Monday, December 31, 2012

Saying goodbye to 2012: My *writing* year in review ... with links and pictures! Weeeeee!

So many amazing things happened for me in 2012, but the best things definitely have to do with my writing journey. 

I had no idea what I was doing when I started 2012. I had a final draft of my debut young adult novel, and all I knew was that it was an amazing task, and I could say I'd completed it. I figured I'd send it to a publishing company, like Harper Teen or Scholastic, and voila, they'd publish it and I'd have a million fans and tons of money. 

Heehee. That's not the way it works, if you're wondering. 

*FEBRUARY 2012* 

So long about February, I learned about literary agents. And I learned about bookish blogs. And I learned about the query letter. No joke, I'd never even heard of a query letter, and I thought agents were just for models and actors. Of which, obviously, I was neither. So I started my intense online research into literary agents, literary agencies, agent blogs, and of course, the world of Twitter. 

My first query letter was sent to Sara Crowe. I was convinced she was my dream agent. I was also convinced she'd respond with a big fat yes, a phone call to gush about EVER, and an offer of representation. HAHA! Omg. That didn't happen.

Here's what that first query letter looked like, back on 2/8/12: 

Dear Ms. Crowe,

As if the drama of being a teenager isn’t complicated enough, Ever is in love with two very different boys, with one very different thing between them: only one of them is actually alive

Ever doesn’t believe in ghosts.  What normal, level-headed teenager does?  But when your kitchen is suddenly filled with ethereal spooks, you can’t not believe. 

As a sixteen year-old homeschooler, Ever’s love life is non-existent at best.  She’s dated only a handful of times, and each time was a disaster.  Worse than that, Ever has fallen for Frankie – one of her ghostly housemates. Troubled by her impossible feelings for Frankie, Ever is sure she is destined to be alone. 

Until Toby moves in with his dad in the house next door to Ever’s, and the chemistry between them is instantaneous.  Ever pushes her impractical love for Frankie aside, focusing instead on the living, breathing,tempting boy next door. 

But with her new relationship comes nightmares – vivid, bloody nightmares that have Ever waking up in a panic every night after she’s seen Toby.  But still, she doesn’t put the two together. 

Then she sees Toby kill Frankie in a dream. 

“You can’t save him, Ever.”

Ever is my first completed manuscript, and the first in a series.  It is a YA paranormal romance, aimed at the older young adult market, and just over 67,000 words.  I have begun working on the second installment of the series, titled Embrace.      

Unsure of your submission guidelines, I have chosen not to include any of the manuscript.  It is available to you, in its entirety, upon request.  The first few chapters of the second book are also available.   

I would like you to know that I am sending my query to other literary agencies as well.  

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.  I look forward to hearing from you. 

Thank You,
Jessa Russo

PS. I'm so sorry, Ms. Crowe. I was such a n00b. 

*MARCH 2012*

Since God probably felt I needed help, I'm pretty sure He guided me to The Queen herself, Ms. Janet Reid. I found Janet's blog, Query Shark, and she became my holy grail. I'm still a big Janet Reid fangirl, and I highly suggest you follow her blogs and Twitter. MAYBE, had I found her before I started querying excitedly, my query letter wouldn't have been such an absolute train wreck. 

Anyway, through Janet Reid's blog, I learned of the Liz Norris Pay It Forward Contest. And since I just knew my book was freaking amazing, I entered it. Oh, the shame! Seriously. Here's what the first page of EVER looked like when I sent it to Janet Reid:


There was a time when I didn’t believe in ghosts. 

It’s funny though, how a belief you’ve held true your entire life can suddenly change – forever altering your life, your outlook, your way of thinking.  And, try as you might to fight it, you’ve been rendered completely helpless to those new truths.  

Forever changed.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.   

My story starts out like anyone else's, I imagine.  I'm your average girl – or at least, I was your average girl.

Born and raised in Southern California, I've lived in the same house all my life.  It’s a cozy little one-story, with a huge magnolia tree out front. If you’re from around here, chances are you’ve heard people referring to it as “Old Blue.” 

Apparently, sometime in the mid to late 90’s, khaki became the new ‘it’ color.  All the neighbors began painting over the bright colors of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, choosing instead to go with variations of brown. 

Except for my family, of course. 

My dad finally convinced my mom to repaint recently, and I was overjoyed.  For a minute.

She didn’t go with uniform brown.  Oh no.  Not my mom.  

So now, no longer pastel blue in a sea of tan, our home's claim to fame is that it’s the only gray and black house on a street full of various shades of beige, in a neighborhood full of various shades of beige.  And of course, as if that isn’t enough, the bright red front door is like a homing beacon.  

Oh well.  The bottom line is, as long as it’s not taupe, caramel, desert sand, or something along those lines, it’s an eyesore in contrast to the neighbors' homes. Picture an ink stain on khaki pants … you can’t help but look at it.  The red door is just a bonus, really. 

