Wednesday, September 30, 2015

#PitchWars Crit - NEVERLAND

My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green.

Query:

All beautiful and intelligent Tinkerbell wants is to survive, though granted I'd cut "granted" for flow she does it differently than other UnSeelie Fae. Neverland is a carnival, petting zoo, playground, fun-filled wonderland, and Tinkerbell has happily spent her centuries luring children there with the help of her brainwashed, broken, and beloved Peter Pan. There children are safe from that nasty outside world full of horrific pain, and can be carefree and happy always. At least until the day prior to their thirteenth birthday. It's unclear how this ties into her survival, and how what she does is different than other fae.

But now some useless, nasty, scum-filled imaginary friend by the name of Wendy has come along. She thinks Tinkerbell’s Neverland is barbaric, that Peter Pan needs to be saved, that Neverland needs to come crashing down and Tinkerbell needs to die. So naturally, Tinkerbell wants her gone. But paradise has gotten boring, so a game is decided upon rather than just sending the snivelling thing to whatever afterlife imaginary friends have.

So it’s a chess game to gain control over Peter Pan; whoever captures the king’s mind wins the chess game. If Tinkerbell wins she’ll make sure a fate worse than full body mutilation awaits her opponent. But if Wendy wins, one way or another Neverland will fall.

NEVERLAND is a 61,000 word YA psychological thriller retelling of Peter Pan, and is told from the point of views of both Tinkerbell and Wendy If this is the case then I think the query needs to reflect this a little more. Right now the query feels entirely Tink-centric. There are examples of racial diversity as well as LGBTA+ diversity in my manuscript, as I believe diversity in literature is essential. That's great, but mentioning it here almost feels like a marketing ploy. I'd leave it alone in the query and let it speak for itself in the manuscript.

First Page:

Tinkerbell yawned and shifted in the warm morning’s rays there's no mention of a sun here - just morning rays to glance down at the human bed below her warm nest. Her boy hadn’t left without her then, good, and a smile curled as the Fae watched him rub his eyes. She tied her pixie dust bag to her waist and then wings fluttered to bring feet cloaked in leaves and dandelion puffs down to rest upon her twelve-year-old’s pillow. Awkward phasing - the wings sound like they're acting independently of Tink He was so cute, he had been even before she magicked him to be twelve forever.

“Good morning my Peter Pan…” Tiny fingers brushed through auburn hair as he shifted into them.  “Are you fully awake yet my darling? How did you sleep?”

Brown eyes I mentioned this on my last crit as well, and it may be a personal preference, but I think character description slipped into narrative like this always feels awkward fluttered open, and a cute crocodile grin stretched his lips as Tinkerbell’s Peter Pan scrambled up and her wings fluttered wildly to keep from tipping over. Lots of -ed verbs at work in this sentence, it's slowing down the narrative.

“Mornin’ Tink! I slept good how’d you sleep? What’re we gonna do t’day, somethin’ fun?”

“Yes, yes of course.” She fluttered out of the way as he rolled out of bed and shook his hair about. “Lots of fun things but you must do what I please too darling. Always obey me.” He rarely needed a reminder, but sometimes it was nice to give one.

“Yes Tink!” He was an amusing and cute little thing, and Tinkerbell followed as her Peter Pan galloped down the swirled staircase of their tree. “Up up ev’rybody up!” The excitable crowing that amplified itself with each word made everyone stir, and soon all twenty three twelve-year-olds were yawning and grumbling. Tinkerbell gave Oliver a sweet smile and wave as she landed on his wooden clock that dangled from his shelf, and his delighted grin gained him noises akin to falling glitter.  Unsure what you're saying here -- is Tink making the noises? Does falling glitter make a noise?
     
Each boy was greeted as Tinkerbell checked the days left on their clocks and dove down into the depths of the tree to greet more of them. “Tinkerbell…?” Who was this little brunet boy, David? Yes, David. Her tinkles of gibberish that they all thought was “fairy language”  eased a small smile onto his face as he rose and adjusted his yarmulke. The standing was strange, I don't know what you're saying here - standing? but it was likely just a cultural happening among whatever his race of humans were.

You have a lot of awkward phrasing at work here, and some sentences that are quite frankly, confusing. It's easy for an author to read their own work and interpret it correctly because you know exactly what you mean, and your brain fills in the blanks. I would suggest getting a critique partner to read over this to mark passages that are confusing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

An SAT With Chris Von Halle

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Chris Von Halle. Chris's books recreate his childhood memories of such outlandish locations as the near and distant future Earth, other planets, and even other dimensions. He lives in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and enjoys such extraordinary activities as playing videogames, tennis, and basketball, and writing the occasional comic strip. His debut, THE FOURTH GENERATION, is available now.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I’m definitely a pantser at heart, but over the years I’ve incorporated some planning into the equation. It’s an ever-evolving process ☺

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

I think the average is about two years. Usually that involves setting the book aside for months at certain points in order to work on revisions for another manuscript or simply to get distance from the book so I can return to it with fresh eyes.

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

As I hinted at above, I’m a bit of a multi-tasker, since I will sometimes set a book aside to work on another depending on which one needs my attention the most at the moment. However, over the course of any long period (say, two years), one project typically occupies most of my time and effort.

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

I’ve been writing ever since I can remember, so I’m pretty sure I wasn’t even old enough to be aware that writing could be “scary” the first time I sat down to do it. I just wrote for the sheer joy of it. However, the notorious self-doubt monster is definitely something that has periodically reared its ugly head over the years. I think that’s something every writer deals with at some point, though, if not often; even the most “successful” ones.

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

It’s embarrassing to say, but technically six.

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

Yes, six times. In the beginning it was clear that I wasn’t writing at a professional level yet, based on the type of feedback I received from critique partners and agents, so that’s why I shelved a few. Later it was the fact that I sent out so many queries I couldn’t even count, and hardly received any requests or interest.

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

It felt absolutely fantastic, like a dream come true. Even cooler since I think the cover is so awesome (thanks, Cora Graphics!).

How much input do you have on cover art?

Speaking of which, I did have some input on the cover. That’s what I really like about my publisher, Clean Reads. The cover artist and I had a little back-and-forth action to iron out a couple things, and the result is stunning, I think.

