with cars and girls played with dolls. My parents NEVER told me that was normal, but society did. And I had to decide for myself if that’s what I would believe or not.

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video source: Unboxing Ableism

We all have to unpack our biases. And we all need to understand the basic foundation of why these conversations are important. Until then, it’s fine to be quiet and listen. There is no need to be active in the conversation all the time. Sometimes it’s enough to just learn. That’s actually why so many marginalized voices speak out, to help people understand.

I don’t mean to scare anyone away from joining an earnest conversation. But it is on you as the “learner” to understand that your need to learn does not supersede another person’s pain. So asking a marginalized person on Twitter to teach you about their life’s history of marginalization in a 15 minute conversation over 140 characters is probably not the place to start your learning. We are in the age of the amazing internet and google is an awesome thing. And once you’ve created your foundation then you can dip your toe into smaller conversations (perhaps start off in a closed community among friends who are willing to explain the harder things. That’s what I did)

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I’d be happy to answer questions if anyone has them and if I don’t have the answers I’ll say that too. After all, I’m still learning as well.

Here are resources to learn from before entering the diversity conversation:

We Need Diverse Books

Writing in the Margins

American Indians in Children’s Literature

Disability in kidlit

Gay YA

Reading While White

Writing With Color

Minorities in Publishing

Diversity in YA

I also have a Twitter list of Diverse writers (it is in NO way comprehensive, but feel free to follow any and all of them!)

Diverse Writers

#OwnYourOwn: How I found my #OwnVoice

This week is the start of #OwnYourOwn started by the lovely Kaye (@GildedSpine).

YA Interrobang wrote a wonderful intro article about it HERE. I’ll just blurb part of it to explain the gist of it:

We are going to #OwnYourOwn, with advice, with encouragement, with anecdotes so that you can know just how long we’ve been where you are, and how eagerly we’re waiting for you to take our hands and step forward to where we are. You are not alone on this path. You are not alone in your #ownvoices.

For my post, I wanted to write about how I finally accepted my voice as an #ownvoices in writing. Often times in writing (especially in the beginning) we have a healthy dose of imposter syndrome. This can occur not only with our style of writing but very very much with our voice.

To get to the meat of it, I have to tell you a bit about how I gained, lost, and regained my identity. (warning this gets a bit wordy, so if you just want to skip to the writer part of the journey, skip down a section)

Baby Kat hamming it up in good ol’ Central Florida

A little bit of my personal history
I mostly grew up in Orlando. That’s important to my story because it shaped a lot of my self-identity. It’s not a bad thing growing up in Central Florida. The weather is pretty decent, there are beaches, Disney World is close. However, my neighborhood was largely white. The main minority was hispanic/latinx. There were exactly 2.5 Asians in my class: Me, a Chinese boy, and a half-Malaysian girl (who was my best friend). That meant that to all of the non-Asian kids we were all “Chinese” weirdos. This was both upsetting and a fact of life for me.

My parents did what they thought was best for our family when they moved us to Orlando. However, my parents were raised in a time when they were told to just be American. A time of nationalism and when moving to America meant opportunity. Their Koreanness wasn’t something they spoke of a lot even though both had lived in Korea as children. My mother didn’t learn English until she was nine. My father was the first son of the first son and therefore the future head of our whole extended family still living in Seoul. However, that still wasn’t something that was spoken about and dissected a lot in our house, because we were American.

So, I didn’t get a good handle on my Korean heritage in an obvious way. There were subtle things. I thought that Korean words were just another way to say things and didn’t realize it was a different language until I went to school. There, I was bullied out of ever saying anything Korean. Kids also spoke to me in a mocking way where they would replace all of their L’s with R’s. People still talk to me that way now.

I didn’t realize that other kids didn’t eat kimchee and side-dishes (panchan) with all of their meals. I didn’t think that instant Ramen was a “junk food.” I just thought it was normal. I also didn’t think it was Korean. I just thought it was my family’s thing.

