Monday, April 30, 2018

Kelly Coon On Being Rejected 106 Times... Followed By A "Yes."

Today's guest for the SHIT (Submission Hell, It's True) is Kelly Coon, author of GRAVEMAIDENS, which  recounts the tale of a 16-year-old healer's apprentice who must save a dying Sumerian king or her little sister will be buried alive to serve him in the Netherworld.

Kelly Coon is the mom to three little boys and a rescue pup who will steal your sandwich. She always knew she loved writing. She crafted retellings of Old Testament stories she heard as a kid in church, putting them in modern settings with female protagonists, much to the annoyance of her Sunday school teachers. She is now a young adult author represented by Kari Sutherland of Bradford Literary. Her debut YA fantasy, GRAVEMAIDENS, is being published in the fall of 2019 by Delacorte/Penguin Random House, with the sequel forthcoming in 2020. She loves editing for Blue Ocean Brain, reading books in carline to pick up her kids, cooking stuff her kids won't eat, and rabble-rousing.

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

My agent, Kari Sutherland of Bradford Literary, was incredibly thorough with me. She explained what the process would be and what we'd do at each stage of being on sub. Before her info, though, I had almost NO idea what going out on submission would be like. I didn't even know what "on submission" meant a few months before! Another author friend of mine added me to an "On Submission" Facebook group and I was like, "Why? What's this about?" 

Did anything about the process surprise you? 

I was shocked by how quickly we got feedback. We officially went on submission mid-October of 2017 and within a couple days, we had some interest from a couple agents. But, my agent had soft-pitched a few editors in NYC after the Writer's Digest Conference, so a few who received them had already had some time to kind of think about the premise. But, I was absolutely floored when Kari emailed me to tell me a couple were already expressing their excitement about it.  

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

I absolutely researched every single editor who had my ms, but not before Kari sent it out. She made the choices as to whom to send the ms, but after she sent me the list, I looked each of them up on Publisher's Marketplace to view purchases and comp titles. I also, (of course), semi-stalked them on Twitter.  I highly recommend doing that (the researching, not necessarily the stalking.) ;-) If you get into a situation like mine, where there are several editors interested, knowing their tastes is helpful if you are as blessed as I was to be able to choose. 

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

I was in the very small minority of authors who get almost immediate feedback. I think the fact that Kari had soft-pitched some editors prior to sending it over meant they were already interested! We went on sub in early October and I had a two-book, six-figure deal in my hand on November 2 in a preempt*. 

I received a phone call from my agent on Halloween morning. She told me that Delacorte had emailed her to tell her they were sending over an offer. The next day, we had an offer in hand and I very nearly lost my marbles. However, Kari knew that three other editors were interested, so we didn't simply accept the deal. In fact, Harper Teen was taking the book to acquisitions the next week, and had asked us to wait for them so they could put together an offer. So, Kari pushed back on the Delacorte offer, saying that in order to take it off the table, they'd need to up the advance and make it a two-book deal. Had Delacorte not agreed to those terms, we would have gone to auction, where the editors would bid for the rights to the ms and a sequel. 

*For those of you who don't know what a preempt means—and no shame, I had no idea either until my agent was screaming about it in my ear—it means that an editor gives you an incredible offer and a ticking clock so they can sweep the deal off the table before other editors get the chance to make offers. That way, they don't end up bidding over it in an auction. 

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

I didn't have a long time to wait, but I HAVE been neck-deep in the emotional turmoil of waiting for agents to return my emails and that is excruciating. (For the record, I've been rejected 106 times by agents over ten years through four different books. I know what waiting is like!) 

But during the sub process for this ms, Kari updated me frequently via email regarding which editors were reading it and who had expressed early interest. That information helped stem the nerves a lot. Another thing that helped was getting busy on another project. I started brainstorming a new series and a short story related to the ms on submission. 

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

I did get a couple rejections on this ms within a few days of letting them know we had an offer, and I asked Kari not to share any negative feedback unless it was helpful. To date, I have no idea why the ones who weren't interested didn't want the ms, and for me, emotionally, that was the best way to go. 

I refused to let the rejections get to me because I've learned through the long, horrible process of agent querying that some books aren't some people's cups of tea. Every book I love has at least half a dozen 1-star reviews on Goodreads. Sometimes, "It isn't you; it's me," is true. 

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?

See above. I didn't accept any rejection feedback unless it was helpful, and since Kari hasn't sent any of it to me, I assume none of it was helpful. =) 

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

Oh gosh. I wrote a whole story about getting that call and posted it on my website. I'd gotten the initial offer on Wednesday afternoon, November 1, and was waiting to see if Delacorte would accept our counter offer the next day. Kari called me around 2:00 PM on Thursday, November 2, and told me that they'd accepted the counter and I very nearly burst out of my skin. It's the closest to hysteria I think I've ever been. I laughed and cried and screamed so loud my four-year-old, who was in the office with me, covered his ears and told me to be quiet. 

Kari hung up so I could "process," which I think is code word for "calm the hell down," and we emailed and texted "AHHHHHHH" and "SQUEEEEEE" back and forth for about ten minutes while I sobbed and tried to wrap my head around the fact that I'd finally—FINALLY—caught up to my dream. 

I highly recommend this moment. 

