Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Creepy Cover Reveal Conversation with IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS Author Cat Winters Plus an ARC and Signed Swag Giveaway!

In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?

Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.

BBC: Did you have any pre-conceived notions about what you wanted your cover to look like?

CW: There are two scenes in this book in which my main character, Mary Shelley Black, poses for a photographer who claims to capture the spirits of people’s loved ones in his pictures. I was really hoping one of those two ensuing photographs would appear on the cover—which is exactly what happened. The book’s designer, Maria T. Middleton, said that as soon as she finished reading the original manuscript, both she and my editor, Maggie Lehrman, agreed that the cover had to involve a sprit photograph. 

BBC: How far in advance from your pub date did you start talking covers with your house?

CW: Around June 2012, ten months before the pub date, Maggie told me I’d probably see a cover by the end of the summer. She didn’t say what would be on the cover at the time, but I knew the design was going to be in the works. In July, she sent me a behind-the-scenes peek of a photo shoot, and I went running through my house with my laptop, screaming, “They’re doing a photo shoot! They’re doing a photo shoot!” My husband worried something horrible had happened because of all the shrieking. It was absolutely surreal to see a team of talented people recreating an image that had originated inside my own head.

Maggie also sent me a link to the website of the photographer, Symon Chow, and as soon as I saw his sample photographs, which all have an eerie, vintage vibe, I knew the cover was going to be amazing. 

BBC: Did you have any input on your cover?

CW: My agent, Barbara Poelle, put a clause into my contract saying that the publisher was required to consult with me on the cover, which they did, although I honestly didn’t have any suggested changes. I thought the photo shoot sneak peek looked perfect—the cover model shared my main character’s eye and hair color, she was dressed like my main character, down to the goggles around her neck, and she was an actual teenager, not a twenty-five-year-old woman pretending to be sixteen. I definitely gave my approval at that stage, and when I saw the sample cover treatments, I was one-hundred-percent in agreement with the cover that everyone at Amulet Books liked best.

BBC: How was your cover revealed to you?

CW: On August 9, my editor sent me an email containing five cover treatments. All of them contained the same photograph and lettering, and only the borders and the color of the font varied in each sample. I loved three of the five options, including the design that was chosen. 

The biggest surprise for me was the font Maria used. I was expecting lettering that would be a run-of-the-mill Gothic historical font. What I got instead was bold and edgy and perfect for my 1918 time period, an era that marked the beginning of the 1920s art deco style. I believe there may have also been an American Horror Story influence.

BBC: Was there an official "cover reveal" date for your art?

CW: No. Amulet Books doesn’t really work that way. My editor sent me the final cover on September 26 and said I was free to share it. I immediately sent out teaser tweets and Facebook posts saying I would reveal the cover the following morning at 5:00 AM Eastern Time, and I prepared a post to go live on my site at that time. When I turned on my computer the following morning at 7:45 AM Pacific, I saw nonstop tweets about the cover. Even though it was a spur-of-the moment reveal on my own website, I felt it went really well.

BBC: How far in advance of the reveal date were you aware of what your cover would look like? 

CW: Seven weeks.

BBC: Was it hard to keep it to yourself before the official release?

CW: Yes, definitely. I shared it with my mom and sister with emails that strictly stated, “Do not share this ANYWHERE online.” I had dinner with authors Kendare Blake, Marta Acosta, and Lisa Desrochers during their summer book tour in August and snuck them a peek at a printout of the cover. Their jaws dropped when they saw it, so I knew I’d struck gold with my designer. 

BBC: What surprised you most about the process?

CW: How easy it was. I had heard so many awful stories about authors who hated their covers and had no say in them, plus most authors typically watch their covers undergo several alterations before everyone decides on the best design. Mine was a case of “Here are the cover samples, and here’s the one we like best,” and my agent and I were in complete agreement. We didn’t even ask for any minor tweaks. I don’t think that happens often, and I feel really, really lucky. 

BBC: Any advice to other debut authors about how to handle cover art anxiety?

CW: Ask your agent to put a clause in your contract that allows you to have a say in the design, which will give you peace of mind when you’re waiting. And don’t read too many cover design nightmare stories. Those scenarios don’t happen to everyone.

Wow! What a fantastic cover and story to go with it! And thanks to Cat's generosity, you've got the chance to hold the book in your hands before anyone else... and get some snazzy signed swag to go along with it. The swag will be mailed to the winner right away, but the ARC's aren't quite ready yet... don't worry you'll get it. Promise. How excited are you? Pretty excited? Prove it:

Monday, October 29, 2012

50 Pages or A Sex Scene

That's when I make a decision, as a reader.

I've been reading since I was little. Granted, I wasn't reading books with more than 50 pages, or anything containing sex scenes, but I'm sure I had a system even then to distinguish between what I wanted, and what I didn't want. It probably related to illustrations and inclusion of, or lack of, kitty cats.

Now that I'm older I've got a handy little thing called Goodreads that I use to make my list of "to-reads." And oh my, friends, that last is long. So long that I really should consider breaking a leg or devising a bed rest of some sort here soon.

I exercise, I eat (somewhat) healthy, I've got a pretty clear family history when it comes to the really bad health words. But... I've got a nagging sensation that I won't ever be able to read all the books that I want to read before you know - I 'm dead.

That's because I work in a library, and every box I open tends to add another 4-5 books to the "to-read" list, whereas every week I chalk up at the most 2 on the "read" list. It's not a good ratio. So I'm re-instituting a rule I devised in college, when pleasure reading took a backseat (pun intended) to the meatier (pun intended) stuff.

