Saturday, February 24, 2018

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.

Liv West knows what it’s like to be left behind. Her mother left her behind when Liv was ten, setting off on the adventure she always wanted out of life. Her favorite sport, baseball, left her behind because she was a girl. And her sister, Lila, left her behind when she took off for Texas three months ago. Good intro, I like it. I will say that it raises the question of why she doesn't play softball.

Now Liv is just trying to make it through her final semester of high school and navigate her rocky relationship with her father. She’s given up her spot as the baseball team’s manager, realizing that those around her would only ever see her as good enough to manage, not play. And she’s almost happy working at the local diner with her best friend—even though she doesn’t have any plans for her future.

But when her old baseball coach—the same one who cut her dreams short so many years ago—asks her to train Aidan, a new recruit, Liv finds herself reluctantly agreeing. Training with Aidan keeps her mind off the heartache that her family has caused her, and she soon throws herself into the sport once again. But now not only is Liv falling for Aidan, she’s also realizing that there might be more to her sister’s abrupt exit than she originally thought. In what way? We need to know more about what this sentence is angling at, as it could be anything from she was in an abusive relationship, to she witnessed something, to she left against her will, all of which provide different tweaks as to what the genre of this book might be.

As new opportunities arise both on and off the field, like what? Liv starts to realize that she just may be able to have the life she’s always wanted. Which is what? But in order to move into the future, Liv has to decide if she wants to keep spending her life waiting on people who are never coming back, or if she’s ready to leave her past behind.

This is well-written and it sounds like a solid concept, but you'll need to be more explicit and what it is Liv wants, what these opportunities are, and what she's coming to understand about her sister's departure. I do think this whole thing begs the question of why she doesn't play softball? Wouldn't it be better to actually play with girls than manage a team for boys? Is there not a team? I'd say this needs clarified since it is a major plot point.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE by Jay Coles

When Marvin Johnson's twin, Tyler, goes to a party, Marvin decides to tag along to keep an eye on his brother. But what starts as harmless fun turns into a shooting, followed by a police raid.

The next day, Tyler has gone missing, and it's up to Marvin to find him. But when Tyler is found dead, a video leaked online tells an even more chilling story: Tyler has been shot and killed by a police officer. Terrified as his mother unravels and mourning a brother who is now a hashtag, Marvin must learn what justice and freedom really mean.

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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Thursday Thoughts

1) In the movies, spies are always super sexy people that you can't help but stare at. In real life I think this would be very detrimental to their job description.

2) Hunters use duck calls, deer calls, coyotes calls... all kinds of things to make us sound like another species and draw them in. How effed up would it be if there was an animal species that came up with a human call? "Hey Joe, the deer went the other way."

3) I'm constantly amazed at my dog's ability to vomit in a straight line.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Wednesday WOLF

I'm a nerd. 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 - that's right, the WOLF. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

Ever knock on wood? It's getting harder and harder to do these days, as most furniture doesn't have a bit of tree in it. Fortunately for me I've got an old house so full of trees I'm able to get crazy and knock on wood with my head, if I feel it's appropriate.

But why do we do that? What's the origin of that phrase and action?

Many ancient cultures believed in nature spirits, and most agree that tree spirits are the bomb. Even Germans (and hey, we're kind of a dark people - ever read the REAL Cinderella?) have a kind tree spirit - the Waldgeist. In moments of fear or trepidation, people would knock on trees to wake up the good spirits for protection or good luck.

So now you know. Next time you're feeling beset, hit the beech.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Author Sara Crawford On Subjective Feedback

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 Sara Crawford, who graduated in 2008 from Kennesaw State University with a B.A. in English and in 2012 from the University of New Orleans with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing (emphasis in Playwriting). In addition to working as a freelance writer and internet marketer, she is also a creative writing professor in the graduate program at Southern New Hampshire University, teaching online classes. She also loves to talk about books, music, and writing on her YouTube channel. Sara is the author of the young adult titles, WE OWN THE SKY and HURRY UP, WE'RE DREAMING.

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

Pretty much nothing. I knew a lot about querying agents and the process of trying to get a literary agent, but I didn’t really learn anything about the next step in the process. I was too focused on that first step.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

Yes. I had heard that the publishing process was slow, but I don’t think I realized how slow. I didn’t realize that when we first went on submission, it would be a month or two before we heard back from anyone. 

