Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Writing, Publishing & Marketing Advice From NYT Bestselling Author Beth Revis

Today I am very happy to welcome to the blog bestselling author and fellow League of Extraordinary Writers member Beth Revis. Beth is the author of the NY Times Bestselling Across the Universe series, published by Razorbill/Penguin in the US and available in 17 countries. A former teacher, Beth lives in rural North Carolina with her husband and dog.

Beth has published a three-part series to help aspiring authors find their way through the maze of writing an publishing. Learn to avoid the common pitfalls and find your own path with Beth's PAPER HEARTS series.

Your PAPER HEARTS series is a three-pronged look at writing, publishing and marketing. How important do you think it is for a writer to be good at all three?

For a writer, the only thing you need is to know how to tell a good story. For a career author who wants to make a living at writing, I think it's necessary to know the business side of it, too--which includes not just writing a query, but deciding the best publishing path for your specific career, and then exploring the tools to help you position yourself for continued success. 

My books are definitely not going to be a cure-all, but I want to get people to ask themselves the questions necessary to sustain a career. What is more important to you, specifically: one book published or a career in writing? Are you more willing to sacrifice time or money when it comes to marketing? Are you more comfortable being social or innovative? How can you best help your career? Publishing, like writing, is not a one-size-fits all.

The idea came about after your collected Wattpad project had reached critical mass. Can you tell us more about your motivation to help aspiring writers?

I think part of my motivation just comes from the way my brain ticks. I used to be a teacher, and I loved that job. Not the grading papers or dealing with parents, not that, but the actual teaching part. I loved helping students, I loved discussing new ideas and just...just teaching. I really loved that job. This book comes about in part because of that. 

When someone asks a question, I want to be able to help them find an answer. So I started hanging around writing boards, like Reddit, Miss Snark's First Victim, and Facebook forums. I found that I was answering a lot of the same questions over and over, so I started to compile it all in Wattpad. A few months ago, after I hit my first 100,000 reads, I realized that I was looking at not one book, but three, and I might be able to help more people if I published them.

Volume three focuses on marketing... something that many writers are uncomfortable with, claiming that they're artists, not salespeople. Are there effective marketing strategies for even the shyest of scribes?

Oh, absolutely! That's the beauty of the internet! :)

But beyond that, there are ways where you can let your books do the talking. I am not a fan of the "hard sell"--where you stand up and actively approach people and engage with strangers. It works for some people, but not for me. So I try mostly to focus on ways you can engage no matter what your level. 

But a big key to marketing is just being plugged into the community. If you're most comfortable with Twitter, use Twitter. Not as an advertiser, as a user. See what makes you click links, which contests you are tempted to sign up for, which books you notice, and you'll be well on your way to finding the method of marketing that works best for you.

Only the first in the three volume series focuses on the actual writing process. How do you think an author's position in the publishing industry has changed over time?

When it comes to publishing, good writing will out. The first book is on writing processes, and it's the longest of the three books, but at the end of the day, the entire book is summed up with: "make art the best way you can." 

Publishing is more cut-and-dry. There are specific methods of publishing that work and some that don't. And sure, there are exceptions to the rule, but learning how to write a good pitch paragraph is important whether you are traditionally published (and need to add it to a query or a website) or you're self publishing and have to put it on the back of your book. Authors have a ton more options now to publish, and it is possible to stand out as a self publisher, and the best thing you can do for yourself is just learn and then be as professional as possible.

The title, PAPER HEARTS, is intriguing. What does it mean to you, personally?

I've latched on to that phrase for years. A paper heart is fragile, easily torn. But writers build their lives around paper, and even if one piece is easy to tear into shreds, a stack of papers--like the kind that make a book--is strong.

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Monday, October 26, 2015

#PitchWars Critique: THEY CHOSE THE STARS

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 Kora Scott has devoured every pic, vid and science journal about the alien planet of N’dah. Especially if a colonizer posted about the green-skinned, humanoid Nah’dians. I think you'd be better served to use a dash before "especially" rather than starting a new sentence. But when her terra shuttle is shot down on approach to N'dah, it turns out none of her research prepared her for reality. Not all Nah’dians welcome colonizers. The burning wreckage of her shuttle offers Kora no refuge, but neither does stepping into the open. Unless she wants to be shot by a Nah’dian plasma gun.

Then Uncas, a sympathetic Nah’dian, comes to her rescue. Together, Kora and Uncas fight their way through Kora’s attackers, plunging desperately into the wilderness. The dense forest hides them from the pursuing Nah’dians, but stampeding amors with scythe-like horns and giant venomous spiders that eat their victims slowly,  kill this comma await the inexperienced. Kora needs Uncas to survive, but when she discovers his thoughtful and patient manner make her heart burst like a N’dah sunrise, she suspects survival isn’t her only need.

With a band of vengeful Nah’dians on their trail and sixty kilometers of dense, wild forest to trek, Kora and Uncas must race to the safety of the nearest human dome. But navigating their feelings for one another may prove the biggest obstacle of all. With trouble brewing between colonists and Nah’dians, Kora’s not sure this new world is ready for a love that transcends DNA.