50 Pages or A Sex Scene

That's right. If I could give less of a crap about the characters or plot in the first 50 pages OR if I get to sex scene that does absolutely nothing for me, then the book is dead to me, and it goes on the "not-to-be-read" pile. 

Granted, some books have a sex scene much quicker than others. The most memorable early sex scene I can remember was a Page Two event that really did nothing for me, but I kept going because I was intrigued by the balls it took to just throw that out there. In the end, the book was crap, but it was a lesson learned.

What's your rule? When do you decide to part ways with the not-so-awesome plot?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Saturday Slash

Meet the BBC 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.

Art by Lynn Phillips Nelson
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.

Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You'll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!

And now for the next brave volunteer. For clarity, my comments are in this color. Because nobody liked the yellow :)

If Allyson can’t rescue a unicorn from a kidnapping dragon, her best friend will be executed. First of all, what's the difference between rescuing someone from a dragon, and rescuing them from a kidnapping dragon? I think your phrase should be "rescue them from being kidnapped by..." but that implies that the kidnapping hasn't actually occurred yet. If it has, then the person just needs rescued, period. Skim down your phrasing here and look hard at what's going on. Also - what the heck is the connection here between the best friend's impending death and the unicorn / dragon debacle? Right now, all this hook does is raise questions and confuse me. Definitely work on something with more punch. And worse, the dragon is Allyson’s father.

Allyson has never met her father, I think you need another "has" here. The echo is less bothersome than the awkward phrasing moved more times than she’s had birthdays, and never had a best friend until and I also think you need "until she met", for clarity. The way you have it now is technically okay, but the pacing is off Beth. With legendary acne and worsening asthma, nice - here's something that makes your character stand out. Consider working these details into your hook.  Allyson just wants to meet the father who turned her mother into a paranoid move-across-the-nation freak. When she accidentally spits fire on on or at? kidnappers at the mall the phrasing here as well as the "move across the nation" sentence has me wondering what kind of world / genre we're operating in here? When we're talking about unicorns and dragons in the hook, I'm immediately thinking high fantasy but here halfway through the first para I'm getting something else- needs clarification , she starts to understand why her father isn’t in the picture: Allyson is half dragon. Her acne? Emerging scales. Her long time asthma? Actually a fiery breath weapon. Nice - again, here's something engaging and original. Hook material. And since her mother hasn’t shown any tendencies to fry evil landlords, are evil landlords an issue for the family? Allyson suspects her father. Through her discovery, Beth doesn’t bat an eyelash. She’s half troll, and trolls are even more despised than dragons. Is the half-troll part related to her not batting an eyelash? Are they unflappable? 

When trolls kidnap a unicorn, Beth gets blamed, and unicorns kill kill who? for revenge. Allyson is determined to prove Beth’s innocence and keep her friend off the unicorn chopping block. When they start looking for the kidnappers, they get a call from the last person they expected: Allyson’s father. He works with the trolls and knows where they keep their victims, but there’s a problem: Allyson’s father is under a geas a what now? to retain the victims at all cost. Nothing short of death can stop him. Now Allyson has to choose: rescue the unicorn and kill the father she’s always dreamed of, or let her best friend die for a crime she didn’t commit. Great - the last para here really shows me what the book is about, and exhibits voice. This is good stuff here, but you're two paras above need serious work.

LEGACY, a MG urban fantasy complete at 68,000 words, is a road trip culminating at the Ghost Fleet in Suisun Bay (with a side helping of magic).

I think one of the big things here is that you need to get the high fantasy elements out of the opening para, make the urban qualities more obvious. Also, you need to make sure your originality is out there, front and center. Acne = scales? Asthma = fire breathing? Hey - that's awesome! Get it up front so that the agent sees that first. Also make sure your connections are clear. Your hook makes zero sense until the last sentence of your query, and an agent might not get that far.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

An SAT With E.C. Myers Author of FAIR COIN

Today's guest for SAT is an Apocalypsie - Eugene Myers, author of FAIR COIN. Yes, it's a dude. Come and see this new species!

Sixteen-year-old Ephraim Scott is horrified when he comes home from school and finds his mother unconscious at the kitchen table, clutching a bottle of pills. The reason for her suicide attempt is even more disturbing: she thought she’d identified Ephraim’s body at the hospital that day.

Among his dead double’s belongings, Ephraim finds a strange coin—a coin that grants wishes when he flips it. With a flick of his thumb, he can turn his alcoholic mother into a model parent and catch the eye of the girl he’s liked since second grade. But the coin doesn’t always change things for the better. And a bad flip can destroy other people’s lives as easily as it rebuilds his own.

The coin could give Ephraim everything he’s ever wanted—if he learns to control its power before his luck runs out.

Writing Process:

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

A little of both. I like to have some idea of where a book is going—the major plot developments and the ending—but I usually don’t work out all the details of how the characters are going to get from point A to point B, or even who all the characters are, until I’m drafting. The level of planning before writing mostly depends on how long I’ve been thinking about the project and what the project is. For example, I actually outlined my third novel, a manuscript I’m still revising, because there was a lot world building to work out and there were so many characters to keep track of.

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

Five or six months to write a very rough “zero” draft, then another one or two months to revise that into a first draft that I’m willing to share with readers. This is assuming I can write five days a week for at least ninety minutes a day, with occasional evenings and weekend days thrown in. I get most of my writing done in the morning before I go to work.