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

I’ve definitely been known to stalk editors I knew had my ms on Twitter. I would not recommend doing that because there’s a tendency to read into everything they tweet. “Oh, they’re enjoying a latte at a new coffee shop in their neighborhood? Clearly, that means they haven’t read my book yet!”

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

It varied A LOT, but most editors seemed to respond within two months or so.

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

Work on the next book. If I could do it over again, I would spend much more time writing and less time obsessing over being on submission. I found that when I engrossed myself in the actual act of writing, it was a lot easier to focus on everything I loved about storytelling and not have so much anxiety about publishing. Even when I wasn’t actively writing, reading other books in my genre or craft books was a much better way to spend my time than refreshing my inbox or reading editors’ tweets. 

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

A lot of the rejections I got were with comments like “I like this, but I just don’t love it enough” or “I really enjoy this, but I don’t know how to sell it”. Those hurt a lot more than the rejections with actual criticism of the novel because at least I could understand those. But what can you do about someone just not loving your book enough? Publishing a book traditionally is a difficult process for everyone involved, and so much of landing a book deal depends on finding an editor who loves it enough to go through that process. My agent felt that way about my book from day one so I thought it would be relatively easy to find an editor that would feel the same way. Every time I got one of those rejections, though, it just reminded me that I hadn’t found that person yet. 

I can’t say I was always the best at dealing with it emotionally. There was a lot of chocolate ice cream and listening to The Smiths. These rejections hurt a lot more than query rejections because when I was querying, I knew I was at the beginning of the process. With these rejections, there was a sense of knowing that I was so close but didn’t quite have what they were looking for.

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?

If there’s one I’ve learned about feedback from all the feedback I’ve gotten over the years from agents, editors, beta readers, critique partners, professors, and fellow students, it’s that all feedback is subjective. It’s easy to tell right away if feedback is going to be helpful or not. Honestly, I don’t think it matters if you’re an editor or a beta reader. I’ve gotten extremely helpful feedback from beta readers before, and I’ve gotten really confusing feedback that didn’t help me at all from editors. I process all feedback the same way. I try to figure out the main issue that the person was having, and then I try to fix it. If the comment is a subjective opinion, I usually try to look beyond what they didn’t like to the underlying issue that needs to be fixed.

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

I actually never got a yes. After being on sub off and on for about three years, I finally decided to stop pursuing traditional publishing with that book and self-publish it. I’m having a great experience being an indie author, but I’d still like to be a hybrid because I think some things I write work better for indie publishing, and some things would work better being traditionally published. My agent and I are about to go on sub again with another novel so I get to do it all over again! This time, I’ll hopefully be too busy writing my next book and marketing my indie books to obsessively check my inbox or stalk editors on Twitter.

Monday, February 19, 2018

New Podcast With Rachele Alpine: Time Management For Busy Writers & How Having A Teacher's Guide Can Crack the School Market

Today’s guest is Rachele Alpine, author of both YA and middle grade titles, as well as being a full-time English teacher, wife and mom. Rachele joined me to talk about the importance of knowing what you want in an agent – and what questions to ask – before you begin querying, how having a teacher guide made for your book can crack the classroom market, as well as time management and how Rachele maximizes every minute in order to be a full time teacher, wife, mother, and writer.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

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.

Flirting with a pretty girl takes another turn when Jake discovers she’s a shackled spirit. Irene was raised in the voodoo faith by her Haitian grandmother, but never expected to become trapped in the spirit world she grew up believing in. When Jake encounters her captor, he is forced into that same spirit world. Your opening here isn't bad, but you've got three echoes of "spirit." I would also caution you to be careful when using such a strong faith element as the backbone for your plot. If you yourself aren't a practitioner of that faith, make sure you've done your research, and get feedback from someone that is a part of that faith.

Irene’s captor, Armand, is a man who captures souls to increase his own power, but still claims to be a benevolent force. Hard to see how someone could still claim to be benevolent in this setup... Jake learns that the girl he’s falling for is fading away because she has been trapped by the sorcerer for too long. Here's some confusion on my part - is Irene existing in both worlds, ours (physically) and her soul in a spirit world? That's what I'm inferring but a slight clarification could be good. Armand has no plans to release Irene and intends to use her soul to help him end humanity’s grief. He aims to do so by capturing Baron Samedi, the voodoo god of death, and releasing the dead themselves. But doing so would ravage both worlds. Both the spiritual and physical worlds? How?