It wasn’t until I went to college, spent a semester in Seoul, and began writing that I fully embraced myself and embraced my heritage (but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Back to young-Kat…)

My Writing Journey Begins
This all matters because when I wrote my first full book (at the age of thirteen), I made the main character half Korean, half white. I did this, because I both wanted a character that looked like me and I knew the character *shouldn’t* look completely like me. Not based on the books I had read as a child. And to top it off, her Korean side was not acknowledged and played no part in developing her character. This was very telling. That at thirteen I couldn’t completely accept a full Korean main character, even though I was full Korean myself. I’m a bit sad for thirteen-year-old me because I know better now. (But what they say is true: hindsight is always 20/20).

Fast-forward a dozen years and I’m writing to actually publish. I wrote a space opera and I made the main characters (MC) white. However, this was just when We Need Diverse Books was gaining traction. It was inspiring and it made me really think about how I decided what story I wanted to tell.  It made me stop and think, “Why did I make my main character white?” The book was set in outer space. There were aliens with wolf-heads in my book. Why can’t my main characters be Korean? So I made my MC Korean. But I named him Eli. I did this because, even though I was trying to come around to the idea of embracing my identity within my writing, I still believed my culture in its entirety (e.g. Korean names) was not palatable for the current market.

That book didn’t gain me an agent. And I wonder if it’s because of my hesitation while writing that book. I didn’t put all of myself into that book both figuratively and literally. And I wonder if that made a difference.

The book that actually got me where I am now is based on Korean mythology, set in Seoul, with fully Korean characters with fully Korean lives and names. And that’s the book everyone was excited about. That was the book that got me an agent. That’s the book I want to sell to publishers.

Getting to that book was hard for me. What I mean by that is that I have not always been as comfortable with my “Koreanness” as I am today. No one actively tried to take my heritage away from me, but micro-aggressions and feeling like my culture was too “other” almost my whole childhood made me tuck it away so no one could see. I went to college and called myself a “twinkie” to appease the very Korean KA students that looked at me with suspicion when I didn’t speak fluently. And when I started to get into my culture more as an adult, some people who’d known me for 20+ years looked at me with doubt. Why now? Why suddenly have interest in my culture? Didn’t that make me “fake”? To be honest, the two main things that drove me forward was losing someone I loved and writing. I learned that I wanted to write about ME and what made me who I was. A huge part of that (whether I chose to acknowledge it before or not) was that I’m Korean. So, I wrote about it and I came up with the book that I eventually got my agent with.

It makes me deliriously happy that the book that’s my full self is the one that got me here. It’s almost like the universe waited until I could accept all of myself before it allowed me to take this momentous next step in my writing career.

So, any young writers reading this blog post, don’t wait over ten years before you write yourself into your stories. Be proud of who you are and who you could be. Write it onto the page. Create stories that are full of your personal journey and your personal heritage. Trust me when I say that there are so many people that want to hear it and support it and champion it.

And if you want to ask me any questions then feel free (you can write in the comments of this post or use the Contact Me tab on this blog).

Happy writing!

Adventures in Revising(2): CPs, Beta Readers, or hired editors?

This post originally showed up when I was a co-blogger on Books Are BreadHowever, in order to start things up again, I’m reposting it here where I will continue the feature.
(NOTE: These posts are meant as friendly advice from my *personal* 
experience but might not always be applicable to your work. 
If you have any fun advice to give, please add it in the comments! 
I’m always excited to learn new tricks of the trade from my fellow writers!)
 

I was reading Miss Snark’s First Victim and Authoress had a really great point about hiring an editor for revisions.

To paraphrase she pretty much says that you shouldn’t hire her for her professional critiquing services if your work has never had eyes on it (i.e. a CP or Beta Reader). For one thing, those people read your work for free, for another, they catch some of the small stuff (i.e. grammar, incorrect tenses, plot holes, etc). When you hire someone to edit, you want to get the most bang for your buck, so why would you waste a professional editor’s time having them correct commas and dialogue tags?