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

I think it’s the importance of evolving and trying different paths if one path isn’t working for you. During my long seven or so years of shooting for publication, I had always envisioned myself trespassing the so-called traditional path: get a literary agent who then gets me a book deal with a major publisher. But after beating down that path for so long without much success, and giving a small press a shot without an agent, I’ve come to realize that that’s also a viable and rewarding path. So, bottom line: Don’t be afraid to try different avenues if one in particular isn’t working for you.

How much of your own marketing do you?

I do a fair amount of marketing. At least, these days I split up my writing time down the middle between marketing and writing the next book. I have a blog, a website, and Twitter.

When do you build your platform? After a book deal? Or should you be working before?

I think you can really start building your platform after you get an agent or a book deal, but it doesn’t hurt to have a blog or website while you’re shooting for those things. But, still, I’d say that prior to getting an agent or book deal, your time is best spent honing your writing skills, since ultimately that’s what will bring your work and your writing career to the next level.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Certainly. I’m not sure how much it ultimately helps, but it definitely makes you and your book(s) more visible and accessible to the market.

Monday, September 28, 2015

#PitchWars Crit: THE SOLEIA: RISE OF THE GUARDIAN

My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green.

Query:

The Black-Eyed Children is a chilling urban legend passed through generations, recounted to scare people for terrifying enjoyment. Good start, but the wording gets a little laborious here, making it lose a little punch. But the legend isn't a myth. The stories are dangerously real, and the Black-eyed Children?

They're coming, and they aren't taking prisoners.

When seventeen-year-old Raquel Alexander was born, she inherited all three Soleian powers of The Light. She can kill with a flick of her wrist, heal with the softest touch, and protect others with the roar of a single word. The problem for Raquel--she believes she's the only Soleian left, and revealing this kind of power in a world controlled by the Devati, a stunningly beautiful yet cruel family of magical dark-eyed warriors, would turn deadly. Hmm... okay I'm a little confused because you used the phrase "urban legend" above, which implies a contemporary. But right now this is reading as straight up otherworld fantasy.

Raquel is hell-bent on hiding her true identity from the Devati, and confides only in her best friend, Kaia, who's sarcastic and gritty kick-butt attitude keeps the curious at bay. Her world again, I need to know what world this is. is turned upside-down when she meets Adrian, the strikingly handsome and mysterious son of the Devati Commander, where wording doesn't quite work here forbidden love blossoms and she learns she isn't the only Soleian left. While Adrian's father is methodically hunting, torturing and killing any Soleian who can be found, Adrian is teaming up with Raquel, quietly helping her escape certain death by smuggling her into Soleian territory.

When the Commander uses his dark powers to kidnap Kaia as bait, Raquel is forced to venture back into the heavily guarded Devati sector to save her and capture the Commander before it's too late. If she fails, Kaia will suffer a gruesome death, and the fate of the entire Soleian race will be left in the viciously evil hands of Commander Sloane and his dark-souled henchmen.

THE SOLEIA: RISE OF THE GUARDIAN is a YA Fantasy okay, so it is a fantasy. In that case I would get rid of the phrasing "urban legend" because that implies we're looking at urban fantasy / contemporary with magical elements. and is complete at 93,000 words. A full or partial manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration. I have included the first page per submission guidelines.

Also - who are the Black-Eyed children in this scenario? Is it Raquel? Is it the Devati? It's a powerful start but there is absolutely nothing to link the opening para to the rest of the query.

First Page:

Today will be different. I can feel it. It's happened before, but never to this intensity. The warm spring breeze dances through my hair as my feet tread down the street. The golden strands This might be a personal preference but I dislike character descriptions teased into narrative like this tickle my bare shoulders, teasing me with warm, happy memories of the past. Like what? How would her hair on her shoulders remind her of the past? A tiny trickle of sweat runs through my hairline and toward my temple. Yet, my body is cold. Chills are rapidly spreading throughout my body, dampening my heart as they snake outward through the intricate pathways of my veins. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The feeling is electrifying and my senses are overly heightened.

What will it be today? The Light is growing inside me, aching to be let out. It's almost superhuman. Be definition, it is superhuman. Danger is lurking in the shadows, waiting to strike. I can taste its metallic bitterness on my tongue and smell its rancid stench saturating the air. Somebody is going to need my help, but who will it be? My chilled heart constricts with fear, and my honey-colored you did it again eyes dance around, scanning the different rundown buildings and entryways for any hint, any sign of impending danger. Again, I'm getting mixed messages on genre here. I have no feel for setting right now other than "street" and "rundown buildings" - it's reading like a contemporary at the moment, but your genre is stated as fantasy.

Nothing.

The walk home from school okay so we are starting in our world / contemporary? This feels at odds with your query is long and tense. My heavy steps pound the eroded sidewalk, leaving my legs longing for a break. I left my bike at home today, and that decision wallows in the back of my mind. The other kids in my class think I'm crazy. Maybe I am. I'm not like everybody else. They would all love the upper status one inherits by owning a bike here in the outskirts of Sector 14 now it feels dystopian. Bikes are rare, and those of us who are lucky enough to have one are usually popular and social. I couldn't be more different.

The heat rises as I continue walking along the main road, following far behind my classmates. The icy feeling of impending danger constantly tugs on my heart strings. One of the popular girls ahead turns and stares at me with disgust. She knows I chose to walk today and hates me for having the luxury of a bike, but not taking advantage of it. She would give anything for a bike. Her desire to have one melts together with the anger she holds, and the poisonous combination seeps out of her body, invading my inner core and causing me to become physically nauseated.

Overall this isn't a bad start, it's just that what you're giving us in the first two paras feels at odds with the the query, and has me dancing around mentally trying to figure our where we are. The query says it's fantasy, the beginning feels like a contemporary setting for the first few paras, then uses wording that leans dystopian. Get your setting out there front and center, and make sure it's in keeping with your query. Also watch your echoes - high lighted above.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: ANATOMY OF A MISFIT by Andrea Portes

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.

Anika knows to pretend to have everything together - the way it looks from the outside. She's the third-most popular girl in school, blonde, attractive, and always in the sights of Becky - the penultimate popular girl, who is just waiting for Anika to slip up so she can grind her to a powder under her dainty heel.

When Logan - the brooding, black leather jacket-wearing former nerd - comes back to school with an edge Anika can't ignore, she tries to smother it. Logan won't do anything for her social status, even if the breathtaking art projects he creates are clearly inspired by her. Besides, Jared, the bad-boy everyone wants has been paying attention to her - why throw that away?