Thanks to Irene’s cunning and know-how, Jake survives the spirit world and several encounters with loa - voodoo gods who preside over everything from love to death. But the spirit world becomes chaotic and unsafe when several of the loa fall under Armand’s control. And as his plan succeeds, Jake and Irene have no choice but to act when the battle being fought in the spirit world makes its way to their home. It sounds like they were already acting, though, and that the battle being fought had already made it's way to their home?

I think what you need here is to clarify on what "ravaging both worlds" actually means, as it sounds like that's actually the biggest obstacle. Clarify what that is and how it impacts both worlds. Also, putting Jake and Irene's "no choice but to act" in the last paragraph makes it sound like they don't take action against Armand until the end, which I doubt is an accurate reflection. Figure out what the largest obstacle in the plot is, clarify whether these characters are present in one world or another (or both simultaneously), and I would also say tease out Armand's role a little bit more. What is his motivation for releasing the dead? Does he not see the "ravaging of both worlds" that would take place? Honestly, a misguided villain rather than an outright nasty one is very intriguing, but get just a touch more in there about why he wants what he wants. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: MONDAY'S NOT COMING by Tiffany D. Jackson

Monday Charles is missing, and only Claudia seems to notice. Claudia and Monday have always been inseparable—more sisters than friends. So when Monday doesn’t turn up for the first day of school, Claudia’s worried. When she doesn’t show for the second day, or second week, Claudia knows that something is wrong. Monday wouldn’t just leave her to endure tests and bullies alone. Not after last year’s rumors and not with her grades on the line. Now Claudia needs her best—and only—friend more than ever. But Monday’s mother refuses to give Claudia a straight answer, and Monday’s sister April is even less help.

As Claudia digs deeper into her friend’s disappearance, she discovers that no one seems to remember the last time they saw Monday. How can a teenage girl just vanish without anyone noticing that she’s gone?

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

CJ Redwine On Multi-Tasking

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is CJ Redwine, the New York Times bestselling author of YA fantasy novels, including The Shadow Queen, The Wish Granter, and the Defiance trilogy. If the novel writing gig ever falls through, she’ll join the Avengers and wear a cape to work every day. The Traitor Prince, third in the Ravenspire series, releases this week!

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

A planner, to a degree. I have to know the basic shape of the story and what happens at the end so I know what to aim for. I write out a long synopsis before starting the story so I can figure out the characters, the backstory, and the major turning points of the novel. Then I play connect the dots between the turning points as I write. I don’t really know what happens between those turning points until I write it. 

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

About 3 months of work before I write and then another 3 months of actual writing. 

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

I multi-task … kind of. I work hard on writing one project at a time, but I’m always doing the legwork on about 8 other projects while I’m writing my current one. I might be jotting notes on worldbuilding, tossing songs onto a playlist as I hear them, or writing out quick bits of dialogue and saving all of it to a file I can open when I’m ready to actually sit down and write that story from start to finish. 

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

I have to overcome fears every time I sit down to write. There are very few days where I sit down and think “I’m good at this. I can do this. It’s going to be great.” Most of the time, I have to tell myself “I can fix this. I just need something on the page or I won’t have anything to fix.”

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

One full draft before I was agented (several started that were never finished). And two trunked novels AFTER I was agented because they didn’t sell. 

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

Not since I got serious about being published. Now, I finish what I start.

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

My agent is Holly Root of Root Literary and she is made of unicorns, cookies, and steel. I actually queried her because a fellow writer friend was agented by her and suggested that we’d be a good fit. I queried about 10 agents in that particular pass (I always queried in small batches so I could tinker with things if I wasn’t getting results.). Nine of them said no pretty fast. Holly took another three months to reply, but when she did, she asked for a phone call to discuss the book. I nearly died of anxiety and excitement. The call went well for both of us and at the end, she offered representation, and I accepted. That was nine years ago. 

How long did you query before landing your agent? 

I queried for two years before signing with Holly. A year and a half were spent querying a book that will never (and should never! Ack!) see the light of day. Six months were spent querying the book that got Holly’s attention. 

