A caveat before I start this: my story is not entirely typical. It can and does happen like this sometimes, but most people don’t have a publication path that involves crashing a party.
In 2012, my friend Lani Woodland said I should go to Book Expo America (BEA) with her in New York City. I was already writing and trying to get published, and I have a minor (okay, major) book obsession, and I love New York, so there was zero reasons to say no. During BEA there is a lot of parties, and Lani had been invited to one particular party on a rooftop in Tribeca. Since she wasn’t familiar with NYC and how to navigate the subways, I told her I’d take her down there and then go get dinner somewhere nearby. She may have been invited, but I wasn’t. Once we got there, though, I kind of . . . stayed. Lani talked to a couple of the editors from Spencer Hill Press, told them about the book I was working on, and then dragged me across the rooftop to meet them. After a rather bumbling pitch and a wonderful conversation, they asked me to send them my manuscript.
By the end of the summer, I had a contract for Sing Sweet Nightingale.
What I didn’t have was an agent. My first agent, Danielle Chiotti, I signed with thanks to a referral from an Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference in Miami in 2013. I highly recommend joining SCBWI if you plan on writing young adult or middle grade, and I especially recommend the Florida chapter if you happen to live there. They’re fantastic. She helped me negotiate the contract for the remaining three books of The Dream War Saga, and we went on submission with some other projects.
Danielle and I worked together for a couple of years, and she’s great (I’d especially recommend her to anyone who is looking for an editorial agent), but we split in 20015. Ironically, that same year I attended RT Convention and, like in Tribeca, found myself in the right place at the right time. During the convention, I met editors from Entangled Teen and Riptide Publishing, and both companies asked to see different projects I had been developing. By the end of that summer, I had a two-book contract with Riptide for my assassins duology and a three-book contract with Entangled for my fantasy trilogy.
And, oddly, I again found myself without an agent.
Now I’m querying again although I’ve never had much luck with them before. Queries do work, and I have a lot of friends who can attest to that, but so far my biggest sales and successes in publishing have been because I met someone, talked to them, and somehow convinced them to take an interest in my work.
So that’s my recommendation. Whatever genre you write in, join the organization that focuses on that type of book. Attend their conferences. Find friends among their members, because they know better than most others why you write. They’ll help you cope with the struggles of publishing, and they’ll be there to celebrate your successes with you. The conferences will help you meet industry professionals who you can learn from and then, maybe one day, work with.
But query, too. You never know what will happen or where you’ll find your luck.
First off, there is no “right.” No right schedule. No right planning or outlining method. No right amount of research. No right degree. No right physical way to write, Anyone who tells you otherwise (as in, THIS IS THE WAY AND IF YOU DO IT ANY OTHER WAY THAN THIS YOU’RE WRONG!) is too wrapped up in what works for them. Try their way, but if it doesn’t work, feel free to discard it.
That being said, this is what I usually tell people:
- You can’t fix what doesn’t exist. First drafts are going to be a mess, and that’s okay! That’s what editing is for! Yaaaaaay editing!
- Do not think about agents and publishers and contracts and marketing before you have a finished, polished, as-perfect-as-you-can-make-it book. None of the business stuff matters until you’ve mastered the craft. Don’t put the cart before the horse. Don’t run before you can walk. Don’t try to publish a book you haven’t written yet.
- Read as much as you can and in as many genres as you can. Don’t force yourself to read something you hate, but if you can figure out why you hate it, that will help you. Then you can avoid it. Same goes for what you like, too.
- Read the instructions and listen to them. You’d be amazed how many authors’ query letters get tossed out by agents because they haven’t followed even the most basic instructions from the agent’s website.
- Write as much as you can, and listen to critiques you receive. You don’t have to take every single criticism and apply it to your manuscript, but listen to them.
