Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Successful Author Talk with 2014 Debut Sara Raasch

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Sara Raasch, author of the 2014 title SNOW LIKE ASHES from Balzer & Bray. Sara has known she was destined for bookish things since the age of five, when her friends had a lemonade stand and she tagged along to sell her hand-drawn picture books too. Just FYI, SNOW LIKE ASHES does not feature her hand-drawn pictures.

Writing Process:
Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Planner. SUCH a planner. I think my level of planning-ness is borderline unhealthy, but with writing fantasy, planning is kind of necessary. There are so many characters/storylines/world building details to keep track of, I couldn’t imagine Pantsing a fantasy novel. I have detailed story outlines, character progressions, maps, maps for the maps, maps for the story outlines, and on and on. Plus, can I just take a second to bow down to Pinterest? I have no idea how I ever did any world building before Pinterest.

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

This is a very unfair question. I wrote the first draft of SNOW LIKE ASHES when I was twelve, so if you calculate how long it took me to get to this current version…almost twelve years? Yikes. Numbers are evil. There were some detours in that time period, of course – other novels, silly things like college, etc. But if you count only this current draft of SLA, it took about five months. Which is a much less evil number.

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

In every other area of my life, I rock multi-tasking. I can cook dinner, text, IM chat, and play fetch with my cat all at once. But when it comes to writing? One story at a time is all my brain can handle. It goes back to how encompassing fantasy is – I like being able to totally immerse myself in a world, and if I’m trying to be in two worlds at once, it splits my brain in a very unfortunate way.

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

That first time? Try every time I sit down to write. I’m currently working on the sequel to SNOW LIKE ASHES and suffering from major first-draft pains. No matter how many books I write, first drafts are always huge confidence-kills. One of the things that keeps me going through the massive suckage that is drafting is a quote by Jodi Picoult: “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” Which to me means “Put da words on da paper, you crazy obsessive over-analyzer, you.”

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

Well, as I said above, SNOW LIKE ASHES was originally written when I was twelve. It took about seven-ish years before I realized that that trilogy just wasn’t doing it for me (at the time, at least), and I shelved it in favor of two other books that eventually bombed out too. Only when I returned to the wonderful world of fantasy did I land that ever-elusive agent, and even then it was another three years, two books, and one more agent before I sold.

Moral of the story? Keep. Moving. Forward. And when you don’t feel like moving forward, watch Meet the Robinsons and cry into a box of truffles. But the moment that movie is over, you best be moving forward. The time will pass anyway, so you might as well be working toward your dream.

(Yes, I AM a treasure trove of inspiring quotes, thank you for noticing.)

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

Let’s tally up the aforementioned trunked books. Including the first draft of SNOW LIKE ASHES (and its two other trilogy books) that twelve-year-old Author-Sara wrote, the total is seven. Seven books that now sit in the abyss of Maybe Someday But Not Now. Seven books that at one point in time I adored, but ultimately didn’t spark the same adoration in agents/editors. Knowing when it was time to move on was never an easy decision, and usually came only after months of rejection and tears. Mostly it had to do with realizing the market just wasn’t right or the story was good but my craft wasn’t quite “there” yet.

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

Good ol’ fashioned querying. My agent is Mackenzie Brady at Sheedy Literary. I actually got her on a different book (a paranormal ghost story that is currently in the abyss of Maybe Someday But Not Now). I could go into a nice long rave about how awesome my agent is, but then I’d get pelted with jealousy-bullets, and I don’t have a lead vest with me.

How long did you query before landing your agent?  

My querying process was excruciatingly ideal when I got Mackenzie. I was only querying for about a month when she offered, and letmetellyou, Younger Author Sara kind of hates That Author Sara for getting it so easy. Mackenzie was my second agent; when I got my first agent back in the day, I queried for months. Months and months. And before I queried that book, I queried every other book I wrote on its own, and nearly lost myself under piles of rejection letters over the course of years. There is a weird kind of thrill to querying though, no matter how sucky it is. The thrill of possibility that just can’t be matched (except maybe with submissions, which is its own kind of suck).

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

I said it before, but I’ll say it again – keep moving forward. You got a rejection? That’s GREAT! It means you tried. You got rejectionS? That’s even MORE awesome, because it means you KEPT trying. This industry rewards those who persevere. If you want this, really want this, then don’t you dare stop. Even if all you want to do is stick a knife through your laptop. First of all, laptops are expensive. Don’t do that. Second of all, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and tell yourself you want this more than the rejection hurts. If you don’t root for yourself, who will?

On Being Published:
How did it feel when you saw your sale announcement?

I had a hard time SEEING my book sale because of all the tears. When my agent called with the news, I was able to keep it together pretty well through the phone call, but once I hung up I burst into tears. Ugly tears. Sobbing, coughing, blubbering tears. So when the email with the contract details came through, I could barely form coherent sentences, let alone read words on the computer screen. I have a feeling the same will happen when I first see SLA on a shelf in a bookstore.

How much input do you have on cover art?

I’m still pretty early in the process to be involved with cover art. Not that I haven’t thought about it. My aforementioned Pinterest obsession attests to just how much I’ve thought about it. If any of Balzer + Bray’s cover artists are reading this, I have 400+ pins of ideas I’d like to run past you.

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

Though there are parts that aren’t so much fun, it IS as good as I imagined. Better, even.

Social Networking and Marketing:
How much of your own marketing do you?  

When I finally sold, my inner marketing-nerd went “*cracks knuckles* I got this.” I have a blog and Twitter, and those are really the only marketing venues I use (I have a Facebook fan page, but I’m a recovering Facebook Addict going on four years sober). I recently started a Join the Blizzard campaign in which I give away season-themed goodies the first day of every season now until SLA’s launch next fall. The closer it gets, the more I’ll do, and boy, am I pumped to get to it. I feel like I had my marketing side bottled up all those years of querying/submitting, and now that I have a product to sell, I’m all over it.

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

It’s never too early! I know a lot of people who have HUGE followings already and aren’t agented. The trick is to find the venue that works for you. If you hate Twitter, it’ll show, and people will be less inclined to follow you. Even if you aren’t particularly talented at any certain social media outlet, don’t lose heart – believe it or not, there ARE still quite a few authors who don’t have online presences. It helps, but it’s not necessary.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Nice segue! I think it can definitely be a beneficial tool, but it isn’t a make-or-break thing – if social media isn’t for you, don’t force it. The biggest thing that builds readership is still and always will be word of mouth. Sure, you can build up a good following on Twitter/Blogger/Goodreads and develop some word of mouth spreadage, but for the most part it happens organically.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Lions & Tigers & Bears... Oh, S#%T!!

I don't watch movies that often. Mostly because I feel like two hours is a lot of time for me to just hand over to digest something once, get to know somebody, care about what's going on, and then it's over and I don't get to see them do anything new again - ever. It'd be like having a boyfriend that only has 8 different scenarios built in, and that's all you get.

I much prefer miniseries (Lost, Walking Dead, Castle, Game of Thrones, Sherlock) or epics like The Lord of the Rings where I get 12 hours of a relationship instead of just the average 2 to 3. But every now and then there's a movie that I have to see for one reason or another. I recently watched Life of Pi because I had read the book and was intensely curious to see exactly how the hell they were going to pull that off.