But regardless of our home’s aesthetic quirks, what's really special about our house isn't what it looks like on the outside.  It's what is inside the house that matters.  And I'm not talking about the hardwood floors, antique lamps, or the giant flat screen my dad bought for us (read: himself) last Christmas.  

We have ghosts.  



Yes. That happened. 
PS. Sorry for that, Janet. lol ;-) 

Anywayyyyy, moving on ... while waiting for the results of that contest, and planning my trip to NYC (as part of the grand prize pack I was for sure going to win), I started following Feaky Snucker. She always had the most witty comments on Janet's blog posts, and her own blog had plenty of cussing, so of course I thought she was pretty awesome. THIS is the blog post that made me realize I had to make her my friend. Luckily she didn't put up a fight. That would have been weird. 

So we exchanged emails and started chatting, eventually coming to the question of critique partners. Neither of us had one. What!? I know, right? Here we are, two totally awesome people navigating the rough waters of trying to get published, without a critique partner! OMG! 

See? Destiny. ;-) 

So we decide to start reading each other's stuff. And that was when I learned that EVER was nothing even close to a final draft. EVER was a very choppy, poorly done, borderline scary at times, first draft. And it needed a LOT of work. 

And I'd already been querying for months. But alas, I guess that would explain all the rejections. 

And no, I didn't win that contest, by the way. I probably never even made it past the inbox of slush and crappy entries. 

But through that contest I met my critique partner, who helped make me the writer I am today, and continues to pick me up when I feel down, push when I'm being a baby, and make me laugh with things like #ToasterVag and plenty of fuel for #TWSS. And if you don't know about either of those things, you probably need to follow Feaks on Twitter. Just sayin.

*APRIL 2012*

This has nothing to do with my writing journey, but I'm sharing it for the simple reason that's its awesome. One of the first pictures Feaky ever sent to me - obviously for cheering me up when I was down - is this adorable sloth picture. And yes, he's scratching his butt. Why not, right? I mean, he's a sloth. He can do what he wants. 

*MAY 2012*

I entered The Writer's Voice Contest. Again, I thought I had it in the bag. And you know what? Again I was wrong. I didn't even get picked by one of the four judges. Forty people were picked, and I didn't make the cut. I thought that contest would be the end of me. It was probably one of the lowest points of my writing journey this year. 

Here's my entry for that. You can see how the plot summary and first page changed from just February to May. 

YA Paranormal Romance
Word Count: 87,100


Ever Van Ruysdael has a choice: continue pining for the ghost of her dead best friend, Frankie, whom she’s secretly loved as long as she can remember, or move on to her sexy new neighbor, Toby – who unbeknownst to Ever, is a soul collector.  Make the wrong choice, and she’ll learn that more than just her heart is on the line.

Seventeen-year-old Ever’s love life has been in purgatory for the past two years.  Since the car accident that took Frankie’s life, but spared hers, she’s had to wake up every day to his ghost, making it impossible to mourn him or move forward.  That all changes when Toby moves in next door.  Easy to fall for, Toby’s relaxed confidence and honest interest in her makes Ever feel like the only person in the world.  Torn between an exciting new relationship with Toby, or the deep, comfortable love she feels for Frankie, Ever must make a decision. 

As Ever falls harder for Toby, Toby gets closer to Frankie.  Soon, she will learn that the price of her new romance isn't just her heart, but Frankie’s soul. 


I've lived next door to Frankie my entire life. We played together when we were little. He pulled my pigtails. I tattled, he teased.
He's the best friend I've ever had.
I've been in love with him as long as I can remember. That’s my secret.
He's been dead for two years.
Today is the second anniversary of his death. It's been exactly seven hundred and thirty days since the car accident that took his life, and didn't take mine. Seven hundred and thirty days since the only guy I've ever loved died in my arms, followed me home from the hospital, and never left my house again. 
I'm in love with a ghost who has absolutely no idea I feel this way, and worse - probably still sees me like an annoying kid sister. No. Big. Deal.
I mean, sure, it took some getting used to, but eventually I had to accept the fact that he's here for good. There's no mourning him, and there's no moving on with my life. 
Two years. Two years since my life as a normal teenager went right out the window.  Two years since Frankie became nearly invisible.
Looking at him now, leaning up against the antique roll top desk my mom insists is proper living-room d├ęcor, he’s beautiful, even in death.
I watched him die, you know. I held onto him as the last breath left his body. I cried and screamed, but no one came in time. No one heard me. 

*END OF MAY 2012*

I didn't stop writing. I didn't stop wishing and hoping. The Writer's Voice contest devastated me, but for whatever reason - most likely the fact that writers are just masochistic by nature - I entered another contest. Sharon Bayliss was hosting a contest to celebrate Krystal Wade's book release. I entered because I'm a glutton for punishment. 

HERE's the link for that entry, though it looks pretty much the same as the Writer's Voice entry above.  

This contest brought me my first taste of the possibility of someone actually liking my book. I didn't win, technically. I was a runner-up! But this brings me to another amazing 2012 moment. Signing my contract with Curiosity Quills!

My contest results went from runner-up, to full request, to offer of publication! So guess what? I DID win after all! 

