Archive for Inspirational

On Encouragement

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2018 by Jessica Crichton

Lately I’ve been rediscovering my favorite T.V. universe of all time: Star Trek. I started by watching “Voyager” from beginning to end (thank you Netflix!) because it’s my favorite-favorite. Now I’m around the middle of “The Next Generation”. I’m watching them from favorite series to least-favorite. (Sorry “Deep Space Nine”.)

When you’re a trekkie like me you learn a LOT about Roddenberry’s universe, including behind the scenes stuff that can be quite illuminating. One of those things, which seems to be the same for every series (though TNG is the most infamous for it), is first season flopping. Though arguments abound over which series is best, it seems each one has started hard but ended beloved by at least a few fans (and in the Star Trek fandom, “a few” needs at least one k after it!) Indeed, when one re-watches TNG especially, one can’t help but cringe jeeeest a little at how… well… BAD… the first season or so is. No matter how much of a fan you are now.

For a struggling writer like me, that is enormously encouraging.

I’ve been writing seriously since I was 16. I decided on that particular age because I was first published then: my own review in the local newspaper on “The Chronicles of Narnia”, though I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. Now 24 years later (you do the math), I am still writing… when I’m not at my day job.

People tend to react similarly when you tell them you’re a writer. Questions like, “are you published?” abound, as well as comments somewhere along the lines of, “I have a great idea for a book — you should write it!” I’ve learned to field reactions like this with a fair amount of grace; after all most people really have no idea how the publishing world works, and I’m all about education. That said one question in particular still grates on me: the dreaded, “do you do that for a living?”

The answer is no.


24 years later.


At least I’m not alone. The vast majority of writers don’t make a full-time living on it, and those few who do are mostly not the Stephen King types. They’re lower middle class on down, and they work hard for the privilege of writing full time. Many spend more time promoting themselves online, through school visits (for kidlit authors) and the like than they do actually writing, which is what they’d really rather be doing. In a way in this day and age even writing full-time is more than one job. And despite all that hard work, most full-time writers struggle with bills and “dry” seasons when their royalties are lower than usual. Sometimes these “dry” seasons can be anticipated. Other times they can’t. As a mother with children to feed, clothe, and house, I have not been comfortable enough with even my best royalties to try quitting my day job.

There are days — even weeks — when this can feel terribly discouraging.

Most every writer dreams of being free to write what we love without fear of becoming homeless. To not only have an editor, but one to whom we can go with an idea and automatically get clearance — and a nice advance — to write it. The J.K. Rowlings of the world are few and far-between, but to be one of them: that is OUR lottery dream.

And it’s a pretty, pretty dream indeed.

The funny thing is, despite their sometimes awkward or insensitive questions, most people outside of  the publishing world are extremely encouraging and supportive of writers. We are usually seen as brilliant, creative, unique, and even akin to superhuman for being able to even write a book, let alone publish and sell it. To most people, whether we can pay the bills or not with it has little to no bearing on this awe they view us by.

To writers like me, the dichotomy of this can be somewhat bemusing, but ultimately encouraging. I’m a brilliant superhuman, guys!

And so I keep writing my books and watching my “Star Trek”, dreaming of the day when my own first season comes to an end. When I can finally say I’ve grown out of “The Naked Now” and am ready for my own “Inner Light“. Until then, I’ll take the questions with the compliments, and keep my eye on the future prize of answering that dreaded question with a yes.




My Top Five Surprises about Signing with a Publisher

Posted in Publishing, Writing with tags , , on November 28, 2014 by Jessica Crichton

Trade publication.

It’s the Holy Grail of career advancement for many writers. I’ve personally dreamed of it for as long as I can remember. While most little girls around me where playing out their future princess wedding, I imagined my published masterpieces in bookstores, libraries, and homes all over the world. I chased that dream through elementary, middle school, high school, marriage, motherhood, college, divorce, remarriage, and graduate school.

And now — after more than three decades — my lifelong passion has finally come true.