As she gets to know Logan better she learns that his dark, brooding side matches her own well-hidden one perfectly. She's the only one that knows his darkness is hardly an act, growing from a home life that he'd love to escape. As Logan's circumstances grow worse, and Anika's social status more firmly entrenched, she has to decide which part of herself to embrace - or if she can be both.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

#PitchWars Crit - SERANEA’S TREE

My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green.

Query:

To avoid being chopped down, literally I'd cut this, it's messing up your flow, and claim her power as queen of the dryads, Seranea must enter her tree. But when her path is blocked by her sister, who wanted your -ed verbs are placing this in past tense. Queries are in present tense the throne, and an army of deadly monsters that escaped from the dryad prison Dannemora this sentence is now long and unwieldy - the important plot point is that she was blocked, not necessary that an army was involved or even the name of the dryad prison, Sera ends up in the most unlikely place—human habitation. Not sure you have the right word choice there.

To keep the location of her tree secret, So it was secret in the first place? Then how was her path blocked? I interpreted that literally. Sera is forced to hide with her aunt—a dryad who married a human over 200 years ago Slightly confusing - is the her husband still alive? Her aunt must have taken on human form to marry him, yet retained her power to still be alive for 200 years. So I assume the human is alive as well, because if she still has her powers and he had passed away I think she'd return to being a dryad... see how the specifics of that information led me down a path you probably didn't intend, and clouded the query? In this instance I think it's safer to say she poses as a human teen—and attend the local high school until she can safely travel through the forest without being followed. When will that happen? What's her timeline here? 

Unfortunately, staying in the human world brings even more trouble when forest-ranger-in-training Jason Cooper takes an interest in Sera and she starts to fall for him. She is caught between an ancient evil power with the ability to kill her forest And who might that be? This sounds like our antagonist, but we're just now hearing about it and the boy who has awakened her heart.

If Sera can’t find a way to her tree, the forest will die and all the dryads with it. If she does, she will lose Jason forever. Very confused on the nature of her tree -- her path is blocked, she must keep it's location secret, but here it almost seems to imply she can't find it herself?

SERANEA’S TREE, is YA Contemporary Fantasy and complete at 51,200 round this down words. 50k seems quite short for a fantasy. This is the first of two finished novels. Not the best way to pitch - I already think your first one seems short on length for the genre, and a series is sometimes hard to sell. I'd recommend combining your two books into one and pitching that way.

First Page:

Red sparks blazed across the sky above the forest with an ominous so the sparks are blazing, and tinting the sky? Or the sky was already tinted? Feels awkward  tint, the signal Seranea had been dreading. The glowing shower hadn’t even faded when her feet tore across the springy undergrowth.
 “Mother!” she shouted, as she ran toward the solitary oak tree. Her younger sisters scattered out of her way.

A regal woman with long grey hair melted out of the tree. Her golden crown of leaves and a twisted oak branch staff shimmered in the fading light. Seranea gasped at the dramatic change in her mother. Instead of the smooth skin of a young woman, Aire had transformed into a mass of wrinkles in less than a day.

“Seranea?” Aire took a labored breath.

Seranea shuddered and her skin turned icy cold. Nareve’s Is this the sister you spoke of in the query? If so you should identify her as a sister right away treachery had finally gone too far—she had betrayed the location of Aire’s tree to the enemy. Does she know this because of her mother's degrading state? If this is the case you need to clarify. Dryad lore isn't as well known as vampires or werewolves, so you'll need to feed it to your readers.

The branches above her whose head? drooped and creaked like a dead tree it can't be like a tree. It is a tree in a winter wind. Several leaves drifted to the ground and melted into dust. She assuming we're talking about Seranea but we don't know for sure closed her eyes trying to stop the tears. She didn’t want to believe it, and yet the stark reality was before her: her mother was dying.

Seranea came to the Queen’s feet and bowed, and then she stood tall and took the withered hand. She carefully pulled her mother out from the shelter of the massive oak and pointed to the red lights above them.

“Mother, the enemy is coming.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

MarcyKate Connolly On Frankensteining Some Swag & MONSTROUS + RAVENOUS ARC Giveaway!

Most authors will agree that the creative part of the job is where we excel, the business and marketing side, slightly less. It’s lovely when the two can meet in the form of SWAG – Shit We All Generate. I’ve invited some published authors to share with us their secret to swag… little freebies that can sell a book longer after the author is no longer standing in front of a prospective reader. In order to create great swag, you have to be crafty – in more ways than one.

Today's guest for the SWAG is MarcyKate Connolly, an author and arts administrator living in New England with her husband and pugs. She's also a coffee addict and voracious reader. Her debut novel MONSTROUS is available now from HarperCollins Children's Books, and the companion, RAVENOUS, will be out on 2/9/2016!

Finding something that represents your book and hasn’t been played out by a million authors before is difficult. What’s your swag?

I made a few different pieces. Some were pretty basic, such as bookmarks, postcards, and sellsheets. Others were a little more unique such as monster cards (a set of 4 with info about the monsters in the book) and frankenplushies (stuffed animals made to look like the creatures in the book).




How much money per piece did your swag cost out of pocket?

This varied WIDELY, anywhere from fifty cents to $20. The paper swag like bookmarks were pretty cheap, but items like the frankenplushies were more expensive.

Do you find that swag helps you stand out at an event? 

I think it can, especially if you have something a little different. When I bring out Monster cards at an event, they tend to go quickly. That said, everyone seems to love bookmarks, so I don’t think you can go wrong there either.

What do you think of big item swag pieces versus cheaper, yet more easily discarded swag like bookmarks?

Bookmarks may be more easily discarded, but they also do come in handy when you’re talking about book people, so I feel like they’re a good investment. The bigger stuff can make you stand out, but I’m not sure the cost is worth it. I would probably never buy a big standup poster for a launch party again, but I might be willing to invest in a standup banner that’s more portable for a complete series of books. I’d recommend thinking about what sort of mileage you can realistically get out of the bigger pieces. If it’s a big expense and one-time use, it may not be worth it. 

I do however thing items that are unique and specific to your book are a great way to get people to remember you. When I decided to get my Dr. Frankenstein on and make frankenplushies, it was one of those things where either people were going to love them or think I was seriously disturbed (so far the former is winning out, thankfully!). 

