Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) If I wrote a Dr. Seuss-esque book about the research I do for my novels it would be titled "Oh, The Things You Now Know." It would be totally inappropriate for children.

2) For some of my upcoming titles it's going to be very hard to answer the oft-asked question, "Where did you get the idea for this book?" If I'm honest the answer will be things like, "Well, I was lying in bed and thinking that being awake for a lobotomy would really hurt," and "One day I was thinking about Woody Guthrie and brain parasites..."

3) Why are the buttons on men and women's shirts different?


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Successful Author Talk With Amy Reed & DAMAGED Giveaway

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT- Successful Author Talk.

Today's guest is Amy Reed. Amy was born and raised in and around Seattle, where she attended a total of eight schools by the time she was eighteen. Constant moving taught her to be restless, and being an only child made her imagination do funny things. After a brief stint at Reed College (no relation), she moved to San Francisco and spent the next several years serving coffee and getting into trouble. She eventually graduated from film school, promptly decided she wanted nothing to do with filmmaking, returned to her original and impractical love of writing, and earned her MFA from New College of California. After thirteen years in the San Francisco Bay Area, she now resides in Asheville, North Carolina. Her short work has been published in journals such as Kitchen Sink, Contrary, Fiction, and Mission at Tenth. She is the author of four Young Adult novels: BEAUTIFUL (2009), CLEAN (2011), CRAZY (2012), and OVER YOU (2013). Her fifth book, DAMAGED, will be released October 14, 2014.

SAT authors have conquered the query, slain the synopsis and attained the pinnacle of published. How'd they do it? Let's ask 'em!

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Definitely a planner. I write elaborate outlines with lists and sub-lists and sub-sub-lists. But I find that the real magic happens when I allow myself to go outside the box I build for myself, when I let the characters lead instead of me trying to push them around.

How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?

I’ve been on pretty much a one-book-a-year schedule since I published Beautiful five years ago, and it’s been grueling. I think a more comfortable pace for me is one book every two years, and I’m going to try to stick to that from now on.

Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi-tasker?

My last two books overlapped, and it was hell. I found that I couldn’t work on them concurrently. My brain just couldn’t hold both of the stories and characters at one time. The only way I could do it was to put one of the books aside while I worked on the other. I had to get a couple of months added to the second book’s deadline, but both books benefitted in the long run.

Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?

Every time I start a new book, I’m terrified. I feel like I’m supposed to like this part the best since it’s full of possibility, but I hate it because it’s full of the unknown. There’s no plan, no order, and that makes me feel crazy. I only start liking it once I have a solid outline and a good thirty or forty pages written. But then I freak out again as soon as I finish the second act. So the enjoyable sweet spot is only really in the middle third of the process. Kind of like pregnancy.

How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?

Luckily, none. My first novel, Beautiful, was the first book I ever attempted to write. I had a handful of unpublished short stories I wrote during my MFA program, but that’s it.

Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?

Yes. After writing CRAZY, my third book, I put together a proposal for a three-book post-apocalyptic series, which included an outline for all three books and the first forty pages of Book 1. My editor wasn’t excited. She wanted more of what I had been writing before—gritty, realistic, contemporary.  I was upset for about fifteen minutes, but then I realized I felt relieved. I was trying to do something that wasn’t really me. I came up with an outline for another book later that day, and I got signed for a two-book deal for OVER YOU.

Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?

Amy Tipton of Signature Lit. She was with Fine Print when I signed with her, just starting out as an agent. I had also received interest from a very well established YA agent, but I decided to go with Amy because she seemed the most enthusiastic about my work. She was with a well-respected agency, so she had great connections, but she also had the added passion and energy of a young agent. We also went to the same tiny, hippie MFA program, so I knew we had stuff in common. Plus, she looked cool in her picture.

How long did you query before landing your agent?

I think I queried twelve agents, but they were all adult literary agents. I hadn’t known I was writing YA. I didn’t even really know YA existed. I got some interest, some requests for fulls, but no takers. Eventually, an old-school and very well-respected agent sent me a letter—yes, an actual snail mail letter—asking if I was working on anything book length, because he loved my short story “Under the Wall” which had just been published in Fiction Magazine. The timing was perfect. I sent him the manuscript for Beautiful. He liked it, but he said he didn’t rep YA. He’s the one who finally informed me that what I wrote was YA, and I realized I was submitting to the wrong agents all along. So I submitted to two YA agents and they both requested fulls. Amy called two days later and offered to represent me, and the rest is history.

Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?

Just make sure you’re submitting to the right people. Don’t blindly send query letters. Really do your research and query agents whose taste matches your own.

How much input do you have on cover art?

They often show me a few choices and I get to give my input on which one I like best. But I know better than to try to get too involved. I worked in publishing before I got published, and one of our biggest pet peeves was authors trying to be cover designers.

How much of your own marketing do you?