When you dream of something your entire life, you generally bounce back and forth between two highly conflicting thought processes. On one hand, my hopes could soar higher than the moon. I imagined myself as a super-star author, my books beloved my millions, spending the rest of my life cozy with my royalties, free to do nothing but write forever. On the other hand, I tried to keep myself grounded. I researched formal manuscript format, query packages, publishers, agents, and the publishing industry as a whole. I knew from a very young age that trade publication would not happen fast or easily — and that it most likely wouldn’t be lucrative enough for a full-time career — but I was persistent. Even if it didn’t happen today, it would someday. That was enough.

When someday finally came on April 16th, 2014, the reality was somewhere in-between my fantasies and my logic… and all of it was a surprise. For example I learned that…

5)  Publication isn’t Scripted

I knew exactly how it would go. My careful research had told me the steps:

  • Query an agent
  • Get a full manuscript request
  • Send the full manuscript
  • Get a contract
  • Get a publisher
  • Become a rockstar writer

Not so much.

This may still very well be how many writers step into trade publication. Not me. My steps turned out to be a bit more… wobbly:

  • Query
  • Get a rejection
  • Query
  • Get a rejection
  • Repeat for a few dozen years
  • Query
  • Get a partial request
  • Get a rejection
  • Query
  • Get a full request
  • Wait with baited breath for six months
  • Get a rejection
  • Query
  • Get a rejection
  • Query
  • Get a rejection
  • Rant on Facebook about how frustrating it all is
  • Get a PM from a mysterious fellow writer, suggesting you query their publisher
  • Shrug
  • Query
  • Get a full request
  • Sent the full manuscript
  • Get a contract offer back, along with a confession of headhunting all along on Facebook

A publisher. Headhunting. Me? I’d never even considered that! Of course, when something like that happens, the first sane response is cynicism. I didn’t enter into my contracts lightly. I did my research. Predators and Editors said they were legit. AbsoluteWrite said they were legit. Their current authors (with whom they got me in contact just for this purpose), said they were legit. I was floored!

This was not how I expected to make my dream come true, but it didn’t dim my joy in the least when I signed those contracts and sent them back. Finally, all my hard work was paying off! Little did I know that…

4) It Doesn’t Get any Easier

I didn’t expect that I would be rolling in money; I’ve been in the biz — albeit the far side — for too long to be that silly. However, I DID think that at least most of the work was behind me. Like most modern writers, my first publication was self-wrought. With self-publishing comes the arduous task of marketing your own books. At least, it’s arduous to me. I love speaking and signing at cons, but travel is often very difficult for various reasons. As for blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, etc., I would honestly much rather just be writing my fiction than promoting it. But I did it, because my work is important to me. Now, with a publisher to do that for me, I was sure I’d finally be free.

Not so much.

Don’t get me wrong, my publisher certainly promotes my work. Every time I Google Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine I find new websites where Second Wind has placed it, much to my delight. (I’ll admit sometimes I even squeal like a little girl.) But in this day and age of e-books, blogs, and author websites, the author is expected to do more self-promotion than ever before. My job isn’t finished when I send my manuscript off, it just changes from one who creates to one who promotes that creation.

I’m still not too great at that end of things but I think I’m getting better. Time will tell. For now, I’m still chugging along because my writing is still one of the most important things in my life. Well, when I say chugging along I really mean trudging. You see…

3) It Feels Even Longer than it Takes

Everyone who has studied the publishing industry even a little bit knows that for us, a minute is more like a day, an hour is like a month, and a month can be years. I’ve known this for a very long time, first by way of research then with querying experience. I know that publishing a book can take more than a year from manuscript to shelf. I wasn’t expecting overnight success. Still, I did think I’d be in regular contact with my publisher in order to know what was going on while I waited.

Not so much.

As a professional, it’s expected that I can keep a schedule and make deadlines without someone holding my hand. Can I email or text my publisher if I have questions? Of course. Does he email and text me every day to keep me updated on my own progress even while handling the careers of all my fellow Second Winders?


