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Writing and Publishing

Rejection: How to Deal

I feel really old when I think about my history with rejection. When I first got serious about sending queries and submitting work to agents and publications, almost no one in the business used email as a default, and rejections took the form of slips of paper or little cards or photocopied form letters. Sometimes they showed up with bonus grease stains or a brown ring from a jostled coffee mug. One of my writing professors told me that he used to pin his rejection letters to his office wall. Seeing them all the time kept him going, purely out of spite. After I heard that, I held onto most of my rejections as well:

OldRejectionLetters

That’s only a sampling. There were a lot. Those slips and scraps represent my efforts to publish several books and a number of short stories. There are probably some poetry rejections in there, too. And those are just the hard-copy rejections; I’ve got tons of email rejections saved, too. I should probably just burn/delete the whole mess, right? Why hold onto hundreds of disappointments?

But I’m proud of that pile. Those notes are proof that I tried, that I’ve been working at this since I was in college. I swept all those NOs up in a folder, tucked them away and kept fighting, even when I was almost too intimidated and disappointed to manage, even when my anxiety disorder tried its best to swamp me into stopping.

Rejection is part of the industry, but understanding that on a rational level doesn’t really do much to lessen the sting. It hurts whether it’s your first rejection or your five hundredth. If you’re thinking about submitting your work somewhere–or if you’re already deep in the query trenches–here are a few thoughts that might help you deal with the lows, at least a little:

Accept that rejection sucks. IT TOTALLY DOES. Maybe you’ve spent months or years drafting a story. You poured your heart into it. Sharing a manuscript like that in a professional context leaves you incredibly vulnerable, and sometimes all your effort gets shoved aside with a form letter. (Or with no response at all, which I think is worse. Silence is the chilliest form of rejection.) That’s frustrating as hell! Let yourself be mad or upset for a little bit–just don’t wallow. Don’t let it weigh you down. Letting it out is healthier than holding it in and/or trying to convince yourself you’re not feeling it.

Vent in private. Whatever you do, DO NOT reply to rejections. Even if you’re frustrated. Even if the rejection felt rude. Don’t do it. Instead, find a friend or two who are willing to listen. In person, online, over the phone–whatever works. You might want to talk to someone who’s at a similar stage of the process (in that case, remember to return the favor when it’s their turn to vent). Most of the friends who listened to me complain weren’t querying themselves and didn’t always understand the process, but that worked fine for me. I just needed someone to listen while I went “BLAH!” for a minute or two. So go “BLAH!” and then breathe and let it go.

Reframe rejections as practice. The critical feedback in this business never ends. If you don’t get used to it, you’ll be miserable. Working through your early rejections will make the edit letters and the unfairly cruddy reviews that much easier to process later on. The rejections typically continue, too, even for a lot of successful writers. They’re not going away, but you can learn to get used to them.

Remember that if someone doesn’t feel strongly enough about your work to represent or publish it, they’re not the ones you want representing or publishing your work. It’s not personal. It’s just not a good professional fit for either of you. You want to work with people who are going to champion your projects, fight for your best interests, and help shape your career.

Work on something else. THIS. This is the biggie. Always have another project going. It’s a welcome distraction and a reminder that the story you’re shopping around right now isn’t the end of the road. If this one doesn’t find a home right away, maybe the next one will–but that can only happen if you actually write the next one.

I’ve long since shelved most of the projects that collected all those rejections in the photo, but I didn’t let that pile of NOs stop me. If I had, I wouldn’t have written or sold Spookygirl or Mammoth, and I wouldn’t have several more WIPs on the way. I kept going. So can you. Kate McKinnon would totally back me up on that:

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(NBC Universal)

(And hey, if you’re curious about how to avoid the mistakes I made in those early querying days, check out my post on how not to query.)

Reading

Recent Reads

I recently blogged about ways to deal while playing the publishing industry’s waiting game, and one of my suggestions was, of course, reading. I mean, let’s reframe the situation. Are you waiting for news, holding your breath, caught up in some level of publication limbo? Nah, you’re enjoying the rare opportunity to tackle some of that TBR pile before it grows to unstable heights, tumbles down and crushes you under the weight of a thousand unread treasures.