THEY CHOSE THE STARS (90,000 words) is a multi-POV YA Science Fiction based on James Fenimore Cooper’s unabridged THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. It features a diverse cast and reads as a stand-alone with series potential. I am working with the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Nation to assure a sensitive retelling of this classic story. Overall this query is fantastic - I love it.

First Page:

KORA

My breath fogs the port, nose so close it's almost touching the glass, as outside the window a thin blue crescent outlines the planet. I wipe the window with my hand, and a thrill runs through me as I locate major cities, a widely spaced connect-the-dots of shining beacons against the dusky world. But Father has barely mentioned the cities. His life is a research dome in the wilderness, and so ours will be as well.

Sheets of green and gold aurora borealis leap the poles, but the blue crescent inches upward, erasing the aurora with relentless indifference. A bright diamond swells in the center, then breaks free, rays blazing into cold space like the blood pumping through my heart faster and faster. Spots blossom and wane across my vision, but I cannot look away. Your description is really beautiful, but I think the second para verges on purple prose - we need to get to a person sooner to pull the reader in.

“Mother would have loved this,” Alyss says, a breathy voice from the next port.

An involuntary line creases my brow; irritation at the interruption equal to her use of Mother. Like the word "mother" or the thought of her? But I smooth my face into a smile before my eyes shift to my sister. Her slim fingers press the glass with reverent grace as she stares in awe at the star rising in the black sky. She has not noticed my frown, not that she ever does.

“Yes.” My voice is a whisper. Talking about Mother is still hard. “But she’d never have stepped foot on a space cruiser.”

I long ago accepted my half-sister saw my mother as the only one she had ever known. Why it bothers me now is hard to explain. Maybe I am just overwhelmed by what the coming days will bring. And what the last seven months have dealt us.

Overall this is quite good. The query is polished and feels like a fresh take. I think you need to clarify the "mother" irritation in the beginning (especially if it's plot relevant) and watch out for the highlighted echoes.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: GONE TOO FAR by Natalie D. Richards

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.

Piper is ready to get out of high school and take her camera with her. Working for the school newspaper has always keep her behind the scenes, but when she discovers a notebook full of pictures with her fellow students' eyes burnt out and a list of their sins, she finds herself in the thick of everything.

At first she thinks it's nothing - an art inspired vent from some unpopular schmuck like herself - until a sex-tape goes viral and a popular girl kills herself as a result. Then Piper starts getting anonymous texts from the notebook's creator, asking her for a name - someone to be punished. She's seen a lot of shady things, but doesn't think the text is anything more than a bluff... until the person she named gets a dose of justice.

Now the anonymous texter wants Piper to choose the next victim - or it'll be someone she cares about.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

#PitchWars Critique: LOST IN THE DARKNESS

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:

Fifteen-year old Corey Tajos is broken. His healing power erases the physical marks of his father’s beatings. I'd insert "but" here It cannot contain the raging fury inside from exploding, fighting, and generally turning his life into a crapfest. So he's broken because of the power he keeps a secret, or because of his anger issues? Corey keeps taking the abuse because of what he is. No Normal you capitalized this - on purpose? person or policeman is going to stick his neck out to save some Abber kid. So Corey has really low self-esteem or is he just being practical by saying he'll take the abuse? If his father found out about his ability, he’d sell him to the highest bidder on the Abber black market. What is Abber? A town? What is this black market dealing in?

After his father hands out a near-lethal beating, Corey flees to Harrington House, a secret foster home for kids like him. Like Amy, the girl he’s been crushing on since he moved to town. Not a complete sentence. The girl who despises him because of what his brokenness makes him do. Is this a reference to his abilities or his fighting? With his father bent on revenge for what?, Corey must learn to trust this group of strangers to protect him from his father and, more importantly, the darkness inside himself. But the darkness doesn't sound like a bad thing if it heals him... what's the connection between the power to heal and his anger issues?

First Page:

Deep breaths. Take deep breaths. Stop the shaking, inside and out. Push down the darkness, get through practice, and this suckhole of a day will be over.

I closed The first para feels present tense but now we're in past my eyes, open locker shielding me from the rest of the team. Three minutes. All I needed was three minutes.

I leaned my forehead against the row of lockers. Cold metal to hot skin. Good start.

One breath for Father gifting me the fist-sized bruise below my shoulder blade.

One for the slap Amy Gosche laid on me when I pinched her butt. For the second time.

One for the D+ on the math test. (Father will be pissed.)

One for Lindsey Buckner announcing I kissed like a wet fish. To the entire cafeteria.

One for Mama. (If I lost it, we’d both pay.)

One for—

BAM! My locker door smashed closed, then shimmied back open from the force. My head jerked off the ringing metal as I spat out a long string of curses.

“Corey!” It was Trevor Pereira. Freshman quarterback. Coach’s bright shining hope for the future. My primary hope for escape from my own personal hell. “Get your ass in gear, we’re late!”

