It’s All About Taste

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about writing, publishing, and the importance of taste.

TasteMany of my friends are in the trenches of querying agents and submitting novels. They’re racking up long lists of rejection letters and wondering why they aren’t good enough. They’re asking: Why doesn’t this agent want my book? Why didn’t they connect with the material? What am I doing wrong? Should I give up writing?

Rejection seems to be a constant in the world of writing and publishing. The long-desired moments of praise and acceptance seem to be temporary and fleeting. Yet, rejection is something we writers deeply internalize, having spent hours, and months, and years creating our novels. We want people to see that effort as worthwhile.

Illustrated silhouette of a man sitting with his head in his handBut too often we believe that the rejection of a book is also a rejection of the writer. Slowly, brutally, I’m learning that it’s not that simple. In fact, I’m learning that a rejection has very little to do with me, and everything to do with the book. Or more accurately, sometimes it isn’t even about the book, it’s all about taste: the taste of the agent, the taste of the editor, or the taste of the market.

Let me take a moment to share three examples that have changed the way I look at submissions and rejection. Hopefully these will help you to see there is hope, lots and lots of hope.

1) My Editor Didn’t Want My Second Book

Last week my current editor (the one who adores my first book and bought it within two weeks of submission) just passed on my new novel. She said she “didn’t connect with it.” That’s the agent/editor kiss of death isn’t it? It’s a generic statement of rejection that won’t let me know how to move forward to what to change. Only – here’s what’s empowering about that statement. All it means is that this book doesn’t match my editor’s taste. Sure, I want my editor to love my books – all of them – but that’s unrealistic. This rejection doesn’t mean she doesn’t adore my writing. She would never have bought the first book if she didn’t think I was talented. All it means is she didn’t connect with this story. And after rejecting this book she promptly asked what else I’m working on. The rejection of one book is not the rejection of every story I will ever write.

2) Agents Want to Feel Goosebumps

goosebumps_2443265bA colleague of mine is the assistant to a top-tier agent at a large agency. Recently, I asked her what causes her boss to pass on a project or decide to represent a writer. She said: It’s all about taste. The book has to give the agent goose bumps. But here’s the part you need to hear: She also said that they pass on great books all the time, beautifully written books, books she knows will sell, books that she is certain another agent will scoop right up. So why doesn’t the agent scoop it up herself when she knows it will sell? The answer is simple: it didn’t give her goose bumps. It wasn’t something she loved. Finding an agent is all about finding the best advocate for your work, and that can only be done when both you and your agent adore the book. Would you really settle for an agent who doesn’t love your book?

 3) I Don’t Care if You’re a Bestseller

bestseller_graphicsmall1My last story is about a friend who is a New York Times bestselling author. She’s sold multiple book series, speaks at conferences around the world, and has had large publishing contracts. In all the traditional measures of success – she’s made it! But guess what, she’s currently self-publishing her next series. Why you ask? Because the market is scared. Her new series is a paranormal romance and well … we’ve all heard that market is dead. It doesn’t matter that she’s a bestseller. None of the publishing houses want to take the risk. Again, it isn’t about her or her writing, it’s about the book, and how scared the publishers are about the taste of the market. So what has she done? She’s taken the power back and is self-publishing the series on her own. She believes in her work and that the book will find an audience that loves it too.

Ultimately, we can only hand over so much of our power to others. You love the novel you’re writing and submitting. Have faith that it will find the right agent, editor, and reader that loves it as much as you do.

Yes, there are lots of gatekeepers on the road to publishing. But remember that gatekeepers are only taste-makers. They don’t determine what is great, they pick what they like. They pick what aligns with their own taste, and they gamble that others will have a similar palate.

Keep writing. Keep submitting. Write the next book.

How to Take Criticism

love_leonie_leaf_border_445I came upon a little bit of wisdom in an interview with artist and entrepreneur Leonie Dawson. This is the best answer I’ve ever heard to the question of who’s criticism you should value.

Question: “How do you deal with people’s criticism?”

Leonie’s answer: “Ignore anyone’s advice / criticism / judgements unless they are genuinely happier than you.”

Brilliant! What an important and powerful way to look at the world.

Do You Ever Think About the Universe, Mr. Trout?

Last night I saw the children’s movie The Box Trollswhich is an Academy Award nominee for Best Animated Film this year. The Box Trolls is absolutely glorious, not to mention fun and beautifully made. I highly suggest it. But what I really wanted to share with you is this small moment from the end credits. Don’t worry, there are no spoilers here. It’s a magical moment where two animated characters ponder their place in the universe. It’s surprisingly profound, and shows the time and effort it takes to make art. It’s not to be missed!