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

Be professional online at all times (no bashing those who reject you!), query widely, and don’t be afraid to shelve a manuscript or a query that isn’t working and do something new. Also write a new project while you query. Not the sequel to what you’re querying, because if that doesn’t sell, you’ve got nothing new to send out. 

You can do this! So much of publishing, both before and after getting an agent or a contract, is basically shoveling mud out of a ditch—it’s hard, it leaves callouses, and it takes a long time before you see true progress. This is good practice for what comes next, and if you’re committed to working on improving your craft and you have the perseverance to stick it out, you won’t be in the query trenches forever. 

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

So surreal. It was both amazing and terrifying in this weird way. Like I thought maybe if I did something wrong, it would all disappear. 

How much input do you have on cover art?

Not much. I give input on initial design elements for the series as a whole, and then I give feedback on cover concepts they send my way, but thankfully there’s a team of incredibly talented people at my pub house who are far more qualified than me in creating amazing covers. They’ve been lovely to work with. I’m in awe of their skill!

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

That the more successful I become, the more afraid I am to write each new story.

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I do a lot of marketing, though my publisher does too. I just love marketing. I think it’s fun to promote books. (I own yabookscentral.com so I promote ALL the books, and it’s a blast.) I have a website, Instagram account, Twitter account, and three presences on FB: author page, regular page, and my fan group where I interact almost daily and offer sneak peeks, exclusives, giveaways, and more. 

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

I started building it before being agented. Really building a platform is just interacting in a genuine way with others who love what you love. Authors, readers, viewers of your fave tv shows and movies etc. It’s not enough to generate your own content. Social media is a give and take. It’s a conversation. So seeking out others who are doing content that interests you and interacting there (Authentically. Not popping in to say “buy my book!”) is the way to go. 

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Absolutely. As authors, we are the brand. Books change, series start and stop, but we’re the constant. So having a genuine, interesting presence on social media helps draw readers to us. 


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

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.

So, it's Valentine's Day. Hooray.

Here's a little etymology for romantic souls. The phrase wear your heart on your sleeve commonly means someone who shows their affection for others openly, without shame or caginess. This likely comes from a tradition in the Middle Ages at jousting tournaments for knights to wear a ribbon, or color, on their sleeves to signify in which lady's name they were fighting.

But if you think about someone actually having an internal organ on their outsides, it's kind of a turn off.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Dan Koboldt On The Importance Of A Mailing List

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Dan Koboldt, who has worked as a research scientist in the field of human genetics and genomics. Currently, he's a principal investigator for the Institute of Genomic Medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.  His debut novel THE ROGUE RETRIEVAL, about a Vegas stage magician who takes high-tech illusions of magic into a medieval world that has the real thing, was published by Harper Voyager on March 1st, 2016. The sequel, currently entitled THE ISLAND DECEPTION, published in February 2017, and the third in the series, THE WORLD AWAKENING, releases today!

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Oh, I’m a pantser from way back. But I prefer the term discovery writer. I don’t start a book with no plan whatsoever. When I have an idea, I work out the central premise (how it starts) and I and I usually know how it’s going to end. It’s the stuff in between that I like to figure out as I go. 

When I started, I was a pure discovery writer. That’s one of the perks of being a new writer trying to break in. I had no deadlines, no contracts, and no reason to outline anything. That changed after my first book deal. I had to learn to write a competent outline for the as-yet-unwritten future books in the series. Luckily, I discovered Larry Brooks and his StoryFix 2.0 story structure. Outlines still don’t come easily to me, but now at least I have a decent framework.  

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

I’d say it’s usually 3-4 months, assuming that one of those months is November. I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo for almost a decade, and it contributes an important boost to my writing productivity each year. I wish I could write at that pace outside of November! I really admire authors who consistently write 2,000 words a day. 

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

It’s easier for me to focus on a single project, but I rarely have that luxury. There were times this year when I was writing one project, revising a second, promoting a third, and pitching a fourth. It’s hard to keep them all straight! That being said, I’m the kind of person who enjoys multi-tasking, because not every activity stimulates me all the time. 

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

Nope. But I didn’t know what I was doing.

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

I wrote two books before The Rogue Retrieval, though I never queried them. I look at them as learning exercises that helped me become a writer. It’s always possible that I’ll go back to them someday and see if I can make them into something publishable. But it would take a lot of work, and I have newer ideas that get me more excited.

