Thursday, April 30, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately -

1) If copper is so expensive now, why are pennies still only worth one cent?

2) What did medieval people think of static electricity?

3) There aren't many gender neutral insults, yet instead of being irritated by this I have found humor in it. For example, calling someone a douchebag is like saying, "You are a really useful hygienic tool." Calling someone a dickhead is like saying, "I don't need you. People have been cutting those off for centuries."

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Miriam Spitzer Franklin: Make A Mood Board For Your 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 for the CRAP is Miriam Spitzer Franklin, author of the MG debut EXTRAORDINARY, which releases May 5th from SkyPony Press. Besides reading children’s literature and writing, Miriam loves to teach. She's taught kindergarteners up to eighth graders in public and private schools. Her favorite subject to teach? You guessed it– reading and writing!

Last spring, Pansy chickened out on going to spring break camp, even though she’d promised her best friend, Anna, she’d go. It was just like when they went to get their hair cut for Locks of Love; only one of them walked out with a new hairstyle, and it wasn’t Pansy. But Pansy never got the chance to make it up to Anna. While at camp, Anna contracted meningitis and a dangerously high fever, and she hasn’t been the same since. Now all Pansy wants is her best friend back—not the silent girl in the wheelchair who has to go to a special school and who can’t do all the things Pansy used to chicken out of doing. So when Pansy discovers that Anna is getting a surgery that might cure her, Pansy realizes this is her chance—she’ll become the friend she always should have been. She’ll become the best friend Anna’s ever had—even if it means taking risks, trying new things (like those scary roller skates), and running herself ragged in the process.

Pansy’s chasing extraordinary, hoping she reaches it in time for her friend’s triumphant return. But what lies at the end of Pansy’s journey might not be exactly what she had expected—or wanted.

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

I knew that I wanted my cover to portray the story in an optimistic way. Because my book deals with some heavy subject matter (Pansy's best friend suffers a traumatic brain injury), I needed to make sure the cover didn't appear sad or depressing.

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

My editor asked me to start thinking about ideas for the cover in May 2014, a year before the book came out.

Did you have any input on your cover?

My editor suggested that I put together a mood board -- examples of MG covers that I liked and the overall feeling I wanted to convey.

How was your cover revealed to you?

Actually, my editor asked me for an author photo for the catalog because she said they weren't satisfied with the designs and they had asked the illustrator to rework the design. I was glad that they weren't accepting a cover they weren't satisfied with but disappointed that the catalog was going out without my cover! A few days later, my husband was searching the internet and found my cover! I e-mailed my editor to tell her I loved it and hoped it was the final design! Apparently they reworked the illustration in time for it to go out in the official catalog, so it all worked out the way it was supposed to.

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

I did not have an official cover reveal date, but I found out about it in late October, around 5 months before the book's release.

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

I didn't have to keep it to myself since it was already out on the internet! Though I did check with my editor to see if it was okay if I shared.

What surprised you most about the process?

I was most surprised at the way the illustrator came up with the perfect cover for my book. I'm assuming he didn't actually read the book, but the Best Friend necklaces worked perfectly to capture the theme of Extraordinary.

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

If your editor doesn't ask for input, you should let him/her know what you would like to see in a cover. Because authors may not have a final say in the cover design (mine was finalized before anyone showed it to me), you'll feel a lot better if you have the discussion upfront. Offering up a mood board to your editor is a good way to show what types of covers you'd like to see. In the end, you have to trust your publishing house and hope they will put out the type of cover that best represents your book, as mine did!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Reversing My Position

I used to be a strong advocate of not reading while writing. I was adamant about a little term I coined - something I called "voice bleeding." I fiercely believed that if I indulged myself in reading the same genre I was writing that I opened myself up to the voice of the other author leaking into whatever ms I was working on.

And, to be fair, I still think that's a possibility.