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

Multitasking is a necessity, especially when I have books in different stages of progress. My ideal is writing a novel in the mornings before going to my day job and spending evenings and weekends working on short stories and the business-side of being an author (responding to e-mails, promotion, reading and critiquing manuscripts, etc). But when I’m under a deadline on a project, I generally work on that one project every chance I can get.

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

Just the same fear that I still face every time I sit down to write: the fear of failure. Stories have so much potential until I try to write them down. But fortunately, this isn’t a crippling fear—I look at it more like a challenge. I’m always excited to discover where a story is going, and I know that until I try to write it, I won’t know if it matches what my imagination came up with.

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

Happily, none. FAIR COIN was the first novel I wrote.

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

I haven’t quit on any novels yet, but I have set aside plenty of short stories. I tend to think of it as putting a story on hold until I can do the idea justice and/or figure out what it’s really about, because I don’t like to quit on things. I almost always finish at least one draft before trunking a story; I might decide to do this after I’ve written and revised it a few times and it still isn’t working, or maybe I’ve just gotten distracted by another story I’m more excited about.

Querying and Agent Hunt Process:
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them? 

My agent is Eddie Schneider at JABberwocky Literary. I went through the traditional query process, and a reader at the agency picked my query letter and synopsis out of the slush and passed it up. I remember it was a rigorous process: The next step involved sending sample chapters and a “detailed outline” for the rest of the book, before the full manuscript was finally requested—and these were all paper submissions via snail mail at the time. Once Eddie had read FAIR COIN and we talked, it was clear that I had hit the agent jackpot.

How long did you query before landing your agent? 

About seven months, and by the end I had queried a total of 33 agents.

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

The best thing I can suggest is to write another book while you’re querying, for three reasons:
1) It will keep you distracted from checking your e-mail, watching the mailbox, and waiting by the phone for news.
2) It will demonstrate to potential agents that you’re serious about writing as a career and have more than one book in you.
3) It will give you hope that if you don’t manage to get an agent for the book you’re querying now, that you’ll have another, better project to query with next time.

Don’t query until the book is as good as it can possibly be, and don’t rush your letter and synopsis either; you get one shot at making a favorable first impression, so make your letter as tight and polished as your novel manuscript is—but feel free to tweak it as you’re querying and getting feedback from agents.

Also, make sure you’re querying more than one agent at a time, unless one of them has requested an exclusive. I liked to send them out in batches of three or four a week, and make sure I was sending out new queries as the rejections came in.

Finally, be polite and professional in all your communications with agents, in your blogging, in your tweeting, on Facebook, etc. This process is as similar to interviewing for a job as it is to dating, and you don’t want to give any agent a reason to say no beyond whether or not she loves your book and thinks she can sell it.

On Being Published:
How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?

Exciting and surreal! It’s very strange to see something that has only lived in your head for a long time suddenly a solid, physical thing on a shelf in a bookstore, or as a product page on an etailer website. I can only imagine it was like what Pinocchio might have felt the first time he looked in a mirror as a real boy.

How much input do you have on cover art?

My editor at Pyr, Lou Anders, also happens to be the art director. He did ask me for feedback on possible covers and kept me in the loop throughout the process, which I greatly appreciated, but he also has great instincts and strong opinions about what’s right for a book. I have a background in visual art, but I’m content to focus on the words between the covers and leave people with more experience to make it all look pretty. And I had nothing to worry about; what Lou and the illustrator, Sam Weber, came up with for FAIR COIN and QUANTUM COIN was better than anything I ever thought of myself—and I’ve definitely given cover art some thought over the years.

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

Just that the business of being an author involves so much more than writing the book. Your mileage probably varies with different publishers and projects, but publishing a book means you may not get to do much actual writing while you promote it. I know I could have done the bare minimum and let Fair Coin sink or swim on its own, but I spent so much time and effort on writing it, getting an agent, and selling it—and so many other people have been a part of that process every step of the way—that I decided early on that I was going to do as much as I could to get the word out and contribute to its success. That seems important for a debut author trying to convince readers to take a chance on his book.

Social Networking and Marketing:
How much of your own marketing do you?  Do you have a blog / site / Twitter?

I do a good chunk of it, maybe more than some authors. I have an excellent publicist and team at Pyr who have been wonderful about sending my books out to reviewers, arranging guest blog opportunities, coordinating events and sales, and supporting all the crazy ideas I come up with. But I did make my own book trailer; design and produce my own bookmarks and assorted swag; and line up most of my readings, signings, guest blogs, and interviews. This is not only a significant financial investment on my part, but an investment in time. I have a day job, and it’s been tricky juggling all my vacation days, work, and personal commitments to make it to school visits, conventions, readings, etc.—things that only the author can do. My agent and his colleagues have also done a lot to facilitate things, brainstorm new approaches, and seek out marketing opportunities.

Basically, I’ve been partnering with my publisher and agent on marketing and we help each other out as much as we can—we have the same goal, after all. I’ve taken on a lot of it, but I only have two books and they have so many more authors and books, so I’m glad for whatever support I can get. And I also feel like the more I’m willing to do to market the book, the more they’re willing and able to do.

I devote most of my time to my Twitter and blog, but I also have a Facebook page where people can get news and links about the book and related topics. I have a Tumblr page tied to Fair Coin, and a personal Tumblr page that I update sporadically with images and videos I find online.