I slapped the locker shut, rammed the lock home, and grabbed my helmet off the bench. Every muscle rang with tension as I said, “Outta the way, Pereira.” My helmet may have collided with his stomach as I pushed passed him. These things happen.

Your voice is great here, but it opens very much like a contemporary, and your query reads SF. With his ability, the capitalization of "Normal" and the reference to a town and black market makes me expect a very different kind of opening. However I love the opening and think it's really good, so this indicates that maybe you need to get more of the contemp feel into the query. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

#PitchWars Critique: ORPHANS OF JADOX

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:

Larzo’s life was decided for him the moment he shape-shifted into a panther.

He and his parents are members of the king’s secret force, using their enhanced abilities to monitor the governors of the outlying provinces. For nineteen years, he’s never questioned his parents’ decision, or his path. Above you make it seem like the shapeshifters don't have a decision to make though, like being a shifter means you are automatically part of this secret force - is that the case?

While on a routine inspection, Larzo catches three men attacking? an innocent woman in the forest. For the first time in his life he follows instincts instead of orders, and leaps from the shadows to save her, injuring two men before they can escape. Only then does he realize he’s thrown himself, his parents, and his king into a boiling conflict in the Southern Province. How so?

For as long as she can remember, Aydra’s Is Aydra the girl Larzo saved? home has been a sanctuary for children targeted by the governor. Why are they being targeted by the governor? But two years after her own parents’ execution, she’s reached her limit. At age seventeen, she’s the sole provider for nine children, and the reluctant leader of a rebellion against the governor’s ban on education, all while maintaining a run-down bakery to make ends meet. Why would education be banned? When you say earlier that her home is a sanctuary I picture a hidden place, but it sounds like she's in plain sight?

In thirty days, the governor will remove the children on counts of negligence. Remove them to where? Negligence in this case means what? Aydra’s spent her life fighting tyranny and physical signs of force. She doesn’t know how to navigate the legal aspect of the governor’s edict. With no time or money, she’s forced to accept Larzo’s help in exchange for room and board. How does he know how to navigate the legal aspect? To her surprise, he also helps her makeshift family, healing the trauma they’d experienced under the governor’s rule. Physical, emotional, mental trauma? How does he help?

Aydra believes that Larzo’s connection to the king will stop the governor, but when the governor attacks closer to home, she realizes the king doesn’t care. Unless she can find a way force him to respond, she’ll watch the governor destroy everything she’s built. What has she built, exactly? You say she's the head of a rebellion, but I have no idea what that means or entails. And if Larzo can’t find a way to intervene, he’ll lose the closest thing he’s ever had to a real family.

The ORPHANS OF JADOX is a young adult fantasy. Complete at 72,000 words, it’s told from four points of view: Larzo, Aydra, and Larzo’s parents. Having adult POV in YA is possible, but difficult. Also, if his parents are that important they need to be in the query. Your query already leans long, and leaves a lot of questions. You've got to pare down a bit. A lot of the info you have here is more of a synopsis and less of a query. 

First Page:

The rustle of leaves broke through the stillness of late afternoon. Larzo froze, waiting for the creature to present itself, the fur on his tail prickling as though on cue. Narrowing his eyes, it only took several seconds several seconds is actually a pretty long time to pinpoint the offending bush. Twice the length of the thick trunks around it, and almost as tall as the lowest branches, its large size made it a perfect hiding spot for man or beast to hide. A bit too much description of the tree here. We know people can hide behind trees without knowing it's a big tree.

With paws spread, Larzo crept closer, keeping his body close to the moist earth. The rain from the morning’s shower kept the ground damp, silent under his approach. Everything smelled green, from the leaves scattered on the forest floor to the moss clinging to the crevices between bark.
Everything except…

The direction of the breeze shifted, bombarding Larzo’s senses with garlic, blood and sweat. His eyes watered, and he blinked, unable to see through the onslaught. Onslaught of tears? smells? Humans. At least two, by the smell of it. Unable to control himself, Larzo moved closer, rolling the muscles in his shoulders. A tantalizing blend of flavors. His stomach growled, the rabbit he’d eaten hours earlier a distant memory. So he's thinking about eating them??

“Keep still,” a man whispered.

His sharp voice shook Larzo from his approach. This was no time to think with his stomach. These men didn’t belong here. Wait - so if the DID belong here it's okay for him to think with his stomach? Not after Larzo’s father and the king spent so many years reinforcing the idea of haunting spirits. Like they've tried to convince people the woods is haunted? Why? Expand on this a little more. We need to know why Larzo is out her in the first place. I she actually hunting? Is he just scaring people off? Guarding something?

“I thought I heard something.” A second voice whispered. “They say demons live here.”

“Shut up!” The first man’s words released in a hiss, barely audible above the wind sneaking through the foliage.

Larzo blinked. Two. Because he used the plural "humans" above it indicates he already knew there was more than one. And through a speckling of light escaping through the dense canopy overhead, he detected another figure in the bush to his right, for a total of three.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Saturday Slash

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

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

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

Dinah Darling is willing to do almost anything to find a committed relationship. She meets Emily Johnson who might be crazy maybe set aside this phrase with dashes and jumps into a relationship heart first. But it’s 1990 and gays in the Midwest aren’t accepted as readily into society as in the coastal areas.