But you'll notice that the blog post I link to above is from 2011. Now, I've got four more years of experience under my belt, four years where I've been writing professionally, and four years of balancing simultaneous projects while still working full time as a librarian. And to be a good librarian you have to be aware of the market, aware of content, and aware of your collection in order to make good recommendations to your patrons.

And to do that, you have to be reading.

I want to be good at both of my jobs, so I decided I was going to be reading while writing. There was no way around it. At first I stuck to my old decree that reading nonfiction was non-damaging to my creative voice, and while I still think that's true, it also severely limits my reading choices.

So I went a different route and decided to read the opposite genre of whatever I was writing. That definitely worked, until I came up against a book I really wanted to read right now that happened to also be a dark contemporary. It was GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn and yes, I'm glad I just went ahead and read it.

Ironically, I found that reading the same genre I was writing didn't stymie me so much as inspire me. I'd read a few chapters and find myself burning to write, instead of having to put down the book I was reading and force my brain to jump tracks over to the genre I was writing. There was less of a lag, and instead of invading my creativity I felt like reading was bolstering it, challenging me to answer with my own voice and words.

I finished up the first draft of my dark contemporary, tentatively titled THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES, last week. It's out to crit partners right now, and while I'm waiting for it to come back to me I've got to switch projects and focus on GIVEN TO THE SEA, the first in my epic fantasy series due out in 2017.

How to best make that move?

I think I'll ease into it by reading some fantasy.

Saturday, April 25, 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.

Ginnifer’s past vanished at five when her parents died in a fire. Her past vanished or any access she has to her past is gone because her parents are gone and she was too little to remember anything? Now sixteen, all that remains is endless nightmares and visions which she hardly can recall the next day. Other than the fact that someone is ALWAYS I wouldn't use caps trying to kill her in them! I wouldn't use an exclamation point either. Reserve those for major, major shockers.

Her adopted gypsy-born if this is a contemporary story you might want to rephrase this... I don't know what it means to be a gypsy in the modern world family only tells her that the dreams will fade with time, but everything changes when three new students show up at school. Ginnifer is drawn to them; especially the bad boy that most parents warn about. (It’s the eyes…definitely the eyes) Suddenly, a girl dies at the football game: the very same girl she had a vision of that morning. It was a memory…really unsure what you mean here - how is it a memory and a vision at the same time? Also earlier you said she can "hardly recall" the visions but now she can? so now she’s not a total mental case. If the light tone here fits with the voice of the novel it's fine, but don't make the query purposefully campy unless it matches the tone of the book.

But as more deaths take hold of the town, Ginnifer is determined to find her connection to them. She learns that she’s an Abnormal, a half-mortal with a masked rare gene. Definitely need to expand on this - half-mortals have been done over and over again in YA. What is this masked gene? Why is this story different from every other already existing urban fantasy? One whose life will always be surrounded by blood. Then the bombshell: the killer might actually be targeting her. Why? And if she's the target, why kill others first?

As if being a junior in high school wasn’t hard enough. Not only is she in a twisted gypsy protection  program from someone who wants her dead, What's so twisted about it? And what about those three new students? Is that the program you mention here? They were mentioned and then dropped but she is torn between the life she knows and the life she forgot.  Ginnifer is hell bent to find an in between. She must make a choice: either seek out the killer and fight or stay hidden.

ABNORMALS is a 94,000-word YA urban fantasy. This book would appeal to fans of The Vampire Academy and The Mortal Instruments.

There definitely needs to be a correlation drawn between her visions, the gypsies, the program, and what this gene is that she harbors. Is the gene the reason she has visions? What's her purpose? Why would the gene mean she's always surrounded by blood? What does the gene actually do? Why would someone want her dead and why are the gypsies the ones that are supposed to protect her? If she's only half-mortal, what's her other half? Angelic? Demonic? God? You'll need to get the fine points in here in order to differentiate this from existing titles.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: THE QUEEN OF BRIGHT & SHINY THINGS by Ann Aguirre

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.