I do the best that I can on social media like Facebook, Twitter and my own webpage, doing guest blogs and interviews like this, but it’s hard. I’m not a natural marketer. I’m so in awe of authors who are out there doing conferences and readings and panels all the time. It takes a lot of hustle to make those things happen.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I honestly have no idea. It’s difficult to gauge how successful social media is. But most of the time, at least it’s fun and I’m making connections with awesome people who love YA. I enjoy building relationships with bloggers and being part of the YA community that way. I’m kind of a hermit by nature (so many of us are), so it’s a great way to feel connected.

Monday, October 27, 2014

School Visits: Bouncing May Occur

Mention doing school visits and some authors cringe and try to collapse into themselves. Trust me, I get it. Facing a room (or worse, auditorium) of teenagers - some of whom are being forced to be there - is totally intimidating. You've got a mic in your face, a picture of yourself behind you, and are going to be talking about yourself or your book for at least half an hour... maybe more. If a bucket of pig's blood doesn't drop down on you, you'll call it a success.

But it can can also be totally awesome.

I spend 40 hours a week talking to teens who (trust me) could not be less impressed by my publishing credits. I'm just their librarian. I've even dropped so far as to pick up the nearest book and start reading aloud with a fake Irish or British accent just to gain their attention. (This totally works, by the way, and I highly recommend everyone use this trick).

That being said, I love doing school visits. Sure, there are kids that don't want to be there, but once I start talking about how extreme dehydration makes your eyelids stick inside your skull and your tongue swell so much you can't close your mouth I usually have their attention too. Even if they despise reading, they're interested in me talking about horrible ways to die. And I totally excel at that.

But you also get kids that are thrilled to meet you, kids who want to have pictures taken with you (sure!), ask for signed bookmarks (no problem!) and bounce up and down while you talk to them (sometimes I bounce too just for fun). You also get emails later, from the kids who weren't quite up to the picture taking and bouncing, lovely emails where they want to share what the book meant to them and how much they enjoyed meeting you.

And you get stuff like this... kids who wrote an original song inspired by your book. I'm floored.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

Eighteen-year-old Serena is the best tarot card reader in Manhattan – and she doesn’t know the first thing about tarot cards. Serena is a Prae Seer, one who sees the future through touch. I love where this is going, it's really interesting. She’s not alone. Manhattan is filled with Seers hiding their abilities in plain sight. But, secrets rarely stay buried for long. I almost think the hook is stronger if you put some white space here, let it do its job. I'd consider moving the last three sentences down into your next para.

Serena knows, and has known since her mother’s dying vision, that exposure is inevitable for herself and for all Seers. They will be exposed exposed / exposure echo, then feared and hated. Why would they be feared and hated? Serena understands that can only lead to one thing: annihilation. Why would they be killed for the powers? That seems really extreme. 

Then, the first trace of exposure arrives, on the lips of one of Serena’s high-powered clients, because she let herself feel bad for his spurned wife, because she whispered a warning.

She knows the future is unchangeable. She knows that blood will be on her hands. I'm still not understanding how exposure absolutely and for sure leads to death. Seems like a leap. You need to convince your readers that's the case. 

Her only hope is to join an underground organization that believes exposure can result in a better life for Seers. Why? It seems a big jump when she's completely convinced it means death. Under the tutelage of Marlow, the organization's volatile leader, Serena learns there is more to her ability than seeing the future. Serena is seduced by the idea that she can control a person’s future, that she is destined for more than hiding. As she is drawn further into organization’s inner circle and into an impossible relationship with a past Seer whose very touch could cripple her mind, why? Serena discovers that Marlow wants more than Seer equality; he wants Seer supremacy, even at the expense of non-Seer lives. Even at the expensive of Seer lives, if necessary.

With the moment of worldwide exposure ticking closer, Serena must decide how far she is willing to go to fight for her future.

EXPOSED is a young adult, urban fantasy complete at 85,000 words.  EXPOSED is a stand alone novel with series potential.

I am a member of SCBWI and a winner of the 2012 Writer's Digest Popular Fiction Awards.

I like the concept, it sounds fun. But the world building isn't evident with in the query. It can be totally awesome in the book, but the query isn't relaying that very well. Do all Seers have the same ability to see the future through touch? Does that mean touching their clients, not the cards? Why would the past Seer's touch cripple her mind? Why is she so utterly convinced (beyond Mother's vision) that exposure = death? You need to get more explanations about her power and why she feels so strongly that exposure is bad into the query.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Successful Author Talk With Elissa Sussman

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT- Successful Author Talk. Today's guest is Elissa Sussman. She's a writer, a reader and a pumpkin pie eater. Her debut novel, STRAY (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins), is a YA fantasy about fairy godmothers, magic and food. She received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College and in a previous life managed animators and organized spreadsheets at some of the best animation studios in the world, including Nickelodeon,  Disney,  Dreamworks and Sony Imageworks. You can see her name in the credits of THE CROODS, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG and TANGLED. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her boyfriend and their rescue mutt.