MONSTROUS has creatures called hybrids such as the main character, goat-chickens, and a sperrier (puppy with wings, basically). I bought a bunch of chicken, goat, bird, and puppy stuffed animals, then took them apart and sewed the pieces I needed back together to make the hybrids. I raffled some off for my launch party and I’ve used a few others for random giveaways on my blog or at other events. They’ve been a hit! 















My next book, RAVENOUS, has a new hybrid, a raccowl (a raccoon with an owl’s head) so I’m already planning to make more frankenplushies for that launch. They’re time-consuming and occasionally frustrating if I can’t find the right parts in stock at local stores, but I’d say they’ve definitely been worth it.

What’s the most clever / best swag by another author?

This is a tough one, but the best one I’ve seen recently has to be Julie Murphy’s Dumplin pins. They have the iconic pose from the cover and they are fabulous! 

And the biggest question – do you think swag helps sell books?

Honestly? Beats me! Unfortunately, getting a real ROI on swag is tricky at best. However, regardless of whether they sell books I do think swag is important because it helps build your brand. Even if they don’t buy your book this time around, maybe they’ll remember your name and will buy the next one. 

Enter below to win a hardcover of MONSTROUS, an ARC of RAVENOUS, plus signed bookplates and bookmarks!

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Monday, September 21, 2015

#PitchWars Crit - THE CURSE OF JUDAS

My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green.

Query:

Most seniors in high school aim to graduate and move on to the freedom adulthood. Lena would settle for demons leaving her alone and having her mind back under her perhaps add "own" here control. Interesting enough hook. I'd keep reading.

Since her mother’s mysterious death ten years ago, Lena has managed to juggle a new stepmother, vicious town gossips what are they gossiping about?, and the occasional death premonition. Like what?

Then Liam, a Heavenly Mercenary, appears and suddenly, Lena has more than just premonitions disrupting her life—she has nightmares, premonitions that come moments before disaster, and can now also see the demonic spirits that have been stalking her. So the stalking has been going on forever? What's the connection to the premonitions? And she couldn't' see them before? How did she know they were there? With graduation looming closer, Lena finds herself focusing less on academics and more on controlling her own mind.

As she searches for answers from her ancestry, Lena purposefully becomes closer with Liam like she's manipulating him for answers?, who was sent to protect her, but won’t reveal the answers she desperately seeks. Her relationships with her family and best friend become strained by her focus on uncovering the secret sect of Heavenly Mercenaries. But the question remains, will her knowledge be enough to save her soul from the hunting demons?

I think we need to know more about what the end game is here - we've got a countdown to graduation and academic worries, but what answers is she looking for in her ancestry? What's at stake if she doesn't come up with answers? It sounds like she's been dealing with stuff her whole life, but suddenly it's amped -- why? Also watch for echoes, hi-lited above.

First Page:

I’d always known that things would be different one day.

Today didn’t seem like that day. I'm personally don't insist on present tense for everything, but first person past is hard to pull off. It puts up a barrier between the reader and narrative right away because it's not happening in the moment and slows things own - just look at al the -ed verbs.

“Great job, boys!” I feigned excitement to my five-year-old half-brothers as they pulled their shirts on. I checked my watch for the thousandth time. 7:49. Kathrine, the stepmonster, gave me all of five minutes warning that she needed my help with the boys before I left for school. Danny and Nick beamed up at me as their shirts fell over their hips and they simultaneously ran out of the room, headed downstairs for breakfast.

“Careful on the stairs!”

I rushed through my room, stuffing books into my bag, hoping that I grabbed all my homework, and ran towards the stairs, tying my hair up in a quick ponytail. 7:51.

“Will you put these in the mailbox on your way out?” Kathrine - sp? asked me as I was rushing down the stairs. Unsurprisingly, she stood there, all calm and curled red hair, outfitted with heels and floral dress.

I skidded to a halt at the bottom of the stairs, grabbed the envelopes from her hand, and sprinted out the front door. Before I got the door completely closed, I heard her yell something about having a good day.

Involuntary, my eyes rolled.

Over the past few weeks Kathrine had gotten worse about getting up in time to get my younger brothers ready for school. Yet she somehow had time do to her hair and makeup, which I didn’t understand since she didn’t actually have a job to get ready for. She told people that she was still my father’s secretary, but she hadn’t gone into the office in months.

It's not a bad start, but it is a little cliched with the idea of your MC getting ready for school being the opening chapter - it's one step past the waking up in the morning cliche. However, it does give us a good feel for the family, her relationship with the stepmother, and her own sense of responsibility. As long as there's something to move the plot forward on the next page or two I think you're okay, but I'd consider starting somewhere else if you don't get many requests from agents, because right now there's nothing new here -- primping stepmom, irritated teen with a good work ethic, etc. Also watch those echoes - highlighted above.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: RELIC by Renee Collins

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.

Maggie lives in the Old West, surrounded by dirt, rough men, barmaids, hard work - and magic. The gold rush is nothing compared to the frenzied mining in Colorado for the bones of extinct magical creatures, relics that can confer power to the holder. Those with powerful relics can attack with fire, heal the worst of wounds, and even become invisible.

Maggie grew up steeped in the lore of the relics, and can identify any of them on sight. Her knowledge of them make her irresistible to Alvar Castilla a wealthy baron whose relic collection rivals any other. Alvar believes Maggie is not only familiar with relics, but that they call to her because of an inherent skill that makes her able to wield their power deftly.

After a fire destroys her home, kills her brother and very nearly takes her little sister away as well, Maggie should welcome the safety and riches of Castilla's hacienda. But she's overheard conversations that make her think his motives aren't entirely pure, and she's not sure he's the right person to affix herself - and her powers - to.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) I will never see my own skeleton, and probably couldn't pick it out of a lineup.

2) We celebrate our birthdays even though we don't really deserve any of the credit. Presents should go to mom.

3) I'm probably taller than Jesus. Actually you probably are too.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

#PitchWars Critique - WORLD WHERE ONLY I EXIST

My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green.

Query:

When Earth was queries are written in present tense no longer salvageable, why? what happened? humanity decided to start over on a new planet. Their solution was to build a giant spaceship, load all surviving animals all animals? Or like a two by two Noah situation? inside and say farewell to Earth.

April Woodwaith's life was all about goodbyes. For sixteen years, she watched as childhood friends, neighbours and strangers evacuated the dying Earth. So it goes in phases? Because the implication of a giant spaceship loading up all the animals is a one-time, one-way trip It would have been more difficult if she didn’t have a large, loving family to fill up all the silence.