Sage is better known as Princess Post-It in her school. She makes it a goal to look for someone everyday who is having a hard time - whether they're being bullied, going through a breakup, or just look down in the mouth - Sage can always come up with something nice to say to them by putting a Post-It on their locker. Between that and heading up Green World, the sparsely attended environmental group in the school, Sage has the "good girl" image all locked up.

But that's exactly what it is - an image. No one except the aunt she lives with knows about Shadow Sage, the person Sage was before she moved in junior high. That girl has been through foster homes, court-mandated treatment, and any number of medications in order to find a way to deal with her past. She's done a good job of forgetting all about Shadow Sage firmly, until Princess Post-It falls in love.

Shane has his own secrets, ones that demand he keep a low profile and stay under the radar. But Sage draws him out, certain that nothing he hides can be worse than her own past. But with Shane as a target for some of the jocks, Shadow Sage is having a hard time keeping her anger under control. Erupting could protect Shane, but it could also destroy the image of the girl he fell in love with - the one he thinks he knows.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

No Agent? No Problem! A Successful Author Talk With THE ARK Author Laura Liddell Nolen

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Laura Liddel Nolen, who grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. She has a degree in French and a license to practice law, but both are frozen in carbonite at present. She lives in Texas with her husband and two young children. Her debut, THE ARK, is available now from Harper Voyager.

Laura's success story is doubly special to me, because she was a participant in the PAPfest - a writing contest that I hosted on my blog back in 2013. Laura is also a great example of a non-traditional path to success. She's an un-agented writer published with a major house - not something that happens everyday!

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Total planner. That being said, things rarely go according to plan.

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

Since THE ARK is my first, I guess I have to say five years. But the sequel is scheduled for publication next year, with the last book in the trilogy one year after that, so I’m going to have to work on my record quite a bit. To say the least.

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

I work on one project until I get writer’s block, which happens fairly often. Then I procrastinate by writing a short story or starting a new project. It helps my confidence overall, but not my faith in whichever manuscript is stalled at the moment.

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

One problem with writing is, you have to be slightly delusional even to attempt it. Like, what makes me think anyone will want to read my stories? But the more you write, the better you get. It’s quite a learning curve. If nothing else, I can always pull up an old story and cringe my way through it, which helps with confidence in my more current stuff.

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

I actually don’t have an agent yet. I’m planning to start querying this summer. I’m living proof that editors read their slush, though!

Tell us more about being published as an un-agented author.

I’m happy to share my “stats,” in case they offer any hope to other writers: I queried nine agents. Six asked to read my manuscript for THE ARK. Of those, four gave me some helpful comments. Of the original nine, two agents sent a form rejection, and one didn’t even reply!

I also submitted THE ARK to Harper Voyager, the science fiction and fantasy imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, when I heard they were accepting unagented work.

I planned to revise the manuscript and resend it to the four agents who’d given me comments. But then I got a call from Natasha Bardon, editorial director of Harper Voyager UK, saying they’d like to publish me! I guess I got the cart before the horse, in a sense.

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

Yes! My first attempt at a novel was just awful. I think I was trying to copy everything I thought YA lit should be like, which is a great recipe for a terrible book. I’m glad I got that out of my system. I knew it was time to quit when my friend Taylor said, “I can’t believe you’re not writing science fiction. That’s what you always wanted to do, right?” The next day, I started The Ark, and I haven’t looked back.

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

Rejection is an absolute given in this business. That doesn’t make it hurt any less, but at least know that you’re not alone when it happens. It only takes one yes, and bam! You’re in.

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

It’s completely surreal. And I’m not sure who’s more excited, me or my mom.

Just kidding. Definitely me.

How much input do you have on cover art?

I was given two options for a cover. The one I chose is the one the editor liked best as well. I’m thrilled to say that I really do love it, and it was clear to me that the artist had read the book. The details are amazing. For example, the meteor matches her eyes. How cool is that? And there are a couple of lines in THE ARK referencing Char’s ratty hair, which is reflected in the cover image.

