Tuesday, January 31, 2017

NYT Bestselling Author Michelle Knudsen on Crafting A Sequel

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

Today's guest for the blog is Michelle Knudsen, New York Times best-selling author of 45 books for young readers, including board books, picture books, early readers, and middle grade and young adult novels. Her best-known book to date is the award-winning picture book Library Lion, which was selected by Time Magazine as one of the Best 100 Children's Books of All Time.

Her most recent picture book is Marilyn's Monster (Candlewick, March 2015), illustrated by the wonderful Matt Phelan. Next up is the YA sequel REVENGE OF THE EVIL LIBRARIAN, coming on Valentine's Day 2017. Michelle also works as a freelance editor and writing teacher, and is a member of the Writing for Young People MFA faculty at Lesley University.

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

Sort of? :)  I started Evil Librarian while I was working on another, darker novel and needed a break. I wanted to work on something fun, and really just started writing without much of an idea of where the story was going. Mostly I had a vague idea of a romance with a supernatural element, and I had the voice of the main character, Cyn. I didn't even know there was going to be a librarian until Annie (Cyn's best friend) suddenly mentioned him in the first chapter. I wrote along for about 80 pages, just having fun, until I finally had to stop and figure out what the book was really about and where it was all going to go.

For book two, I knew going in that I'd be setting most of the story at theater camp, which I was extra excited about since I went to theater camp myself for years during junior high and high school and loved it. It felt like a great way to put Cyn and her friends in a different environment and to give them some new challenges to face. I also knew I wanted to work in The Scarlet Pimpernel as one of the story's musicals, and that was a lot of fun for me -- I love that show!

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

With the first book, as I mentioned above, I wrote a fair amount before stopping to try and figure out more of the plot. That's often how it works for me with a new novel -- I need to get to know the characters and the feel of the story before I can determine the shape of the plot and all the elements I want to include. I'm pretty sure that at one point when I felt stuck, I made an actual list called "Things That Need to Happen in This Book" and then spent some time figuring out how I was going to get to those moments in the story.

For the second book, I already knew most of the characters, and so I was able to start plotting much sooner. I don't want to mention any spoilers, but I can say that there were certain dangers I wanted to include in the story, and a certain new character I wanted to introduce, and I worked a lot of the initial plot around those things. I also knew that Cyn was going to have to deal with the secrets she'd decided to keep in the first book, and that doing so would not be easy.

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

I never have the plot firmly in place. :)  I mean, not until after the first couple of drafts, at least. Nowadays I do like to start with some kind of outline, but I always know it's just a rough plan. So much of what matters happens during the actual writing, and if I tried to force myself to stick to a preplanned plotline, I'd never stumble upon what invariably ends up being some of the best parts of the story. Sometimes I am really surprised by where the story goes, though. In my book The Princess of Trelian (book two of my Trelian fantasy trilogy), I had no idea the story would end the way it did when I first starting planning. It was completely different (and far more shocking!) than what I'd originally had in mind.

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

Bits and pieces of ideas come to me all the time. The hard part is recognizing which ones have real potential to become a good story, and then figuring out how to coax the early sparks of idea along until the story catches fire.

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

I'm often working on more than one book at a time. If I'm on a deadline for a particular book, then I (eventually) have to put everything else aside and focus on that. But otherwise I might go back and forth between a few ideas, trying to see which one grabs me the hardest. Once I'm deep into a novel it's difficult to switch to another one, although I am able to work on picture books and novels at the same time. Those are different enough that it doesn't feel like a conflict of creative energy.

I recently got stitches in my arm and was taking mental notes the entire time about how I felt before, during, and after the process of being badly injured. Do you have any major life events that you chronicled mentally to mine for possible writing purposes later?

My most devastating romantic heartbreaks fall into that category ... I think it's a coping mechanism. I tell myself at the time that the more it hurts, the better it will make some future story somewhere down the line. (It doesn't really help me feel better in the moment, but at least I can believe that all the pain is going to be worth something eventually.) I also find myself paying attention to new landscapes and natural spaces for use in future books. I remember trying to lock down the feeling of being deep in a forest, noticing how close the trees grow together and how easy it can be to lose track of where you are if you stray from the path. I also tried to hold on to the feeling of climbing rocks (and to the realization that I'm a little afraid of heights) on a recent trip to Arizona. Some details of physical setting are definitely easier to recreate if you've actually experienced them in real life.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Why You Should Still Write When Everything Around You Is Going To Hell

Writing is not easy.

It's never been easy. I'm not the kind of writer who springs out of bed, eager to start the day's work. In fact I've only sprung from my bed once, and that was when I thought there was a burglar in my house and the only thing I had to defend myself with was a thirty pound bag of cat litter.

But that's another story.

There's a great hashtag on Twitter at the moment, #WriteYourResistance, and I encourage anyone who has characters who stand up when they're told to sit down or shout when they're told to shut up to check it out. And while those are easily recognizable acts of opposition, equally important are the characters who enact quieter forms - refusing to kick someone who is down, or even helping them up.

It's hard to tear yourself away from the news feed to work on a piece of fiction. Our fake worlds feel paper thin, motivations for people who don't exist hard to come by when a paradigm shift is happening in reality, and there are impactful actionable items on your to-do list that may shape tomorrow.

Those things are important. Go do them.

Then come back to your book.

What I'm working on right now is a humorous paranormal. Yes, you read that right. It's a weird, quirky little thing that no one is ever going to label as important. My characters aren't planting their flags or taking the moral high ground. They're running down spooky eBay listings and wondering if the little bit of plastic fork they accidentally bit off is digestible.

So how can I turn off the reality IV and put my time into something so trite?

Because I might be reading 1984 right now, but last night I watched Romancing the Stone.

For fifteen years I worked in a high school in one of the poorest counties in my state. Some of my students didn't have heat, clean clothes, or food in their stomachs. Those kids weren't reading heavy, message-laden books. Not because they were incapable, but because they know enough about reality.

What they were looking for was escape.

And they found it in books.

So write your book, even now. Write to communicate your message of strength and love. Write for that reader in the future that needs to get away for an hour or two.