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

Yes! I wasn't allowed to say anything before the announcement went out on PW Children's and Publisher's Marketplace, but luckily, I didn't have to wait for the contract to be signed. Some authors have to wait months to tell anyone. Keeping my mouth shut was ridiculously difficult, even though I had a short wait time, because everyone knew I was on submission. I told my closest family members who were sworn to secrecy, but I had to wait to tell everyone else. =)

But on November 15, Kari emailed me to say the announcement was going out that night, and while I was at my middle son's basketball game, I was INUNDATED with emails and texts because the announcement had gone live. It was crazy watching my son's game and trying to keep up with the notifications, so I shut off my phone, focused on my son, and then made my own social media announcement later that night. 

Saturday, April 28, 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.

I enjoyed reading about your interest in “edgy...unusual voices, unique settings, and everyman stories told with a new spin” — and about some of your authors (especially...)

So…I hope you’ll be interested in my novel.

While it's great that you have this personalized, you follow up with the rather obvious statement that you hope the agent will be interested in your novel. The agent knows that is your hope. It's why you are querying. 

THE B’IX LEAP is a genre-bender-with-ideas in the tradition of Berger, Eco, Pynchon, and Vonnegut.

But what genres is it bending? Even the writers you name here can be somewhat held to a genre and style. All told, it's much stronger to open a query with a really good hook.

It’s a “speculative mystery,” a reimagining — exuberant and visionary — what you're doing here is sharing your opinion of your own work, which doesn't carry much weight. Did a really famous author call your work exuberant and visionary? Cool. Mention that. Other than that... probably not.  of Raymond Chandler’s That's the fifth really big name drop that you're using to create allusions to your novel... while still not really telling us what your novel is about  legendary THE BIG SLEEP, complete with dead bodies and byzantine plot twists. Plus human beings from the future. A wrathful female alien bigger than a corn silo. And the wry, unlikely hero who is swept in — to his own surprise — to try to save the day.

The story begins…. I'm halfway through the query, so the fact that you're just now talking about how the story begins is a red flag. 

….in the present day, just after a priceless moon rock has been stolen from a famous retired astronaut living in Maine.

Across town, former New York City ad man T. Durham Blackstone gets a visit from an unusual stranger — claiming (and proving) to be from the year AD 2180 — who announces that the future desperately needs Durham’s help.

Posing reluctantly as a private eye, Durham travels to the Epsilon Eridani star system and learns that the moon rock is actually an artifact of the B’ix, an ancient race of aliens. Its theft has changed the flow of history — imperiling humanity’s future — because it’s the key to “leaping,” a mental technology humans will one day use to roam space and time.

Really confused about why he would need to pose as a private eye in an entirely different star system?

With only his happy-go-lucky leaping instructor at his side, Durham confronts a menagerie of suspects — in an odyssey that takes him around the world and across far-flung starscapes.

Can he figure it all out — and recover the rock — before the future unravels?

Okay, the "unlikely hero" is a tried and true character - but we still need to know, why him? What is it about Durham that makes him the go to guy for the aliens? You also mention dead bodies, a huge, wrathful female alien, and a bunch of suspects... but I don't really know what they all have in common. Right now the query needs focus.

At 108,000 words, THE B’IX LEAP is my first novel. It explores themes of technology, human spiritual growth, and their effects on each other — and is the first in a set of novels I’m creating around the TEN BULLS, an ancient Chinese poem about the stages of progress toward enlightenment.

108k is a bit long for a debut author, and I wouldn't try to pitch anything as a series as a debut, either. Pitch something as a stand alone with series potential, instead.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: MEM by Bethany C. Morrow

Set in the glittering art deco world of a century ago, MEM makes one slight alteration to history: a scientist in Montreal discovers a method allowing people to have their memories extracted from their minds, whole and complete. The Mems exist as mirror-images of their source ― zombie-like creatures destined to experience that singular memory over and over, until they expire in the cavernous Vault where they are kept.

And then there is Dolores Extract #1, the first Mem capable of creating her own memories. An ageless beauty shrouded in mystery, she is allowed to live on her own, and create her own existence, until one day she is summoned back to the Vault.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Wednesday WOLF: Dissecting the F Word

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.

Most of us say it every now and then. I know I did when I stepped on a rake and hit myself in the face (yes, really). The "F word" is a very satisfying way to get all that crap out of your head and into the atmosphere. There are two common misconceptions about the origin of that particular four-letter word, as luck would have it for the WOLF, they both involve acronyms.

Fornication                                                              For
Under                                    OR                             Unlawful
Consent of the                                                         Carnal
King                                                                        Knowledge

The 1st incorrect acronym has been tied to a variety of different logic-based arguments, from the concept that invading soldiers needed "permission" to rape women (because it was considered sex out of wedlock, not because, you know, it's rape) and the king could grant them this. Whether or not it was called a Writ of Fuck is unclear. Another take on this is that wedded couples had to have the permission of the king to have a baby, and so would apply for permission to fuck. Because kings took the time to do that kind of thing, you know.

The 2nd incorrect acronym is usually referred to as a means of judicial punishment for adulterers and rapists (yes, in this version rape is actually a bad thing). It has also been said that soldiers were accused of the crime of fucking when they were caught with each other.

And while all this carries just enough glimmer of truth to be generally accepted as true, it simply isn't.

But that doesn't mean there weren't people tossing out the F bomb back in the middle ages. They were. And they used it the same way we do. The eff word is actually a very old word, so when you think you're being all cutting edge and pushing the envelope when you use it, really you're just rehashing something one of your 15th century ancestors might have said.

Apparently it does the trick pretty well because we've been using it since then.

The Random House Dictionary of Historical Slang cites Middle Dutch fokken = "to thrust; copulate with" (say it with a Dutch accent and you'll see), Norwegian dialect fukka = "to copulate with," Swedish dialect focka = "to strike, push; copulate with."