So it begins - the boyfriend and I are settled in with popcorn and the whole gambit, looking to totally exploit the new TV I bought for myself (it's the first time I've owned a TV that is a rectangle, not a square) and we've both been completely sucked into the film. Yes, it's visually stunning. Yes, it's an amazing story. And yes, there's a flipping tiger in it.

So we're at the scene that I'll refer to as The Unveiling of Richard Parker. The zebra is kicking around, all miserable with his broken leg, the hyena is being a hyena and is about to go ballistic on Pi, who is precariously balanced on the end of the boat covered with a tarp when -

Well... the tiger comes leaping out from under the tarp and rather unceremoniously dispatches of the hyena. Except, see, the way it's shot the tiger LEAPS RIGHT AT YOUR FACE and suddenly you're a gladiator in an arena armed with nothing but popcorn and a remote.

So I jumped.
And I screamed.
And I attached myself to my boyfriend like an octopus.

The rather long suffering boyfriend paused the show, helped me pick up all the popcorn I had tossed everywhere and said, 

b/f: "Seriously, Mindy, how did you not know the tiger was under there? He couldn't be anywhere else."
Me: "Not only did I know he was there, but I've READ THE DAMN BOOK and I KNEW EXACTLY WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN IN THAT SCENE."

And I still jumped.
And I still screamed.
And I still attached myself to my boyfriend like an octopus.

Which leads me to my point- we know that all the stories have already been told, we're just finding new ways to tell them. And while some people might find this depressing, I think it's awesome. How much more of a testament to Ang Lee is it that I KNEW exactly what was going to happen and I still reacted like that?

We can tell a story that's already been told, even do the millionth take on the boy-meets-girl scene -- and if we do it well, we can still make people throw their popcorn.

And attach themselves to their significant others like an octopus.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

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.

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!

What if you lived in a paradise powered by unlimited solar energy but regular citizens weren’t allowed to use technology? Meh. Generally, it's not the best idea to start off with a rhetorical question. For 16-year-old good girl EVE THOMAS, only capitalize character names in a synopsis - not a query New Eden becomes a pretty version of hell I very much like this phrasing right here when her 10-year old brother shows signs of the genetic mutation that’s been killing local children. Even if there were a cure, the Sacred Dictates forbid medicine that advanced. Wait, confusion here - so cures in general are considered advanced? Or the particular type of cure for this mutation is advanced? You might want to clarify what the mutation is, and why the cure would be forbidden. I don't think you even need this rhetorical question lead in. For one thing, it doesn't feel like it has anything to do with the rest of the para. The mutation is interesting, and the phrasing in your first sentence is good - don't take the punch out of it by preceding with a question.

Having left the barren Ghostlands to work in New Eden for food and shelter, 19-year-old Non-native MANA AQUINO no caps here lives for one thing: to destroy the Bishop who rules Dominion Settlement is New Eden a smaller part of Dominion Settlement? Jamming lots of potentially confusing place names in here. Keep it simple for the purpose of a query and murdered his sister. When a monk working to overthrow the corrupt theocratic government tells Mana about Eve’s photographic memory how does the monk know?, Mana knows the offer he must make: he’ll bring illegal medical treatment to Eve’s brother, if she’ll gather the information he needs to exact revenge.

Though she doesn’t trust him, Mana is Eve’s only hope. Raised in a closed, all-white society that values the natural world above human life, Eve will have to break almost every law she’s ever known—including the ban against contact with Non-natives—to save her brother’s life.

If she accepts Mana’s help, she’ll place her entire family in jeopardy and become entangled in an uprising that could leave New Eden in ruins. If she says no, her brother is as good as dead. This para is pretty much saying the same thing as the previous one, and the first one is better written. Stick with it.

Told by Eve and Mana, THE NEW EDEN CHRONICLES is complete at 118,000 words. A young adult thriller with forbidden romance at its heart, the novel combines the careful world building of Matched with the Romeo and Juliet tension of Under the Never Sky. Nice- good comp titles here. I'm not sure I'd all it a thriller though, or if you want to you should definitely call it an SF-thriller.

Here's the thing - there's a lot going on here. You mention solar power in your first sentence like it's a big fat deal, and then it's never mentioned again. The brother's sickness is a big deal - in fact, is the crux of the matter since this is a Scratch My Back and I'll Scratch Yours situation - so I need to know more about this mutation and why the cure is illegal. Does it have something to do with the solar power? Talk about that. 

And then there's the Mana half of the story - he needs Eve's information to succeed at his goal of vengeance - but why? I mean, if her skill was shooting lasers out of her eyes into people's brains I'd not need it spelled out to me. But her gift is a photographic memory - how does that help a potential assassin? Spell this out for me. Make the connections. Draw the lines.

Overall its sounds like a fun SF concept, but I need the connections of solar power to mutations to forbidden medicine to murderous politics to photographic memories made more clear.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Book Talk: CALL ME ZELDA by Erika Robuck

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.

Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald ruled the Jazz Age, continent-hopping, swilling, and getting tossed from the best hotels for their rowdy behavior. But reality has taken its toll on the couple by 1932, when Zelda is committed to psychiatric care where the everyday life of nurse and war widow Anna Howard becomes hopelessly intertwined with the famous and doomed beauty.

Anna's family worries for her as she begins to value Zelda's stability above her own, spending even her free time with Zelda at the hospital. Meanwhile recuperating Zelda from madness seems to Anna the only goal worth having now that her own life has lost meaning. Dedicated to her patient and their growing friendship, Anna leaves employment at the hospital to become Zelda's private nurse.

The Fitzgerald's tumultuous marriage is evident from the beginning, from artistic competition to furious accusations to embarrassing outbursts of affection, their life holds all the excitement that Anna's does not. She gladly revolves around the couple, content to be Zelda's caretaker and confidant - until the Fitzgerald's money runs out.

Now adrift and cut off from not only her finances but also the life that she had adopted as her own, Anna must learn how to create herself anew, without the influence of either Fitzgerald. Zelda is not the only one with a haunted past, and a knock on the door can change Anna's normal life as easily as the eerie halls of Ellerslie affected Zelda's.

Book Talk - THE NEPTUNE PROJECT by Polly Holyoke

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.

Nere has never been able to run with her few friends, or spend too much time on the sun-drenched beaches of the Western Collective. Her asthma limits her physically, and her reliance on sunglasses (a hard to find luxury) leaves her squinting everywhere she goes. But when the Western Collective Marine Unit soldiers move against the fisherman of her small beachside town for failing to provide enough fish for the landlocked citizens, Nere learns her inabilities exist for a reason.

Her scientist father and mother spliced her genes with fish genes when she was young, along with the children of other renegade scientists involved in an illegal experiment called The Neptune Project. Believing that humankind had ruined the land of earth, these scientists chose their children to build the next step in human habitation - the sea.

Breathing water and peering through kelp fields does not come easily, but Nere is with friends she's always trusted - dolphins. Maya and her pod can keep Nere and her follow Neptune kids somewhat safe by letting them know when Marine Guard boats are nearby as the government flushes them out of their caves, determined to eliminate the illegals.