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

It’s amazing how supportive the writing community is. I think you wrote a post about this recently, and it really made me smile. As an aspiring writer, you don’t even need an agent or a book deal to reach out and find thousands of other people in the same boat, almost all of whom will be happy to cheer you on along your way. I’ve made some great friends on this journey. There are also tons of established writers who are committed to helping up-and-comers. It’s an exciting, inspiring group to be a member of.

How much of your own marketing do you?  Do you have a blog / site / Twitter? 

Nearly all of it. Yes, thanks for asking!! I'm on Twitter and have a site.

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

If I could do it over, I’d have gotten involved with Twitter a lot sooner. Otherwise, there’s not a whole lot to market before you have a product to sell. I think there’s value in focusing on writing the best book you can.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Definitely! Just look at your blog! I started reading Writer, Writer waaaay before NOT A DROP TO DRINK came out. By the time it was finally published, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Call For Submissions: Elephant's Bookshelf Press Looking for Horror Shorts

Just a heads up for any fellow short story writers out there:

Elephant's Bookshelf Press, an Indie publisher based in New Jersey is looking for previously unpublished horror shorts under 5,000 words. I have worked with EBP in the past - you can find shorts from me in each of their seasonal anthologies, and I'll be contributing to the horror anthology as well.

If you're interested the deadline for submission is June 8th! Best of luck!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: THIS MONSTROUS THING by Mackenzi Lee

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

In a steampunk 1818 Geneva, people with clockwork appendages are second-class citizens. Many can only find medical care through the Shadow Boys, doctors and mechanics who operate in secret, building arms and legs for victims of the recent wars. As public sentiment against clockworks grows stronger, Alasdair Finch, his brother Oliver, and the father that taught them everything must exercise extreme caution.

Alasdair's life falls apart when Oliver is killed in an accident, his father arrested, and Mary - the girl he loves - is gone. Putting all of his skill to work, Alasdair resurrects his brother only to find that Oliver is not the brother he remembered. With the police on his tail and an opportunity to flee the country to a more accepting place, Alasdair puts Geneva behind him - and Oliver.

Under the protection of the brilliant Dr. Geisler - Oliver's former patron - Alasdair learns that the doctor is not the savior he was hoping for. The automatons he has built protect a terrible secret, and the clockwork girl who serves him is treated terribly. But the doctor's connections may be Alasdair's only hope of returning to Geneva for Oliver.

Meanwhile, the anonymous publication of Frankenstein has the public in an uproar, believing it to be not a work of fiction, but the true story of a resurrected clockwork man. Clockworks everywhere are forced to wear Frankenstein badges to identify themselves, and as Alasdair dives into the novel he finds too many parallels between himself and Victor Frankenstein for comfort. Who wrote it? Dr. Geisler, as wish-fulfillment for his own dark wants? Oliver, as a public rebuke to Alasdair for his abandonment? Or was it Mary, the girl he loved and shared his darkest secrets with?

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Cover Reveal For Liz Coley's TOR MADDOX: UNLEASHED

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.

So what's it like when you're doing your own cover? When it's solely your own responsibility there's a whole new set of worries and concerns - not to mention the job set squarely on your shoulders. Today's guest is Liz Coley, author of PRETTY GIRL-13, and her newest release, TOR MADDOX: UNLEASHED. And don't forget to enter the Goodreads giveaway for an advance copy!

When sixteen-year old Torrance Olivia Maddox, self-confessed news junkie, figures out that the mysterious and deadly New Flu is being spread by dogs, she has one question—if the danger is that obvious to her, why hasn’t the government revealed the truth and taken action?

Her search for the answer will take her farther than she ever imagined. But then again, she never imagined that man’s best friend could become public enemy number one, that men in black might show up in her cozy suburban neighborhood, that she’d spend her sixteenth birthday as a teenaged runaway, and that her effort to save one dog would become a mission to save them all.

