Sarah J. Carlson

Contemporary Young Adult Author

Tag Archives: getting published

Signing the publishing contract

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My mom has said on more than one occasion that when I put my mind to something, I make it happen. At the end of 7th grade, we moved from a suburb of Milwaukee to the rural town of Sparta, Wisconsin, population 9,000. I swore I’d move back to Milwaukee. I started my professional career as a school psychologist for the Milwaukee Public Schools. After I saw the movie Braveheart in like 6th grade, I swore I’d go to Scotland. I went twice; once, I even hiked to the ruins of the town my ancestors immigrated to Canada from on the Isle of Mull.

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Grazing sheep on the Isle of Mull, off the west coast of Scotland near the ruins of a town that people were forced from to make room for grazing sheep.

Before my husband and I moved to Singapore during the summer of 2013, I resolved to take a group of middle school students who had worked with me for a year in a community service club to Pine Ridge Reservation to volunteer. With the help of those students and many others, I managed to get the whole trip paid for at no expense to the students and navigate the bureaucracy of my school district to make it happen.

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Our autographed school t-shirt that went on the wall of Re-Member. Mitakuye Oyasin means “all [people/things] are related” in Lakota.

From a very young age, I loved making up elaborate worlds and stories in my imagination. I’d be running around in my back yard by myself, talking to entire casts of characters that existed only in my mind. I’d often rope my four younger siblings in, too. I first realized my love of writing those stories down in 4th grade when I was selected to go to a special writing convention for all the elementary schools in the area. All our short stories were printed and bound into a book. After that were many notebooks filled with stories inspired by Stephen King and Michael Creighton. Some of them are still in a box in my parent’s attic somewhere. After that was an elaborate sci-fi story I spent many hours researching Europa and methods of faster-than-light travel and star systems with habitable planets. I finally finished a draft at some point in college. It was 240,000 words. *cringe*

After I let someone look at it, then couldn’t pay them to read the whole thing, I knew I needed to learn more. So I took critique classes at UW-Madison, went to conferences, and got involved in more critique groups and read books. Wrote several more (and better) books that I queried without luck. About five years ago, after a trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland, I was inspired. I started researching and learning. Then, while sitting at an Irish pub in Madison, Wisconsin, I took the first primordial steps toward writing a book that is now called All the Walls of Belfast.

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Taken by me at a bonfire in Tiger’s Bay, Belfast on Bonfire Night (July 12th, 2011).

Then I moved to Singapore for my husband’s job, found more writer friends, and really, really got serious about writing. I got involved in the fabulous Singapore Writers Group within a week of getting off the plane and focused on developing my craft, critiquing others, and taking and applying constructive feedback, even when it was hard to hear. Researching, so much researching. And re-writing—and re-writing again—while riding busses and sitting in various coffee shops in Holland Village and Robertson Quay and Buona Vista.

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Writing on the MRT in Singapore.

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One of the many flat whites consumed at one of many coffee shops in Singapore.

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I found out about fabulous twitter-based writing contests such as Pitch Wars, Nightmare on Query Street, and #Pitchmas. other twitter pitching contests. Finally I landed an agent, Claire Anderson-Wheeler at Regal Hoffman & Associates, after she liked a tweet.

Then I moved back from Singapore and went back to work full-time as a school psychologist and had my daughter.

For the next three years, while balancing all that, I re-wrote parts of All the Walls at least twice, then basically fully re-wrote it again based on Claire’s developmental feedback and feedback from a plethora of critique partners. In the end, I’d say the whole thing ended up being re-written. Thankfully, Claire never stopped believing in Danny and Fiona and my abilities as a writer, but she challenged me over and over again to find the heart of my story and focus on that.

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Sampling of the many, MANY post-it notes that helped get me through.

It’s hard to quantify amount the support I’ve gotten over the years from Claire, and from fellow writers in Madison and Singapore and Belfast (also my far-flung crit buddies in Belgium, Turkey, and Cali), who have been essential in pushing All the Walls of Belfast to be more accurate, more authentic, more focused.

