Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Successful Author Talk With S.L. Duncan

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is an old writing friend, SL Duncan. He's a writer and traveler seeking stories from inspired locations - a connection of prose to place. The first book of his YA book series, THE REVELATION OF GABRIEL ADAM, releases 2014 from Medallion Press.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

You know, I’d love to take credit for being a planner. There’s something to being prepared that rings nice. The truth is, I do a basic, sad little outline that kind of tells me where I want to go. It’s usually based off of a lot of research and then, inevitably, it gets tossed out the window once I get into the process. So, I guess I’m a little of both. 

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

Generally, it takes me about six months to get to where I’ve got a decent draft. That’s with some heavy editing and rewriting. But to get to a final draft? Probably a year, depending on how fast my beta readers and agent can get back to me with notes.

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

I’m not very good at multi tasking. Like, at all. I’m finicky as a writer. It takes me an hour or so to hit my stride in a writing session and the same applies to the big picture. So, to get anything done, I have to be myopic with my stuff – really lock in and focus on the characters and plot. If I tried to juggle in another story, my head would get a bit crowded. And it’s crazy enough in there as it is. 

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

Not so much in the writing. There’s nobody but yourself you have to answer to when it’s just you and your story. Once you have to let it out into the world? Sure. That freaks me out every time. It’s the same sense of anxiety that most writers get, I think. Something likened to stage fright. 

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

Okay. Don’t hate me. I’m one of those jerks that lucked out and had his first novel repped and published. But I’ve trunked one in the meantime if that makes you feel any better. 

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

I’ve never quit on one, but I do have one set aside in the corner. It looks sad and guilty, but that’s because it is being SO NAUGHTY and not cooperating with the whole being written thing. I may come back to it in the future, but the further away I get from the story, the less intrigued I am to explore its world. There are so many fresh ideas out there, begging for attention. 

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

My agent is John Rudolph with Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. 

I came to John after suffering through a merger of two large agencies a couple of years back. He was coming out of the editorial side of the business as an executive editor at Penguin Young Readers Group. I was at this cusp of stepping away from the endeavor of getting published and read about his hire at DGLM. The agency had an amazing reputation and I was looking for someone who might offer a more editorial approach, so I did the old-fashioned query letter and attached a few pages. Per their instructions, of course. He asked for a revise and resubmit based on some notes and soon after, I signed as his client.

How long did you query before landing your agent? 

For my first agent, I think it took around six months. It happened fairly quickly, I think. Most of that time was because of all the time it took to master – and I say that word in the loosest sense – a query letter. That is an art unto itself, and one that I really struggled with. As a result, I had a solid rejection rate. 

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

Giving advice here is tough. It’s like instructing someone on how to bang his or her head against a wall. 

It’s a miserable experience, querying. I mean, at the expense of sounding like a shoe ad, just do it. Keep doing it until it works. You’ll know where the problems are the longer you do it. If your work keeps getting requested for fulls or partials, but also rejected, then maybe your query is good, but you have a problem with the manuscript or that maybe the market isn’t right for the work right now. 

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

I took a picture of it at Barnes & Noble and tweeted and facebooked it and emailed it and messaged it until even I was sick of hearing myself talk about it. 

But it’s a really cool feeling. I actually bought it when I saw it. There was this internal struggle between it being the Least Professional, Most Toolbag thing to do in the world or THE MOST AWESOME THING. 

The truth is somewhere in between, I think.

How much input do you have on cover art?

None whatsoever. Like, they courtesy-asked some questions about places and characters that might be contemplated by the cover, but in the end they went a totally different direction. Which probably worked out, since visual art is not my forte.

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

I feel like I’ve been in a total state of surprise since this whole thing started. What’s been nice is the camaraderie I’ve discovered with other authors. There’s a surprising amount of I Don’t Know in this business and you’ll band together with other writers and sort of hold each other’s hand along the way. I’ve made some fantastic friends doing this over the years. 

How much of your own marketing do you?  

My publisher has a PR team that do their thing. That almost rhymed, and I apologize for the near miss. Really, though, I do a decent amount on my own. I'm on Twitter and you can like me on Facebook. I also run a terribly neglected blog at INKROCK.com, and you can also find me chipping in at From The Write Angle and Fall Fourteeners. And of course, I’m on Goodreads

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

I think it’s always better to have a platform ready for when your book comes out. 