So it got me thinking, what is the right order for revising? Also how many CPs should you have? Where can you find a responsible beta reader? Also how do you know when you’re done?

I hope to give some advice/links in this article to help anyone who is a newbie to this whole revision game.

 

Critique Partners:
Axie and I already did an article about CPs specifically.

Critique Partners are fellow writers (often people who write in the same genre as you) who trade MS so both parties can critique the other’s work. They can run the gamut of one-time critiquers or CPs you continue to trade with for all of your WIPs (my personal preference). They’ll look at grammar and spelling mistakes. They should also look at characterization, setting, etc. They’ll address issues of plot holes, continuity, characterization, believability, whether the MC is a sympathetic character, whether secondary characters are too two-dimensional, and sometimes even assist in fact checking, etc.

When to get a CP: At ANY POINT in writing. Some CPs exchange chapter by chapter of rough draft WIPs. Some CPs exchange the just-finished WIP of their completed MS. Some of them just trade random scenes that they are having issues with. When you’re looking for a CP be sure to say what stage you’re at and you’ll most definitely find someone in the same boat.

What you get: Free critique. Customizeable (i.e. you can search for someone who meets your criteria). CPs often stay with you throughout your whole writing career. We’re making friendships here people! These people will be able to lift you up when you’re sad, celebrate with you when you succeed, and push you to be a better writer.
They are also great for encouraging you through writer’s-block or points where you’re unsure where the story is going.
CPs can exist online or in person (in critique groups), meaning you can decide if you want to have a new in-person friend to chat with about your books, other books, how every YA conversation inevitably leads back to Harry Potter (proven fact).

Some Advice: You have to give as much as you get (or risk burning bridges). If you are super duper busy in your day job or with the fam, you might not be able to commit that much time to reading someone else’s MS. That’s fine if you have already established relationships with CPs, but if you go out and get a few shiny new CPs and then drop the ball from the get-go then you’re not really keeping up your side of the bargain.
Of course, there should always be a “trial period” where you and your potential new CP can get a feel for the other person’s work. This is a time where you could realize that you don’t have the time, and if you’re upfront then you can always ask to keep that person’s contact info for when you’re more available.
Ultimately a CP is crucial if you want to send out official queries/submissions.

Writer’s Digest has a good article about the Top 10 Worst CPs

Links:

YA Writers Reddit – This reddit is for those of us who are authors of YA novels. Discussing your original works in progress is our purpose. Feel free to discuss titles, characters, plots, themes, settings, critiques, etc. Also, any information pertinent to the genre and authors should be discussed here. Hopefully we can all learn from each other and write great books!

MeetUp

SCBWI

Blogs (Such as Maggie Stiefvater)

Publishing Crawl

Absolute Write

Cupid’s Literary Connection

Figment.com

 

Beta Readers:
 
Beta Readers are people who read an MS with the intent of looking through the material and giving an opinion on whether they like the story (think of it as a small focus group to see if your story will do well once it’s published). They also find grammar and spelling mistakes. They can look at characterization, setting, etc. They can address issues of plot holes, continuity, characterization, believability, whether the MC is a sympathetic character, whether secondary characters are too two-dimensional, and sometimes even assist in fact checking.
While it’s tempting to just use family and friends as Beta Readers, if you’re an unpublished author then try to find people who don’t owe you their loyalty, their opinion will be less biased.

When to get a Beta Reader: When you’re completely done! And ideally when you’ve had at least one CP read it for the small things (i.e. grammar, tense, POV, spelling). Beta Readers are more often a big-picture kind of critiquer than a small details person (that’s because they’re more your audience than your peers).