The past five years of working on this manuscript has felt like running a mentally (and sometimes physically) exhausting marathon with an ever-moving finish line. I’ve lost count of how many files I’ve naively saved with “final draft” tacked on the end.

But, like my mom has always said, when I put my mind to something, I never give up.

So, I still can’t believe I’m writing this, but….

Finally, in February 2018, the manuscript went on submission. I signed my contact with Turner Publishing (distributed by Ingram) on March 27th, 2018 while on a road trip to Colorado. After speaking with the acquisitions editor, I knew they were the perfect fit. They loved Fiona and Danny as much as I do and got All the Wall’s potential to expand the worldview of American readers and teach them something new.

I still can’t believe that soon I’ll be holding a copy of my book baby.

Persistence, perseverance, patience, and a lot (a LOT) of hard work really can make dreams come true.

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Picture taken on a three day hike on the Routeburn Track on the South Island of New Zealand. I *may* have come a few inches from falling off a cliff.

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After 7+ Years of Querying

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Writing like six different novels (at least), then landing an agent and revising for three years, I can officially announce…

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Still doesn’t totally feel real.

All the Walls of Belfast, March 2019!

More details to come 🙂

Writing: Go slow to go fast

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(Inis Mor, Aran Islands, Ireland, taken on our recent vacation)

This quote, or quotes similar, are used all over the place: the corporate world, leadership trainings, education, technology, etc. Apparently the founder of the Roman Empire even said “Festina Lente.”  “Make haste, slowly.” A reminder to himself to perform duties with a balance of diligence and urgency.

Oh, and Aesop’s fables. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Tortoise and the Hare.

(retrieved from

The same philosophy should be applied to writing your novel. Not on the first draft per say, that’s just exploratory, but rather when you get feedback from critique partners, editors, or your agent on your book baby. When you’re working trying to sculpt that probable hot mess of a first draft into something beautiful.

For me personally, I just got some unexpected developmental feedback while in the throes of trying to cut 10,000 words of what I thought was nearly a final draft. By the way, I had cut over 5,000 without even finishing the read-through; pretty much all unnecessary prepositional phrases, dialogue, description. And when I say final draft, I mean I thought for real this time, not like the last four times …

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My agent is right. She called out some things my subconscious was quietly nagging me about. But now, I’m not quite back to square one, but I have to take a step back and look at plot … again.

It’s frustrating, but this feedback will push my WIP to be even better. And as much as I want to be done a year ago, I need to take time to breathe, process, think it through, rather than rushing to… Get. It. Done.

I need to free write on her main suggestions, let my brain go crazy processing the ideas, blocking out a scene, writing bits of dialogue, seeing through different characters’ eyes. Then pull the good stuff from that, new potential plot points, and throw them on some sticky notes to make them concrete and, well, movable. Next, I need to toy around with those ideas, expand or change existing scenes or write entirely new scenes.  See what happens. Then I need to consult with trusted crit partners and my agent to see if I’m going in the right direction. Or they might have genius ideas.

As much as I want to just be done, I need to take time and space to make sure I do it right. Because writing in the wrong direction just to get it done, only hurts that beautiful thing you’re trying to sculpt. Been there, done that more than once.

Whether you self-publish or attempt the traditional route, you only get one shot to put that book baby out into the world. Well, in traditional route, you get one shot with each agent (or perhaps, if you’re lucky, a Revise & Resubmit) then if you get an agent, you likely get one shot with each publishing house. So that baby needs to be as sparkly and shiny and perfect as possible.

So grab a coffee or a beer ….

Or both 😛

And go slow to go fast. Take the time to do it right, whether it’s line edits, processing and applying developmental feedback, or even plotting before you embark on your book baby-venture.

Take the time to sculpt your book baby into the most beautiful creation it can be.

Happy writing!