When her family’s boarding time was suddenly pushed up, the ensuing rush left April as the last person on Earth. So they got separated? Explain. Desperate to reunite with her family again, April goes on a road trip across post-apocalyptic North America. Her destination: Mexico, the last country with an operational space station.

The spaceship had already taken off, but April wasn’t going to wish her family farewell. Wait - then why is she going? If it's not a race against time to make sure she gets on the spaceship, what's the plot? It feels like you're playing coy here and that's not the purpose of the query. An agent needs to see there's a workable plot in place.

WORLD WHERE ONLY I EXIST is a sci-fi version of Home Alone targeted for young adults. This novel is complete at 75,000 words. Ergh... possibly not the best comp title since Home Alone is a comedy and this sounds pretty dark.

First Page:

When all of humanity had finally boarded New Hope, I was able to say, without a doubt, that I was one of the last humans to leave our dying planet.

That happened in my dreams.

Both sentences were true statements. Confusing. The silver band around my upper arm has my basic personal information and expected boarding time. What does this mean? We need more. Right now the reader doesn't have a lot to grasp onto.

My family had one of the last boarding times. One by one, the families of any friends I made awkward phrasing would disappear. The streets got emptier year after year, but I didn’t realize it. Nothing seemed to have changed.

After all, it was still noisy.

To live in a small house with lots of people and their various loud hobbies meant that my home was never quiet.

In the basement, June’s stereo and loudspeakers shook the foundation of the house when she practices hip-hop. I’m surprised that she hadn’t gone deaf yet.

On ground floor, the radio drowned the noise from the basement if May practices piano at the same time. I wondered if my sister could even hear herself playing.

Julius was in his rebellious pre-teen phase, so the sound of rapid gunfire and explosions can your tense slips here always be heard. His gaming console was in constant competition with our grandparents’ television in the room next door.

Even the attic above me was noisy, especially since we installed a new air conditioning unit. The fog filter rattled every time my family fiddled with the temperature controls. All the water pipes gurgled and whined through the walls whenever someone turns tense slip on the tap. Most of the doors in this house needed to be slammed in order to close properly.

Your statement that she dreamed it and it is also in fact true is confusing right off the bat, and you definitely don't want to confuse readers - or agents - with the first three sentences. Also the past tense, first-person slips away from you more than once, and (might be a personal opinion) but I think past tense 1st throws up a barrier between the reader and the text. 

We've also got a statement about being one of the last humans - which is intriguing - followed up by a list of humans she lives with and the noises they make - less intriguing. I think we need more focus here out of the gate.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Trisha Leaver With A Price Breakdown On Swag That Works

Most authors will agree that the creative part of the job is where we excel, the business and marketing side, slightly less. It’s lovely when the two can meet in the form of SWAG – Shit We All Generate. I’ve invited some published authors to share with us their secret to swag… little freebies that can sell a book longer after the author is no longer standing in front of a prospective reader. In order to create great swag, you have to be crafty – in more ways than one.

Finding something that represents your book and hasn’t been played out by a million authors before is difficult. What’s your swag?


Here’s a look at the shit *cough* I meant SWAG I’ve generated over the past two years.  My favorite, hands down, are the playing cards and the charmed bookmarks. 

How much money per piece did your swag cost out of pocket? 

Oh gosh…that is a tough question, and one I am not sure I want to know the answer to. Overall, my cost for swag has gone down with each book I release because I’m getting better at figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Here’s is a guestimate per piece (with shipping):

Bookmarks $.05
Postcards         $.18
Wristbands $.40
Playing cards $5.00
Charmed Bmarks $.40
Dog tags         $.75
Tattoos $.05
Buttons         $.25
Magnets         $.24

Do you find that swag helps you stand out at an event? Does your swag draw people to your table at an event or conference?

I do find it helps. At large events where readers are talking to several dozen authors, it is nice to be able to hand them a piece of swag, something that will hopefully remind them of me and my books when they are looking for something to read. As for whether swag draws them to my table…maybe, or it could be the giant candy bowl I always put out!

What do you think of big item swag pieces versus cheaper, yet more easily discarded swag like bookmarks?

In my mind, bookmarks are a staple item. I give them away conferences, signings, school visits... heck, if you talk to me for five seconds about my book, I will give you a bookmark LOL.  It’s an inexpensive and easy way to get information about your book into the hands of readers.  That said, I do like big swag, particularly if it has some subtle connection to my book. The more expensive swag, however, I save for exclusive giveaways and readers who seek me out at events/ festivals to talk about my book and the characters they love.

What’s the most clever / best swag by another author? 

The DUMPLIN’ Box by Julie Murphy. Such a unique and fun way to give away ARCs, and I love how each item speaks to the book.




Monday, September 14, 2015

#PitchWars Critique - FORVER ROSE

My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green.

Query:

Seventeen-year-old Rose Asters never intended to become best friends with an Angel – it just kind of happened. Hmm... unfortunately I know that even a few years ago "angel" was a bad word in queries. Most of the paranormal being plots are played out. If you really want this to jump you're going to have to come up with a much stronger hook. 

Angels protect the oblivious population from what? and Rose watches her best friend balance saving lives and finishing school. She’s grateful that Jake has trusted her with the knowledge of his world. How did they meet? We need more than "it just kind of happened."

Until a psychotic Angel murders her father. The product of a jilted affair what does this mean? the angel is a the product of a jilted affair? She is the product? Her father was the product?, his killer is now after Rose and her loved ones. Why?  Rose must now decide – leave Jake for a life of safety or to search for her father’s killer. Why would she have to leave Jake? Why are her only options leaving him or searching? Jake insists she can’t have both but Rose Asters never plays by the rules.

This query is vague. We've got danger for a reason we don't understand, a paranormal friend for a reason we don't know, and a search for a killer where we don't really know the stakes. Like I said earlier, angels aren't blazing new paths in YA right now - you'll have to make it clear that your book is different from everything else out there - and right now this query doesn't do that.

First Page:

Rule one: don’t remember the day your father was murdered. This morning, I break the rule. In the shower, my false sense of security is slipping down the drain with my apple shampoo.

Rule two: live in the moment. I remember him as I walk to my bus stop, wet hair soaking through my jacket. The rumble of traffic grows louder than my music and the combination of both sounds creates a new song in my ears. A city song. The chug of a bus catches my attention.