Other than that, these are the references, tools, sites, and programs I recommend
Books on writing:
Take Off Your Pants! by Libbie Hawker – http://amzn.to/2bhBaIZ
Writing Faster FTW by L.A. Witt – http://amzn.to/2bPgfv2
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King – http://amzn.to/2bgRKvr
Holly Lisle’s various clinics – http://amzn.to/2bPCJfm
Programs and sites:
Aeon Timeline – http://www.aeontimeline.com/
OneNote – Comes with the Office suite of programs, but you can also find it online (I think for free, but I’m not entirely sure) https://www.onenote.com/hrd
Pace Writing Planner – https://pacemaker.press/
Holly Lisle – http://hollylisle.com/ (she also has FANTASTIC writing books on amazon that are linked above)
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) – http://www.sfwa.org/
Society for Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators (SCBWI) – http://www.scbwi.org/
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) – http://nanowrimo.org/
And then, of course, everything on my For Writers resource page. The above will be repeated, but there’s a lot more, too: http://byericacameron.com/wp/for-writers/
After you start writing, you’ll end up with a lot of different ideas. Some of them will be gorgeous and golden to the core. Some of them will shimmer and shine on the outside, but turn out to be fool’s gold. Some ideas are questionable immediately, but they still won’t fade; once polished and cut, these ideas can become diamonds. The problem becomes sifting through them and deciding which ones to devote your time and creative energy to.
So how do you choose?
The ones worth writing are the ones you CAN’T not. They’re the ideas shouting in your ear while you’re at work or on the phone. They’re the ideas whispering to you while you sleep.
The ideas that appear can seem small at first, but they grow. Sometimes like a flower. Sometimes like a volcano. Write those.
Write all ideas down. Make notes about anything that pops into your head. When you do that & can’t stop? THAT’S how you know. The ones demanding your attention while you’re on deadline for two other projects? Yeah, those annoying shiny things. Write THOSE.
First, read. Read everything. Get recommendations from friends in genres you’re not normally attracted to. Figure out why you love the books you love, and why you hate the books you hate. (check out this old post of mine: Learning to Read like a Writer)
Second, write. Create an awful first draft of the book you have always wanted to read. Whether you get through that draft writing 50 or 5,000 words a day doesn’t matter. Whether you feel more comfortable outlining or winging, that’s fine. However you reach The End is fine, just get there. And know that what you end up with will probably be crap at some level.
Third, edit. A lot. Because first drafts are almost always crap (mine definitely are), be prepared to edit. To rewrite the entire book if necessary. Take time away from it at first, if you can, and then look at the story as critically as possible. Edit. Delete. Change. Fix. Make it as polished and shiny as you’re capable of.
Fourth, reach out to other writers for help, whether that’s through sites like Critique Circle where you can read and comment on other people’s stories and chapters then post your own so that you can learn what’s working and what isn’t. You do not have to take all of the advice you get (and, honestly, you probably shouldn’t), but take it in. Listen to it. Also, keep in mind this saying: If ten people call you a donkey, you should probably start looking for a tail. What that means for authors is that if more than a couple of people tell you there’s a problem in your book, they’re probably right. They may be wrong about what exactly the problem is, but they’re seeing some problem that needs to be addressed. Take that into consideration and revise accordingly.
From here to the end, all of this advice is assuming that you’re looking to publish traditionally instead of self publish.
Fifth, queries and conferences. Here is a list of organizations. Almost all of them have national or regional conferences, and those conferences will allow you the chance to hear directly from agents, editors, and published authors. They’ll often provide the opportunity to have your work critiqued by those people, too. Those sessions can be invaluable, so take advantage of them when you can. Outside of conferences (which can be both expensive and time consuming, so they’re not feasible for everyone, unfortunately), you can still look for agents to query. To start, use sites like Agent Query, Query Tracker, Manuscript Wish List, Publisher’s Marketplace, Writer’s Digest, and Writer’s Market. When you start writing your query letter, check out resources available on almost all of the above websites, but also Query Shark.
Sixth, submissions. Once you have an agent, they will guide you through the submission process. Some will request edits (yes, more edits) on your project before they take it to publishers. Sometimes not. Either way, when they start submitting, they’re essentially doing the same thing that you did to find an agent–querying. This process can be as short as a few days (I’ve seen this happen with an author I know from SCBWI), or it can take years (I’ve seen this happen too).
Congratulations, you’re going to be published. If the above steps are done well–and with a little bit of luck–you should eventually have a publishing contract and your debut novel will be on its way into the world. Then, if you plan on making publishing books a career, you repeat steps one, two, three, four, and six until . . . until forever, I guess. Or until it’s no longer what you want to do.
