Banner for Justice Unending, showing the title, the author (Elizabeth Spencer), and the book cover.

My debut novel, Justice Unending, is being published by Evernight Teen on November 4th–and today, I’m going to talk a wee little bit about how I got there.

Justice was not the first novel I ever finished. Depending on how generous I want to be, I’d call it either my 5th or 6th one. (I wrote a 120K-long abomination in my college years that was kinda-sorta a completed story, but only because I stopped at the “midpoint” to see how long a YA should be and realized that OMMGGG i should stoooop.)

So, yes. 6th-ish novel. Let’s go with that.

But Justice was the first one that I really, really put my heart into pitching. I did the agent thing. I got requests. I didn’t ultimately get representation.

So then it was time to look at small/medium presses. And I was lost.

I knew how to query agents. There are bajillions of resources about how to query. If you want to know how to write one, or you want to see successful ones, or you want to get yours critiqued, you can find a ton of places to help.

But what about small presses? I, er, didn’t…actually… know?

It was kind of embarrassing. I had experience. I wasn’t new to writing. I had done lots of research. But small presses were different and I was completely out of my element.

So here’s what I did:

  • First, I tried Writer’s Market, the publishers of the annual Guide to Literary Agents books. They have an online database of agents and publishers. And while I’ve gotten a lot of use out of their agent lists, the small/medium publishers in their database were… ehhhhhh. Not only were there very few options for YA fantasy, but I had to put a lot of manual work and time into filtering out ones with poor-quality editing and cover art.
  • Then I tried Query Tracker, my absolute favorite website for tracking and logging queries to agents. But, again, they just didn’t have very much there. I did find a few places to look into, but I didn’t feel like I had a really good list yet.
  • Finally, I just went post-by-post through the “Bewares, Recommendations, & Background Check” forums on Absolute Write. Literally. I just clicked thread-by-thread and copied the URLs of any place that looked high-quality and had a good reputation with the posters. And even though this was an extremely manual process, the comments gave me some insight into whether the publisher was responsive, easy to work with, and reliable about payments.

Once I had a small list of publishers, I measured each based on whether:

  • The books they published appeared to be well edited.
  • They some amount of promotion. Small presses are small, but they still have promotion and marketing processes that you can compare to each other.
  • They had professional-looking covers.
  • They had a generally good reputation on Absolute Write. (If they had a reputation for non-payment, for example, I wrote them off immediately.)

In the end, I had a list of 11 publishers I trusted. Considering I queried way more agents than that, it felt like an anemic list. But thankfully, I didn’t need to find more.

But honestly, I never found a really good database that did the same thing for small presses that Query Tracker or Writer’s Market did for queries. If I need to go through this process again, I know I’ll definitely need to look harder for one.

Photo of the cover of Justice Unending by Elizabeth Spencer.On Monday, I said I had an announcement. And here it is!

My novel, Justice Unending, is being published by Evernight Teen. And it’s coming out on Friday, November 4!

And now it’s cover reveal time!

(Isn’t it lovely? Holy moly, a cover really makes the book seem real.)

Justice Unending is a YA fantasy set in a faux-Victorian fantasy world. It’ll be available primarily in e-book format. And while you can’t currently pre-order, it’ll be available in just a few couple of weeks.

(And if you’d like to know a little more about it, I’ve pasted a short summary at the bottom of this post.)

So, here’s the plan: over the next two-and-a-half weeks, I’m going to be talking about this book.

But don’t worry! I’m not going to sit here screaming BUY MY BOOK. (Seriously. I hate being sold to. I won’t do it to you.) Instead, I’m going to try my best to post about writerly things. You know, the stuff people who are publishing their first book might care about. Like the publishing process! What editing is like to go through an edit! All the scary emotions!

The fist of those will be… Friday-ish? I do try to keep to a schedule, but hey. I’m a little rusty on the blog-stuff.

But before I head off, I said I’d post a wee little bit more about Justice, didn’t I? So here’s the blurb:

Within the walls of the Bastion, it’s an honor to become a host for an Unending—the bodiless, immortal spirits who rule the country.

But for Faye, it meant her sister would have to die.

When Faye sneaks into the Mother Duchess’s manor, she just wanted to see her sister one last time. Instead, Faye finds a manor in chaos, a murdered man, and an Unending assassin named Aris who needs a new body—Faye’s body—to bring the Bastion to its knees.

Now Faye’s harboring the Bastion’s most wanted criminal. And if she wants to live, she’ll have to escape the Duchess and her immortals, all while keeping Aris from harming anyone else.