Months can go by when I hear nothing, then one day an email might come discussing a million details that have come up during that time, then nothing again for another long stretch. This can make a long wait feel even longer. But that’s really okay in the end, because…

2) It’s Never About the Present

I’m thrilled that Dr. Fixit is officially published for the first time ever. I’m ecstatic that Zombies is undergoing its own transformation as I type. I’m chugging away to complete Numbots and finally finish the trilogy as my very first truly published work.

Still, as far as I’m concerned, the “Guts and Glory” books are all but complete.

When you work in a slow industry like publishing (even self-publishing and e-books are slow; if they’re not, you’re doing it wrong), you have to learn to live in the future. Living in the past is never a good idea for anyone, as various memes, sage advice, and mothers everywhere have told us over and over again. It stunts growth, steals hope, blah, blah, blah. I’m sure you’ve heard it all, as I have. But living in the present isn’t much better when you’re a writer. It can seriously  make you go mad waiting and wondering and hoping, not to mention the fact that if you’re worrying about a present manuscript, you’re not writing the next one.

And that’s what I’m doing now; writing the next one.

Blight is my new YA book which I am very excited about. I’ll tell you much more about it as time goes by, I’m sure. Writing it helps me not think so much about the progress of “Guts and Glory” but it won’t be ready for querying for at least a few months, let alone publication. I’m looking at the future with my new story, just as my publisher is with “Guts and Glory”. This is a very good thing, because…

1) It’s Not a Single Great Leap into Dreamland

Okay, I’ll admit, I’ve dreamed of it often.

THE moment.

That shining beacon of victory, when everything comes together, when my rockstar agent signs me with a major publisher from the Big Six, and my work becomes a New York Times Bestseller. Then, and only then, will I be a real boy — I mean writer — at last.

I still dream of it. It’s the winning lottery numbers, the Holy Grail, the moment of release.

And it’s probably never going to happen.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from a defeatist. In fact, my sisters will tell you I can be unrealistically optimistic at times. (Okay. pretty much all the time.) But I have learned in my three decades of writing that it’s a series of baby steps, not one great leap, that will take me to the success I dream of. I took those baby steps up to this point — reading, writing, studying, querying and self-publishing — and I have only taken one more now with my small press publication.

Who knows what the next baby step will be? Might there come a moment when I can’t breathe from the amazement of what has happened in my career? Maybe. For now, though, I’m looking to the future, waiting on the present, working very hard, and expecting the unexpected.

Because in the end, all that really matters is my stories themselves. Everything else will come in its own time.

Miscellaneous Musings of a Self-Proclaimed Scribe AKA Writers’ Conference EEE!

Posted in Publication, Publishing, Shiny Happy Musings, Writing with tags , , , , , on September 26, 2011 by Jessica Crichton

Good Monday morning! I have my monstrous Red Bull by my side, how about you?


And clam chowder. Yes, clam chowder for breakfast. Because I can, that’s why.

So, I don’t officially start graduate classes today — that will happen next Monday — but I am starting the week-long orientation. So instead of actually doing the work, I get to spend this week learning just exactly how hard said work will be.


But enough about school. For now anyway. I have a conference to tell you about!

What can I say about the writer’s conference I attended this weekend? I mean, where do I even begin? Well, first of all, and I can’t stress this nearly enough, go to a conference! Beg or borrow to get to one if you need to. Whatever it takes short of larceny. I am seriously considering the New York one in February, even though I have no idea how I’ll even come close to making it. It doesn’t matter. Before this weekend I knew conferences were important to a successful writing career. Now I know they are vital.

I’ll tell you my personal highlights the same way I told Mike (my fiance, for those of you who don’t know): from least OMGAWESOME to most OMGAWESOME. Because really, it was all awesome to some degree.

  • OMGAWESOME #1: The RaffleDoor Prizes

They were originally going to have a raffle, but then were told that it was gambling and they couldn’t. So everyone got a door prize ticket instead. I won a book on writing while juggling a family, which was pretty apropos. So that was pretty OMGAWESOME, if not the most OMGAWESOME of the day.

