Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Saturday Slash

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

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

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

Sixteen-year-olds Faerydae and Altair have spent their lives training to serve their kingdom, only to discover that their final and most important task will be to kill each other. OOoooo.... color me intrigued.

Faerydae the daughter of Tauren Lyon and Altair the son of Sabina Thren this is getting lengthy and I'm untangling things, I don't know that you need to name their parents. A family feud mention with just their family names is sufficient will be used to settle their powerful families’ long-standing feud. They will battle in the dangerous and enchanted lands of the Torrential Ruins. Stakes are high; the winner keeps their life and their family will control the throne.

The impending battle pushes the people of Aria to their breaking point. They are enraged that the two elite families' bickering continues to shape their government’s policies. As protests protests against what? The government in general or the deathmatch? begin to spark across the kingdom need some punctuation here Faerydae and Altair realize the dissidence will elicit a violent retaliation from the government. Despite their wishes, they comply with their families’ orders to go to the Ruins, hoping to calm the uprising.

Only one will be able to survive the ruins – unless they join together and spark a rebellion. Hmm.... but they're going there in order to avoid protests that could end in violent government retaliation... so how would sparking a rebellion be any different?

I like the idea and I think your hook is solid, however I think the world building and motivation could stand clarification. So the families are all part of the same world / government? And the general people are protesting against something... but I don't know what. I think I also need to know if the general public is aware of this deatchmatch, and how they are reacting to it. You're also going to need to make clear how this is different and distinct from the Hunger Games, in my opinion.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: CONTROL by Lydia Kang

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 the year 2150 there have been a few genetic mistakes. Most of those have been shuttled out of sight, somewhere people don't have to look at or think about them. Zel finds herself in a safe house for teens exactly like that - guys with four arms being the most standout example.

When her father is killed in a car accident that might not have been an accident after all, Zel knows she must keep her little sister Dyl safe. It's been a priority for most of her life, and with her father gone, it's entirely her responsibility. It doesn't take long for her to fail, and once Dyl has been kidnapped for the powerful secret encoded in her DNA, Zel has only her genetically altered friends and her own less-than-stellar abilities at her disposal to rescue them.

Dyl has always been the special one, something Zel knows all too well. Armed with old technology and what she believes to be her own limited capacities, along with teens that shouldn't even exist, Zel sets out on a journey through the darker corners of society to try to retrieve her sister before it's too late.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Successful Author Talk With MONSTROUS Author MarcyKate Connolly

No... not like she's monstrous. Although an argument could be made.

I'm very happy to bring you today's SAT (Successful Author Talk) interviewee, MarcyKate Connolly. MarcyKate is one of my regular critique partners, and also one of the people that I met and banded with at the beginning of my publishing journey, years ago. MarcyKate, RC Lewis and myself all met years ago on the writing site AgentQueryConnect. We would read each other's stuff, pick apart our query letters, and root, root, root for each other when we entered contests to try to gain agent attention.

2015 finds two of my books published by Harper imprint Katherine Tegen, RC's STITCHING SNOW available from Hyperion (with a another on the way!) and MarcyKate's MG debut  MONSTROUS available from HarperChildrens on February 10th.

Not bad.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I’m a plotter *steeples fingers*. Outlines and beat sheets are my best friends when I’m drafting a novel.

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

Wellllllll, that varies. A lot. I’ve written 11 novels so far and I can’t really say I have a pace that’s consistent. Every book has its own unique path. First drafts have run the gamut from 10 days to 1.5 years. Add to that necessary time for revision, critique partner feedback, more revision, etc, and the shortest was a few months, the longest about 3 years. 

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

I am a multi-tasking fiend. I use Zoho projects (an online project management software) to keep myself on target and meet goals for revision and drafting. I always have another project in the pipeline once one stage of a book is complete. For example, I may draft one book in the morning (say, MG fantasy) and then revise another in the afternoon or next day (say, YA contemporary). Once I’ve finished revising that YA, I’ll move my next project that’s due for revision up in the queue, and then cycle through them that way until they’re ready for my agent or editor to review.

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

Not really, aside from the pretty normal fear that what I’ve written sucked. (But that doesn’t ever really go away for a lot of writers. Sorry to break the bad news!). 