Just write.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

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’m pleased to offer my YA novel RED LIGHTNING for your consideration. I honestly think it's better to jump in with the hook. It's purely opinion, but I always put title, word count, etc at the bottom. The agent can probably assume that you're pleased to offer it :) Livia is hands off and walls up when it comes to boys. Nice! I like the hook - get it out there first and don't bury it under an opening line that doesn't really convey anything important. She’s determined to maintain the safety she earned when she sent her abusive father to prison for life. Then news of her cousin’s disappearance catapults her back since it's a memory, the "back" is assumed into memories of when he saved her life from a mentally deranged man, claiming that if he killed her he’d become the next Augustus. And... you lost me. Lots of people and things going on in this sentence, not to mention pronouns. We've got cousin (he) , a mental deranged man (another he)... and, Augustus? Confused. Tell us the cousin's name to cut down on the pronouns. Maybe save the Augustus information to the next para, where it can be worked in with the context of Roman history.

Livia realizes that her family has lied to her about what really happened that day. Hmm... how? Following leads, she hacks into a Roman History reenactment website and discovers a secret society Err... the secret society isn't terribly secret if they have an internet site, hacking or not with four houses (each with a paterfamilias), a senate, and a military force called the legionnaires. Each house has supernatural abilities that need to remain secret in order for their society to stay safe.

Livia needs to convince this society that her family is not a threat to their way of life and that means joining them. Does it really? If they think she's a threat why would they possibly let her in? Livia has to put her reservations aside to marry a man !?!?!? influential enough to counter the madman who has rediscovered her existence, Wait, so he forgot she existed? And what about the cousin? and convinced a faction that his delusions are fact.

RED LIGHTNING is complete at 120,000 words and available upon request. I have a BA in Latin and History teaching from Brigham Young University.

Word count is long in the tooth, even for a fantasy, or urban fantasy. You're going to want to get his down to under 100k as a debut author. Also, in the opening para you describe it simply as a YA novel which doesn't fly. This is a genre title, and you'll have to label it as such.

The big thing here with me isn't necessarily the query or how it's written, but the bigger questions of plot and motivation. The cousin fades away. The mention of supernatural abilities is kind of on the fly (Does she have them? Why do the societies think she is a threat?) And quite honestly, a teenage girl who was formerly "hands off and walls up" about boys "putting aside reservations" to marry a man (um, how old is he?) in order to protect herself is simply not going to fly with an agent, editor, or with readers.

Get the answers to all the questions I ask above into your query, and pare down that word count. Otherwise I think the premise is quite interesting. We just need to know more about it, and how it's actually impacting Livia and her cousin.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: OPTIMISTS DIE FIRST by Susin Nielsen

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.

Accidents happen. This is something Petula is only too aware of after the tragic death of her little sister. Accidents happen so often, in fact, that she starts to keep track of them in a scrapbook. Cranes falling. Babies tumbling from open windows. Runners with buds in not hearing approaching cars.

Petula is ready for anything, and isn't going to let something happen. You can't prepare for everything, but being eternally pessimistic does at least up your odds. Her therapeutic art classmates don't quite share her feelings, nor does her former best friend, who she cut contact with when seeing Rachel's little sibling brought too much pain for her.

But Jacob - the new kid in therapy - has his own pile of guilt to go along with his half-bionic arm to replace the natural appendage he lost in a car accident. Flippantly answering any queries with plots from movies (which Petula calls him out on), Jacob manages to draw Petula out of her shell. Soon she's walking past construction sites and scaling graveyard walls in order to help her fellow therapy students address their own issues.

The past is never far though, and a little digging shows Petula that Jacob hasn't been entirely honest with her - or their fellow students. If the new life she's forged for herself is based on a lie, does that mean she should retreat back into her shell?

Want to help me with all the mailing costs? I do giveaways at least once week, sometimes more. It can add up. If you feel so inclined as to donate a little to defray my mailing costs, it would be much appreciated! Donating has no impact on your chances of winning.


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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts this week:

1) Librarians are severely misunderstood creatures. If one more person asks me if I'm going to "shush" them, I may just do that. Permanently. I want to state that I have yet to witness a "shushing" librarian. We're a lot cooler than you think. Proof? Check out this Peep Show put together by librarians.

2) I'm still volunteering at the library occasionally and sometimes we do an Inside-Out day at work. I thought about looping sausage links around my body and saying they were intestines, but then I decided I didn't want to have to explain myself all day long.

3) I wonder if I give my cat too much credit. I think he likes me. He chooses to sleep with me, greets me every morning, is ecstatic when I feed him, and always seems happy when I come home. But my ex-husband had all the same characteristics and that didn't end well.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

I'm such a big nerd that I tend to look up word origins in my spare time because I'm fascinated by our language. The odder the origin, the better. I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications.

In any case, I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of an acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

My clever pal and fellow author AG Howard asked me once if I could tell her the origin of the phrase, "storm in a teacup." Well, Anita must be British, or at least more cultured than I am, because I'd always heard it phrased, "tempest in a teacup."

Whether you like to sound UKish or prefer alliteration, it all boils down to the same thing (pun intended). A "tempest / storm in a teacup" means something major is happening, but the ripples aren't going to reach far. An event of paramount importance to a handful of people probably won't be making the national news (think "Book Club Breaks Up Over Inability to Agree On Next Month's Title.")

So where does it come from? The earliest known reference is in the August 30, 1820 edition of the Conneticut Gazette:

What?
You can't read that?
Anecdote of the late Lord Chancellor Thurlow: A person once came running almost out of breath to the Lord Chancellor, saying, "My Lord, I bring you tidings of calamity to the nation, and I do not know how far the direful effects of it may spread to endanger the church and state."--"What is the matter, man?" said the impatient Chancellor.  "My Lord," continued the person, "a rebellion has broken out"--"Where, where?"  "In the Isle of man." "In the Isle of Man!"repeated the vociferous Chancellor.  "A tempest in a tea-pot."

So it appears we have the vociferous Lord Chancellor Thurlow to thank for that one.

What's your favorite word origin? Tell me, or ask one you've always been curious about - I'll do my best to find the answer and get back to you in a future WOLF!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tiffany D. Jackson On The Inspiration for ALLEGEDLY

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

Today's guest for the WHAT is Tiffany D. Jackson, whose debut ALLEGEDLY drops today from Katherine Tegen Books. Tiffany is a TV professional by day, novelist by night, awkward black girl 24/7. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Film from Howard University and her Master of Arts in Media Studies from The New School University.

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

First time insomnia worked in my favor! LOL! I was up late one night, cruising the internet when I came across this story on People.com of a nine-year-old girl charged with murder. I was blown away and couldn’t stop thinking, “What if she didn’t do it?”

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

Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, I had a week off from work and wrote the entire first draft of the novel in a week! There were huge plot holes and missing back story but the story just poured out of me. I then stepped back to strategically do research and start conceptualizing how to add in the excerpts. 