Nere's never had a lot of friends on land, and fitting in with the other Neptune kids isn't as easy as she'd hoped. Personalities clash as their group grows, and when Nere is elected leader of their group because of her abilities to telepath with the dolphins, she realizes it might be a good thing she's kept herself at arm's length from the other girls, and been cool to the advances of more than one boy.

Her decisions as leader can mean life or death as they traverse the ocean amid soldiers, sharks... and a few other experiments that not-so-ethical scientists have created.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) It would be much easier to train my dog not to run through the flower beds if I could throw lightning bolts with my brain.

2) When I talk to other people's animals I tend to just lie down on the floor with them while introducing myself. I fear this will become a habit that crosses over to other species.

3) The thing I don't like about my ZTR mower is that I can't really daydream quite as much while using it. Random spastic movements to accompany the dialogue I'm composing in my head translates into hitting things that are stationary... oops.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

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 (oh, how clever is she? She made an acronym out of her agency's name!) Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

Today we're going to talk about crime. I haven't done anything wrong, I swear.

Back in the day (in this case "the day" is the late 1800's) Allan Pinkerton opened private investigator firm called Pinkerton's National Detective Agency. Their logo was an eye with the motto "We Never Sleep." And if that's not intimidating, then you're a dumb criminal.

Pinkerton's detective's were so good that they became known simply as Eyes, thus they were private eyes.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A BBCHAT with Jordy Albert of The Booker Albert Agency

A new BBCHAT awaits you! For my new followers, this is an acronym for BigBlackCat's Humane Agent Talk: In Which A Particularly Agreeable Agent Answers a Series of Questions that Have Nothing to do with Queries or Submission Guidelines. Yeah, don't try to make an acronym out of that last bit.

The BBCHAT is designed to get the personality of the agent in the spotlight, and an enterprising querier can use this information to figure out if the agent is a good fit for them, rather than just another agent who happens to cover their genre.

The last question involves something that oddly resembles a contest, and ties in with the blog name.

Today's guest for the BBCHAT is Jordy Albert of the Booker Albert Agency. She holds a B.A. in English from Pennsylvania State University, and a M.A. from Millersville University of Pennsylvania. She has worked with Marisa Corvisiero during her time at the L. Perkins Agency and the Corvisiero Literary Agency. She is a fan of the SyFy, History and Discovery Channels, enjoys studying languages (French/Japanese), spends time teaching herself how to knit, is a HUGE fan of Doctor Who, and loves dogs.

She is looking for stories that capture her attention from beginning to end; stories that have heart, and characters that are hard to forget. She loves intelligent characters with a great sense of humor. She would love to see fresh, well-developed plots featuring travel with unique, exotic settings, competitions, or time travel. Jordy is specifically looking for:

* Middle Grade - fantasy, action/adventure, or historical.
* YA - sci-fi, dystopian, contemporary, historical (heavy on romance).
* NEW ADULT ROMANCE
* Romance and Women's Fiction

What are you reading right now and why do you like it?

Poison Princess, by Kresley Cole. It’s different from what she usually writes, and I think the characters and premise are fascinating. 

Paper or plastic? 

Paper. I enjoy my Kindle, but I love the feel of a book in my hands. 

What's on your bucket list? 

  • See a play at the Globe Theatre
  • Visit the Colosseum
  • Knit a Doctor Who scarf
  • Grow an apple tree
  • Travel!!! UK, Italy, France, Greece, Australia and New Zealand
  • Visit all the tennis grand slams. 

Have you ever ridden a mechanical bull? (It’s on MY bucket list, so that's why it's here).

No.

If you had a guaranteed sell, what type of story would you like to represent?

A YA (romance) set in another country, or on another planet.

Thank you Jordy for visiting the blog today! For those of you who haven't played BBCHAT before, the Rafflecopter below has a poll for you to choose which of Jordy's answers is a LIE. Winner will get a NOT A DROP TO DRINK signed swag pack - postcard, bookmark, tent card and water bottle sticker. Contest open to US & CAN.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Monday, April 22, 2013

A Day In the Life of a Farm Girl

A reader recently asked me what the most onerous chore was growing up on a farm. Well, here's the thing about that... the circle of life is a cyclical bitch, and that means that everything you do doesn't really matter. You feed animals, they get hungry again. You clean out manure, animals poop in the clean straw. You haul firewood, then you burn it, it's gone and you need more. You plant seeds, you have to harvest them... and then you plant them again.

But by far, the task that everyone hated was... picking up rocks.

Yep. Picking up rocks. My father swears that a glacier melted in our region of Ohio, dropping all its rock ballast right on what would eventually become our fields. You'd be amazed the juggernauts we dig up. And it doesn't matter how often or how thoroughly we pick up those rocks, next year the tiller turns up more.

The big ones are the ones we look at and admire, wrestle into the truck for a few toe-curling moments and then move on. But the little ones are the buggers that get you. The endless repetition of bending over to get them, the sliding scale of which ones are big enough to pick up and which ones you can ignore. The arcing toss that lands them in the slowly moving truck bed is fun at first, but three hours later your arc is getting lower and it feels like your arm is going to fall off.

And what do we do with our rock haul once we're done? Hop into the truck bed and scuttle down to the creek, where we're rewarded with sinking those bastards into the water where we'll never have to see them again. Except... not that long ago the county contacted us and said, "Um... you're dumping so many rocks in the stream that you're actually diverting the flow. So could you stop? That'd be great, thanks."

Oh, and that thing about the glacier? As usual, my dad was right.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

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.

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!

Aziza's life is seemlessly (I think you mean "seamlessly") complete.

Newly married and now more socially accepted by her beloved valley people, Aziza is taming her wild spirit to embrace her new simple life.

When Aziza gazes out her bedroom window, the view of the great forest and the mountain's wake is broken by the presence of an armored guardian. Panic engulfs her once the armored guardian blows a horn which releases a sound she will forevermore remember. The sound calls to her soul to serve in a purpose far greater than that of a hunter's wife. It's a sound she can't resist. It's a sound only she can hear. Okay, not going to lie I was pretty bored with this whole thing until I got to this last sentence - here is your hook. A sound only she can hear? Awesome - start with that. So she's torn between this calm, married life that she's settled into and her wild past - also pretty cool. But how many variations on this story have we heard? A lot. Like, many-many. So, what makes yours different? A crazy dude with a horn that only she can hear? Sexy.

Upon seeking the wisdom of the valley oracle, Aziza finds herself in the middle of the I feel like this should read "a long forgotten..." If it really is forgotten, it probably doesn't deserve a definite article long forgotten prophecy. If Aziza refuses to heed the warning of the oracle, Strace, don't bother mentioning him by name the blood-thirsty warlord, will fall upon the peaceful valley, decimating all. The choice is simple for Aziza.

She must leave all she loves in order to save all she loves. This is a great line, but it's also kind of pulling me out of where I thought this query was going. The entire beginning is about establishing the dichotomy of her life, but now you say the decision is simple. Ok, that's cool - but then where's the story?