Tackling those overwhelming developmental edits

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(Me on top of Mount Oberon, Wilsons Promontory National Park, Victoria, Australia)

I’m about to embark on an epic writing quest. Yet again. I got the second round of developmental edits from my agent Claire. The first round was nine and a half pages single-spaced. After six months of re-writing the first 2/3s of the manuscript, working closely with a cultural consultant, and another trip to Belfast, I sent my agent my manuscript at the end of July. For those of you in the query trenches hoping to get an agent, waiting and waiting to hear anything, once you get an agent…you still do lots of waiting. When you eventually go on submission (agent sends your manuscript to editors at publishing houses), you do even more waiting.

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Because you’re not done with that novel most likely. It takes time and lots of support to sculpt a masterpiece; your agent should be your much wiser, more experienced partner-in-crime. Time very well spent for me so far.

Anyway, last week, I got my second edit letter. It was only five and a half pages this time…of more developmental edits.

Fainting-GIFAgents have different styles. This is important information in case you ever do get “the Call,” i.e. an agent wants to offer you representation. Some agents want to get your stuff out on submission as quickly as possible. Their philosophy may be, let’s test the waters and see if we get any bites, tweak as we go. At the same time, you only get one shot to submit to each editor. But there’s always the next book, right?

Some consider themselves “editorial,” such as my agent, Claire. They want your novel to be polished and perfected before it lands on the desks of editors of major publishing houses. For me, this means I still have a lot of work to do. And while part of me just wants to get it out there and see what happens after the two years I’ve spent on it, I want it to be the best it possibly can be. I absolutely trust Claire to guide me there.

Anyway, whether it’s from an amazing critique partner or an agent, getting intense, mentally challenging feedback like this can feel a bit overwhelming, especially when you’ve been working on something for awhile. It’s easy to just dismiss it, but my agent has been right about everything so far. Some of it wasn’t a huge shock, because one of my CPs did mention it before. Eek. So I took a few days to let it simmer, and now I’m working on unpacking it.

I’ll be blowing up Hooligans in Shining Armour yet again: digging into character needs and goals, delving into character relationships, unpacking secondary characters’ motivations and feelings, re-plotting both main characters’ story arcs, writing new first chapters (I don’t know how many times I’ve THOUGHT I was done but here’s one time), cutting from the ending because the climax happens at about 75% and should be 90%. Basically re-writing the whole thing most likely.

But as I said in my last post:

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Wherever you are in the writing process, whether prepping for your first NaNoWriMo, in the query trenches, or working through line edits with an editor at a publishing house….

One foot in front of the other.

Sitting on my hands while two manuscripts are off limits

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jAYnA6y…is hard for me. I’m kind of a writing addict. LOL. My agent is re-reading and preparing feedback on Hooligans. For Rafa and Rose, my collaborator and I are re-plotting the entire thing, based on suggestions from my fabulous agent. We picked a new inciting incident for both characters, which changed the external problem for each MC and the whole story line. We also cut a subplot which is leading to major chapter restructuring and cutting. So I’ve lost track of how many hours we’ve spent skyping and brainstorming to work through this. Probably at least twenty, but likely way more–time well spent though! We’re still not done, but we’re getting close. I can’t start re-working anything until we get through the whole novel, but I know it will be 100X better for it. Plus we’re working on setting up interviews with police officers and possibly lawyers to ensure we get the legal stuff created by the inciting incident right. So I can’t work on that.

What to do, what to do? I’m playing around with another WIP, so maybe I’ll go back to that. What can I say? I’m kind of a writing addict.

iron-man-waitingI’ll also continue reading Elements of Fiction: Beginnings, Middles, and Endings, by Nancy Kress. My agent recommended it and another plotting book. Follow me on twitter if you want to see my sporadic tweets of interesting quotes from it. I’ve got a lot of YA books waiting to be read on my Kindle. Though I could also enjoy the perks of American cable and Redbox.

Anyway, time to sit on my hands 😛

How do you occupy yourself when you can’t work on your WIP? Any YA books to recommend?