Though that fear did take a turn that I had to overcome. When I went to revise that first manuscript, I was so terrified of screwing up the writing in a technical sense (misspellings, bad grammar, etc) that I actually edited every ounce of voice right out of that book. I had readers tell me that it was the cleanest manuscript they’d ever read, but they couldn’t connect to my characters at all – that was why! Took me another 2 books before I finally got a handle on voice (and learned not to edit it out!) 

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

Six. Monstrous was the 7th novel I wrote, 4th that I queried. 

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

I did decide to set aside three books. One I queried briefly and the response made it very clear the book wasn’t really there and I wasn’t as interested in getting it to where it needed to be either. The other two were NaNoWriMo novels and very much practice books.

I’ve “paused” a couple other books, but I have plans to revisit them and rewrite them eventually. 

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

My amazing agent is Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary & Media. I queried her the traditional way – my book was a slushpile baby despite the fact that I entered agent-judged contest after contest!

How long did you query before landing your agent?  

I queried for about 3.5 years before signing with Suzie. I sent well over 300 queries for three different books and got hundreds of No's in response. The three agent offers on Monstrous were totally worth it!

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

The best way I found to get through query hell is to always keep looking forward. 

Write that next book. Yes, THAT book. The one that won’t leave you alone and keeps you up at night. Even if it’s weird and crazy and scares you. It’s worth the risk, and at worst, you’ll learn something and have a fun distraction.

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

I haven’t seen the hardcover of Monstrous on a physical bookstore shelf yet (though I have held a copy in my hands and it is beautiful!!), but when the pre-order links for it began popping up, it was surreal. The fact that this is really happening began to sink in then too. I’m SO EXCITED to see it in B&N and my local indies!

How much input do you have on cover art?

Not much. They picked the (perfect) artist and worked up the (perfect) concept. There was one little issue on the first final draft they sent me, but it was quickly and easily fixed. Basically, they didn’t need my input – the artist pretty much plucked my main character out of my brain and dropped her on the page!

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

How different the process is from one author to another, and one book to another. We’re all going through the same basic process, but the details vary dramatically!

Also, publishing is sloooowwwww. This should not have surprised me – I’d heard it before, of course. But to experience it is another thing entirely. Case in point, my book sold in 2012, and it will finally be on shelves in 2015!

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I’ve had a website and been on social media for years before I started writing seriously, so I was prepared to promote things like giveaways and news across my site, twitter, facebook, tumblr, etc. Social media promotion, and the postcards I’m sending to my local bookstores and libraries are the main marketing I’m doing for Monstrous. I’ve also done some in person outreach to my local libraries and gave them advanced review copies of my book. However, my day job background is in marketing, so if my publisher wasn’t doing a lot of marketing on my behalf I’d probably do more. 

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

I already had a platform, so it’s hard for me to say. I do know it’s not going to be a dealbreaker for most agents if you don’t have a social media platform when they sign you provided you are open to building one if your book sells.

For me, social media was most effective pre-sale / pre-agent in finding my place in a community of authors. There’s a lot of awesome people out there, especially in the kid lit community, and getting to know them and knowing they were going through the same highs and lows in the query trenches was really helpful for me. Made me feel less alone. And really, that’s what social media is about – connecting with a community. It’s a way to engage people on a personal level and should be treated like it (not like a sales channel!)

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

It definitely can, yes. But the key thing to remember about social media is that it is first and foremost and place to be social. A lot of people forget that. It is about building a community and engaging with people (which is why it can be great for engaging with your readers). Blasting things like BUY MY BOOK BUY MY BOOK BUY MY BOOK is going to get you blocked and possibly even banned from places like Twitter. Basically, don’t be noise; be yourself – that’s way more interesting. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Finding Your Pack Of Wolves

Here's the thing about being a writer - we're kind of weird.

That may or may not come as a surprise to you.

A lot of us grew up either completely on the outside of society, or - like me - kind of in it but known as being... just a bit off. When I was younger I tried to massage my off-ness away, tried to be normal, tried to fit in. Thank God I failed.

I'm old enough now that I just don't care, and ironically now that I've won the "Published Author" ribbon, it's considered perfectly acceptable for me to just be a bit different. It never ceases to amuse me that people who have read my books but never met me in real life are amazed at how normal and well-adjusted I am (ahem - or just seem to be) when they meet me, whereas the people that know me casually in real life read my books and... are a little stunned. I can't tell you how often I've heard the phrase, "But you seem so normal."

