Wednesday, August 30, 2017

#PitchWars Critique: THE SPIRIT HUNTER


My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green. Echoes are highlighted in blue.

Query:

I understand you are looking for contemporary, character-based, YA novels, and stories that explore complex, emotional relationships. I thought you might be interested in my 85,000-word manuscript entitled THE SPIRIT HUNTER, aimed at mature teens. It is a bittersweet story about a seventeen-year-old Montana kid who teaches an abused, neglected, thirteen-year-old neighbor to hunt and fish, and suffers the consequences. The 17 year old suffers the consequences? The book explores some dark themes, but has a hopeful, positive ending, and the emotionally difficult portions are heavily counter-balanced with humor. The following is how the book flap might read: This is well written, but I would say that placing this at the end of the query would be a better place. Generally starting in with your hook is a better way to go, and this para gives an overview rather than the details that a query needs to differentiate itself, which, I'm sure that's below. However, start with that so that you know it's the first thing the agent sees. Also, nix the line about how the book flap might read. 

Seventeen-year-old Marty Kilpatrick has issues. His family lives in a half-finished house in Montana with no plumbing, occasional electricity, and only two woodstoves for heat. I would say only a woodstove for heat. As soon as you say he has more than one it sounds like that's not so bad - make sense? He’s ready to kill his best friends – assuming they don’t kill him first. Huge, massive leap here. Why would he want to kill his friends? Do you mean literally, or just as a turn of phrase? I assume literally since it appear they might kill him as well, which... that's definitely attention grabbing. But we really, really need to know why these kids feel this way. He worries he might be turning into a stalker. Definitely need more on that. And his crazy great-uncle, a full-blooded member of the Blackfeet Tribe, is hounding him to get in touch with his spiritual side. But when thirteen-year-old Chuck and his drug-addicted mother move into the trailer across the road, Marty discovers that bottom is still a long way down. Nice line.

First Chuck steals Marty’s trophy trout. Then he bewitches Marty’s hunting dog Deek, transforming him from a mud-covered wrecking ball into a pet. Chuck even manages to steal the affections of the mysterious fly fishing girl Marty has been ogling here's your allusion to to the stalking reference above. But don't use the term stalking lightly. Is he just noticing her? Or is he following her? Making notes of her movements? Learning her routines? Cataloging her likes and dislikes? There's a huge difference between being aware of someone and stalking them for months but has never had the courage to approach. But nothing compares to the damage Chuck inflicts when he gets a grip on Marty’s heart.

Chuck needs a big brother in a big way, and he’s determined that Marty is the man for the job. But as Marty is drawn inexorably into Chuck’s world of heartbreak, abuse, and betrayal, he finds himself challenged in ways he never imagined – to the point where he wonders whether either one of them will even survive. This is well written but we need to know what those challenges are, and why they would threaten their lives. There are a lot of really interesting thoughts here that have my attention - homicidal friends, etc - but we need to know more about what that actually entail in terms of plot.

In the interest of space I'm cutting your para where you asked about language in YA. My answer is don't worry about it. 

1st Page:

Little boys instinctively kill things. I absolutely love this first line. I think it's awesome. I do think some people would disagree with the statement, but since this is from 1st POV, I think it works. I didn’t know that when I was a little boy, despite all the things I killed. Somehow that insight floated right past me, probably because Phil and Bob and I were too busy impaling grasshoppers on barbwire fences, blowing up anthills with sparkler bombs, pouring gasoline down gopher holes, stoning every fish we pulled from the water, and shooting every bird we saw with our pellet guns. I guess most kids grow out of that stuff eventually. We didn’t. The critters we went after just got bigger, tastier, and sometimes more dangerous. We also started calling ourselves hunters, which somehow seemed more mature. First paragraph is awesome. It's brutal, yes. But if the book is brutal (and it seems like it will be, given the query), the it's true to the story and can stand as is.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not criticizing hunters. I haven’t turned into some kind of animal rights freak, no matter what Phil and Bob think. People have been hunting for a really long time, and there are good reasons to do it. One of them is free meat, which is a good thing when your family is broke. But until I met Chuck, I never thought about whether hunting was good or bad. It was just something I’d always done and everyone around me did. It wasn’t until I taught Chuck to hunt that I began to have doubts about what I was doing.

