Friday, December 19, 2014

Book Talk & Giveaway: SOLITAIRE by Alice Oseman

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

Tori really likes to sleep and blog, and that's about it. With high school nearly over, A-levels on the horizon and university applications hovering, Tori knows she needs to wake up. Snap out of it. Get moving. Maybe try caring a little. Talking to people is hard now, people who used to be her friends are distant, and she's more than aware that it's partially her own fault.

Then Michael Holden comes back to school, and Solitaire happens. Post-It's directing Tori pop up in the hallways, leading her to computers with cryptic messages she doesn't understand. And it spreads - messages are coming over the announcments that the staff can't override, patrols in the halls can't catch Solitaire at work, and posters can't come down fast enough before a new one goes up.

Something has finally penetrated Tori's depression. Something has perked her interest and made her care. But maybe it's the wrong thing.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

YA Author Amy Nichols On Plotting, Agent Hunting, & Writing A Book Over The Weekend

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Amy K. Nichols. Amy lives on the edge of the Phoenix desert with her husband and children. In the evenings, she enjoys sitting outside, counting bats and naming stars. Sometimes she names the bats. Her first novel, YA sci-fi thrillerNow That You’re Here, will be published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on December 9, 2014.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I started out a total pantser, but after starting a few manuscripts and fizzling out around page fifty, I knew I needed to try a different approach. I read a blog post by YA author Elana Johnson about plotting, and she recommended Save the Cat, Blake Snyder’s book on screenwriting. I decided to give plotting a try, and lo and behold, it worked! Since then, I’ve developed my own planning/pantsing hybrid, creating a loose outline while remaining sensitive and flexible with what the story wants and needs. I should say, I still pants short stories, but anything longer, I need a road map.

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

I can really crank out the words when needed. One of my first forays into writing was the 3-Day Novel Contest, a crazy writing marathon that takes place over Labor Day weekend, in which participants try to write a novel in a weekend, beginning on Friday at midnight and ending Monday at midnight. It’s insane, but so much fun. (The first year I participated was 2004, and I won third place, which I took as a sign that this writing gig was, in fact, for me.) Anyway, it taught me on how to get words down fast and worry about revising later. When I’m in a groove, first drafts typically take me a month or two. Revising, however, takes me much longer, at least when I’m not on deadline. I revised Now That You’re Here for a couple of years before querying agents. The sequel, While You Were Gone, took less than a year, though, since I was working with my editor and on deadline. I would love to get proficient enough to write and revise a novel every six months.

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

When I’m working on deadline, the contracted book takes priority and everything else has to wait. (I’m obsessive about hitting deadlines.) If I’m between deadlines, though, my writing is a bit like a horse race. I work on a number of projects, writing a little here and a little there depending on which story has me most intrigued. Typically one “horse” will gather momentum and pull away from the pack. Once that happens, I put all my money on that one and cross my fingers it makes it across the finish line.

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. Looking back, I put off writing for years because I was afraid. A while ago I found some notes I’d scribbled down in college about what I would need to do to switch to the creative writing program. I never made the switch, though, because that would mean facing critique and rejection. Years later, it took a brush with death and a bout of depression to convince me to finally give writing a try. Sounds dramatic, but it’s true. Now when I sit down to write, those same fears of critique and rejection are still there, but I’ve learned that the magic happens in revision, and I can survive rejection. I don’t think I can survive not writing.

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

I wrote two complete manuscripts before selling Now That You’re Here (and started a number of others). One of the completed manuscripts will remain in the trunk (though two of the characters ended up in NTYH). The other I’m hoping to spiffy up to show my agent. Fingers crossed.

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

Yes, too many times to count. I can think of at least five manuscripts that completely fizzled out as I was writing them. It wasn’t a matter of me quitting them, but them quitting me. They probably got annoyed with me and went to find a better writer. Seriously, though, if I’m working on something and it begins to falter or I start to lose interest, I try to go back to the last place where the story was interesting and start over from there, making different choices. Sometimes that feeling that a story is failing comes when I’ve made a wrong turn and led the story in a direction it didn’t want to go. Then it’s usually a matter of backing up and trying something else.