AprilReads

I’ve spent a lot of 2019 revising my second current WIP, but I’ve also been waiting on certain things. I’m still waiting on some of them. In the meantime, here’s some of what I’ve been reading:

Sadie by Courtney Summers: The story of a teen girl out for revenge spliced with clips of the podcast investigating her disappearance. This was one of the best YA novels I’ve read in a long time. It was gripping. Shattering. And I loved the format–the narrative jumps between Sadie and the podcast kept the plot thrumming and the mystery intense. This story left me frustrated in the best of ways.

Sea Witch by Sarah Henning: An imaginative retelling of The Little Mermaid. I picked this one up based on a recommendation from Destiny Murtaugh, and I’m so glad I did. I was a pretty intense fan of Disney’s take on TLM for a long time, and I really enjoyed the nods Henning made both to Hans Christian Andersen’s original (including all the Scandinavian details), and to the Disney version. Plus, there’s a sequel coming out in August 2019, and now I . . . kind of need it?

On Writing by Stephen King: Half memoir, half writing class. The last time I read this book was in 2000, when it first came out, and I decided to give it a reread before rewriting WIP #2 (a feminist YA horror story). Some of King’s examples of top-notch writing haven’t exactly aged well (lots of old white male authors, huh), but a lot of his advice is still really solid, especially for those of us who don’t plot and outline and plan every detail before we start writing. I’ve been reading King since I was eleven, and his work had a huge impact on the evolution of my narrative voice, so I’ve got a soft spot for Uncle Stevie. (And no, he’s not telling you you can’t use adverbs! He just wants you to be aware of them and avoid using them if they’re not necessary. And a lot of them aren’t. There’s often a better, stronger, more direct way to say what you’re trying to say.)

(Don’t) Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start the Conversation About Mental Health edited by Kelly Jensen: An anthology of essays and other pieces about mental health, mental illness, and the discussions we need to be having, both with others and with ourselves. I’m not quiet about the fact that I have an anxiety disorder. I think it’s integral to be open about these things when we can, to counter and subvert the stigmas related to mental health, so I truly appreciate projects like this. The amount of raw truth Jensen collected and curated here is staggering. Gemma Correll’s comics are delightfully relatable, and I was especially drawn in by “Black Hole” by Victoria “V.E.” Schwab about the onset and evolution of her anxiety and the safe harbor she’s found in writing.

The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw: The curse of three long-dead sisters causes annual terror and heartache in a small Oregon town. I’ve been on a creepy-YA kick, and this one definitely fulfilled my expectations in that regard. It was also far more wistful than I expected, in a really lovely way, and it had such a satisfying, bittersweet conclusion. Ernshaw’s descriptive style is both vivid and atmospheric, pulling the town of Sparrow and Penny’s nearby island into existence with skill and care.

AprilReads2Scripted Unscripted by Kristina Miranda (out May 14 2019): Hey, I blurbed this one! 😀 Here’s what I said:

“SCRIPTED UNSCRIPTED is a charming YA contemporary about family ties, compromise, and finding what it takes to be authentic while surrounded by carefully-crafted fantasy. Animal lovers will embrace Ellie’s clever canine references and the story’s stance on pet rescue, and the Hollywood settings will delight teens with dreams of making it big.” -Jill Baguchinsky, author of MAMMOTH

How about you? Read anything good lately? Feel free to toss recent or upcoming creepy YA recs my way–I’ve still got several in the TBR pile but I’m always looking for more!

Life, Writing and Publishing

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Tom Petty may not have had experience in book publishing, but still . . . HE KNEW.