There’s just one problem—Aris is not the villain. And now Faye is the only one who can help her stop the Duchess before anyone else—and especially Faye—has to die for the Unendings’ whims.

So, if you used to read this blog–and I know that’s a really generous thing to say, considering that I’ve never made the best use of this thing–you probably noticed that I dropped off the face of the earth in January.

It made sense at the time. On top of that before-mentioned “not making the best use of this thing”… thing, I just didn’t have much to say. I publish the occasional short story, sure. I have lots of thoughts on writing. But in the huge, oversaturated world of writing blogs, I didn’t have anything amazing to share, and I didn’t have the clout (or the following!) for those opinions to reach anyone.

Besides, it was stressing me out. So I just took my blog time and turned it into more writing time.

Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want my online presence to look like, and a blog might have a part in it–just a smaller part, and something that feels less obligatory and I-must-post-once-a-week-or-feel-bad. I just don’t exactly know what that is yet. So I’ve been dragging my heels instead.

So, you might be wondering, why am I resurrecting this blog if I’m not sure how I want to use this yet?

Well, I, er, kind of published a book. It’s kind of coming out on November 4, 2016.

And while I dearly love Twitter, I absolutely hate most kinds of Twitter marketing. So I’m bringin’ the blog back!

I’ll be kicking off the announcements on Wednesday this week. I’ll be revealing the cover and sharing a little bit about the story. And for the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing a few posts about my experiences, and my thoughts, and a whole lot of other things.

See you then!

16080676Oh man, I’ve been so bad about updating this blog, I’m sorrryyyyyy

I was reading 2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love last week. (I also wrote a review of it on Goodreads!) It was a pretty standard book until I read the section on editing.

And then something just… clicked.

You see, when Rachel Aaron edits her books she does very few readthroughs–that is, she doesn’t start editing by reading on page #1 and going through to the end. She does one hardcore read-and-edit of the entire book, and she only does it late in the edit, after she’s finished all her big changes.

I’ll get to what she does and why in a moment. But this blew my mind for some reason. She avoids reading the whole story front-to-back because reading the entire story again and again and again made her hate her stories.

And that sounded familiar.

Could Editing Too Much Be a Problem?

I edit by reading the whole story from the beginning to the end. I do it many, many, many times.

The thing is, I like editing. I love editing! It’s my favorite part of writing a novel! So whenever people start talking about how editing is bad or stressful or deeply uncomfortable, I get a little defensive. Editing is awesome. You can’t change my mind on that.

That also means I did at least 6 passes on the book I last queried. That’s what it needed, so that’s what I did. I just kept reading and fixing and reading and fixing until it was ready to go.

Did I do a fine job editing? I’d like to think so. Did I hate that thing at the end? I wanted to toss it into a fire. 

But the thing is, I’m not exactly a confident person. I always find reasons to dislike my writing. So “hey, I’ve read this story so much I hate everything about it” is not a strange and unfamiliar state for me. Hating a story I read too many times felt natural and unavoidable.

It never–and I do mean never–occurred to me that reading my drafts too many times might make me hate them more.

The Alternative: More Targeted Edits, Fewer Readthroughs

You can buy 2K to 10K if you want to read the whole process in detail. (The book is 99 cents and 70 pages long. It’s not a huge investment.) But here’s what she does:

  1. She goes through the story real quick and creates a “scene map.” You go through the novel, tally each chapter, and write a bullet for each thing that happens in each scene and chapter. It’s kind of like making a reverse outline–except now, instead of planning each scene, you’re writing down what you actually wrote.
  2. You make a to-do list of all the big edits that you need to do.
  3. You use the scene map to find which chapters include the issues you need to fix.
  4. Go directly to those chapters–and just them–and fix them.
  5. Gradually check everything off your list.
  6. Once everything is done on your list you THEN do a readthrough of the entire story on the sentence-and-paragraph level. At this point you’ll have a lot of cleanup to do–you’ll have references to things you just edited out, or buildup to stuff that doesn’t happen anymore–but that’s just editing. The big stuff is done. Now you just make the rest of it work.

The important thing is that you AREN’T just making a to-do list and trying to fix the entire story in a single readthrough.

That’s pretty stressful, for one thing. And difficult. If you have a dozen tasks to tweak and several chapters to rewrite, just reading the whole darn story one–or two or three–times to get everything right can be exhausting.

So you don’t. You do targeted fixes. You get the big stuff out of the way. You only worry about polishing paragraphs and making things pretty once you’re sure that you don’t have any huge, glaring mistakes to fix anymore. And–just to make all this more appealing–apparently this is faster, too.