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Absolutely. And really, half the fun of this is interacting with readers. Even if it had no impact on the sales numbers, I’d still participate. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Saturday Slash

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

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

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

I noticed you represented Todd Strasser's Fallout and Lauren Oliver's Delirium. I'd keep your verbs here in the present tense. Although differing equally from each other and my own submission, both are geared primarily toward young adults and involve apocalyptic/dystopian fears. While your comp titles are technically different from each other in theme, they're still falling under the post-apoc YA umbrella. Given that your para regarding why you're submitting to this agent is getting a bit long, I'd consider culling this sentence down. Catching the hilarious Go The F*** To Sleep mention, I also figured you had a good sense of humor and would appreciate bemusing or eye-catching titles. That's why I chose you for my submission, LOVE, DEATH, ROBOTS AND ZOMBIES, a 95k-word post-apocalyptic novel straddling the line between YA and adult. Again, your para here is  long without having shared anything concerning your own book yet, except the title. Also, hoping the agent will like the title is not terribly relevant because most titles change before being published. Your title is quirky and fun, so let it just be that without saying, "Look - my title is quirky and fun!"

Three factions vie for the scraps of a blighted world -- a race of sentient machines, a mindless horde of undead, and the faltering remnants of humanity. See, this is a great hook - get to it sooner. Fifteen-year old Tristan has no interest in any of it. Living alone in the crumbling library of a long-dead city, his time is spent poaching oversized rats, desalinating water from New Sea, and fiddling with electronics. Tristan is content to leave the world to its struggles. The world, however, does not share his feelings.

Returning to his refuge one night, he's taken at gunpoint by four scouts from the city-state of Foundry. Why do they want him? But what shocks Tristan most is that the girl among them is familiar -- Echo, one of his childhood friends, has survived the destruction of their old village, only to return as an enemy. This sentence is a bit awkward in phrasing. Or so he thinks. In fact, Echo is only doing what's necessary to survive. But that doesn't necessarily mean she's *not* his enemy either, so it's kind of an odd sentence to use as a counterpoint. When she helps Tristan escape, resulting in the death of two of his captors, a desperate struggle ensues with Cabal, the last sadistic scout. Tristan's refuge is burned to the ground while he and Echo take flight into the great American Wasteland. You've put a lot of time into describing this one event / instance in the book. 

Homeless, rudderless, the two teens must now put their faith in each other to survive. If Cabal's vengeance doesn't kill them, there's always the radiated wastes, the robots, the roving armies, and the cities full of zombies lurking in their path. Tristan has to wonder: is survival even worth the price? Echo speaks of Haven, a distant enclave whose very name is synonymous with refuge. Third use of the word "refuge" in the query. Yet is it a legitimate escape or just one more humorless joke, one more smiling stab from a merciless world?

This is a well-written query, and the setting is attractive. However, the query is not telling me a lot about what is actually going on in the book. You spend a lot of time on the first para talking about comp titles, then the next is very specifically detailed regarding one event in the book, and the last para gives very broad strokes about a possible destination point that the MC doesn't seem very motivated to reach. I think the query itself would probably raise questions about whether the plot and pacing in the book hold together. 

I'm also curious about why the mention of the MC messing with electronics is made, but subsequently dropped. Does this make him valuable? Do the people kidnap him for this purpose? What kind of relationship does he have with Echo? And these zombies and robots sound pretty cool - but why are they there? Just because they're cool? Make sure your world-building elements are present in the query and illustrating that you've painted a believable picture.

Tristan's story is told in first-person. No real need to state this- they'll figure that out once they start reading the sample. I've pasted a short synopsis the synopsis will definitely help establish whether or not the plot and pacing hold together, but some agents don't request a synopsis and might not read the pasted sample. Definitely make sure your query establishes these elements on its own and the first three chapters below, as per the guidelines on your website. I look forward to hearing from you.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Enter to Win Jamie McGuire's BEAUTIFUL OBLIVION & PPL YA Fest!

Oh guys... the summer, it's getting away from me. A good indication of that is that I just yesterday got my summer haircut. The other thing getting away from me is my TBR pile so, I'm giving away books as I finish them. Check out the Rafflecopter below to enter to win Jamie McGuire's BEAUTIFUL OBLIVION.

But first - why did I get that summer haircut? Because I do feel a responsibility to be somewhat presentable in public and tomorrow brings a huge event. If you're in the Pickerington, Ohio area make plans to come see me and 11 of my friends at the Pickerington Public Library YA Author Fest. It's going to be one of those things you tell your grandchildren about.

Enter to win BEAUTIFUL OBLIVION below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Debut Author Jen Malone On Submission.... & The Waiting Part

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 Jen Malone, author of AT YOUR SERVICE, a contemporary MG coming from Simon & Schuster on August 26. Typically I cull down my visiting author's bio pages for a little blurby here on the blog, but Jen's bio is so awesome and hilarious that there is no picking and choosing that will do it justice. To learn more about Jen, sleeping in Spanish ATM booths during the running of the bulls, marrying the guy you made a fact at on the highway, and spending a some of your free time with George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, visit her site. No, I didn't make any of that up. Neither did she. Now you understand why I couldn't possibly narrow down her bio.