That's because I've been practicing.

My true friends - a very small circle of people that know me very, very well - aren't shocked at all. They kind of expect it.

Writers find their pack eventually, and one of my pack has the end to her awesome trilogy coming out this spring. FORGED by Erin Bowman is a great culmination of her TAKEN series, and I'm lucky enough to have an ARC and nice enough (or appear to be, anyway) to give it away to one of you. And while I loved the TAKEN series, I also want to plug Erin's fall release - a western titled VENGEANCE ROAD, that I was lucky enough to read at an early stage. If you like NOT A DROP TO DRINK, you'll be into VENGEANCE ROAD - promise.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, January 24, 2015

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.

London, 1867. Wayward Collins is anonymous. In the hidden magical communities of the city, a man without magic is expendable, and Wayward will do anything to remain hidden. Not a bad hook, but I think you could easily blend all three of this first sentences together to reduce the choppy quality - "... magical communities of 1867 London.... Wayward Collins will do anything to remain anonymous." But a miscalculation one night has tragic consequences, and he is trapped into the service of the wizard Lord Cadogan.

Rich, powerful and well bred, Cadogan is everything Wayward despises, and he immediately starts planning his escape. But when one of Cadogan’s footmen is murdered by magical means, Wayward is reluctantly dragged into the ensuing investigation. I think I need to know more about motivation here - if Wayward's only goal is escape, how can he be "dragged' into an investigation?

Cadogan doesn’t care that Wayward wants to stay hidden from magic users; he just wants to find the murderer. Why is Wayward the person to catch him? Wayward hates Cadogan from the top of his perfectly groomed head to the tips of his expensive shoes—there’s no way he’s going to co-operate. But Cadogan isn’t asking nicely, and every step of the investigation stirs up further trouble. The dead footman had his own secrets, certain magical factions are suddenly interested in the whole affair, and one particular police inspector just won’t leave the matter alone. This is well written, but again why Wayward and what's keeping him there?

Dogged by forces magical and mundane, Wayward is unwillingly entangled in the magic and power brewing in the heart of the city. After a lifetime of hiding, he’s attracting the attention of the most powerful magical force in the country. Even if he manages to escape Cadogan, he must play very carefully to ensure he doesn’t end up as a pawn in the magical plots he’s spent his whole life trying to avoid.

CHALK CIRCLES is a historical fantasy novel complete at 75,000 words. It is the first of a planned series, but will also work as a standalone novel.

This is well written and interesting, but the big question still stands - if all he wants to do is leave, why doesn't he just do it already? It sounds like he has no loyalty to these people, so what's his motivation to stay?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: WHAT HAPPENS NEXT by Colleen Clayton

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.

Sid Murphy has never been conventionally attractive. Her curves are a little too curvy, her hair a little too red. Sure, she's a cheerleader, but she's always on the bottom of the pyramid because she's "sturdy." Guys in high school seem to want something else, but when she's goes on a ski trip and ends up next to a handsome college student Dax on the ski lift, Sid realizes maybe the guys she grew up with are too narrow minded when it comes to beauty.

Even though Sid has always been a good girl - and her grades reflect that - when Dax asks her to sneak away from the other students and chaperones to come to a party at his cabin she agrees, against her friends' advice. Getting attention is new, getting attention is nice, and Sid doesn't want to seem like a simpering high schooler. The party turns out to be just her and Dax, and Sid has a drink with him, only to wake up in the morning naked in a strange bed, a lock of her hair missing.

Everyone thinks they know what happened, which is ironic to Sid because she has no idea. Back home, her reputation shredded and her confidence shattered, Sid drops her college prep classes, opting instead of volunteer in the A/V room where she's hoping to evade all the stares in the hallways. But Corey Livingston is there too, they type of guy old Sid would've never exchanged three words with.

Sid discovers that the only thing to calm her anxious mind is running. The pounds fall off, and guys start to notice her... something she suddenly doesn't want - at all. Corey liked her even before she lost weight, but Sid doesn't know how she can build a relationship after what happened to her on the school trip. Right now she can't even maintain her old friendships or get along with her family, how can she try to have a boyfriend?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Debut Author Talks About Covers: Michelle Falkoff & PLAYLIST FOR THE DEAD

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 Michelle Falkoff, author of PLAYLIST FOR THE DEAD, available January 27th from HarperTeen.