And that’s how you get published. More or less.
I fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum (and, yes, it is a spectrum; you don’t have to be entirely one or the other). The drafting process for each of my books has been different (sometimes wildly so), and that makes it hard for me to describe how I write. My tendency for a brand new project that takes place in a world I haven’t written in before is something like this, though (most of the time):
- Get random idea
- Write the idea down and keep writing until I slow down, no longer sure where I’m going with the characters, story, or world.
- Start trying to answer all the questions hanging in the air (like why this books needs to be written at all, where I want it to end, and how to get them from point D to point Z).
- Take notes. I use OneNote (a Microsoft Office program) to organize research. What that research is will depend on the book. For my Assassins series, I have lots of details on specific guns and explosives, research on hot-wiring cars, and a lot of other things that probably put me on an FBI watchlist. For contemporary stories like the Laguna Series, my research will probably be more like what the graduation requirements are in the state of California and how long it takes to get from Laguna Beach to Los Angeles.
- Write more, usually out of order at this point. I jump to whatever scene is clearest in my head and then try to piece it all together at the end.
- The End. I have a draft, and it’s always a disaster. Editors are blessed saints and rockstars and total badasses who help me turn my messy drafts into readable books.
One thing I always tell people when they ask me questions like this about “how to write” is that “how” is relative, and you shouldn’t hold yourself to a rigid process–unless a rigid process is what works for you specifically. Then, go for it! As long as you have a book you’re proud of at the end of it, how you wrote it doesn’t matter much.
No. Whatever you fill in the blank with, the answer is no if the question includes the word “need.”
Can you do that stuff if it works for you? Yes.
Should you do any of that? Maybe.
Do you have to do any of it? No. Definitely not.
Some authors are capable of writing eight or ten or twelve books in a year, all of them unique and wonderful, without their brain imploding. Some authors consider it a success if they finish one book in a year. Outlining is the cornerstone of some people’s processes, a step as necessary as the actual words on the page. Other people shudder at the thought of an outline.
Between all of these are the people who exist in the middle, neither a super-speed writer nor a methodical one, and neither plotter nor pantser. As long as you have a complete draft that you’re proud of at the end of the process, the how of that process doesn’t matter much.
I recommend querying both my current and former agent if you’re looking for one (and if they’re open to queries at the time), but unless I know you very well in person, I cannot introduce or recommend you to either agent.
If you want recommendations and information on queries and the querying process, check out the Agents section of my Writing Resources page. If you’re looking to contact my agent in regards to subrights and other questions, more detailed contact information is on my Contact page.
No, I’m sorry. I don’t usually even have the time to read published books or the projects my critique partners are working on (they’re a prolific group and my schedule is demanding). There’s also a lot of legal reasons why I have to say no.
If you’re looking for feedback on your work, I recommend checking out these sites, groups, or match-up services:
- Critique Circle
- Maggie Stiefvater’s Critique Partner Love Connection
- The Write Life – Forty Places to Find a Critique Partner
I did, although not on purpose.
When I graduated high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. That’s one of the reasons I attended Florida State University–it was a massive college with a slew of different majors, so I had some really fun choices. Through trial and error, I ended up double majoring in psychology and creative writing. Those were the classes I enjoyed most and did best in.
In college, because of time and the challenges of grading more than twenty students’ work, we mostly concentrated on short stories. Useful as the skill it takes to write a good short story may be (and it really is; chapters of a book are each their own short story), writing and studying short stories didn’t teach me what I wanted to know about figuring out how to plot a novel-length work, or how to develop a character through the course of a book, or how complicated it can get when you’re building an entire world from scratch.
All in all, I learned more about writing novels from reading them. And also from writing fanfiction.
I would love to!
If you’re local to me (I currently reside in South Florida), there’s a small appearance fee. For events and schools I have to travel to, the cost of gas/flights, hotel, etc. will be added on top of the fee. Video chats are also an option, and the fees for these are much lower.
There is a detailed list on my appearances page, but I can speak about my books, different aspects of the writing craft, asexuality, the importance of diversity in books, emotional abuse, and other topics. For these presentations, the talk can last anywhere between twenty minutes and an hour depending on the constraints of the event, and I like to include an open Q&A at the end.