Rule three: don’t overthink it. I look up to see the bus pulled up in front of me isn’t my school busWhat does this have to do with overthinking?

Rule four: go to school. If I go to school, I am doing what I need to do to keep the peace with Mum at home. It’ll keep Jake happy and, most importantly, it’ll keep me out of trouble. This is what they expect. Stability, routine. I stick my hand out, signalling for the bus driver to open the doors. I don’t know where it goes.

Rule five: Rose Asters never plays by the rules.

***

Having a scene break this early in the book (we're not even off page one) makes it seem like the whole narrative is going to be disjointed as well.

There are four other people on the bus – I count them as I walk on. A young mother sits near the front, nursing a baby in her arms, staring distantly out the window. She’s hunched over the child, protecting it from some life I’ll never know of.

A boy my age sits on the back seat, music blaring through his headphones. He wears a stony expression on his lips and his DC cap is backwards, How can she see what's on his cap if he's sitting in the back and the cap is backwards? covering a head of wild blonde hair. I wonder why he’s not at school. Is he running away from something like I am?

Finally, in the disabled section, an old woman sits gripping her walking frame with shaking, frail hands. Her jaw moves at an unsteady pace and her glassy eyes stare straight ahead. Two paras above the mother is staring out the window. Avoid echoes. I hate that she’ll have to stumble off the bus alone, with no one to steady her.

I’ve been on this watch your tenses bus for over thirty minutes before I decide to get off. I clutch my scarf tighter around my neck as I smile a brief thank you to the bus driver before stepping off the bus. I’m ready to escape the day and break my routine. I’m ready for anything. But didn't she just do that? She didn't get on her school bus. She got on a city bus.

Then Jake McKenzie grabs me by my shoulder.

I highlighted each use of bus - eight on the first page. Watch out for those echoes.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE by Patrick Ness

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.

Mikey is a regular kid in a town where the Chosen Ones blow up the school every ten years or so. In his parents time it was the soul-eating undead, there was a wave of highly attractive vampire attacks / love affairs awhile back, and it looks like for his generation it's going to be immortal beings that use a strange blue light to bring things back to life - like the deer that his best friend hit with her car right after he confessed his love for her.

Being a normal in a town full of Indies (effortlessly cool kids, mostly named Finn) is not easy. There's always drama surrounding him when all Mikey wants to do is get through each day until graduation, try to figure out his feelings for his best friend before she leaves for a mission trip to Africa, and deal with the fact that he's pretty sure he needs his circle of friends more than they need him.

Even in the normal crowd he's the boring one, and Mikey's OCD has him washing his hands until they crack as everyday stress builds (alongside continued attacks from the Immortals, resulting in tragic deaths of many Indie kids - there are perks to being boring). Just getting through life is hard enough for Mikey. He's never wanted to be an Indie, but being normal can be just as difficult.

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

It's been awhile since I gave you some Mindy Thoughts That I Have Recently Thunk, because I've been really busy. But I was told they are missed, so here's a few.

1) Why are fly poops so geometrically perfect? Do they have tiny round anuses?

2) Why do we mow our yards? Who decided this was a good idea? You know someone was the first person to do it, and then his neighbor had to keep up appearances and now we're all screwed.

3) I've started saying "vagina to the wall" instead of "balls to the wall." It gets reactions.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

#PitchWars Critique - WHEN WE FELL

My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green.

Query:

Seventeen-year-old Angela Rayburn always goes along with Dad’s conspiracies. Maybe some allusions to ones he's had in the past? But this one’s a bit ridiculous. He thinks the military is going to overthrow the government. Like the official military - not militia? Crazy, right? So is dragging her friend, Neil, around town to fill the Suburban with nonperishable foods and camping supplies. Telling her to flee the country is farther than Dad has ever gone and Angela is scared enough to play along.

When a new American Revolution begins it looks like Dad isn’t so crazy after all. Kind of contradicts the previous sentence that she gave hi enough credence to actually be scared.

Now Angela’s stuck in Canada under strict orders to stay put and out of trouble. Kissing Neil isn’t trouble, is it? I'd cut this for space, as the allusion to the romance is included later. When Dad vanishes amongst the chaos of the revolution, is he actively involved in it? He didn't go with her? Neil’s there to calm her and a summer romance makes the perfect distraction.

But distractions don’t last forever. Angela stumbles across a family secret that suggests Dad may be within reach. You're playing coy here - what's the secret? And within reach is vague - do you mean physically? She’ll do anything to have him back, even break promises. Promises to who? Neil or dad? Neil and Angela’s rescue mission is short-lived when they get are forcefully recruited into boot camp.

The New American Army doesn’t care who lives or dies but escape is never an option. As the Army transforms recruits into war machines, Angela’s top priority must become surviving if she hopes to reunite with her father once more.

WHEN WE FELL is a Young Adult Science Fiction Near-Future novel complete at 81,000 words with a diverse cast of characters.

I think we might need more about why the Army would revolt against the government in the first place in order to make this believable. Do they want complete military rule? What is their motivation and goal? Even a sentence or two in order to make the world building digestible would help.

First Page:

There was one benefit to sitting behind Jeremiah Jones in third period. Being well over six foot, he made the perfect wall. Could I see the whiteboard whenever Mrs. Sheffer wrote down notes or Juliette as she gave her biology speech today? Not so much. But they couldn’t see me either.
Flipping open my silver compact, I brought it up to check my lipgloss.

A hand jabbed into my side, an overly aggressive attempt to tickle me. The gesture would’ve made me laugh once upon a few weeks ago. Now, my only response was a glare I shot at the offender. Trevor gave me his signature one dimple smirk in response.

Turning my attention back to the tiny mirror, I rubbed my lips together and moved the compact around, assessing the color, Dazzle Me Pink, underneath the fluorescent lights.

“Come on, Ang,” Trevor half-whispered. “Are you really going to ignore me forever?”

With a practiced motion the compact snapped closed. “That’s the plan.”

“But I miss you.”

I twisted toward my ex-boyfriend and allowed him to see my eyes roll.

Trevor finally admitting, after two and a half weeks, that he missed me was extremely pleasing. Like thinking a new Coach bag was sold out only for the sales associate to find one more in the back, pleasing. But there was no way in hell I was going to give him the satisfaction of knowing that.

“You should’ve thought about that before you hooked up with Shelly.”