So I’m going to try it out!

I’ve got a really messy MG fantasy. It’s rough. Really rough. It’s so rough I was desperately putting off editing it at all because, despite how much I generally like editing, it felt like a huge amount of work to fix.

So, hey! Let’s see if this works! Let’s see if it’s faster, easier, or just all-around less stressful to fix targeted chapters first and edit everything second. Of course, worded like that, it sounds like it should be easier, huh? But goodness knows that these things don’t always work out like you want them to. Maybe my brain just won’t work in a non-linear fashion. Maybe this’ll be inefficient. Maybe. Who knows.

In any case, I’m going to try it out, give it a fair shot, and report back once I’m done. We’ll see how it goes!

Holy moley, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. Hi! I hope everyone reading this had some wonderful holidays!

It’s December 31st! The end of the year! And I wanted to take this moment to look back at what I accomplished this year. So let’s get to it!

I read a lot of awesome books!

I read 31 books this year. And while most of it was the usual fare–YA fantasy and a smattering of non-fiction–I also read a toooooooooon of MG!

But that doesn’t matter, because almost all of the books I 5-starred on Goodreads were non-fiction or adult fantasy. And so, for the second year in a row, almost all of my favorite books were not in the genre I’m trying to write. Delightful!

The books I enjoyed the most were:

  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, a book on elfin/goblin politics that has maybe 5 pages of action and is still completely riveting.
  • Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman, although I’m still conflicted about it. Every single line spoken by a dragon is pure shining gold, but the ending frustrates me to this very day.
  • How to be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman, which is just a lovely non-fiction book, and…
  • A New History of Shinto by John Breen and Mark Teeuwen, which is also super aweome!

I wrote a fair amount!

My original plan was to just dump numbers here. I have them! I seriously do! I can tell you with extreme accuracy how many words I wrote, and how many of those words went to novels, short stories, outlines, and query letters.

But… let’s not. I wrote the first draft of a 60K MG fantasy novel and four short stories. I sold two shorts. I placed in one contest.

And most of that was written after July. I had a pretty weird year, honestly. I spent the first 6 months just fumbling around–struggling to write a novel, puttering through short stories, and being furious at myself all the while. Sure, I pulled out of it. The last half of the year was extremely productive. But none of it was really good for me.

We’ll get to that in a second.

I finished querying a novel!

Okay, so. I kept saying that I was going to post my querying stats. I haven’t. I was imagining a nice, long post about querying where I explained what went well, what didn’t, what freaked me out, and how I worked through it.

I never wrote that post! And now it seems unlikely that I will.

So let’s get that out of the way. I queried a YA fantasy to 92 agents. I got 5 full requests and 1 partial. No one made any offers, unfortunately. I’m done querying that novel–and I have other plans for it, which I hope I can talk about soon! But for now, I can just say that it was a good experience, I learned a lot, but it’s obviously not where I wanted to be.

It’s one of the things I’m most unsure about this year. I feel like I’ve got a bad case of the almosts. I almost had what it took to get an agent to take me on. Almost. Not quite. But almost.

Almost’s not a great place. It kind of drives me nuts. But I also feel like a huge hypocrite in saying so. I know that the me from 5 years ago would punch me in the gut for complaining about getting full manuscript requests, even if they didn’t go anywhere.

So there’s my New Year’s resolution: To write more and agonize less.

So, like I said before, this year was weird. It started out bad. It ended up good. But none of that, I think, is how I’d like to write in the future. And that’s because I spent an awful lot of this year being angry with my writing. Here’s how my train of thought would go:

Writers write.

If you want to make a career as a fiction writer–after accepting that this is extremely unlikely to happen in the first place–you need to write a lot of stories. You have to produce constantly.

The more novels and short stories you complete, the more chances you have at publishing them.

If you are not producing complete novels regularly, you will not be working toward this dream.

OK. So that’s the stupid little reel playing in the back of my skull. It’s reasonable, right? It’s realistic! It’s entirely true. If someone wanted to make a career as a writer, they would have to write a lot of books, regularly and often. Heck, they’d probably want to do a lot more than I manage, which is roughly a novel a year.

But I beat myself over the head with with logic constantly. I wrote a short story a month earlier this year, and it wasn’t enough. 4 stories in 4 months? You can write a short story in a couple of days! It wasn’t enough.