Additionally, if your writing group or English class would like to run a workshop-style program, I am available for either a single several-hour-long in-person class that covers multiple aspects of the writing and publishing process, or the same program broken up over several days/weeks depending on your school’s/group’s scheduling needs. For programs that last longer than a day, these classes would either need to be conducted via Skype or occur locally.
If you’re interested in setting up an appearance or workshop, please contact me here.
Danielle Chiotti, my agent at the time, actually! We had been going back and forth for a while about different ideas and what might be the best next project for me to work on. She and Michael Stearns suggested beginning a story with a girl deciding whether or not to kill someone. The image they gave me was a man tied to a chair and bleeding on the floor of an empty warehouse, and a girl with a knife and the power to chose whether he lives or dies.
Currently, I’m contracted for two, and I only have plans to write those two books. Can I go back to these characters and write more within their world? More than likely. Will I? I have absolutely no idea right now. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, but it’s not on my writing calendar for any time in the near future.
The Dream War Saga
Little known fact? I was (and am, in some ways) a massive Twilight fangirl. The thing that convinced me I was capable of writing a book was the fact that I finished three book-length pieces of Twilight fanfiction. I tell you this because Twilight and my Twilight fanfiction is how I met one of my best friends, Lani Woodland.
Also relevant to the story is this: Between 2008 and 2011, I worked for Borders (RIP, my beloved bookstore).
So, one day in 2010, Lani–who is also an author–called me and said, “I’m putting together a YA paranormal anthology. Do you have anything you want to submit to it?”
I laughed. “Of course I don’t. Honey, you know me. I’m no good at short!”
“Okay, well, can you write one?”
I told her I would try, but that I doubted it would happen since the due date was only a few weeks away. But that question was in my mind one morning when I went to work. To open the store, we had to be there over two hours early. That’s when the cleaning crew came, and it’s when we got some inventory stuff done. So while I was in the back one morning at 7:30 am, listening to my iPod and counting out the registers for the day, a song called “Mariella” by Kate Nash came on.
“Mariella” tells the story of a girl named, believe it or not, Mariella, and this girl has decided to stop speaking. Her mother begs her to talk and to stop wearing black, but Mariella persists in her silence, perfectly happy with her choice. Weird, right? I mean, not talking ever is really hard. To never make a sound even when you’re excited or terrified? This was someone not only choosing silence for no apparent reason–this girl wasn’t a monk trying to reach enlightenment, she was just silent–she was happy about it. Why? I wanted to know why.
Then, thanks to shuffle, a song called “Creation Lake” by Silversun Pickups started playing. Lyrically, this song is exceedingly simple. Two verses and a chorus that is one line repeating over and over again: There’s 24 parts in a day that divides me from you. Parts. The song says parts, not hours, and a day can be divided into as many parts as you want. So…what happens in the 25th part of the day? Do these two people meet? How and where and why can’t they meet during the first 24 parts of the day?
So I had a character–the silent Mariella–and I had a problem–two people who only met for one small part of each day. I started writing and a 20,000 word short story told entirely from Mariella’s point of view emerged. I called it Sing, Sweet Nightingale. As an exercise, I wrote the same story from the second main character’s point of view: Hudson. That one ended up being over 40,000 words. I learned so much about the world by doing that, so I sent both to the editor of Lani’s anthology.
“There’s a lot of extra information in this story,” I told the editor. “If there’s anything you think that readers should know, I’ll try to work it in to Mariella’s story.”
The email I got back from the editor essentially said, “You need to make this a novel. With alternating points of view. And you should do it soon, because I think it would be fantastic.”
So that’s what I did.
Sing Sweet Nightingale had a strange genesis, and like the Laguna Tides books, it started with a phone call from Lani Woodland. Click the FAQ above if you want more details on where the idea came from.
I sat down and wrote Mariella’s story in less than a week, a complicated tale about a girl who didn’t speak and a world that only appeared at midnight. Although I liked the story, it felt incomplete to me. A few months later, I wrote from Hudson’s perspective rather than Mariella’s and it ended up being more than twice the length–almost 40,000 words. That took me another month or so.
