I keep thinking I’ll find a way to turn them into whole blog posts, but then I don’t because there’s stuff to do and books to write and cats to feed. So here are some words of wisdom that I think are worth sharing just because.
1) Stop buying crap products from the drugstore and go to the dermatologist. Look, I swear we’ll get to the Deep and Meaningful Wisdom in a moment, but for now, trust me: At the dermatologist, they can give you prescriptions for face washes that cost a fraction of what you’re paying for drugstore stuff and work 5000x as well. And creams and stuff. For real. I can’t believe I waited so long to go (and spent so much on fancy face products at Sephora).
2) As I keep saying on twitter, it actually IS a good idea to rise early rather than work all night. I know. I hate that cold truth too.
3) Audiobooks are an amazing magical way to read (?) lots of books, because you will eventually want to listen to them rather than watch TV, so ta-da, you’ve also saved on cable! I have listened to so many, and I know there’s no way I’d have found the time to read an equal number of books.
4) It is so, so, so easy to cocoon up in your house with Netflix and pajamas and say “it’s because I’m introverted” or “I’ve had a long week” or “I’m just really tired tonight”. Look, you might be introverted/overworked/tired. But if you constantly use all that as an excuse to be a lousy friend, partner, and relative, then the people who love and care about you are going to learn how to live their lives without you there. Say yes to things. Go places even when you’d rather nap. Make sure your friends/family members know that you appreciate being asked to things, and that you want to be a part of their lives– and not just when it’s convenient to you.
5) Willpower is a finite resource. If you do the Hardest Thing when you’re at the end of the day, your willpower will be all used up. Do the Hardest Thing– whether that’s working out, or writing, or reading Facebook because OMG IS IT HARD TO LOOK AT YOUR RACIST UNCLES POSTS– at the beginning of the day. This, by the way, goes hand in hand with that Waking Up Early thing.
6) Being passive aggressive online is so very unattractive and unpleasant and ugh just don’t. I see it constantly on Facebook. I see it via pointed unfollows or vague tweets on twitter. I see it from celebrities and students and writers and friends. I’m sure it can be justified– “It’s MY Social Media Platform” or “I just don’t even care!” or “Whatever, she doesn’t follow me anyway”– but still. It accomplishes nothing. Be bigger than that.
7) Don’t spend your time reading books that you’re not all that into. There are way too many amazing books to read.
8) I’m serious about that dermatologist thing.
THERE’S A DOG GUYS
Do you love it as much as I do? Because I adore it. Bloomsbury has done such a phenomenal job with the covers on this series. I can’t wait for July 2016!
So far, you can preorder HERE at Indiebound.org. I’ll post other buy links as they become available. And look for an ARC giveaway soon!
There are a lot of boring adult reasons why I’m moving, to be honest, and some not so boring ones: Male Counterpart and I are (finally) moving in together. I am super excited, as this means we won’t live forty minutes away from one another anymore. Plus, I’ll have a yard! I’m going to GROW THINGS. I’m going to NOT TAKE MY DOG DOWN FIVE FLIGHTS OF STEPS. I’m going to SEE WILDLIFE.
I’M GOING TO HAVE TRICK-OR-TREATERS!
But I am also really, really sad, because I absolutely love where I live now. Not my condo, exactly– it’s amazing, I won’t lie. Seriously. I’ve got giant built-in bookshelves a friend made for me, and a wooden swing hanging from the ceiling because this is what adulting is, and I have an amazing view and concrete floors. The building used to be the CDC way back in the 1950s, so we never ever lose power.
It’s a very cool space, and I’ll miss it, but to be honest, leaving my condo is only like, 30% of the reason I’m sad. The other 70% is that I’m sad to leave this part of Atlanta.
Now, let me be clear about something that might make this entire post seem a little ridiculous: I’m moving from Atlanta to…Atlanta. That’s right. I’m technically still within the city limits. I just will no longer be in the center of the city, like I have been for the last seven years. And that’s the part that’s getting to me.
Atlanta is the sort of place that you can move within the city and feel like you’re in a totally different state. There’s Buckhead, full of clubs and ladies who lunch and ritzy hotels. There’s Inman Park, all craftsman bungalows owned by wealthy hipsters. Bankhead, where you NEVER want to go, because it’s scary as hell. The West Side, which use to be scary as hell, but is soon going to be home to a giant park and already has all sorts of clever quaint restaurants. East Atlanta, land of bars with patios and tattoos. Old Fourth Ward, which is practically built from art installations and tacos. And then there’s Midtown, which is where I’ve lived.