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

I may or may not have stalked this site and others where authors talked about the sub process, and my agent, Holly Root, answered any questions I had about why she chose particular imprints/editors, so I probably knew as much as I could, though never enough☺

Did anything about the process surprise you?

I had somehow latched on to the idea that agents were the gatekeepers, so once you had one (aka: the gate was opened for you), it was only a matter of minutes before you could announce a book deal. So I think I was unprepared in that respect! That first book is now on a shelf, but I’m happy to have had the experience, weird as that sounds. I did learn a lot from the feedback: it helped me put future sub rounds in perspective and to really embrace how subjective it all is and also how many factors come into play from the publishing house’s perspective.

I perfectly understand why this is a dirty secret among authors, but I really do wish more would talk about “the book that didn’t sell” because my very unscientific polls indicate approximately 73% of us have that experience with our first sub rounds and I wish I’d known that going in so I could have adjusted my expectations accordingly! I was just at a SCBWI conference this weekend where uber-agent Jennifer Laughran described exactly that as, “sometimes the first book is like the first pancake and you have to throw it out to get to the better ones coming next.”

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

If more of them had an online presence for me to stalk, I would have definitely done it, because I’m obsessive about collecting information. But it certainly wouldn’t have changed anything one way or another. It’s not like they’re likely to tweet about the great submission on robotic dinosaurs in a love triangle they’re just dying to offer on! Most of them (or maybe this is just my editor?) are more likely to tweet about what they had for lunch! Publishing is like one giant trust exercise and I knew I was sooo new to all of it that I had to let go of this particular piece and accept that my agent is smart, talented, and, above all, has both of our interests at heart and would therefore be doing her best to put my manuscript in the right hands. The number of things she knows about the market and the intricacies of the politics at the different houses are staggering, so I bow to her sub lists. Which is not to say that I didn’t sometimes need her to repeat that to me over and over!

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

Holly warned me that the no’s would come faster and not to be bummed out by that. It makes sense logically- if an editor likes something, he or she will typically have to get further reads from others in the office, then take it to an acquisitions meeting (which can get postponed whenever someone critical to the meeting is sick or someone is on vacation or on days the sky is blue or on days that end in Y…) so that process would take much longer than an editor reading and not falling head over heels. I was very fortunate that the first email pass Holly forwarded to me said something along the lines of “While not for me, I have no doubt you’re going to make a pile of money on this.” That was a nice first pass to get, even if it didn’t quite pan out that way! I also went on sub the day before Hurricane Sandy hit NYC (whoops!), so I’m not sure how delayed responses were from that upheaval, but I would say I started hearing back within three weeks, with the majority clustered between five weeks and three months.

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

Drink. Oh, is that not good advice? Everyone says, “Write the next book,” and I couldn’t agree more. If you’re excited about something new, your heart lets go (at least a tiny bit) of the previous project and you realize you don’t actually have all your eggs in one basket. HOWEVER. Being on sub can mess with your head and I found it hard to get momentum on something new because I was distracted and hopeful and irritable and (insert any other emotion here). Instead, I read. I tried to read books editors who had my manuscript had worked on so I could get a sense for the imprint or the editor’s tastes, but really anything that could hold my attention worked and reading always improves my writing, so it didn’t feel like “wasted time”. Next time I go on sub I’ll also ask Holly to only update me on passes on Fridays, because my iPhone was like a tiny bomb in my hand, poised to go off at any moment. Friday afternoons are a good time for bad news because the weekends are full of crazy running around with the family and serve as a great reminder that writing is only one part of my life!

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

If you had any rejections? Hahahahaha. Oh, you were serious. Okay, um, I would say it depended on the day. There were days (and passes) that rolled right off and others that stung a little bit. I got one while I was Christmas shopping and it killed my holiday spirit right there in the line to see Santa (note to self: why was I checking email then??) I do remember replying to Holly after she sent an early one to tell her how much I hated seeing her name pop up in my email because I knew it would be bad news. She responded back ten minutes later with a picture of a yawning lion or some similar variation of adorable and the subject line “Just so everything you get from me isn’t blah…” That helped remind me my agent was in my corner and wasn’t going to drop me over a pass or two! Compared to query rejections, these passes were both better and worse. Better because they often had lots of good feedback mixed with the “not for me” and worse because my dream was so close at that point and because my method of combatting a query pass was to immediately put a new query into the world to cancel the old one out, but sub rounds don’t typically work like that. I don’t exactly love not being in control of a situation- I’m very much a “take action” kind of person, so idle waiting is my kryptonite.