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

I’ve quit (or walked away) from a few projects, sure. Usually that happens when I look at something and realize that the emotional and physical cost of finishing them exceeds the benefit I’m likely to get in return. In other words, I decide that my time is better spent elsewhere.  

How long did you query before landing your agent?  

I researched the query process before I started, mostly because I found it fascinating. Thanks to the wonderful resources like Anne Mini’s blog (now defunct) and QueryTracker, I think I managed to avoid some of the common pitfalls of new writers. Of course, that doesn’t mean I got no rejections. I received plenty of them. If memory serves, I queried about 30 agents over the course of four months before getting an offer of representation.

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

I’m represented by Paul Stevens of Donald Maass Literary Agency. The story of how we began working together is a bit convoluted. I landed my first agent through standard querying, and she sold my book to Harper Voyager in a one-book deal. After that, I was all set, right? Well, not so much. My agent and I had a falling out shortly after that was published. 

So I didn’t have an agent, but there was an option clause in my contract specifying that my publisher got an exclusive look at my next manuscript. Which, as it happened, I’d just finished: it was the sequel to The Rogue Retrieval. I sent it to him, along with an outline for a possible book three. My editor said, “Let’s do both.”

That two-book offer put me in a rare and much-envied position for a writer seeking representation. I reached out to a handful of agents (ones I really admired) to say that I had an offer and was looking for someone to handle the contract. Paul called me that afternoon. We clicked right away. He was familiar with my imprint at Voyager and knew it wasn’t a big money deal, but he offered anyway. 

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

The first thing I’ll say is that you’re not alone. Many of my writer friends whose work I admire are in the query trenches with you. I always encourage writers to query widely, and not to set their heart on one particular agent or agency. Keep querying until you find an agent who loves your book as much as you do. And while you’re doing that, write another book. Not a sequel, but a different book that you can query if the first one doesn’t find a home.

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

The moment for me was when I opened up a surprise package from my publisher, and found my advance copies inside. That was a great moment, and I’ve had many others since. Every time I see my book at a bookshop or in the library, I get the same thrill. I also get it when someone new reaches out to let me know they read and enjoyed my book.  

How much input do you have on cover art?

My publisher has been very good about this, and asked for suggestions. For The Rogue Retrieval, developed the concept art from a stock art image I’d suggested. Their cover artist does amazing work with the art, layout, and coloring. For The Island Deception, my editor sent me two different cover concepts. I loved them both, so I asked them to save one for book three. It turned out to be my favorite of them all.  

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

The kindness of strangers! So many people who didn’t owe me anything showed up to support my books. Obviously, my family and friends have always gone out of their way to help, but it surprised me how often strangers would lend a hand, too. Book reviewers are a great example. These people volunteer their time to read and review books, often on short notice. They’re the unsung heroes of the publishing industry, in my opinion. Several of them reviewed each of my books as they came out, simply because I asked. I’m a little surprised, and very grateful.

How much of your own marketing do you? 

I do most of it, which is the case for many authors. In 2016, the year The Rogue Retrieval came out, Harper Voyager published more than 70 titles. They have done a great deal to get the word out about my books, but they’ll never have as much time or dedication to them as I will. 

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

I think authors should not devote much effort to platform until they have not only an agent, but also a book deal. Until then, you don’t know for certain that you’re going to need a platform. Furthermore, you may not want to establish your brand until you know what your debut novel might be. 

For writers who haven’t gotten that far yet, it’s more important to focus on (1) writing, and (2) engaging the community. The latter is especially important so that you have a support network as you move forward in your publishing career. Some of my closest friends – and most ardent supporters – are writers I met before I broke in. Don’t worry about platform too early. Instead, find your tribe.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

No. I think social media helps you engage your readership (hence the word social). It offers a wonderful, powerful tool to connect authors with the people who read their books. However, contrary to popular opinion, most people do not get their book recommendations from their social media feeds. Maybe if you’re fun and interesting online, someone is more likely to take a chance on your book. Word of mouth and reviews are far more powerful drivers of book sales.