Here's what Sam knows: There was a party. There was a fight. The next morning, his best friend, Hayden, was dead. And all he left Sam was a playlist of songs, and a suicide note: For Sam—listen and you'll understand.

As he listens to song after song, Sam tries to face up to what happened the night Hayden killed himself. But it's only by taking out his earbuds and opening his eyes to the people around him that he will finally be able to piece together his best friend’s story. And maybe have a chance to change his own.

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

I actually didn’t—I had some vague ideas about what I might not want (I tend to like abstract covers better than realistic ones, for example), but I’m not super visually oriented, so I hadn’t really imagined what it could be.

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

My editor sent me the first iteration of the cover in February of 2014, so the first conversations happened nearly a year before the book’s scheduled publication date.

Did you have any input on your cover?

I did, though I didn’t need very much—I was thrilled with it from the first time I saw it.  I definitely got the sense that if I had concerns the house would address them, but it didn’t come up, which was great.

How was your cover revealed to you?

My editor emailed a picture around to everyone involved in the book up to that point.

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

There was no official date, but I did a “cover reveal” post for YA Highway, which was posted on the site on September 9th.  It was a really fun way to get the cover out there.

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

I got the final version of the cover on March 24—it went through some tweaks before it became official, though the ARC has the earlier version of the cover art.

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

That presumes that I was able to keep it to myself, which I wasn’t! I showed pictures of it to pretty much everyone I knew, but I didn’t arrange for an official reveal until I realized that pictures of it were popping up on places like Amazon and Goodreads.

What surprised you most about the process?

There were a couple of things, some more surprising than others. I wasn’t exactly surprised by the level of thoughtfulness that went into it at HarperCollins, since they’d been fabulous about everything else, but I was pleasantly surprised that they decided to use an outside artist who does posters for some of the bands featured in the book. It was a wonderfully creative decision, and the cover has a really appropriate feel to it as a result. The more surprising thing was the fact that Barnes and Noble was part of the process—someone over there had opinions about some aspects of the cover that the artist took into account in revision. I’m pleased that B&N was interested in how the book would be presented there, but I hadn’t realized that was something that happens on what seems like a fairly routine basis.

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

I suspect it very much depends on the author’s relationship with the publishing house. If your relationship is good, then I’d be inclined to be trusting—your editor knows the book well and knows the market much better than we do, and everyone has the goal of making the book as striking and beautiful as possible. That said, I do think it’s appropriate to speak up early if you’re not happy with the direction things are going. You’re going to spend a lot of time with the physical object of the book itself, and you want looking at the cover to make you happy and to remind you of everything good about the process, which sometimes involves work on our part.

One more thing I know some people have been concerned about is what happens when the publisher reveals the cover unofficially before they’ve had a chance to do a formal reveal. I know this is a big deal for some people, but I’d suggest not getting too worried about it—doing the reveal on YA Highway was a great experience even though the cover was already around, and I suspect no one pays as much attention to these kinds of details as we do.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

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.

Gray must embrace either the wild beast in his soul, or the destructive human in his mind. Good hook.

Born with the mind of a man and the soul of a wolf, nineteen-year-old Gray Lupelle hopes the kingdom of Starfall will be a place free of persecution. Unlike his home in Tymeria, Paladins you might need to make it clear what a Paladin is are not permitted to hunt wolfborn and other non-human races inside the limits of the kingdom. But when a rogue wolfborn fails in assassinating the Tymerian king, his actions destabilize two hundred years of fragile peace between Tymeria and Starfall. You might want to be clear on why his would affect relations between the two kingdoms -- is it because Starfall harbors the worlborn?

Suddenly, the loyalty of the wolfborn are questioned. Loyalty to whom? Time I'm not sure this is the best phrasing has made the wolfborn feared for the same reason they were loved during the war against Tymeria: They are superior warriors.