  • OMGAWESOME #2: The Presentations

There were a lot of subjects the presenters spoke on that I thought I knew, such as the nuts and bolts of publication, how an agent decides what to accept and what to reject, and what, exactly, an editor does. I was right in that I knew some things, but far from all. The presentations were entirely useful and interesting. I’ll quite probably do some blogs on  specific highlights  in the near future. For now, let me say that learning from those who have come before is useful in every industry, and publication is no different. I already know that I’m a better writer for the lessons I learned on Saturday, even though I haven’t put down one sentence of fiction since… yet.

  • OMGAWESOME #3: Blind Critiques

A blind critique is pretty much what it sounds like. They took three copies of an unnamed manuscript page from those willing to go through the gauntlet (yes, I was one of those brave souls), and gave them to the industry speakers, Associate Editor Pamela Glauber from Holiday House Publishers and Literary Agent Kerry Sparks from Levine-Greenberg Literary Agency. After our (wonderful) Regional SCBWI Director Mary Cronk Farrell read each out loud, these two great ladies gave their unbiased and candid opinions, focusing mostly on whether they would be interested in reading more if the manuscripts had crossed their desks as queries. My page, the first from Escape from Igh Schoo, went third and I was way more nervous than I expected to be as Mary read it to the room. But as you know, this is an OMGAWESOME not an OMGIWANNADIE, so it went well… to say the least. Both ladies said they would very much be interested in reading more, though they agreed that my first paragraph was too heavy. I took two very important lessons from that. One, I’m good at action scenes (better than I thought… yay!) and two, I need to jump right into said action at the beginning. I will be editing Escape From Igh Schoo now to that end.

  • OMGAWESOME #4: My Full Critique

This was one of the things I looked forward to the most and I wasn’t disappointed. When I registered way back in June I sent the first ten pages of The Crows’ Nest, (which, you’ll remember, I still intend on getting published by a real House) to be red-penned by one of our speakers with whom I would then sit down for 15 minutes at the conference to discuss my work.

I was given the privilege of working with Kelly Milner Halls who is a hugely prolific local writer and editor, with thousands of editing credits to her name and plenty of her own published works as well. She was extremely supportive, knowledgeable and encouraging. Above and beyond that, she was helpful, which you will see in a moment is everything at this juncture of my career. She told me exactly what I already knew, that I was too wordy, but then she added what I didn’t know and badly needed to: how I was wordy and what words, exactly, needed to go! I was ecstatic! Now I can finally fix the underlying frustration I get every time I read my manuscript!

Another thing that made me feel very happy was she said I HAVE THE VOICE! Now, those who have read my blog for a while (and those who have at all researched Middle Grade writing recently… that too), know that the Voice is everything in MG today. Without the Voice (which both Kerry and Pamela reiterated in their presentations), you can’t make it. You just can’t. It also happens to be the very hardest thing to nail down. Of course. I have obsessed over my Voice horribly lately. (Which, it turns out, is a large reason why I’m so wordy… but I digress.) Kelly told me that I already have a great Voice and that I don’t need all the extra words to make it work! YAY! I HAVE THE VOICE! I could have seriously gone home happy right then and there, but then… this happened…

  • OMGAWESOME #5 AKA OMGAWESOMEEEEBBQ*dies*: The Greatest Conference Hope… Realized

I wanted to talk to Kerry and/or Pamela but every time I was free, they weren’t. Of course, I was far from the only one there that wanted a bit of their time, and the last thing I needed to do was rudely break into one of their other conversations. Bad first impressions are bad, mmkay? So I bid my time, thinking maybe I’d get a chance after the conference was over. Then Kerry presented and I realized I needed to speak with Pamela, as Kerry said she didn’t represent scifi at all. That was a very important piece of information, since I had a very short window to talk to either of them.