Once there is a relationship (i.e. once a person buys your book), social media is a great tool to develop it. The reader enjoys access to an author whose work they admire. The author gets the comforting reassurance that someone out there read his book and cared about it. That’s a powerful thing. Social media is also useful for notifying fans about price promotions and future releases. 

It’s important to recognize that when you don’t pay to use an online service, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. Companies like Facebook and Twitter are making it increasingly difficult to reach your followers without paying for that privilege. They’re in this to make money, after all, not to serve humanity. Authors should thus focus on getting social media followers onto their mailing list. That’s the only way to guarantee that you can reach your fans when you need to. 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

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.

In Syrendale, citizens find their mate at the Maiden Night Ball, and sparks fly through the air each time a match is made. But at the age of eighteen, life for one daughter from each family holds a different fate. The daughters selected as their family’s Maiden give themselves to the sea and transform into the noble creatures that guard Syrendale’s shores. This is good - you're setting up your world and while the hook isn't necessary splashy, it's effective. The tiniest tweak is to maybe indicate how many families there are, or how many girls become Syrens.

Bookish Verabelle Chetworth is more comfortable immersed in the world of a story than she is in real life. Verabelle is pinned their family’s Maiden, but at the last minute her protective older sister Ameryst suddenly and without explanation volunteers to take the pin for her, leaving false evidence behind to suggest she took the noble leap. I'm not understanding about the false evidence that is left behind... The unveiling of Ameryst’s escape prompts a search for her throughout the land and the family’s obligation remains unfulfilled, leaving Verabelle to confront her insecurities and summon up the bravery that will be required to step off the cliffs of Syrendale during her Maiden Night Ball.

Okay, so Ameryst says she'll be the person to become a Syren, in place of her sister but it's not an immediate thing... so she makes it seem like she made this sacrifice, but actually she just split. Because there are Hunger Games overtones here, I felt like this would be more of an immediate thing - Ameryst is tossed off a cliff, or dragged to the sea, without getting the chance to leave behind false evidence... or anything whatsoever. You need to get that clarification in there, otherwise it's a bit confusing.

As Maiden Night approaches, Verabelle discovers an eerie connection between Syrendale and the world of one of her stories. A world trapped under a vengeful curse, where a sacrifice of women’s lives is hidden under a fairytale sheen. When Ameryst returns and confirms her worst fears are true, Verabelle must decide if she is brave enough to find a way to save herself and those she loves from the Maiden’s macabre fate.

LITTLE WOMEN meets BROTHERS GRIMM, young adult fantasy THE BRAVEST OF THEM ALL combines the bonds and trials of sisterhood within the context of a dark fairytale conflict and setting. It is told in the alternating viewpoints of Verabelle and her two sisters and is complete at 74,000 words. I hold a B.A. in Creative Writing, work as a literacy coach in urban schools, and am a wife and mother to three. I write while my children sleep in Southeastern Wisconsin, amidst the finest cheeses and beers in the Midwest.

Honestly, this is in great shape except for that little clarification snag. Best of luck querying!

Friday, February 9, 2018

Book Talk & Giveaway: AKATA WITCH & AKATA WARRIOR by Nnedi Okorafor

Sunny is an albino Nigerian who was born in New York City. When her parents return to their home country Sunny doesn't fit in for a lot of reasons. 1) She's an albino 2) She's perceived as an American and 3) She keeps seeing the end of the world inside candle flames.

Sunny is smart enough to keep this information to herself, but her odd qualities draw the attention of Orlu and Chichi, fellow students at her public school who are Leopard People (magical folk) and suspect Sunny may be as well. Although years behind in training and study, Sunny is distinct even in the magical realm of Leopard Knocks. She's a "free agent," a Leopard person born of two non-magical parents.

And no, Leopard Knocks isn't Hogwarts. Not even close. Instead of flying around on broomsticks and throwing balls through hoops the adult champions of this magical realm fight each other to the death in a yearly entertainment spectacle. The winner is the winner, the loser is... a saint. And going to your next class isn't as simple as looking at your schedule and manipulating moving staircases. The path to their teacher's hut is a test in itself, one that could kill them if not traveled properly. This is a place where group work is rewarded by everyone surviving to the next day and your juju knife chooses you not by obeying your commands but by slicing your hand open when you reach into a bag.