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

Of course! The original ending of ALLEGEDLY was completely different in my head. By the fourth or fifth review of my draft, with plot holes plugged and backstory layered in, I had a sudden epiphany in the shower one morning that turned the entire book upside down. 

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

I have about approximately five books in my head right now. Sometimes I start thinking of dialog for the next book before the one before it is done. I rely heavily on my “Notes” app when inspiration strikes at random, so I don’t forget scenes dancing through my skull and am constantly telling characters to wait their turn when they start talking. I’m officially the crazy dog lady on my block. 

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

Whatever story has the most notes in my phone that’s the story I go with. 

I recently got stitches in my arm and was taking mental notes the entire time about how I felt before, during, and after the process of being badly injured. Do you have any major life events that you chronicled mentally to mine for possible writing purposes later?

I remember every moment of my Grandmother dying. I remember the feeling when I got the call that she was about to pass, the anxiety of trying to get to her hospice, the look on her face as she struggled, the way the room smelled, the color of her blanket as I laid beside her, the sounds of her last breath, the voices around me telling her it was ok to let go, then the unimaginable agony when she finally did. When I write hard, gut wrenching scenes of pain, I always pull from that.  

Want to help me with all the mailing costs? I do giveaways at least once week, sometimes more. It can add up. If you feel so inclined as to donate a little to defray my mailing costs, it would be much appreciated! Donating has no impact on your chances of winning.


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Monday, January 23, 2017

The Importance of Facts, Even In Fiction

I'm a discerning reader, possibly to a fault. A factual slip can throw me out of a story and anything set in the country (or God forbid, on a farm) damn well better have been researched or I'm going to skewer it. In private, of course, but it will be skewered.

I researched for 18 months before writing A MADNESS SO DISCREET. I like to tell people I know so much about lobotomies I could perform one (I don't add that it's not a terribly delicate surgery). When it came to MADNESS, I dove in. Lobotomies, medical treatments for the mentally ill, the history of criminal profiling, the setting per 1890's culture, even speech patterns. I wanted to be thorough.

Originally MADNESS was supposed to have a connection to the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and America's first known serial killer, H.H. Holmes. That was scrapped later on for various reasons, but I had already done so much in-depth work framing the book for the 1890's that I didn't want to deal with a very big roadblock.

Lobotomies as we know them weren't in use until the early 1900's.

Whoops.

A part of my plot hinged on lobotomies and I'd read over a thousand pages concerning them, so I wasn't going to toss everything in the bin. Instead, I needed a feasible reason for a doctor in 1890 to have enough medical evidence to support performing something like a lobotomy... and I found that in the story of Phineas Gage.

I read another thousand pages in relation to Phineas before executing the scene in MADNESS where Thornhollow describes to Grace the function of the frontal lobe and explains the procedure he's about to perform on her.

Thousands of pages of research went into roughly three pages of that book.

In the same vein, I researched water for six months before writing NOT A DROP TO DRINK. I read about the history of water, about the projected water shortage, and even a book concerning - yes, really - water law. I can tell you things about water law that you really, really don't care about.

But in all of my thorough research concerning water I overlooked something vital.

Gasoline expires.

Did you know that? I didn't.

It was something I didn't even think to look into. Most post-apocalyptic movies show plenty of roving bandits on motorcycles and people driving around in cars. Totally wouldn't happen. This was pointed out to me at a conference the year that IN A HANDFUL OF DUST (a book with, yes, people driving cars) released.

I'm not above telling you that it really, really bothers me that any scene in DRINK or DUST that involves gasoline is bogus.

That's how important facts are to me, even as a fiction writer. So important, that one of my favorite quotes from a historical figure found it's way into IN A HANDFUL OF DUST. I'm going to leave it here at the bottom of this post as well, and you will be seeing it pop in my social media feeds as we move forward this year.



Saturday, January 21, 2017

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.

Eleven-year-old Skye Schuster understands “Military Math.” It’s what happens when your father is killed in combat. And, just like that, you go from a family of three to a family of two. Ah, okay - maybe get the actual math in there just a touch sooner, possibly by combining these two sentences. Otherwise, good hook. And they say you’re a war orphan. Is this still a commonly used phrase? It gives this a touch of historical feel and you might not want that since so far there hasn't been much indication of genre. (Unless, of course, it is a historical in which case, carry on). And then… Hmm, I'd kill the ellipsis. It's an awkward transition into the next para, which I see is a theme for the query. I wouldn't do this unless it's ALSO a theme in the book or indicative of voice. Which, honestly an entire book full of quirky transitions might not work. I'd consider a smoother transition.

Your the transition from the hook POV of Skye to the "your" is only present here in the middle, then switches back out to Skye as 3rd in the last para. I'd keep it consistent throughout. mom decides to marry some guy who hardly talks to you at all. You call him “Dim Tim” and you wear your dad’s dog tags on a chain around your neck so he knows he won’t ever be as good as your real dad. It’s working pretty well until…

A car crash leaves your mom in a coma. Now, all those feelings of loss for your dad intensify as they swirl around inside your heart with the biggest fear of all: that your mom might never wake up.

And what does that dork Dim Tim do? He brings home a book called The Idiot’s Guide to Almost Anything to help deal with stuff. Wow. Did somebody write a book just for HIM? This reference makes it sound like a contemporary. We need a better feel for what the setting is here. An allusion to what war his dad was killed in is all it takes.

Skye’s struggle to cope with the death of a parent in a military conflict is not unique; it's experienced by kids in the aftermath of every war. Since September 11, 2001, more than 5,000 American children have lost a parent or loved one who was serving in the U.S. Military. Now you're addressing the agent about market, which is fine, but again there's been a massive shift here.

As a war orphan who understands Military Math, I wrote my 107-verse, middle-grade novel in verse, you mentioned twice here that this is verse. I think regardless of how many verses there are the book will still be judged lengthwise on word count. So use that as an indicator instead of number of verses. Skye Blue, for kids like Skye. My author’s note lists websites and resources, including Camp Hometown Heroes in Wisconsin, where war orphans from all over the country can meet one another and work through their journey of healing. Here again you are telling the prospective agent about who the market is for and how you will engage your audience, but not necessarily telling us much about the actual plot of the book.

I am a former children’s librarian and storyteller. My non-fiction chapter book, My Underpants are Made from Plants (Schoolwide, Inc.), was published in March, 2015. Ah-Choo!, a fiction picture book (Sterling Children’s Books) came out in March, 2016. I have written for magazines, anthologies, and the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (2016 and 2018.) I am currently under contract with Greenhaven Press as a compiling editor and am an active member of SCBWI.