Emily avoids her family chaos what family? what chaos? parents? Do they know she's gay? What's the source of the chaos? by drinking. Dinah concentrates on her work and responsibilities, while trying to please her sons, Emily and everyone else who needs her. But it doesn’t take long before money issues come into play because Emily losses loses her job and they get evicted. Dinah moves them to her hometown where they can be a normal family. But normal will never describe their lives.

When Dinah suspects Emily’s newest friend is much more, it is confirmed on the night her apartment is vandalized. How does that confirm it? Emily’s drinking is out of control. Along with Dinah’s best friend and Emily’s newest distraction the three convince Emily to go for treatment. Detox is the least of Emily’s troubles when Dinah has to deal with the real reason behind Emily’s drinking. Emily has eight different personalities. This feels like a curveball Dinah see’s the angels within now we're using supernatural language - another curveball as a coping mechanism and a clever way to survive everyday life. But when life and who she is with changes every five minutes, Dinah admits she can’t rescue everyone and needs help too. Through therapy Dinah searches for the answer to the age old question “How are you?” because “fine” feels like a impossibility.

When Emily’s mother dies everything changes. Dinah loses her job, and has to start over again. Through writing and sharing her story Dinah discovers she too is a survivor and nothing in her future would be as complicated as her past.

Unfortunately this feels like it has way too many things packed into it - drinking, self-identity, sexuality, infidelity, socio-economic issues, death, loss, mental illnesses... there are way too many issues present just in this query, let alone inside the novel itself, for there to be any real focus. Yes, all these things do happen to people in real life, but a novel needs structure and focus.

Also, this reads much more like a synopsis than a query. You're giving a step-by-step plot point of events in the novel, not an overall feeling of the book itself, which I think is indicative of the lack of focus in the actual ms. It's possible you're trying to jam everything into the query to make the novel seem more conflicted, more interesting, but you need to find the true drive of this book and focus the query - and the ms itself - on that.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: THE GAME OF LOVE & DEATH by Martha Brockenbrough

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.

Love and Death have a game, one that Death always wins. Their players don't know they are pieces, though some of their names have echoed through history. Antony and Cleopatra. Paris and Helen. Romeo and Juliet.

Now the two have focused on Henry and Flora, an orphaned boy who was lucky enough to be adopted by a wealthy family during the Great Depression, and a young black girl who wants nothing more than to be the next Amelia Earhart - even though her circle of friends see her job singing at a jazz nightclub as her future.

When they meet, Henry is lost, his mind coming back to her even when he should be helping his adopted brother with his news story about the people in Shantytown, people who aren't quite what either one of them was expecting. Love himself resides there, moving among the lost and hopeless, and catching the attention of Henry's confused adopted brother.

Death takes a more invasive route, assuming the guise of a visiting cousin intent on winning Henry over - that is when she's not busy crashing the Hindenburg. Fates collide as Love and Death, Henry and Flora grapple with what they truly want versus what they've been dealt - and Love fears that Death will win again, as always.

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) We always use football fields as size references. But if you tell me something's as big as Tunguska I'd be like OH MAN HOLY SHIT.

2) When I have a sore throat and people hoarse-talk back at me, I want to punch then in the trachea so that they don't have to fake it.

3) My nephew refers to Star Wars: A New Hope as the fourth movie and reads the CS Lewis books in chronological order. Our inner geeks are in constant conflict.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

#PitchWars Critique: WHAT WE HAVE LEFT

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:

Sixteen-year-old Lilás survived an alien attack and a devastating world war. Her reward? The world government placed her in a strictly controlled orphan town, where they plan to wipe out her emotions, just to see if they can. I was with you right up until that last statement. Just to see if they can? That doesn't work - all characters, good and bad, have to have clear cut motivations for their actions.

Sixteen-year-old Lilás age already stated has heard that the people who go to the town’s clinic come out different. When her friend goes there, and comes out repetitive statement ice-cold and ready to kill the children who threaten the current peace, Lilás is determined to never enter. But in their town of? Sorrow, where there are soldiers at every gate, she has little options. awkward phrasing. Either "no options" or "little choice." Her only hope of escaping is joining the cold-eyed Ace in her carefully calculated plan, which includes three other orphans and a rogue soldier. Is Ace the aforementioned friend? Clarify.

Survival turns deadly when they end up in outlaw territory, and one of Lilás’ companions is willing to sacrifice the rest to known rapists and murderers in order to save himself. Even if Lilás manages to make it to safety away from the outlaws,  Ace’s plans can lead them all to their deaths. Lilás must now determine how much death she can stand to cause for the sake of her own survival. I think we need to know more about Ace's plans and the overall goal here. Are the rebelling, or just escaping? Attacking the town, or simply putting distance between them?

WHAT WE HAVE LEFT is a 90,000-word young adult dystopian science fiction novel with LGBT characters, told from multiple viewpoints. It is a standalone with series potential. Thank you for your time and consideration.

