Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Wednesday WOLF

I'm a nerd. I'm in fact such a big nerd that I tend to look up word origins in my spare time because I'm fascinated by our language. The odder the origin, the better. I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications.

In any case, I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of the new acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

Ever knock on wood? It's getting harder and harder to do these days, as most furniture doesn't have a bit of tree in it. Fortunately for me I've got an old house so full of trees I'm able to get crazy and knock on wood with my head, if I feel it's appropriate.

But why do we do that? What's the origin of that phrase and action?

Many ancient cultures believed in nature spirits, and most agree that tree spirits are the bomb. Even Germans (and hey, we're kind of a dark people - ever read the REAL Cinderella?) have a kind tree spirit - the Waldgeist. In moments of fear or trepidation, people would knock on trees to wake up the good spirits for protection or good luck.

So now you know. Next time you're feeling beset, hit the beech.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Author Sara Crawford On Subjective Feedback

If there's one thing that many aspiring writers have few clues about, it's the submission process. There are good reasons for that; authors aren't exactly encouraged to talk in detail about our own submission experiences, and - just like agent hunting - everyone's story is different. I managed to cobble together a few non-specific questions that some debut authors have agreed to
answer (bless them). And so I bring you the submission interview series - Submission Hell - It's True. Yes, it's the SHIT.

Today's guest for the SHIT is Sara Crawford, who graduated in 2008 from Kennesaw State University with a B.A. in English and in 2012 from the University of New Orleans with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing (emphasis in Playwriting). In addition to working as a freelance writer and internet marketer, she is also a creative writing professor in the graduate program at Southern New Hampshire University, teaching online classes. She also loves to talk about books, music, and writing on her YouTube channel. Sara is the author of the young adult titles, WE OWN THE SKY and HURRY UP, WE'RE DREAMING.

How much did you know about the submission process before you were out on subs yourself?

Pretty much nothing. I knew a lot about querying agents and the process of trying to get a literary agent, but I didn’t really learn anything about the next step in the process. I was too focused on that first step.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

Yes. I had heard that the publishing process was slow, but I don’t think I realized how slow. I didn’t realize that when we first went on submission, it would be a month or two before we heard back from anyone. 

Did you research the editors you knew had your ms? Do you recommend doing that?

I’ve definitely been known to stalk editors I knew had my ms on Twitter. I would not recommend doing that because there’s a tendency to read into everything they tweet. “Oh, they’re enjoying a latte at a new coffee shop in their neighborhood? Clearly, that means they haven’t read my book yet!”

What was the average amount of time it took to hear back from editors?

It varied A LOT, but most editors seemed to respond within two months or so.

What do you think is the best way for an author out on submission to deal with the anxiety?

Work on the next book. If I could do it over again, I would spend much more time writing and less time obsessing over being on submission. I found that when I engrossed myself in the actual act of writing, it was a lot easier to focus on everything I loved about storytelling and not have so much anxiety about publishing. Even when I wasn’t actively writing, reading other books in my genre or craft books was a much better way to spend my time than refreshing my inbox or reading editors’ tweets. 

If you had any rejections, how did you deal with that emotionally? How did this kind of rejection compare to query rejections?

A lot of the rejections I got were with comments like “I like this, but I just don’t love it enough” or “I really enjoy this, but I don’t know how to sell it”. Those hurt a lot more than the rejections with actual criticism of the novel because at least I could understand those. But what can you do about someone just not loving your book enough? Publishing a book traditionally is a difficult process for everyone involved, and so much of landing a book deal depends on finding an editor who loves it enough to go through that process. My agent felt that way about my book from day one so I thought it would be relatively easy to find an editor that would feel the same way. Every time I got one of those rejections, though, it just reminded me that I hadn’t found that person yet. 

I can’t say I was always the best at dealing with it emotionally. There was a lot of chocolate ice cream and listening to The Smiths. These rejections hurt a lot more than query rejections because when I was querying, I knew I was at the beginning of the process. With these rejections, there was a sense of knowing that I was so close but didn’t quite have what they were looking for.

If you got feedback on a rejection, how did you process it? How do you compare processing an editor’s feedback as compared to a beta reader’s?

If there’s one I’ve learned about feedback from all the feedback I’ve gotten over the years from agents, editors, beta readers, critique partners, professors, and fellow students, it’s that all feedback is subjective. It’s easy to tell right away if feedback is going to be helpful or not. Honestly, I don’t think it matters if you’re an editor or a beta reader. I’ve gotten extremely helpful feedback from beta readers before, and I’ve gotten really confusing feedback that didn’t help me at all from editors. I process all feedback the same way. I try to figure out the main issue that the person was having, and then I try to fix it. If the comment is a subjective opinion, I usually try to look beyond what they didn’t like to the underlying issue that needs to be fixed.