So amaze your friends at your next party by whipping out the Random House Dictionary of Historical Slang. I know that's how I roll.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

An Agency Intern Shares Common Query Mistakes

Today's guest for the SHIT (Submission Hell, It's True) is A.M. Rose, author of ROAD TO EUGENICA who is going to take it from here!

So this time we’re doing things a little different. I’m not a literary agent, but I’ve been an intern with an agency for over the past year and have gotten an in-depth look at the slush. I’m here to offer some insight into the things that I’ve seen on the other side of the submission process.

How many queries does your agency receive a day? 

It really varies on day and time of the year, but I’d say on average anywhere from twenty to fifty.

How many requests do you make from those submissions? 

For simplicity, I’ll break this up into batches of ten. Sometimes zero are requested sometimes as many as three. Now how many of those requests turn into offers is even a smaller number. 

Most of the time when we make a request it’s because the query was intriguing, and the opening pages were good. What we see most often is the middle falling apart. So while it’s important to grab attention in those first few chapters, it’s just as important to have a solid story from start to finish. 

What is the most common mistake you see in submissions? 

Not telling us anything about the book. Seriously. Some people will spend the entire query letter talking about their process or why this book is so important to them, and never tell us what the story is about. 

Remember all your query letter has to do is tell us:
Who is your MC?
What do they want? (Goals)
What stands in their way? (Obstacles) 
What happens if they fail? (Stakes)
(Also include your genre, (age group if appropriate) and word count.) 

That’s it.

Another problem we see a lot are people not following submission guidelines. We ask for a synopsis, and it’s amazing how many people don’t include one. And they are important. We want to make sure you have a complete story arc and most of the time if there isn’t one included it results in a rejection even if we liked the pages. Because without the synopsis we aren’t sure if there really is a story.  

Is there anything an author can do to stand out? 

Yes! Don’t try to be clever or funny. Just write a clean query letter. Keep it short and simple. Consider it a business letter, and while you think being different will make you stand out. It does. Just not in the way you want it to. When you read hundreds of letters a week there becomes a rhythm to it and when that rhythm gets broken it’s hard to get back into it.

Are there any particular trope or story lines you see most often? 

We see a lot of God and demon stories. And recently the number of submission with political references has climbed considerably. 

Do some people try to subvert the standard query for something else? What is the strangest thing you've seen?

Yes, this happens more often than you’d think. The photographs are always interesting, but the strangest thing I’ve seen is a person who spent probably about five pages talking about how amazing their book was, and how it already had a screen-play and interest from Hollywood. They went on and on about how they were going to market it, but never once said anything about the book. Not one word. It could have legitimately been the next best thing, but since they never told us anything about it, (and didn’t follow submission guidelines by including their first ten pages and a synopsis) it was an automatic rejection.

You want someone who’s going to champion your work regardless if it’s going to be the next best thing or not. 

Is there anything I can do to make my query letter better? 

Again, yes. Have other people who’ve never read your story before read your query. If it doesn’t make sense to them, it won’t make sense to an agent. Query Shark is a great reference for what to do and what not to do. I also like Agent Query Connect. There you can post your query letter and others will critique it for you. Of course you have to critique in return, but in doing so you’ll get better at seeing what works and doesn’t. 

Do you think having this behind-the-scenes look gave you an advantage when querying your book?

Road to Eugenica actually never went through the full query process. After winning the 2016 PYHIAB contest from the NJRW it was quickly picked up by Entangled. And my next book Not Innocent was also contracted with Entangled without an agent.

However, I do think it’ll help me when I get back on the query train. (Which I’m hoping will be soon.) 

Monday, April 23, 2018

3 Things Real Teens Want, 7 Things They Hate, And How They Find Their Next Book

This past weekend I attended YA FEST PA, a book festival featuring YA authors in Easton, PA. I've been to a lot of festivals, and sat on many panels. But this time they did something different.

It was called a Teen Reverse Panel. The organizers asked the teens from the audience to switch places with the authors, putting us in the crowd and the teens in the spotlight. Then... we got to ask them questions.

It was fantastic.

I learned a lot, and I wanted to share a few of the things I picked up.

What They HATE

1) Limitless free time. "I'm in dance twelve hours a week," one panelist said. "I've got homework. I don't have time to just go to the beach and hang out, let alone take a road trip."

2) Absent parents. Real teens have to ask permission to go do stuff. Most of them can't just run out the door or disappear whenever they feel like it. Not without getting grounded, anyway.

3) Text speak. Smart phones have changed the way teens text, and adults need to catch up. "I text in full sentences," one teen said. "When I see something like when r u going 2 b here? I just roll my eyes."

4) Romance. It's true. Throwing in a romance is really starting to piss them off. "There's an area of the bookstore for that," one teen said. "I don't go there." There was a lot of head-nodding on the panel -which, I'd like to point out - was predominantly female.

5) Repackaging. This isn't in control of the author, but publishers take note. Teens like to read series, and they want their covers to match. These are savvy kids - they said they don't like paperbacks that don't match hardcovers, and they want to have the whole series in matching covers.

6) Stylized Fonts. Something else that is out of your control if you're traditionally published, but self-pubs, listen up. A pretty title might look cool, but more than one panelist agreed that an overly stylized font for cover design can make the title hard to decipher, and quite a few of them will pass over that for something more straightforward.

7) Partying. Not all teens are doing it. Noted.

What They WANT

1) Honest Representation. A PoC panelist noted that she thinks white authors are capable of writing PoC characters, but that we must do research and above all - listen.