I can’t really blame Chuck. I don’t know where those first little doubts came from, but they were definitely there before he came along. Maybe my Blackfeet blood had something to do with it. I’m only a quarter Indian, but that doesn’t mean those genes aren’t messing with my head. My great-uncle Frank, who is full-blooded, says an Indian should never kill without a reason. He also says a hunter should have great respect for the animals he does kill. Otherwise the animals won’t come back in another life to feed the Indian again. Or maybe the doubts were a sign that I was finally growing up. Phil and Bob weren’t suffering any doubts, nor were they making any progress towards growing up...

Honestly, I think your first page is very, very strong. I think it's fantastic. My only critical thought here is that the narrator seems to be addressing these issues as if they happened in the past, giving the manuscript a feeling of an adult looking back on their teenage years, kind of like Stephen King's short "The Body." Which... that would mean this isn't YA. I would urge you to consider if this might actually be literary fiction, given the darker themes (speaking here as someone who has read more than just the first page), and the nostalgic lost-childhood feel, I do think you might be looking at an adult literary rather than YA.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Emily Arsenault On How Writing Can Be A Comfort... It's Publishing That's Stressful

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Emily Arsenault, author of the upcoming novel THE LEAF READER, which released June 13 from Soho Teen. Emily studied philosophy in college, and worked as an editorial assistant at Merriam-Webster from 1998-2002, helping write definitions for their dictionaries. She has served in the Peace Corps, working in rural South Africa.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I’m more of a pantser but I always come up with a vague plan (describing the ending and the most important reveals or secrets) to help me get through. Sometimes I’m just telling myself I have a plan to work up the confidence to drive toward the middle and ending of the book. Often I change the ending and must go back and revise everything. But telling myself I know where I’m going (even if I’m lying to myself) always helps to motivate me and get a lot of good character information and scenes down on paper before having to go back and reconsider plot points.

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

It depends, but on average it usually takes about nine or ten months for me to write a first draft. Then I usually revise for a couple of months.

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

I used to always write only one project at a time, when I was doing adult books exclusively. Now I’m trying to switch back and forth between adult and young adult. I can’t really draft two projects at once. I can revise one while drafting another. Or start brainstorming for the next book while finishing up the last. But I can’t imagine being right in the messy middle of two books at once.

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

Not really. I started writing when I was about ten. At the time, I always found it much less scary than, say, speaking in public or social situations. Writing is very comforting to me. It’s the publishing part that gets a little scary. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, haunted by ill-advised sentences or plot points that are now published and I can’t take back.

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

I have one trunked manuscript. I really should burn it because I don’t want anyone to find it and read it. It’s a YA book I wrote about fourteen years ago. After realizing that book was not publishable, I started The Broken Teaglass, which was (eventually—about four years later) my first published novel. Now, five books and more than a decade later, I’ve finally come out with my first YA—The Leaf Reader. I always knew I’d come back around to YA eventually.

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

My agent is Laura Langlie. She was one of the first agents to whom I sent a query letter. She asked for the manuscript almost immediately, and I sent it. Then I got a bunch of rejections from other agents and, based on some of their feedback, started a major revision of the book, changing the ending and some other fundamental things. Then this one Big Shot Agent (someone who had been in the industry a very long time, edited and agented all kinds of NYTimes Bestselling authors, etc.) called me and said she’d loved my first three chapters and wanted me to send the rest of the manuscript right away. I had to tell her I was in the middle of revising it. But, pumped by her interest, I amped up my revision and did it in three sleepless and caffeine-fueled weeks. 

