What I'm Reading

Between queries and scribbling on manuscripts, I read.

Yes, there are actually some--please add an extra emphasis to the word some--days when I have time to read an actual book with words I didn't write.

And I love reading. Before I knew that I wanted to pursue a dream in writing, reading was the best thing (I mean, it still is.)

However, lately, whenever I find myself reading a book, I would get excited and anxious about my own. Then, before I know it, I'm working on my manuscript, not even finishing the first chapter of (insert any book here that's been published in the last 50 years.)

With that said, I've forced myself to get over that barrier. Not only that, but now that I've actually finished The Willow Tree, it's been easier to enjoy a novel other than my own.

Which brings me to the point of today's blog post:

What, exactly, am I reading?

As of today, I am reading The Notebook.

If you live in America, you've probably seen this movie a million times. It's one of those mesmerizing, tragic, I-want-that-kind-of-love stories. It's almost as popular as the story of Romeo and Juliet (maybe...)

And though I have seen the movie, I decided to read the book. Many people don't know, but The Notebook was Nicholas Sparks's first published book. (Read the story here.) And I love reading debut novels because it gives me hope--like that could be me one day--and it's easy to tract the author's growth from the first novel to the most recent novel. But the best part is seeing how far they've come. 

Hopefully I'm able to finish this book; it's a really easy read, and it moves at a nice pace. Ha, wish me luck. 

Are you struggling with reading books other than your own, too? Share below!

Till next time blog world. 

The Agonizing First Chapter

Why in the world is it so hard to write the first chapter of a book when it's the initial reason for our motivation?

That's the thing. It's not hard to write the first chapter of a book. It's hard to get it right.

The biggest mistake writers make is starting the book in the wrong place. It's so innate for us to stick with the first thing we put down and call it golden. But it's that first chapter, first five pages, first sentence, that pulls the reader in, and if we're starting in the wrong spot, we're getting absolutely no where.

Fact: agents don't want to read through the first few thousand words to find your 'true' beginning. (That's paraphrased, of course, but I read that in Carly Watter's book, Getting Published in the 21st Century.)

Now, you might be asking, "How the heck do I get it right?" First, I'll admit. I don't know everything (I'm actually glad that I don't,) but here's how I got my first chapter in tip-top shape.

The first thing I did was research. I read a million blogs--especially those of agents. At this point, I'd already had a critique reader go over the entire manuscript. Though she liked my first chapter a lot, I didn't. It felt wrong to me, so I started chopping out bits and pieces that I didn't feel comfortable with. Which leads me to my next point, trust your gut.The reason why I didn't like my first chapter was because it had too much back story. Not only that, but it was starting in the wrong place, and I wasn't sure how to fix it.

It wasn't until I had one of my good friends from AQC look at it, when I changed it to my liking. She pointed out where the high point of the story really was. And once she did that, I began to soar to new heights.

After I changed it, I read a few more blogs posts and did more editing. Then, I had three people look it over--including the one who'd been really pleased with the original version. And after their approval and suggestions, I did more edits. (See, the editing never ends, ya'll.)

Long story short: I added a hook. 
Why didn't I have a hook in the first place? I don't know. But it consists of three simple words, and it carries the theme throughout the chapter.
And Lastly, I made the reader feel for my MC by adding more stakes, and starting the story at a pivotal moment in her life.

And that's it, folks. Seriously. After endless editing, I like my first chapter a lot. Maybe it's not perfect--there's a chance it could change after I get an agent--But I like it, and I don't have anxiety over it anymore.

*Long sigh.....I need a glass of iced tea.

Below are a few links and blogs that have helped me with my first chapter.

Suzie Townsend--agent at NewLeaf
Carly Watters--agent at P.S Literary
And, oddly enough, Twitter--not kidding. I follow a handful of agents and writers who tweet links to helpful websites and blogs all the time.

Good luck! I hope this helps!

Till next time blog world!

