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:

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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:

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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…

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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?)

Writing and Publishing

You Are Allowed To Disappoint People.

Should authors read reviews of their books? OH BOY. Let’s talk about this for a sec.

One of my best friends is currently reading Mammoth. “You know,” she said the other day, her tone hesitant, “this one’s a lot better than Spookygirl.”

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I kid. She’s right.

I like to think I’ve learned a lot in the years since Spookygirl. I love that book, I do, but its road to publication was unusual (winning the ABNA) and it might have benefited from the extra steps attached to more traditional publication methods. A savvy agent would have called me out on certain details before the book even got near an editor, and I might have been a bit surer about whether I should leave some plotlines open (since I originally envisioned the story as a trilogy or series) or tie up everything neatly.

I was anxious and curious and new to publishing, and I read every Spookygirl review I could find. So many were wonderful! What surprised me, however, was how constructive a lot of the more negative reviews were. I learned so much about relying too much on stereotypes. About the risk of populating too much of a story with throwaway supporting characters. About when to dig deeper. I really did listen, and I’m grateful to readers who took a moment to explain why they didn’t like the book instead of just hitting that one-star rating.

(IMPORTANT: I’m not saying you should tag authors in your negative reviews! I’m not saying you should send authors your criticism. No, nononono. That’s kind of cruel, and some readers seem to delight in it. Don’t do that. But know that some of us do appreciate your honesty, even when it’s critical.)

I thought a lot about whether I should do the same with Mammoth reviews. After all, I used the lessons I learned from Spookygirl reviews when I wrote and revised Mammoth. Shouldn’t I want to keep learning?

Erm, hold up. That’s where my therapist would stop me and call me out on using “should” language. Shoulds are tricky. They seem so sensible, but they’re a great way to load yourself down with pressure and expectation and anxiety.

Mammoth is a deeply personal story. I put a lot of myself into Natalie and her struggle to love and accept herself. The book deals with sensitive topics like weight and self-image, and there’s no one right way to tackle those things. There’s no universal experience when it comes to being fat. Some readers will identify with Natalie’s path. Others won’t. I fully expect criticism from those whose experiences have differed from Nat’s, who wanted something else from the story, and that criticism is valid. But at some point I’ll have to draw a line and protect my own anxious, scattered brain a bit, along with my heart, which is so thoroughly invested in making sure Mammoth’s fashion-blogger-science-geek realizes just how awesome she is.

They say that you can’t please everyone. To a people pleaser like me, that just sounds like a challenge.

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Nah. I’m tossing that saying aside and going with “You’re allowed to disappoint people” instead. Every book out there (and every movie and every show and every song and and and) disappoints someone. If you’re preoccupied with that, you won’t be able to create your best, strongest, bravest work. You’ll risk diluting your brilliance into something bland. You don’t want to do that. I don’t want to do that, either.

The disappointment will be out there, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you have to go digging for it.

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Learning to dig at Waco Mammoth National Monument (then Waco Mammoth Site), 2013.
Writing and Publishing

Mammoth Update

It’s been a minute since I blogged about Mammoth-related goodness, so let’s do a quick round-up of what’s been going on.

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First of all, Mammoth will be at Book Expo America this week!! *ALL THE HEART-EYES EMOJIS* My friends at Turner Publishing Company will have over 150 Mammoth ARCs available, as well as these super-cute totes to carry your books and swag. (I think they’re at booth 2829!) I love how the bag’s color scheme perfectly matches the book’s Central Texas Mammoth Site setting.

I use my tote all the time, and I have a few extras that I’ll be giving away when Mammoth’s November 6 release date is a little closer, so if you aren’t able to grab one in NYC this week, keep an eye out!

And hey, if you can’t get your hands on a physical ARC, eARCs of Mammoth can now be requested through Edelweiss!

I recently pieced together this paleontology-themed keychain design. I need to source some sturdier jump rings, but once I do that, I plan on sending out some of these babies as Mammoth-related swag.

I got some adorable bookplates this month as well. I’ll be autographing these and mailing them out to anyone who pre-orders Mammoth. More on my pre-order campaign this summer! I’m still planning additional swag, too. I’m thinking bookmarks and buttons for sure, and maybe stickers. I’d looooove to design an exclusive enamel pin — we’ll see! Let me know if you have a favorite kind of book swag!

And hey, speaking of pre-orders, Mammoth is popping up all over. It’s now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound. Ask about it at your local library and your favorite indie bookstore to put it on their radar!