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

If you are planning to build a writing career and engaging with other writers and readers is important to you, then I think you should start as soon as possible—before you start querying agents, and certainly well before you sell your book. It’s true that having a strong network may make you seem more marketable to an agent or editor, but I don’t think you should build your online presence just to sell books. It’s better to be online because you want to participate in a community of people with diverse interests. I like Twitter a lot; it’s amazing to be talking daily with so many authors and bloggers I admire.

Interacting with other people through social media can also keep you better informed about the business of publishing and could lead to opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise have. A blog could offer potential agents, editors, and readers a sense of your personality beyond your work, which hopefully helps encourages their interest.

I’m always a little suspicious when I see a Twitter account or blog that isn’t updated often and/or was created the moment a book deal was announced; I’m inclined to assume someone told the author she needs to be online to sell books, and it isn’t something she is really into on her own.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I’m sure some readers may have found my work because of a tweet or Facebook wall post, but I think social media has been most useful as a way for people who have heard of my books to find out more about them, or for readers to find out more about me after reading them. If you’re an author who wants to connect with readers, of your work or other work in your field, then I think it’s essential to be easy to find online. You at least need a website where people can contact you, but I like interacting with people on Twitter and getting messages through Facebook or Goodreads. Being that accessible to the public may not be ideal for every writer, but it’s important to me. I’m always a little disappointed when there’s no information on an author on the internet, and it makes it harder to learn about their other books and find out about new ones.

And as I mentioned, I’ve gotten many interview requests and other marketing opportunities through social media and from people I first met online, and those have certainly improved my chances of reaching new readers.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Saturday Slash... Or Not

I have no more volunteers! Yes, really!!  It's SAD! IT'S SO SAD!!


If you want to make me un-sad you should volunteer for a slash.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) Shouldn't the magazine National Geographic technically be called International Geographic?

2) I'm thrilled that The Walking Dead references pop up everywhere in our culture now, from action heroes to tricked-out cross bows. But when will the fashion hit? I want rumpled, exhausted and kind-of-dirty to be in. It would save so much time.

3) Oh, high school body. How I maligned and scorned you then. I had no idea. I want you back so I can admire you. The same is not true of the high school boyfriend.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Next Big Thing - Week 20

I don't usually participate in blog hops, but when my Katherine Tegen "sister" Liz Coley (PRETTY GIRL-13) asked me to play I thought it might be a bit of fun. So here I am, claiming to be The Next Big Thing. But because I'm me, some of the answers are... er, Mindy-flavored.

I'm posting the answers for 10 Questions about my WIP, which is the sequel to NOT A DROP TO DRINK, currently titled A HANDFUL OF DUST. I'm in edit mode at the moment, so excuse the sawdust on the floor. Next week my volunteers will take on Week 21 - their links are posted below my answers!

1) What is the working title of your book?

Right now it's titled A HANDFUL OF DUST, a nice little poetry shout out to go along with NOT A DROP TO DRINK.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

My head.

3)What genre does your book fall under?

Twisted stuff from Mindy's head.

4) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I would play all the characters myself, obviously.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Polio sucks.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It's already sold to Harper Collins / Katherine Tegen, sold by my agent Adriann Ranta of Wolf Literary.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About six months.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Maybe BLOOD RED ROAD by Moira Young. I haven't read it, but it seems like they'd be good shelf mates. Also I've always loved the name Moira, so I think it's fate and she should blurb me.

9) Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Adriann, when she said, "You know, DRINK doesn't have to be a stand alone..."

10) What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I had to do a lot of research about various illnesses, sucking wounds, and how to care for horse hooves.

Tagged for next week (Week 21) are some of my very talented writer friends. Check out their blogs next Wednesday, October 24th, when it's their turn to post answers to these same questions about their own works-in-progress!

Alexandra Tys O'Connor
Kate Karyus Quinn
Elsie Chapman


***Answer these ten questions about your current WIP on your blog

***Tag five other writers/bloggers with their links so we can hop over and meet them.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

An Overdue SAT with My Keeper - R.C. Lewis

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is someone who's success is well-earned and quite overdue. And that's not just because she's my crit partner, lets me sleep on her couch, and catches all my comma splices. (I'm sure the copyeditors at HarperCollins would thank her if they only knew). RC Lewis, fellow moderator at AgentQuery Connect, recently sold her debut, STITCHING SNOW to Hyperion/Disney in a two book deal. Expect it Summer, 2014. In fact, if you feel so inclined you can go ahead and add it on Goodreads now.

Writing Process:
BBC: Are you a Planner or Pantster?

RC: Somewhere marvelously in-between. I’m all about balance and following what a specific story needs. I’ll usually jot a note or two before starting. Sometimes just a touch of vocabulary or world-building. Other times it’s more of a rough bullet-points outline. Those notes always get added to as I’m drafting, because my brain tends to move ahead of the writing.

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

RC: There is no “typical” for me, because it depends on a lot of things, like how much time the day-job is taking. Also, the more I let the “planner” side out, the faster it seems to go. I’ve drafted some in 6-8 weeks, and others took 3-4 months.

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

RC: When I’m drafting, I usually stay pretty focused on that one, but there have been exceptions.

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

RC: Not really, because I had no expectations. I’d been complaining about certain things that bothered me about several books and thought, “Could I do any better?” So I sat down to find out, having no idea what the answer was.

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

RC: I fully queried out two books, plus tried just a few queries on another book in-between those.

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

RC: There’s that one I only did some limited queries for. I wouldn’t call it quitting, though. I knew going in that the timing wasn’t right for that particular story, and the query experiment confirmed it.

Querying and Agent Hunt Process:
BBC: Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them? 