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

I knew I wanted my front cover to include my heroine Tor and her dog Cocoa, but aside from that, this cover has gone through three versions of images and title! I hope third time’s the charm!

How far in advance from your pub date did you start working on the cover?

Eight years? I created the first draft of the novel now known as Unleashed during my very first Nanowrimo back in November 2007. I had a motivational habit of designing my imaginary covers and using them as a desktop screensaver while I was writing, so the first version of the cover with the original title Best Friends dates back to 2008. That was a close up of a girl nuzzling her dog with the genetic code for canine flu as a pale blue background. Hours of perusing “girl & dog” stock photos failed to produce a pair who matched my descriptions, so I knew this place-saver cover was just for fun. In 2009, I reworked my website and updated the cover to a pair of sexy legs in high heels and a cute terrier, a different breed from mixed-race Cocoa. Finally, when I got serious in 2014 about self-publishing what had grown into a short prequel and a series of three books, I knew I needed a new look and a unifying theme. Book 1 was now titled Tor Maddox: Unleashed. The three elements of the image were going to be legs (not sexy), a red leash, and a dog.

Did you do this entirely on your own, or did you call in favors from friends?

I have a friend with some graphic design experience who offered to be a sounding—that is, looking—board while I was working with alternate images for the whole series and for two unrelated 99¢ short stories I’m planning to publish to help with promotion (Practically Invisible & Sticks and Stones. My two teenaged nieces and my daughter cast honest, skeptical, and helpful eyes on some early cover mockups. I’ve become handy enough with Photoshop over the years to do my own image manipulation and layout.

Was it expensive to do the cover yourself, or was it more of a time commitment?

My only direct costs were the licenses for the photo images, so something like $75 for the whole shebang. Mostly it was the time commitment of searching huge databases of images, downloading samples, mocking up several possibilities, making and purchasing selections, manipulating images, and tweaking and tweaking and tweaking layout.

Was there any one thing about the process that made you particularly batty?

Looking at images until my eyes were crossed! I literally walked around in a blur for days. As the years passed, the real life girl I had based Tor’s appearance on grew up and went to college and stopped looking like a teenager. So having made the decision not to go searching for a new perfect live model and spend a fortune on photo shoots, I had to find stock photos that suited the different stories and were conceivably the same girl—age, coloring, face, body. In one case, I had to change blue eyes to brown using translucent brown ellipses over her irises (Photoshop contact lenses!). Also, finding my adopted mixed breed Cocoa proved to be impossible. He’s described as having the sweet temper and coloring of a lab, the size and stature of a beagle, and the spirit and mustache of a terrier. I ended up merging two different dog photos together to create my own digital mutt.

What surprised you most about the process?

Pink. If you’d told me back when I was making edgy backgrounds like DNA sequences and Confederate flags that I’d end up coloring my books pink, I’d have choked. But when it came down to branding my kick-ss mystery thriller girl to appeal to the 14-year-old (the sweet spot in my target demographic) and to soften the weaponry and trench-coated spy-girl images, pink seemed to do the trick.

Any advice to authors who want to make their own covers?

If you are going to print, don’t forget the back. It’s actually very time consuming to write back cover copy, let it sit for a while and revisit it. If you want to include any reviews or reader blurbs, plan way ahead to get them and figure where they’ll fit into the layout.

Also, there’s the “shout line” or one line teaser, which can take literally days/weeks/years to write. Even more than an elevator pitch, it forces you to find the sharpest point of your hook without giving too much away. I ended up with two per cover—one for the specific story: “Man’s best friend has become public enemy number one” and one to brand the whole series: “A heroine for our times.” That suggests that the stories are contemporary, not fantasy or futuristic dystopian, and that the reader is entering the danger/adventure/thriller zone.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Announcing My New Book Deal!

If you follow me on Twitter and Facebook you know that last week I signed a two book deal with Putnam for GIVEN TO THE SEA, the first of an epic, multiple POV, fantasy series set on an island of rising tides, where tribes battle for resources, unexpected alliances are forged, and love bends to the whims of war.