Good bio - but the para above this one is partially biographic as well. Pull the fact of being a war orphan yourself and fold it into this para. Everything that speaks about author's notes is something that would come during a later conversation, not in a query letter.

Overall I would say that you've made it very clear here that you are in a great position to understand your audience and the market... but haven't really made it very clear what the plot of your book is. I understand that can be a little more challenging with a verse novel, but you have to get the plot front and center, not marketing ideas and audience interaction. 

Is this book funny? Is this book sad? I can't tell. Is it about Skye becoming closer to his stepfather and accepting him? Is it about Skye dealing with the mother's possible loss? Um... is Skye a boy or a girl? Get Skye and the plot front and center before you move to talking too much in depth about possible audience and outreach.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas

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.

Starr feels like two different people. At home in Garden Heights she feels free to talk and act like her family and friends, but when she's at her affluent school, she's careful not to act "ghetto," even around her white boyfriend. Always careful to keep the two sides of herself separate, Starr is suddenly thrust into the middle of an event full of racial tension. 

Khalil, an old childhood friend, is killed in front of her when they are pulled over during a routine traffic stop. Khalil is yanked from the car and told to stay still. When he opens the door to ask Starr is she's okay he is shot three times in the back by the white cop. 

The event throws her neighborhood into turmoil. Starr travels daily from home - where tanks roll through the streets and the smell of smoke always hanging in the air - to school, where students are protesting Khalil's death and the lack of punishment for the cop... some of them only taking part in order to get out of class.

As the only witness to a racially charged crime, Starr is forced to remember another death, this one from the past - her best friend cut down during a hot afternoon in a drive by - and what her actions in the present can do to help shape the future.

Want to help me with all the mailing costs? I do giveaways at least once week, sometimes more. It can add up. If you feel so inclined as to donate a little to defray my mailing costs, it would be much appreciated! Donating has no impact on your chances of winning.







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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately revolve around movie soundtracks... like the score, not the compilation of songs that characters listen to while driving.

1) If my life were set to a movie soundtrack I would want it to be the one from Backdraft. Because my life is about fire and percussion.

2) Another alternative would be Last of the Mohicans, because I do occasionally kiss outdoorsy types.

3) Last one up for discussion is Beetlejuice. It's just kinda indicative of the interior of my head.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications. I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of another acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

It's flu season. Did you get your shot? I'm taking my chances and braving the wild this year. It's time to avoid people and hide behind your computer - in other words - writers, carry on.

In that vein your word origin of today is quarantine, which is a period of time during which a vehicle, person, or material suspected of carrying a contagious disease is detained at a port of entry under enforced isolation.

It comes from the French quarante, for forty and the suffix -aine which in French is the English equivalent of -ish. Ships thought to be carrying contagion were kept in port for forty(ish) days. Sailors were not allowed to debark, cargo was not unloaded until everyone had made it through the quarantine period free from whatever disease was suspected.

Or conversely, until every last one of them was dead.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Liz Coley On Cover Input As An Independent Author

I love talking to authors. Our experiences are so similar, yet so very different, that every one of us has a new story to share. Everyone says that the moment you get your cover it really hits you - you're an author. The cover is your story - and you - packaged for the world. So the process of the cover reveal can be slightly panic inducing. Does it fit your story? Is it what you hoped? Will it sell? With this in mind I put together the CRAP (Cover Reveal Anxiety Phase) Interview.

Today's guest for the CRAP is Liz Coley, whose best-selling psychological thriller Pretty Girl-13 has been published in 12 languages on 5 continents. Liz’s other publications include time travel romance Out of Xibalba, the Tor Maddox “pink thrillers” series, and her most recent sci-fi release The Captain’s Kid. Her short fiction has appeared in Cosmos Magazine and print anthologies. She has ventured into playwriting and developing a YouTube serial, Undercover Reading, for young teens. You can also follow Liz on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Wattpad, and visit her website at LizColey.com


Whenever his parents went out on missions for the Space Survey Corps, Brandon Webb was left behind on Luna, left to dream of journeying between the stars, meeting aliens, defeating villains, saving the world. Now it's his turn for adventure, permitted at last by the captain, his father, to join a year-long trip to a failing colonial planet on an emergency resupply run. Or so he's told.

Brandon's former dreams could turn to nightmares when the starship is sabotaged, the alien holds secrets about his past, the villain is on the right side, and the world isn’t ready to be saved.

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

When I imagined the cover of The Captain’s Kid, it was important to me that the art depict the sci-fi genre very clearly and also show off the multiracial and mixed gender cast of buddies in this teen adventure. I wanted the focus to be on characters as much as our future in space. I figured the central image should be the main character and first person narrator Brandon Webb, of course, but I hoped the supporting characters could be as visible on the cover as they are in the story. The striking elements of Masuna’s eyes above and the villainous figure in silhouette were brought into play by my amazing cover artist—more about him below.

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

Since this book was going to be independently published, timing was completely up to me. I looked for and signed a contract with my cover artist Joe Slucher four months before my target publication date (October 27, my oldest son’s birthday). Joe came recommended by another local artist I have known for several years, and I can’t be more grateful for the introduction. He was a joy to work with.

Did you have any input on your cover?

The greatest delight of independent publishing is the control and input the author has over the whole process. Joe and I had a very collaborative approach to concept. I said stuff and he read my mind and turned it into art. We first met at Joseph Beth Bookstore after he had read the entire novel—which tells you all you need to know about his work ethic! I don’t think that’s typical. He came prepared with general ideas based on the setting, characters, specific scenes, and technology. We looked together at character-centric covers in the “tween” section of the store so he could get a feel for my taste and my vision as well as what appeals to boys in this age group. Then this happened:


Joe prepared fifteen thumbnail sketches to narrow down the content and composition. My impossible job was to choose two for him to develop into more detailed black and white line drawings. After my focus-group-via-email weighed in, I picked the “walk on the moon” (#8) showing Audrey and Brandon, and the movie poster style ensemble collage (#15) showing Karthik, Audrey, and Brandon. At my request, we added the character of Con Liu, who was equally important to the subplots. And so we had:



The next phase was choosing only one of these line drawings to take to the next level—fonts, faces, and eventually, full color palate. That was so hard! I loved them both, so I asked to buy #8 as an interior black and white illustration as a little Easter Egg for the readers. Font selection and color phases looked like:



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

I adored the final cover so much, it was very hard to keep it under my hat. I’d shared the development steps with my family and with one other YA sci-fi author along the way so they were all in on it. YA Books Central hosted the cover reveal and a giveaway on September 2, seven weeks pre-release. At that point, I also set up the cover on Goodreads and Amazon, with the Kindle edition available for pre-order.