I was writing a novel. When it puttered out in February, I was crushed. I had wasted 6 months on that thing, and I didn’t end up with a completed first draft. I needed to start another. Immediately. I needed to plan and outline and write, because it was February and if I didn’t hurry I wouldn’t finish anything by the end of the year, and then I would be a total failure.

But it turns out that screaming WRITE MORE! PRODUCE MORE! FASTER! at yourself every damn day doesn’t actually make you write better.

I did eventually sit down and write a novel. In fact, almost 60% of the words I wrote this year happened between July and November. But it was a heroic effort. It was repentance! I had struggled so much the first half of the year that I felt like I had to write 10,000 words a week to make up for it. (Though, to be fair, I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t like I was hatewriting the poor thing. I did really enjoy it.)

But the point is that none of this is good for the long haul.

I need to stop… Haranguing myself so much, I guess. And it’s hard, because I’m seeing some success. Some of my novels are getting interest, some of my stories have been sold. Those are all good things. But I have some fervent need to up the ante and do MORE BETTER FASTER.

So yes. That’s my goal. That’s my resolution: I really just don’t need to turn writing into a boom or bust cycle where I’m either frustrated about not writing enough or writing more than I can reasonably maintain.

Because, regardless of all the stress, I got a lot done. I sold more stuff. I wrote more stuff. I learned a ton. And I can continue to do more, and see more success, without making myself feel panicked about not doing enough.

So! That’s the plan. We’ll see how it goes. Here’s to 2016 being an even better year!

First off, I want to make a confession: I signed up for this thing totally on impulse. I really, really wanted to go to a conference this year, but I had missed all the big ones, all the local ones, and all the appropriate ones. So I decided, “Hey, who cares? I just need to to go to something, right? I’m only going so I can meet people, anyway.”

What I’m trying to say is: This was a good conference, but it was totally not for me.

One look at the official website should show you why–and it should have keyed me in, too! So shame on me! Because it’s really pretty obvious: this is a workshop for beginners.

So let’s talk about it!

The Panels

The entire event was presented by Chuck Sambuchino, who’s best known as the editor for the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents and the author of several comedy and non-fiction books on how to write.

And he’s good. He knows his stuff, he’s inspirational, and he’s funny. He also speaks at roughly five thousand words per minute, so I’m going to guess he really likes his coffee, too.

There were five panels:

  • Your Publishing Options Today: An introduction to traditional publishing and self-publishing with an overview of the pros and cons for each.
  • Everything You Need to Know About Agents, Queries, and Pitching: This covered queries, synopses, and finding agents.
  • Chapter One Critique-Fest: The agents read the first page of several manuscripts and raised their hands at the point when they’d stop reading. Then they all explained what did and didn’t work for them.
  • How to Market Yourself And Your Books: A one-hour summary of Chuck’s book, Create Your Writer Platform, which went through why you need a social media platform and how it can (and can’t) help you.
  • How to Get Published: 10 Professional Writing Practices That You Need to Know NOW to Find Success as a Writer: Just a nice, rah-rah, inspirational speech with ten common-sense tips on writing.

Did I get a lot of out them? Er, not really. But I’m not the target audience here. I’ve queried three novels. I know what agents are, I know how to write queries, and I know what to do when you get a full request. I might not have an agent yet, but I at least know how to get there.

But would this kind of workshop be useful for a beginner? Definitely! It provided a high-level overview of where to publish, how to query, how to find an agent, what agents think when they read your stuff, and how to promote yourself along the way. For someone who has just started writing and has a gist of what publishing is about, this would be great.

Mostly, Chuck is just a really good speaker. None of this was new to me, sure. But I was very rarely bored. Chuck is fun enough to listen to that the panels were entertaining even when their content was pretty basic.

So What Did I Get Out of It?

I was in a stupid-lousy situation, really. I had already queried Justice Unending, my 65,000-word YA fantasy, to all the YA agents attending. (It’s also pretty much done–I’ve finished its query runs and moved on to small/medium presses.) I have the first draft of a MG fantasy done, but I finished that a couple of weeks ago. I’m really not ready to pitch that thing.

And I’ve already mentioned that I didn’t get a lot out of the panels. So what did I enjoy?


Seriously. I don’t get out a lot. I definitely don’t meet a lot of other writers. I’m reasonably new to the Boston area, I’m shy as heck, and I haven’t really reached out to others. So hey, committing myself to a conference kind of forced me to get out and meet people, right?

And that was worth the price of admission. Sure, sure, yeah–I could probably have achieved the same thing by being less shy and going to SCBWI events. Or joining a writing group. Or something. But this was the kick in the butt I needed to go out and talk to writers. And it was fun.