Yes, it's true I'm jumping genres yet again. I started out with post-apoc survival for both NOT A DROP TO DRINK & IN A HANDFUL OF DUST, veered over to Gothic historical thriller with A MADNESS SO DISCREET, and will be dishing out a really dark contemporary for you in Fall of 2016 from Katherine Tegen, tentatively titled THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES.

I feel very lucky that publishing has trusted me to hop around with my stories. My brain likes to churn out books, but it's never been fond of staying on any one particular path. Hopefully my readers have similarly chaotic reading tastes that like to bounce around and see what's going on elsewhere in the world... even totally different worlds.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: STARTERS by Lissa Price

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.

Life isn't easy after the Spore Wars wiped out everyone between the ages of twenty and sixty. Teens everywhere have to take care of their younger siblings, and Callie hasn't had the best of luck so far. Continuously on the run from other squatters who are just as desperate as she is, Callie is desperate for an out - any way to offer a better life to her little brother Tyler.

Prime Destinations is a disturbing new business in Beverly Hills. For an exorbitant price the elderly - called Enders - can rent the bodies of teens. A neurotic implanted in the teens - Starters - brains gives the Enders complete control of the teens' bodies. But the pay is good and Callie is desperate.

When Callie's neurochip malfunctions she wakes up living the life of her renter - and discovers that the woman who is inhabiting her body isn't just looking to have a good time. She's plotting a murder.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Successful Author Talk With ZEROBOXER Author Fonda Lee

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Fonda Lee. Fonda writes science fiction and fantasy for teens and adults. ZEROBOXER (from Flux/Llewellyn) is her debut novel. Fonda is a recovering corporate strategist, an avid martial artist, a fan of smart action movies, and an Eggs Benedict enthusiast.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

An unrepentant Planner. I tried Pantsing once. It was ugly. 

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

It takes me a couple of months in the beginning just to research, outline, and walk around lost in thought. The first draft takes 3-4 months. Revision takes another 2-3. Then it’s off to beta readers. More revision. Off to my agent. More revision. So 10-12 months from concept planning until submission. 

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

I always have one primary project, but due to the publishing process I often need to multitask. For example, I’ll be in the middle of a first draft and an email arrives and I’ll need to switch to doing edits on another manuscript for a week. 

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

I had a successful career in corporate strategy going before I made it my life goal to be a novelist. Truth be told, writing had always been my life goal, but I didn’t act on it seriously until I was in my thirties. By then I wondered if it was too late for me, and if I was being foolish, dialing back on a normal, respectable, well-paying job to chase my dream. 

My fear these days is whether I can make it in the long run, writing and publishing enough good books on a consistent basis to achieve some measure of career success. 

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

One. I spent a year writing a novel that I loved but that didn’t go anywhere. 

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

I did. I had an outline written up and was all ready to go. I got about 10,000 words in and suddenly thought, “I don’t want to do this.” It just wasn’t a book I felt a burning passion to write. I set it aside. Several months later I came back to it, took another look, and thought, “I still don’t want to write the book, but this would make a great short story.” I wrote it as a short story and ended up loving it. 

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

I got my agent through a cold query. However, it certainly helped speed things up when I got three competing offers out of a conference I went to. I’m represented by Jim McCarthy at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. 

How long did you query before landing your agent? 

I’d been querying my previous manuscript for eight months with no success. When I started querying ZEROBOXER, everything happened very fast thanks to a conference I went to (the Willamette Writers Conference) where I pitched to agents in person. A month later, I was agented. 

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

Don’t be surprised if your first book doesn’t land you an agent. Keep querying, but more importantly, keep writing. When you get a rejection, send out another query, shut down your email, and get back to work on the next book. I wrote ZEROBOXER during those many months of query hell when I was riddled with anxiety about ever getting an agent, much less being published. 

How much input do you have on cover art?