SAT authors have conquered the query, slain the synopsis and attained the pinnacle of published. How'd they do it? Let's ask 'em!

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Definitely a planner, though all my outlines and chapter breakdowns usually go out the window once I start writing. Any planning I do is under the illusion that I know what I’m doing, which is never actually the case.

How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?

I’m hoping this won’t be typical, but STRAY took about four years from rough draft to final galleys. Nine years if you count the five years I took to “plan” it. Oy.

Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?

So far just one at a time, though I’m planning on exercising my multi tasking muscle in the near future.

Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?

I always have about four days where I feel like everything I write is just awful. Powering through that isn’t always easy – especially for a champion procrastinator like myself – but if I can, I usually get into a pretty satisfying groove that can carry me through a draft or batch of rewrites.

How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?

None really. There was an alternate version of STRAY (with dragons!) that I consider a very rough draft since there is a scene or two that still made it into the final manuscript.

Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?  

My agent is the fabulous Samantha Shea of Georges Borchardt, Inc. and I grabbed her attention through a traditional query.

How many queries did you send? 

I sent about 60 queries over five months before getting my first offer.

Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?

It’s twofold: don’t give up, but be aware of the response you’re getting. If you’re not getting any bites – re-examine your query. If you’re not getting interest on requested pages – re-examine your pages. Polish your query, polish your pages and keep trying!

Monday, October 20, 2014

All The Fun Things That Happened When I Left My House

Seriously, what a week.

It's been amazing and awesome and other "a" words, and now I'm exhausted.

I was cold in the mountains, hot in the desert. I slept on floors, couches and airplanes. I got migraines, got rid of migraines, and then had a lingering suspicion that I was about to get a migraine. I flew over the Rockies and asked for silent forgiveness from Lynn & Lucy. I went to the Bellagio and asked for silent forgiveness from the people that run the greenhouse there.

I rode, flew, walked, ran, fell down (I stepped on one of those tubular pillows, long story), and had my first In-N-Out burger. I ate at the Claim Jumper because I thought it said Clam Jumper. I sold books, signed books, and bought books.

Vegas holds just about zero allure for me. It has nothing to do with sin and more about my need for simplicity. Also naked people is just not my venue. Slot machines make me think I'm about to have a seizure, so I held onto pretty much all my money until we went to the Vegas Valley Book Festival and  the organizers offered to ship authors' purchases home since we were traveling.

Now THIS is sin. THIS is temptation. THIS is how you part me from my money.

I flew back to lovely, cold, gray Ohio at midnight, got to bed at 3AM and was at work by 7.

Why? Because I'm a normal person with a normal job who does normal things most of the time.

Except, I was on NPR yesterday. You should listen.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

Seventy-three years from now, people around the globe struggle to survive on a ravaged planet as resources dwindle and the Earth is thrust back into the dark ages. Amid the chaos, an ancient Goddess returns to power- will she rescue mankind from self-destruction, or accelerate the annihilation of the human race? I like the idea here, but I definitely need to know why the Goddess would suddenly return to power.

Loki, a lonely and disoriented Goddess, has spent seven decades on Earth adjusting to her returned powers. I need a feel for what / who Loki physically is. Is she a 70 year old woman? An ageless teen? Seeking atonement for the heinous deeds of her past, Loki attempts to salvage the devastated land as she clings to her fading humanity. Determined to transform herself into the hero she’s always yearned to be, she joins a crew of hardcore survivalists led by Lance; a courageous man who draws Loki in with his vision of a better world. But when the wife of Loki’s mortal descendant activates a sword belonging to the missing God of war, Loki becomes the obsessed woman’s target. Why? Now, in order to defeat the power-blind woman, Loki must tap into her primordial energies and risk losing her valued humanity, or else sacrifice the world she helped rebuild, along with the humans closest to her.

Greetings. I’m seeking representation for my adult action series Altered Earth. Complete at 113,000 words, Altered Earth: Return of the Fallen is a gritty speculative adventure geared toward mainstream urban fantasy bibliophiles, general suspense lovers, and literary thrill seekers. This first installment focuses on the hardships and mysteries of thriving in a chaotic realm of enigma, and the obstacles inherent in relationships between mortals and Gods.

My novel is reminiscent of Anne Rice's The Witching Hour with its deep family roots, intense romantic connections, and use of magic in practical situations. There are also elements of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones as the characters labor to build and maintain territories while grappling for power. At its heart, however, Altered Earth explores an ancient God’s struggle to connect with the humans closest to her while suppressing the urge to spread chaos and deception I definitely didn't get that she had an urge to spread chaos and deception, even as Earth’s fate hangs in the balance.

This is well-written, but if a big part of the plot is that Loki is at odds with herself and her need to spread chaos and destruction, that needs to be worked into the query as plot, not as a sentence with the comp titles. In the same vein, you make reference to Loki's dark deeds of the past, but someone not familiar with the goddess / mythology is not going to have a clue what that entails. You'll need to get those details into the query.