Midtown is the gay district in Atlanta, though plenty of people have complained that it’s losing that distinction. Still, there are rainbow flags everywhere you look. The Pride parade marches right down my street– as does the St. Patrick’s Day parade and the Christmas parade. The Pride parade is the best one, of course, because it involves fabulous floats blasting Lady Gaga music and, one memorable year, a giant awesome foam machine on a float full of men wearing leather.
There are restaurants– mostly inexpensive, locally owned ones. Midtown has Piedmont Park, which is the city’s main park– the lake is actually stocked, so people fish in it. The park has art festivals, food festivals, and concerts; it’s where I saw Paul McCartney perform live, and if I open my windows, I can hear music if it’s a particularly loud show (looking at you, Lorde). There are hotels and dessert places and sidewalks everywhere.
And then there’s the stuff that a realtor might not know to tell you. There’s that weird hobo that dresses like a king– I’m not kidding– and walks around as if he isn’t wearing a crown and a cape. There are street musicians around here, usually a trumpet player, but occasionally a sax player and, recently, a Mongolian throat singer. There’s an art installation near my house that’s literally a rock that spins, and I think it’s just the greatest thing. There’s a guy who walks down the street every week or so, dressed in drag and twirling a baton. Recently they’ve put up all these gazebos made of yarn, and a hardware store opened up. There’s often stencil art on the sidewalks, and the Midtown Alliance just built a little racquetball court in an empty lot.
My neighborhood is full of people like me– adult former-quasi-hipster artsy types who drink bubble tea but still get home from the poetry slam at a reasonable hour. We’re arrogant and insufferable, and we don’t care because whatever, you can’t even drive very well here, much less live here, so HA. We know all the details about what buildings are going in where, and who the head chef at the new restaurant is, and what times the streets will be closed for that block party that’s taking over the city for the afternoon. When we go to a restaurant or gym or nail salon and they ask “Do you need your parking validated?” we snort and say “Uh, no, I walked over” because as if we would drive. We live right around the corner!
(Seriously, we’re the worst.)
What I’m getting at is: Midtown is weird. It is the weirdest, best place in Atlanta, which is also the weirdest, best place.
When I first realized it was time to move out of my condo, I kept saying “I want to move somewhere where I can walk to things.” I kept thinking that was what made my neighborhood so great– how I could basically fall out my door and eat dinner or get groceries or workout or order coffee. So, for about a month, Male Counterpart and I focused on places where I’d be able to walk to things. There were only a handful that both allowed me to walk to things, and didn’t leave him driving two hours to get to work in the morning.
I didn’t like them.
Even when they had everything we were looking for, including that oh-so-coveted-walkability, I didn’t like them. Because, I realized, I wasn’t actually looking for someplace where I could walk to the grocery store. I was looking for my neighborhood, somewhere else. I didn’t want a nearby Publix– I wanted the guy dressed as the hobo king and the popsicle cart and the stenciled koi on the sidewalk.
Some of you reading this may have never been in love with a place before. To be fair, there’s only one place I ever remembering loving the way I love Atlanta– when I was ten, we lived in Columbus, Georgia for a while. I was a baby redneck at the time, with a very pronounced Southern drawl, red mud stains on all my clothing, and a love for my weird little neighborhood of muscadine grapes and white-tailed deer.
But we moved, and because I was ten years old, I didn’t have much say in the matter. I think that made it easier.
Now, however, I’m an adult, which means I’m choosing to leave my magical land of crazy kings and spinning rocks. And even though I keep reminding myself that I’ll have a yard and wildlife and trick-or-treaters, I am still, at times, overwhelmed with how much I love this city, and how much I’ll miss this particular part of it.
I love Atlanta. I want to bite the buildings, to sink my hands in the asphalt like it’s dough or moving water.
And I am leaving it– sort of kind of a little. I’m leaving this part of Atlanta, the part that’s ever changing and has the racquetball court and the guy dressed as the king and Baton Bob. I’ll live so ridiculously close by, and I’ll come here often, but I know it won’t quite be the same.
It’s for the best– really. I am excited and happy and looking forward to it.
Did I mention trick-or-treaters?
But seriously, Atlanta. I just really love you.
Public speaking is hard, guys. It takes practice, and work, and it can be really scary, especially if you’re new at it. When you research public speaking, you get a lot of results that encourage you to picture the audience in their underwear (uh, creepy), or memorize your notes, or pause two seconds at each period. Which is all well and good, but that’s more like second tier advice for people wanting to polish their public speaking game. So, I’ve put together some first tier advice—advice I wish I’d had when I first started doing author events, but advice that I think is relevant to all forms of public speaking. Here goes:
1. Practice your speech. And do so standing up, wearing the shoes you’ll be wearing when you give it. This is particularly important if you’ll be wearing heels of any variety. When you’re nervous, you tend to be a bit more wobbly on your feet. Combine that with unpracticed heels and it can all get tricky.
