Saturday, February 28, 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.

A girl who’s memories were made for her. A boy who’s choice nearly cost him everything. Double check who's vs whose And a death that no one saw coming. Your hook is a little vague, I'm curious how someone's memories can be made for them, but a choice that cost "everything" is a bit cliche.

Three months ago, Tara Shock died in a tragic car accident that stunned her small town of Red Hawk, Colorado. No one took her death harder than her boyfriend, Nash Adams. But now, Nash is ready to try to regain some sort of normalcy in his life...until the day that Tara shows up at his baseball game. This is good, succinct and to the point. Work on getting this kind of voice into your hook.

However, the girl that Nash sees isn't actually Tara: She's Natalie Grey, the sassy new girl who’s not exactly happy with small-town life....and just happens to look exactly exactly echo like Tara. But there’s just one thing Natalie can’t quite figure out: Besides herself and Nash, no one sees Tara when they look at her. Like, no one else thinks the two look alike? Or Natalie literally appears differently to everyone else? Enlisting the help of Red Hawk’s somewhat deranged golden-boy Nash Adams, this sentence feels like you're introducing Nash all over again, and like it's been inserted from a different version of the same query. Natalie searches for clues to the mystery that’s plaguing both their lives.

Meanwhile, Nash is still trying to come to terms with what happened to himself "him." Also... what happened to him? The car crash? last September--- and reconciling his relationship with his former best friend would be a bonus, too. Why are they at odds? Does it have something to do with the crash? Answers are hard to come by in this secluded town, but that’s exactly what Nash and Natalie need if they’re going to unravel the supernatural and personal secrets that Red Hawk is housing...

Told in alternating points of view, AFTER SHOCK is part contemporary and part paranormal, totaling at 86,000 words. In this e-mail, I have attached a brief sample of my novel, so that you can examine my writing style. My entire novel is available for review. Also, I am submitting my work to other agents. I attended the AWP Conference in Seattle, Washington, in 2013.

No need to mention that it's a simultaneous submission, it's to be expected. Also if the writing sample is specifically asked for by an agent in their submission guidelines, it's fine to paste it after the query - but most won't accept attachments. It's also assumed that since you are querying that the novel is finished and therefore available for review -- no harm stating these things, but you don't necessarily need to either. If you don't have much of a bio, don't worry about it -- just let the work stand on its own.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: PRETTY GIRL-13 by Liz Coley

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 like 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.

Angie is walking down the street, holding a bag of clothes she knows doesn't belong to her. She just wants to go home after a Girl Scout camping trip. When she walks in the door and non-chalantly says "Mom, I'm home," she doesn't understand why her mother drops to the ground in tears... or why the person in the mirror is three years older than she's supposed to be.

Missing since she was 13, the now sixteen-year-old Angie goes through therapy to find out where those lost three years went to, and what she was doing during them. But there are some secrets you can't even tell yourself, and Angie's mind has built walls that turned into people. One was meant to please her captor, one was made to cook and clean, one was made to work for survival... and one was born for vengeance.

Urged by her parents to undergo a new treatment that will erase her multiple personalities and restore Angie to her full self, she must first decide whether she wants to know what each one has endured for her sake... or not.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) I'm in a longterm relationship, but not married so I don't wear a ring. This causes some confusion for males when they try to make an approach. I have to wonder how much more confusing it would be for them if I didn't have a ring finger at all. I can make up a wood chipper story and leave it at that.

2) People are funny about statistics. When there's a very low probability for a positive thing to happen, they like to point out that it does in fact, happen. When it's a very low probability for a negative thing, they discount it out of hand.

Example: "People win the lottery. It happens."

Example: "Sometimes people get bit by sharks and hit by lightning at the same time, but it's just not going to happen to me."

3) If I suddenly see something moving in my peripheral I may attack. Just be aware, and don't take it personally.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Debut Novelist Tatum Flynn On Social Media For The Love Of It

Todays guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Tatum Flynn, who lives by the sea in England with a cat called Friday and too many hats. She has a soft spot for the word ‘ramshackle’, and a vagabond past which involves piloting lifeboats in Venezuela, playing poker in Las Vegas, shooting rapids in the Grand Canyon and almost falling out of a plane over Scotland. Her debut, THE D’EVIL DIARIES, will be out from Orchard/Hachette on the 2nd April 2015, with a sequel, Hell's Belles, to follow January 2016

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Mostly a planner. For me it’s like a road trip: I like to know where I’m starting and vaguely where I’m ending up, and at least a few places I’m going to stop at in the middle, but, you know, if I suddenly see a sign for Dollywood or a monster truck rally or all-you-can-eat pancakes I can always swerve off  and take a different route for a while. (Yes yes I’m English but I heart American road trips :)

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

My first two (one trunked, one my debut) took me about 3 months to draft, and around another 3  to revise and polish. My WIP (Evil Sequel) took me a little longer, around 6 months for a first draft. All books are different and it doesn’t surprise me that some come easier than others.