So, overall…?

I don’t know if Writers Digest throws these mini-workshops often, but if you’re new to publishing, new to writing, and want a great, big infodump on how it works, then these workshops aren’t a bad deal. It was a one-day event, it wasn’t ridiculously expensive, and Chuck was a great speaker. As far as conferences go, that’s about as low a barrier to entry as you can get.


I also love writing. Consequentially, I really wanted to find a way to better track my writing progress. I wanted more than the “X words out of XX,XXX” tickers that you see on message boards or the chapter-level or novel-level targets that Scrivener gave you. I wanted to map my work daily, showing exactly how much work I was doing and what kind of work it was. I wanted data that I could slice, dice, and display in different formats.

I might be a little nuts.

So I kept a record of everything I wrote all year. When I first started tracking my work, I recorded everything I did in a very simple Excel file. But last week, something happened. Something magical. Something wonderful.

I discovered pivot tables. And now I’m going to show you what I used them for.

(It gets more exciting in a moment, I promise.)

Step #1: Record Every Time You Do Anything Related to Writing

This is the only step that took any work. I logged an entry in Excel every time I did anything related to writing–so, basically, any time I wrote, edited, or outlined something.

I tracked everything. I didn’t just track words I wrote for stories. I tracked words I wrote for query letters, synopses, and outlines. Basically, if I was being productive and it was related to a story, I recorded it.

Here’s what my tracker looks like:

Screenshot showing what stories I worked on by day.
(January was a horrible month for me, but whatever. You can see what I’m tracking.)

It’s pretty simple. I track:

  • The Date: When I worked on anything writing-related.
  • The title of what I worked on.
  • The type of product. This can be a novel, short story, outline, query, or synopsis.
  • The total word count. This is automatically generated from the next two fields–“New Word Count” and “Original Word Count.” If I started a chapter or story from scratch and wrote 2,000 words, that “2,000” would go in the “New Word Count” and 0 would go in the “Original Word Count.” If I later picked up that piece and added 1,000 words, I’d have “3,000” (the new final word count) in “New Word Count” and 2,000 in the “Original”… Which would allow me to track how many words I added or removed that day.
  • The type of work. I use four categories here: writing, editing, outlining, and administrative (which I use for queries and synopses.)
  • The total words worked. This is a quirky and possibly not useful field. I hate it when I do a really good job editing, remove 10,000 words from a novel… And this file shows my monthly word count as -10,000 words. That’s what shows up in the “total” field. And, as you can tell from February 5, sometimes that looks nasty. So I made this silly field, the “total words worked” field. It’s a duplicate of the “total” field, except everything is a positive number.


Step #2: Use that PivotTable Magic!

Everything else is done automatically. Using the data you’re tracking in step #1, you can ask Excel to create a whole slew of beautiful tables. Like this one!

Screenshot showing everything I worked on by month in 2015.

(Yes, these are my real numbers. Yes, I had an incredibly bad start to the year, including an abysmal April. It got better, though!)

This beautiful table shows exactly how many words I wrote each month, broken up by what I worked on. The only real quirk is that I didn’t track how many words I wrote during my outlining period between April and June, so my actual total is a lot higher than the zeroes you see there.

All I had to do was:

  1. Create a new tab in Excel.
  2. Go to Insert > PivotTable
  3. Put “Date” in the Row Labels.
  4. Put “Work Type” and “Story Type” (in that order) in the “Column Labels.”
  5. Put “Total” in the “Values” section.
  6. Click the little arrow next to “Total,” select “Value Field Settings,” and set “Summarize value field by” to “Sum.”
  7. By default, it displayed all this data broken up by individual days. To get the month-by-month view, right click any day, select “Group,” then make sure it’s grouped by “Months.”

That’s it! Now it shows all the words I wrote this year, organized by the type of work I did and the type of product I created.

I have a different tab that shows this same data broken down by week. It’s glorious!

Step #3: Experiment with Different Data Sets!

There are all kinds of ways to display data! How about month-by-month breakdown of what projects you worked on? That’s another fun one!

Screenshot showing what products I worked on every month vs. the number of words I produced.

Isn’t that awesome?!

So data is awesome. Awesome. I could graph this stuff. I could look at it a zillion different ways. I’m addicted to numbers.

But I also find these numbers soothing. It shows me that I’m getting work done. It helps me see, in a very easy-to-read format, just how productive I’ve been this year.

Also, it looks really cool. What more could you want?