Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Successful Author Talk with Tracy Edward Wymer & The 100 Queries That Came First

The interview series is back for a summer session today in the form of an SAT (Successful Author Talk). Today's guest for the SAT is Tracy Edward Wymer, a member of the Class of 2k16 whose MG novel, SOAR releases July 5th from Aladdin / Simon & Schuster.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I’m both, or in between. I plan out with running lists or chapter titles, which I call a “Set List.” However, I don’t do too much planning. Finding out what happens next is what brings me back to every story. 

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

This can vary dramatically. It can take two years, it can take 6 months. I typically take longer than most of my peers, from what I can tell. 

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

I’m a multi-tasker. I’m usually working on a couple of projects; however, I tend to research for one project while drafting another. Drafting two novels at once doesn’t seem to work for me. 

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

Not really. I’ve been writing since high school. Back then, I wrote poetry about famous athletes. Yeah, it was terrible. But I was writing and it felt good, even back then. 

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

I self-published a book called The Color of Bones. I then found an agent with my next book, which came to be known eventually as Soar.

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

I have several half-baked manuscripts. I know it’s time when I stop thinking about it. That’s my writer brain telling me to move on. If a story captures me completely, you can find me walking around in a fog, which is then not good for my other professional life. 

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

My agent is John Rudolph of DGLM. I sent a query to him for a novel called Bird Nerd. He loved it and I signed with him. We worked on the book for at least six months, then he submitted it to editors. We received two rounds of rejections. I then changed the title to Might Fly Away, right before the third and final round of submissions. I had reservations about Bird Nerd as the title, because the story was more “literary” than the title suggested. This time, the novel sold to Aladdin/S&S. Once the book sold, with the Aladdin team’s guidance, we changed the title again, this time to Soar.   

How long did you query before landing your agent?  

I sent over 100 queries for The Color of Bones. I had a lot of requests for my full manusc
ript, but no one ever wanted to represent me or that book. With Soar, I also sent at least 50 queries before an agent loved it. 

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

Keep querying. It’s a numbers game. Liking a story, or book, is one of the most subjective ideas on the planet. There’s the premise, the writing, the characters, the setting. There are so many moving parts, readers are bound to not like something about your story. Be persistent, but always remain professional. Don’t query the same agent with the same project more than once. That’s just being unprofessional. 

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

When strangers read your book, it is just that… a strange feeling. As far as seeing your book for sale, it’s an out of body experience, one I’ll probably never get used to. 

How much input do you have on cover art?

I asked my editor to not put a kid on the front cover. I’m not a fan of cartoony looking kids on covers. Now, silhouettes of kids on book covers are all the rage. I’m so happy that Brian (Biggs) and the Aladdin team created something different, a kid’s shadow, which also communicates a meaningful action. 

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

It takes a long time. Longer than you will ever think. 

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I connect with educators and librarians all the time. They are my people. I love talking books with teachers. I have a website and a Twitter account. 

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

You should be connecting with people professionally from day one. Don’t wait until you’re published. Entrench yourself in the writing and book communities. It will pay off when the time comes. 

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Yes. Educators and book lovers are all over social media. You just have to spend time finding them. Then once you find them, you have reach out and make connections with people. Social media connects everyone, make it work in your favor. And always say positive. If you don’t have anything positive to say, bite your tongue. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Winners Of The NOT A DROP TO DRINK Resource Kits!

The five winners for the NOT A DROP TO DRINK classroom resource kits are:

Kim Chance
Chris Perkins
Melissa Engels
Rebecca Swartz
Betsy Carpenter

Thank you to everyone who entered!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: I'M NOT YOUR MANIC PIXIE DREAM GIRL by Gretchen McNeil

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.

Bea is starting senior year with a boyfriend - something she's not exactly sure how to handle. And neither are her best friends, Spencer and Gabe. While the three of them have never been the most popular kids in school, they've found some protection in hunkering down with each other. Math Girl, the weird artist, and the gay kid who got the football coach fired last year know to just keep their heads down.

But there's a new girl in town - Toile - who dresses crazy, likes everyone, speaks French (sometimes), and spins around a lot for no real reason. Everyone loves her... even, it seems, Bea's boyfriend Jesse, who drops Math Girl for Manic Pixie Dream Girl in a heartbeat.