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

I’m with Adams Literary, and Josh Adams is my agent. They do things a little differently than other agencies: rather than send a query letter, you submit your manuscript via a form on their website. So I sent my manuscript off to them and received a confirmation that said if I hadn’t heard from them in six weeks, it was a pass. This was around May of 2012. When I left for the SCBWI conference in August, I hadn’t heard from them, so I’d crossed them off the list. The night before the conference started, however, I got an email from them asking me to meet with Josh during the conference. It was such a surprise. We had a chat in that awesome lobby (if you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about), and he told me they were interested in my work. Hearing him say that was surreal, to say the least. A week later, I signed with them, and I couldn’t be happier.

How long did you query before landing your agent?  

I don’t remember how many queries I sent, but I do know the process went relatively quickly. I started querying in late April/early May and signed with Adams in August.

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

I once heard someone compare querying to dating. Having been through it, I can say it’s a fair comparison. You’re looking for a partner in this process, someone who will walk along side you, hopefully for your whole career. Yes, you want to get signed so bad you can’t see straight, but you don’t want to end up in a relationship that doesn’t work. You want to find the right partner, and that can take patience. It’s worth it, though, to take your time and make sure it’s a good fit. And for the record, this dating metaphor applies to taking a manuscript out on submission. You want to make sure you’re a good fit with your editor, too, that you share the same vision for the book.

How much input do you have on cover art?

Not a lot, but so far that hasn’t been a problem. I love the covers of both Now That You’re Here and While You Were Gone so much. The designers did an incredible job.

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

One surprising thing I learned was how much fun revising can be. I’d always heard “magic happens in revisions”, but I hadn’t experienced it to such an extent before. There’s nothing like seeing the pieces click together. When I wrote Now That You’re Here, there was a journal that showed up a couple of times. I wasn’t sure why it was there, so I just kind of left it alone. Then, during a round of revisions, I suddenly realized why it was there, and it ended up being a pretty significant part of the book. I love those moments. Revising may be difficult, but it really is magical.

How much of your own marketing do you? 

I try to do as much marketing as I can, though being new to this I’m not sure what’s effective and what isn’t. My original publicist quit a few months before my publication date, which left me a little panicked, and I ended up setting up a lot of guest blog appearances (such as this one!) on my own. My publisher did assign me a new publicist, who has been great, so I don’t feel as much pressure to make thing happen on my own. Still, I do what I can to partner with my publisher and make it a team effort. I’m on Twitter, and I blog at my own blog as well as my writers’ group blog, The Parking Lot Confessional. We also do a writing podcast called Curb Chat, which is so much fun! You should check out.

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

I began blogging and tweeting before I had an agent, mostly as a means of connecting with other authors. I think getting (somewhat) established online before I got my agent was beneficial, not only because it showed them I was willing to network and promote, but also because it gave them a sense of who I was before they reached out to me.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

It’s still a little early to say yet, but I really hope so! Regardless, I like being on Twitter and blogging, so I’ll continue doing it even if it doesn’t increase my readership. I also like being on Tumblr, though I confess I’m mostly reblogging photos of Benedict Cumberbatch over there. Maybe that will help grow my readership!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Blogging For Writers

We all know by now that the days of an author writing novels in an ivory tower are long gone. Sure, we can still do that - my ivory tower is a bed with a broken footboard (long story) - but we're also creating content that we disseminate through the ever-growing cloud. Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter, G+ *, and any other number of social media sites that have yet to really explode are patiently waiting for writers to figure out how to maximize their potential. 

Hey - remember blogging?

Yeah, it was that thing where we wrote words that people read. 