RC: My agent extraordinaire is Jennifer Laughran (of Andrea Brown Literary Agency). I sent her a query the week before a multi-blog contest. She ended up lurking the entries and tweeted that she saw a few she’d love to read, but the posts didn’t include author info. I got brave and tweeted back that some might be in her query inbox at that very moment. She went to check and emailed me moments later.

I got several other requests through that contest and the few queries I’d sent. It got a little “Is this seriously happening??” for a while (a short while), but I ended up with Jennifer.

BBC: How many queries did you send before landing your agent?

RC: With this particular manuscript, hardly at all. About ten queries right before the contest, several agents involved in the contest directly or lurking ... all told, it was thirteen days from first query emailed to offer accepted.

BUT ... my other two manuscripts combined for over two hundred queries sent, several full requests each, even a revise-and-resubmit, over the course of about two years.

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

RC: If you’re intimidated by the idea of condensing  your story to 250 words or less, stop thinking that way. You don’t need to condense the whole thing—you just need to give enough to make some tantalizing bait. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with a query, but it just isn’t working. There’s nothing wrong with starting from scratch again.

I also found it helped to always have something else to work on while queries/submissions were out. Maybe it sounds pessimistic, but I always planned for each project I was querying not to be the one that’d snag an agent ... but the NEXT one would be.

Monday, October 15, 2012

CADET OF TILDOR Trailer Reveal & Giveaway!

Today is a big day for fellow Lucky13 and Class of 2k13 member Alex Lidell! Her trailer for THE CADET OF TILDOR is debuting today, and I get to be part of the excitement thanks to AToMR Tours. Alex's trailer is amazing, and she has the medieval reenactment group "Liberi Lusenta" in Italy to thank for that - they did an amazing job, and you can meet them here.

There is a new king on the throne of Tildor. Currents of political unrest sweep the country as two warring crime families seek power, angling to exploit the young Crown's inexperience. At the Academy of Tildor, the training ground for elite soldiers, Cadet Renee de Winter struggles to keep up with her male peers. But when her mentor, a notorious commander recalled from active duty to teach at the Academy, is kidnapped to fight in illegal gladiator games, Renee and her best friend Alec find themselves thrust into a world rife with crime, sorting through a maze of political intrigue, and struggling to resolve what they want, what is legal, and what is right.

CADET will be available from Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin) on January 10, 2013.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Saturday Slash

Meet the BBC 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.

Art by Lynn Phillips Nelson
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.

Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You'll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!

And now for the next brave volunteer. For clarity, my comments are in this color. Because nobody liked the yellow :)

Fifteen-year-old Prince Alexander knows how to use a sword—using it against an enemy is another story.

He can fire an arrow into an apple from twenty feet away—as long as no one's looking.

And he's fawned over by all the single ladies of his kingdom—even though he just wants them to leave him alone. I like the setup you have there pro - con. I would take these three mini-hooks and push them altogether for a hook para. The white space makes it look like you've got three mini-hooks and you couldn't decide which one to go with. There's no reason why you can't put them together to form a hook- para.

But when war threatens the Kingdom of Drakon and he falls in love with his commanding officer, Alex doesn't know what to do. I'd use the same format as you were before with the dash here instead of starting the next sentence off with Especially because technically I'm not sure this next bit is a complete sentence as it stands. when he finds out he's actually a girl. OK - now that's pretty fascinating. From birth, his mother was forced to raise him as a boy because only a male can be an heir, and since he's already got six older siblings—all girls—she had to make a choice. I'd cut some of this, it's not terribly important that he has six older siblings and that they were all girls. The important thing here is that he needed to pretend to be a boy to inherit, so Mom made that call - gotcha. However - I think the much harder sell here is how the hell she managed to keep Alex so incredibly naive for so long. You're going to have to show that is a believable plot point. Alex is more than a little peeved at his mom—she could've at least given him a hint!—but now he must make a choice: tell the people he's a girl so he can be with the love of his life, or keep his family safe from prosecution. Err... more than prosecution, I would assume. He'll lose the throne. Decisions, decisions

I highlighted some of your text above in blue because I feel like the voice there is not in keeping with the rest of the query. It's got a very ha-ha blasé touch to it, and that's not how the rest of the query is reading. Everything else has a lot of angst and self-idenity issues, but these two lines are forcing an angle that I don't think is necessarily working here. 

Overall it's an interesting concept that I really like, however I think you've really got to sell the idea that Alex could be that naive about sexuality and gender for that long. Also, I'm really curious about the other side of this love story - how does the commanding officer feel about all this? Does he know Alex is a girl? The main conflict here is kingdom & power vs. love.... so tell me more about the relationship and how it's going to play out in terms of the story. Address those two elements and then I think you're ready to query.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Book Talk - TIME BETWEEN US by Tamara Ireland Stone

Anna couldn't be more stuck in her suburban Chicago home. Even though she runs every morning, she's never actually been anywhere. The world map covering her bedroom wall that's supposed to show her travels only has pins stuck in a tight cluster around her home. It feels like nothing will ever change for Anna, until she meets Bennet.

He's watching her morning run from the bleachers when she first spots him, but when he's introduced later in the day as the proverbial new kid in town he pretends to have not seen her there. He's cute enough that she's willing to let that odd fact slide, until he presents her with another - distinctly odder - one.

Bennet can slide through places, going anywhere he chooses only by visualizing it. He proves it to Anna by taking her to a deserted island for an afternoon, and plopping her back into her bedroom only minutes after they left. The pins on Anna's map start to spread as Bennet opens the world to her, giving Anna experiences she never could have otherwise.