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(Geffen Records)

Publishing moves at its own pace. If you’re on deadline, you might feel like there’s not enough time and OMG where did the day go and HEY LET’S PANIC, but there’s also a lot of waiting around in this business. Maybe an agent requested your manuscript (yay!). Or maybe you’re on sub and editors are reviewing your submission package (double yay!). Whether you’re waiting for betas to check out your newest manuscript or your editor to sign off on your latest revisions, here are a few ideas to distract you from constantly refreshing your email or obsessively checking your phone.

  • New project! This is the gold standard for dealing with the delays in publishing. Grab one of those plot bunnies hopping around in your head and get to work. Whether you’re a careful outliner or a true pantster, you’ll worry less about work-in-progress #1 if you’re wrapped up in work-in-progress #2. Plus, you’ll eventually finish and submit #2, and then you’ll have a whole new round of waiting and hoping to deal with–which just means it’s time to start #3!
  • Cheer on other writers! Look, you’re already glued to Twitter or Instagram, right? If you’re not already doing so, boost some new releases. Take a sec to congratulate fellow writers on signing with an agent or finishing a manuscript or announcing a deal. That support can mean a lot, especially when so many of us feel like social media is mostly a lot of screaming into the void. You might even make some new writer friends!
  • Read! Um, too obvious? Tackle that TBR pile. And when you finish a good book, recommend it on social media or leave a nice review on Goodreads and/or Amazon. I was going to include a list of my own recent reads in this post, but at this point it’s long enough to need a post of its own.
  • Hobbies! Have you been wanting to learn to knit? Practice the ukulele? Plant an herb garden? Now’s the time! I rarely have a moment to dig out my embroidery or sewing projects when I’m neck-deep in drafting, so when I’m between projects, I love working on . . . other projects! That aren’t writing!
  • DIY/repairs! Okay, minor home renovation projects aren’t always fun, but most of us probably have a few of them floating around in the backs of our minds. I recently redid some of the caulk in my bathroom because that’s the kind of exciting life I lead. But hey, it’s done!
  • Try to sell your house! Okay, probably not. But I’m currently living in a house that’s on the market, and it’s providing plenty of distractions. Most of them aren’t good distractions (“Oh, you had plans for today? Nope, there’s a showing this afternoon, so you’re spending the morning cleaning only for the real estate agent to cancel at the last minute, what fun!”), but they’re distracting either way*.
  • Dark magic! Oh, you know, just put a hex on whoever sent your most recent rejection, or sign away your soul in return for the promise of a nice publication deal. I’m kidding, I’m kidding! (Or am I? The waiting game can get you to consider all kinds of possibilities…)
  • Scream! Try it. It might help. And breathe, and remember that the waiting won’t last forever.
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(Fox)
*Once this place sells, I’m totally writing a guide to coping with an anxiety disorder while living in a property that’s up for sale, because that is just a whole other mess.
Reading

December Reading Round-Up

After tackling ALL THE WRITING in November (50k words for NaNoWriMo, another 25k words of extensive revision–and that was all on top of launching Mammoth), I promised myself plenty of reading time in December. My TBR pile was reaching approximately halfway to the sun, so it was time to catch up a little. Did I read as much as I hoped to? Of course not, because life happened and eyestrain is a hideous delight. But here’s some of what I did read.

December2018Reading

Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) by L.C. Rosen: Jack is a gay teenager in NYC who writes an anonymous sex advice column online. When a secret admirer starts sending notes that get increasingly creepy and threatening, Jack has to figure out the truth before he’s forced to sacrifice who he really is. This book is incredibly bold, frank, and sex-positive. It tackles a lot of subject matter that YA fiction doesn’t typically reach, and Jack’s focus on consent and safety was powerful. Can we have a companion book that’s a compilation of Jack’s columns?

Now a Major Motion Picture by Cori McCarthy: I wonder if Kate McKinnon has any idea that she’s thanked in the acknowledgements of more than one YA novel published in 2018 (I also included her in Mammoth’s). This was an insta-buy as soon as Cori mentioned that it references Holtzmann from the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot. (One character has a Holtz tattoo. I also have a Holtz tattoo. I felt seen.) Seventeen-year-old Iris spends a few weeks with her little brother on the set of the troubled movie adaptation of their famous-author grandmother’s series of fantasy novels. I loved all the film-set details like the daily sides, and the story’s characters were diverse and authentic. There was some great commentary on feminism, too, especially from director Cate Collins.