2) Boys. No, not romance (see above). They want more books written from a male POV.

3) Horror. Yep. While there were plenty of Potterheads up there, at least one said Stephen King was her favorite author, and heads nodded.

How They Find Books

In publishing this is called visibility or discoverability, and it was the question I put to the panel: "How do you find what you're going to read next?"

Guess what? It's not social media.

Nope. They all shook their heads when I mentioned it. Not Twitter. Not Tumblr. Not Instagram. Definitely not Facebook. All those tweets and posts and pics and we've been pumping out into the universe have been finding readers... just not necessarily our target audience.

All of the teens emphatically agreed that they find what they're going to read next through word of mouth. Here's the rundown.

1) Friends. Teens talk. Readers talk. Teen readers talk to each other, and are unapologetically enthusiastic about things that they like.

2) Librarians & Teachers. These are the adults that are suggesting books to kids. And they're listening.

3) Bookstores. It's true. Teens browse shelves. Some are scanning for author names they already know and like, some are targeting genre sections they prefer, and some are just looking for whatever grabs their eye.

Know what doesn't weigh into their decisions?


So stop worrying about those :)

Saturday, April 21, 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.

Allii (Princess Albalia of Sallonia) spent the first seventeen years of her life closeted in her father’s castle, studying plants and rocks to fill the long hours. Then her beloved step mother is murdered and Allii is accused of killing her.  Now she is on the run from her father’s justice and her father’s soldiery, with only a daemon dog for company. Good hook, and I love the twist that she actually loved her stepmother - that's nice to see! Only tweak would be to strike what I ran through above, to get rid of "father's" echo.

Allii is determined to uncover the real killers, bring them to justice echo here from "justice" in hook and clear her name. But her quest takes an unexpected turn when she discovers that everything she thought she knew about herself was a lie. She is not a Sallonian princess but a Halfling bastard. Her parents loved each other but couldn’t marry because Sallonian law forbids any interaction between her father’s people and her mother’s people. Her mother didn’t die in childbed but was killed in an accident while fleeing Sallonia with the baby Allii. Her father had been trying to divorce her childless stepmother when she was poisoned. He is desperate for an heir because he doesn’t want his despised cousin to succeed him. His chief minister and his chief priest start searching for a new queen before the old one has been buried. So this entire paragraph - and therefore the bulk of the query - covers backstory. This doesn't tell us what actually happens in the book and to Allii... this tells us more about her father and mother than her.

As Allii digs deeper into the past, she begins to wonder whether uncovering the truth will release her from her travails or lead her to a worse bondage. But she has no choice, not if she wants to stop her father’s people from unleashing a war of annihilation on her mother’s people. So you're telling us what she discovers and what is at risk, but not how she discovers these things, or what true danger she's in. This whole story could unfurl while she's reading old texts in a library, which - while realistic - would make for a pretty boring book. I don't know what her "travails" are because all I heard about is what happened to her mom - and stepmom. 

Murder is easy (complete at 110,000 words) is a standalone YA fantasy novel with series potential. That's a hefty word count, even for a fantasy. You get more room to play with world building in fantasy, but as a debut you'll want to pare it down to under 100k.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Book Talk & Giveaway: THE STARS AT OKTOBER BEND by Glenda Millard

i am the girl manny loves. the girl who writes our story in the book of flying. i am alice.

Alice is fifteen, with hair as red as fire and skin as pale as bone. Something inside Alice is broken: she remembers words, but struggles to speak them. Still, Alice knows that words are for sharing, so she pins them to posters in tucked-away places: railway waiting rooms, fish-and-chips shops, quiet corners. Manny is sixteen, with a scar from shoulder to elbow. Something inside Manny is broken, too: he once was a child soldier, forced to do terrible, violent things. But in a new land with people who care for him, Manny explores the small town on foot. And in his pocket, he carries a poem he scooped up, a poem whose words he knows by heart. The relationship between Alice and Manny will be the beginning of love and healing. And for these two young souls, perhaps, that will be good enough.

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Wednesday, April 18, 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.

You probably know what an oxymoron is, but in case you don't I'll supply you with a definition and a few examples. An oxymoron is a combination of what appear to be contradictory terms. Here are some fun ones:

Civil War
Act Naturally
Only Choice

But what does oxymoron mean? It's from the Greek "sharp fool," or "sharp dull."

My favorite oxymoron?

Good morning.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Author Kerry Reed On Taking A Germ of An Idea & Building It Into A Story

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 Kerry Reed, author of DREAMSCAPE. Kerry graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in English and then from George Mason University with a Masters in Literature because apparently she couldn’t get enough of the books. She loves transatlantic accents, blackberry frappes, and old-school British detective novels. She writes YA Fantasy but enjoys a good story wherever she finds one.

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?

I absolutely agree that ideas can come from anywhere and everywhere. For me, the germ of an idea usually begins with one very clear scene or concept. I might not know how the story starts of where it ends but I can picture that one tiny piece in my mind and it all grows from there. For Dreamscape (I literally just opened an early draft to check) I wrote the first scene first, which for me is actually pretty rare. The story opens in Chloe’s dream, a sunlit field she remembers from childhood and a strange boy she’s never seen before. I really liked the idea of a serial dreamer so powerful she dreams an entire world into existence. The story isn’t quite like that, but that was the initial concept.   

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

Once I had this concept of Chloe’s dream-world, certain things fell into place. I wanted the magic in the story to feel like the way a dream works. This idea, that the “magic” of the dream-world mimics the fluid possibility of dreams in general, and is powerful but often unconsciously employed by the dreamer, ended up sparking the central conflict of the story. 