Three things you don't know about me

So last night, at about ten pm, I decided to send a query out. Go ahead, call me crazy, but I was ready to do it. This time around, I felt different. I wasn't overly-anxious. I don't have second day regrets. And I'm quite confident with this version of my manuscript.

It felt right to me, so I did it without blinking.

And the woman I queried is in my top three. Whether she passes or accepts, I will do a review of my query experience with her on here.

Until then, it's back to the waiting game!  Furthermore, here are three things you don't know about me!


I have crazy, curly hair.  Sometimes I like it . . . sometimes I don't.


 I'm growing a mint plant, so I can put it in my tea. :)


After camp ended, I cried the entire way home--not kidding. And it was an hour drive. 

This was the last sunset.

And this was the moon on the night that I left.

And there it is, people. That's three things you don't know about me. (But now ya do! Wink, wink)
Bonus fact: I was listening to Hunter Hayes first album the night that I left. 

That's it for today's blog post. Wish me query luck!

The Tea Ain't Cutting It

I'm at my parent's house for a few weeks before I can move back on campus . . . just imagine all the fun I'm having.

Ha. Well, anyway. I've never been so bored in my LIFE. I'm actually one of the top posters on AQC because I have nothing better to do. 

For some bright reason, I decided to re-do my query--which was suicide--only to find out that it was fine the way it was before (Yeah, I'm that girl.) I don't know why I did that. Granted, the query is better than it was before, but not by much. I added and removed a few sentences. 

I'm going crazy over here. I just want to send my query letter out! Is that too much to ask? But I'm trying to patiently wait for my last content reader to go over my manuscript . . . which I'm not even sure he/she received. Isn't three beta readers enough? Do I actually need four? Can I just send my query out already? Please?!?! Is that too much to ask? Seven months of editing has been far too long. 

Plus, the tea ain't cutting it. Yes, I said tea. I purchased a great amount of tea yesterday from the the dollar store down the street. It was cheap, and it was their brand. But it's terrible (sorry, dollar store.) And yet, I'm drinking it anyway because I'm broke, and I'd feel bad if I let it go to waste. 


Can I just send my query out already?

Please enjoy a photo of me trying to do the duck face.

Till next time blog world. Also, please send help. I'm going crazy over here. 

How do you know when you're done editing?

That's the age-old question.

Truth is, you are never really done editing. And after you get a literary agent and editors, more edits will be made.

After my manuscript was polished--like agent-ready--I had one friend who didn't believe me. When everyone else was as excited as I was, he questioned me. And I was almost upset by it, but after speaking with him, I knew why he didn't believe me. He'd seen me work countless hours editing my book for the last two months--I even changed my title a few times. There was one point when he asked if I'd ever stop editing it, and I told him the truth. I simply said, "No."
Because if you're really dedicated to your manuscript, editing is always an option, no matter what.
So here are a few checkpoints that I've collected from various sites and books that will help you get your manuscript agent-ready.

Also, I would go ahead and suggest buying Carly Watter's book, Getting Published in the 21st Century. She's an agent who know's what she's talking about, and the price of the book is fairly cheap. So worth it!

The checklist:

-- Step one: Have you had a beta/critique reader? If not, you've got soo much work to do. Refer here.

-- Step two: Have you killed your darlings? If you're unfamiliar with this quote by William Faulkner, like I once was, you're not alone. Basically, a "darling" is an author's personal/favorite element. This may hold special meaning for the writer, but for the reader it's just annoying gibberish.

--Step Three: If you haven't yet, check out Kristen Lamb's blog. Here, she helps writers identify the over-kill of adverbs, physiology, stage direction, and alien-body movements.

--Step Four: Are the voices of your character's easy to point out? Is it too forced, or not there at all?

--Step Five: Are there places in your manuscript that you keep second guessing? Maybe you should cut it out completely, or have a second pair of eyes go over it.

--Step Six: Lastly, does your beginning and ending work? Does the beginning start with a hook and a conflict that rears the reader in? Does that plot line carry to the ending? Does the book actually end? Are the problems SOLVED? These are things you need to consider if you want your book to be round in the right places.