When Gray is offered a deal by who? sparing his siblings from the slaughter who is slaughtering them and why?, he must make an impossible decision: his siblings or his entire race. If he saves his siblings by helping helping who? in the eradication of his entire race, he’ll be rewarded with their permanent hatred. If he fights against who?, he risks the possibility of joining them in extinction. One thing is certain – he must kill to survive. Good sinker.

Told through several character viewpoints, WOLFBORN is a New Adult Fantasy novel of 94,000 words.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: THE FALL by Bethany Griffin

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.

Madeline Usher is the favorite of the house... and in her family that's not a good thing. Generations of Ushers have passed through those halls, cursed, demented, and eventually lost entirely to its will. Madeline has seen it happen, watched both her parents fall under the curse, and she's determined not to let the same fate strike down herself and her brother.

But fate is against her, and the very walls of the house. Her father tried to take her away when she was a child, but the house would not allow it. Her inexplicable sickness - the Usher curse - daily drains her vitality as she tries to escape the inevitable. The arrival of a new doctor - young, attractive, and unhealthily obsessed with the Usher woes - puts a new barrier in her path of escape.

Madeline knows she must bring the house down in order to maintain her sanity. Through small acts - like planting ivy close to the house so that green fingers can do their work - to larger ones meant to destroy on a grand scale, Madeline fights for her life and mental stability in this Poe re-imagining.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

This week I have just the one thought for you, because it's really in there.

1) I dreamt last night that I had accidentally jammed Q-tips into my ears - like all the way into my ears - and needed help getting them out.

The only person I could find was my cousin, who wanted to tell me about an Incan version of the Odyssey he was writing, for which he had created his own alphabet.

And because of the extreme respect I have for creativity, I let him finish telling me about his project before asking for help getting the bloodied Q-tips that had punctured my eardrums out of my ear canals.

This is what happens when writers dream.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

TABULA RASA Author Kristen Lippert-Martin Talks Second Novels

Welcome to the SNOB - Second Novel Ominipresent 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. How to deal?

Today's guest is Kristen Lippert-Martin. Kristen is a mom of four, a practicing geek, a holder of many opinions. She earned her MFA from Columbia University. Her debut YA thriller, Tabula Rasa (EgmontUSA), is about a girl whose memory is forcibly stripped from her and so naturally she must kick everyone’s butt in retaliation. She lives with her husband and merry band of misfits in Arlington, VA.

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

Yes and no. My debut was bought as a stand-alone, and I wouldn’t say that I didn’t think about a sequel at all while writing it, but there was no guarantee there’d be one, so my true “second book”—the one I wrote while editing/revising/etc. my debut—was totally unrelated. Writing it was kind of refreshing, actually.

Then, about three months before TABULA RASA came out, my publisher expressed interest in seeing a sequel proposal. So I put one together, and wow, was it hard after taking such a long break from the story to get back into my characters’ heads again. I believe the expression I’m looking for to express this level of difficulty is, “Like, whoa.”

I think if I’d written the sequel directly after writing the first book, it would have been very different. Hard to know, of course, but ultimately, I’m glad I had the break because my thinking about the characters and the story evolved in a very good way.

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

Most times, books and their sequels come out about a year apart, but because of the way things worked out for me, I was drafting the sequel right when my debut published. Oy. Not so fun. The weeks leading up to and after my book came out, I felt like I was failing at everything. I either wasn’t doing enough to promote my debut or I wasn’t putting in the time to write the sequel.

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

Them! Me! Everyone! I thought a lot about what people are looking for in a sequel—what I want from a sequel, whether it’s a book or a movie—and basically we want the same thing only different. So I want to give readers the same reading experience they got from TABULA. The sequel will be just as pacy and full of twists and turns, but it’s not going over the same ground as before. There are new problems, new characters, and different stakes. So, yeah, it’s the same thing only different.

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

Here’s the thing, I’ve got four kids, so I’ve been struggling with this whole balance issue for a long time. I like to believe I have mad time management skillz but even so—even considering the fact that I’ve been juggling flaming chainsaws for years—it’s been really hard.

All the time people say, “Oh, I wish I had more time to write!” But it’s not really more time that you need, it’s focus. When you’re truly focused on your story, you can write anywhere, anytime. You can write whole novels in 20 minute increments. I know because that’s what I did in order to get published in the first place. But the distractions that come with being a published author are so different and so varied. And don’t even get me going on the extra layer of anxiety that’s introduced into your life when a little thing known as “expectations” lands on your shoulders. Whoa, boy. More than once in the last few months, I’ve found myself longing for the peace of toiling in obscurity, when all I had to contend with is four kids and their need for food and clean clothes.