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?

I love my beta readers to piece and they are super-smarty-pants, but editors evaluate manuscripts for a living AND do so from a marketplace standpoint as well as a “quality of writing” standpoint. I don’t think I’d last long in this business if I didn’t pay very close attention to their notes. Luckily, all of them were very kind (and kindly worded)!

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

I knew the acquisitions meeting was taking place that day and I was waiting by the phone for Holly to call. It felt shout-from-the-rooftops good, and also surreal! Mine was a bit different because I got the yes from a proposal that included a synopsis and the first fifty or so pages, versus a full manuscript, so immediately following the elation was, “Oh crap! I really, really hope I can write this manuscript… and write it well!” No pressure or anything!

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

I did indeed. It was forever (give or take a millennia). I think I had to wait two months, maybe? I certainly told my critique partners and family members, while swearing them to secrecy. I was also very excited when I got the okay to tell people in person at an SCBWI conference I was attending. And then the day the announcement ran was incredibly fun and put a really wonderful cap on the submission experience! It  really does only take one yes!!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Saturday Slash

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

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

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

You didn’t joke with Principal Rodriquez – all the teachers at PS 463 knew it. But when Rodriquez asked me about the vandalism that occurred in my classroom, I quipped that she was the culprit. “I will cease treating you with kid gloves,” she told me. “Every mistake will be documented. I do not appreciate your diarrhea of the mouth.” I don't know a lot about writing queries for memoirs, but even so I can't imagine that using dialogue in a query is a good idea. I wanted to cry out, “It was a joke!” But I knew she wouldn't buy it. If Rodriquez had imagined that I was her ally, in the early days when I was her favorite, she had been mistaken. Kind of an odd backtracking in time here that I don't understand -- why is the imagine alliance important enough to mention in a query? I admired her brilliance and commitment, and I was grateful that she hadn't lopped off my head, and impaled it on a mast, as a feast for urban flies. But did I like her? Only the way a tourist hails an awesome totem. Again, I'm not seeing a lot going on here other than good guy / bad boss.

Bad Goddess Boss is a 58,000 word memoir about a predator boss, errant comma who exposed my weaknesses what weakness? how was it exposed?, forced me to face my fears and find my allies what fears, how were they exposed, why did you need allies?, including a budding love interest. Finally, she uncovered my dirty secret: I was teaching for money to support my wife and daughter, not love. Is this wife the same person as the budding love interest? I have no concept of the passage of time occurring here. No wonder that, on my commute, I wrote an allegory casting Rodriquez as Sekhmet, Egyptian goddess of destruction. Could I forgive her for flushing me out, and sending me back to the only job I ever loved: itinerant musician?

Definitely confused - are you querying the allegory, or a memoir about the guy writing the allegory? There are a lot of questions at work here, and while I freely admit I don't know a lot about writing a query for a memoir (or even if a query is the place to start for non-fiction) I do know that all these questions need to be answered in order to gain interest.

I am an award-winning children’s musician and recording artist who has worked as a teacher in the South Bronx, and as a criminal lawyer in California – all in one incarnation! I tour June-September, and could simultaneously promote the book. For now, I'm building community around the concept of Bad Goddess Boss with a blog and website: www.badgoddessboss.com

One word of caution - on your site it says that your memoir is Soon-To-Be-Released, which an agent who finds your site or uses the link you provide might find off-putting. Using that terminology implies that there is a release date scheduled - which means that either you have a traditional contract or that you have decided to self-pub. If neither of these things is true it's potentially misleading and / or confusing for the agent.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Successful Debut Author Talk With Tara Dairman

Toay's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Tara Dairman. Tara is the author of the foodie middle-grade novel ALL FOUR STARS, which was published on July 10 by Putnam/Penguin.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I've become much more of a planner in recent years. For me, the scariest thing about trying to write a novel is the hugeness of the project, so if I can use an outline to trick myself into thinking that I have a handle on what's coming next, that helps.

I also find that I can write a first draft much faster if I'm working from a detailed outline.  96% faster, to be precise! 

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

My first novel, ALL FOUR STARS, took about seven years from first words to polished, queryable manuscript. But I would put the project down for months at a time to focus on my day job as a magazine editor, or producing my plays in festivals, or getting married, or going on a round-the-world honeymoon.

I'm able to write much faster now, thank goodness. The sequel to AFS took about five months to draft, revise, and turn in to my editor, but there will be a few more months of edits before it's ready to be published.

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

I'm terrible at multitasking; I can't even listen to music and write at the same time. So, it's one project at a time for me.