But can she survive the journey to the gleaming white city? Oh, here's the story... hmmm... then I think you need to restructure this into more adventurous feeling query. Right now there's the promise of adventure and action, but it feels more like an internal thing - am I a warrior or a wife?

Aziza knows she'll give her last breath trying.

Definitely figure out where the main problem is - is it internal, or external? I'm not saying you can't have both, but don't set up the whole beginning of the query as internal then tell us she'll die to fulfill an external goal. And why will she die? What threatens her on the road? Only the sorcerer? His minions? What are they like? There are elements of fantasy here, but right now I'm only hearing about human characters. Are there creatures in this world? What about this gleaming white city? Is it the center of sin? Why would a warlord want a peaceful valley anyway? And who's the guardian with the horn? A potential love interest?

Both self-realization and Chosen One adventure quests are out there tenfold. Why is yours special? What is it about your world, MC and story that should make someone read another one? Find the answer and get it in your query.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Book Talk - CALLING ME HOME by Julie Kibler

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.

Julie Kibler's debut CALLING ME HOME depicts two unlikely relationships in different time settings. A forbidden mixed-race love story from 1930's Kentucky dovetails with a friendship between the modern-day white female as she travels cross-country with her young black hairdresser to attend a funeral.

Both women, willful octogenarian Isabelle and the more cautious young Dorrie, have been shaped by their past relationships - for the good and the bad. When Dorrie agreed to literally drop everything in her life to drive Isabelle from Texas to Ohio, she didn't know that she would learn the stories that hid so well behind her favorite customer's eyes. Dorrie has been a hairdresser for years, and Isabelle's history has always been stamped on her face, only the details were missing.

As they travel north, Dorrie learns about Isabelle's greatest love and how it tore her life apart. She also finds herself sharing parts of her life with Isabelle that she never thought would leave the privacy of her own mind. The two friends encounter odd looks and more than a few unnecessary comments as they stop for food and accommodations along the way, something Isabelle isn't surprised at. She learned long ago that whites and blacks aren't supposed to mix, no matter what the connections.

Book Talk - TAKEN by Erin Bowman

Claysoot is not a place anyone would stay- unless they had to. The Wall keeps them in, the women, the children... but not the men. Because there aren't any.

On their eighteenth birthday the boys disappear in a flash of light. It comes with wind, and the shaking of the ground, and then they are gone. Any boys who try to escape this fate by climbing the Wall are tossed back within hours, curled into an eternal fetal position, burnt to death.

Gray Weathersby watches his older brother disappear, well aware that his time is coming soon. Even though Claysoot has little to offer beyond emotionless Pairings meant to boost birthrates, Gray isn't eager to be taken by a Heist. No one knows what comes after the Heist for the boys that disappear, but he knows if he's taken that he will never see Emma again, the only girl he's ever hoped to be Paired with.

Climbing the wall could be suicide, but the discovery of a strange note from his dead mother leads Gray to believe that there's more at work in Claysoot than he could have guessed. The Council leaders have their secrets, and now Gray has his. Armed with the letter and the breath of a chance of survival, Gray has to decide whether he'll risk climbing the Wall into the unknown, or let the certainty of the Heist take him away from Emma.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) If termites pooped wood glue they'd be a lot less ferocious.

2) For some reason making your boobs talk (a la Jim Carrey) when they're being addressed as opposed to your face is not socially acceptable. Oops.

3) Have we found a new way to make paper yet? Doesn't that seem like something people somewhere should be working on?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Submission Experience With Debut Author Sarah Bromley

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 2014 debut Sarah Bromley, author of A MURDER OF MAGPIES,  a Gothic tale about 16-year-old Vayda Silver’s attempts to bury her family’s scandalous past, and the boy who just might destroy her future.

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

I was pretty familiar with how things worked. I have several critique partners who had been on submission before me, and my agent Miriam Kriss was really good about keeping me apprised on what was to expect.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

The amount of time it took to hear back. I’d been on sub prior to A MURDER OF MAGPIES, and with that book, we went to second reads and acquisitions within six weeks, which drove out a lot of answers. Because of the changes in the publishing climate when A MURDER OF MAGPIES went on sub, it took far, far longer—19 months from the time I went on sub to when I received an offer!

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

Because of my previous submission, I knew who a lot of the editors were who had received A MURDER OF MAGPIES. I didn’t go so far as to Twitter stalk them. I think it’s good for an author to know who has the manuscript, so that you know who’s out there and what books they’ve handled. But I think it’s mentally healthier to put distance between yourself and editors when you’re on sub to them.

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

A MURDER OF MAGPIES first went to second reads after four months and again after another four months, and then there was a looooong silence. Four months seems to be about the norm now. When we got the offer from Month9Books, LLC, it was only six days after my agent had submitted my manuscript, and the enthusiasm they had for the book was really rewarding.

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

I went on sub with A MURDER OF MAGPIES a month before my youngest child was born, and my agent and I planned that because I knew I’d be in a weird, new mom state for at least a while. I don’t recommend having a baby just to get your minds off submissions. ;-) However, I did begin writing a new manuscript about two weeks after my son was born, and focusing on that project helped.

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

This is a tough question because A MURDER OF MAGPIES had probably the loveliest rejections I could imagine. I had rejections telling me they loved this manuscript and wished they could do more with it but there was no room in the market. It was a Gothic paranormal YA on sub when paranormal YA was cooling down. And it sucked to hear that. To know that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the novel and it was chewed up by bad timing…it hurt and was depressing. I had written the book in 2008 and queried it, queried another book while I rewrote it, signed with my agent, and immediately went on sub. It took me two novels and 26 months on sub to find a publishing house, and the experience left me thick-skinned and perhaps a bit jaded. Thank God Miriam is so supportive of her clients because there were definitely days I was ready to walk away and just keep writing for myself in my hidey-hole.

Query rejections are good preparation for editor rejections in that they teach you that this is business and not personal.

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?

With A MURDER OF MAGPIES, the feedback was simply there wasn’t a whole lot to change and it was a good book as it was. Now with a YA horror that my agent submitted, we consistently got feedback regarding one specific element that has led me down the rewrite rabbit hole. All feedback is subjective, whether it’s editorial or from a beta reader, but when you start hearing the same comments, it’s time to pull the manuscript and reevaluate.

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

It was crazy. I was in a pretty dark place when I got my YES. (Warning: sad dog story ahead) My manuscript went to Month9Books on the Thursday before Thanksgiving. While it was on submission, my little pug Josephine very suddenly got sick with an aggressive brain tumor. I lost her on that Sunday, and I was completely wrecked. (Now we take a happy turn) On Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, I had spotted a chug, Chihuahua/pug mix, named Isabella up for adoption and drove 93 miles into the middle of nowhere Missouri to rescue her from a high kill shelter. As I was driving home with Isabella, I had no cell phone reception but heard my voice mail announcement. So I checked my phone, and it was Miriam telling me we had an offer. I was so stunned that when I called my husband to tell him, I couldn’t process what he was saying. Then I hosted Thanksgiving dinner for 15 people, so it took a few days for everything to really become reality.