First page:

Lilás

The biggest lie in history was peace, the biggest joke on those who hoped. Now there’s only Sorrow left. Good opener.

The words Word or words? The actual word sorrow? were everywhere in their town, Sorrow. They were painted on the houses, scribbled onto the desks, murmured amongst the orphans before bed, cut into the correction facility’s walls with pocket knifes.

Lilás traced the words on the wall with her finger while waiting outside of school. There was one large street in Sorrow, cutting the town in half, leading from the main entrance of the school down to the main entrance of the town. You could easily watch over the whole length of the street from the school doors. People moved slowly in Sorrow, dragging their feet, most of them with empty eyes. The town was supposed to be like a large orphanage, one of many after the wars. They said the majority of the residents were children, but the truth was that no one was a child in Sorrow.

Lilás felt trapped whenever she looked out over the town. Everything was so silent and lifeless, and she couldn’t leave. At night, she couldn’t breathe in her windowless room, the walls slowly closing in on her. She wouldn’t go to sleep some nights, afraid the air would run out when her eyes were closed.

She needed to get out of Sorrow. Preferably without being shot by one of the soldiers standing guard at the town gates.

From her position, Lilás spotted Natalie walking down the street, alone. She put out her cigarette, and made it over to her. In this sentence "it" is referring back to the last noun, which is the cigarette. I know you're indicating movement, but it's slightly confusing. The street edged with small shops with some abandoned buildings between them that posed as a reminder of how many had died. Again, possible misinterpretation due to phrasing - can be read not as the number of people that died, but rather the manner in which they did. The square houses for the orphans were set up in straight lines behind the shops, all equally dark and dull.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Tina grabbed her arm, stopping her in her tracks. Lilás turned her hands into fists, reminding herself of the punishment of punching an adult in the face. “You should be at the clinic together with the rest of your class.” Tina put her hands on her hips. She was one of the handlers assigned to the trouble children, and had been Lilás’ handler until she’d convinced the town officials she was perfectly calm and normal. Tina had never bought it, but she’d let her go anyway, happy with one less responsibility.  

Your query needs tightening and focus on whatever the main plot point of the story is, but overall it's well written. Your first page has some great phrasing and a fantastic opening line, but you need to watch out for echoes (high lighted) and possibly misconstrued phrasing. Overall this is quite good, but the genre itself may be working against you.

Monday, October 12, 2015

#PitchWars Critique: THE BACKSLIDERS

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:

2019: Great Britain closed its borders, but not before expelling all foreign influence. Maybe a little background on why. Overpopulation? Threats?
2022: 17-year-old Thea Mimieux wants one thing: to escape. Escape to where?

As the daughter of foreign born parents exiled from Britain’s shores, Thea is a precariat, the lowest class in New Britain. Kind of confusing - the foreigners were expelled, but Thea is still there? Thea manages her wanderlust and hatred for the world she’s stuck in by gorging on the foreign culture New Britain banned. With her twin brother, Jack, they form the Backsliders, whose clandestine existence could be about to come to an abrupt end awkward phrasing when they encounter an Elite girl.

An Elite girl named Alice.

Alice Deering has a seemingly ideal existence but hasn’t felt alive for a single moment of it. Steered by The British Revival party’s strict morality laws, Alice is has yet to make a single decision on her own. She hopes that entering the world of courtship will be everything her mother promises and more. But Alice is repelled by the Elite boy society deems suitable and drawn to a precariat boy, Jack, who could cost her everything.

Told in a dual point of view, THE BACKSLIDERS is a 98,000 word YA dystopian novel. It is stand-alone with series potential and may appeal to readers of ‘AN EMBER IN THE ASHES’ you don't need quotes around these titles by Sabaa Tahir or Louise O’Neill’s ‘ONLY EVER YOURS.’

First Page:

Eve

New Britain’s borders might be locked, but rumours have a way of creeping in through the cracks. I’ve heard that most of Venice is under water and the last tiger has taken its final breath. Last year there was a rumour world war caps? III was raging in the east. I’ll never find out if these stories are true.

The latest rumour is the royal family are in France, why would the royal family be expelled from New Britain? preparing to storm the borders and reclaim their British throne, but I don’t hold out hope. If I want out of here I’ll have to find a way out of the rotting corpse of Britain myself - if the idiot I’m following doesn’t bring a sledgehammer to our little lives first, that is.

I scowl at his long, gangly legs in the hope they’ll stop moving so bloody fast. My court shoes nip at my heels and the thought of taking another step makes my temper flicker to life.

What is that boy thinking?

He hurries down a street lined with abandoned terraced houses, his white shirt a ghostly beacon for me to follow. The artificial flame of the street light flickers in the glass box above me and the thought of it disappearing leaves me cold. I can practically feel the MilPol curfew breathing down my neck. If we get caught breaking curfew it’ll be a one-way ticket to the penal colony for both of us. As soon as the white shirt has vanished from sight I hurtle after him, keeping my knees soft to stop my heels slapping against the cracked tarmac.