When you got your YES! how did that feel? How did you find out – email, telephone, smoke signal?

I actually never got a yes. After being on sub off and on for about three years, I finally decided to stop pursuing traditional publishing with that book and self-publish it. I’m having a great experience being an indie author, but I’d still like to be a hybrid because I think some things I write work better for indie publishing, and some things would work better being traditionally published. My agent and I are about to go on sub again with another novel so I get to do it all over again! This time, I’ll hopefully be too busy writing my next book and marketing my indie books to obsessively check my inbox or stalk editors on Twitter.

Monday, February 19, 2018

New Podcast With Rachele Alpine: Time Management For Busy Writers & How Having A Teacher's Guide Can Crack the School Market

Today’s guest is Rachele Alpine, author of both YA and middle grade titles, as well as being a full-time English teacher, wife and mom. Rachele joined me to talk about the importance of knowing what you want in an agent – and what questions to ask – before you begin querying, how having a teacher guide made for your book can crack the classroom market, as well as time management and how Rachele maximizes every minute in order to be a full time teacher, wife, mother, and writer.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

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.

Flirting with a pretty girl takes another turn when Jake discovers she’s a shackled spirit. Irene was raised in the voodoo faith by her Haitian grandmother, but never expected to become trapped in the spirit world she grew up believing in. When Jake encounters her captor, he is forced into that same spirit world. Your opening here isn't bad, but you've got three echoes of "spirit." I would also caution you to be careful when using such a strong faith element as the backbone for your plot. If you yourself aren't a practitioner of that faith, make sure you've done your research, and get feedback from someone that is a part of that faith.

Irene’s captor, Armand, is a man who captures souls to increase his own power, but still claims to be a benevolent force. Hard to see how someone could still claim to be benevolent in this setup... Jake learns that the girl he’s falling for is fading away because she has been trapped by the sorcerer for too long. Here's some confusion on my part - is Irene existing in both worlds, ours (physically) and her soul in a spirit world? That's what I'm inferring but a slight clarification could be good. Armand has no plans to release Irene and intends to use her soul to help him end humanity’s grief. He aims to do so by capturing Baron Samedi, the voodoo god of death, and releasing the dead themselves. But doing so would ravage both worlds. Both the spiritual and physical worlds? How?

Thanks to Irene’s cunning and know-how, Jake survives the spirit world and several encounters with loa - voodoo gods who preside over everything from love to death. But the spirit world becomes chaotic and unsafe when several of the loa fall under Armand’s control. And as his plan succeeds, Jake and Irene have no choice but to act when the battle being fought in the spirit world makes its way to their home. It sounds like they were already acting, though, and that the battle being fought had already made it's way to their home?

I think what you need here is to clarify on what "ravaging both worlds" actually means, as it sounds like that's actually the biggest obstacle. Clarify what that is and how it impacts both worlds. Also, putting Jake and Irene's "no choice but to act" in the last paragraph makes it sound like they don't take action against Armand until the end, which I doubt is an accurate reflection. Figure out what the largest obstacle in the plot is, clarify whether these characters are present in one world or another (or both simultaneously), and I would also say tease out Armand's role a little bit more. What is his motivation for releasing the dead? Does he not see the "ravaging of both worlds" that would take place? Honestly, a misguided villain rather than an outright nasty one is very intriguing, but get just a touch more in there about why he wants what he wants. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: MONDAY'S NOT COMING by Tiffany D. Jackson

Monday Charles is missing, and only Claudia seems to notice. Claudia and Monday have always been inseparable—more sisters than friends. So when Monday doesn’t turn up for the first day of school, Claudia’s worried. When she doesn’t show for the second day, or second week, Claudia knows that something is wrong. Monday wouldn’t just leave her to endure tests and bullies alone. Not after last year’s rumors and not with her grades on the line. Now Claudia needs her best—and only—friend more than ever. But Monday’s mother refuses to give Claudia a straight answer, and Monday’s sister April is even less help.

As Claudia digs deeper into her friend’s disappearance, she discovers that no one seems to remember the last time they saw Monday. How can a teenage girl just vanish without anyone noticing that she’s gone?