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand: I was in the mood for something darker, and this story of three girls coming together to battle a mysterious evil delivered. So much of the language is darkly lush and gorgeous, like this quote about Marion from the first chapter: “I’ll tell you what I’ve lost, she wanted to say, and then open up her chest so they could see the hollow pit where her heart used to live. It was stuck in a state of collapse, this pit–a tiny, organ-shaped singularity, sucking down the bleeding ravaged bits of who she used to be.” I savored those descriptions, and I enjoyed the connections that formed between the main characters. Also, there were moths. So many moths. As a crazy moth lady (I occasionally raise lunas and other moths), I knew I needed to read this book as soon as I saw all the moths on the cover art, and I was not disappointed.

Here’s to more reading (and less eyestrain) in 2019!

Writing and Publishing

How (Not) to Query

Every step on the hopeful journey to publication is fraught with potential horror, but there’s something especially cringe-worthy about the querying process. It’s a different brand of ugh. I started querying literary agents in the early 2000s, and I unsuccessfully shopped a number of manuscripts.

When I was getting started, there weren’t as many query-related resources as there are today. That was before most agents started blogging. I’m not sure if AbsoluteWrite existed yet, but if it did, I certainly wasn’t aware of it or other sites like it. There was no YA Twitter where you could connect with other writers and find critique partners. I went to Barnes & Noble and found a book about querying–it was full of amazing advice like “Find unusual ways to make your letter stand out! Include little gifts with your queries! Fill the envelope with glitter!”

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via giphy.com

DON’T DO ANY OF THAT. Those aren’t exact quotes, but they’re close. I can’t imagine that I still have that book, but if I come across it, I’ll share its dreadful wisdom.

Is it any surprise that I made a lot of bad choices when it came to querying? I’m occasionally decent at it now (you can find the final version of Mammoth’s query over on Eric Smith’s blog), but that wasn’t always the case. Since I love pointing out my own inadequacies (my therapist probably just developed a sudden headache and has no idea why), I’m going to share a few of the mistakes I made in my first query letter around 2003. Don’t do these things.

The first project I queried on my own was an urban fantasy called The Shades of Shadow. Y’all. I wrote the query letter from the POV of one of the main characters. Seriously, I went all out. I designed his fancy letterhead and I bought special paper and everything. It was adorable and terrible. DO NOT DO THIS. The letter was also two full pages long–while it’s not an absolute rule, especially now that most queries are emailed, I recommend keeping them under a page. In an effective query, every word counts. You don’t want to ramble.

Let’s check out the opening paragraphs (since I’m too embarrassed to share the whole thing):

What would you do, [agent name], if a character from your favorite novel showed up one evening at your front door? My name is Aidan Brennan, and I am the sort of character who does just that. That’s also exactly what happens to Miriam McKay in THE SHADES OF SHADOW, the manuscript for which I’m seeking representation. SHADES clocks in at 308 pages and is the beginning of a series; the next two volumes are in progress.

I also happen to be a vampire, and I’m well aware that you’re rolling your eyes at my admission. It’s a mistake to pigeonhole my series as nothing more than “vampire fiction,” or even worse, horror or sci-fi. My vision for the series is far more mainstream than that – my writer and I are aiming for a new commercial realm of character-driven supernatural realism, an invasive and suspenseful remolding of the concepts of fiction and fact. After all, there’s more gray area between the two than most people are willing to admit.

Oh no. Oh Jill, you sweet summer child. At least I remembered to replace [agent name] with each agent’s actual name in the copies I mailed. Let’s break this down. In addition to writing from my character’s point of view . . .

