Inevitably when an author talks about their writing journey we always hear about querying and “the call”, but one of the things I always ask about in interviews, and feel is incredibly important, is the critique process.
As today’s featured writer, Gina Ciocca points out, critique partners and beta readers are critical to the process of writing, “You get to a point where you’re just too close to the manuscript to see where it needs improvement, and that’s when your CP’s and betas can breathe new life into it.”
While many of us don’t worry about critiques when we first start writing, we learn very early on that having people review our work is a critical step in getting our stories to bookshelves one day.
Many thanks to Gina for sharing her thoughts on the critique process and for giving us a peek into her writing odyssey…
Amy: When did you first begin seriously writing with the intent of wanting to be published?
Gina: I’ve been reading and writing for as long as I’ve known how, but I didn’t actually sit down and write a complete manuscript until 2010. I was stuck in a rut with my job, and had just miscarried my first pregnancy, and realized that I’d let corporate shenanigans and the real world take me away from my outlet. I wanted to do something I loved and could be proud of. Of course, that manuscript was definitely a training wheels project that I’d never let anyone read today unless I did some serious revisions, but it was how I dipped my toes in the water of the whole publishing biz.
Amy: When did you complete your first Young Adult manuscript?
Gina: I finished LAST YEAR’S MISTAKE at the end of 2011. It was my second manuscript, but the first YA.
Amy: I love stories about second chances. What inspired you to write LAST YEAR’S MISTAKE?
Gina: Oh my goodness, so many things. The biggest of which was probably a dream I had. In it, I saw a girl and her boyfriend snuggling up against the lockers at school (because I dream of strangers, apparently?). Then the door at the end of the hall opened, and another boy walked in, someone who obviously didn’t belong there. The girl’s face fell and she turned white. She ran to him and threw her arms around him leaving her boyfriend – and me – to wonder WTF had just happened.
That was what started it. But there’s a scene in the book where David tells Kelsey he wanted to know what would happen if the two of them were ever in the same place at the same time again. And I think at some point, almost everyone wonders that about someone who might have drifted out of their life. Except that not everyone gets to ask “what if” and find out the answer. These two do.
Amy: Did you have critique partners or beta readers that helped you polish LAST YEAR’S MISTAKE? If so, how critical were they to the process of completing the manuscript?
Gina: Absolutely! Good, honest readers are so important to the writing process. You get to a point where you’re just too close to the manuscript to see where it needs improvement, and that’s when your CP’s and betas can breathe new life into it. It’s scary to hand your work to someone and ask them to judge it, but it’s so, so necessary, and the story is stronger for it in the end.
Amy: How laborious/frustrating was the query process for you?
Gina: Writing the query was the hardest part, but again – with good CP’s, it’s that much easier. LYM actually fared far better in the query trenches than my first manuscript, but it’s never not an emotional rollercoaster. The waiting and guessing and hoping and wallowing is exhausting!
Amy: How many agents did you query for LAST YEAR’S MISTAKE?
Gina: About 60. I had roughly 13 requests for material, and 2 offers of representation.
Amy: Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for the requests/rejections?
Gina: It varied. One request came within 10 minutes of me hitting send on the query, and I was so over the moon, only to get a form rejection a few days later. Funny enough, the other agent who offered rep on LYM rejected my query, but requested the full manuscript from my pitch in a contest. Which made me all kinds of paranoid that I’d created a horrible representation of the story with my query!
Amy: What was your call like with your agent, John Cusick? How did you know he was the right fit for you?
Gina: I can honestly tell you that I had no intention of querying John, because I thought he was so far out of my league. I thought he’d have no interest in a romance. But then he bid on my Pitch Madness entry, so I thought, “Eh, why not?” He requested the full, and three weeks later, called me completely unexpectedly as I was prepping dinner. I almost didn’t pick up the phone because I assumed it was a sales call. I had no questions prepared, and I grabbed the closest scrap of paper I could find and scribbled down his suggestions for revisions. Those suggestions were ultimately the reason I knew I wanted him to represent my book. The other agent who offered was fantastic, but I felt like John’s editorial notes would really make the story stronger. Plus he got points for phone bombing me.
Amy: What is one piece of writing/publishing advice you got early on that you still use today?
Gina: As cliché as it is, don’t give up! My book didn’t sell until it had been off submission for a year. You really never know!
Kelsey and David became best friends the summer before freshman year and were inseparable ever after. Until the night a misunderstanding turned Kelsey into the school joke, and everything around her crumbled—including her friendship with David. So when Kelsey’s parents decided to move away, she couldn’t wait to start over and leave the past behind. Except, David wasn’t ready to let her go…
Now it’s senior year and Kelsey has a new group of friends, genuine popularity, and a hot boyfriend. Her life is perfect. That is, until David’s family moves to town and he shakes up everything. Soon old feelings bubble to the surface and threaten to destroy Kelsey’s second chance at happiness. The more time she spends with David, the more she realizes she never truly let him go. And maybe she never wants to.
Told in alternating sections, LAST YEAR’S MISTAKE is a charming and romantic debut about loving, leaving, and letting go.
Gina Ciocca graduated from the University of Connecticut with a degree in English. She relocated from Connecticut to Georgia, where she lives with her husband and son. Gina is a member of the writing and blogging group YA Misfits, and you can find her at writersblog-gina.blogspot.com. LAST YEAR’S MISTAKE is her debut novel.