*JUNE 2012*

 If you haven't been following along with my journey, you can read all about that moment in my life in this blog post HERE

And here's what I looked like when I was signing, though I don't have Albert Einstein OR a cool pen like my critique partner does.  

So I signed with Curiosity Quills in June of this year, and suddenly, my querying days were over. I was an author about to be published. Everything changed. I didn't have to cry over each rejection that came in - and yes, they STILL come in. Some agencies are not very ... prompt in their responses. I didn't have to enter any more contests, or cry when I lost them. All that was over when I signed with CQ. I was an author. I was going to be published. I was on my way to seeing my dreams become reality. 


And then, the glorious day of my book release. EVER was out in the world, and people were going to LOVE it! Except some of them didn't. So I had my first really bad review. And I thought THAT would undo me. 

Here's a snippet of the awesome that can be found in a bad review: 

"by the end of the book I was rooting for Ariadne to kill someone (read Ever) just to get some excitement. But Alas, no killing takes place. I'm not even sure how I managed to read all of it. I guess cause it was like a car crash, so bad, but you just had to keep looking."

Oh. Well then. lol

And then I had my first really amazing review. Even re-reading this now brings tears to my eyes. 

"Ever is beautifully written and saturated in suspense. The clock counting down to something bad happening to Ever's attempt at a normal life ticks loudly. Russo's ability to write scenes that are literally filled with palpable tension or attraction is uncanny and really enhances the reading experience. Once one falls into the story, it's impossible not to become tangled in the game of tug of war played on the most fragile parts of Ever's heart. Russo unexpectedly gives so many reasons for increasing anticipation as Ever discovers the danger of her new relationship and struggles to fit the pieces together." 

And then there were a lot of ups and downs, and for a minute there, the bad reviews overshadowed the good, and I had to have a few pep talks to keep me going. Because on more than one occasion, my inner negative voice almost convinced me to stop. I almost believed I had no business writing. It almost didn't matter that writing brings me happiness. I almost stopped because of the bad reviews. 

But I didn't. I kept writing for two people who love my work and support me unconditionally and unwaveringly (that's not a word but I'm not sorry) ... Tamara (my CP, Feaky Snucker) and Krystal Wade (my Yoda, my editor). 

And most of all, I kept writing for myself. Because at the end of the day, whether you love my work or hate it, writing brings joy to my life, and I'm proud of myself for every word I put down on the page. 


My critique partner and I decided to host a pitch contest. We spent a lot of time contacting agents and editors and compiling a seriously AWESOME list of people to participate. We called this even PitchMAS, and it was more magical than any pitch event before it. (Though I may be a bit biased.)

We've set up a blog just for PitchMAS, which you can find HERE. Please follow it to stay informed of future pitch events, and of course, next year's event!

One of the biggest moments of PitchMAS was when Feaks got a request for MOONDREAMER. She'd used her own pitch as an example of how to pitch, and one of the agents participating in the contest loved it so much she requested the full. 

She finished it in three hours! 

Three hours, you guys!! 

The latest picture Tamara sent me looks like this: 
And yes, my friends, that's my beautiful critique partner signing her contract of representation! 

Since becoming critique partners, we've had so many ups and downs in our writing careers as well as the occasional bumps in our personal lives, but both of our dreams have come to fruition this year. My CP has an agent - the amazing and awesome Marisa Cleveland of The Seymour Agency - and I have published my first book, am hard at work on the second, and have started three others in the mean time, all of which are waiting patiently to be completed and sent out into the world. 


So as we say goodbye to 2012, I look back with a smile and teary eyes ... I met some amazing people, built some beautiful friendships that I know will last a lifetime, made some huge mistakes, had some really high highs and some devastating lows, and at the end of it, I am content. 

I am more than I was this time last year, and I can't wait to see what happens in 2013. 

Have a beautiful New Year's Eve tonight, friends. Stay safe, have fun, and remember how incredibly blessed you are.

And if you're feeling up to it, write your own 2012 review and share the link here! OR, just comment here with something awesome that you loved about 2012.



  1. I love this post so much. I want to print it out, and roll around on it ALL NIGHT LONG!

    I love you! <3

    It's been an amazing journey so far, and I just know 2013 will be even better!

    As for bad reviews - who CARES what ornery nutella thinks? (inside joke). It's MY opinion that matters. And I think you're spectacular.

    *chest bumps*

  2. Sounds like you had a very productive year, and learnt a lot about writing in the process! The most important thing is that you kept writing for yourself, not for anyone else. I write long historical sagas, which aren't exactly as popular as they used to be, and I really don't care what some people might have to say about how I deliberately write extremely long books.

    My 2012 recap is at

  3. It was a pretty spectacular year! I love that EVER is the first book I ever read pre-publication, and then was able to go out and BUY from a real store! It gives me hope for the future, and makes my heart skip a beat thinking about it. I love it!

    You've done it! And 2013 will only get better!

  4. Sounds like 2012 was a great year for you. Loved reading about it! :) Hope 2013 treats you well too. :)