  • I used awkward clichés like “clocks in at.”
  • I refused to name a genre and tried to make one up.
  • I dismissed and insulted several other genres.
  • I talked down to the agent (I blame Aidan for this, heh).
  • I did this for TWO PAGES.
  • I opened my letter with a “what would you do” question.

That last detail isn’t as cringe-worthy as the rest, but it’s been done to death and it’s rarely an effective hook. If you can’t grab an agent’s attention with your query, you’re indicating that you might have an equally hard time grabbing readers’ attention with your book.

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via tenor.com

The genre details were awkward because I demonstrated that I had no idea where my project fit into the market. Offering a few decent comps would have been way more effective than trying so hard to set myself apart.

Interestingly, the response to this letter wasn’t as negative as you might expect. My dream agent was actually really amused; she addressed her (very kind and personalized) rejection to both Aidan and me, and I got several full manuscript requests from other agents. Nothing came of those requests (because the story itself was a mess), but still.

Because of that, my last querying tip is this: Don’t stress too much about the possibility of making a querying mistake. Y’all, if I could get full requests with that query, anything is possible. Do your research, read some examples of good queries, ask a few critique partners or trusted friends to take a look at your letter, and trust in the story you’re trying to sell.

WritingGood
via giphy.com
Writing and Publishing

Pre-Order Campaigns: What I Learned, Whether They’re Worthwhile, What I’d Do Differently

When I was planning Mammoth’s pre-order campaign, I read several blog posts from other writers (like Eric Smith and Rachel Lynn Solomon) discussing campaigns they’ve run. Those posts were incredibly helpful, and since I learned a lot while organizing my campaign, I decided to do a write-up of my own. Maybe it’ll help someone else.

This won’t be short. Grab a snack. Dig in. (HAHAA YES I AM STILL MAKING PALEONTOLOGY REFERENCES I WILL NEVER STOP)

First of all, is it pre-order or preorder? I prefer pre-order.

A pre-order campaign is a way to reward people who order your book before its release date. Pre-orders are important. I’m no publishing expert, but from what I understand, a boost in early sales numbers looks good to your publisher and can influence other sales. If early demand for your book is high, more bookstores and sellers are likely to stock it. You want people to pre-order your book, and with so many amazing books coming out these days, it’s not getting any easier to get buyers to commit to yours, especially when it won’t launch for a month or more. I appreciated every pre-order Mammoth got, and I wanted to show that appreciation.

Pre-order campaigns are as complicated as you make them, but they’re always more complicated than you’d expect. Decide how much time you can realistically put into your campaign, and have a budget in mind. Whatever you think it’ll cost, increase that by at least 50%. It will cost more than you expect, and it’s better to have a surplus than to run out of money.

If the campaign is your idea, go for it. If it’s something your publisher is pushing for, ask them to cover at least some of the costs. Heck, ask either way, just in case. You never know.

Your budget isn’t just for the swag itself. It’s also for any related packaging costs, as well as postage. SO MUCH POSTAGE. Keep postage in mind when figuring out what kind of swag you want to include–flat items like stickers and bookmarks are so much easier and cheaper than bulkier items to ship. Research the rates, especially if you want your campaign to be international.

And if you don’t have a lot of experience with packing and shipping, keep things EVEN MORE simple. I ran an Etsy store for nine years and shipped something like five thousand little stuffed monsters all over the world, and that experience came in really handy. So did a lot of leftover supplies I’ve held onto. I would’ve floundered otherwise.

For Mammoth’s campaign, I set up a separate email account for people to submit their pre-order proof (usually a screen grab of their order confirmation). Keeping the requests in an account of their own, rather than having them get lost in the vast caverns of my main Gmail accounts, was really helpful. Some campaigns have web forms instead of email, so that’s another option.

PreorderInternational

I designed my own bookmarks, stickers, bookplates and postcards, basing most of them around the fossil-heart design from the cover. The additional sketches are my own. I’m not a professional graphic designer, but I have a lot of experience designing promo items, and I think I did okay. If you’re not comfortable doing that yourself, and it’s not something your publisher is doing for you, don’t forget to figure the cost of hiring a designer into your budget.