Art School Getting You Down?


The marvelous Martha Hull of: Cute. Funny. Deadly. Art & Stories.

Last week I was catching up with a fellow pink-haired friend from art school, Martha Hull. She and I were chatting about the creative life, books, and running our own small businesses. In the midst of our conversation about the struggles of finding an audience and making art that we’re passionate about, Martha looked at her studio wall and said:

“Wait! I have and inspirational quote on the wall about this!”

She proceeded to share with me an email I sent her twelve years ago. An email that she printed out, decorated, and still has hanging on her studio wall.

The email is a lengthy quote from Tim Burton on the importance of making art because you love it, and forgetting all the other negative chatter. Hearing it again after all these years gave me chills. It still holds up. It’s still a lesson I need to remember a whole decade later.

I asked Martha to send me a picture of that decorated email, and here it is:


In case you can’t read the email. Here’s what it says:

Subject: Art School Getting You Down?

Date: Thursday, January 2, 2003

Message: Just in case you’re feeling like you can’t draw – thought I’d send you a few words of wisdom from good ol’ Tim Burton:

“I remember going through art school, and you’ve got to take life drawing, and it was a real struggle. Instead of encouraging you to express yourself and draw like you did when you were a child, they start going by the rules of society. They say “No. No. You CAN’T draw like this. You have to draw like THIS.” And I remember one day I was so frustrated – because I love drawing, but actually I’m not that good at it. But one day something clicked in my brain. I was sitting sketching and thought, “Fuck it, I don’t care if I can’t draw or not. I like doing it.” And I swear to God, from one second to the next I had a freedom which I hadn’t had before. From that point on, I didn’t care if I couldn’t make that human form look like the human form. I didn’t care if people liked it. There was this almost drug-induced sense of freedom. And I fight every day, someone saying, “You can’t do that. This doesn’t make any sense.” Every day it’s a struggle. It’s just a question of trying to maintain a certain amount of freedom.” – Tim Burton (Burton on Burton)

Go make art because you love it!


Cool huh? It’s kind of awesome to be getting advice from yourself twelve years later.

Have you been writing for years and publishing has you down? Are you in that brutal state of querying where you’re surrounded by rejection? Are you being told that what you’re writing isn’t right for the market? Are you in the middle of that difficult draft that no one else seems to understand? I say: print out this quote and put it on the wall and remember the LOVE. The love of writing. Writing because you LOVE to write.

Forget everything else and embrace the joy. Find that little nugget of freedom and never let go!

All We Left Behind: Cover Reveal!

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had wonderfully merry holiday and New Year.

I’m excited to start the new year with a BANG! Yup, I have something super special to share with you all. Today you get to see the book cover of my forthcoming debut novel All We Left Behind! This is a big milestone in my life, and I can’t wait for the book to hit the shelves in December 2015. Are you as excited to see the new cover as I am excited to share it?

Cue the dramatic music …


To heighten the dramatic tension …

You actually have to go to another blog to see the cover! (Doesn’t this feel like an exciting “choose your own adventure” book?)

The Cover of All We Left Behind can be seen on TWO blogs:

In addition to showing off the book design, you can also read exclusive excerpts of the novel on both blogs. Each blog has a different snippet – so be sure to visit both!

2014 was a good year to me, I hope 2015 is even better. Thank you all for being here to share in the excitement!

A Merry Merry Dr. Seuss Display

One of my childhood dreams came true this year. I designed and created a window display!

Yes, I am a child of the 80’s and it’s possible I watched the film Mannequin one too many times. But when I was little, I wanted to grow up and be a window dresser. My local independent bookstore — Vroman’s Bookstore — made that dream come true. They asked me to create a Dr. Seuss holiday window and of course, I accepted!

As we drink egg nog and celebrate with our families, I thought I’d share a few images of the window’s creation. Here are my adventures with foam core and paint.

I sketched out the Grinch.

Dr. Seuss Window Display

I painted all the Whos playing with their toys.

Dr Seuss Window Display 2

Dr Seuss Window Display 3

Russell helped me install the window. He’s very tall, which made stringing up the elements with fishing line nice and easy.

Dr Seuss Window Display 4

The display is based on this illustration in Seuss’s classic How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

Grinch Image

And here is my interpretation of it.


Dr Seuss Window Display 1

The Grinch isn’t in the original illustration, but I had to add him in!


And, voila! A small girl’s dream of creating a window display comes to life!

Window Display 10

May all your dreams come true this holiday and New Year. Be Merry Merry everyone!