And I do have to say that I love working with Month9Books. They are small (for now) but mighty. They treat their authors like family, and it has been amazing to have so much input and transparency in everything from title and cover talk to editorial ideas.

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

I had to wait to formally announce until my offer appeared in Publisher’s Marketplace a month later, but after waiting nearly four years to the day from when I began writing to get the offer on a story that I loved, I was willing to wait a little longer ‘cause, hey, it’s still a wait until 2014 to see it in print!

Monday, April 15, 2013

NOT A DROP TO DRINK Has A New Pub Date!

And you're all going to throw things now because it's LATER. September 24th, 2013.


We had to move back a couple of weeks, due to some very good stuff that I don't think I can quite share yet. But, take heart. Everybody was already getting their teeth-gnash on because of the far-away-time of Fall, and I felt a sadness for them, because as a reader and a librarian I know what that's like.

So to make everybody feel just a little bit better, I'm going to do a signed ARC giveaway. Yes, that's right - I figured if I can make it possible for one person to read it earlier, that's one less person who will throw things at me when they meet me.

Although for everyone else, I will tell you I have cat-like reflexes.

Contest is for US & CAN

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, April 13, 2013

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.

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!

Fifteen-year-old Maxine Protega became a god and a demon overnight. Decent hook, I'm definitely curious about how she can be both. Prophesied to abolish magic by one faction of her people, and protect it by another, she’s cast into the middle of a campaign that’s ripping her world and her family apart.

Torn from her home in Virginia VA? Really? Because I was getting a very high fantasy vibe from your first para. And torn - how so? Did she leave? Was she banished?, Max treks across the sea to an island dominated Why did she go here? Was this on purpose? by power and deception. As armies of magicians gather and take sides, Max tries her hardest to shield her family from the chaos and violence spilling over into the States. But she fails, and the seeds of discord poison the people she’s fighting for, pitting them against each other, and against her. Hmmm, okay, but this totally feels like a recap of the first para. I already got that the people were at a very Civil War type state from the first para, and now all your saying is that some people got hurt (how?) and now they hate her, too (why?)

When a mentor hold up, where did a mentor come from? She felt very alone in this up until now forces Max to accept the Dot Reaper—a brand that chains her to magic’s creators and marks her as their successor so this would securely put her on the side of protecting magic, right?—she gains the power to tip the scales of battle either way. How could it tip either way if it sounds like a move pretty squarely in one camp? When a faction of her family marches against her, Max is caught between her love for magic and the darkness woven into the very fabric of it. Max must ally herself with one side and face the consequences: the extinction of her race, or a war that will decimate her family. Murky - her family and her race are two different things? Or not?

Voces Inocentes (Innocent Voices) meets Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game great mash-up here in this dark cat-and-mouse story with a magical twist. DOT REAPER is an 81,000 word YA fantasy set in Richmond, VA and a fictitious island in the Bermuda triangle. An interesting fact about me: I like to rationalize the actions of infamous leaders (inspired by Sun Tzu’s ‘know your enemy and yourself’) Less interesting fact: I was captain of the drum line in high school. Thank you for your time and consideration. Personally I think your bio is hilarious, but as it's also irrelevant some people might think you're better off without it.

I definitely think this is a case of clarification needed. You've done a good job of showing that you can write, but because the query is sort of vague on details, it might worry the agent that your plot is murky as well. This is what I'm getting so far - so we've got an MC that is supposed to be the prophesied ONE for two opposing sides -- that definitely has my attention. But then I'm totally lost on who is fighting who, and why? Which side is what? Her race and her family aren't the same thing? Which side represents what? Your line about her being a little too interested in the darkness woven into magic has me interested, but I think you need to take that exact element and flesh it out some more.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Book Talk: RUMP by Liesl Shurtliff

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.

In a world where your name is your destiny, 12 year-old RUMP is the butt of everyone's jokes. His mother died giving birth to him, and only said the first syllable of his full name (Rumpelstiltskin) before inconveniently dying. The message trolls ran through The Village shouting the news - A rump had been born! And it's only gone downhill since then.

Since that inauspicious beginning, Rump's life has been unremarkable... until he finds a spinning wheel and discovers a magical talent that he must have inherited from his doomed mother. His best (and only) friend Red Riding Hood tries to warn him that magic is dangerous, but gold buys food, and with a sick grandmother to feed, Rump doesn't think he has a choice.

Besides... how could gold be bad?

With each wisp of straw he touches spinning into gold, Rump is weaving himself deeper into a curse that can only be broken be learning his true name, finding his mother's family, and outsmarting the royals - a tall order for a boy who stopped growing a long time ago!

Book Talk - PRISONER B-3087 by Alan Gratz

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.

This past Monday was Holocaust Remembrance Day, so it's a good week to do a book talk about Alan Gratz's newest release, PRISONER B-3087

Yanek Gruener was a ten year old boy living in Poland in the 1930's, surviving the hell of the Jewish ghetto by convincing his father to build a temporary shelter on the roof of their apartment building in order to avoid the sudden and seemingly random Nazi inspections that sent thousands away in train cars. Yanek is not home one day when the Nazi's raid the building, and he returns to find his parents and little sister are simply... gone.

Shortly after they are taken Yanek himself is rounded up in the street and tossed into a train car with hundreds of others, some of them suffocating where they stand. When the car stops at a camp, he is quick to notice that the weak, young, sick and unskilled are going in one direction, the healthy in another. Yanek takes the German slogan arbeit macht fre (Work will set you free) to heart, believing the Nazi's will not kill him as long as he proves himself useful.

And so Yanek labors constantly, and sometimes futilely - moving humongous boulders across a field only to be told to move them back again for the entertainment of the soldiers at one point. Yanek knows the Nazis assess who is weakening daily, and so whenever there are calls for volunteers for labor he steps forward to prove himself capable. Yanek's plan works - he survives ten of the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, names that simply pronouncing makes people shudder today.

Yanek's story is even more horrific because it is a true retelling. Written for 10-14 year olds, this book has sparse and simple writing, which makes the horror underneath all the more potent.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) I was thinking the other day how insanely jealous I am of the people at the Louvre whose job it is to sit in a building surrounded by amazing art and answer questions from confused people occasionally. Then I realized that's exactly my own job description.

2) The early reviews for NOT A DROP TO DRINK are coming in, and quite a few of them have compared it to The Walking Dead, without zombies. I'm totally flattered, of course, but this also led me to think - wouldn't The Walking Dead without the zombies become simply... The?

3) I want a real house made out of Lego's. How much better would this be? No more kicking the shampoo and conditioner into the bathtub. No more knocking over flowerpots with my elbow. No more wondering where something went. It's right where I left it - because it's stuck there.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

An SAT With MG Debut Liesl Shurtliff, Author of RUMP

Today's guest for the SAT is fellow Class of 2k13 member Liesl Shurtliff, author of RUMP: THE TRUE STORY OF RUMPELSTILTSKIN. Liesl Shurtliff was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, with the mountains for her playground. Just like Rump, Liesl was shy about her name, growing up. Not only did it rhyme with weasel, she could never find it on any of those personalized key chains in gift shops. But over the years she’s grown to love having an unusual name—and today she wouldn’t change it for the world!