BlogMammothBuzzBooksNovember is SO FAR AWAY. If you’d like an early preview of Mammoth, Publishers Marketplace included an excerpt in its Fall/Winter Young Adult edition of Buzz Books. The excerpt includes Natalie’s first day at the Central Texas Mammoth Site and ends with one of my favorite Mammoth moments.

Buzz Books is a free download and a great way to preview lots of awesome new titles coming your way later this year.

Augh, what am I forgetting?? I’m sure I’ll think of it as soon as I hit publish… ❤

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Anxiety, Life, Writing and Publishing

You Are Enough.

I’ve been participating in #IGWritersApril over on Instagram this month. The prompt for day 26 was “writing inspiration,” which could be interpreted in so many ways. The Waco Mammoth National Monument inspired the dig site in MAMMOTH. My love for the city of Austin inspired several MAMMOTH settings, and my bff Dava inspired some of my favorite plot points. I could have posted a photo of my childhood copy of JURASSIC PARK, or a still from the movie, or a favorite page from the dinosaur encyclopedia I read over and over as a kid.

Instead, I found some photos of myself as a young teenager. I shared the kid who never felt thin enough, likable enough, cool enough, pretty enough. She was never enough.

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In MAMMOTH, Natalie is a popular plus-size fashion blogger. She has an amazing vintage-inspired wardrobe. She rocks a red lip and perfectly winged eyeliner. She works for her aunt’s indie clothing line and knows how to design, sew, and alter for a perfect fit (and how to use shapewear to make that fit even more perfect). Natalie’s that fatsionista you envy on Instagram because she’s got it together (or at least she looks like she does).

Natalie adopted that persona because she was bullied in middle school. She reinvented herself so she’d no longer be “Fat Nat.”

Unfortunately, changing how others see you doesn’t fix how you see yourself. In MAMMOTH, Natalie has to figure out how to love and appreciate herself for who she is beneath her fashion armor. If she’s going to stand out during her dig site internship, she’s going to have to do so in an authentic way. She’s going to have to accept that she is enough, just as she is.

This means that Natalie isn’t as perfect as she appears. She has flaws, especially in how she thinks about herself. One of those flaws in particular, a habit Natalie has of being too aware of body size, is a detail I’ve discussed with readers, my agent, and my contacts at my publisher. Some people love it. Some people hate it. It’s polarizing, and whether to include or cut it has been a tough call! I went with what felt like the most authentic option, even though I’m still second-guessing myself about twenty times a day. The detail evolves as the story progresses. I hope readers will give my girl a chance so they can see that evolution happen.

Body image is so personal. SO PERSONAL. I’ve struggled with the concept since I was about seven years old, and because a lot of the self-doubt and anxiety in MAMMOTH mirror my own, putting this book out there is kind of terrifying. But if Natalie can be bold enough to stand out in paleontology, I can be bold enough to share her story.

I’m sharing it for that kid in the photos. She was enough, even though she never realized it. I’m sharing it for kids like her.

You are enough. Changing what’s on the outside won’t fix things until you accept and embrace that.

You. Are. Enough.

Writing and Publishing

Don’t Give Up

Last year I wrote about deciding to query this cool agent dude I followed on Twitter, and how that cool agent dude is now my agent. However, my first interaction with Eric Smith happened during the Reddit AMA he did in in Beth Revis’ YA Writers subreddit in January 2017. At the time, I was starting to buy into the whole “plus-size characters are a hard sell” line I was getting from other agents.

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Actual footage of the query process. (giphy.com)

I was flirting with the idea of self-publishing MAMMOTH. The only thing keeping me from doing so was that I hadn’t yet come up with a cover design I liked. (More on that in a future entry!)

Eric was on my radar because I knew several of his clients (Rebecca Enzor and I ran in the same toy collecting circles well over a decade ago, and I knew Rebecca Phillips from the ABNA), and I figured, hey, might as well get one more opinion.

I didn’t even have a Reddit account at the time, so I made one.

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Of course my Reddit username is a Ghostbusters reference. You expected otherwise? (thebrag.com)

Here’s my question and Eric’s response:

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The TL:DR version is that I asked if fat characters are really such a tough sell, and Eric said nope. “If you’re getting that kind of feedback from agents, they simply aren’t the right agent for you.”

“Don’t give up.”

DON’T GIVE UP.

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I wrote about mammoths, Joey. Keep up. (mrwgifs.com)

If you’re a writer in the querying trenches, go back and read that last bit again.

DON’T GIVE UP.

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Would Gillian Anderson give up? I DON’T THINK SO. (tenor.com)

Eric shared a ton of great info in that AMA (seriously, go read the whole thing if you haven’t already), but those three words are the most important part. You might be one email (or tweet or Reddit post) away from the right connection, and you don’t want to miss that. I’m glad I didn’t. Turner Publishing is releasing MAMMOTH this fall.