What surprised you most about the process?

I’ve never worked with a professional artist on an iterative process where the final product is approached by small logical steps. Every file I received from Joe was like a birthday present, and his enthusiasm for the project was truly gratifying. The attention to so many little details made me really happy, as did the guinea pig on the cover. And Masuna’s eyes. And the evil weedbot! And…

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

Sorry - this won’t help anxiety at all, but it’s true that covers are really important. My theory holds that people READ books because of recommendations, but people BUY books because of their covers.

From my authorial perspective, this indy-pub cover experience was entirely different from my traditional publishing cover experience. I’m sure the publisher’s production team goes through all of these steps, but generally behind a curtain, hidden from the author. When HarperCollins published Pretty Girl-13, my editor handed me a damp printout of my cover, fully and final-form rendered, and said, “Don’t you love it?” I did, in fact, think it was really cool, but that was the extent of my input. With The Captain’s Kid, the opportunity to be so deeply involved in cover design, except for the part involving actual skill, saved me any anxiety. At all phases, I knew my cover was in expert hands.

So, for a debut author setting out on a traditional pub experience, I recommend that you grab all your bravery and have a discussion with your editor ahead of time about how your cover will be developed and at what point you might put an oar in that water. For a debut author setting out on a self-pub experience, I advise you to think hard about how much time, effort, and money you want to invest in your cover. There’s a huge and visible difference between clip-art and original art, and a really nice, eye-catching original cover makes great postcards and other swag. You can also hope it makes your book hop off the table at signings and school visits.

Monday, January 16, 2017

On Strong Female Characters

I'm not going to lie to you. Many of us who write strong female characters have begun to wince when we're asked to talk about them at panels or during an interview. It's not because being a strong female is a trend that has passed, but because it was never a trend in the first place.

Women were strong before Katniss picked up a bow or Tris jumped off a train. Read The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder - a true story - and you'll see a young girl braiding sheaves of straw together until her hands bleed so that her family has something to burn in their stove to ward off the bitter temperatures. Read that book as an adult and you'll understand that the family is dying, slowly starving to death while malnutrition and ennui sets in.

I dabble in genealogy as a hobby, and have traced my German line back to the 1500s. There I found a woman who gave birth to 15 children - and outlived all but two of them. I ran the dates, and in one week she lost two adolescent daughters (due to an illness in the home, I assume), gave birth a few days later, then lost the infant the next week.

She kept going.

There were seven other children still at home that needed care. She went on to raise them, and deliver more healthy children that grew into adulthood. She lived to be nearly 100 - certainly an accomplishment in the 1500's - and buried all but two of the children she gave birth to.

I bring up this ancestor from 500 years ago when I'm asked about writing strong female characters. This mother of fifteen didn't know about YA literature - in fact, she probably couldn't read - but I'm pretty sure she would have laughed at the idea of strong women being a trend.

Women were strong then.
Women are strong now.
Women will continue to be strong.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

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.

In a world where magic is banned, Haden has a unique ability that makes him one of the best spies in Syva. Hmm... okay but what is the connection of his ability to magic? Is it a magic ability? The reader can kind of assume that, I suppose, but technically the way the sentence is structured it doesn't say that. Too bad that isn't the life he chose for himself.

Haden Gensmith counts the days until he can finally pay off his debt, allowing him to be free to leave the service of The Rat—Syva's very own spymaster—to travel the world. When he receives his final mark, he's surprised to find his last assignment will be to gather information for the assassins about Princess Vena, cousin to the king of Syva. However, Vena is not the snobby and privileged girl he expected. Instead, she's kind and understanding and just as trapped in her life as he is. But she has a deadly secret, and when Haden learns it, his loyalty is tested as he refuses to pass the information on to the assassins. After all, he'd never expected to fall for the girl he was supposed to help kill. This is good - however I still don't know how magic comes into the plot?

When the spymaster learns of Haden's betrayal and tries to have him killed, Vena reveals an even darker secret and a new set of skills, saving his life. Together, they set out on a journey to defend both of their lives and discover the truth of why everyone wants them dead.

CLOAK & DAGGER is a YA fantasy with series potential, complete at 65,000 words. I am an avid reader, book blogger, and a member of AWP.

Okay cool, this is actually pretty good. You've done a good job of showing us what the setup is, but the plot itself is pretty generic -- character falls for person they are supposed to be the undoing of, right when they're about to realize their own personal goals and have to decide what's more important. 

The big question here is - what makes your story different from every other story that fits into the trope I mention above? You mention magic once, and also Vena's darker secret and special skills, but we don't know what they are. These are the elements that make your story unique from every other novel that fits into this plot - get them into your query.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately:

1) If you tell someone there's a grammatical error in something when there's actually not, they'll stare at it until they've come up with a new rule for the English language.

2) Cars are so stressful. Even thinking about things like mileage and gas power vs. electric, having to worry about oil changes and tire rotation, tread wear and not to mention What IS That Bad Smell and Where Could It Be Coming From? really makes me think that I'd rather just own a horse, feed it, and shovel its poop. 

3) Actually, I'm considering just doing all of my travel by waterway. It would be conceivable for me to kayak into town and back. But, I don't know if anyone would take it as an acceptable excuse for not making it somewhere if I tell them that my kayak won't start.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

I'm a nerd. Yes, I'm in fact such a big nerd that I tend to look up word origins in my spare time because I'm fascinated by our language. The odder the origin, the better. I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications.

In any case, I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of the new acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

Today I thought we'd figure out why people ask those who don't wish to speak if the "cat's got your tongue?"

It's not something that's asked of me much, I'll admit.

It doesn't look like there is a dead-on answer for this one, as is the case with most idioms. However, there are some great, horrific possibilities.

The cat-o-nine tails was a nasty, nine-fingered whip with broken glass braided into it, or hooks attached to the ends. It was typically used on board ships to keep mouthy sailors in line. I suppose if my captain asked me if I had anything to say and he was holding on of those, I'd keep my mouth shut too.