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

Oh, of course. And every time, really. But I've learned that you can't be a perfectionist, at least not while writing early drafts. And these days, fear of missing a deadline often trumps fear of failure for me, so I manage to get the work done.

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

Zero, though I do have a trunked screenplay.

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

The manuscript I was working on in the year after I sold ALL FOUR STARS is currently in a drawer, though I hope to pull it out again eventually. I stopped working on it because it was making me dread sitting down and writing to an extent that no other project ever had. I think I was trying to write in a voice that just wasn't really mine. But I might rework it someday.

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

My agent is Ammi-Joan Paquette at Erin Murphy Literary. She spotted my first page in a Secret Agent contest at Miss Snark's First Victim and requested that I query her. I ended up with a few other offers through querying and another contest, but Joan was the best fit for me.

How many queries did you send?  

According to Querytracker.net (awesome site for agent-hunters!), I sent 34 queries, and also had six requests from contests.

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

Query in small batches (5-7 agents) so that you can pull back and revise your query and/or pages if you're not having any success. Get your query critiqued, preferably by an author who's been through query hell before (such as our own Mindy McGinnis, in her Saturday Slash series!). And, of course, make sure that your manuscript has been through  many rounds of critique and revision before you start to query it.

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

Seeing it for presale online was really exciting, and seeing friends get excited, too, and start preordering with gusto was so heartening. I can't wait to see ALL FOUR STARS on bookstore and library shelves—thanks to my last name, it should be right next to books by one of my favorite authors, Roald Dahl. :)

How much input do you have on cover art?

I expected to have zero input, so when my editor asked me for some ideas, I was pleasantly surprised. I created a short PowerPoint presentation featuring other middle-grade covers I loved and pointing out what elements I thought might work for ALL FOUR STARS. I was hoping to see a girl, food, and a city skyline on the cover, and all three of those elements are there, so I couldn't be more thrilled.

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

Generally, I'm a fan of learning as much as possible about the world you're working in—in this case, the world of publishing. But sometimes, I fondly remember the days when I didn't know anything about starred reviews, notable book lists, mock Newbery blogs, etc. It's surprising how crappy it can feel to have your book not be considered for certain accolades—especially when, a year ago, you didn't even know those accolades existed! But mostly I try to focus on the joy and accomplishment of actually publishing a book, and having another one on the way.

How much of your own marketing do you?

I have a blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

I've been doing a fair amount of outreach over the last few months to bloggers and reviewers, setting up a mini-blog tour. I've had new headers designed for my social media sites and swag like bookmarks and temporary tattoos designed by the terrific Amber at Me, My Shelf, and I. I also made an appointment to introduce myself to the children's staff at my local indie bookstore, and worked with my publisher to set up launch parties in New York and Colorado. And I'm attempting to line up school visits for the fall.

It always feels like there's more I can be doing, but I have to balance marketing with writing and my other work.

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

I think that it's smart to be on Twitter (since so many agents are) and have a basic website while querying. The website is especially useful if you have other writing credits, or art to show off; I was able to link to mine in the bio section of my query so that agents could check out my playwriting credentials. And when we sold ALL FOUR STARS to Putnam, my editor checked out my blog and was impressed that I was already building an online presence.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Social media has definitely helped me connect with fellow writers and form a strong community with them—which is really helpful when it comes time to launch your book. Kidlit writers are the most supportive people I know! I've also met most of my critique partners online, and connected with several librarians and book bloggers. Plus, I enjoy interacting with folks online and sharing snippets of my writing and publishing journey—so for me, being active on social media feels natural and worth the effort.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Saturday Slash

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

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

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

Kesh had never encountered death before the day everything changed. Hmmm.... this might be a little too vague to be a really gripping hook. A lot of people never encounter death, so it's kind of meh.

After that, it greeted him when his entire family was either kidnapped or killed. Yeah, I think you need to get this into the hook so that the stakes are clear and not vague. Why was his family taken? It stared him in the eyes when he became the commander of an army. It matched him stride for stride when he marched that army into the city that held the remnants of his shattered life. I like the phrasing here, but I feel like I have no idea what's going on. Was Kesh a child when he lost his family? Is he leading an army as an adult? what kind of army? And why is he marching it into a city? Who are they fighting? What kind of city? Is this sci-fi or fantasy?

Despite having his world wrenched out of his hands, Kesh desires to stand up to the trials before him.  He rescues his younger brother Noren, from what / who? but that only marks the beginning of the battle to come. To get his loved ones back, Kesh might have to give up control of his own fate.

Kesh must balance his need for family with his family's need for a hero, lest everything he fights for be lost to the love of power and the claws of chance.