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

I wrote in a completely different way than I ever had before. I did a synopsis and a fairly detailed outline for my proposal and from that, I generated a very lean first draft. I never work like that. Usually I’m an over-writer and I find the story as I’m drafting and then pare back from there. But this time, I had to come at it in a different way. Honestly, it felt like suddenly trying to write left-handed—just totally contrary to my natural writing proclivities.

But, hey, what doesn’t kill you, amirite?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Something New From Me In 2015

If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you know that I got my first pass pages for my 2015 release, A MADNESS SO DISCREET. First pass pages are the designed book, printed on regular paper, that the author takes a look at to catch any last minute boo-boos. (And yes, some still get by us).

Grace Mae knows madness. She keeps it locked away, along with her voice, trapped deep inside a brilliant mind that cannot forget horrific family secrets. Those secrets, along with the bulge in her belly, land her in a Boston insane asylum.

When her voice returns in a burst of violence, Grace is banished to the dark cellars where her mind is discovered by a visiting doctor who dabbles in the new study of criminal psychology. With her keen eyes and sharp memory, Grace will make the perfect assistant at crime scenes. Escaping from Boston to the safety of an ethical Ohio asylum, Grace finds friendship and hope, hints of a life she should have had. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who stalks young women. Grace, continuing to operate under the cloak of madness, must hunt a murderer while she confronts the demons in her own past.

In this beautifully twisted historical thriller, Mindy McGinnis, acclaimed author of Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, explores the fine line between sanity and insanity, good and evil—and the madness that exists in all of us. 

If that's up your alley, you can pre-order MADNESS now!

I'm excited because MADNESS marks something new for me. NOT A DROP TO DRINK came out when everyone was still devouring dystopias and post-apocalyptic fiction, and while I do think it has something different to offer than the plethora of other titles out there, it wasn't exactly going to blaze a new trail in YA. And I can say the same for IN A HANDFUL OF DUST.

But MADNESS is coming out of left field. A Gothic historical thriller set in an insane asylum to follower up to post-apocalytpic books? Yes, I did write that. And I hope you like it.

I'm looking forward to October 6, the release date of MADNESS. But I still think DRINK & DUST have a lot to offer. In that vein, I'm giving away an e-book of DRINK. Enter to win below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, January 10, 2015

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.

16-year-old Elena may just be the only human who hates the fact the sun is always in the sky. Sounds intriguing - but I'll need to know why she actually *hates* it, that's a strong word.

But then, her opinion doesn’t matter much, since not only does the sun power all of the humans’ technology, but it also keeps the Nightwalkers deep in their caves. Not that the Nightwalkers really should be much of a threat—after all, the only thing different about them is that they can see in the dark. Isn’t that what the hell flashlights are for? I like the voice, but I also question why would they want the Nightwalkers to stay in their caves if they don't pose a threat? And also, why would the sky always being there make them stay in the dark? Does the sun hurt them? Is it too bright for their eyes? Lots of animals can see in the dark, but they don't mind the sun.

It’s the other race, the Magicals, who hold the sun in the sky all day with their nonsensical/freaky powers. Supposedly, not even they could hold the Nightwalkers back back from what? If they only difference between them and humans is that they can see in the dark, why would they need to be held back? If differences are such a big problem for humans, why are they perfectly okay with Magicals? before they decided to play with day and night. Elena calls BS on that one. They can hold the freaking sun in the sky, after all! I feel some genre confusion as well here - the fact that all the tech is solar powered makes me think it's a future / SF earth-based story, but the appearance of Magicals enters a fantasy element.

Then Elena, on a sort of ridiculous/stupid revenge mission against her mom definitely need more info on motivation here, breaks the number one rule all the humans are taught: Never enter the Nightwalkers’ caves.

And she meets a 17-year-old Nightwalker boy, Matt—who just happens to be one of the toughest and most feared of his kind. But instead of killing Elena why would he kill her? Is he supposed to?, he helps her. And soon, Elena finds herself falling for him—a Nightwalker! But a war between humans and Nightwalkers is about to erupt. Why? And Elena and Matt will be caught in the middle.