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

CJ Redwine On Multi-Tasking

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is CJ Redwine, the New York Times bestselling author of YA fantasy novels, including The Shadow Queen, The Wish Granter, and the Defiance trilogy. If the novel writing gig ever falls through, she’ll join the Avengers and wear a cape to work every day. The Traitor Prince, third in the Ravenspire series, releases this week!

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

A planner, to a degree. I have to know the basic shape of the story and what happens at the end so I know what to aim for. I write out a long synopsis before starting the story so I can figure out the characters, the backstory, and the major turning points of the novel. Then I play connect the dots between the turning points as I write. I don’t really know what happens between those turning points until I write it. 

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

About 3 months of work before I write and then another 3 months of actual writing. 

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

I multi-task … kind of. I work hard on writing one project at a time, but I’m always doing the legwork on about 8 other projects while I’m writing my current one. I might be jotting notes on worldbuilding, tossing songs onto a playlist as I hear them, or writing out quick bits of dialogue and saving all of it to a file I can open when I’m ready to actually sit down and write that story from start to finish. 

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

I have to overcome fears every time I sit down to write. There are very few days where I sit down and think “I’m good at this. I can do this. It’s going to be great.” Most of the time, I have to tell myself “I can fix this. I just need something on the page or I won’t have anything to fix.”

How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?

One full draft before I was agented (several started that were never finished). And two trunked novels AFTER I was agented because they didn’t sell. 

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

Not since I got serious about being published. Now, I finish what I start.

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

My agent is Holly Root of Root Literary and she is made of unicorns, cookies, and steel. I actually queried her because a fellow writer friend was agented by her and suggested that we’d be a good fit. I queried about 10 agents in that particular pass (I always queried in small batches so I could tinker with things if I wasn’t getting results.). Nine of them said no pretty fast. Holly took another three months to reply, but when she did, she asked for a phone call to discuss the book. I nearly died of anxiety and excitement. The call went well for both of us and at the end, she offered representation, and I accepted. That was nine years ago. 

How long did you query before landing your agent? 

I queried for two years before signing with Holly. A year and a half were spent querying a book that will never (and should never! Ack!) see the light of day. Six months were spent querying the book that got Holly’s attention. 

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

Be professional online at all times (no bashing those who reject you!), query widely, and don’t be afraid to shelve a manuscript or a query that isn’t working and do something new. Also write a new project while you query. Not the sequel to what you’re querying, because if that doesn’t sell, you’ve got nothing new to send out. 

You can do this! So much of publishing, both before and after getting an agent or a contract, is basically shoveling mud out of a ditch—it’s hard, it leaves callouses, and it takes a long time before you see true progress. This is good practice for what comes next, and if you’re committed to working on improving your craft and you have the perseverance to stick it out, you won’t be in the query trenches forever. 

How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?

So surreal. It was both amazing and terrifying in this weird way. Like I thought maybe if I did something wrong, it would all disappear. 

How much input do you have on cover art?

Not much. I give input on initial design elements for the series as a whole, and then I give feedback on cover concepts they send my way, but thankfully there’s a team of incredibly talented people at my pub house who are far more qualified than me in creating amazing covers. They’ve been lovely to work with. I’m in awe of their skill!

What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?

That the more successful I become, the more afraid I am to write each new story.

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I do a lot of marketing, though my publisher does too. I just love marketing. I think it’s fun to promote books. (I own so I promote ALL the books, and it’s a blast.) I have a website, Instagram account, Twitter account, and three presences on FB: author page, regular page, and my fan group where I interact almost daily and offer sneak peeks, exclusives, giveaways, and more. 

When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?

I started building it before being agented. Really building a platform is just interacting in a genuine way with others who love what you love. Authors, readers, viewers of your fave tv shows and movies etc. It’s not enough to generate your own content. Social media is a give and take. It’s a conversation. So seeking out others who are doing content that interests you and interacting there (Authentically. Not popping in to say “buy my book!”) is the way to go. 

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Absolutely. As authors, we are the brand. Books change, series start and stop, but we’re the constant. So having a genuine, interesting presence on social media helps draw readers to us. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Wednesday WOLF

I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications. I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of another acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

So, it's Valentine's Day. Hooray.

Here's a little etymology for romantic souls. The phrase wear your heart on your sleeve commonly means someone who shows their affection for others openly, without shame or caginess. This likely comes from a tradition in the Middle Ages at jousting tournaments for knights to wear a ribbon, or color, on their sleeves to signify in which lady's name they were fighting.

But if you think about someone actually having an internal organ on their outsides, it's kind of a turn off.