Only, Bennet's not sharing the entire truth with her. He can slide through time, too. Anna is from 1995, Bennet lives in 2012. He's only staying in the 90s long enough to find his sister again, who he lost while attending a particularly boisterous Pearl Jam concert she wanted to see. As his time in her world begins running short, his powers fade and the two have to face the problem of a love that's challenged not only by distance, but by a timeline as well.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Thursday Thoughts & A Launch Giveaway!

Yes, it's true. I've made a vlog NOT designed to be funny. And if anyone out there is thinking, "Wait, those earlier ones were supposed to be funny?" I will cry. Like, right now. The Class of 2k13 launches today with giveaways and blog posts about the inspiration behind our stories. Since I just love filming myself talking to nobody in my dining room I went ahead and made a vlog. This is your chance to see me being serious, and sounding like someone that actually should have two degrees.

The Class of 2k13 wanted to do something a little different for our giveaway. So if you want to win a prize package with swag as well as little sumpin-sumpin's related to all our books, hit it up!

But anyway, I know you're dying for the Thursday Thoughts -

Thoughts this week:

1) Common sense is not aptly named.

2) There needs to be some kind of study done with electric shock to create aversion to calories.

3) Someone needs to create a pill that makes cat poop smell good. That would be so incredible. The house starts to smell a little stuffy and you're thinking, "Man, I wish the cat would take a crap already."

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Debut MG Author Polly Holyoke on the Submission Process

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, Polly Holyoke, is a fellow Lucky13 and also a member of the Class of 2k13 - our site will be launching 10/11/12 (Thursday) with some great giveaways and posts about the inspiration behind our novels. If you want to learn more about how Polly (and me, and about 18 other debut authors) conceived of our debuts, hop on over! You might win something too!

Polly's debut, THE NEPTUNE PROJECT will be available from Disney Hyperion in 2013.

And now for her submission experience, or as she puts it:

Or how I spent the longest 14 days of my life….

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

PH: I knew a fair amount about how the process went when a manuscript was submitted to a few houses at a time. I knew very little about how auctions actually worked, and to my great surprise, my agent decided to take that route for The Neptune Project.

BBC: Did anything about the process surprise you?

PH: I was surprised by how quickly the process went. I keep hearing how slammed the editors are (and I know that’s true) but somehow my agent was able to get editors at twelve different houses to read my manuscript within a period of two weeks.

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

PH: I think my agent heard back from a few publishers within a few days indicating they did not intend to bid on NEPTUNE. The rest we didn’t hear from until close to the end.

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

PH: Eat chocolate, go for long walks, and then eat more chocolate??? Actually, I just tried to stay busy and worked on another book. I think it’s really important to always have that next project in the works, just in case you do meet with a discouraging rejection. I always love the planning and early stages of a novel. The daydreaming part is my favorite, so I managed to lose myself there. And then I ate more chocolate…

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

PH: We tried for a pre-empt, and we were turned down within twenty-four hours. That was definitely an ouch because I loved the house that we contacted first. I was amazed and encouraged, though, that my agent had the clout to get a book read by an editor-in-chief so quickly. I had to feel optimistic about my story’s chances in the long haul. My agent was also very kind about making me feel like the failure of his pre-empt attempt was all his fault for sending the book to the wrong house.

The stakes were so much higher in an auction than for your regular ole garden variety query rejection. I’ve been in this game long of enough to have experienced dozens (okay, honestly, probably hundreds!) of query rejections. I think because my agent was so excited about the project, he almost had me convinced that everyone was going to bid on it -- which did not happen. So, the first few rejections definitely hurt more than query rejections, I’d developed a pretty thick skin about them. Hearing that a couple of the big houses were definitely dropping out of the hunt early on was a surprise, but my agent was so positive, he made me think we’d definitely have a sale, and he was right, bless his heart.

BBC :If you received 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?

PH: I always try to appreciate the feedback I receive from editors and put it to good use. If I hear from two editors in a row that my story has a serious flaw, I’ll definitely try to change it. But our rejections in this case had more to do with the fact NEPTUNE wasn’t really the right kind of story for several of the more literary houses we contacted. I always take all my beta readers’ feedback seriously, but I have to put an editor’s feedback within the context of their market and niche. At the same time, editors do have such an incredible perspective on books. Sometimes I think good editors look at novels the way mechanics look at automobiles. Editors can see the body, engine, and interior workings of a manuscript so clearly. BTW, because editors’ input can be extremely valuable, I encourage writers to sign up for editors’ critique at conferences.   

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

PH: Let’s see, I heard the big yes by telephone, and by then I was a little wrung out from the two week wait (and very full of… you guessed it – chocolate!) It did come down to the final day at the final hour my agent set for the end of the auction. I remember standing looking out my office window and listening to him tell me the details of the deal, and they pretty much just washed over me. I was incredibly happy, and incredibly relieved that the long two weeks were over, and we did have a good deal in hand. It definitely took a while to sink in. But then I believe I did start whooping and dancing and making my sundry dogs and cats very worried – but that whole ecstatic afternoon is a blur to me now.

BBC: Did you have to wait a period of time before sharing your big news because of details being ironed out? Was that difficult?