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

The nature of publishing (so I’m learning, and it was expected) is that you’ll be writing one book while doing copyedits or proofing for another. But I don’t think I could *write* two different books at the same time like some people do; my brain would feel like a TV tuned to two channels at once, and probably all I’d end up with would be static.

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

Nope :D After all, the first time I sat down to write a novel, I didn’t have to show it to anyone if I thought it sucked. I didn’t even know if I could finish it. So it was just pure fun in the beginning. Plus I’d had articles in my student magazine way back when and have also worked on a travel magazine, so it wasn’t the first time I’d have the world see my scribblings. 

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

One, an MG historical adventure. It had a bunch of fun stuff in it, so quite possibly one day I’ll sit down and rewrite it.

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

You mean quit in the middle of writing it? Not exactly. I often write copious notes and a couple or even several opening chapters just to see if an idea will ‘take’ – if it’s something I want to spend the best part of a year on. But I see those as possible ideas for future, that maybe need further mulling over, not abandoned stories. I’ve got a few of those.

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

I’m with the Blair Partnership (JK Rowling’s agency, which is still fun to say). I queried traditionally, pretty much (see next question), ended up with three offers, and picked them. (Although – I can’t believe I’d forgotten this – I did enter an agency’s writing contest as well, where I was runner-up and which led to my first offer. So competitions are good too!)

How many queries did you send? 

I sent OVER A HUNDRED queries for my debut. Yup, just that one book. I liked it and wanted to leave no stone unturned before moving onto another book. Still, I was on the verge of giving up when I got an email from my current publisher asking me to come in and meet them. (I’d met the acquiring editor at a SCBWI retreat where she’d read my first chapter and asked to see the rest.) That was a very good day. (And it didn’t hurt that I was in Paris at the time!) Agent interest followed :) 

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

Alcohol. Cake. Writer friends who understand what you’re going through or even better are querying at the same time as you. I was extremely lucky to have my CP, NK Traver, querying at the same time as me. We then got agent offers around the same time, and then a book deal around the same time, which was hugely fun. I’d probably have gone nuts if it weren’t for her :) 

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

My book isn’t out until April 2015 so I haven’t seen it in a bookshop yet, but it has been fun seeing it for sale online. And I did grin massively over the page proofs. I have no idea how I’m going to feel the first time I actually get to hold a print copy. There’ll probably be a tiny bit of screaming.

How much input do you have on cover art?

My editor is incredibly sweet, and showed me a couple of early iterations of my cover. I got a little input and they did a few tweaks based on comments I made. But… see next question…

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

What surprised me was that I got to have lots of input regarding my illustrations (The D’Evil Diaries is illustrated throughout). Some characters were changed completely at my (and my editor’s, we were very much on the same wavelength) behest, and I asked for and got a bit more of the setting put in. So that was immensely cool, and I’m so thrilled with the way they’ve turned out. The artist, Dave Shephard, is super talented. (And actually, what surprised me even more was that I got to have illustrations at all! Like most writers I have a pretty vivid imagination, but it hadn’t even crossed my mind that my publisher might want to have the book illustrated. Such a huge bonus, like getting 25 covers all at once!)

How much of your own marketing do you do?  

I spend way too much time on Twitter, but I can’t help it cos I love it, it’s full of fascinating and hilarious people. I also have a Tumblr, a Goodreads page, and a Pinterest for my books. Oh yes and a website where I blog occasionally. 

So far the only marketing I’ve really done is having a presence on those sites (which I’m on because I enjoy them anyway), which has led to meeting a few book bloggers who’ve become interested in my book, one of whom kindly did my cover reveal. I’m also about to get some bookmarks printed up to hand out to libraries and bookshops etc, and once the book is out I’ll look into doing school visits, and maybe even festivals or conference panels (if anyone will have me!). 

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

Personally I don’t think of it as a platform, but instead (especially Twitter) as a way to find your tribe, so you’re not isolated and clueless. I’ve met so many lovely writers and other bookish types online, and not only will you meet nice people and learn all kinds of stuff about writing and publishing, but you’ll also stumble into opportunities and lucky occurrences. For example, it was through Twitter I found out about the SCBWI writing retreat I went on that led directly to my debut being bought! It also led to my meeting in person some lovely MG/YA authors in my hometown and elsewhere. And I met all my fantastic CPs online too. It’s a pleasant sort of accidental networking.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

That, I have no idea, since my book’s not out yet. I hope so, at least a little, but I suspect the best thing you can do to build your readership is just to write damn good books. Social media is probably the icing on top that helps sell a tiny handful more, for 99% of writers anyway, although as I said above, sometimes opportunities can come your way that might help your career, if not your readership directly.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lauren Oliver's VANISHING GIRLS Tour & ARC Giveaway!

Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before—before Dara kissed Parker, before Nick lost him as her best friend, before the accident that left Dara’s beautiful face scarred. Now the two sisters, who used to be so close, aren’t speaking. In an instant, Nick lost everything and is determined to use the summer to get it all back.

But Dara has other plans. When she vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl has vanished, too—nine-year-old Madeline Snow—and as Nick pursues her sister, she becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances may be linked.

In this edgy and compelling novel, New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver creates a world of intrigue, loss, and suspicion as two sisters search to find themselves, and each other.

I'm very excited that next month I get to participate in Lauren Oliver's VANISHING GIRLS tour!

There are eight stops scheduled across the the country, with two in my own state of Ohio. I'll be at both of those, along with MY HEART AND OTHE BLACK HOLES author Jasmine Warga.

Stops are listed below, and be sure to scroll to the bottom to enter to win an ARC!
Tuesday, March 10th @ 6PM
Barnes & Noble, Tigard, Oregon
With Laini Taylor
Wednesday, March 11th @ 7PM
Barnes & Noble, Huntington Beach, California
With John Corey Whaley
Thursday, March 12th @ 7 PM
Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, Texas
Friday, March 13th @ 7PM
Tattered Cover, Denver, Colorado
Monday, March 16th @ 7PM
Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, Ohio
With Mindy McGinnis and Jasmine Warga; also an Epic Reads MeetUp! with Margot Wood
Tuesday, March 17th @ 7PM
Fundamentals, Delaware, Ohio
With Mindy McGinnis and Jasmine Warga
Thursday, March 19th @ 7PM
Barnes & Noble, Market Fair, Princeton, New Jersey
With Gayle Forman
Tuesday, March 24th @ 7PM
The King’s English, Salt Lake City, Utah

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Saturday, February 21, 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.

Eternity is a long time to dodge enemies, and after living for centuries, Carla Dubrov knows sooner or later, everyone dies. Good hook, I like it.

In the 1800s, Anthony, the man Carla loved, is killed on her father's demand. Their forbidden love starts a war between Carla’s kind and Anthony’s We definitely need to know what kind of creatures they are, and why the love would be forbidden. Now, two hundred years later, she can finally repay Anthony’s sacrifice by saving his eighteen-year-old brother Jason from his reckless self. What does that mean? So are both kinds immortal? Is Carla still young? How young? And is Jason also immortal or just born way later? His blatant search for Anthony’s murderers leads her father’s assassins to his hometown, Lake Forest, Illinois.

Jason resents Carla from the moment they meet Why? Does he know Anthony was murdered because of their relationship?, but when their lives are threatened, they overcome their differences and protect each other. They both have their reasons: Carla owes it to Anthony to keep Jason alive, and Jason knows Carla is the only one who can tell him what truly happened to his brother.

As her father’s assassin closes in, Carla understands she is the ultimate target. Why? How does that make sense? Her survival instinct tells her to run, but she knows that in order to save herself and Jason, she must stay and fight. As her feelings for Jason grow stronger than they should, Carla grows more determined than ever to have a future — but first she must conquer her past.

SHADES OF DARKNESS: THE LIGHT is a young adult urban fantasy novel with series potential, complete at 83,000 words.

You definitely need to clarify what the creatures are, and why their love would be forbidden. Also why does the focus switch to Carla being the target? Has Jason been searching for Anthony's killers for 200 years, or is this a new thing for him? There are a lot of questions being raised by the query, and you need to address them before you can more forward.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Debut Author Catherine Doyle Talks Submission Process

If there's one thing that many aspiring writers have few clues about, it's the submission process. There are good reasons for that; authors aren't exactly encouraged to talk in detail about our own submission experiences, and - just like agent hunting - everyone's story is different.

I managed to cobble together a few non-specific questions that some debut authors have agreed to
answer (bless them). And so I bring you the submission interview series - Submission Hell - It's True. Yes, it's the SHIT.

Today's guest for the SHIT is Catherine Doyle, author of VENDETTA, coming from Scholastic Inc, on February 24th, 2015. Catherine was born in the West of Ireland in 1990. As a child she was an annoying smarty-pants with an overactive imagination. She feels lucky to have now found a healthy outlet for her tendency to make up stories.