Some time ago I questioned whether or not blogging was still a valid outlet for authors in a world with an ever-shortening attention span. People want 140 character snippets. People want pictures. People want an easily digestible glimpse of you.

But here's the thing - I'm a writer. And I'd like to think that most of my audience is comprised of readers. So I blog. I do all the others things too (boy, do I ever), but blogging remains my focus. I've questioned that. I've asked myself if I'm wasting my time creating blocks of text when people really want one sentence and a picture of my cat. 

And then I was contacted by Robin Houghton, who was writing a book for Writer's Digest called Blogging For Writers: How Authors & Writers Build Successful Blogs. She wanted to talk to me about my blog and social media outreach. It was kind of amazing to get that kind of recognition, and I was even more flattered when she sent me a copy, which I devoured.

Yes, the fulfillment was totally awesome and then... I got sucked in by the book. It reaffirmed to me that blogging is still a useful and valuable tool for writers to reach our audience. In some ways, I'd argue that it's the best tool for us to use. Any personality can use the other social media outlets, and use them effectively. 

But can they write?

I've been blogging for years, and this book still taught me a thing or two. Even better, it walks the uninitiated through starting a blog from scratch on either Blogger or Wordpress, and explains the pros and cons of each. Worried about content? This books walks you through how to create engaging posts, and make them visually attractive as well. It even has a breakdown of how to use various social media outlets to get your blog noticed, and drive traffic. (Ahem, look for some screen caps of me in there).

So... I thought maybe you might want to check it out. Yes, the giveaway I've got marked below has a TON of entries, but there's a reason for that. It should give you a little tour of what's out there in social media, and how to use it. I'm pretty much everywhere, so you can go take a glance at me and see what I'm doing in all those places, then decide if it's the kind of thing that you might want to do to  up your exposure as well.

And if you're not sure, I bet this book will help you figure it out :)

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*Did you follow the asterisk to the footnote? Good. So G+... I kind of thought of it as the graveyard of social media until I read this article about how it's actually the most useful social media tool in an author's tool belt for establishing online authority. Check it out.

Saturday, December 13, 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.

Sixteen year-old high-society girl Gwendolyn Darling is only trying to keep the delightfully dull Humphrey Redford—and marriage—at bay. Interesting. Not a bad hook although 16 seems very young for marriage. It makes me wonder the time setting of the novel, and I'm not seeing that indicated elsewhere in the query either. A hint wouldn't hurt. And to her pleasant surprise, it seems to be working fairly well. So what if she has to miss out on parties, balls, and social events of the year by pretending she’s sick? It is well worth the cause. It is also how Gwen ends up alive instead of dead like her parents on the disastrous night of the Jolly Roger ship malfunction. Raises the question of what kind of illness she's faking since it sounds long term? Also, does "malfunction" work in this sentence? I feel like a ship "wrecks." "Malfunction" makes me think of an amusement park ride... but maybe that's what this is? A little bit more of a hint (or different word choice) could clarify easily.

With only her brother to comfort her, Gwen mourns the death of her parents when she starts hearing whispers, rumors… I'd cut the ellipses use and work with full sentences here because it could raise style questions about the ms itself - unless that is in keeping with the style of the ms. There is gossip going around that the Jolly Roger accident wasn’t an accident… Which means, maybe, just maybe, her parents aren’t dead after all. Wait... why? If it wasn't an accident then I would assume instead that it was maliciously intended... not that the supposed victims were actually alive. Hopeful and intrigued, Gwen begins an investigation of her own.

And it turns out she’s not the only one curious about that night.

With the help of her new acquaintances, adventurous Miss Penelope Panberly and her friends (plus one mechanical crocodile), Gwen embarks on a mission to find out what actually happened on the night of her parents’ “death”. Period goes inside quotations. Also what's the story with Humphrey? He's fallen off the map. You're doing a good job of getting the voice and snark in here with the names and voice, though.