PH: I didn’t have to wait at all before telling folks, which was a very good thing! I think I probably told my mailman, the UPS man, and the checker at the grocery store. I did call my husband first, and I even texted my daughters at school. Then literally the next day I was talking to a media agent in LA and hearing about all the studios that were going to be receiving copies of my manuscript. I believe someone’s still trying to make a treatment of it now. I do notice no one’s actually paid us option money yet, but it was surreal and very fun realizing my sea story was actually floating around Hollywood, so to speak!

Looking back on all the excitement, I realize I was so very lucky to sign with a good agent who had the “clout” to get my story read and taken seriously. I’ve had three agents now in the course of my colorful career, and this submission process brought home to me once again that having a great agent in your corner can make all the difference.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Enter to Win a Signed Copy of PERFECT CHEMISTRY by Simone Elkeles

Hooray! I'm still giving things away. I'm really good at accumulating stuff. Luckily for you, I'm a giving person.

Today I've got a signed copy of PERFECT CHEMISTRY by Simone Elkeles!

And if you enjoy giveaways, be sure to swing by the Class of 2k13 site on 10/11/12 - that's this Thursday for those of you who don't have a calendar in front of your noses at the moment. We'll be doing giveaways for our launch and sharing the inspiration behind our MG & YA novels!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Saturday Slash

Meet the BBC 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.

Art by Lynn Phillips Nelson
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.

Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You'll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!

And now for the next brave volunteer. For clarity, my comments are in this color. Because nobody liked the yellow :)

Ghosts don’t exist. At least, that’s what seventeen-year-old Emma Harris thought before one hurled her and mysterious classmate Daniel Wyatt back in time. Okay, it's not a *bad* hook, but it's kind of  a mouthful to get to the goods. You start off with what I call "the contradiction hook" - statement + contradiction = action to prove it's so. Granted, I totally made that up just now, but it's kind of a formulaic thing that needs a name, and I've decided it should be called the "contradiction hook." Find something hook-ier. The idea that not only is our MC thrown back in time, but with someone "mysterious" not of her choosing is what you want to highlight, but right now it's a mouthful to get there. Now in 19th century America, the ghost is a living, breathing, flirting girl named Lucinda Sutton. The same Lucinda Sutton who disappeared on her wedding night, according to town legend. Oh now that's interesting. Start here - this is your hook, rephrase to get it up there front and center. 

Of all the people to be stuck with in the past, Daniel Wyatt was not high on Emma’s list. His dodgy reputation and temper were enough to keep her away before, but stranded in a foreign world of petticoats and pantalettes, like the alliteration here he’s the only anchor to her time, This feels slightly off, I'm not sure these two phrases in the sentence are actually complementing each other. When you use "before" it sounds like, there was reason for her to not like him earlier, but now - and here I'm expecting you to deliver even more reason to dislike him, but instead it's a positive flip. Slight rephrase here. a place she’d do anything to return to.

After exploring Lucinda’s life as real 19th century citizens, I'd cut the opener, we assume they're doing that, or else standing out like sore thumbs. It's kind of time-travel protocol to fit in right away. Emma and Daniel believe their only way home is to help Lucinda marry. But Lucinda’s fiancé is more than gentility and smiles. He may have been the very person who made her “disappear.” Nice.
Trapped in a tragedy that’s already been written, nice Emma and Daniel must overcome their differences to battle fate for Lucinda’s life. If they fail, they may be abandoned in the past forever.

Nice, but why do they want to help her? Only for themselves? Or do they actually want to save her, too? Earlier when you used the word "flirting" to describe her I was immediately imagining that either there was going to be a love-triangle here, or some kind of jealousy on Emma's part in regards to Daniel. But that doesn't go anywhere, and it would be a huge hook in YA. How does Emma feel about Lucinda? Does she want to save her life just to return to her own rightful place in time? How does Emma feel about Daniel as the novel progresses? Are her feelings changing? You say she stayed away from her before, now he's her anchor. How does she feel about that? Repulsed? Scared? Angry? Confused? Attracted?

This is well-written but you need to get the character feelings in here to give it some blood.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Book Talk - SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo

Alina Starkov is just another peasant orphan in Ravka, one of the many who have lost home and family in the never-ending wars. Her only wish is to distinguish herself as a mapmaker in the King's Army, and to hope that someday her fellow orphan and childhood friend Mal will see past her plain looks and know her true feelings.

But an excursion into the Shadow Fold - an all-consuming darkness harboring the raptor-like volcra - threatens Mal's life and Alina's power explodes from her in a surprising burst of light. She is the Sun-Summoner, the only one who can defeat the darkness of the Shadow Fold and bring hope to Ravka.

And she has no clue how to harness her power.

Swept into the richly designed world of the Grisha and the Second Army without warning, Alina is lost in the world of power and beauty. The only person who seems to understand her is the one she's been taught to fear - the Darkling himself, the handsome great-grandson of the former Darkling who created the Shadow Fold in a misguided bid for power.

The Darkling wants to teach Alina to use her power to complement his own, together he says they can deliver hope to their world. But every Grisha lesson she learns leads Alina further away from the orphan she used to be, and the boy she loved before.

Bardugo casts an amazing spell in SHADOW & BONE, finding a gray area between the dark and the light and leading her readers down paths they won't expect.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Kate Karyus Quinn Takes the SAT

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is a fellow Lucky13, Kate Karyus Quinn - or KKQ as I've taken to calling her. Kate is also a member of the upcoming Class of 2k13, and (of course) I am too! We'll be launching our site on 10/11/12 with lots of giveaways and posts from each member on the inspiration for our books!