I haven’t made it halfway to the corner when I hear a faint buzz. A second later all traces of light disappear and I’m swallowed up by darkness. My heart starts to pound like a tribal drum, fast and erratic. I knew curfew was coming, but the hairs on my arms still stand to attention.

Overall this is definitely interesting. We need to know more about motivation in order to make world building believable in the query. Why would Britain make this dramatic move? Are the characters inside Britain? You say all foreign influence is expelled but there it sounds like there is a class of foreigners that our brother and sister characters belong to that are still inside. 

Also right now there isn't enough plot in the query to fill an entire novel. We've got a girl that wants to leave where she is and a girl in love with the wrong boy... but that's it. What's the struggle? Is there a revolution? Do they have a plan to get out? The bones are there, but definitely not fleshed out enough to show that there's enough conflict to build an entire novel on.

Echoes highlighted above.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Saturday Slash

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

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

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

I am seeking representation for my YA Sci-Fi adventure series, OBLIQUITY (95,000), and I am reaching out to you because of your specific interests in the genre. Hmm... honestly I've always felt like stating that your seeking representation is kind of silly - you wrote a query letter, so they kind of guessed that part already. Stating that you know they like the genre is fine, but maybe being a little more specific would be good -- otherwise it might look like you're up for ANY agent who reps the genre. Also pitching as a series right off the bat might not be the best. It'd call it a standalone with series potential -- but only if that's true.

Someone wants to kill Lya Rheas - It wasn’t chance that brought her to the prestigious Blue Air Force and it wasn’t luck that assigned her to the command of the mysterious Captain Surek - This is all great -- good hook and good voice. However I'd do away with the dashes and just let these sentences stand on their own. If she wants to live, she must find out who is after her and why she is mentioned in a prophecy written over one hundred years ago.

Born of a blue-collar family, headstrong and rebellious sixteen-year-old, comma overuse Lya Rheas probably not necessary to give her full name again, always dreamed of becoming relevant in this world - a hero - like the legendary Captain Surek. This sentence is pretty long and wordy - read it aloud, you run out of breath Lya gets what she asks for and more when she is unexpectedly recruited to the prestigious Bleu Different than before- which way are you spelling it? Air Force. But we already knew that - you're repeating information from your hook, and wasting word economy.

During her first calibration with the thought-controlled navigation system of what? a plane?, she experiences a mysterious vision, which her supervisor insists is a system malfunction, but after several attempts on her life, Lya suspects that someone is watching her - a group of believers of the old prophecy - who are convinced that she is the foretold Ender or (of?) Wars. This is great stuff, and I like it. However it's also a big run-on sentence. Again, read it aloud and you'll run out of breath. If your query reads like this, it might be an indication that the ms does too.

After surviving an intensive training program, Lya is shocked to find herself selected as Captain Surek’s copilot. During their missions, she struggles with her morals how? What is she asked to do? and constantly challenges the young, brooding and irascible captain. He's legendary, but yet young enough to be the love interest? Just as she contemplates leaving the Air Force, an attack by the Red Citadel leads her to discover a conspiracy that promotes the war and that powerful men will stop at nothing to prevent her from fulfilling the prophecy. Thrown into a race against time, Lya has no choice but to enlist the help of friends and allies like who? to unearth the mysterious origins of the prophecy, to stop the war and to save her own life.

Obliquity is the first book of a series, set in a dark future, on an island once known as Greenland, where the last of humanity has been waging a hundred-year war over the last habitable land on Earth. Again, I'd consider making it a standalone with series potential. 

I graduated from NYU in Film and TV Production and have since worked for companies such as MTV, Columbia University and the Weinstein Company in their purchasing department. While I have worked extensively with screenplays before, Obliquity is my first novel. Good bio!

You've got plot and voice doing good things for you here, and the setting seems pretty solid. However you need to do more to show that this book is different from every other chosen one novel out there with a headstrong, plucky female and a brooding love interest. What makes your plot different and unique from similar books? Get that in here, and shorten up some of your sentences.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: SHALLOW GRAVES by Kali Wallace

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.

Breezy doesn't remember dying, she only knows that a man dug up her shallow grave, and when he touched her dead wrist to pull her body from the ground, she knew instantly that he was a killer. Death has given her a gift - the ability to know with a touch whether someone else has taken life. It's an odd talent for someone who doesn't know they died themselves... even if there is a dark pattern of bruises around her neck that won't fade.

Breezy can't die - she's tried. She's got a list of the different methods she's put herself through after being pulled from the dirt, only to discover that forgetting death might be easy - finding it again is going to be complicated. Her search for answers leads her to other beings like herself, monsters hiding in plain sight, their human form disguising what they really are.

But monsters aren't the scariest thing the real world has to offer. A group of people know they exist, and will stop at nothing to eliminate their kind. Breezy's new gift teaches her quickly that the difference between the good guys and the bad guys isn't always obvious, and that the word monster can apply to just about anyone.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

#PitchWars Crit - UPRISING

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 criminals and beasts unite to oust the royalty, Raylene must find a way to stop them Why must she?. But first she needs to control her insatiable urge to kill. UPRISING, a YA fantasy, is complete at 85,000 words. It will appeal to fans of Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING and Marie Rutkoski’s THE WINNER’S CURSE. Good hook. I need to know more, but I'm sure that's to come. I like your comp titles.