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

Constantly. I usually do make a basic outline after I’ve written my first few scenes but if you look back at my outlines they rarely resemble the final project. Often it’s not until I’m in the middle of something that I figure out what actually makes sense (or what doesn’t) – or I think of something (hopefully) more clever than my original plan. 

I also tend to write in circles, adding in the parts I have most clear in my mind first and then working in the rest. When I reach the end, I begin again (and so forth and so on). Since I’ve started working with a critique partner I’ve modulated this somewhat – like everything else my writing process is a work-in-progress – but if I have a scene in my mind I always find it worthwhile to put it to paper, even if I change it later.  

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

So many ideas, so little time. Right now since I only write part time, I feel like I have more ideas than I could ever actually use. Of course some of them are probably terrible… I have several abandoned drafts that didn’t quite “work” for one reason or another. And I’ve had those days where I literally cannot manage to write a single sentence and cut my losses and head to Netflix. But the idea part isn’t usually the problem.

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

For me if there’s one idea or story that I can’t not write, even if I should be working on something else, I usually end up starting with that one. At minimum I try to get down whatever part is in my head even if I do set it aside after that. If I don’t have that itch I try to focus on whichever story is closest to completion. When in doubt it’s always better to have a full draft of something than to have a million openings (or, in my case, random scenes) of promising but unfinished projects. 

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?

This question is making me miss my dog, who was a champion snuggler, and tempted me to write more than a few chapters on my couch. These days I do most of my writing in coffee shops and my local Panera where I have lots of stranger-writing-buddies. They don’t know me and they don’t realize it, but their imaginary judgment forces me to focus.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Recap of Release Week & A New Podcast On Writing and Branding


Today’s guest on the podcast is JR Johansson author of the Night Walkers trilogy as well as CUT ME FREE and THE ROW. J.R. Johansson's books have been published in a dozen languages and more than twenty countries worldwide. She has a B.S. degree in public relations and a background in marketing. She joins host Mindy McGinnis to talk about the process of landing her agent, how writing thrillers came to be her brand, as well as the pros and cons of writing a series versus writing stand alones.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

GIVEN TO THE EARTH Release Day & Giveaway!

It's here!

GIVEN TO THE EARTH, the second and final in The Given Duet, releases today! If you're in Ohio, be sure to come and visit me and one of the many events I have planned throughout the week in order to celebrate three fantastic things:

1) Given To The Earth Release
2) It's National Library Week
3) The Ohioana Book Festival

I have a literal ton of events throughout Ohio this week. For more information on events outside of Ohio, check my site! Enter the Rafflecopter below to win signed copies of both SEA and EARTH!

April 10 6-8PM: Cover to Cover Books

April 11 @ 7PM: Pickerington Library Sycamore Plaza Branch

April 12 @ 7:30PM: Cardington Public Library

April 14 10:30 - 5 PM: Ohioana Book Festival

Duty, fate, desire, and destiny collide in this intricately wrought tale, perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas.

Although she was born to save the kingdom by sacrificing herself to the rising sea, Khosa's marriage to King Vincent has redeemed her. As the Queen of Stille, she's untouchable. But being Queen hasn't stopped her heart from longing for the King's stepbrother, Donil. And it hasn't stopped her body from longing for the sea itself, which still calls for her.

While Khosa is made to choose between loyalty and love, Dara is on a mission for vengeance. Years ago, the Pietra slaughtered the entire Indiri race, leaving only Dara and her twin, Donil, alive. Now, spurned by King Vincent, Dara has embarked on a mission to spill the blood of Pietra's leader, Witt, and will stop at nothing to show his people the wrath of the last Indiri. 

As the waves crash ever closer to Stille, secrets are revealed, hearts are won and lost, and allegiances change like the shifting sand.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, April 9, 2018

New Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire Podcast Episode & Where I'll Be This Week

This is a very busy week for me, with three events today alone (I'm throwing together a post here in a library before I do an event in half an hour), and a launch party for GIVEN TO THE EARTH tomorrow.

Today’s guest on the podcast is Jenny Martin author of the Sci Fi YA Novels TRACKED and MARKED. Jenny joined me today to talk about the importance of critique partners – how to find them, how to treat them, and how to keep them, as well as writing for the sake of writing, instead of for the sake of being published.

I have many, many, many events both this week and throughout the month of April! Please check out my site for the clickable links for each event listed below:

Saturday, April 7, 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.

After the death of her older brother, eleven-year-old Riley Tompkins looks for escape within a mysterious book written by her grandfather. But when the book’s story begins to spill into reality, Riley discovers that its pages hide a dark secret: one that could help bring back her brother—or unleash a terrible power. Oooohhh. Good hook.

After Riley finds Summer in the Wood under a floorboard in her grandfather’s old house in Vermont, she follows its plot deep into the woods. You're backtracking a little bit here, which is a waste of space in a query. There, she meets an enigmatic girl who let’s no apostrophe Riley in on the secret she’s been waiting for: Magic is real, and there’s a summer camp just up the Connecticut River where kids can learn it.

Riley enrolls at the Wheelock Institute’s Summer Program to study dunamis—the ancient art of using imagination to shape the world. But between lessons on Bookmaking, Cloudherding, and a host of other magical disciplines, Riley must unlock the secrets of her grandfather’s past and race to uncover a long-lost magical object—one that could change the fate of the entire world. By bringing back the dead? You're teasing just a little bit here.