While I was waiting for her response, I noticed Laura was still on my list as having the old manuscript. Going against advice I had read online, I wrote her asking if she wanted to see my new manuscript. She said yes. About a month later, Big Shot Agent sent me back my manuscript cover letter with “Not for me” scribbled on it, and I sank into a bit of a depression, telling my husband I wasn’t sure if I could handle this process anymore and wasn’t sure I had any more revisions in me. I stopped querying and decided to take a break from the whole process. A few weeks later Laura (who was one of two agents who still had the manuscript) called me and offered representation. Then she got an offer on the book practically the day she sent it out. I sometimes hesitate to tell this story because it is not really one of grit and endurance, and I’m not sure what aspiring writers can learn from it except that things can change quickly.

How long did you query before landing your agent?

I think it took about nine months. But I wasn’t querying straight through. I stopped occasionally to do revisions and adjustments—as I described above. I think sent about thirty queries in all. Mostly snail mail queries.

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

Something that worked for me was to query in small batches. That way, if you get any decent feedback, you can apply it to your next batch. Also, even if you don’t get much feedback, it gives you time to go back and reconsider things (like the wording of you query, or the pacing of your opening chapters) if it appears something isn’t working when you start getting responses. It gives you time to learn from the process and still have agents left to query.

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

I’m going to be honest. It felt very weird. I always feel sort of exposed, when a book goes on sale. Don’t get me wrong—I was ecstatic when my first book sold to a publisher, and still feel very, very lucky. But when a book comes out there is always this feeling that a little piece of your heart is up for sale on Amazon. Since my first book, I’ve tried to be more professional and less emotional about it, but I still have moments when I feel this way.

How much input do you have on cover art?

My adult publisher (William Morrow) is always great about asking me what I would like to see on the cover—and Soho Teen was as well for The Leaf Reader. Usually what they come up with is different from what I suggested but much cooler than anything I could’ve conceived of in my head. I’ve always been really happy with my covers even though they are often quite different from what I expected.

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

I think it might be that I almost always end up feeling grateful for things that initially look like setbacks. For example, one time my publisher was not satisfied with my title, and we were brainstorming for a new one. I was getting really frustrated and there was even talk of bumping the book to another season unless we came up with something decent soon. On a day when I thought there were not possible ideas left, I looked back at my list of ideas and quotes and something jumped out at me that I hadn’t considered before. (This was for my adult book What Strange Creatures.) I loved that title, and ended up being grateful that the publisher kept pushing until a better title emerged. I have a ton of examples like this, when something about the process felt crazy-making at first, but ended up being for the better.

How much of your own marketing do you?   

I always feel like I could do more marketing stuff, but sometimes I’m still not sure what is the best use of time and energy. I have a website, a Facebook page, and an e-mail newsletter. I do I try to do the occasional conference (especially when asked) but it can be difficult to budget for that. I do events at bookstores and libraries, and guest blog posts for various sites.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I think it can, if you’re willing to invest time in it and be yourself there. I don’t think I’ve taken full advantage of social media opportunities. But I feel like if I threw myself into Facebook and Twitter, I wouldn’t have much left for the actual writing. I admire and envy writers who can do both well on a regular basis.

Monday, August 28, 2017

#PitchWars Critique: RED LETTER LAW


My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green. Echoes are highlighted in blue.

Query:

On Mars in 2038, people are selling other people. Maybe people are for sale to avoid the people echo? Fifteen-year-old Lonnie Freeman finds this stupid. Hmm.... I don't know if stupid is a good word to use here. Maybe something a little more strongly condemning? After losing a Mars-ton of money due to dust storms, her mom and stepdad sign up Lonnie and her sister Chelle for the indentured servitude program. They say the girls will have enough to eat, and it’s only two Mars years—that is, 45 months. Lonnie knows it’s nothing more than diet slavery. Fewer calories, less guilt, but it’s still bad for you. Again, I think the wording here is a little light, considering the subject. Comparing indentured servitude to dieting comes off as not treating the subject matter with the proper weight.

After Chelle runs away to Earth, maybe escapes? I'm assuming she can't technically run to Earth Lonnie is bought by a rich family and tasked with caring for a pair of three-year-old twins. The family also includes Amir, a fellow teenager who becomes Lonnie’s friend. In spite of herself, she doesn’t hate it there. She doesn’t feel like a slave. But everything changes when Amir’s classmate rapes Lonnie, claiming he wants to “borrow” her from Amir. Shit. Yeah, you definitely want to make sure you are treating this with appropriate wording, and right now the tone up to here is pretty light.