Because too many strange things have been happening, and stranger things are happening still. There are reports of dangerous shadows coming to life, attacking people; girls are disappearing—not to mention Gwen’s constant run-ins with a too-dashing-for-his-own-good thief, which may be the strangest thing yet…. This just took a turn. We went from slightly snarky upper-class mystery to paranormal, disappearing girls, and a thief?

Is it Bernard Clifton? The only survivor of the Jolly Roger accident? Is it the thief, whose criminal behaviors raise eyebrows? Gwen must find out who is responsible before she herself is kidnapped. Because, it’s for certain: whoever it is, they are not stopping and they will do anything to stop her.

I'm definitely confused about what your genre would be on this. The voice of the query starts out light and offbeat humor with mystery, then there's a paranormal element tossed in, that honestly, I think is going to be a turn off. Then we veer back into mystery elements with the closing "Whodunit" para. I'm also confused about motivations. Why is Gwen even running into this thief? What is he stealing? Where is he stealing these things and why are they crossing paths? How does he fit into the story? How does the element of missing girls have anything to do with the accident? Why does the MC feel that she's being targeted? Your voice and writing in this query is decent, but you'll need to draw lines between all these different plot points to illustrate how they're a cohesive whole.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Book Talk: SUMMER ON THE SHORT BUS by Bethany Crandell & Giveaway

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

Cricket's version of roughing it would be wearing last season's Prada. So when her father decides an attitude adjustment is in order and ships her off to be a counselor at a summer camp for disabled kids, she's way outside her comfort zone. Also cell reception zone. With no private river or personal pilot to come rescue her, Cricket's stuck.

Stuck doesn't seem quite so bad when she finds out one of the male counselors could be a stand-in for Zac Efron, but he's going to have to look past her shiny exterior - not to mention some majorly insulting things she's said by accident. Pretty soon just pretending to like her campers to get on his good side morphs into actually liking them, and Cricket discovers that living in a world where what you look like on the outside isn't the final judgement call is actually... kind of awesome.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) You can walk up to a girl and say, "Hey girlfriend," but if you walk up to a boy and say, "Hey boyfriend," it kind of freaks him out.

2) I have reached the age where other women who don't know me but need to say something to me get my attention say, dear or ma'am. No more chica or sweetie for me.

3) I've also reached the age where apparently you're not supposed to laugh when other people fall down. I'm not sure when that transition happens, but I guess I passed that and no one told me.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

When Your Muse Is A Talker: Monica Garry Shares On Sorting Out Ideas

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewee's mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today's guest is Monica Garry. Her newest title is a middle grade titled THE SCARIEST HALLOWEEN EVER.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

Yes, I did. I was babysitting my nieces and nephews when I overheard my nephew Dontae, tell his sister Patricia that if she ate another cupcake she was going to turn into one. I laughed thinking she couldn’t possibly believe him. But then he began to tell her that he heard of this happening to a little boy in his class. My nephew created this elaborate tale and my niece believed him. Of course I had to tell him to stop telling his sister lies, but from that lie, a story was born. ☺

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

I knew I wanted to make the story fun and give it a moral. The moral of the story is to always be nice to your little sister and never take her for granted. But the story ended up being so much more than that. Dontae learns the importance of family and friendship. He also learns how to be brave even during the darkest times. I gave my main character an adventure to go on and the rest just fell into place.

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

My plots always change. I sit down with a story in my head, but my characters take me on an entirely different journey. It’s fun and exciting when your characters takeover.

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

I seem to come up with a new idea every week. Since I can’t write thirty books at one time, I give each idea its own journal. By the time I’m done writing one book, I already have another story plotted and ready to be written.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

That’s the hard part. My muse is constantly feeding me ideas and if I’m not careful I’ll have two or three books going at one time. I have to calm myself down, because I get so excited when I get a new idea. I usually focus on the story that I am most excited about.

Can a vegetarian tip cows with a clean conscience?

Of course, as long as they don’t eat it they’re good. ☺