Another reference I found was an ancient Middle Eastern practice of removing the tongues of liars and thieves and feeding them to cats.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

AFTER THE FALL Author Kate Hart On Processing Criticism

If there's one thing that many aspiring writers have few clues about, it's the submission process. There are good reasons for that; authors aren't exactly encouraged to talk in detail about our own submission experiences, and - just like agent hunting - everyone's story is different. I managed to cobble together a few non-specific questions that some debut authors have agreed to
answer (bless them). And so I bring you the submission interview series - Submission Hell - It's True. Yes, it's the SHIT.

Today's guest for the SHIT is Kate Hart, author of AFTER THE FALL, releasing January 24th from FSG. She also contributes to YA Highway, and hosts the Badass Ladies You Should Know series. Kate is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, and owns a treehouse-building business in northwest Arkansas, where she resides with her family.

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

The first time I went on sub in 2010, with the original version of After the Fall, I didn’t know much. But another book went out unsuccessfully in 2013, so by the time a rewritten After The Fall sold in 2014, I’d not only lived it twice and watched many friends go through the process, I’d also been rounding up publishing industry information for YA Highway for almost five years. By that time there were few surprises.

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

I research everything. On my first two sub rounds, I looked up editors and even put them on secret Twitter lists so I could torture myself daily. It was comforting to know more about them, and it made me feel more prepared in the event of multiple offers. But by the third round of submissions I’d realized it was causing me more stress than it was worth.

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

Some got back to us within a week. Technically I’m still on sub to a few others…

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

Do something else. Most people recommend writing your next book, but I’ve never been able to focus that well, so I usually turn to some other kind of project. For example, I made a “query quilt” when I was looking for an agent, and last sub round I redesigned a website.

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

I don’t have a problem taking criticism writing-wise, but ATF is informed by my own experiences as an assault victim, so when editors called the main character’s actions “unbelievable” or “melodramatic,” it was really hard not to take that as direct criticism of my teenage self. By comparison, query rejections tended to focus more on whether or not the manuscript was salable or to the agent’s personal tastes, which felt far less personal.

If you got feedback on a rejection, how did you process it? How do you compare processing an editor’s feedback as compared to a beta reader’s?

I’ve had several “revise and resubmits,” and I’d say the biggest difference is that with beta readers, it’s easy to disregard criticism that doesn’t resonate. With editorial feedback, the desire to get my bills paid muddies those waters. After the Fall eventually sold on a four-year-old R&R, but only because I waited until I could address the feedback in a way that felt organic. A different book ultimately suffered because I tried to combine two different R&Rs into one revision and ended up just making a mess.

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

My agent had set a deadline for responses, so when it reached 5:00 New York time and I hadn’t heard anything, I assumed it was game over. I was accepting that it was time to move on when the phone rang an hour later, and when she told me FSG had offered, I think my very eloquent response was, “REALLY?” I don’t remember much else about the conversation – mostly just hanging up and yelling across the house to my husband because I was so relieved to finally have a real career.

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

I only had to wait a week or two, which was fine, considering I have friends who’ve had to wait over a year. It took about six months to get my actual contract and first advance payment, though.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Us Vs. Them: It's Not A Question of Gender

I've been asked more than once if I'm a man-hater.

The answer is no, I'm a rapist-hater.

When I was a kid I grew up surrounded by male cousins, a predominance of males my age in my church, and most of my close friends were males. I distinctly remember going to a birthday party in kindergarten where I was the only girl, insisting on being the blue Transformer, and generally having a blast.

Not much changed as I grew older. Yes, things changed. We became aware that we were fundamentally different from one another. There were attractions as we matured, some weird confusion from time to time, misunderstandings and miscues... all the things that make life interesting.

But at no point did I ever hate men.

And I still don't.

Some of my closest friends are male (weirdly all their names start with J), and the election cycle  brought up  a lot of conversational fodder, as you can imagine. I don't necessarily agree with them - or they with me - all the time, on every topic. But we can converse, and I've said things to them that brought women's issues into a different perspective, and they've told me things that made me understand that men also have unique fears in social situations.

So often - and especially in the current climate - we find it easier to draw a line that separates us from them. We like the simplicity of assessing a person based on their gender or race, but real life - and real humans - are much more complicated than that.

I prefer to think in terms of decency, which is a choice we all have to make every day. No matter what we've done in our past, who we voted for, or whether or not we liked The Phantom Menace, we can choose to be decent today.

So no, I'm not a man-hater.

I'm a hate-hater.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

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.

Some call her heartless, some call her ruthless--but most call her the Triple Point: The girl made of bone, ice, and hate. Good hook!

Helia Quinn knows about retribution. As the seventeen-year-old leader of the largest Organization on the eastern seaboard, it’s her job to dole out punishment as she sees fit. And even though Organizations are seen as the Robin Hood-esque “good guys” of the mob scene, Helia pulls no punches when it comes to her job as One. Capital "O" One? What does this mean / stand for? If you need proof, look no further then six months ago when she executed Jackson, the boy she loved, after he revealed himself as a traitor and broke her heart in the process. Awkward transition here with the direct address to the reader with "you." I would rephrase.

The past has taken it’s toll on Helia, but now it’s colliding with her present: Jackson’s younger brother, Noah, has picked off (up?) right where his brother left off and is now feeding information to Helia’s greatest enemy. Who would that be? Stopping Noah means infiltrating the private school he calls home and posing as a transfer student. What Helia expects to be an easy task quickly turns into the hardest mission of her life as struggles with her guilt over Jackson’s death and her increasing feelings for his brother. Because Helia knows all too well that friendship--and love--has its price.

TRIPLE POINT is a YA contemporary novel, complete at 67,000 words. The story will appeal to fans of the Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter and MIND GAMES by Kiersten White.

Overall you've done a great job here, but I feel like there's a reference with "greatest enemy" to a bigger plot picture that sets the stage for the friendship / growing love story, but the query itself only references that bigger plot in passing. I think there needs to be at least a nod to what that larger plot structure is, but overall this is well constructed. Get an explanation for that "greatest enemy" in there and I think you're ready to go.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Book Talk & Giveaway: THREE DARK CROWNS by Kendare Blake

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.

The triplet queens of each generation on the island of Fennbirn are expected to kill each other, eventually. First each must develop their gift, separated at a young age so as not to become too attached.

Katherine has the poisoner gift, able to quaff the most deadly of foods and drinks without flinching. Arsinoe is the naturalist, able to make forests grow and call animals to her at whim. Mirabella is the elemental, able to create hurricanes or make the sun shine according to her wishes.

Except, things aren't working out that way. Katherine can't even stand to walk through a patch of nettles and Arsinoe is still waiting for her familiar. Each backed by powerful influencers, their inability has been kept quiet as strong political forces spread stories of their powers, and secretly look for other routes to empower the girls.