I don’t remember exactly when it was, but the conference was almost over when I went downstairs to use the bathroom and saw Pamela sitting alone at the critique table. I was more nervous than I had been in a very long time, but I knew if I didn’t take this chance I might not get another one. So swallowing my butterflies, I asked her if she had a moment to talk. Turned out, she had just finished her last critique. She told me to sit down (I hadn’t even thought of it; I’m amazed I remembered to breathe), and I asked her the question I had planned beforehand to start our conversation (as opposed to “OMGPLEASEPUBLISHMEEEE”):  “How do I market ‘Guts and Glory’?” Considering that it’s science fiction/dystopian/post-apocalyptic/steampunk-like, I truly did need a little help in this area and it was a good, safe subject to start on.

She said what I expected “Well, that’s a lot to take on.” And asked me to describe the plot to her. As I spoke, she seemed very interested… more than I had expected to be honest… and when I was finished she said I should market it as just scifi and let the professional marketers do the rest. Then she asked me if I was finished with the manuscript. I told her it was self-published to build my platform (which she nodded at… apparently I’m not the only one doing this; big surprise), and then… she asked the question every writer wants to hear an editor ask:

“Are you looking for a publisher?”

EEE! I almost threw up. I swear. It was as much as I could do not to scream “YES!” in her face… which wouldn’t have been a good idea (at least, I don’t recommend it). But somehow I was able to hold myself together and say “yes, absolutely” in a pretty normal tone of voice. She took my card and asked me to send her the whole manuscript and remind her in the cover letter about our conversation. I thanked her and floated away on cloud nine. I even almost forgot to use the bathroom!


Now, I am fully aware that this doesn’t mean she has decided to contract me. Not at all. In fact, I know it’s not entirely up to her in the end, and she herself hasn’t even read enough of my work to make a decision. That said, I’m cautiously optimistic right now because this is the first time I have ever been requested to send my work to an editor, and for someone who has been rejected by agents more times than I can count, this is in and of itself a great victory.

Now… to edit The Crows’ Nest based on Kelly’s critique and send it to Pamela. Did I say EEE yet?


All this was made possible only by my attending the conference. So yeah, it was everything I wanted, needed and hoped. Worth every bit of stress, work and waiting. I’m telling you, if you’re serious about your writing, go to a conference! Both Pamela and Kerry said they get a large percentage of their clients from conferences. As in 90% +! Also, join a writer’s group. I highly recommend the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. They are wonderfully supportive, knowledgeable and just an amazing group of children’s literary professionals whom I am proud to be a part of.

I’ll keep you all updated on my progress with Holiday House. This is just the beginning…

When You Get Discouraged

Posted in Books, Publication, Publishing, Self-publishing, Shiny Happy Musings, Writing with tags , , , , on September 12, 2011 by Jessica Crichton

This morning I had a mini-war with myself. Yes, I talk to myself. We all do. It’s just a fact, right? Right.

Moving on…

So I told myself I was excited to get to work today. “You’ve had so much fun working for yourself lately. What an awesome way to make a living, right?”

Usually Myself will answer in-kind. But not today. Today she was in a grumbly mood, to put it gently.

“What living?” she spat back. “You’re spending the day designing t-shirts and buttons and other crap nobody will ever buy because nobody cares about your stupid book!”

Ouch, Myself. That hurt!

But, I had to admit she was right. To a point anyway.

See, we all get like that from time to time. For me, today, it was triggered by the fact that I’ve sold a total of three paperbacks and one e-book since I published them last month. So, Myself reminded me none too gently this morn, what am I possibly thinking in putting together a store based on a  book nobody is buying? A store that will possibly take me all day to set up? A store that may very well never sell a thing?

But I had an answer for Myself: “Because I care about my stupid book.”

See, that’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it? Why did I start this whole adventure in the first place? Was it to become the next J.K. Rowling? Sure, that’d be nice. I’m not going to pretend there. I’m sure we’d all like to be that successful. However, that wasn’t why I started this. I started it for the exact same reason I picked up a crayon and started writing my very first story so very long ago.

I started it because I am a writer.

So, no, Myself. You’re right. I haven’t sold a ton of books. I might never sell a ton of books. I might never be published by a big house, either. None of that matters. I’m a writer. I must write. And to give up on that dream, no matter how discouraged I get, would be soul suicide.