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

Absolutely nothing. I had spent so much time and energy worrying about getting an agent when it came time to submit to publishers I was kind of like “Whaaaaat? There’s more?” I couldn’t have been any less prepared, which I’m very happy about in hindsight.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

I was surprised at how much conferring and discussing goes on when publishers are considering your book. I thought it would be similar to agent submissions – an editor gets a book (“oooh, interesting book. I’ll just cancel everything and read this immediately”), they like the book (“sweet book, I like it and that’s all that matters”), they offer for the book (“OK, I’ll just make up a number in my head”). THEN EVERYTHING IS GOLDEN. Nope. It was way more complicated than that. Even when an interested editor declared himself or herself, I had to wait to see whether this interest would be converted into an offer, or whether ultimately they would pass.

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

I didn’t research them. If I let myself think about it too much I probably would have ended up cyber-stalking their every move and driving myself insane before my inevitable implosion.

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

Because I live in Ireland and my agent, Claire, is based in London, and VENDETTA takes place in Chicago, we submitted the MS to publishing houses in both the UK and US at the same time. We started hearing back from editors within the first couple of weeks, though I think editors in the US were not as quick as those in the UK.

Within the first week or so, we received a pre-empt offer from Random House, Germany. I had no idea what this meant (so Germany wants to buy the whole book? Wait, how did Germany find out? What exactly are translation rights?) We weren’t out on foreign rights submission, but it appears someone in the North American side who was about to make an offer tipped off their German scout (it all sounded so clandestine to me, though in reality it was probably just someone sending someone else an email saying “hey, check this out”). The very first offer we received for VENDETTA was the pre-empt for German rights, which we accepted. Once we updated the editors who were considering the MS, things started to speed up.

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

Two words: Duvet fort. Or, OR, if you want to remain a productive member of society during this time, that’s fine too. I would say it’s important to take your mind off it. Start working on something else – keep writing, keep reading. Keep busy. Surround yourself with good friends and family, and remember that the submission process, while important and exciting, is just one part of your whole life. Concentrate on those other parts, and remember to look at the bigger picture, especially when the rejections roll in.

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

My agent didn’t dwell on the rejections, and I’m glad of that. I really don’t know how many there were. She forwarded me a couple of ones that were really nice and positive. I would say these rejections were easier to deal with compared to query rejections. By the submission stage, you know your book has real potential – after all, you secured an agent, so that’s a big deal! And now the two of you are in this together, so it’s less lonely and soul-destroying.

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?

VENDETTA does contain some violence, so the feedback from a couple of the more family-friendly publishers was very specific about this. I understand it’s not a book for everyone, but in this case, I knew it wasn’t something I was prepared to compromise on. Not that I’m a violence-loving sociopath (heh heh heh…), but my feeling has always been if I’m going to write about the criminal underworld, and the Mafia in particular, then I can’t shy away from the realities of this world. It just wasn’t a good fit, and I was OK with that. Other feedback about certain plot points and character names being a little too similar to certain parts of the Sopranos (which I hadn’t seen much of at the time) was very helpful, and I made sure to change all those things.

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

I love the idea of finding out by way of smoke signal. Imagine if it was carried out in the same way they pick the new Pope in the Vatican. Black smoke, black smoke, black smoke, white smoke – wait, WHITE SMOKE. WHITE SMOKE, PEOPLE. I’M GOING TO BE PUBLISHED. OK, I digress…

When I got the email from my agent with the offer from the publishers I ended up going with, I was in my bedroom. I couldn’t believe it! Barry Cunningham is the guy who discovered J.K. Rowling when he was at Bloomsbury and I had just written about him in my thesis at college. I ran downstairs squealing, looking for someone ANYONE to celebrate with.

Then my brother, who had been painting a neighbor’s house all day, pulled into the driveway at that exact moment, and I thought YES – HE’LL DO! When he came through the door I word vomited in his face about the offer and how I was going to keel over with excitement and how my dream had come true and how I didn’t know what to do, and I was just standing there, jumping up and down like maniac, flailing my arms, waiting for him to freak out with me.

He slow-blinked, took one long, bewildered look at me, released a heavy sigh, and informed me he was starving and so he absolutely had to make a sandwich STAT before he could process anything I had just said. I followed him into the kitchen and waited (still jumping up and down) while he made two giant sandwiches (“Oh, OK, I’m getting a celebratory sandwich? I can get on board with that.”). He then proceeded to eat the two sandwiches all by himself. When he was finished, and the light had returned to his eyes, he stood up and said “THAT’S AMAZING NEWS”, and we hugged and whooped and danced around the kitchen.

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

I didn’t have to wait before sharing. In the end when everything was being finalized I was on a flight to America and by the time I arrived, it was all done and dusted. So I met my friends at the baggage claim and told them and we just jumped around screaming and hugging in the middle of the airport for a while. It was nice, if a little noise disruptive.