(Yes, one of my stickers features my cat, Gatsby. It’s a long story. He’s an honorary smilodon.)

I got most of those items printed through GotPrint.com. The quality was great and the turnaround time was very reasonable.

I also created paleontology-themed keychains, which I assembled by hand. I used to help my dad with his hobby of importing jewelry and related components, so I knew how to source the charms, and I put together a hundred keychains while watching a movie. The cost was well under a dollar per keychain, not including my time.

PreorderDomestic2

I also wanted to do a run of enamel pins, but that was out of my budget, so I used my button press (a professional model by Tecre–it’s an absolute beast and I love it so much) to make sets of one-inch pins. I had the press and a ton of supplies left over from my Etsy days, so the cost per button was extremely low. They took a considerable amount of time to assemble, but I kind of love doing mindless work while watching Netflix.

Since not all of my items were flat, I didn’t want to risk shipping them in normal envelopes. My go-to choice in my Etsy days was padded envelopes, but those don’t offer protection for flat items like bookmarks. For the campaign, I bought rigid mailers in bulk. (I’m not linking my source because their politics are absolute garbage and I’m searching for an alternative.) The mailers protected the flat items while having just enough room for keychains and buttons.

I packed the mailers assembly-line style. First I packaged the buttons and keychains in their little baggies. Then I wrote my thank-yous on the postcards. Then I counted out how many of each item I needed, and I sorted the items into individual piles. Each pile went into an envelope. Then I went down my pre-order list and plugged each address into Endicia, and printed the postage.

MammothSwagPostOffice
One of several batches of swag ready to mail

I used USPS to mail everything. Because the mailers were rigid and not uniformly flat, I paid package shipping rates. (I miiiiight have been able to get away with paying for a cheaper option, but I didn’t want anyone receiving a postage-due envelope because some postal employee somewhere got overzealous.) Again, my Etsy background came in handy–I still have the Endicia account and the Dymo label printer I used back then, and the resulting discount saved me about a dollar per envelope (and I printed my postage from home, so I didn’t need to stand in line at the post office).

I also set limits. International shipping costs have gotten increasingly bogus*, so I only offered flat swag that could go in a normal envelope to anyone who pre-ordered from outside the US. I felt kind of rotten about this, but I tried to keep it as fair as possible without maxing out my credit card in the process. I also limited the keychains and buttons to the first 75 US pre-orders. In the end, I didn’t hit that limit, but I’m glad I had it in place. There are so many unknowns to consider in terms of potential results. I know of campaigns that have gotten less than 50 requests, and campaigns that have gotten more than 500. That’s a big difference in terms of cost and time.

Also, consider the environmental aspect of all this. Envelopes, any additional packaging materials, the swag itself . . . It adds up. Consider using recycled and recyclable supplies. You can avoid this aspect by offering digital bonus items (I gave people who pre-ordered Mammoth early access to a companion short story and a “fashion field guide” from Natalie’s blog).

There’s also the aspect of fairness. Not everyone can afford to pre-order books, so if you can have an option for those who request the book at their local library (which is also really helpful!), it’s a cool thing to do. Digital bonus items are great for this, as is flat swag if you can afford the postage.

So was it worth it? I mean . . . probably not? Getting the word out without constantly spamming my social media was so hard. But I heard from several people who weren’t aware of Mammoth before they found the campaign, and who then pre-ordered because of the campaign, so there’s that. Plus, I had so much fun putting it together. Like I said earlier, I can happily spend an afternoon bingeing Netflix while doing mindless work. It made me miss my Etsy days. Plus, now I hand out the leftover swag at local events, so it still helps me promote Mammoth.

(I even considered starting a side hustle doing pre-order campaign packages for other writers, but I’m not sure I could get the cost down enough to make it worth it while still covering my time. But maybe. It could be an interesting project for 2019. Have I mentioned how much I enjoy all this?)