Writing Process:
Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Both, but probably more of a panster. I don’t outline, but I do lots of pre-writing, exploration of characters and world-building, and sketch a basic idea of a beginning, middle, and end, but when I start drafting all sorts of things crop up, from problems to better ideas, and I have to go back, tweak things, and sometimes do complete rewrites of several chapters. My process is haphazard to say the least, but it’s how I roll.

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

I’m not certain I have a “typical” time-frame. I drafted RUMP in about 4 months and revised for another 5 months before submitting to agents. In my opinion that’s fairly quick for a novel. Other projects have taken me longer and right now I’m at the year mark of another project and I’m not even half-way. Pantsers are at the mercy of so many factors. Sometimes stories come more fully formed, and other times they need a lot more coaxing out of the dark corners of my brain. I don’t think either scenario is better or worse. It’s just the nature of things.

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

I used to be a one-project-at-a-time kind of girl, but now I’m a proud multi-tasker. I always thought that it was important to have tunnel vision on one project, pour all your creative energy into that baby, but recently I started working on two projects at once out of necessity, and I found it to be surprisingly good for my writing in terms of energy and productivity. Sometimes one project will give me fits but another one will be very compliant (much like my children) so it really helps to switch back and forth, giving natural resting periods to each project as I work on the other. This also naturally shrinks the number of “bad-writing days,” which is good because I hate those.

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

Yes. I was afraid that I was wasting my time, that I really didn’t have anything of value to say or share. There are so many great books in the world and so many books period. What makes me think mine belongs on the shelf? And here’s a little secret: I still have to overcome those fears. I have to tune out the voices of self-deprecation, give myself permission to do what I love, and give others permission to love or reject what I do. I still struggle with these fears and many others, but at least I consciously recognize that they’re evil.  

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

Two. I never queried either of them. (Wise.)

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

I quit on the two previously mentioned mss. The first was something I wrote years ago during the insanity we call NaNoWriMo. I revised for a very short while before I decided that it was just an exercise and really wasn’t meant to be anything more. It helped me build some endurance, get a feel for pacing and plotting and that’s it.

The second ms I absolutely loved (the idea at least) and really wanted it to be the novel I debuted with. I wrote and revised for two years, but it just never got to that place where I felt like it was good enough. I was still figuring out my process, finding my voice, figuring out pacing, characterization, and a myriad of other writing skills. I learned a lot while writing and revising this novel, but you can only revise a novel so much before it just gets overworked and mangled. It was with a heavy heart that I shelved it, probably very similar to the feeling one might have about breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend that you know just isn’t that great, but you’re so afraid to let go because what if there really isn’t anyone better? Worse, what if there’s no one? I can’t speak for boyfriends or girlfriends, but in terms of writing, your ideas really aren’t something to get too sentimental about. Sure, some are better than others, but at the end of the day it’s the execution of the ideas that matter, and you have to have faith that your powers of execution will improve with each book you write (if you’re deliberate about your practice.) It was hard for me to shelve that novel, but I’m so very glad I did.

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

My agent is Michelle Andelman of Regal Literary and I adore her. I cold-queried her (that means I had no previous connection) and she responded within a few days with a request for a full and two weeks later she made an offer. Seriously one of the best moments of my life next to “Will you marry me?” and “We’re having a baby!”

How long did you query before landing your agent? 

I queried about 30 agents for one month before landing my agent.

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

I know my time in getting an agent is pretty darn fast compared to many, so it might seem that I did not go through enough of hell to give any advice. (Though it was hell. Absolute torture, no matter how long it lasts.) I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of that had to do with luck and timing. I found the right person at the right time for my work. However, as you’ll note in some of my previous comments, I wasn’t overeager to query—just the opposite in fact—I was terrified. I didn’t just write a book and say, what next? I was careful to make sure I really understood what “next” meant and what it took to get there. I worked on my craft for seven years before I got an agent. When I felt the time was right, I spent many hours researching agents, making a list of those I thought would be a good fit and taking careful notes of their preferences and submission guidelines. I studied how to write a great query letter, and made sure I was absolutely certain I was ready for this—for publication. It wasn’t just about landing an agent and getting a book published. Publishing is brutal. Even if you get an agent and a publisher, you still have to win over the world. The world can be a very mean place. So basically my advice is this: Know what it is you’re asking for and feel confident that you’re ready for it.

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

I felt very included in the process and that my publisher wanted me to be pleased with my cover. They asked what I envisioned and asked for some examples of other covers I thought were along the lines of what I wanted. I was thrilled when they showed me the artist they chose. Absolutely could not have chosen better myself. When the cover came through, I had some concerns about certain elements being an accurate reflection of my story, and they did make some changes based on some of my feedback. All in all I was pleased with how everything was handled and I adore my cover. It’s magical, don’t you think?

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

Honestly, what surprised me was that my opinions mattered to my publisher. One hears horror stories about the publisher always getting the last word about everything from covers and titles right down to the content, and never listening to the author’s opinion. So I had this idea that I just needed to shut up, be grateful, and enjoy the ride no matter the bumps. Maybe that is the case for some, but as I got into the process, I learned that books are a collaborative process and that collaboration included me, the author. I learned to articulate my opinions in a professional manner and if I felt emotional about something, (and it’s all too easy to get emotional about one’s book) I’d step back for a few days until I could calmly articulate what I thought was wrong and present a viable solution. And—Surprise!—most of the time they thought my solution was better than theirs. On the other hand, sometimes I didn’t always have a great solution or alternative, and I had to respect their wisdom and expertise. But I’m not a total peon. That was surprising.

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

I do A LOT of my own marketing. I have great publicists both at my agency and publisher who do a lot of the legwork in scheduling events, reaching out to book bloggers, reviewers, schools, etc. I have a website, blog, Twitter, FB, so I guess most of the marketing I do is online social networking, or of course guest posts and interviews that I can’t allocate to someone else. I also took charge of any marketing materials such as bookmarks, postcards, etc.

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

I don’t think it’s every too early, taking into consideration that building your writing skills is far more important, at least for fiction writers. For non-fiction, the platform is essential and will have a lot to do with getting a contract, especially at a big house. For fiction, it’s not going to make or break you, but it’s still important and I think any amount that can be done before acquiring an agent or contract is helpful. Just don’t let it get in the way of building your writing skills. If you’re spending all your time blogging and tweeting instead of actually writing a book, then you might want to reconsider what it is you love to do.  

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I don’t have statistic, but I would say yes, it does. People definitely won’t read your book if they don’t know about it and social media is just another medium of letting people know about your book. (A pretty good medium, I’d say.) Speaking from personal experience, the more I hear about a book through blogs and other social media, the more likely I am to read the book, or at least check it out and read a chapter to see if it’s my kind of book. So yes, social media does help, but I don’t think it’s the secret to making a bestseller. (I have no idea what that secret might be and I don’t think anyone else does either, no matter what they say.)

Thank you Liesl for visiting the blog - RUMP releases TODAY from Alfred A. Knopf!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Kindle Fire Winner Announcement & A Book Signing

A big thanks to everyone who signed up for my mailing list to celebrate the launch of my new site!