So why are children being subjected to these tests? To drive them into a sacred bond, as they have been selected by fate to bring down a serial killer. Black Hat Otokoto has been kidnapping Nigerian children and returning them minus eyes and ears. He's gathering black magic to him in order to call up a dark spirit whose power will unleash the vision that Sunny has seen in the candles. Sunny has a limited amount of time to harness the power she's inherited through her Grandmother's spirit line to stop him from succeeding and bringing about the end of the world.

Enter the Rafflecopter below to win both AKATA WITCH and the sequel AKATA WARRIOR!

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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

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.

Jump the gun is a phrase I use often, partly because of my environment, and partly because I'm always in a hurry and slightly spastic. But where does it come from?

After I looked it up I was kind of ashamed that I didn't figure it out on my own. Jump the gun, not surprisingly, comes from track and field events where the participants leave the starting line before the official has fired the gun to being the race.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Young Adult Author Debbie Zaken On Finding Inspiration In Music

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 any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and 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 Debbie Zaken. Born in Miami, Debbie grew up in Guatemala and is fluent in English, Spanish and Hebrew. She currently resides with her husband and her two fabulously trilingual and adorable girls in South Florida. Her debut novel, Colliding Skies, received 1st place in the Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Florida Rising Kite 2016 Award

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?

Music has always been an important part of my life. As an author, music fuels my writing. Almost every scene I write has a song associated with it. It’s not so much that I look for songs to match a specific scene. It’s more that certain songs will inspire entire scenes. So a song will prompt a scene in my head and once it’s there, I’ll play it over and over, until I can see it clearly, down to the characters' dialogue. That is how the premise for Colliding Skies came to me. I was in my car listening to a specific song one morning and the idea just popped into my head. It was like an entire music video played in my mind while I drove. I played the song on repeat the entire way and by the time I got to work that morning, I had the basic premise of the book fleshed out. I went home that night and wrote a brief outline. After that, music became my go to for inspiration. I even had the song titles for each chapter on my outline. The full playlist for Colliding Skies is on my website.

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

Once I had the premise, I wrote a very basic outline of the story that just laid out the beginning, the middle, and the end. With that, I began writing the first draft. As one idea lead to another, one chapter to the next, I tightened the outline. Pretty soon, I went from a loose outline to one that was broken down into chapters and scenes, some even with entire chunks of dialogue as they came to my head. Before I knew it, I had the entire plot figured out. Around that time was when I realized that the full story was not going to fit into one book and that I was looking at a duology. So I began to plot the sequel while I finished drafting the first book. I knew that as a debut author it was going to be hard to sell a series and that Colliding Skies had to stand on its own. It took me a while to figure it out, but thanks to some amazing critique partners, I was able to give Colliding Skies the depth and breadth to stand on its own.

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

I consider myself a plantser, a hybrid of a plotter and a pantser. I outline enough to have a solid structure to start writing with, but keep it flexible enough so that I can adapt it as the story progresses. An interesting thing that happen to me with Colliding Skies was that I introduced a character, which initially was going to be a minor one, very early on in the story, and ended up falling in love with them. The moment this character entered the story, they became an important secondary character and ended up changing integral parts of the plot. The premise of the story stayed the same. But this character that originally wasn’t even part of the story, became a central character, adding a completely new layer to the plot. 

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

I wish I was one of those authors that constantly came up with brilliant story ideas. Ideas for stories don’t come to me very often. On the positive side, the occasional story ideas I do get come to me pretty fleshed out and tend to really captivate my imagination. So once I have the idea, I’m so drawn to it and itching to put it all on paper, I can really focus on the project and see it through to the end. In a way, I’m actually glad that I don’t have so many story ideas bouncing around in my head at the same time. I think I’d find it hard to choose one and focus on it if I did.

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

Since I’m not constantly bombarded with story ideas, that hasn’t really been a problem for me. But if I did have a few story ideas to choose from, I think I would go with whatever was calling to me the most. That is kind of the challenge I have now with the sequel for Colliding Skies. I have a different Work In Progress that is really calling to me but because of a looming deadline for the sequel, I’ve had to put it on the back burner. This has made writing the sequel not the most fun experience for me. But my plan is to go back to my Work In Progress the moment the sequel is with my editor.

I have 8 cats (seriously, check my Instagram feed) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?