The one element I think wasn’t worth it was the sweepstakes. I offered two prize packs within the US and one for international pre-orders (again, because of shipping). I don’t think they got much attention or encouraged anyone to order, and they were costly to ship. Plus, there are so many rules and legalities to consider. On the other hand, the winners have been SO HAPPY, and I’m a people pleaser, so that element worked well for me.

Would I do another campaign? Probably. I’d skip the sweepstakes aspect, and unless I came up with an irresistible idea, I’d consider sticking with flat swag to make mailing cheaper and easier. For example, I’d love to hire an artist to create character portraits for trading cards or small art prints. I also really like the idea of digital bonus content, especially from an environmental aspect, but I don’t know if that’s tempting enough to generate any pre-orders.

One last thing: Sadly, there are ways to fake order confirmations, and some people will go through a lot of fuss to get something for free, even if they have no interest in actually ordering your book. If you run a campaign, keep an eye out for anything that looks fishy.

I think that’s about it! Sorry for the length, but I really did learn so much, and there’s a lot to consider if you’re thinking of running a campaign yourself. Feel free to ask questions in the comments!

 

*No, seriously. When I started selling on Etsy in 2006, it cost about $3.00 to ship a three-ounce padded envelope to, say, the UK. Now it’s about $13.00. I CRY. It cost me more to ship a button set, keychain and bandana to the UK than to ship a four-pound box via USPS Priority Mail halfway across the country. I knew that was the case, but if a writer organized an international campaign without being aware . . . What a punch to the gut. As of 2018, an envelope of flat swag weighing less than one ounce only costs $1.15 to ship internationally–that’s a lot more reasonable and easy to budget for.
Writing and Publishing

Mammoth: Cover Concepts

Can we talk covers for a moment? I’m still not over the darling cover art Turner Publishing came up with for Mammoth:

MammothCover3D002

I have ALL THE APPRECIATION AND GRATITUDE for creative director Madeline Cothren and artist Jo Walker because this design still makes me fall in love every time I see it. Mammoth is about hard, unyielding things — fossils, the reception women receive in male-dominated fields, the kind of raw ambition that can result in reckless decisions — but it’s also a soft, sweet, optimistic story about discovery and vulnerability and love. Somehow, this cover captures both sides of the narrative.

I mean, come on — a heart made out of half-buried mammoth bones? It couldn’t be more perfect. I SWOON.

However, Mammoth almost looked completely different.

Several years ago, when I was unagented, I considered self-publishing Mammoth. I held off because I couldn’t come up with a cover concept I liked, so I never got as far as commissioning an artist/designer to create anything for me. I knew I didn’t want a photograph of a model meant to look like Natalie (the book’s main character, plus-size fashion blogger, and resident paleontology geek). I liked the idea of representing Natalie without actually depicting her, so in early 2016 I played around with this mock-up in Photoshop:

MammothCoverMockup2016-2

Totally different! A pair of dig site tools and some random bits of dirt scatter over a skull image from one of Natalie’s sketchbooks. (She usually sketches fashion ideas, but I can totally imagine her drawing a fossil here and there.) The title’s scribbled with Natalie’s signature lipstick. There are retro-inspired polka-dots and a black/white/red color scheme Aunt Judy would adore. There’s a bit of a skull-and-crossbones theme representing how Natalie occasionally goes rogue when a paleo discovery’s at stake. But overall . . . It’s harsh. This design is like Natalie early in the book, when she’s strong and flawless on the outside, but there’s no hint of the evolution she undergoes during her time at the dig site. The story’s softness is missing. I never moved forward with this concept, obviously, and I’m glad I didn’t. (Especially since I made such a mess of the brush bristles in Photoshop! I’m definitely an amateur when it comes to design.)

It wasn’t a total loss, though. I’ve gotten to recycle a few of its elements in swag designs. My skull sketch is on bookmarks, info cards, buttons…

MammothBlogSkullSwag

Mammoth had to wait a few more years for a perfect cover, but it has one now. ❤

(If you like its final cover design, why not add Mammoth on Goodreads?)