Monday, February 16, 2015

This Is My 1000th Post

That's actually a little bit of a lie, it's my 1001st post. But it's only fitting that my 1000th post from yesterday was a Saturday Slash, because this blog is above all things a writers blog, meant to help aspiring writers.

I've been up and running since March of 2011. My first post was about the fact that I'd landed an agent, and I'd like to point out that I didn't have a huge social media platform at that point. No Facebook author page, no Twitter account. I definitely didn't have a YouTube channel, and Tumblr didn't exist. Instagram might have been up and running, but I was ignorant of its existence.

Now I'm everywhere. You can't get away from me, and if you try I will catch you.

Blogging is a large part of my internet presence, but I use this particular platform as a tool that I very much wish would've existed when I was pre-pubbed. Often I have aspiring authors ask me for tips on getting published and while I certainly don't mind being asked, there's a basic misunderstanding at work that I correct as nicely as possible.

Asking an writer for tips on how to get published is like asking a teacher, lawyer, veterinarian, or any other professional the same thing. The answer is that you need to educate yourself, and I don't mean that you should enroll in an MFA program. A lot of the aspiring authors that ask me for tips are completely gobsmacked when I follow up their question with questions: Do they want to be traditionally published or are they aiming for self-pub? If traditional are they thinking of targeting mid-level indies or some of the bigger houses, and regardless are they searching for representation or are they going to submit themselves?

I never intend to gob smack people or deflate them. I can't give tips of any sort without knowing the answers to these questions, and the vast majority of the time I'm met with blank looks, questions about the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing, or even complete shock that agents come into the picture at all.

And that's fine. A little frustrating, yes, but it's also fine. That's the whole reason this blog and thousands of others like it exist. This is why I do my interview series with published authors, covering everything from the writing process to querying to cover art.

I don't expect people to know the publishing industry inside and out. It's a fluid beast, and a complicated one. I'm definitely here to help, and I hope to continue to run this blog far into the future. It brings no money to me, and that's fine. I like having it as a base of operations, and I think of it so much as an act of giving that I sometimes forget to use it as a promotional tool.

I've got a lot coming up in 2015, and things planned into 2016.

So stay tuned.

For both our sakes :)

Saturday, February 14, 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, a city of ghosts, werebeasts, and magic gangs. Meh. You need something stronger here. This is your hook. Work location and time in somewhere else, thread it into a sentence. Those without magic are pawns and targets, and Wayward Collins—a man with no magic, money, or power—has built his entire life around staying hidden and neutral. After months of work (some of it legal, some not), he’s almost ready to start a new life far away from the city and its magic. But when an unguarded moment leads to disaster, Wayward’s compulsive need to protect himself has tragic consequences and a young girl is savagely killed. This is very vague. We don't know what the actual plot here is, just that something bad happens.

Enter Lord Cadogan, the wizard who witnessed the event, you definitely need to get specific about the event - otherwise motivation remains a question mark and, wanting a safe, non-magical servant, blackmails Wayward into taking the position. Wayward might not have any innate magical talent but he has enough arcane knowledge to be useful, and Cadogan enjoys having a dogsbody valet forced to bow to his every whim. But events take a serious and bloody turn weren't they already if someone was savagely killed? when one of Cadogan’s footmen is murdered by magical means and your sentence construction uses a lot of and throughout. Either pare down the sentences or rephrase - an agent will think that the novel will have the same issues , affronted at the threat to his household, Cadogan drags Wayward into his hunt for satisfaction.

Haunted by his previous mistake and loathing every second of his enforced servitude, Wayward is determined to remain uncooperative. But each step of the investigation stirs up further trouble; the dead footman had his own secrets, a demon attack hints that other magical factions might be interested, and one police inspector just won’t leave the matter alone. Suddenly there's a lot of elements being thrown in here. Even Cadogan might not be the arrogant braggart that Wayward initially expected. As matters come to a head, Wayward is forced to reconsider his plans for the future. Why? What plans? Back to the get out of town plans? Before, all he wanted was to leave the city far behind. But Wayward’s one mistake has changed everything, and now the city isn’t willing to let him go.

Vagueness is a lot of what isn't working here. We know that bad things happen, and that people have secrets, etc., but we have no idea what those things are or how they tie together. An agent can't get any idea of motivations, or if there's a compelling plot at work within the novel because the query is full of allusions only.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Book Talk: MY HEART & OTHER BLACK HOLES by Jasmine Warga

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.

Sixteen year old Aysel is ready to die. Her mother can't stand the sight of her, and the echoes of her father's violent crime still reverberate through her small hometown. Without any support in her life, she's ready to get it over with already. Ironically, she finds out that the best way to do that is with a friend - something she definitely doesn't have.