My editor and I brainstormed closely early on. He gave me his initial ideas, and I gave him mine, and we sent photos and other book covers back and forth as we brainstormed. After we’d figured out the general gist of what we wanted, he took it to Flux’s internal launch meeting. A few months later, my editor emailed me the cover the designer had created and the Flux team had chosen. It was so awesome I just about fell out of my chair. 

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

How hard copyedits are. Really. By the time you reach the copyediting stage, you’ve read your book a dozen times at least and the words have completely lost all meaning. You’re like, “Is this even good? Is it crap? I honestly can’t tell.” 

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I think all authors these days do a lot of their own marketing. I have a website of course and I’m on Twitter. Occasionally I’m on Facebook and Tumblr. I don’t blog. I only have a certain number of words in me each day, and I’m not going to waste them on blogging when there are books to write.

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

If you’re doing anything before you get an agent, it should be developing your network of fellow writers. They will be your greatest source of knowledge and support going forward. Incidentally, some of them will also like your work and spread the word when the time comes. But I would spend very little time worrying about your platform when you have no books. Your books are your platform.

Monday, April 6, 2015

AMONG THE SHADOWS Update - A YA Horror Anthology From 13 Of Your Favorite Authors

Last week I told you about a little endeavor into self-publishing that myself and a dozen other amazing YA authors have jumped into. AMONG THE SHADOWS is an anthology of 13 dark tales from a fantastic line up of some of your favorite young adult authors.

I'm happy to share that our Kickstarter to cover some of our production costs has surpassed it's goal, but we still have some great reward options if you want to contribute. Still available are signed copies of many of the contributing authors' books, as well as manuscript or short story critiques. You can also back us for as little as $5 to receive a digital copy of AMONG THE SHADOWS, along with a personalized Thank You email from one of our authors, or you can go whole hog and give $500 to have the book dedicated to you (or someone of your choosing), as well as an advance copy signed by all the authors, an e-copy, a t-shirt, your name in the acknowledgments and a personalized thank you email.

There are lots of backing options still available, and we greatly appreciate all the support so far!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

YA Scavenger Hunt!

Welcome to YA Scavenger Hunt! This bi-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors...and a chance to win some awesome prizes! At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize--one lucky winner will receive one signed book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 72 hours!

Go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. There are SIX contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of the ORANGE TEAM--but there is also a red team, blue team, gold team, green team, teal team, purple team, pink team for a chance to win a whole different set of signed books!

If you'd like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page.


Directions: Below, you'll notice that I've listed my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the orange team, and then add them up (don't worry, you can use a calculator!). 

Entry Form: Once you've added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.

Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian's permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by April 5, at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.


Today, I am hosting Rachel Carter on my website for the YA Scavenger Hunt! Rachel Carter likes to write about time travel and far away worlds. She's the author of the So Close to You series with HarperTeen, and a regular contributor to These days you can find her working on her next novel in the woods of Vermont.

Find out more information by checking out the Rachel's website or find more about the author's book here!


Lydia has been trained into a person she might have once feared: focused, fierce, deadly. Although she never wanted the life of a Montauk Project recruit, the Project has captured someone she loves-someone she'll do anything to save.

From Rachel: 

The other day I realized I’ve never made a playlist for any of the So Close to You books. I listen to so much music while I write that I’ve always had a hard time trying to narrow each book down to just a few songs. But while I might not associate any specific music with specific scenes, there are definitely songs that instantly put me into a character’s head, that make me feel like I’m standing right next to them, and that sometimes break my heart when I think of everything they’ve gone through. So, just for YASH, here is an exclusive character playlist for the So Close to You universe:

Lydia: “Greater than Consequence,” by Amos and the Transparent

Not only is this one of my favorite songs of all time, but I think it perfectly captures what Lydia goes through in the series. The tune is melancholy and brutal, and just listen to the lyrics: “Hide yourself from all this consequence/Cause its seen more love than sense/So forward on.” Lydia is consistently blinded by love. She lets that overcome reason in So Close to You, and then has to deal with the consequences of her actions in the next two novels. She learns hard lessons, almost gives up, but ultimately never stops moving forward. I couldn’t imagine a better song for her if I tried.