The winner of the Kindle Fire drawing was Kelly Lynn Workman!

So I had a fantastic weekend. I spent most of my time in bookstores, which is the way things should be. Over the course of my weekend I was in a Barnes & Noble, a Half-Price Books, and three local indies. When most people say they went shopping this weekend it means they brought home new clothes.

I don't understand these people.


Another reason I was hitting up bookstores was to see my fellow Katherine Tegen author and Ohioan Liz Coley signing her debut, PRETTY GIRL-13 at Cover to Cover Books in Columbus. As expected, it was quite awesome, and I also met up there with my fellow Ohioan writers Linda Gerber (TRANCE), Nancy Roe Pimm (COLO'S STORY), and Rae Carson (THE GIRL OF FIRE & THORNS). Did we have fun? Yeah. We did.


Also we ate cake.

I didn't get a pic before everyone dived in, but the cakeaholic in me was pleased in both mind and body. Check out Liz's awesome foreign covers. I had a corner piece, because that's how I roll, but I'm sure the covers tasted great, too. :)


Saturday, April 6, 2013

The (Nearly Sunday) Slash

My apologies to the volunteer for this week's (very late) Saturday Slash! I was out book-shopping this weekend and anything dealing with reality slipped my mind as I became dizzied by titles that I wanted while perusing.

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.

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!

As a time-traveler, Kale has no future. This is a decent hook, but the placement of the next sentence muddies the waters as far as what his abilities actually include / mean. Every few days here is where my confusion comes in - by starting this sentence the way you do, I almost feel like he's in a Groundhog Day situation where he's living the same few days over and over he disappears only to return to a house he doesn’t like to call home. Why not? It’s impossible for him to be normal, and it’s impossible for him to control it. When Kale starts traveling back to World War II, fighting in a war he was never meant to be in, it becomes harder for him to have two lives when he doesn’t think he belongs to either. Nice line.

After six years of being away, Harper moves back in next door. The girl who has haunted Kale’s past from before his time-traveling ruined his life. As in h- he used to be okay with time traveling, or time traveling came along later? They spent countless summers together growing up, things that Kale can never forget—swimming in the river and running through the woods with Harper’s shoe laces always untied. Kale gave up hope of seeing her again, but now they have their first summer together in years. And for the first time in Kale’s life, his time-traveling doesn’t seem like so much of a burden. With Harper, he can be nobody but  himself without worrying where his curse will take him next. Really? I almost feel like it would be the opposite - he has a reason to want to stay home now and he can be pulled away at any moment. 

But when everything seems to be getting better—Kale trying to figure out the secret to his time-traveling and making amends with the father he never got along with too much important information dumped here. It's my first indication that he's trying to control it, and also first mention of why home is bad—Harper finds something in Kale’s past that might tear them apart forever. Because whether or not Kale likes to admit it, the past is Kale’s future, and there’s no changing it. Confused by this - can Harper travel with Kale? Is that how she finds something in his past? Or is this more like a present-day diary entry or some kind of revelation in the present about Kale's past that she discovers? 

I definitely feels like there needs to be more dynamic here. You mention WWII and then it goes away - is that pivotal to the story line as a whole, or not? Is the biggest thing here that Kale could die in the past in a war, or that he is trying to figure out how to stop time traveling so he can stay put? If the big problem of the book is solving how to stop it, that needs to be put front and center of the query. And I definitely need it made clear whether Harper can travel as well - or even if she knows the full truth about his abilities. And what is the something in Kale's past? It sounds like a linch pin of the story, so don't scant on details here, be sure that you're not shrouding the big sell point of the book in mystery.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Non-Fiction Friday: WATER ETHICS

As a librarian I have a deep interest in reading non-fiction as well as fiction. As a writer, I find reading non-fiction an excellent tactic to keep hacking away at the TBR pile while still working on the WIP in order to avoid voice bleeding. If you're curious about what the heck voice bleeding might be, check out my post here.

While doing research for NOT A DROP TO DRINK I read quite a bit about water, and learned a lot. I also ended up stacking more than a few non-fic titles onto the pile to read when I got the chance. One of those was WATER ETHICS: FOUNDATIONAL READINGS FOR STUDENTS & PROFESSIONALS edited by Peter G. Brown. Yes, I know, you probably think I'm the biggest nerd ever for even picking this up, but as a writer who wants to make sure there is a real basis for her book - and also something of a big fat nerd who just likes to read stuff - I thought I'd give it a shot.

I'm really glad I did. Sure, it's not for everyone. There are some very technical essays here that were a little harder to follow than others, but I slogged through them anyway, and learned something new from every one. The essays cover questions as varied as cultural assumptions and religious connotations of water to the market value of water and water policy around the globe.

There are some wonderful questions raised here, some of which I'll highlight briefly in this post:

  • Do environmental concerns outweigh religious values? For example, is the ritual cleansing of Hindus in the Ganges River something that should be stopped because of pollution?
  • Water is recognized as a community resource, something that everyone should have access and rights to. However, if anyone can have it, there is no value attached to it, which leads to waste.
  • If we do go about assigning a value to water, how is that accomplished? If we can assign a value to the amount of water pumping through pipes in an American home to bill them for, how do we assess the value of one jar of water an African mother balances on her head and walks miles everyday to gather?
  • Are humans the only living creatures with a right to water? Do animals or even trees have a right to water? Or are humans granted dominion over the earth to the point that they have the right to deny water to others?
  • How do we determine who gets water? Do people in environmentally wetter places have more right to their water than people who live in dry areas and need it to be imported to them?
  • Does water belong to the people who own the land it runs through? What about water below the land they own? Who does that belong to?

These questions, and the various answers from differing viewpoints are highly interesting and of the utmost importance to anyone who wants to begin to understand the complex problems facing our planet as we address the growing global water crisis.

Book Talk - VENGEANCE BOUND by Justina Ireland

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.

Cory loves chocolate, just like most teens. Unlike everyone else, the reason she eats is to keep the Furies under control. The mythological trio bound themselves to her when she was a child in a desperate situation, open to any opportunity to escape. As a teen, she follows their lead when the sins of a passing man seem worth of judgement. The only thing that seems to stem their urge for blood is the occasional dose of chocolate, something Cory has learned through the years.

But for the first time, Cory has met someone who doesn't raise their ire. She's the new girl at school, and mysterious Niko seems to be the only guy who they don't want to kill. But as her feelings towards men start to change, Cory finds the Furies harder and harder to control. Their need for blood starts to outstrip the availability of guilty men... but they don't seem to care.

Cory's mind becomes a battlefield as she attempts to control them in order to protect the innocent - and herself.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Announcing A Lucky13s Book Blitz on Twitter this Saturday!

On Saturday, April 6th at 2 PM EST the Lucky 13s will be taking over Twitter with a book blitz.  What's a book blitz, you ask? You tweet out a number, we'll tweet a line from our books using the hashtag #bookblitz. It's a great way to get to read random bits of a TON of books all at once with the kind of rapid fire mayhem only Twitter can provide.