THE RISE is complete at 70,000 words.  It is the first in a planned fantasy series, including the titles THE KING and THE FALL.  It is my debut novel. The debut part is assumed, so no need to clarify. Also, querying a series is always tricky. You''ll want to try to make this first novel be capable of standing alone with series potential.

Overall this query is very, very vague. I know there's a city, an army leader marching into it who doesn't have a family... and that's about it. This could be the Civil War, present-day Syria, set on another planet or a peasant uprising in Medieval England. You need to be clear about the setting, beyond the statement at the end that it is a fantasy, and also definitely more details. Fighting hazy bad guys isn't compelling. They might be fleshed out in the novel, but the query isn't portraying that. And why was his family captured in the first place? There are a lot of questions here that you'll need to answer in order to make your query less generic - good luck!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Demitria Lunetta On Writing The Next One & IN THE END Giveaway

Welcome to another of my fabulous acronym-based interviews. The second novel is no easy feat, and with that in mind I put together a series of questions for debuts who are tackling the second obstacle in their career path. I call it the SNOB - Second Novel Omnipresent Blues. Whether you’re under contract or trying to snag another deal, you’re a professional now, with the pressures of a published novelist compounded with the still-present nagging self-doubt of the noobie.

Today's guest is fellow Class of 2k13 member Demitria Lunetta. Demitria is the author of the YA Sci-fi duology, IN THE AFTER and IN THE END. She holds a BA in Human Ecology and has spent countless hours studying the many ways in which people are capable of bringing about their own destruction. In case the end is near, she always carries a good book and a chocolate bar -- the two items essential for post-apocalyptic survival.

Is it hard to leave behind the first novel and focus on the second?

With your first novel you have all the time in the world to write it and the deadlines only come when you find a publisher and when you have to edit. For the second book, you have a deadline for EVERYTHING and life becomes very stressful. My second novel, IN THE END is the continuation of IN THE AFTER, so focusing on new characters/new plotline wasn’t really an issue. What was hardest was making the second book something fresh and new while also including all the things that readers liked from the first book.

At what point do you start diverting your energies from promoting your debut and writing / polishing / editing your second?

I started writing IN THE END before IN THE AFTER came out…so I was doing EVERYTHING at once. I don’t think I diverted energies from promotion, exactly, but it was important that I made sure my attention was given to everything that needed doing, which is not always easy! Usually it was my house/personal hygiene that would suffer…who needs to brush your hair when you’re stuck behind a computer all day!? But really, I knew it was time to get out when my husband started referring to my pajamas as my work uniform. 

Your first book landed an agent and an editor, and hopefully some fans. Who are you writing the second one for? Them, or yourself?

I wrote my first book for myself…and I think I’ll always write for myself. A lot of people say that they write what they want to read…and I do as well. I also have all these ideas bouncing around in my head at once, so it’s good to get them out on paper. Is it too cliché to say I write for my characters? Let’s just say I write for my sanity. I’m just happy when other people want to read the crazy-ness that pops out of my head.

Is there a new balance of time management to address once you’re a professional author? 

I never knew all the hats that a published author had to wear; writer, editor, blogger, social media queen, and giveaway guru. As I mentioned earlier, time management can be a huge issue. Now, I try to chop my day up into time segments and allot a certain amount of time to writing/editing and to promotion. I also make myself find the time to read because a) reading makes you a better writer b) I like to know what stories are out there and c) I just love it so much. I can’t imagine my life without books.

What did you do differently the second time around, with the perspective of a published author?

When you write before becoming published, you don’t know what an editor will say and what advice they will give. For my second novel, I had to think about editor input..before my editor even looked at it, which is not actually a bad thing. I learned a lot from editing my first book. I felt like the “rookie mistakes” I made on my first draft of IN THE AFTER weren’t present in IN THE END, which made the editing process a lot easier.

Thank you to Demitria for giving us her time so soon after the release of IN THE END! Checkout the Rafflecopter below to enter to win an ARC!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, July 7, 2014

Just Me And My Canoe (Also The Boyfriend & Wildlife)

I have been writing like a madwoman.

I'm also writing about a madwoman, but that's a different blog post.

In the past week I wrote over 25,000 words. In the past two days alone I added 34 pages to the YA novel that will be releasing from Katherine Tegen in the Fall of 2015. My brain is rolling, my fingers are flashing, and this book is very nearly at its close.

But so is my social life and ability to function in the sunlight.

So, the boyfriend put me in the canoe for the Fourth of July and we just went away for about five hours. The novel has hijacked my brain and demanded all my time, so I haven't been paying as much attention to the blog as I usually do.

I'm making it up to you with pictures of animals. This is how we make things better on the internet.