Wes: “The Ocean,” by Noah Gundersen

My favorite word for Wes is “yearning.” There’s so much he wants, but he truly believes any happiness is impossible. This song, with its mournful violin and its searching lyrics (“And maybe one day I will reach the ocean.”), is so sad and so Wes. Also, it reminds me of post-This Strange and Familiar Place, where there’s so much Wes wants to say to Lydia, but all he can do is wait and pray that she has faith in him.  

Lydia’s Grandpa: “Keep Me in Your Heart for a While,” by Warren Zevon

Every time I think about Lydia and her grandfather I want to cry. Peter Bentley goes through so much in this series, and Lydia tries so hard to save him. Accepting his – and her – fate is part of her journey, but I love listening to this song and imagining it as a letter to Lydia.

Mary: “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B,” by The Andrews Sisters

I tried to find a modern song for Mary, I really did. But she seems so frozen in the 1940s with her red lipstick and old timely slang that I knew she needed a retro song to represent her. Plus this song appears in So Close to You when they go to the USO dance! Energetic, bright, happy – a perfect Mary song. 

Lucas: “Watching You Watch Him,” by Eric Hutchinson

I was hesitant to pick this song, as I think it really only represents Lucas in book 1. But from the first moment I heard it, I instantly thought of Lucas. Not just because of the lyrics, but the energy of the song – upbeat despite the sad message. That lightness and optimism even in the face of hardship are what make him and Mary a perfect couple.

LJ: “Drive,” by the Cars

I’ve always loved this song and I think the atmospheric quality fits LJ really well. “Can’t go on, thinking nothing’s wrong” – is there a more perfect lyric for him? He’s faced so much, and then his world is upended all over again. When I hear, “Who’s gonna drive you home tonight?” I imagine it’s LJ wondering who’s going to take care of him now, and how he’s going to make things right.

Tag: “Carry On,” Fun.

On the surface Tag seems really easy-going, but he’s also a street kid and a survivor, a passionate artist, a father-figure/protector, a loyal friend, and a compassionate leader. When I heard this song, I just knew it fit. Tag never gives up, and he never stops being strong for the people around him.

Nikki: “This Woman’s Work,” by Greg Laswell

I get chills when I listen to this Kate Bush cover. And it’s so perfectly Nikki: “I know you have a little life in you yet. I know you have a lot of strength left.” She thinks she’s given up, she thinks she’s hit the bottom, but she hasn’t. She’s a character who doesn’t know her own strength, and this song is heartbreakingly fitting.

Tim: “King and Lionheart,” Of Monsters and Men

Tim’s a newer character (another recruit in Find me Where the Water Ends), but I kind of wish he’d been around since the beginning. He’s exactly what Lydia needs in her life – an uncomplicated friendship that helps her come back to herself. Just like Tim, this song is about having a lion-heart and taking a stand instead of giving in. 

Twenty-two: “Ghost Towns,” Radical Face

Oh, Twenty-two. She’s such a tough character to like. Her attitude is understandable – the Montauk Project has completely broken her – but she certainly makes things hard for Lydia. I love this song for her though; if anyone is a walking ghost town, it’s Twenty-two. And with how much names matter to her, this line is perfect: “There’s no going home, with a name like mine.”

There are so many more characters I want to find songs for – Hannah, Grant, Dr. Bentley – but I’ll just have to save that for the next Scavenger Hunt!


And don't forget to enter the contest for a chance to win a ton of signed books by me, Rachel Carter, and more! To enter, you need to know that my favorite number is 9Add up all the favorite numbers of the authors on the orange team and you'll have all the secret code to enter for the grand prize!


To keep going on your quest for the hunt, you need to check out the next author!