Amir is infuriated and throws the rapist out of the house. So we know how Amir feels about her rape... how does Lonnie feel? To make matters worse, Lonnie learns that the rape of servants is common. It’s a well-kept secret, as most servants are afraid to do or say anything about it. Plagued by panic attacks, Lonnie wants nothing more than justice. The rapist’s father makes a threat: if anyone goes to the police, he and his son will claim Amir was complicit. Amir is undaunted, but his parents close ranks. Despite Amir’s supportive attitude, Lonnie’s friendship with him is strained by the realization that she’s much more trapped than she ever thought. In order to get justice, she must free herself as the rapist’s family seeks to silence her. Okay good. Again, if you look back over this you can see how the tone of this query changes from the beginning to the end. I think, given the subject matter, it needs to be consistent throughout. Also, I think you need more information about how she might free herself, and through what methods the family is seeking to silence her.

RED LETTER LAW is a 70,000-word young adult space opera that will appeal to fans of RED RISING and THE INVENTION OF WINGS. It is an #ownvoices novel with an African American protagonist. I wrote it because as a black woman, I sometimes feel left out of the feminist narrative. I am an editorial intern with Filles Vertes Publishing. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Great bio and comp titles.

1st Page:

"You forgot the tampons?" Red dust flies up toward me as my shovel pierces the dry, cracked ground. For its diligence, the shovel is rewarded with a hard stamp from my jelly boot-clad foot. I love your opening line. Honestly. Then we go into what I find to be over description. Red dust is one descriptor of the ground is enough to set the scene and to tell us she's digging, but then the next sentence tells us more about digging, and what she's wearing. It's essentially a useless sentence, and it's your second one. Cut it.

"Gosh, Lonnie," Rochelle says. "You don't have to take it out on the ground. I'm sorry."

Six, seven, eight. I count the eyelets on my boot to calm myself down. These boots are usually my favorite, since they're clear, allowing me to show off my socks. Today's socks are patterned to look like a cloudy blue sky, which starkly contrasts the perpetually dreary sky above me. Gosh, I miss the blue planet.

Given what I know about her from the query, I think maybe she's dealing with some form of panic attack, hence the eyelet counting. But, a reader won't have that insight. Right now I don't understand what she's upset about (no tampons? Digging?) or why she's counting her eyelets. 

"Apology accepted," I say, finally looking up, "but we have to go back to the store."

"Lonnie, we can't. Mom said not to use any more solar."

"Chelle," I articulate carefully, "we need to go back to the store."

She purses her lips to one side. She's going to cave, because I'm right. You don't hunker down for a storm without the essentials. I'd like to think her agreement has something to do with me putting my foot down, but I can't intimidate her. I may be two inches taller and twelve pounds heavier than her -- thirty-two pounds on Earth -- but she's still the big sister, and she knows it.

"Let's finish this first," she says. "Then, if there's time, we can walk or rent a velo."

Now she's speaking my language.

"A velo? Can I drive?"

"Sure."

"Good, 'cause the way you pedal, we'll be lucky to get halfway down the street before the dust storm--"

"Dig, Lonnie."

Not bad. I think you've done a good job of setting the scene. It's pretty clear we're on Mars, that solar is a form of payment, a velo is transportation, as well as the girls' relationship to each other. However, what I don't know is why they're digging, and what for. Do they have to? Is this a job? Is it forced? What are they looking for, or are they just digging a hole or a trench? What is this storm that's coming? Dust? Lightning. 

Overall this is a good first page. You've a done great job of setting scene and establishing a lot of world-building through show and not tell, which is fantastic. But I would say talk less about the clear boots at the outset and more about the act of digging, and what this incoming storm might be.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Great Deals On My E-Books This Weekend!

Need to load up your e-reader? I've got you covered.


Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it.