In November of 2011, on the advice of an editor, I decided to combine my two versions into one novel with alternating points of view. To help boost my confidence, I joined the National Novel Writing Month program. Using the two “short” stories as an incredibly detailed outline, I dove into a new version of the story. In six weeks, I had a finished dual-POV novel that came in at 107,000 words.
Then the real work started, because I spent the next two years editing those words over and over and over again.
All told, there will be four. There is also one short story (Whatever it Takes), and I have potential ideas for other short peeks into the universe that I’d like to tell if I get the chance.
Right now (as of spring 2017), we’re in the middle of edits on this book. There won’t be a final release date until those are finished, but we’re expecting it to fall in summer of 2018. As soon as I have any solid information to pass on, it will be listed on my website.
Lani and I have been friends for many years now, and although we were both writing separately for a lot of that time, this series was our first attempt to write together. She called me one day and asked if I wanted to write two novellas with her, one about two people who meet in the airport and another about two friends who make a deal to be each other’s prom date.
At the time, I also had a story idea I didn’t know what to do with. Mine started with a girl telling her boyfriend she’s pregnant.
I slipped my story idea between her two concepts. Once we combined the casts of characters and figured out how all of these people would be interconnected, there was a solid plan for five stories that were A) a lot more complicated, and B) about twenty shades darker than her original vision. Each book would be the story of a different guy in this group of friends and none of them would be novellas. All of that is my fault, because apparently I’m incapable of writing a book with a single plotline or one that clocks in at less than 90,000 words.
Pax Novis, the first book of my sci-fi trilogy, is so far scheduled to release toward the end of 2018. Mostly because I still have to write it! Below is the deal announcement, but more information will appear in the appropriate places on my website as soon as I have any concrete details to share.
Erica Cameron’s PAX NOVIS, a YA trilogy pitched as The Expanse meets Star Trek: Voyager, in which the human colonies spread across the Milky Way have been at war for centuries and everyone depends on the resources carried by massive cargo ships. And though they don’t know it, some stowaway teens hiding on-board the NOVIS may be humankind’s only hope when these ships start to vanish, to Kate Brauning at Entangled Teen in a three book deal, for publication in 2018, 2019, and 2020 respectively, by Eric Smith at P.S. Literary (World).
The Ryogan Chronicles
I have three planned right now, but the potential in this world is kind of endless. If I can, I’ll likely come back to different cultures, lands, and time periods of this universe again.
Definitionally, asexuality (and all of the sub-categories thereof) is categorized by a lack of sexual attraction. This means that I do not feel sexual attraction to anyone of any gender, and–for me personally, though this is not necessarily true of all asexuals–I have next to no interest in sex at all. With anyone. Ever. I don’t despise it, and I’m not repulsed by it or scared of it, I just have no strong desire for it and no urge to chase after it.
I’ve been talking about this for a couple of years now, but I still haven’t found a clear way to explain this to people who aren’t on the asexual spectrum. For most people, their biology urges them to chase after sex at least a little bit, and they seem to have a hard time truly understanding that anyone could not want it. It’s hard to describe it in a way people who identify with a sexually active orientation truly understand, however this post on Tumblr does a pretty damn good job of it:
Heterosexual: Door swings one way
Homosexual: Door swings the other way
Bisexual: Door swings both ways
Pansexual: Revolving door
Demisexual: Door is locked
Asexual: Door is actually a wall
- Identity, Spectrums, and Labels – October 2016
- Don’t Erase the Aces – July 2016
- What American Apparel did and why it matters – June 2016
- B&N Teen Blog – #OwnVoices: Meet the LGBTQ+ Authors Who Are Revolutionizing YA – March 2016
- Pack of Aces – Author Spotlight – March 2016
- B&N Teen Blog – YA Open Mic – December 2015
- DiversifYA – Growing Up Ace – July 2015
I’m really bad at favorites. I hate having to pick one. It’s especially bad with books and movies.
That being said, these are the authors I will usually recommend to people, and I’ve organized them alphabetically by first name. If I’m a general fan of the author, I’ll only list their genre(s). Otherwise, I’ve listed the specific book/series of theirs I love. While this list is by no means complete, I highly recommend every author/book mentioned here.