When she discovers a website that pairs up suicide partners, it's the first time Aysel is making connections with people who think like her, feel like her, and maybe even understand her. Ready to take the next step of meeting her partner in real life, she connects with Roman. With a family tragedy in his past that he can't deal with, Roman is looking for someone to make sure he achieves his goal.

Just when Aysel is ready to give up on life, she finds that Roman is filling in the dark holes she thought she couldn't deal with. But if she backs out on him now, she'll be letting down the only friend she has, betraying what brought them together in the first place.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Debut Author Moriah McStay On The "What - If's"

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

Today's guest is Moriah McStay, fellow Katherine Tegen author of EVERYTHING THAT MAKES YOU, releasing March 17th. Moriah grew up in Memphis, TN, where she acquired a come-and-go drawl and a lifelong love of cowboy boots and fried pickles. She attended Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. Two graduate degrees and seven jobs later, she finally figured out what she wants to be when she grows up.

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

I was in an accident at age one that left me blind in one eye. You can’t tell now, but you could when I was younger. My eyes were different colors, and I had to wear big protective glasses. I couldn’t play contact sports, went to tons of doctors, had school pics taken in profile rather than face on. Looking back, it doesn’t feel that big a deal, but at the time, it was. 

Often, I wondered how much of me was determined by that single, freak accident. And what about my brother and sister? My parents? How did the accident shape their lives? What about everyone else’s individual experiences? What about my friend whose father died when she was young? Or the classmate with cancer? How did those events shape them?

There are so many “what ifs”--we all have them. It’s an interesting question to explore, I think.

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

For the longest time, I did NOTHING. I started thinking about writing a book around this idea--exploring how we each come to be the person we are--when I was in college. In fact, I had this idea for SO LONG that when I saw the Sliding Doors trailer, I said to my then-boyfriend (now-husband), “That’s my book.” I didn’t see the movie for years, scared it would affect how I’d tell the story. (I finally watched it while I was revising my first draft, looking for tips on how to deal with certain elements.) 

I’d say there was a good fifteen years between the original idea and the final draft.

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

Uh, yes! My original plan was to follow lots of events, because seemingly insignificant things can create enormous impacts. It was impossible to follow, though. 

Later, I focused on Fiona (the girl with the burn) thinking it was her story--Fi’s purpose was as a counterpoint. But Fi ended up flat and uninteresting, and I had to create more of an independent story line for her. 

Lessons learned from ETMY (and my next novel) are why I don’t outline anymore—it takes forever, and I abandon it in days. Now I keep a general direction in mind, but otherwise try to get out of the way of the story. My first drafts are a mess because of it, but the end result is better, I think.  

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

I have a list of ideas that I’ll never get through, even if I live a hundred more years and write 18 hours straight a day. 

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

I ask this question: On the off-chance I’m run over by a bus the moment I finish the next WIP, what do I want to have written the most?

If dinosaurs were real and had you to marry one, which would make the best spouse?

I’m going to say Pterodactyl, because I could ride on his back, which would almost be like flying. 

Monday, February 9, 2015


As a school librarian I have many, many days when a patron will walk in and announce that they hate books, or that reading is stupid. And that's fine. They're probably into something that I think is incredibly stupid, and I usually tell them that and we agree to disagree. Then I go about attempting to change their mind, because that's kind of my job. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail. And to be fair, sometimes they change my mind too. *cough* Dark Souls *cough*

I find myself in the position of defending books very often, and occasionally it's hard to know whether I'm doing it as a writer, reader, or librarian. Lately a lot of people have been talking about the amount of adults reading YA. I've seen figures as high as 77% of the teen titles sold are being bought by adults. And I think that's awesome. 

I don't care if 77% of the world is only reading the back of cereal boxes - they're still reading.

What does bother me is when readers - of any age - get upset about teen characters being immature. Because I'm a reference geek I went to the dictionary for this one, and the truth is that in most cases the word immature is being used correctly.

Yes, most teen characters lack the characteristics of adults. They're supposed to. 

But teens also retain a sense of wonder that most adults have lost, and I include myself in that some days. The daily grind of going to work, paying bills, worrying about the bottom line, graying hairs, flagging energy... all the elements of real life that in some ways dull us to our own emotions and the awesomeness of just being alive. 

Being alive means having experiences that we learn from - good ones and bad ones. We make a lot of wrong decisions when we're young, which is how we develop into adults who make rational choices. I work with teens forty hours a week. I see decisions being made every day, the conclusions they thought were perfectly logical falling down around their ears. 

So when characters behave that way in books I'm not surprised or frustrated. It's because they're not finished or perfected, not completely grown or developed.

And that's why they're interesting.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Cover Reveal For SPINNING STARLIGHT by R.C. Lewis

I'm very excited to reveal the cover for SPINNING STARLIGHT by R.C. Lewis, which will be releasing from Hyperion on October 6, 2015! You know it's going to look stunning sitting on a bookshelf next to STITCHING SNOW.