After years of training to be a warrior, Raylene returns to her homeland. With her sword that emits fire and light, she can incapacitate fighters double her size. Perhaps a little more here - why is Rayline a warrior? Was this a choice or a caste or a destiny thing?

In her kingdom, all is not well. Prison breaks who is breaking out? are rampant and officials are being murdered. The empress insists everything is under control. But when her father goes on a ride like on a horse, or in a car? Genres are easily bent these days. and returns in a comatose state, Raylene doesn’t believe it was the accident they say it was. Slightly confusing - like he returned on horseback? But he's comatose? Like a  zombie? Or he's out cold? She’s willing to break every rule to uncover the truth, even if it means torturing suspects.

As she starts to untangle the web of lies ensnaring her kingdom, Raylene discovers a master manipulator is raising an army of criminals and deadly monsters. More on the monsters please - are these unknown to the land, or just more of "skulk in the dark and we don't bother you" type of thing She knows the power-hungry elites So is this like a coup? Officials are being murdered, but the elites are conspiring? are secretly lending him their support, but whenever she starts to close in, someone turns up dead.

Now Raylene must find a way to apprehend the rebel leader. If she fails to stop the rebellion, it’ll be the end of the royal family. Her family. Wait, she's royal? Explain.


First Page:

No one would rule her again, ever.

Raylene thought and gritted her teeth. Not a complete sentence. It had been four years since she set foot in Divine. She was still far from it, being several feet above the ground. But it wouldn’t be long until she reached Orion, the capital of the empire she would rule one day.

Raylene heard the pounding of her heart even though the wind whistled nonstop around her. She petted the bird-like head of her ride mount?—a zelokyte she had named Apa. She leaned closer to Apa’s massive body.

Raylene pulled binocles over her eyes and the view became so clear that she could count the pebbles below. The jagged leaves of the coniferous trees shivered as Apa flew into their midst. She raised her pointed beak and soared high towards the darkening sky. Perhaps the explanation of her viewpoint could come first. I thought she was standing on a cliff, or something, being several feet above. It explains the wind, etc., but we need to know she's on a flying steed first.

Raylene shook her head and waved away a ghost of a memory that kept growing as she neared her homeland. She wondered if it would be easier to defy the empress, now that she was a full-fledged wielder.

Easy or not, she would ensure that her grandmother paid for being the empress who ruled without mercy, and for whom her granddaughter’s wishes were as insignificant as the ashes left by a burning hearth.

Heat flushed through Raylene’s body.  She hadn’t forgotten, never would. And her grandmother would soon see what she was capable of.

Raylene licked her upper lip.

​Raylene​ stroked Apa’s rough scales, needing no bridle to control her zelokyte. Apa sensed and understood her. She straightened her scaly wings and flew faster, leaving a flock of birds squawking behind them.​

The first thing that jumps out at me is that this is a lot of telling. You're entire first page her is backstory being reiterated to the reader, which isn't the best delivery. Show how Raylene feels instead of just telling the reader, exhibit these emotions through interactions instead of setting it out as explanation in the first page. Also, I highlighted use of body parts throughout - it stood out to me the amount of words that are body parts on the first page, for whatever reason.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Happy Book Birthday To A MADNESS SO DISCREET!


Grace Mae knows madness.

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

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

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


Book Launch party TONIGHT at the Orange Branch of the Delaware County Library from 7-8:30 PM, with fellow YA authors Demitria Lunetta, Jennifer McGown and Geoffrey Girard.

Can't make it? No worries - I've got a lot of upcoming events!

None near you? Don't fret. Call Fundamentals Bookstore to have a signed copy of A MADNESS SO DISCREET (or any of my books) mailed to you!

Monday, October 5, 2015

#PitchWars Crit THE STATUE SAYS SPRING

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:

As daughter to the Lord of Galedonia, fifteen-year-old Ida thinks she’s safe from tragedy … until she fails to save her oldest friend from dying in should be "at" I think? the pillory. When her father banishes her mother to the slums for defiance, Ida refuses to fail again. She smuggles her mother food and valuables until she’s caught and banished too.

Thrilled to live with her mother ​once more​, Ida throws herself into the maze of streets, befriending beggars and crypt-dwellers. But slum life is harsh: her neighbors are scapegoated, maimed, and broken, her mother slaves in a factory, and small-time parasites like actual parasites, or is this another bad human move? using the word "devour" here makes me think of silverfish devour their money. Ida must learn to survive if she hopes for a brighter future, and her new friends are the perfect teachers. With the help of Fairfax, a freakishly ugly outcast with a soft spot for her mother, Ida navigates their knife-edge existence.

When Fairfax is arrested on trumped up charges and left to die in again "in"... is the pillory in your story different from the traditional idea of a pillory -- simply a pillar that the victim is tied / nailed to? the pillory, Ida is forced to relive her worst memory in the face of a terrible choice. If she’s caught trying to save him, she’ll be sentenced to death. If she walks away, she’ll watch another friend freeze. And in her dangerous new world, where friends mean survival, letting Fairfax die isn’t just cruel … it’s suicidal.