Don’t give up.

Writing and Publishing

MAMMOTH is being published!

Okay, so where were we? I took a little break to deal with Hurricane Irma cleanup (almost five months later, we’re still working on getting our roof replaced) and other life stuff. I’m still processing a lot of anxiety-related stuff (hurricanes and anxiety disorders are a fantastic combination), I’m catching up on a ton of reading, I finished a new rough draft during NaNoWriMo last November, and last week I helped one of my best friends move from Georgia to south Florida.

IMG_7240I’ve also been sitting on some super-exciting news, and now that the announcements have run in Publishers Weekly and Publishers Marketplace, I can finally share: my next novel, MAMMOTH, will be published in fall 2018 by Turner Publishing!

This book is so dear to my heart, and I’m so ridiculously anxious (in a GOOD way) to launch it out there into the world. MAMMOTH is a body-positive, science-geeky story about being true to yourself and letting your talents and ambitions shine.

IMG_7092Most of the book is set at an Ice Age dig site; to get the paleontology angle as accurate as possible, I trained at the Waco Mammoth National Monument and learned to dig and prospect for fossils. I also interviewed paleontologists, toured a bone lab, practiced screen picking, and spent a particularly spectacular morning hanging out with a pair of elephants at Cameron Park Zoo. (Thank you FOREVER to my bestie Dava Butler, who works at Waco Mammoth, for making all that possible!)

IMG_7276I wrote MAMMOTH in 2014. As I explained in an earlier post, my agent at the time didn’t connect strongly enough with it, and we parted ways in 2015. Finding new representation took some time, but Eric Smith of P.S. Literary was worth the wait. He began pitching MAMMOTH in May 2017, and after a few other close calls, we accepted an offer from Turner in December. You can read Eric’s post about MAMMOTH’S deal here.

I’m so jazzed to work with Turner, and so excited to share updates as MAMMOTH’S publication date approaches. Watch this space, my vintage velociraptors (as MAMMOTH’S Natalie would say) — there’s so much more to come. ❤

Writing and Publishing

Lightning Strikes Twice

Last month I posted about what can happen when your literary agent doesn’t like your next book. Here’s how that’s been working out for me.

So. By spring 2017 I’d been unagented for nearly two years.

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I queried new agents when I had the time and determination, but between being a caregiver for my dad*, who had renal failure, and digging up whatever freelance opportunities I could, I didn’t have a lot of emotional headspace left for agent hunting. Especially when the rejections I got were variations on a theme: “I love the voice/concept/whatever but there’s no room in the market for plus-size** characters.”

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(Pun not intended. And, I mean… What? ELEANOR & PARK was on fire when I was drafting MAMMOTH in 2013-2014, DUMPLIN’ took off in 2015, THE UPSIDE OF UNREQUITED was on the way… The audience is there! Plus, MAMMOTH is a story about personal authenticity and paleontology geekery. Its protagonist happens to be plus-size. She’s also smart. Clever. Ambitious. Conflicted. Brave. Flawed. Obviously I’m biased, but I think her value as a character goes beyond the size tag on her jeans.)

In April, an agent I followed on Twitter, Eric Smith of P.S. Literary, tweeted that he’d be closing to submissions in a few months. Eric seemed super cool, and he represents several writers I know (Rebecca Enzor, a friend from my toy-collecting days, and Rebecca Phillips, who I knew from the ABNA), and I figured, why not? I was spending a lot of time in hospital waiting rooms, so that’s where I drafted a new version of my query letter. Within a couple of days, Eric requested the manuscript. Yay!

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A few days after that I saw this tweet and wistfully thought, “Aw, I wish he was talking about MAMMOTH!”:

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BUT. BUT. HE WAS TALKING ABOUT MAMMOTH.

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He made a few revision suggestions that I totally agreed with, and a week or so later I signed a contract. His enthusiasm has been nothing short of remarkable, and I don’t know how he finds enough hours in the day to accomplish all that he does. Eric’s just awesome. Plus, I gained an amazing group of supportive agent-siblings!

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MAMMOTH is now out on submission, and I can’t wait to prove that the market has plenty of room for Natalie and her dig site discoveries. THIS IS HAPPENING.

*My dad passed away in late May, and one of the last things that made him really happy was knowing I’d signed with a new agent. As overwhelming as the last few months have been, I’m really glad he knew I’d found my footing again.
**Not everyone likes “plus-size” as a label. I acknowledge that, and I’ll address the reasons I use it for Natalie in a future post.