Katherine learns to be charming, flirtatious, to make herself amenable to the queen-consorts that will ally themselves with the queen of their choice... but Katherine may be falling in love with the boy sent to teach her these skills, and he's not an eligible queen-consort. Arsinoe begins to dabble in low magic, cutting runes into her skin and soaking lengths of rope in her blood... but low magic can backfire and a botched spell may have ruined her best friend's only chance at happiness.

Mirabella is the powerful queen, her gift slippery but in her grasp. But the one queen meant to rule has memories of her sisters as children, and a heart not bent on murder.

Enter below to win a SIGNED copy of THREE DARK CROWNS!

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts this week:

1) Digital money is a funny thing. My work doesn't actually pay me - they don't put money in my hand, they put numbers in a bank account for me. Then when I want to pay my bills I just give some of my numbers to somebody else. 

2) Somehow pinching your finger is one of the most painful things that can happen to you. I don't understand. Surely evolution should have eliminated some of those nerve bundles by now. Or maybe I should stop shutting my hand in things...

3) It's impossible to hold your tongue still. Look in the mirror for a long time with your mouth open and try to hold your tongue perfectly still. You don't control it. It controls you.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications. I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of another acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

Today we're going to talk about days of the week! Obviously I've got a little fixation with those myself, as I have three of my posting days titled after them (Wednesday WOLF, Thursday Thoughts & The Saturday Slash).

So where do they come from?

You probably know we owe a lot to the Romans (and wow, do I ever mean A LOT), but our weekly calendar is downright Anglo-Saxon.
  • Monday - "Moon's Day" Not sure why night-time was a big deal at the beginning of the week. Maybe everyone just wanted to sleep in.
  • Tuesday - from "Tiw's Day" Tiw was the God of War in Norse Mythology. Unsure why Tuesday got that honor. Personally I'm more grumpy on Monday.
  • Wednesday - from "Wodin's (Odin's) Day" Odin being a Scandinavian / Norse God of war, battle, victory and death, among other things. Apparently making war was a big deal.
  • Thursday - is from "Thor's Day" Thor being the Norse god of thunder and lightning. 
  • Friday - "Frigg's Day" from the Anglo-Saxon goddess Frigg. No word on whether she's the goddess of pizza and beer, but that's how I roll. Especially after a week of making war and having bad weather.
  • Saturday - from "Saturn's Day." Saturn was the Roman god of agriculture, but also liberation. And honestly, that makes the most sense.
  • Sunday - "Sun's Day" For ancient sun-worshipping culture, this was a day of religious observation, which in turn was adopted by Christians to represent the resurrection of Christ. In Russian the word for Sunday literally translates as resurrection, whereas in other Slavic languages it translates as no work. And after my Saturday, that sounds pretty good.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Inspiration On The Long Road To Publication With Author Lorie Langdon

We're starting off 2017 with a guest post from my friend, fellow YA author and Ohioan, Lorie Langdon. Lorie Langdon is one half of the author team that writes the best-selling DOON series, a young adult reimagining of the musical Brigadoon. A few years ago, she left her corporate career to satisfy the voices in her head. Now she spends her days tucked into her office, Havanese puppy by her side, working to translate her effusive imagination into the written word.

Lorie has been interviewed on Entertainment Weekly.com and several NPR radio programs, including Lisa Loeb’s national Kid Lit show. The DOON series has been featured on such high profile sites as USAToday.com, Hypable.com, and BroadwayWorld.com. Lorie’s solo debut, GILT HOLLOW, a YA romantic thriller, released September 27th 2016. GILT HOLLOW was recently named by Redbook Magazine as one of the "Books By Women You Must Read This Fall."

Lorie's publishing journey isn't the standard tale, and it's a good way to follow up yesterday's post about 10 New Year's Writers Resolutions.

The Uncommon Route

I’m not sure if there’s a “typical” way to find a literary agent and get a publishing deal. It seems every story is different. But my route was more convoluted than most. The first book I pitched and queried to agents was an adult Time Travel set during the maritime Revolutionary War with an inspirational element. Sounds great, right?

I received rejection after rejection and was told that time travel and God do not mix. Theologically, I disagree. But that’s a different post.

Around this same time my critique partner, Carey Corp, insisted that I read TWILIGHT. I’m not a vampire fan, so it took some convincing. But it hooked me from the first page. Not because it was beautifully written literature, but because I could see myself as a teen in the character of Bella. Because every girl who feels average longs for the extraordinary. That’s when I knew I wanted to write young adult literature.

And I had the perfect story idea.

When I was sixteen I saw the musical Brigadoon and fell in love with the romantic tale of the village that only appears to the modern world once every one hundred years. But one thing always bothered me about the original – during the hundred years that the portal to Brigadoon is closed, the people sleep. Really? They sleep! I couldn’t stop thinking about what I could do with that hundred years.
Coincidentally, Carey had just completed her second young adult novel, so I was picking her brain on voice and technique when somewhere along the way our conversation took a detour. Our ideas for the mythical kingdom of Doon sparked an explosion of evil witches, magic spells, daring adventures, two unique best friends, and heroic princes in kilts … soon it became clear that this story was bigger than the both of us, but that together we could make it amazing.

As soon as we finished the book, we began to research agents and send email queries. Almost immediately, we received requests from agents to read the full manuscript. We were flying high.

A Test of Faith

It's hard to see, but this picture
 shows me with the skywriting
 in the background.
Months passed with no offers. Our dream agent, Alexandra Machinist, requested to read the full. More time passed. But Carey and I knew Alexandra was meant to be our agent. During that time, I took a trip to Disney World with my family. The trip was a dream come true, but my attention was divided as I constantly checked my phone for responses from agents.

Toward the end of our trip, we were eating in the German Village at Epcot Center and I got the email. Alexandra Machinist rejected. Not wanting to upset my family with my tears, I ran outside and this is what I saw in the sky: TRUST GOD

And so, I did. Little did I know, I’d need to keep that message in my heart through more trials. Less than a month later, we had an offer from an agent with a big firm in NY. She had revision suggestions for the manuscript, but Carey and I were more than willing to make the changes she requested. We rewrote and cut chunks of the book, but the agent wasn’t satisfied. She decided we should make our main characters frenemies.

As a writer, there are times when your vision for your project will conflict with other’s opinions. You must decide where your line is, that place that you won’t cross even to accomplish your goal. For Carey and I, making our characters Veronica and Mackenna frenemies was a deal breaker. We strongly believed illustrating a healthy female friendship was one of the greatest strengths of our story. So, we parted ways with our agent.