Three years ago, when her older sister, Anna, was murdered and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best—the language of violence. While her own crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people. Not with Jack, the star athlete who wants to really know her but still feels guilty over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered. And not with Peekay, the preacher’s kid with a defiant streak who befriends Alex while they volunteer at an animal shelter. Not anyone.

As their senior year unfolds, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting these three teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever.


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.



Fans of classic frontier survival stories, as well as readers of dystopian literature, will enjoy this futuristic story where water is worth more than gold. New York Times bestselling author Michael Grant says Not a Drop to Drink is a debut "not to be missed." With evocative, spare language and incredible drama, danger, and romance, Mindy McGinnis depicts one girl's journey in a frontierlike world not so different from our own.

Teenage Lynn has been taught to defend her pond against every threat: drought, a snowless winter,
coyotes, and most important, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty—or doesn't leave at all. Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. But when strangers appear, the mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won't stop until they get it. . . .


Read my short story that evolved into my upcoming release - THIS DARKNESS MINE!

Even the lightest hearts have shaded corners to hide the black thoughts that come at night. Experience the darker side of YA as 13 authors explore the places that others prefer to leave among the shadows.

You’ve been there.

It’s dark and you’re comfortable. You’re just about to fall asleep when you can’t help but wonder if maybe tonight the thing you’ve always been sure exists will finally find you.

The best short stories stick with you, and the stories in this book especially, are meant to cast long shadows. The authors who contributed to this anthology are not only familiar with what lurks among the shadows, we choose to spend time there. Our monsters all live in different places—under beds, beside peaceful streams, inside ourselves, down mine shafts, in the sky. The darkness you’ll find in these pages knows no boundaries, so it’s only fitting that these stories cover many genres.


Saturday, August 26, 2017

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 A WORLD where advanced telekinesis is just a video tutorial away, Katie Johnson stands alone, except for a small posse of an empath, a mentalist, a precog, and an extremely photogenic ostrich - against the forces of darkness. Okay, this is definitely cute. The voice is great, just make sure that this same infusion of humor is present throughout the story. If you're going to go all out with a voice-y query, be sure it matches the voice of the book it represents. (And by forces of darkness of course we mean a frog faced paranormal professor threatening her 4.0 GPA at Psychic college, an evil stepmother threatening her sanity, and an obnoxious group of student Kinetics she's about ready to threaten with a fist right in their faces.) In what way does Katie stand alone? Has she avoided said tutorials and is not kinetic while everyone else is? And what's her motivation for abstaining?

Little did she suspect that during the course of her relatively mundane daily life, she really would accidentally, possibly, save ...her school? Whatever, that counts. This wanders into unspecific territory. Is her life truly mundane? What is the threat to her school?

When Dean Yoshida of the Institute for Paranormal Science, the greatest precog in the nation, predicts not just the closure of their school, but the ostracism of psychics everywhere, all that stands between her friends and disaster is an invention Katie never even knew she could make. How - specifically - does this invention help them, and why is it such a surprise that she could make it?

She's got until the school pageant to figure this out, and there's no telling if she'll make it in time when that mundane life of hers keeps interfering in very non-mundane ways. Again. Specifics. You've got the voice threaded throughout, which is good. What's bad is that I walk away from this query not having any idea what the plot is.

Energy is a 94k word, humorous, sci-fi coming of age story set in a college in the near future. It's the first in a planned trilogy. In the same universe, I also have planned a five-book series.

Wow. You just did an amazing job of alienating just about every agent with that first line. Here's why -- 94k is really long for a book that feels plot-light but voice-heavy (if we go by the query). It's also going on long for a humorous book, SF elements aside. And "set in a college" is not going to do you any favors. Technically, that's the arena of New Adult, and NA only tends to succeed well in romantic and / or heavily sexed books - which this does not seem to be. Is there any reason this can't be YA?