So join us on Twitter April 6th for the madness.  I recommend following along in Tweetchat, since it's the easiest.

And be sure to check out all of the Lucky 13ers' Books here!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

An SAT with Justina Ireland, Author of VENGEANCE BOUND

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Justina Ireland, fellow Class of 2k13 member The Goddess Test meets Dexter, this edgy, compelling debut is about one teen’s quest for revenge… no matter how far it takes her.
and author of VENGEANCE BOUND. Pitched as

Are you a Planner or Pantser?

Pantser all the way!!! I usually start a story with my opening scene and my final scene in my mind, and then it’s just a matter of getting everyone from A to Z. Of course, I always have a plot breaking point where I panic that everything sucks at about 30,000-40,000 words, and that’s the time I try to attempt some sort of hasty outline…

And then I usually toss it out the window at around 55,000 words.

So yeah, I am a complete and utter pantser.

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

Start to finish varies. It’s usually around two-three months (that includes the breakdown at 30,000-40,000 words). When I have my midpoint break I usually go back to the beginning and start revising, which ends up adding scenes and changing the overall story. If I were a planner I could probably write a completed novel in a little under one and a half to two months, but I’m not. So, three months is usually my drafting time. And that’s for a messy second draft (I revise right after finishing).

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

One at a time, thank you very much. I will write the first 10,000 words of something and then put it to the side to work on later, but when I’m actually drafting it is one book at a time. I like to really immerse myself in a character’s voice.

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

Nope. I was one of those authors who thought the first thing they wrote was going to be BRILLIANT!!! It was only when I got to the soggy middle of my first book that I realized telling a coherent story for 80,000 words is hard. Telling a coherent story that people will actually give two shits about is even harder.

It’s funny, but I have way more anxiety about my writing now than I did in the beginning.

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

Just one. A hot fairy mess called IGNITE. I entered it in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and it got to the semi-finals, but now I realize that manuscript had SOOOOOO many problems. And really, everyone should have a stinky first novel to look back on and think “Wow, glad I got that out of the way first.”

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

Yes, although I usually quit an MS because I lose interest in trying to fix it, not because it was time. I have the attention span of a hamster on crack, so if the story doesn’t come together easily I put it to the side. I might come back to it later, maybe not. 

I have about 15,000 words of maybe six books. So, yeah. I’m a fantastic quitter.

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

My agent is Elana Roth of Red Tree Literary. I queried her the good old fashioned way. At the time she was with another agency, and she passed my query off to another agent who was a better fit. I worked with the other agent for a year or so, and when she quit agenting Elana picked me up.

So, yeah, queries work.

How long did you query before landing your agent?  

I’d been querying for about a off and on year before I got an agent. I’d queried my first book and worked on the second. I really only stopped querying the first book when the second was ready to go out. The first time I went out (with my first book) I sent around seventy or eighty queries, with about a ten percent request rate. The second time I went out I sent thirty or forty queries with a request rate of around twenty-five percent. Even I could tell my second book was vastly superior to the first, and it really showed in my stats.

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

Don’t query until your manuscript rocks. I know so many people query too soon. You shouldn’t even think about querying until you’re on your third or fourth round of revisions. And I mean REAL revisions, not just changing a character’s name. Change things, rework plot points! Delete characters, write new characters! Make your work shine!

It doesn’t matter if you have an amazing query if your MS is shit. And don’t polish just your opening. Work on the entire story. I got quite a few rejections that were basically “Your story fell apart in act two.” No one wants to hear that. Save yourself some grief and make sure the story is amazing before you go out.

And be prepared for rejection, lots of it at every level. Publishing will break your heart.

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

It was kind of “Oh, that’s weird.” I think I was more excited to get my first pass pages (when they put your book in the typeset the final book will have and send it to you as loose pages for correction) than anything else. That was the first time my Word document looked like a book, and it was just really amazing.

How much input do you have on cover art?

None for Vengeance Bound, but my editor for my second book, Promise of Shadows, did ask for input for that cover. I’ve already gotten a rough comp of the cover, and it is amazing. But it could still change.

Remember, cover art isn’t for you as a writer. It’s for marketing your baby to your perceived audience. Big difference. Pretty covers are nice, but publishers would rather have book sales.

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

How many times I’d have to reread my book. It’s exhausting re-reading second-guessing yourself so many times.

How much of your own marketing do you?  

Yup. I have a blog which I rarely update, a tumblr, a website, and a Twitter. I really love Twitter, it appeals to my extrovert personality. I don’t blog unless I really have something to share because I find it boring. Most of my thoughts can be expressed just fine in 140 characters (see earlier comment about short attention span).

Tumblr is fun because of the gifs. I figured out how to make them and now when I get bored I go do that. I’m lame.

I’m not sure I do a whole lot of marketing. But I do like interacting with folks. I really think that’s the point. No one wants to follow a huckster.

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

Meh, I’m not sure you really need to do anything. If you like blogging, blog. If you like Twitter, do that. If you hate social media, make a website and hope for the best.

S&S (my publisher) didn’t tell me to do anything to build a platform. When you’re writing fiction I think you just need to write the best story you can. A compelling idea/story sells itself. A platform will get people interested in you and spread the word about your existence, but if your book sucks it won’t make a lick of difference. Look at Suzanne Collins. She doesn’t have a twitter, tumblr, anything.  I don’t think it’s hurt her sales too much.

I honestly think focusing on having a platform too early is just another distraction from writing. Work on writing. Get good at that. You’ll have plenty of time for all that other noise later.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Eh. Again, I’m not sure it helps build your readership. I think it’s nice for readers to be able to connect with you in that way if IT’S SOMETHING YOU’RE COMFORTABLE WITH. I can’t stress that enough. If you hate what you’re doing, find some other way to accomplish the same thing. Maybe you don’t like Twitter. So don’t do it. Write a blog instead. Hang out on Facebook. Or just don’t do social media. Crazier things have happened.

Twitter followers don’t always result in book sales. Ditto for blog readers. If you’re doing social media just to try and sell books, you’re doing it wrong.

Just write a great book. Or write a mediocre book with an exciting premise. Either way, if people are interested in your story they’ll buy it/get it from the library. Writing something that makes people sit up and take notice is really the only secret to success. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Writer, Writer, Pants on Kindle Fire Giveaway Continues!

Just so everyone is aware - I'm giving away an HD Kindle Fire.

Why? It's because I want to shamelessly promote my new website - mindymcginnis.com - because the world needs that, you know.

What's the deal? Pretty easy.
  • Pop on over to my site.
  • Spot my social media icons. They look like this:
  • Click on the blue envelope to sign up for my site mailing list.
  • Rest assured I'm not going to bombard you - expect 2 or 3 mails a year. 
  • If you're already on my mailing list you already have a chance of winning the Kindle.
  • A winner will be randomly picked from the mailing list on April 8th. 
  • The winner must be a US resident.
And really, yes, that's seriously it. All I want you to do is sign up for my mailing list. If you feel inclined to hit up any of my other social media icons and follow me somewhere else, that would be cool but won't increase your chances. Also if you feel like popping back over here and complimenting me about random things that also will not increase your chances, but again would be pretty cool.