I hope this helps. I know all the links on this page have helped me the most. Here's the last link. This has a huge, more in-depth check list.

Till next time blog world.

How I use beta/critique readers

Every writer pursuing a career with their books MUST have beta and critique readers.

That wink isn't meant to be taken lightly, ha.

I'll be honest, once I finished The Willow Tree (formally known as Unbroken if you've read older posts or have followed me on AgentQueryConnect ,) I thought only a beta reader would suffice. But that was a lie. And after getting rejection after rejection, I figured I was doing something wrong.

So here's how I've taken complete control over beta/critique readers:

Beta Readers:

Beta readers are basically your second pair of eyes. After I finished the complete manuscript of The Willow Tree, I had a distant friend read it over, merely for content. I didn't want to know her opinions or grammar corrections, I just wanted to know how she felt about the manuscript as a whole. After receiving her feedback, I did more editing. Then, mid-way through the next dozen rounds of editing, I had another beta reader read through for content. Again, after feedback, I did more editing. Then, once I finished the complete manuscript--like ready to ship off to agents complete--I had one more beta reader read over it. With this last beta reader, I wanted to know his/her complete opinion on the material. For example: what did you like the most? What stomped you? How did you feel while reading this part, and so on and so forth.

Critique Readers: 

Critique readers are almost essential to writing a manuscript. Scratch that. IF you are going to write a book, you NEED at least two-three critique readers. I know, that almost sounds like a lot, but trust me, it's so worth it.
So after the first beta reader, I found my first critique reader on Agent Query Connect. She was probably the most legit criticizer I'd ever found online, and she was a huge blessing toward my manuscript. We worked together for about two months through a constant flow of emails, and she helped me polish my manuscript to almost perfection. The next critique reader I had helped me with the first three chapters, then, with her advice, I re-edited the remaining chapters by myself (I'd also found this critique reader on agent query connect. Whoo!) The last critique reader I found was actually a close friend of mine, and because she has a strong eye for catching grammar mistakes and content, I saved her for last. I sent her up to three chapters at a time, and since she was on a timed mission, we finished the LAST edits of my manuscript in about 5-6 weeks.

How long did it take you to polish your complete manuscript? We're talking agent readiness. 

Some of you might already know this, but after the first few edits, I thought my manuscript was ready to be shipped off. However, I was dead wrong. Previously, it had taken me a month to get it to what I thought was agent readiness. After that, I worked on it by myself for about four months. Then I worked with three critique readers afterwards. With six total months of editing.

Was it difficult for you to send your novel to someone you didn't know?

Definitely. That was probably the hardest part. I bet you could imagine the list of things I worried about. But getting my book published was higher than any fears I had, so I conquered it. For the most part, all the critique readers I had were from the same writer's community that I was a part of, so it was easier to send chapters to those people. Opposite of that, all of the beta readers I've had have either been someone I've known or someone I didn't know at all from World Literary Cafe.

Did you ever send your novel to your family members?

The very first version of my book, before it was even edited, was sent straight to my aunt and my Nana (aka my grandmother.) They were just content readers, and I knew that the version of the book they read
wouldn't be the same in the long run, but since they asked for it, I gave it to them. However, I'd stray away from sending anything to close family members or friends. Sometimes their opinions can be bias. Unless you trust that emotions/relations won't get in the way of the editing process, I'd send it elsewhere.

Any last minute advice?

I've said it before, and I'll probably keep saying it, join an online community. Literally, that was probably the best thing that's ever happened to me.

I hope this helps with  your beta/critique readers.

Till next time blog world!

Querying Jodi Reamer

***Update: new blog herehttps://www.britneyslewis.com/post/querying-jodi-reamer
I usually respond within 24 hours. 

If you don't know who Jodi Reamer is . . . well, welcome, my friends. Welcome to the world of Literary agents.