What about you? Are you discouraged today? If so, remember why you began this journey. Remember how excited and thrilled you were, and get that back so you can continue on your way.

Now, I have a store to set up… and advertising to do.

Never give up. Never surrender.

This One’s For the Kids

Posted in Family, Kids, Shiny Happy Musings with tags , , , , , , , on September 8, 2011 by Jessica Crichton

Psst… hey you. Yeah, you. Over there. The short one. Yeah, you. I wanna tell ya some stuff, OK?


First of all, you’re a pretty cool kid. Maybe you’re told that all the time, or maybe you never hear it. Either way, you are. Just remember that.

Also, you have huge potential. Like, major. Did you know that? Potential doesn’t just mean that someday when you grow up you’ll be an awesome adult. It also means you’ll be even more awesome tomorrow than you are today. And that’ll just keep building every day, day by day, week by week, year by year. Imagine all the great stuff you’ll do with that kind of potential! What’s your dream? Have you been told it’s impossible? I have a secret to tell you:

It’s not.

So go for it! Do what you want to do. Just remember that some dreams take a lot of work and tenacity (that means never, ever giving up), but if you keep trying and keep pushing (and start young… that to), you’ll find out that it IS totally possible to live your dreams!

So, to recap: you are awesome, you have mad potential, and you can be whatever you want to be.

Have a killer weekend! (I know it’s Thursday, but it’s never too early to start being happy!)


Love always,

~Morgan Marshall


Posted in Shiny Happy Musings, Uncategorized with tags , on August 19, 2011 by Jessica Crichton

I decided I’ve been neglegent in my blogging to you all, so I’m writing two today. This one is all about being a rockstar!

Kind of.

See, I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I’ve done so much at my age. And unlike when I usually start out a sentence with “I’ve had a lot of people tell me…” this is quite literal and true. Now, I’m not QUITE as young as I used to be, *coughthirtyfourcough*, but I’ve still got a lot of experiences under my belt.

Apparently this is not normal. At least, not in my circles.

No, I’m not bragging. But I AM confused as to why this is so strange to so many people. To me, that’s like asking “how can you live your life for YOURSELF! How weird!”

… which makes me make this face – 0.O

Like many people I went through a rebellious stage. Of course, mine happened after I had five children and got divorced, but whatever. During that stage I thought anyone who didn’t go for their dreams was a drone and deserved none of my respect. But then I grew up and realized that many people are simply afraid of what could happen if they tried to do what they really wanted to do.

They’re especially afraid of failure. And I can’t blame them for that.

But here’s the thing about reaching for your dreams: it’s not about jumping off a cliff into dark, shark infested waters. It’s about baby steps.

And baby steps can’t be scary. It’s a physical impossibility.

Aww! See? Who can be scared of that? Come on, now.

So here and now I’d like to answer the question I keep getting asked: How have I done so much and how am I still doing it? (If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, just look at my bio. I won’t repeat it here; I already feel like I’m being a gross braggart. Pfft.) And I’ll be REALLY annoying and answer it with a question of my own:

What are you doing today to reach your dreams?

See, I don’t do everything every day. Hell, there are days when I do absolutely NOTHING, which is also productive as we all need a break once in a while in order to be our very best. But most days I do a few things in order to reach my long-term goals. For example, today I’m editing my manuscript and working on my book trailer. Neither of these things is huge and are pretty easy to do when I sit down and DO them, but neither of them would get me published in and of themselves either.

See, that’s the other thing about baby steps. One of them won’t get you very far. You have to keep taking them.

Every day.

That’s the trick. Because baby steps never feel very monumentous, and they take time to really make a difference. But they’re easy, and they do work. And they won’t get you fired from your day job (unless you take baby poops on the boss’ desk… which is an entirely different thing that I wouldn’t recommend).

So, again, Rockstar, what are you doing today to reach your dreams?

None of us is getting any younger.

John M. Cusick

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