The Second Round

After a few weeks of mourning, we began to send out queries again. Almost immediately we received a full request from a new agent, Nicole Resciniti of the Seymour Agency. She stayed up all night reading the manuscript and offered us representation the following day. We set up a call. She adored the book, but she wanted us to make major revisions.

After rewriting our hearts out for our previous agent, to no avail, we weren’t ready to do it again. Our trust had been broken. So we turned down Nicole’s offer.

Fast forward nine months and approximately seventy-five queries later. (I have the spreadsheet list to prove it.) We still didn’t have any offers. Carey was ready to self-publish DOON. She’d previously self-published a solo YA novel with good success. But my lifelong dream had been to see my books on bookstore shelves. I believed that DOON would be that book. We just had to trust.

During those long months of queries, a friend had signed with Nicole Resciniti and received a YA deal with Disney Hyperion. And I began to question whether turning down her offer had been the right decision.

Finally, we received an offer from a literary agent. We spoke to this woman for hours on the phone. She believed in Doon, loved the story and the writing, but she’d never sold a young adult book. Her connections were all with editors of adult fiction.

As Carey and I were considering her offer, we found out that Nicole had asked our mutual friend if we’d found an agent yet. Thankfully, Nicole gave us another chance and read DOON again. We set up a call. She still loved the book and she still wanted big revisions, but Carey and I were ready. We signed with Nicole, worked our butts off for months shaping up the manuscript, and wrote blurbs for three more books so she could pitch it as a series.

When Nicole took DOON out on submission to publishers it felt like a miracle. Like I could breathe again. But as with everything in publishing, it took time. After four long months, Nicole got us both on the phone. We had an offer! Zondervan/HarperCollins, one of the biggest Christian publishers in the world, had started a brand new imprint called Blink YA Books. Their mission was to publish mainstream books with a positive message and they were offering us a four-book deal as one of their lead titles!

We accepted the offer. The first DOON book was released in 2013 and the last one, FOREVER DOON, released this past summer.

As an agent, Nicole has been a God-send. Her believe in my work has never wavered. Last year, Blink published my first solo novel, a YA romantic mystery called GILT HOLLOW. And I have just accepted a deal for a YA historical retelling that will release in 2017.

Sometimes you just need to wait and trust.

Monday, January 2, 2017

10 New Year's Resolutions For Writers

Regular readers know that it took me ten years to find an agent, and another six months after signing with her to land a book deal. During that time, every New Year's Eve I'd stare down into my drink and resolve that this year I was going to get published.

That is not a good resolution. I'll tell you why.

A writer has very little control over whether or not they become published. Nuances of the market, trends, financial belt tightening in the industry, a book too similar to your own that breaks out... all of these things are beyond a writer's control. You might as well make your New Year's resolution that this year you're going to win the Westminster Dog Show - as the dog, not the handler.

(Side note - it's not impossible. In 1903 unaware Victorians named a lemur best in show for the Foreign Breed Class at the Crystal Palace Cat Show in London)

On New Year's Eve of 2009 I looked down into my drink (they were getting bigger) and told myself to come up with a better resolution, because the old standby of "get published" wasn't coming through for me. I decided instead that I would join an online writer's group.

And that changed everything.

My forum of choice was AgentQueryConnect. First I lurked, occasionally sending direct messages to posters whose commentary I enjoyed. Then I began posting, throwing myself into the world and meeting people that I continue to interact with to this day. Next I found a few posters that I thought would be a good fit for critique partners, and made that personal connection leap.

And as Frost says, that has made all the difference.

I continue to use the critique partners that I met on AQC, all of whom have gone on to become published writers as well. Through AQC I learned how to write a query that works, format a manuscript the right way, write a synopsis, and navigate the industry in general. I learned how to take control of the little things that could add up to "get published."

So here are some writerly resolutions that I suggest for 2017, ones that are entirely within your power to execute.

1. Join a writer's group or forum. AQC is my touchstone, but there are some other great ones out there such as AbsoluteWrite and the forum at Writer's Digest.

2. Get serious about tracking those queries. Sure, you've had rejections, but do you remember from who? Or even why? QueryTracker.net is indispensable, and I highly recommend going for the paid version. It's worth it.

3. Find a critique partner that isn't your mom or a friend. If you want a real critique it needs to come from another writer - not just a reader. Finding someone online to give you feedback takes out the awkward quality of a friend who might not want to tell you something isn't working, and also allows you the freedom to go ahead and cry in front of your computer without them ever knowing you did. A good CP should be at about the same level you are in terms of craft and career. Get online, find someone in your genre, and trade manuscripts.

4. Pay for membership in a writer's group that fits your needs. Whether you write mysteries, sci-fi, picture books or adult literary, there is a professional group that fits your style. Most groups offer different levels of membership depending on whether you are published or pre-published. Examples are SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators), MWA (Mystery Writers of America), SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America), ITW (International Thriller Writers) and RWA (Romance Writers of America). You can learn a lot from these communities and their publications.

5. Scout out local opportunities. I've met with various writer's groups that home-base out of a local library or private home. Ask your local librarian if s/he knows about any such groups.

6. Subscribe to a professional magazine that seems like your style. I highly recommend both Writer's Digest and Poets & Writers (even though I totally hear Adam Sandler's "Hoagies & Grinders" in my head every time I get a Poets & Writers in the mail).

7. Learn about what's going on in the industry itself. Yes, I know. You're a writer, not a business person. In this day and age you must be both. You can glean a lot of information about the industry from both online forums, writers groups, and professional subscription listed above. However, if you can afford a subscription and want to mainline industry info, Publisher's Weekly is the way to go.

8. You need to know what's selling if you want to position yourself and your work in the market. A subscription to Publisher's Marketplace will tell you who's buying what, and what agents are selling right now in your genre. This is not a necessity, but it can be a good tool.

9. Go to a writing conference in your area. I only attended one as a pre-pub - and it was romance centered - but it was close, convenient, and affordable. It gave me the opportunity to sit down at a table with agents and published authors, and most importantly, I learned how not to approach time by watching other people make snafus.

10. Lastly, write your book. Yes, that's what I put last. Everything above is instrumental in getting your work published, and most of them are actionable before you have something to show and share. If you have a finished manuscript, most of the above goals will help change and craft that ms during the road to publication. If you haven't started yet, you can still dive in and learn as you go.

Best of luck to everyone writing in 2017!