One of the  awesome things that happened was jumping a few deer. They didn't think it was awesome but I did. The first was a buck, that came busting through the woods down to the stream. He must've been super thirsty because he hopped out into the water without taking any notice of his surroundings whatsoever. When he finally did look up, I swear to you that deer's face actually registered shock. I don't know if he'd seen people in a boat before, because he debated for about twenty seconds before snorting at us and bolting.

That's my hand while I show the boyfriend a really large mollusk.
Meanwhile something awesome is happening behind me.
So that was pretty cool. The only other time I've seen an animal actually look shocked was back in high school when I came driving over a hill too fast and took a skunk by surprise. That story didn't end as well, and you don't want to see the pictures.

Further on down the line I got to see a very feral member of my favorite species. I assume he was fishing. I wanted to go to the bank and say hi, but judging by the look on his face I think he might have tried to kill us. 

This kitty no want pet.
Oh, but it gets better. Just when I thought life couldn't be more awesome, I totally got hit in the chest with the canoe while I tried to move branches out of the way. I got them out of the way. The canoe was so very grateful that it conveyed this by a surge of forward motion that knocked me down. It was actually kind of cool because I have canoe-bow shaped bruise on my chest now. There are no pictures either of the incident (boyfriend thought I was drowning) or the bruise (boyfriend said that's in bad taste).

My last critter picture for you is a baby beaver. Yep, a bitty baby beaver who I believe was also quite shocked at seeing people in a boat. You can see in the picture he's got his tail up, debating whether or not slap. He didn't, and I was thrilled because then we got to surprise his mommy and daddy downstream, who DID slap and I'm sure he got a pretty serious talking to about stranger danger later on.

So, that's what I did this weekend, along with a ton of writing. I could blog to you all about my writing, but that wouldn't have cute pictures involved. A writer at work is not a pleasant picture. There's a lot of staring at nothing and occasional grunting. I also tend to gesticulate while I work out dialogue so I appear to be quite insane.

Not that you didn't already suspect that.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Saturday Slash

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

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

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

When Amanda Bennett took a job at the cult rehabilitation camp that had helped her deprogram, she didn't expect to get caught up in a whirlwind of events designed to bring about the end of the world. Oh cool. You've definitely got my attention with the concept, but I do think that the opening sentence itself is a bit longish. That could be personal opinion though. Boyfriend, best friend, and trusted director; someone has nefarious intentions and it's up to her to find out who. I think you need to use "or" instead of "and" in the previous sentence, unless the b/f, best friend, and director are all the same person.

DIAMOND DUST is a 50,000 young adult novella definitely don't call it a novella. It can be a novel with that word count and there's no traditional market for novellas with a paranormal twist. It follows the story of Amanda Bennett you don't need to use her full name twice, a young woman working at the cult deprogramming center Camp Invicta. Previously a member of the local Janus cult “New Beginnings,” Amanda's journal entries show first hand knowledge when it comes to what these kids have experienced. Amanda is reassigned and no longer working beside her best friend, Marie Davenport. Again you don't need to use proper names in a query except for your MC. It's her best friend, that's all we need to know. It's all good because that means she can spend time with her resident crush, Assistant Director David Lennon same thing here.  It becomes evident that Camp Invicta isn't what it appears to be. Several campers have gone missing after graduation, including Amanda's friend Annissa. Pieces fall into place that make Amanda afraid that someone is attempting to sacrifice these kids to raise The Keres, ancient Greek vulture women. Someone close to her has been lying the entire time. Someone she cares about will die.

I'm a 27 year old military spouse and stay at home mom to two rambunctious boys. A book lover my entire life, writing has always been something important to me. This is my first full length story. I wouldn't worry about including a bio if I were you. If your bio isn't relevant to the novel content and you don't have previous publishing experience I would skip it.

You have a really interesting concept here that sounds pretty original. There's nothing specifically wrong with the query, but I would consider restructuring. A lot of the material in your body paragraph is reiterating what you used in your hook, but in more detail. Also, it's not clear how raising the Keres  could bring about the end of the world, which is a big part of your hook. Also you mention your MC's reassignment, but it's not clear what she was doing first, what she's been reassigned to, or what that move has to do with the plot. You've got a good body to work with, just do some restructuring and you can have a strong query.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Looking For A Manuscript Critique?

I've said before that you can't swing a cat in Ohio without hitting a YA writer, and that's the truth. One of those is Leah Clifford, author of the A Touch Mortal series. Leah is a fantastic writer, a hilarious person and the kind of girl you just like being around. Trust me. I've sat through hours upon hours of festivals and author events where the crowd might be a little thin and you're questioning if it was worth the travel expenses to be there. But if Leah is there too, it's worth it.