I'd also work hard to make sure this can stand alone, but have series potential. Again, there's not a lot of plot that I can see here in this query, so I don't see how it can hold up a trilogy. Then you mention five more books set in the same world, and you just pitched 8 books set somewhere that I guarantee you the agent isn't sold on yet. Pare your word count down by as much as 25k if possible, considering shifting the setting to a high school, and get more plot into this query - I know it's got to be there if you wrung 94k words out of it.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: WARCROSS by Marie Lu

For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

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

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately include questioning the lyrics of pop music:

1) If lightning really struck every time she moved, that girl would be a very difficult person to be around.

2) If Adele set fire to the rain it would be more of an ecological disaster than a romantic gesture.

3) If John Mayer really survived on the breath someone else was finished with he wouldn't make it far because technically that's carbon dioxide.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

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

If you're a writer it's generally a good idea to avoid using cliches. What are those? Phrases, characters, or situations that have been used repeatedly in the culture to the point that they lose all meaning. Some examples of cliches:
  • Opposites attract
  • Time will tell
  • Read between the lines
  • Laugher is the best medicine
What does cliche mean? It's French, and originates from the printing press days when movable type was used and each letter had to be aligned on a metal plate to print one page. Some phrases were used so often that the press would keep a plate set with that phrase or word usage. Interestingly enough, these plates were called stereotype, but the technical term in printer's trade was the French, cliche.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

McKelle George On Finding An Editor That Gets Your Book

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 McKelle George, author of SPEAK EASY, SPEAK LOVE, releasing September 19th from Greenwillow. McKelle is a reader, writer of clumsy rebels, perpetual doodler, and associate librarian at the best library in the world. She mentors with Salt Lake Teen Writes and plays judge for the Poetry Out Loud teen competitions (but has no poetic talent herself). 

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

Quite a bit! I’d been an acquisitions editor with Jolly Fish Press (and now Flux), so I knew what things looked like in an acquisitions meeting on the other side. I had a lot of author friends go through this before me—and also it calms my neurotic brain to research, research, research (I think I read every entry in this blog series, for example).

Did anything about the process surprise you?

Not much about the actual process (see above), but it’s hard to know what it actually feels like until you’re in it, to be honest. The anxiety, the excitement, the pain. You won’t be able to completely prepare for that until you’re there.

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

No! Ha ha, my agent wouldn’t let me. She told me what houses/imprints she had sent to, but not the actual editors (precisely to keep me from internet-stalking them). After she had about six or so responses, she’d send them to me and then I’d learn who had read my ms.
This turned out to be a good thing. One editor at Scholastic was basically the dream editor for my book. She loved Shakespeare, she loved the 1920s, and she’d been asking my agent about my book for months . . . but in the end, she rejected it. If I’d known all this before, I think I would have been religiously researching everything this editor had every written or said online, built up ridiculous expectations, etc.

The rejection still hurt, but at least it happened all at once—instead of a drawn out process that ended poorly.

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

We went on two rounds, and the first (13 editors) took about five months to hear back from everyone. I think the first responses came in at about six weeks. The second round went faster, but that was because I had an offer after one week, from an editor who’d asked for a revision from the first round. It took probably 3-4 weeks after that for the rest.

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

Yes, yes, write the next book. Everyone says that, and for me personally, it’s what works. The best way I deal with publishing anxiety is by writing. But that doesn’t work for everyone. I think the nicest thing you can do for yourself is to take your feelings seriously. They’re not silly or out-of-proportion or invalid just because “everybody” has them. Take the time to figure out what you need to do (whether it’s writing something else, setting up a system with your agent, distancing yourself from publishing altogether, etc.) and do that.

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

Okay, I’m going to combine this question with the next question (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?), because for me, they’re related.

So, SPEAK EASY, SPEAK LOVE was rejected by 24 publishers (if I’m counting correctly . . . I might have missed one), and it took almost a year to sell the book. And I guess they were what people call "nice" rejections? What I got a lot of was: “Her writing is great, please send me any other project she does, but I just don’t think we can sell a 1920s book.” Many editors, at least in the first round, also said they struggled a little with the plot’s ending (which is what we revised before the second round). Marketing-wise, it was a hard sell. It’s a standalone historical. And there isn’t really any YA 1920s book that’s done spectacularly well.