Stupid Shelly. First, she stole my boyfriend. Then, she stole my spot on the cheerleading squad.
Last Friday marked the final cut for next year’s varsity team. And I’d been the one cut. Thanks to Shelly. Was it my fault the new girl kicked higher than I was tall? Is Shelly the new girl?

“I was drunk,” Trevor continued, like I was interested in hearing what he had to say. “Baby, you know how I get when I’m drunk.”

Everything in your first page is fine, but we're getting a picture of Angela that was definitely not reflected in the query. She's very prima donna, and that's not in the query. So roughing it in Canada with camping supplies and canned food, then boot camp, are going to be seriously against her normal lifestyle. Get this in the query, because right now the MC is a very different person than I picture her from the query.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Paperback IN HANDFUL OF DUST With Extras & NOT A DROP TO DRINK E-Book $1.99 Across All Platforms!

Lots going on right now in my world!

The paperback of IN A HANDFUL OF DUST releases today - it's loaded with extras, including essays from me about the research involved in writing the novel, and how I mentally navigated the 2,600 mile journey that Lynn and Lucy traveled on foot.


You also get an original short story about Mother when she was younger, as well as the first chapter of A MADNESS SO DISCREET, which releases 10/6!


Think this all sounds awesome, but you haven't read NOT A DROP TO DRINK yet? No worries. The e-book is currently $1.99 across all platforms for a limited time. Links below!

Also available in the iTunes store for iBooks at $1.99!

Monday, September 7, 2015

#PitchWars Critique - JACK OF ROSES

My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green.

Query:

When seventeen-year-old musician Townes Ransom sneaks out to a music festival to compete in a marquee open mic, a confrontation with Americana superstar India Lee leads to Townes’ discovery that their whose? His or hers? music is imbued with a pure and powerful kind of fire actual physical fire, or is this a metaphor? Not only that, it’s addictive to the ancient beasts of the Circle, still as hungry today for the music that only humans can make as they were when the continents were young.   This just made a pretty big leap from contemporary sounding to magical elements.

Groomed from birth to have a place in the Circle’s hierarchy and unable to believe that Townes knows nothing about it or the true nature of his talents, India pegs him as a liar, a rival, and quite possibly an idiot. An onstage showdown the same incident mentioned above? between them attracts both of the Circle’s warring factions to the festival, and when the deadly Riser faction decides that India’s family is gaming them why would they think this?, the two are drawn into the Circle’s escalating power struggle. Why would Townes be dragged into this?

Forced into a shaky alliance why?, Townes and India’s search for safety and a fabled mandolin that India believes she’s born to play–unless the Risers find it first–sends them road-tripping to New Orleans. Townes is all in, fascinated by this new world of folk legends come to life and also by the fierce and troubled India Lee. It’s all great, until the dying starts. Then, as the casualties climb, who is dying? Townes must question everything he thinks he knows–about family, friendship, and what girls want–and come to grips with the soaring costs of his musical legacy.

Based on the premise that America’s mythology hides in our music, JACK OF ROSES reads like a YA collision of “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “Almost Famous,” and would appeal to fans of Maggie Stiefvater’s RAVEN BOYS series. Great comp titles and good philosophy of what the book is about here.

Overall this query feels heavy. There's a lot of information being thrown here, but not much explanation. What is the Circle? What are these beasts? True monsters? Humans with powers? Who is the enemy here? In the query they come off as faceless bad guys. What are the two factions fighting over, and what does the mandolin have to do with any of it?

Also, I'd get the magical elements out of the way in the first line. The jump leaves me going, Wait - what? Not a good place to be. 

Chapter One

Townes Ransom hoisted his guitar higher and pushed through the crowd. He glanced over his shoulder. Hill was still behind him, flashing a conspiratorial grin, and Townes grinned back. There’d be hell to pay for being here, kind of a lot of hell actually, but that wouldn’t happen until Sunday. Today was Friday.

So far, the good omens kept coming. Even if the cover story about camping in the state park some twenty miles down the Blue Ridge Parkway were to fall apart now, who cared? Here at the RootsStock music festival, lost in a sea of people, they were unfindable. Unfindable from who? Going to catch hell from who? Parents? And now, this magical discovery: if he held his guitar case up high and in front of him, it carved a path through the festival crowd like the bow of his personal ship instead of being only an arm-wrenching anchor. If people jumped to the conclusion that either he or the guitar were expected somewhere up front, and then were so kind as to edge back and let him pass by, well, who was he to turn down that kind of luck? There were side effects, too–curious glances, and ripples of  “Who’s that?” whispers that brushed over him like fingertips on his shoulders. These were followed in short order by muffled snorts of laughter from Hill, who knew the sad but truthful answer to that question:  Nobody.

Great opening. I'd definitely keep reading. There's good voice here! Some of your sentences are longish, and a bit verbiose, but I think it works for voice.

What I Learned From #PitchWars

The dust has settled, the mentees are announced, and all that's left is the (gulp) agent round.

This was my first year doing PitchWars, and I'm glad that I did. Yeah, it was a little hectic - I had edits due for THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES, marketing, promo, and travel for A MADNESS SO DISCREET going on, fulfilling my end of the Kickstarter rewards for AMONG THE SHADOWS, plus critiquing for a friend - and suddenly my inbox had over 130 queries and first pages to read through.

But agents do that everyday. Every. Day. And they're juggling more than edits, promo and critiques for three projects... more like anything from twenty to the hundreds.

When I was in the query trenches I was often frustrated. Okay I was completely frustrated 100% of the time - and I was in those trenches for ten years. Sometimes I'd get such a lightning quick form rejection that I knew the agent hadn't glanced at my pages, or maybe even read the entire query. And it was irritating - I worked hard on that! That's my dream in your inbox! Give me the benefit of the doubt!

Through a few years of doing The Saturday Slash on the blog, and now after my experience in PitchWars, I completely understand that agents simply cannot read every word that is sent to them.

In some cases, yes, the writer worked hard - but maybe not hard enough. Did you do your research? Is the query about you or about your book? Does it open with a rhetorical question? Why would you do that? (see what I did there?) Have you identified your genre correctly? Is this even a YA book?

And in other cases, yes, it's your dream in the inbox... but maybe it's not the agent's dream. You could have an absolutely stellar query and opening page about something that agent is not interested in. At. All. That doesn't mean someone else isn't. While subjectivity is one of the most frustrating things about the industry, it's also the reason why bookshelves have everything from books about cats peeing on things to children's books meant for adults. And that's awesome.

My mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with that many submissions, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued, so tune in!

Saturday, September 5, 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.

Bree Russelgrove can’t control herself. Literally. Not bad -- it's vague but I'm curious about what the specifics of this are.

Seventeen-year-old Bree lives cozily in the shadow of her congressman father and gregarious mother. She is smarter than her grades let on, inquisitive and above all, predictable. So when she jolts up might want to change the phrasing here, it's awkward in the middle of history class and walks out, her friends notice. She notices. But she can’t stop.

Terrified, a little curious, and physically incapable of doing otherwise, Bree drives to a building where she meets other teenagers in her same predicament. And she comes face to face with Henry, the scientist who has programmed her and now controls her like a puppet.

Henry claims he’s creating a superior type of hero, destined to make the world safer. Bree can instantly pick locks, build weapons, and take down trained guards. Because he programmed her this way? She hates being Henry’s soldier, which includes lying to her family and friends about it, but her hijacked brain tortures her body if she disobeys. How so?

When Bree has to steal files from her father, she fears Henry’s plans for her have a touch of the personal. Now she must fight against herself and figure out how to cut the puppet strings. She needs her life back before she is compelled to take someone else’s. Someone she loves.

CLICKED, completed at 87,000 words, is young adult thriller.

Dang. I think this is a pretty solid query. Get the explanation the torture for disobeying in there, change some of the awkward phrasing, but otherwise I think you're good to go!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: PERFECT RUIN by Lauren DeStefano

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.

Internment is almost perfect - a floating city where violence is virtually unknown, and you can grow up to be anything you want to be. Except, Morgan knows that madness lurks in their city in the sky. Her brother was a Jumper - the only way to escape Internment - and being so close to the Edge drove him crazy. Morgan has questions about the perfection of their lives, but isn't curious enough to ask them openly. She has her betrothed and her friends - everything to keep her life steady and normal.

But then the first murder in a generation occurs, a boy who supposedly killed his betrothed. But Morgan recognizes the victim's little sister - a fellow Jumper who attends recovery meetings. Then she crosses paths with the supposed killer one night while out on her solitary walks, and he strikes her as anything but a madman on the loose, which is how the media is portraying him.

Cracks are forming in her perfect world, and Morgan has to decide whether she wants to remain willfully ignorant, or answer the curiosity that has always pulled her toward the Edge.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Melanie Crowder On Being Both A Planner & A Pantser

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Melanie Crowder, who has received many honors for her debut novel, PARCHED, including Bank Street’s Best Books of the Year, a Junior Library Guild selection, a Silver Medal in the Parents’ Choice Awards, and a starred review from the Bulletin.

Her second book, AUDACITY, has received three starred reviews and is an Editor’s Choice at BookBrowse and a Top Pick from BookPage. Her third novel, A NEARER MOON, releases September 8 from Atheneum Books / S&S.

Melanie holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she isn’t writing, Melanie can be found teaching, reading, daydreaming or exploring the beautiful state of Colorado where she lives with her family.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Both! 

I usually begin by writing really short drafts without much pre-planning to find the voice and tone for a new book. Then I step back and give it a read. I make a million notes and chart out the plot and character arcs—where I want the book to go thematically and structurally. Finally, I use all that planning to dig back in and write a much thicker, much stronger second draft. 

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

I have no idea, to be honest! Maybe 3 months to get to that second draft? Another month or two to before I’ll show it to my editor? Six months or more in revisions with my editor? So I suppose that’s about a year to D&A. Good to know—thanks for asking! 

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

I like to keep my focus in one place, mostly. That sort of single-minded attention means my mind is working on the story all the time—while I’m sleeping, or driving, or out on a walk. But there are always gaps in my revision schedule where, if I don’t turn to something new, then I wouldn’t be writing at all. Or, like what happened last week: I’m in the middle of revisions for one book when the first pass comes through for a different book and I have no choice but to switch gears. Sometimes it’s a little jarring to jump between different manuscripts, especially since the different projects are so different in tone and style, but that’s the job, and I love it! 

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

When I first started, I had no idea how little I understood about how to write a book. So I didn’t really have any fears then—I didn’t know any better! 

I definitely feel it now, though. There are always fears and insecurities that can get in the way of the creative process. The trick is to acknowledge them and then put them behind you. 

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

I worked on 4 books before I found my agent and editor: 2 before my MFA, and 2 during. I think of them as learning books—I doubt I’ll ever go back to them, and I’m so glad I had the time to work through those stories and improve before my work went out there into the world. SO glad!

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

Only during my MFA program. When I got to the point with a manuscript where I had learned all I needed to, then I moved on and started fresh with a story that would be stronger from the very first word because of all I had learned on the previous one. 

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

I work with Ammi-Joan Paquette. We found each other through an unusual process in that I was already connected with my editor and the book was already on its way to acquisitions when I signed with her. 

How long did you query before landing your agent? 

I think it was about six months of obsessive email checking before I got that YES. So glad that’s behind me! 

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

What they say really is true—keep writing. Send your manuscript out and start working on something else. If you’re willing to stick with it and push yourself to constantly improve your craft, it’s not so much if you will get an agent, but when. Hang in there!

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

There’s nothing like it. Just today, I saw a librarian featuring Audacity on a morning TV show, and I got that same thrill. That’s my name on the cover. It’s an awesome feeling! 

How much input do you have on cover art?

Virtually none. I see the publishing process as a partnership and I’m happy to let other members of the team make the decisions they are best qualified to make. I do the writing, they do the rest, and together we make great books! 

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

I think just the sheer number of books published in a single year. And good ones, too! Something like 750 books for children & young adults receive starred reviews in a single year. That’s amazing! I’m seriously behind in my reading.

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I have a website, I tweet, and I also just started using Instagram—it’s fun! 

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

I think it depends. Do you enjoy learning about the industry through social media posts? Then do that. Do you enjoy learning about writing craft through blog posts? Then do that. Do you like engaging with current issues on Twitter? Then do that. Would you rather be writing? Then do that. Just grab your domain name for now and call it good. 

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I’m on the fence about that, to be honest. I think the most important thing to do as a writer is to write, so that’s where I put my energy. I could blog every day or tweet all the time and it wouldn’t be half as effective in reaching readers as the enthusiastic posts they see from other readers who just have to tell everyone how much they loved my book. That’s genuine, and it’s meaningful both to me, and to potential readers.