SUMMER IN THE WOOD is a 63,000-word middle-grade fantasy with series potential for fans of the PECULIAR CHILDREN series and Scarlett Thomas’ DRAGON’S GREEN.

Hello! I graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in creative writing and am currently an editor on Scholastic’s Science World, a magazine for grades 6-10. In addition, I have a nonfiction science book scheduled for publication next year with Scholastic library publishing.

Great bio, great query. With a little tweak on that corpse tease, you're good to go.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: THE MORTIFICATION OF FOVEA MUNSON by Mary Winn Heider

Fovea Munson is nobody's Igor. True, her parents own a cadaver lab where they perform surgeries on dead bodies. And yes, that makes her gross by association, at least according to everyone in seventh grade. And sure, Fovea's stuck working at the lab now that her summer camp plans have fallen through. But she is by no means Dr. Frankenstein's snuffling assistant!

That is, until three disembodied heads, left to thaw in the wet lab, start talking. To her. Out loud.

What seems like a nightmare, or bizarre hallucination, is not. Fovea is somebody's Igor, all right. Three somebodies, actually. And they need a favor.
With a madcap sense of humor and a lot of heart (not to mention other body parts), this is a story about finding oneself, finding one's friends, and embracing the moment.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Jennifer Sommersby On Planning Vs. Pantsing

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Jennifer Sommersby author of SLEIGHT, releasing April 24th from SkyPony Press. Jennifer is a writer, copy/line editor, bibliophile, and mom of four living in the Great White North.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I used to be a devoted pantser. Don’t tell me what to do! I’m a writer with free will! But then I wrote a book that was a hot mess and the editor working on it had me start from scratch—by writing an OUTLINE. Egad! I ended up writing several detailed outlines, around 40-45 pages each, and when we finally settled on one that felt right, only then was I green-lit to start (re)writing the book. However, even that proved challenging because at about page 20 on the outline, the story diverged wildly and unexpectedly, so basically the remainder of the outline was useless.

I’ve since found a better system that works for me—a detailed synopsis. I try to write it like what you would read on the back cover of a novel, and then go into greater detail farther down the page. I aim for five to ten pages and cover major characters, central plot, subplots, secondary characters, major conflicts, the main character’s objective, and even dialogue and snippets of scenes I don’t want to forget. I’ve found the synopsis route to be awesome—I’m only spending about a week or so writing it, and that frees up plenty of time to tweak before I actually start writing the book. I can also show this to my agent or an interested editor if they’re asking about what other projects I have on the go.

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

Depends on the project. I write romantic comedies for grownups under a pen name (Eliza Gordon), and while I am a meticulous researcher, I can write an Eliza book in four to six months, sometimes less if work and life don’t get in the way. SLEIGHT, however, well, she’s an anomaly. I wrote the first draft longhand over 360 nights sitting in my car at a local coffee shop (fueled by peppermint tea!); that was in 2009-2010. The book has gone through a grueling editing and rewriting process to reach the stage it’s at now. So, it’s not inaccurate to say this book has taken me eight years to write … But the truth is, there were 15 drafts written during that time, and many of those were rewritten starting from a blank page. I’m currently writing SLEIGHT’s sequel, SCHEME, and I’ve been working on this latest draft for five months. I still have a long way to go since it is VERY research intensive. Me and my big ideas. Oy.

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

Definitely a multitasker. I have about five or six projects I’m putting words down for, even if they’re just one line or an idea as it occurs to me, and not all of these projects will necessarily turn into anything sellable. But remember, I also write under two names, in two very different genres/styles, and I’m not a rigid 2000-plus-words-a-day writer. I wish! 

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

Perfectionism. It’s been a lifelong plague that almost saw me flunk seventh grade algebra because I wasn’t turning in my homework—“But Mr. Reiland, I can’t turn it in because it’s not perfect!” Yeah, so as a writer, one of the reasons I’m so slow is because I’m also an obsessive self-editor and rewriter. I will go over and over a chapter until I think it’s in decent shape, and only then will I move on to the next chapter. So the fear that knocks me to my knees almost every time? Fear that it won’t be perfect. Which is ridiculous. Writer Anne Lamott says, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.” Reading her advice back in 2007 gave me permission to start writing shitty first drafts. Which I did.

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

Nothing finished! See above notes on perfectionism.

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

Yes. It sucks because I still love the idea, but the execution is proving too complicated. When I spend months thinking about a project and it presents me with an unsolvable problem that then spawns into five or more unsolvable problems, I know the project is begging to be abandoned.

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

In 2010 I started querying agents for SLEIGHT. I had a few requests for fulls but it didn’t get any further until I queried Dan Lazar, my DREAM agent, on Easter Sunday. He got back to me an hour later, asked for a full, and rejected me a week later. He graciously offered me several chances to edit and resubmit but ultimately passed. The abbreviated version of a rather long story: I self-published a version of SLEIGHT in 2011. It was only out for a few months, but reviews were great and sales weren’t terrible, so I emailed Dan and said HEY LOOK ARE YOU SURE YOU DON’T WANT THIS BOOK. He then referred me to the incredible in-house editor for Writers House, Genevieve Gagne-Hawes. Gen and I reworked SLEIGHT throughout 2011 and into 2012, and then in May 2012, Dan agreed to sign me. A week or so later, we got a pre-empt from HarperCollins Canada for a two-book deal. Woohoo! Recently I transferred to Dan’s junior agent, Victoria (Torie) Doherty-Munro, because I’m a hyperactive client with a lot of irons in the fire between the Sommersby books in development and then the Eliza Gordon books—Dan is extremely busy and Torie is young and hungry and has the space to help me develop some of these other ideas, so it’s a win-win all around. I get the best of both worlds!