What you get: Free critique. Customizeable (i.e. you can search for someone who meets your criteria)

It’s like a focus group (except one person). It’s going straight to the source (maybe a slightly more opinionated source) about whether your book will appeal to the audience you’re trying to reach. There are Beta Readers of all kinds, so you can really get some diverse opinions on your MS as a whole.

Some Advice: Beta Readers run the gamut and are obviously very subjective. Like CPs one Beta Reader might not have the same opinion as another so it could be confusing once you’ve had a few people read your work.

Links:

CPSeek

Absolute Write

Fanfiction

Goodreads

 

Editors for hire:
 
Editors for hire are people who work in the field (agents, editors, published authors) who will offer a professional critique for a fee. They are a great resource for POLISHED MS’s. When you are happy with your story and you don’t really have anything you can think of to make it better, then you can consider hiring an editor to give it that final shine before querying.

When to hire an editor: After multiple eyes have seen your MS and given their honest critique. If you’ve only done one round of revisions then go back and do another, and then another, and then another just to be safe. THEN think to yourself, “am I confident with this work?” If the answer is “yes” then go ahead and query. If the answer is “mostly, but I still feel like something is missing and I can’t figure out what.” Then you can look into hiring a professional editor. (There is always the option of sending to more Betas or CPs as well).

What you get: Professional editing by someone who has experience and works in the industry! They know what agents and publishers are looking for. They can give you some great professional advice, and they are able to understand why something works or doesn’t based on industry experience. Also, many writers/agents/editors are also some of the biggest fans of books, that’s why they work in the field (this is especially true of YA professionals!)

Some Advice: Always remember, professional editors costs moo-lah. Beware of submitting unpolished MS’s for these services. You will often get an MS back with a lot of red pen that concentrates on the small stuff (i.e. grammar). I know it’s hard to wait, but it will be worth it. Run your MS through a few CPs and Betas before you turn to the professionals.

Pricing – I’ve heard a lot of prices quoted. There are those that do per word, per page, or just give a blanket price (but clarify that there is a cap for word count).

Links:

Miss Snark’s First Victim

Evil Editor

Absolute Write

Chuck Sambuchino Editor

Bookalicious

Why I love Query Tracker

If you’re querying or about to query, then you probably know there are a lot of tools out there to help you in the process. For myself, I started out with an excel spreadsheet way too long for its own good.

I also had advice from critique partners and other writers.

But, in my need to be organized, I turned to Query Tracker 

(suggested to me by my lovely critique partner).

It. Is. Fabulous.

Here’s a blurb about QT by QT:

Why join QueryTracker?List of top literary agents and publishers.
Tools to keep your queries organized.
Benefit from the collective knowledge of thousands of other writers, all of which are enduring the query process just like you.
Export and backup your data at any time
The data compiled on agents and queries will give you special insight, such as:

  • The number of queries sent to each agent.
  • The number of queries each agent accepts.
  • The number of queries each agent rejects.
  • Response times of agents.
  • Plus much more…

Everyone who queries should use it! And here are a few reasons why:

  • Basic sign up is free
  • You can make agent lists for different projects
  • You can keep track of who you queried, what their response is, and if they requested.
  • You can look through your list based on convenient things like “outstanding queries” or “outstanding submissions” or, my personal favorite, “hide rejections.”
  • Also, it gives information about the agents: What they’re looking for, genres they represent, their clients, how to query them, how fast they’ve been replying
  • It makes epic pie-charts for you based on your responses and submissions (I love charts)

  • Within each agent profile, there’s a nice comments section where some people will put when they queried, when they got a response, the type of book they were querying, etc.

  • There’s a great community. In the aforementioned comment section, some people will ask about response times or if agents have auto-reply emails set up to acknowledge receipt. Sometimes it’s stressful when you don’t know if an agent got your query. So this community is a great place to turn to.
  • ALSO, best feature (in my mind) is the forums and the success stories. There are queries that worked! And they’re for individual agents. So you know what Steve liked because he requested it and then offered representation.