2. Everyone is on your side. This is the most important point of this entire post. I have seen a lot of people speak to a large audience. A lot of those people have been very, very nervous about doing so. And I promise: I was always cheering for them. If they slipped up on a word, or lost their place, or dropped their papers, I was never snickering—I was always thinking “You’ve got this! Don’t worry about it!”. So was everyone else in the audience. No one watching you speak wants you to fail. Because seriously, if I wanted to see someone fail, I’d go to YouTube. It’s easier and you can replay it over and over.
3. Don’t worry if they laugh when you mess up. They’re not laughing at you. They’re laughing because it’s just funny when someone accidentally says “breast” instead of “best” (I’ve done it). Or when someone tries to combine the word “cities” and “towns” and winds up saying “titties” (Male Counterpart did that in front of his class). But they’re not laughing AT you. They’re laughing because it’s funny. You can laugh too.
4. Tell the audience what you need. Feel free to say “I totally lost my place” or “This is my cheat sheet.” I am super distractible, so whenever I’m giving a new presentation, I have my laptop or iPad nearby to refer to. I always tell the audience “I’m basically like your cat, and get distracted by shiny things, so I brought this to help me find my place again.” No one has ever been bothered or alarmed by that. Sometimes, I talk too fast and lose my breath. Sometimes, even with a familiar presentation, I lose my place because something throws me—people talking loudly, a bell ringing, or, in one memorable case, a man covered in mud running by in the background. If I don’t have a cheat sheet with me, I literally just ask the audience what I was talking about. They’re always happy to remind me because SEE POINT 2.
5. Focus on what you’re saying. There are all sorts of websites that tell you to keep your eyes up! Don’t sway! Look people in the eye! And that’s all well and good if you’re at the point where you’re comfortable with public speaking. But if you’re not, just keep your eyes on your paper (assuming you have one). Focus on the words, not the people in the room. One word at a time—slowly.
6. Take a breath. Especially if you’re about to fall apart. Take a breath in through your nose, out through your mouth, and let go. Use that breath as your “restart”. If you’re trying to give your speech and think about how badly you’re screwing up and wonder if people are laughing at you and dwell on if you’re speaking too fast, your brain is going to ignite. Take a breath, and SEE POINT 5.
7. Put your paper on something. This is a pretty basic trick, but makes a big difference. If your hands are shaking, it’ll be way less noticeable if you’ve got the paper on a podium or desk or something. If you won’t have a podium, use notecards rather than a piece of paper—they’ll wobble less and thus be less noticeable.
8. It wasn’t as bad as you thought. Ok, let’s say you’ve already given a speech and OH MY GOD IT WAS THE WORST YOU MESSED UP EVERYTHING.
You didn’t. Seriously. It was just one speech, and unless you’re the President and you accidentally just said “titties” on camera, no one’s going to remember in the end. Sometimes I catch myself sitting around and dwelling on all the embarrassing things I’ve done in my life. I would bet cash money that no one who witnessed those things remembers them—or if they do, they remember them as sort of a passing story rather than THAT TIME JACKSON RUINED EVERYTHING.
9. Everyone is on your side. Yes, it’s important enough that I’m saying it twice—and because you should know that everyone is on your side after you’ve given a speech. If you screwed up, you’re almost certainly beating yourself up way more than anyone else is—because guess what? Public speaking is probably scary for them too.
10. Don’t let one bad speech ruin you. While I was writing SISTERS RED, I got a terrible migraine in Borders moments after drinking one of those Naked brand smoothies. That smoothie had nothing whatsoever to do with why I got a migraine, but I will never ever ever drink one again. Don’t let public speaking become your Naked smoothie. Just because you screwed up once back in 4th grade and the whole class saw you turn bright red doesn’t mean you are bad at public speaking. It means that in 4th grade, you messed up a single speech.
11. Public speaking takes practice. And I’m not talking about practicing for a single speech. I’m talking about practicing public speaking, period. The more often you speak in public, the better you’ll be at it. If you’re truly terrified, start small and join a book club—one that’s not stacked with your BFFs. I also know a lot of people who have taken improv comedy classes to help them with their confidence in front of a crowd. And there are various organizations that focus on public speaking that are a quick Google away.
For what it’s worth, I also think performing arts—even if it’s not drama, where you’re speaking on stage—are hugely helpful for this, because you get used to eyes being on you. I could go on for hours about the various benefits of arts education, but I’ll be brief and say that the confidence I got from years of dance and winterguard has been invaluable.
And there you have it! Good luck, go forth, speak publicly. And do so without ever needing to picture the audience in their underwear like some kind of creeper.
