Monday, May 7, 2018

This Blog Is Moving!

I've been blogging since 2011, and always used Blogger as the home for Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire. Unfortunately, Blogger hasn't seen an update since 2015, and lately I've been spending a lot of time filtering out spam comments.

It was time to move on, and so I've created the new Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire blog. Don't worry, all the content has been moved over, and posting schedules and content will remain the same.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

E-Book Deal! A MADNESS SO DISCREET $1.99 Today Only!


Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery

Mindy McGinnis, the acclaimed author of Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, combines murder, madness, and mystery in a beautifully twisted gothic historical thriller perfect for fans of novels such as Asylum and The Diviners as well as television’s True Detective and American Horror Story.

Grace Mae is already familiar with madness when family secrets and the bulge in her belly send her to an insane asylum—but it is in the darkness that she finds a new lease on life. When a visiting doctor interested in criminal psychology recognizes Grace’s brilliant mind beneath her rage, he recruits her as his assistant. Continuing to operate under the cloak of madness at crime scenes allows her to gather clues from bystanders who believe her less than human. Now comfortable in an ethical asylum, Grace finds friends—and hope. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who will bring her shaky sanity and the demons in her past dangerously close to the surface.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: DARK BREAKS THE DAWN by Sara B. Larson

On her eighteenth birthday, Princess Evelayn of Eadrolan, the Light Kingdom, can finally access the full range of her magical powers. The light looks brighter, the air is sharper, and the energy she can draw when fighting feels almost limitless.

But while her mother, the queen, remains busy at the war front, in the Dark Kingdom of Dorjhalon, the corrupt king is plotting. King Bain wants control of both kingdoms, and his plan will fling Evelayn onto the throne much sooner than she expected.

In order to defeat Bain and his sons, Evelayn will quickly have to come into her ability to shapeshift, and rely on the alluring Lord Tanvir. But not everyone is what they seem, and the balance between the Light and Dark comes at a steep price.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

New York Times Bestselling Author Colleen Houck On Creating Swag That Works

Most authors will agree that the creative part of the job is where we excel, the business and marketing side, slightly less. It’s lovely when the two can meet in the form of SWAG – Shit We All Generate. I’ve invited some published authors to share with us their secret to swag… little freebies that can sell a book longer after the author is no longer standing in front of a prospective reader. In order to create great swag, you have to be crafty – in more ways than one.

Today's guest for the SWAG is Colleen Houck, whose New York Times bestselling Tiger’s Curse series has received national praise. Colleen is a lifelong reader whose literary interests include action, adventure, science fiction, and romance. Formerly a student at the University of Arizona, she has worked as a nationally certified American Sign Language interpreter for seventeen years. Colleen lives in Salem, Oregon, with her husband and a huge assortment of plush tigers.

Finding something that represents your book and hasn’t been played out by a million authors before is difficult. What’s your swag?

It depends on the book. I have a standard swag bag that I give out at events and at school visits. These contain the following…

A button or pin I have purchased on Etsy. Some are of my book covers, some are just fun things for readers. Kids LOVE these. This store makes custom buttons as well as groups for various categories.

I add whatever bookmarks my publishing house gives me until I run out. I always ask them for the file so I can print more if I want to. If they don’t make bookmarks then I ask them if they will make them if I print them. Often the answer is yes. When the answer was no, I asked my agent and his team made them.

I also put a piece of Ghirardelli chocolate inside and match the flavor/wrapper color with my book cover and then put a book sticker on top. An example of this is a Pumpkin Caramel Square  with a sticker of The Lantern’s Ember.

There’s a reading sampler of one of my books. My publisher made a certain number and when I told them I was doing school visits, they produced more. After they were done, I asked for the file and printed more on my own.

There are one or two free ebook download cards. These are of my self-published novellas. Publishers might not agree to this for as many as I use, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Next, I add my personal business cards

And a YA Scavenger Hunt card

These items all fit perfectly into paper gift bags like these I bought a design that went well with my books.


Right now, I’m working on a pre-launch party with VIP swag bags. They are getting a variety of nice things including a tiger bracelet, a cobra ring, a stuffed white tiger, a stuffed black tiger, animal crackers, a custom tote, a tiger striped scarf, a water bottle, Hoyle black tiger playing cards, and a rubber bracelet. Note: This is a paid event so I’m spending more than I normally would.


I love doing jewelry to match my books and if you shop on Etsy or Ebay you can find almost anything or someone willing to make it at a reasonable price.

I’ve done custom perfumes before, but they are expensive and messy and don’t travel well.

How much money per piece did your swag cost out of pocket?

It depends on the item. I have now become an expert on cheap. I shop at the dollar store and Oriental Trading. I check bargain bins. I find bulk items on the internet. If you’re looking for jewelry, there are lots of options on Ebay for $1.00 each or less. But be aware that most of these items ship from China and they take a month or longer to hit the states. For special swag bags I like to shop for playing cards that match my book theme. They run between $3.00-$5.00 per deck for the specialty types if you buy in bulk.

For my standard school visit swag bags, the cost for each runs about $1.25. Most of the cost is the reading sampler.

At events, I put together swag bag giveaways with a larger bag that matches the color of the book cover and then everything inside matches that color too. I can usually find a lipstick or an eyeshadow, then a nail polish, candy, lotion, popcorn, or a scarf. Usually each bag runs about $10.00 and I do a raffle. They sign up for my newsletter for a chance to win.


Do you find that swag helps you stand out at an event? Does your swag draw people to your table at an event or conference?

I don’t know that anyone approaches because of swag but if they come up and talk to me or attend one of my panels, my standard swag bags have enough information for them to find me easily and get a taste of my writing. Having the chocolate in there is key. After I mention that, everyone wants a bag to take home. I’ve noticed that most authors just set out bookmarks on the panel table. Having a box of swag stuffed bags in the back for them to pick up as they leave works really well.

What do you think of big item swag pieces versus cheaper, yet more easily discarded swag like bookmarks?

I have bookmarks I picked up at a conference that I still use today, but at big book conferences there are way too many bookmarks to stand out and most of them end up being tossed. Any swag, big or small, will always make more of an impact if you are the only author in the room. Having said that, you should always have something to give an interested reader. I’d recommend a stylish business card featuring your books. Beth Revis has an awesome information card that folds like a book. It has pictures of her books, a nice blurb, and her contact info. I think readers are more likely to keep that than a bookmark. As far as big swag items, I save these for my loyal fans as a sort of a reward for supporting me or coming to my event. I don’t think you need to spend your dollars offering large incentives to new readers. 



What’s the most clever / best swag by another author?

I think the best swag should tell you something about the book. I’ve seen an author who writes westerns give out little cowboy hats. Amy Plum had an Eiffel tower she gave that matched her book based in France. Once I spotted a vampire neckband to go with a vampire series. I’ve seen a mermaid book clip to match a mermaid book. Those types of swag aren’t cheap but they’re memorable and if mermaids are your thing, you’ll have a piece of swag you will keep as well as a potential new author to love. At big book conferences, these are the items that make you stand out.

And the biggest question – do you think swag helps sell books?

I absolutely believe in having some sort of basic swag. But don’t break the bank! Decide what your annual marketing budget is, set aside the funds, and then break it down into categories. Some money you might use for ads just to remind those who already like you to buy your next book, but other monies should be set aside to find new readers, and other money to attend conferences. It’s tempting to go beyond. I’ve done it and regretted it later. Always ask yourself, “What would I want or expect as a reader being introduced to an author?” Then let your expectations guide you.


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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