I don’t have any pets. But I do have two young children. There is no way I can write with them around. I can barely complete a thought in my head without being interrupted by one of them. Honestly, I prefer to be by myself when writing. I don’t mind writing at a coffee shop or at a library. I just can’t be with someone else while I write. I guess my writing buddies would be my coffee, a glass of water, and maybe some cookies. Oh, and music. Always music.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

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.

What if the best sea-navigator in the land is asked to do something impossible: find the gifted healer and Sea Queen, Rusalka, before illness and darkness purges the kingdom of Turkas? In general, you don't want to open with hypothetical questions. This is even more true in fantasy where the "what if" doesn't really mean anything to the reader. We don't know the world, so therefore we don't know how possible or impossible this task is. In EVREN, the first book of my fantasy trilogy, unfortunately, it's difficult for a debut to get picked up on a trilogy these days. I highly suggest you find a way to make the first one a stand alone with series possibilities THE LOST SAGES, Evren Greenwood agrees to this dangerous and high-paying job, because this will pay for her wyvern flight across the seas. Again, it's hard with fantasy to know why this matters. I don't know what a wyvern flight is. This is her chance to finally escape the invisible pirate army – the Naja -  who want her dead. Okay, so there is a LOT of information here in your first para - is the best sea-navigator in the land Evren? So there's an illness and darkness in the kingdom? Are they the same thing? And why are pirates (invisible ones?) after her?

When the Sun Goddess, Amataru, saves Evren from the Naja before she gets on the ship, what ship? Evren begins to realize that she is stepping into a complex web of mystery and darkness that is creeping across the land. don't tell us about this complex web - show us. Before leaving, Amataru asks Evren to answer her call when the time comes.

Before she can leave Turkas and the Naja behind forever, but I thought the purpose was to find someone who can fix Turkas, right? Doesn't that mean returning with them? Evren must face sea serpents, water nymphs that make the pirate crew different pirates than the Naja? nervous, and fend off growing feelings for the handsome and eccentric Captain Sa’av.

All the races – elves, sun sprites, water folk, and landwalkers -  must work together to fight the darkness what darkness? the illness? and reunite the Lost Sages: those prophesied to fight back when the moon is covered and the villain, the Star of Shadows returns. So is the Star of Shadows the one causing the illness / darkness?

Torn between the desire to win her freedom freedom from who / what? and engage in a quest much bigger than herself, Evren must decide what to do. Does she answer the call and discover the forgotten magical past within her so she's magical?, or will she turn her heart on everyone she loves and leave behind Turkas and her Captain, forever? Also a bad idea to end with a rhetorical.

So, your basic problem is way, way too much info. I don't understand the overall goal here - find Rusalka, or reunite the Lost Sages? You open with one, then lean towards another. I'm unclear on why pirates are after Evren in the first place, or what the Sun Goddess has to do with anything. It sounds like a fun adventure fantasy, but you've got to get only your most main points in here, otherwise you've got a mishmash of character names and plot goals, which will only make an agent think that the manuscript is the same way.

Winnow down to the main plot point or obstacle, use that as your hook. You've got too many character names in here, creating a soup that makes it hard for the reader to tease out what matters. You did a good job in the para with the love interest of mentioning subplots at a glance. Use that same approach Amatura and the Naja - no proper nouns - and get your major villain and obstacle out front and center.

I feel you here - fantasy queries are hard. You've got so much world-building, and you want to show it all. This isn't the place - that's what the synopsis is for.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: INVISIBLE GHOSTS by Robyn Schneider

Rose Asher believes in ghosts. She should, since she has one for a best friend: Logan, her annoying, Netflix-addicted brother, who is forever stuck at fifteen. But Rose is growing up, and when an old friend moves back to Laguna Canyon and appears in her drama class, things get complicated.

Jamie Aldridge is charming, confident, and a painful reminder of the life Rose has been missing out on since her brother's death. She watches as Jamie easily rejoins their former friends--a group of magnificently silly theater nerds--while avoiding her so intensely that it must be deliberate.

Yet when the two of them unexpectedly cross paths, Rose learns that Jamie has a secret of his own, one that changes everything. Rose finds herself drawn back into her old life--and to Jamie. But she quickly starts to suspect that he isn't telling her the whole truth.

All Rose knows is that it's becoming harder to choose between the boy who makes her feel alive and the brother she isn't ready to lose.

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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