A few days ago Leah had a frightening medical emergency, which I'm going to simply cut and paste from her Tumblr here:

Most of you guys heard through twitter and fb, but yesterday my left eye basically stopped blinking. When I smiled, only the right side of my mouth moved. Needless to say, it was pretty terrifying. When I got to the Emergency Room, they diagnosed Bell’s Palsy, but had to rule out a stroke because my symptoms didn’t quite match (My forehead was still moving at that point, but stopped soon after.). Because of this, they had to do a CAT scan and EKG. In addition to medical bills, I’m looking at a 2 - 6 week recovery time. I have insurance and a job, but unfortunately, my left eye is blurred and has double vision, which means I can’t drive the 40 minutes to my day job. It could be a couple of days to a couple of weeks before my vision comes back properly. I have no vacation. No sick days.

I’m trying to do what I can to supplement my income and basically survive until this goes away. If you know ANYONE who is looking for a critique of their novel, could you please pass my info along to them. Even just reblogging this message will help.

I have three books out with Harper/Collins, and have been critiquing for friends for five years, with most of those books ending in publishing contracts. I’ve just started to take on freelance work. I’m linking to my critique prices below. Right now, I’m offering a $50 discount on full manuscript critiques to anyone who mentions this post and if you yourself are a writer, please keep in mind for each referral, you’ll receive a $25 credit to use when you book your own critique (in addition to the $50 off). If you have any questions, I can be reached through my ask box or at CliffordLeah at gmail dot com! THANK YOU GUYS SO MUCH! 


If you're in the market for a critique, definitely consider Leah!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Debut SF Author Karen Akins Talks Cover Art For LOOP

I love talking to debut authors. Our experiences are so similar, yet so very different, that every one of us has a new story to share. Everyone says that the moment you get your cover it really hits you - you're an author. The cover is your story - and you - packaged for the world. So the process of the cover reveal can be slightly panic inducing. Does it fit your story? Is it what you hoped? Will it sell? With this in mind I put together the CRAP (Cover Reveal Anxiety Phase) Interview.

Today's guest is Karen Akins is a self-professed geek whose debut YA sci-fi novel LOOP is coming out October 21, 2014 with St. Martin's Press.

At a school where Quantum Paradox 101 is a required course and history field trips are literal, sixteen year-old time traveler Bree Bennis excels…at screwing up.

After Bree botches a solo midterm to the 21st century by accidentally taking a boy hostage (a teensy snafu), she stands to lose her scholarship. But when Bree sneaks back to talk the kid into keeping his yap shut, she doesn’t go back far enough. The boy, Finn, now three years older and hot as a solar flare, is convinced he’s in love with Bree, or rather, a future version of her that doesn’t think he’s a complete pain in the arse. To make matters worse, she inadvertently transports him back to the 23rd century with her. 

Once home, Bree discovers that a recent rash of accidents at her school are anything but accidental. Someone is attacking time travelers. As Bree and her temporal tagalong uncover seemingly unconnected clues—a broken bracelet, a missing data file, the art heist of the millennium—that lead to the person responsible, she alone has the knowledge to piece the puzzle together. Knowledge only one other person has. Her future self.

But when those closest to her become the next victims, Bree realizes the attacker is willing to do anything to stop her. In the past, present, or future. 

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

I had some hazy ideas but nothing definite. It’s a story that could have taken several directions with the cover. They could have gone light and funny or more actiony and futuristic. I love where they landed. It’s romantic and swoony with a hint of sci-fi.

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

Hmm…I think we started talking about the cover around November…ish.

Did you have any input on your cover?

I did! If you look at the two O’s in LOOP, they form an infinity symbol, and that was actually my idea. 

The only change I asked for after they showed it to me was for them to chop off my main character Bree’s hair. 

Honestly, I loved it from the first moment I saw it, down to the texture of their tee shirts. (Okay, that’s a funny story. My editor has a lot of romance on her list, and the art department is used to her requesting steamier covers, so in the first version, Finn had no shirt on. She had to go back and say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Not that hot!” Some day, I’m going to track that version down.)

How was your cover revealed to you? 

I happened to be in New York the day that they delivered the cover art to my editor. She surprised me with it when I walked into her office. Needless to say, there was much squeeing.

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

Yes and no. Griffin Teen does a monthly cover reveal on their Facebook fan page.

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

Three months.

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

Do unicorns poop rainbows? (That’s a “heck yes!”)

What surprised you most about the process?

How fun it was to keep the secret! Yes, I can’t believe I just said that. But there really was this exciting energy that built up when I had to keep it on the down-low.

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

Talk to your agent. Talk to your editor. The clearer you are about your ideas and expectations, the less wrinkles you’ll have to iron out later on. I know it sounds cliché, but have fun with it!