What no one knows is that the Magicals are behind the conflict, with an agenda that will tear the world to pieces. Why? Definitely need motivation here. 

SUNSET is an 80,000 word fantasy/sci-fi YA novel, told from the perspective of both Elena and Matt. It’s Riddick meets Romeo and Juliet—if Riddick was in Romeo’s place, and Juliet happened to be a smartass girl. It’s a standalone novel, with series potential. Great comp titles! And I think they help clear up the genre question I had above. You definitely need to get some world building clarity and motivation injected into this query before it goes out to agents though.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: AFTERPARTY by Ann Redisch Stampler

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.

Emma is the new girl at school... again. She's been through it enough to know the drill, but life in LA is different from anywhere else she's lived - and maybe that means she can be someone different, too. A chance meeting with Siobhan - a girl who does anything she wants - makes Emma itch under the restrictive good girl image she's always fulfilled.

Sneaking out from under her overprotective father's eye is easier than she'd ever imagined, and life as Siobhan's best friend is intense. Her new life of boys, parties - and taking enemies out at the knees - is terrifying but utterly thrilling. Guilt and the fear that she's turning into the mother her father doesn't mention can't compare to the adrenaline rush of Siobhan.

But Emma soon realizes that Siobhan isn't just her best friend - she's her only friend. Soon, Siobhan's demands and erratic behavior start to spiral out of control in a world that Emma doesn't have sure footing in yet.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) In nature the male of the species is the one trying to make himself physically attractive to the females. Why did we get this backwards, for the most part?

2) Someone needs to make lipstick that tastes absolutely awful so that I stop licking it off.

3) I could really use some aversion therapy. I need to hire someone to deliver electric shocks while I eat chocolate.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Mackenzie Lee On Debut Submission

Today's guest for the SHIT (Submission Hell, It's True) is Mackenzie Lee, fellow Katherine Tegen imprint sister and debut author of THIS MONSTROUS THING, a Frankenstein retelling set in 1818 Geneva, releasing in the fall of 2015.

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

Too much! Before THIS MONSTROUS THING, I had another book—the one that got me my agent—on submission, and it didn’t sell. So by the time THIS MONSTROUS THING went out, not only did I know what to expect, but I was already feeling frayed and anxious and sort of like a failure after that first unsuccessful round. I’m really starting this interview on a downer, aren’t I? 

Did anything about the process surprise you?

How quickly things happened! Since my first experience with submission mostly comprised of months and months of telling silence, I didn’t expect things to happen as quickly as they did, but three weeks after going out, I had an offer! Though it was still the longest three weeks of my life. (Also, if we’re being totally honest, I was surprised the book sold at all—I didn’t dare get my hopes up!)   

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

I did not, because I know myself, and I know that ‘research’ very quickly spirals into cyber stalking and anxiety attacks. I didn’t even ask my agent for the names of who she was submitting to because I knew I would haunt their twitter profiles, panicking every time their name showed up in my feed, even if all they were talking about was getting coffee—coffee to drink while they were reading my manuscript? Or coffee to pour all over my manuscript after they lit it on fire with hatred?!? 
The question of research is the sort that’s impossible to answer for anyone else because you just have to know yourself and your own breed of anxiety. If answers and facts make you feel more stable, by all means research. If they make you tear your hair out, stay away—you’ll be doing enough of that anyways. I also don’t know if there’s a whole lot of productive things you can learn from researching an editor, other than books they have worked on in the past, though that tells you very little about whether or not they will connect with yours. Everyone has such diverse tastes in what they read and love. 

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

Exactly two weeks after the book went out on sub, I got an email from my agent, the first line of which was “things are going well ☺”. Which is an auspicious start. By then we had a few editors interested, and shortly after that, we had firm interest from the editor at Katherine Tegen who ended up acquiring it, and an offer came a few days later. Since we sold in the first round, it’s hard to say what was average. The only rule about submission seems to be that there are no rules, and no averages. Time is no indicator of what is going on with your book, so don’t take silence as a rejection. 