First off: What is a literary agent?
According to Google,
"A literary agent is a professional agent who acts on behalf of an author in dealing with publishers and others involved in promoting the author's work. "

Basically, a literary agent is a bad-ass professional agent who works harder than any other person in the world (in my opinion,) to help make authors dreams come true--at least most of the time. They assist in jobs that range from editing client's projects, to things like contracting negotiations. They're pretty hardcore. And if they believe in you, and your manuscript, they'll do whatever it takes to get it into the hands of an editor/publishing house who loves it as well.

So, who is Jodi Reamer you might ask?

(Photo from: hollywoodreporter.com)

Jodi Reamer is a literary agent for Writer's House. But you might know her as the agent who made Stephanie Meyer, the author of the Twilight Series, dreams come true. Or, you may know her as John Green's super-nova, hot-shot literary agent.

According to her Publisher's Market profile, she represents children's books, YA books, and adult books, but her main focus is on commercial fiction.

Have you queried Jodi Reamer? How did it work out?

Yes. I have indeed queried Reamer and her assistant, Alec Shane. But no, it did not work out for me. I queried her the first novel I'd ever written. And, God-bless her and Mr. Shane for having to look over it. (Also, if you're reading this, I sincerely apologize for making your ogles burn.) Well, anyway, they went ahead and sent a form rejection saying that it wasn't right for them at the time. And I was crushed. I was 18, and I thought that they were definitely the ones for that project. But we all learn eventually, don't we?

What was the response time?

Jodi Reamer's responses range from 6-8 weeks. I queried her in January and got a response in March. However, response times vary depending on if you are doing snail mail, or sending an email.

Would you ever query her again?

Of course! As a writer seeking publication, I can't take rejections too harshly. It's a competitive business and agents strive for the best of the best. But hey, once my manuscript is done with it's 2,000,000,162 edit, I wouldn't mind tossing my query her way. You never know what could happen.

How can I query Jodi Reamer?

You can contact Jodi by going to the Writer's House website or the Publisher's Market website.
You can email your query and the first 10 pages of your manuscript to her assistant, Alec Shane, at ashane@writershouse.com (You can also follow him on twitter at: https://twitter.com/alecdshane )

But remember, Jodi Reamer is a busy woman--just take a look at her client's list.
Good luck with everything!

Till next time blog world.

The Truth About My Summer

I wasn't expecting a summer like this. Actually, I didn't know what to expect at all.
I mean, here I am, at one am writing a blog post.
Because this is the only time, in weeks, that I'm able to make a post--It's ONE AM PEOPLE. Almost two!

But I'm not going to rant about not having time to breathe between heartbeats. Because, in all honesty, I kind of like being busy. It keeps me focused on what's ahead, you know?

A normal week for me involves sleeping, eating, praying, speaking, and working with people in a small community/camp six days a week up to twenty-four hours. (In other words, I'm a cabin leader. However, where I'm from, we call it Home Host.)

Between all that I mention above, I find time to smile, stuff my face with carbs, speak to my sister on the phone, and pet a few cats in the neighborhood.

But what I've also been doing is editing my manuscript like a crazy person. And I don't use the word "crazy" lightly.

In the last 3 weeks I've re-edited twenty-five chapters (for probably the billionth time) and in the last four weeks my first chapter has been changed at least five times. And I finally like my first chapter--though I'm kind of sick of looking at it.

At the same time I've also been working on a friend's manuscript, and helping her get some chapters in tip-toe shape.

The writing life is hard.

However, I do this all with pleasure. Literally, I love my job(s). I probably couldn't ask for any other better opportunity. And to know that this is my talent absolutely bewilders me every stinkin time. What the heck? I'm a writer. How did that happen?

Tah. It's almost two am and I'm day dreaming about writing another novel. I must be asleep, eh?

Till next time blog world.

The Book Process: Rejections From Publishing Houses

What does rejection feel like while on submission? It's completing a 5k in record time and then realizing that you've only ju...