Bea is devastated, but being dumped also presents an opportunity. She's gunning for an MIT scholarship to show applied mathematics in real life situations, so she comes up with a formula for high school popularity... and it works.

Now Spencer is painting the portrait of the hottest girl in school, who isn't only interested in his art. Gabe is fast-tracked to become student body president, and Bea (now "Trixie") is out-Manic Pixie Dream Girl-ing even Toile... and Jesse wants her back. But popularity hasn't made any of them happy, and Bea can't help but wonder why she even wants Jesse in the first place, when seeing Spencer with his new portraiture commissions makes her blood boil.

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Monday, June 6, 2016

Inspiring With The Aspiring

I spent the weekend with the Buffalo-Niagara SCBWI group, a growing chapter in New York. It was a great experience, with editor Alyson Heller (Simon & Schuster), agent Brianne Johnson (Writer's House), and MG authors Dee Romito, Jennifer Maschari, Janet Sumner Johnson, and YA authors Kate Karyus Quinn, Demitria LunettaJanet McNally, and adult author Alyssa Palombo.

I've always been a fan of giving back, partly because I met an amazing group of authors on the forum AgentQueryConnect that were a step or two ahead of me, and were a great resource for me as I climbed to join them. Now, I can do that for others.

And while I went to the conference planning to be a giver, I ended up taking a bit away myself. I've been in a bit of a writing slump lately, having just finished a first draft and wrapped up an edit. I took most of May off to take a breather, but rolling into June I was still feeling a bit of a drag.

I've got to put an edit on that first draft, and I have to admit I'm not looking forward to it. I've taken the steps - ordered books to help with beefing up some research, compiled feedback from multiple critique partners. But I haven't taken the step were I actually read the words I wrote... mostly because I don't feel like doing the heavy lifting of editing.

What I needed was a reminder that writing is re-writing.

As I moved from table to table talking over multiple projects with aspiring writers, I watched their faces as they moved through the natural reactions that come with a little criticism.

1) Um, no.
2) Wait... I see what you're saying.
3) Holy crap, that could really improve my project.

From table to table, question to question (Why not make this MG? Are you sure that's picture book material? Can you age that character up / down? How married are you to the illness angle? Don't you think you're packing too much in there?) I watched different reactions, most people landing on that last place... one where you realize a suggestion from someone else could make a big difference in your work.

I left the conference much more open to some of the feedback I received from my critique partners, and reinvigorated to do the heavy lifting that I'd been putting off.

And I also mean that literally, since I haven't been to the gym in a week...

Saturday, June 4, 2016

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.

Naima and Imogen have been best friends forever. Hmm... I feel like the hook needs some oomph. Imogen has always been the leader and Naima the follower, until their senior year of high school, when Imogen comes up with a plan that Naima just can’t follow. It’s a 9-step popularity plan (1. Get drunk at fair. 2. Get invited to parties. 3. Find boyfriends. 4. Trade up for better boyfriends.), and I'm curious what the next 5 steps are? Things are going well up until step 3. That’s when Naima falls for a pinball-playing, physics-loving supernerd, and the plan starts to feel like a straightjacket. Oh my gosh I personally love pinball. 

Naima gives in to pressure from Imogen and ditches the pinball- playing supernerd in favor of the popular guy Imogen wants her to date. But going out with a guy she doesn’t like (and feeling pressure to have sex with him) sends her spiraling out of control—soon she is skipping school and playing pinball all day at the mall. Confused here - if she's dating the not super nerd, why is she playing pinball all day? Her parents finally realize she is in trouble and get her into rehab, where she has to learn to listen to her own advice and make her own way. Rehab for what? Pinball?

I have an MFA from the University of Montana and I’ve been published in Every Day Fiction. I am a member of SCBWI. I am currently seeking representation for my contemporary YA novel The Popularity Plan. The manuscript is 42,000 words.

Very cool that you have an MFA, good addition to the bio. However, your word count is a little on the low side. I don't know that it's something that will sink you, but it might raise questions as to whether the character building and plot are novel material. Here's a good blog post from super agent Jennifer Laughran regarding word counts for picture books through YA.

Also, since you start with the intro regarding friendship, where does Imogen factor into Naima's rehab? And what is she addicted to? What kind of person is Imogen? I get that she's a leader, but is she a bad influence? Does Imogen need to be stronger against peer pressure, or does she need to divorce herself from a toxic person?

Answer these questions and I think you've got a good framework here!