How many queries did you send? (whichever you’re more comfortable answering)

I racked up 23 rejections before getting a yes from Dan. And as you read above, that was quite a long process.

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

PERSEVERE. And patience, my friend! Be open to the constructive criticisms coming at you from potential agents—seriously, a good agent knows the business and if they’re telling you your protagonist isn’t believable or the plot is flimsy, they’re not being mean. They’re telling you this because the story is undercooked. The hardest lesson I’ve learned so far—this business isn’t personal. Because it IS a business. They’re not rejecting YOU; they are rejecting the manuscript based on flaws that may or may not be fixable. But being bullheaded and inflexible will get you nowhere.

Never be afraid to dive back in and fix what you can. Hire a trustworthy editor—but vet them first! Don’t hire your neighbor because she’s good with commas. I know very few agents will go that extra mile to provide editorial feedback until they’ve signed you (they are absolutely swamped all the time), but if you get a request for a partial or full and the agent still rejects the manuscript, if they offer actionable advice, strongly consider taking it and look at fixing whatever isn’t working.

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

Euphoria. And pride. It was very emotional, actually. This book has taken its toll on my mental health—not gonna lie—so to see fifty copies sitting there on the display shelf at the front of the store where people can pick her up and hug her and then take her home? Pretty bloody great. And at the launch-day signing, I actually started crying when I got to my table and saw Chapters Indigo had one of those six-foot banners they make for their signing guests—only this one had MY name and MY book on it. It was my Velveteen Rabbit moment, and I was overcome. It’s the little things, you know?

How much input do you have on cover art?

For the HarperCollins Canada version, I didn’t have any input until they sent me the first draft of the artwork—and it was terrific, so my only input was YES I LOVE IT IT’S PERFECT. It’s VERY elegant. For the Sky Pony Press (US) version, I was a lot more involved with the process, which was also very cool—Alison Weiss, my editor, gave Dan and me a lot of room for feedback. Sky Pony worked with Sarah J. Coleman (InkyMole on Instagram—follow her!), and it was fantastic to see our suggested changes happen so quickly. (And the cover is filled with Easter eggs!) The end results of both versions make me cry all the happy tears. It’s just surreal.

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

How much marketing authors (especially debut authors with no track record yet) have to do on their own. Yikes! 

How much of your own marketing do you? 

I do a ton of my own marketing. The lion’s share, in fact. I’m active on social media—primarily Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. My website is pretty basic but it provides people with a place to go to find necessary links. I had a blog for years but I’m a lazy blogger, so it’s sort of hiding out there in the ether right now, long ignored. Sorry, little blog. I also make and order my own bookmarks, pens, postcards, and other marketing collateral (yup, I pay for it) and I do as many giveaways as I can afford. (Postage from Canada is insanely expensive.) I use Canva and Photoshop Elements for social media graphics, and we’re a family of photographers so if I can’t find an image I want on a stock site, one of us can probably shoot it. Also, my husband works in film and for SLEIGHT, we’ve made an incredible book trailer that I hope folks will love.

I run the occasional Facebook ad, but I haven’t found those to be necessarily worth the cost. Also, I still believe very strongly in word of mouth, so I arrange book signings with local bookstores—I’ve spent years cultivating my relationships with the booksellers—and I do hire a blog tour company to get the books into the hands of bloggers so they can help with the blast process.

I have a newsletter for Eliza Gordon but not for Jenn Sommersby—I know the marketing gurus tout the amazing strength a newsletter can provide for an author but I haven’t found that to be super true for me yet. A friend who runs her own author-focused marketing business (—tell her Jenn sent you!) often reminds me that I need to be doing more frequent newsletters, but I’m still working on that bit. It’s a tough balance! 

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

I don’t think it hurts to be building as soon as you decide that you want to be writing stories the world will eventually see. I started engaging on Twitter pretty heavily back in 2011 when the first self-published version of SLEIGHT was out (the version with the redhead on the cover—if you’re reading that obsolete version, it’s either pirated or one of the few paperbacks still floating around Amazon). I don’t have huge followings on Twitter or Facebook (damn algorithms!) or even Instagram but slowly, slowly, I am building. 

On social, I share books I’ve bought and what I’m reading, helpful tips for writers, funny memes, whatever soundtracks I’m listening to, pictures of my very spoiled cat, etc. I try to engage with readers instead of just scream BUY MY BOOKS. And because SLEIGHT has had such an unusually long journey to publication, I’ve been hesitant about focusing too much time on building the platform as I didn’t know until mid 2017 what to tell people when they asked about when the book would be coming out. In hindsight, this was a mistake. Find a way to engage people about your world as a writer—it doesn’t just have to be about your book that may or may not ever be published. 

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I don’t know how I would find a readership without social media! I rely heavily on friends I’ve made online, the bloggers, the readers who love books—without social media, it would be me sitting alone in my office with my cat and my Superman collection, hoping someone will find my books. I’ll forever be grateful to the nerds who understand how to write the code that enables me to reach an entire world of amazing readers and booklovers!

Wednesday, April 4, 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.

Today we're going to talk about crime. I haven't done anything wrong, I swear.

Back in the day (in this case "the day" is the late 1800's) Allan Pinkerton opened private investigator firm called Pinkerton's National Detective Agency. Their logo was an eye with the motto "We Never Sleep." And if that's not intimidating, then you're a dumb criminal.