You: *get on elevator*
Fancy Editor from Fancy Publishing House: *gets on elevator*
*You turn to the Editor. She is yours for the next eight seconds. There is no escape. This is an elevator, after all.*
You: Hi there. I’ve written a book.
Editor: Oh? Tell me about it.
You: Well, it’s sort of a transformation themed love story. See there’s this girl, and a long time ago this werewolf killed her grandmother. She she has a little sister, who she loves and they’re really close, and they live in this house and it’s basically just them, and they’ve kind of been living there for ages and making it work. But there’s also this boy– the kind of boy they’ve known for a while– who lives next door, and he’s close friends with the older sister and as they start growing older he ends up having feelings for the younger sister. So anyway, the werewolves they–
*Elevator doors open*
Editor: Have a nice day!
You: Wait! WAIT!
Editor: *does not wait*
The Elevator Pitch is a skill I want you– all of you, writers old and young and small and tall and here and there– to have. The Elevator Pitch is a skill you need.
So often we get caught up in the vastness of the worlds we’ve created, the characters we’ve meticulously honed, the subplots we’ve carefully laid out. We’ve spent SO much time on them, after all, and we want others to appreciate them!
The trouble is, all that stuff? That’s the stuff people find out and respect and admire when they READ the book. It’s not the way to sell people on the book before they’ve opened it. Think of the Elevator Pitch like a tagline, or the way you’d summarize a movie to your friend. You don’t tell them the nitty gritty, you tell them the big idea.
You: Want to go see Bring It On?
Friend: Maybe. What’s it about?
It’s about this girl who has taken over as a captain for a cheerleading team that always wins, and then they start to lose and she freaks out, but this new girl comes to town who is an ex-gymnast and joins their team, the main girl– the captain– ends up having feelings for that girl’s brother. And anyway, they train really hard and hire in this guy who is supposed to be an amazing cheerleading choreographer, but it ends up that he’s just shopping the same routine to all sorts of groups, and so the team gets disqualified. And then they also find out that all the cheers and routines they’d been doing for ages were actually stolen from this black cheerleading team from Compton that couldn’t ever afford to go to competitions, and so it’s like the main girl’s whole cheerleading history is stolen and faked. And so they take all these lessons and learn to like swing dance and stuff and then they do a fundraiser so the team from Compton can come compete, but the Compton girls find another way to get there because they don’t want pity to get them to the competition. And in the end there’s this big huge cool routine and the main girl is like YOU BETTER BRING IT and that’s what the title is all about, and then the black team wins but it’s cool because they were the best and the main girl is like Oh, this feels like first.
It’s a semi-dark comedy about competitive cheerleading.
Friend: I’m in!
If you’d given your friend the long spiel, her eyes would have started to glaze over. My eyes started to glaze over while writing that, and I freaking love Bring It On. Even if you’re not talking to an editor or agent or industry person, an elevator pitch is a clever way to make people think “My, that person has chops!” rather than “My, that person is still talking!”.
So, how to do it?
Take your book. Grind it down to the very, very basics. So, for example– I was talking about SISTERS RED in that scenario above, in the elevator. Instead of all that long-winded nonsense, I could have just said: It’s a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, about two sisters who hunt werewolves.
BAM. There’s you pitch. And for what it’s worth, that’s how it was pitched to my editor who wound up aquiring the book.
PURITY? It’s about a girl trying to lose her virginity before her Purity Ball.
TSARINA? It’s about a noble girl trying hunt down a magical Faberge egg in the middle of the Russian Revolution.
A slightly longer version is okay too, like:
DOUBLECROSS? It’s about a boy who has always wanted to be a super spy, like his parents. Even though he’s super smart and clever and works hard, he’s a bit chubby and isn’t able to pass the spy agency’s physical exam. But when his parents are kidnapped by a rival spy organization, he and his little sister are the only ones who can save the day.
Have your Elevator Pitch ready to go from the moment you start mentioning your book to people, because you never know when you might need it. Ages and ages ago, I remember calling an agency to verify their mailing information before I started queries. The woman who answered the phone gave me the info, then casually said “So, what’s the book about?”
And I basically said: dlkjflskdnfwlkerowuefoiwenrlwkejd0wejpfuweofch2i
Because I didn’t have my Elevator Pitch ready.
Often, when I’m at events or conferences or signings at stores, people mention to me that they write, and I always ask what the book is about– and more often then not, they don’t have their elevator pitch ready either. It doesn’t bug me or anything, but I can always see their faces getting red as they stumble through, trying to sort out what to say, reminding me oh-so-much of myself on the phone with that agency many years ago.
My point is, go forth, create your elevator pitch sooner rather than later. The world is full of elevators, after all, and you never know who you’ll get on board with.