Don't forget to enter the Rafflecopter below to win a signed copy of both STITCHING SNOW and NOT A DROP TO DRINK from each of us. R.C. and I have been critique partners for five years, so to be sharing a release date in 2015 is an amazing feeling!

Sixteen-year-old heiress and paparazzi darling Liddi Jantzen hates the spotlight. But as the only daughter in the most powerful tech family in the galaxy, it's hard to escape it. So when a group of men show up at her house uninvited, she assumes it's just the usual media-grubs. That is, until shots are fired.

Liddi escapes, only to be pulled into an interplanetary conspiracy more complex than she ever could have imagined. Her older brothers have been caught as well, trapped in the conduits between the planets. And when their captor implants a device in Liddi's vocal cords to monitor her speech, their lives are in her hands: One word and her brothers are dead.

Desperate to save her family from a desolate future, Liddi travels to another world, where she meets the one person who might have the skills to help her bring her eight brothers home-a handsome dignitary named Tiav. But without her voice, Liddi must use every bit of her strength and wit to convince Tiav that her mission is true. With the tenuous balance of the planets deeply intertwined with her brothers' survival, just how much is Liddi willing to sacrifice to bring them back?

Haunting and mesmerizing, this retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Wild Swans strings the heart of the classic with a stunning, imaginative world as a star-crossed family fights for survival in this companion to Stitching Snow.

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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.

Elena Tarbon never dreamed she would become an Empress at twenty-six winters past, but neither had she imagined committing mass murder. Huh, okay I'm listening.

Fear grips the jeweler’s town as the advent of magic causes mysterious deaths. With nothing but gems crafted by her connecting the events, vengeful villagers blame Elena’s father, the mayor, for their misfortune Er.... why? If the gems that she makes are the only connection why isn't she the one in the noose? and hang him. But when Elena discovers that she controls the magic in the gems, she unleashes her own brand of justice, banishing non-magic folk from the town. Standing as a messiah for unwitting nascent magicians this is a bit of a mouthful being persecuted throughout the land, she raises a magical city as their safe haven.

Her upstart rule draws the ire of nobles nobles from where? why do they care if it's not their land? who send armies to crush her city. A war is stalled by the irresponsible prince confused. Stalling a war seems the opposite of irresponsible - what's his motive? of the ruling regime, Fabius Throdden. Only he’s also the man who broke her heart ten years ago. However, Elena finds it hard to rebuff the ever-persistent and charming prince’s advances, especially when he claims he had no idea that she was even alive.

Accepting Fabius’ offer to run away and abandon their respective rules means getting her soul-mate back at the cost of deserting her people. Yet the only way she can defend them is to draw magic from gems buried so deep, it could literally shatter the land. Well... then it doesn't seem that hard of a choice. Deserting her people sounds bad, but if the only way to defend them is to shatter the land anyway... then screw it. Let's go, baby.

TIDES OF MAGIC is a 104,000 word epic fantasy told from multiple PoVs, tracing the journeys of a wayward prince, a megalomaniac sorceress, a turncoat bandit and an insanely righteous king-in-waiting in the wake of emergence of magic. Hmm... except right now the only people I have a clue about are the sorceress and either the king or the prince (not sure which is Fabius). If these characters have equally shared page time, we need to know something about all four of them in the query.

The hook is good, and you've got a lot of what you need here in terms of motivation, etc., but I feel like the world building could be a little more clear in terms of geography. How far away are these nobles that are attacking? Far? Close? It sounds like Fabius and Elena are totally hanging out all the time, so I'm guessing not far... but again it seems like something that needs clarified. Tiny additions like, "nearby" or "far away Ohio" clear this up easily.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: VENGEANCE BOUND by Justina Ireland

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Angelica R. Jackson On A Debut Author's Involvement With Their Cover

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 Angelica R. Jackson, a writer, photographer, and avid naturalist living in the Sierra foothills of California. Her debut novel, CROW'S REST, a darkly funny young adult urban fantasy, is coming from Spencer Hill Press in May 2015.

Avery Flynn arrives for a visit at her Uncle Tam's, eager to rekindle her summertime romance with her crush-next-door, Daniel.

But Daniel’s not the sweet, neurotic guy she remembers—and she wonders if this is her Daniel at all. Or if someone—some thing—has taken his place.

Her quest to find the real Daniel—and get him back—plunges Avery into a world of Fae and changelings, where creatures swap bodies like humans change their socks, and magic lives much closer to home than she ever imagined.