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

Oh man, if someone figures this out, will they please let me know? 
I struggle with bad anxiety—my mom likes to remind me that everyone has anxiety, but I know mine is a bit more extreme than “normal” and can be pretty crippling. I was a wreck while I was on sub—I actually worried myself sick and had a terrible cough for weeks after—and I had a really hard time accessing the rational part of my brain that held all the things I knew to be true, but couldn’t let myself believe (like silence does not equal rejection and not selling does not mean you are a terrible writer). So I used one of my favorite tactics for dealing with anxiety in general: I wrote myself letters from rational Mackenzi to crazy anxious Mackenzi. You can read one on my blogIt’s definitely goofy to write letters to yourself, but this helped me talk myself down and listen to that rational part of my brain. The art of surviving submission is finding a way to access your uncrazy side and let it speak to you. 

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

Submission rejection is different than query rejection because you have a wonderful filter called your agent. I knew I didn’t want to read rejections from editors since my confidence was shaky enough, so I asked my agent to only tell me if there was good news, or if there were pieces of feedback she was getting consistently. I didn’t want to hear every little thing every editor didn’t like about it, because I knew I would overcorrect and change everything anyone objected to in my manuscript, which is crazy. 

When my first book was on submission, this strategy worked really well—my agent took all the rejections and distilled them into balanced critiques for me. If there were things that kept coming up, or a big reason that editors weren’t connecting, she would tell me and we would revise. If the reasons were things beyond my control, or something only one editor had a problem with, I didn’t want to hear it. Maybe I’m a wimp, but my tenuous self-confidence needed no further blows. 

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 think one of the hardest things about being a writer is learning what criticism to listen to. The simple fact is there are no right choices in writing, only different choices, and the choices you make for your novel will really work for some people and really not for others. But that doesn’t mean they are the wrong choices. Editors are editors for a reason—they obviously know what they’re talking about—but I think it’s important to understand that not all feedback you get while on submission is something you have to apply, or even something that would best serve your book. Another trick to using the feedback you get on submission is being sure you stay in touch with your book and the story you want to tell. Be sure any changes or adjustments you make really serve your vision for your manuscript and that you’re not just changing things out of desperation to you’re your book picked up. The goal is to find an editor who understands the heart and soul of your story, and wants to help you make that better. 

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

It was equal parts surreal and euphoric. My agent told me on a Friday that the book was going to acquisitions at Katherine Tegen Books and there was a chance they’d make an offer, but who knew how long that would take. I braced myself for a suffocating wait, but that Monday I got an email from my agent with the word NEWS!!!! in the subject line. Which I took to mean something good had happened, because only sadists use all caps to deliver bad news. I grabbed my phone, ran out of my office building (because I knew there was a chance I was either about to cry or cuss (spoiler alert: both of those things happened)) and out onto the street, which is where I called my agent and she told me we had an offer. I then spent the rest of the day getting absolutely nothing done except shaking and grinning and random bouts of happy crying. 

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

I told my immediate family and some of my close friends right after I got the news, but I had to wait a week before the announcement was official. And not to be dramatic, but it was the longest week of anyone’s life ever. I wanted to tell everyone! I wanted to scream it from the rooftops and buy a billboard with the words I SOLD MY NOVEL printed on it. It was very hard to wait, but I got such a supportive and congratulatory reaction when I finally did that it was worth the wait. The YA lit community is the best.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Things To Do In 2015 - Don't Make January A Starting Point

It's that time of year when the exercise equipment goes on sale and everyone buys cookbooks with pictures of vegetables on the front. I'm skeptical of New Year's Resolutions, not because I think self-improvement is deluding, but because there's no reason why anyone should wait until January 1st to start doing it.

Yes, it's a convenient reference point. Yes, making goals is the first step. But New Year's Resolutions are their own kind of joke; everyone knows you're not going to stick to it. It's the equivalent of taking your vows at the altar and then making an aside joke about adultery.

Why is January special? Why can't you remake yourself in the middle of June?

I've always been mystified about this. We like to make large, sweeping statements at the beginning of the year, but most of us don't break those down into the little goals necessary for the day, the week, and the month that will add up to that big year-end goal.

I can say I want to write a novel in 2015 (and I do), but if I don't establish a word count for the day or week, that big goal seems insurmountable by the time July rolls around and I haven't approached that monolith of an achievement I set for myself seven months earlier.

I definitely have things I want to accomplish this year - actually doing them is the trick.