- Alexandre Dumas – lit-fic – The Count of Monte Cristo
- Alexander Lloyd – ya sci-fi/fantasy
- Andre Norton & Mercedes Lackey – sci-fi/fantasy – Halfblood Chronicles
- Anne McCaffrey – sci-fi/fantasy – Pern series
- Anne Tenino – romance
- Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz – ya fiction – Colin Fischer
- Brandon Sanderson – sci-fi/fantasy
- C. S. Lewis – fantasy – Narnia series
- Catherine Ryan Hyde – lit-fic – Pay It Forward
- Charlotte Bronte – lit-fic – Jane Eyre
- Courtney Stevens – ya fiction
- Dan Wells – thriller & sci-fi/fantasy – John Cleaver series; Hollow City
- Eleanor Estes – middle grade – The Hundred Dresses
- Elie Wiesel – memoir – Night
- Elizabeth Gaskell – lit-fic – North and South
- Emma Donoghue – lit-fic – Room
- Frances Hodgson Burnett – middle grade – The Secret Garden
- Gaston Leroux – lit-fic – The Phantom of the Opera
- Garth Nix – ya sci-fi/fantasy
- Georgette Heyer – romance
- Hans Christian Andersen – children’s – everything, but especially The Snow Queen
- Holly Lisle – sci-fi/fantasy – Korre series
- I. W. Gregorio – ya fiction – None of the Above
- J. K. Rowling – ya sci-fi/fantasy – Harry Potter
- Jacquelyn Carey – sci-fi/fantasy – Kushiel Legacy series / Naamah trilogy
- James McBride – memoir – The Color of Water
- James Patterson – mystery/thriller – Alex Cross series
- James S. A. Corey – sci-fi/fantasy – The Expanse series (and TV show)
- Jane Austen – romance
- Jasper Fforde – literary fiction
- Jay Asher – ya fiction – Thirteen Reasons Why
- Jay Williams – picture book – Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like
- Jim Butcher – sci-fi/fantasy
- Jodi Picoult – lit-fic – My Sister’s Keeper
- Jonathan Stroud – ya sci-fi/fantasy – Bartimaeus trilogy
- Julia Alvarez – lit-fic – In the Time of the Butterflies
- Julie E. Czerneda – sci-fi/fantasy – Web Shifters series
- Ken Kesey – lit-fic – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
- L. A. Witt – romance
- Laurie Halse Anderson – ya fiction – Speak; Twisted; Catalyst
- Linda Lay Shuler – lit-fic – She Who Remembers; Voice of the Eagle
- Lisa Genova – lit-fic – Still Alice
- Lynne Reid Banks – middle grade – everything, but especially The Farthest Away Mountain
- Madeleine L’Engle – ya sci-fi/fantasy – Wrinkle in Time series
- Marcus Zusak – ya fiction – I am the Messenger
- Margery Williams – picture book – The Velveteen Rabbit
- Pat Frank – sci-fi/fantasy – Alas, Babylon
- Philip Pullman – ya sci-fi/fantasy – His Dark Materials trilogy
- Ray Bradbury – sci-fi/fantasy – Fahrenheit 451
- Roald Dahl – middle grade – everything, but especially Matilda
- Robert Heinlein – sci-fi/fantasy – Stranger in a Strange Land
- Sara Gruen – literary fiction – Water for Elephants
- Sarah Coombs – ya fiction – Breakfast Served Anytime
- Scott Lynch – sci-fi/fantasy – Gentleman Bastard series
- Scott Westerfeld – ya sci-fi/fantasy – Uglies series
- Shannon Hale – lit-fic – Austenland
- Shel Silverstein – poetry/picture books
- Stephenie Meyer – sci-fi/fantasy
- Susan Elizabeth Philips – romance
- Tamora Pierce – sci-fi/fantasy
- William Goldman – fantasy – The Princess Bride
Nope. Not on purpose, anyway.
Is there anything of me in the characters or anything from my life in the books I write? Yes, of course. I think it’s a one-hundred-percent inescapable fact that some elements of your personal life and personality and past are going to end up in the books you write. However, it’s definitely not something I do with intent. Most of the time, I only notice the similarities after someone else has pointed them out to me.
If your question isn’t answered above, submit a question below! It might be added to the FAQ.