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

It was more like I had notions about what I didn’t want Crow’s Rest’s cover to look like—in the author form that Spencer Hill Press sends, I made sure to mention I didn’t want “Girls in ball gowns or drowning (because neither has anything to do with my story). Would actually prefer not to show main character’s faces, but I know it’s pretty common for YA books so it’s not a dealbreaker.”

Also, I said the most important thing to me is “to have some tension in the image, and for it to have relevance to the story (whether symbolic or literal)” and I feel like we definitely accomplished that!

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

I signed in April 2014, and my projected release date of Fall 2015 was almost immediately moved up to May 2015—so I got my author form pretty quickly after signing. I turned it in within a week, since I already had stuff like back copy ready to go, but then didn’t hear anything for a while. (And you know how good we authors are at waiting, lol) Then we got word that we’d need to do a cover reveal in a very short timeframe, and that got the gears moving again.

Did you have any input on your cover?

Absolutely—and the fact that SHP gives authors say in the cover was one reason I signed with them. If that hadn’t been the case, I would likely have moved ahead with self-publishing.

After I got one preliminary cover image (which I liked, but I felt like it didn’t stand out enough from other YA UF covers) we talked some more, and I actually got permission to take a test shoot with some models for a custom cover (I’m also a photographer). So I turned those in and put the Final Jeopardy song on loop.

While I was waiting, just for fun I started assembling a lightbox on Shutterstock with images for teasers down the line—and in the process, I stumbled across some artwork by Natalia Maroz. It was absolutely perfect for the feel of the story! So I inserted a model and made a mockup cover, and turned that in too. That’s the one that the Editor-in-Chief ended up liking, and I have to admit that I love it so much that the sting of having my test shots rejected was considerably lessened, haha.

I wanted to do the actual cover design, too, but Photoshop played a nasty trick on me and took away a lot of the tools I had learned for masking and other tasks in the latest version—and at that point we only had ten days before the scheduled release date. So I nominated Kelley York of X-Potions Design to do the design, because she has a fast turnaround and I knew she would do a fantastic job.

How was your cover revealed to you?

Since I worked pretty closely with Kelley, there wasn’t really a reveal moment for me—although seeing how Kelley realized my vision was pretty exciting. There was one funny thing, though—when we got the hi-res version of the artwork with the flying bird, it turned out to be a vulture rather than a crow or raven! But Kelley fixed that seamlessly.

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

It was August 18, and my publicist sent out an email blast so bloggers could sign up. The full-cover reveal was a little more casual, and I just posted it in my slot on Operation Awesome and Facebook, and people shared from there.

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

I realize my situation is a bit unusual since I was so heavily involved in the design, but I have to say that even knowing what the artwork looks like, it was still love at first sight to see the cover on a real-life, printed book! I wanted to walk around with it in my bra so it would be closer to my heart.

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

It really was! And I loved the front cover by itself, but once I saw the full cover, I really wanted to, um, crow it to the world. Kelley did such a good job blending the front and back artwork (the back image is also Natalia Maroz), and with the lovely font.

What surprised you most about the process?

What surprised me was my reaction to the first, preliminary image from the publisher. I went into it with a genuine curiosity and excitement about how another artist would interpret my story and characters. But when I saw that image, it was pretty much 80% what I’d said I didn’t want (but I did end up with a girl in a dress, lol) and I got very territorial. That may have ended up making me look like a diva at times, but it also made me define what I did want.

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

Try to hold onto that “genuine curiosity and excitement about how another artist would interpret (your) story and characters” as long as you can, lol. But failing that, if you truly don’t like your cover, you’re better off offering some alternatives. I sent stock images of models that I thought would fit better than the one they used, stock images of landscapes that fit the story, etc, in that first email response. Offering to arrange a custom model shoot at a reasonable price also went over well (and those photos weren’t wasted, since I later used them in my book trailer). But backing up your reasons for why you think that cover doesn’t fit with hard data or alternatives will get you further than sobbing into the phone.

That said, you may still not have any say at all, and if you’re unhappy—keep it off the internet! Cry on your agent’s shoulder, make your dog’s fur soggy with tears, but don’t bash an artist or publisher online! Keep things professional, and it will pay off in the long run.

Monday, February 2, 2015

A MADNESS SO DISCREET Cover Reveal & ARC Giveaway!


I'm so very pleased to share with you the cover for my newest release, A MADNESS SO DISCREET, which will be coming on October 6, 2015 from Katherine Tegen Books.

MADNESS marks a departure from my previous books. NOT A DROP TO DRINK and IN A HANDFUL OF DUST were both post-apocalyptic survival stories, and I had a great time writing them. MADNESS is a new creature, a Gothic historical thriller set in an insane asylum. Will you judge me if I tell you that I also had a great time writing it?

You can see the cover below, but if you want a chance at wining an advance copy you need to head over to YABC and enter the giveaway there!

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.