THE STATUE SAYS SPRING is an 88,000 word YA historical fantasy with crossover potential. It is set in a non-magical world that blends elements of Victorian and medieval England, and combines the style of Karen Cushman's Catherine, Called Birdy with the world-building of Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse.

I think your query is strong and the genre explanation at the bottom helps explain some questions that arose for my while reading the query. I do think you might need to examine the use of "in" for pillory, and also explain the cause of death at the beginning. If freezing plays into it we need to know a little more about that in terms of the world building - is this a season, or is this a freezing world? 

Overall more world building is necessary since it's a non-magical world that feels historical, why make this a fantasy at all? Get more about the stakes into the query - the plot can build entirely toward helping or not helping one person. Surely there is a subplot - what is it?

First Page:

The pillory would be teeming with spectators by dawn. If Ida wanted to help Mr. Hanson in time, she’d have to leave soon.

Across the room, her mother hadn’t shifted in minutes and her breathing was steady. The phrasing of this sentence feels passive as is. She was finally asleep. Ida crept from bed and collected her bag of supplies, coat, and glasses before sneaking out.

The icy Brimmen sea wind was a slap to the face so Ida pulled her long, lank hair over her ears. It didn’t help. Why was it so cold tonight, of all nights? It was mid-September, but it felt like February, and Mr. Hanson was confined in the pillory with only a thin shirt and breeches. He’d be frozen half to death. Good - you've built the coldness of this world into the first page. Get it into the query.

“Ikshik,” Ida cursed as she passed the Basilica’s blood-red gates. Maybe he was frozen to death. It was cold enoughThis is just echoing something we already know from the above para. She cursed again, blew on her numb fingers, and sped up. Gregor Hanson was like a grandfather to her, always there when she needed him most. He’d smuggled her forbidden books, taught her to ride boy-fashion, carried her to the surgeon when she broke her collarbone. Ida knew he was innocent of what?, she just knew it. There was no way she’d sleep peacefully in her warm bed while he suffered. If the stars had favoured her, she’d already be wrapping him in a warm blanket. But her mother had guessed she’d sneak out and sat up in her room to stop her.

Her mother never listened to reason.

Overall this is a strong start. Get the repeat of the idea of him being frozen to death out of there and you're looking pretty good. Also I think it would be important to build on the idea of his "innocence" - for what crime? Is this government one that pillories people for small grievance like stealing bread? Or did he supposedly do something worse? I'm not saying this needs fleshed out in the first 250, but definitely be sure it's addressed within the first few pages - it's world building and scene building in one.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Fall YA Scavenger Hunt! #YASH


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 EIGHT contests going on  simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of the GREEN TEAM--but there is also a red team, blue team, gold team, orange 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.

SCAVENGER HUNT PUZZLE

Directions: Below, you'll notice that I've listed my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the green teamand 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 prizeOnly 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 Sunday, Oct 4th at noon Pacific time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.

SCAVENGER HUNT POST


Today I am hosting Anne Boles Levy, who teaches English to middle schoolers after more than two decades writing and editing for print, web, and radio. Anne is a graduate of Smith College and studied abroad at University College London, and she has her master's in journalism from Columbia University. She is also an amateur silversmith and the absentminded wife to her long-suffering husband, Brett. They run around after two children and a cat in Scottsdale, Arizona. Anne's book for the scavenger hunt is book two in the TEMPLE OF DOUBT series, titled THE WELL OF PRAYERS and I have the honor of hosting her cover reveal for her special content here on the YASH!



Hadara, now sixteen years old, is still recovering from the night she assisted the Azwans, mighty magi, in destroying a demon that fell from the stars. She has a new job as an apprentice healer and wants to put her past—and her doubts—behind her.

On the planet Kuldor and beyond, it is deemed a sin to doubt the god Nihil’s magic, and heresy to fail to worship him correctly. The Azwans, still on Hadara’s island home, have begun punishing disbelievers with a vengeance.

Hadara can’t shake her own skepticism, though, especially when she suspects that the demon they destroyed isn’t entirely gone. What if bits and pieces are, in fact, floating around inside her and maybe taking root? Since she stood at the altar that fateful night, she’s developed the ability to understand foreign tongues, among other odd talents she never had before. Had she perhaps swallowed some part of the dying demon? She suspects no one can answer that question for her, but she doesn’t trust anyone enough to ask it.

But then a temple guard who she once thought was dead comes back into her life and points her toward new truths and a new sense of purpose: somewhere in the murky jungles surrounding her city, another people beckon her and demand she fulfill the destiny foretold by the falling star.

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

And enter to win a signed copy of NOT A DROP TO DRINK below - even if you don't win the big giveaway with all the green team members, you can still have a shot at a signed copy of my debut!



CONTINUE THE HUNT

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



Just FYI the e-book version of NOT A DROP TO DRINK is $1.99 right now!

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