Pinkerton's detective's were so good that they became known simply as Eyes, thus they were private eyes.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Author & Editor Jess Verdi On Personalizing Queries

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Jessica Verdi, author of Jessica Verdi author of young adult novels and children’s books about identity, family, acceptance, and love. Jess received her MFA in Writing for Children from The New School and is a freelance editor of romance, women’s fiction, chick lit, YA, and kid lit.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

A little of both! I start new projects as a pantster, writing down whatever comes to mind, then I pause to try to put those thoughts and ideas into some sort of coherent form or story arc, and then I go back to pantsting (is that even a word? haha) for the actual writing of the scenes. 

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

It really, really varies, depending on the project and my schedule at any given moment, but on average I’d say a year.

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

Usually just one at a time. Sometimes I have to multi-task if different projects are in different stages and there are deadlines involved, but I tend to do much better if I can give my full attention to one story at a time.

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

Yes, definitely. I had this preconceived notion that the only people who could be authors were the people who had been writing stories since they were two years old, and had a degree in comparative literature or something. I was a singer and actor at the time, and all I wanted was a creative outlet that didn’t require auditioning or getting cast in a show. So even though I had major imposter syndrome, I made myself sit down and figure out how to tell a story on a page. And I fell in love with it!

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

Two complete manuscripts. I guess third time’s a charm!

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

Yes, quite a few times, actually. I usually know it’s time to move on to something new when the current project feels like it’s missing passion. Even though writing is hard, and it can often feel like pulling teeth, I know a project is worth pursuing when I feel that little spark when I think of it being a complete, finished novel.

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

My agent is Kate McKean, vice president and agent at the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency. I was referred to her by two friends of mine who are also clients of hers.

How long did you query before landing your agent? 

I queried a completely different project before querying the book that became my first published novel, so the query process lasted a couple years for me, on and off.

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

I am also an editor at Crimson Romance, a digital romance imprint at Simon & Schuster, and I read queries all day every day. So, from that perspective, I’d say definitely do your research—don’t just send mass queries to a bunch of agents at once. Address the query with the person’s name, and include a line at the beginning about why you chose to query that agent (you read an interview with them where they said they were looking for projects like yours, or you think your book is a comparable title to another book they represent, etc.). Also make sure your query is succinct, proof-read, and zeroes in on what is unique or different about your book. 

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

Wonderful! It’s such a special feeling, to know that there’s a piece of art out there in the world that came from your own brain. No one will ever be able to take that away from you!

How much input do you have on cover art?

Almost none, haha. In my experience, the design team does their thing, and only shows the author near-finished concepts. They will change something if the author has a concern about something being misinterpreted or offensive, but otherwise the author doesn’t get much of a say in the overall cover concept.

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

Something that always surprises me is how people who don’t work in publishing often have no idea what the editing process is really like. They often think “editing” means “copy editing” (fixing grammar, punctuation, etc.), and are shocked to learn how many story revisions a book will go through, and how long the process really takes, before the book is ready for publication. 

How much of your own marketing do you do?  

I do as much as I possibly can, as I do think it’s important for an author to help get the word out about their book, but I also don’t have a ton of time and resources to dedicate to marketing, especially when I’m trying to write the next book. I do have a website and social media (@jessverdi on both Twitter and Instagram), and I’ve found school visits are a good way to get the word out about a book too. 

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

I think it doesn’t hurt to establish yourself on social media beforehand, so that if an agent looks you up they can see that you’re professional and friendly. But don’t worry about getting thousands of followers or anything!

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I’m honestly not sure. It certainly doesn’t hurt! But I also don’t think most readers rely on Twitter to find new authors or books—some social media is good, but don’t let it distract you from writing your next book! That’s the most important thing. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Danger In Place Names

Reality is part of what makes good fiction work. From literature of place to a post-apocalyptic view of a well known city, those little details can be part of what really drives a piece of fiction home.

Or... it can be what completely pulls the reader out.

I was recently reading a book set in Ohio, my stomping grounds. I've been here my whole life, and while I can't say I know everything about it, I do know what kinds of trees are here, what wildlife you can expect in certain parts of the state - and also what simply wouldn't be there. I know the lay of the land - literally. From the Appachian foothills in the south to the flat plains in my part of the state, I have a pretty good general idea of what Ohio looks like, where.

So when the character in the book I was reading encountered a toll road in a part of the state where there simply isn't one (it's not hard to spot - there's only one), I was completely taken out the book. Was there a toll road I didn't know about?

A quick Google search told me that no, there wasn't. And while I can't claim that it ruined the book for me (it certainly didn't), what it did do was put a speed bump in my way. I was jolted right out of the story, the narrative was broken, the fictional world I'd invested in shattered based on a simple mistake.

And that's what it is - an easy, simple mistake. I've made more than a few in my own books, so I'm not faulting the author. What I did take from this experience was the solidifying of something I've suspected for a long time... it's just easier to make shit up.

I usually set my novels in fictional towns, the generalities are covered - regional area, state, etc. - but I tend to avoid specifically stating a town or city where my characters are... and this is exactly why. I want my readers to stay invested in the world I've built around them, which is a fictional one. When what I'm trying to paint for them doesn't jive with what they know as fact, it throws a wrench in the very tenuous spell that fiction weaves.

This is personal opinion, and there are great - and true - arguments for using real settings in your fiction. If that's what you prefer to write, I completely support that.

Just make sure you know where the toll roads are.


The newest ep of the Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire podcast is up! Join myself and guest Randy Ribay as we talk about the importance of having an agent in order to negotiate the best possible contract, the power of writing concisely and how to make time to write while holding a day job.