Kate's debut ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE is coming 2013 from Harper Teen:

A girl wakes up wandering the roads of Oklahoma knowing that she is occupying another girl's body -- and that she has killed the girl whose body she is in -- who then returns to the girl's parents in upstate New York to uncover who she really is, and who else she has killed.

Writing Process:
BBC: Are you a Planner or Pantster?

KKQ: I looong to be a planner. Not just in writing but in all areas of my life. But I am not.

Instead, I am one of those people who will put something important in a safe place, and then when I need that something important I will have to spend hours searching my house for the place where I hid it. My writing method is not really all that different from this. I usually start a novel with a character and the seed of an idea. With just that I can usually write a good five thousand words or so without having any idea what that seed will grow into…

At some point though, I hit a wall. That’s when I have to sit down and do some plotting and planning. I ask myself where is this going? And what does the character want? I try to get enough engine into my story so that my character isn’t left stranded in the middle of my novel with nothing to do. But I wouldn’t call what I work from a plan. It is ideas, story beats, and the hope that it will all work out in the end.

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

KKQ: I am a really slow first drafter. Usually it takes me around a year to finish a first draft. That includes some time when I am not writing at all, but just mulling things over and letting my ideas germinate.

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

KKQ: Usually, I work on one project at a time. However, recently, I had an idea for a new book and since I was at the time stuck on my current WIP, I decided to start working on it. Since then I have gone back and forth between the two projects and have really enjoyed having the option of working on two different things.

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

KKQ: I have to overcome fear every single time that I sit down to write. I don’t think I have ever just sat down in front of my computer and let the words flow. Usually, I have to give myself this little push to open the Word document and make myself start typing. I think it is a fear that I won’t be able to properly translate all the thoughts, images, and ideas in my head onto the paper.

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

KKQ: Two. One was a romance novel. It was a really important book because while I had begun many many books, this was the first one that I saw through from saggy middle to triumphant end. Just knowing that I could do it, that I write all the way from beginning to end, and then also go through and edit and revise it – gave me a lot of confidence. And it also showed me there was no magic to writing a book. Just determination and making yourself sit down and write.

My second novel was an urban fantasy. That one taught me a lot about rewriting. I also learned an important plotting lesson. Perhaps the most important plotting lesson of all. And this is: if your central premise is faulty no amount of rewriting will ever be able to fix it.

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

KKQ: I did query agents for both of my trunk novels. I got very few bites with my first book. The second book, actually had two revise and resubmits from an agent, but she ultimately felt that the book did not work. Really, I just knew it was time for both of them, because I was ready to move onto something new.

Querying and Agent Hunt Process:
BBC: Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?  

KKQ: My agent is the amazing Alexandra Machinist. I found her the traditional way – sending out query letters and hoping for a full or partial request.

BBC: How long did you query before landing your agent?  

KKQ: I received my first “I’d like to call you” about a month after I’d started sending out queries. I think I sent out about 20 queries?

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

I used querytracker.net for querying all three of my novels. That was a huge help as far as finding the best agents to query and also keeping track of who I had emailed, who had responded, and how long I should expect to wait before receiving a response. I also had lots of help from other writers (including those on the querytracker forum) in getting my query letter into fighting shape.

On Being Published:
BBC: How much input do you have on cover art?

KKQ: A bit. Before the design began I was asked if I had any thoughts, and if there were any covers out there that I really loved or hated. Then when the cover was done-ish, I was emailed a copy and asked what I thought. Luckily, the HarperTeen designers are really amazing and I am counting down the days until I can reveal my cover!

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

KKQ: I guess the biggest surprise was how much I truly loved the revision process. I have always found first drafts to be more difficult than edits, but I had no idea how exciting it would be to receive the first revision letter from my editor and then really be able to dig into edits. Having that letter to go back to and use as a touch point just gave me so much confidence in the changes that I was making and this certainty that I was making my novel stronger.

Social Networking and Marketing:
BBC: How much of your own marketing do you do?  Do you have a blog / site / Twitter?

KKQ: I put a website together for myself! That’s been my first big marketing move. You can find it at katekaryusquinn.com

I can also be found at all the other usual places.
@katekaryusquinn for Twitter.
http://pinterest.com/katekquinn/ - Pinterest
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5218360.Kate_Karyus_Quinn - Goodreads
katekaryusquinn.blogspot.com - Blog

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

KKQ: I started my blog in 2008, right around the time I was querying my first novel. I joined Goodreads when I was just a book lover and not an author. It took me awhile to jump on the Twitter bandwagon – I finally took the leap after my novel sold in 2011. My website is the most recent addition to my list of online links.

Building an online presence bit by bit, wasn’t really a plan (I’m not that organized, see the planner/pantser question above) but it has worked out well. I think if I had to come up with a blog and everything else all at once it would be really overwhelming.

BBC: Do you think social media helps build your readership?

KKQ: I think anyone pushing social media needs to include the disclaimer: results may vary. Some authors (see: John Green) have used social media incredibly successfully. Others have shot themselves in the foot tweeting something that maybe they should not have.

Right now if I Google my name (Not that I spend a lot of time Googling my name. It’s too much like looking in the mirror. Do it to make sure you’re not walking out the door with spinach between your teeth, but don’t do it so much that you either fall in love with or start hating yourself.) my blog is the top result. My Goodreads page and website is also on the first page. I’m happy with that.

However, if I Google “young adult author”… Urgh. Yeah, I don’t know how many of the 674,00 results I would have to wade through to find my name. I don’t want to know. And honestly I don’t care about that too much right now. I am a debut author, and everyone knows… World domination is best saved for the second book.