But what I internalized hearing all of this was that, yes, maybe the market for standalone historicals tended to be an uphill battle . . . but for a truly exceptional book, they would fight that battle. And mine wasn’t. Even mentally knowing everything I know about this business and how subjective it is and how little an author can ultimately control, emotionally all I took in was: “Your book is just kind of crap, no one is that excited about it, no one ever will be, and you are simply not good enough to be published at this level."

Which surprised me, because usually I take rejection and criticism pretty well. I'm happy to revise my work and during the query process, I was able to say, "Okay, not that one, but maybe the next one!" and move on without taking it personally. There was something about the submission process that felt so final.

After the first round, there was one editor who asked if I'd be willing to rewrite the book (because, again, she liked my writing, not the genre) in a contemporary setting. In retrospect, I don't know why I agreed to this. I wrote it in the time period I did for a reason and the characters were definitely informed by their environment. Anyway, I struggled with a few opening chapters for this different book before calling it quits.

Then I set to work revising the manuscript for the second round of editors. Having internalized twelve plus rejections, I had basically decided that my book was terrible as it was and I wrote a 70K draft of essentially BRAND NEW WRITING in three and a half weeks and showed it to my agent.
My dear agent—who by the way took my efforts of trying to write an entire new book not once, but twice, in stride—sent me a PDF with all of the rejections combined in one document. She was not, in fact, trying to kill me, but made a point of highlighting that all of the feedback focused on how much they loved it . . . but just couldn't take it on for this or that reason. Her point was to show me that my book wasn't completely awful and I didn't need to scrap the entire thing . . . just maybe fix the ending some.

It took about a year for SPEAK EASY, SPEAK LOVE to sell—but that includes a five month period of three revision efforts (one successful) which was the equivalent of me kind of desperately flinging last-minute options because I thought the manuscript was bad and wouldn't sell otherwise.

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

It felt surreal. By this point, I had decided that I, like many authors, was not going to sell my first book. And I was okay with that! I was feeling pretty crummy about the manuscript and ready to try with something new—something better!

When we went on the last round, my agent said she had some editors lined up but if there were any she'd like me to sub to, let her know. In 2013, I attended a YA bootcamp at my local indie bookstore, The King's English, and Martha Mihalick (now my editor) was one of the guest instructors. She was awesome in the bootcamp, but also I'd just started working on SPEAK EASY, SPEAK LOVE. We workshopped hooks and pitches for our WIPs, and I remember her saying something like: "Now, Much Ado About Nothing in the 1920s, that I could sell."

So, Martha was the one editor who I knew had it before she sent a response. Another editor made an offer (one from the first round who liked the revision) and a few weeks after my agent nudged the rest, she sent me an email with the subject line: MARTHA WANTS TO TALK ON THE PHONE

I sent back a super ecstatic email... and then my sister called and said she had a flat tire and could I come pick her up.

!!!

The reason this was excruciating was because at the time I didn't have a smartphone. There was no way to check my email after I left the house. I was freaking out!

So I had to wait... but then I called my agent, who prepped me for the call with Martha, then I called Martha, who was wonderful. I barely knew what was happening. Instead of saying the 1920s was a bad idea, she was saying she thought it was really smart to set the retelling in that time period. She understood my book, right from the beginning.

And then another call from my agent a few hours later to say that Martha and Greenwillow had formally offered! I was excited, but also I remember Katie (my agent) saying, "You're a lot more calm about this than I was."

But I wasn't calm. I just have a complete inability to process emotion when someone is watching/listening. Which means I had a delayed reaction that resulted in abruptly bursting into tears while I was brushing my teeth that night. ANYWAY.

Also now I had to do a mental backtrack, because I'd been So Ready to move on from this book, and suddenly I had a reason to be excited about it again. It was strange. Good strange. 

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

Yes! We didn't want to announce until I had a title (we changed it from what it was during the submission process; formally A MERRY WAR), and that took a long time. In fact, it still didn't have a title when we announced, but it had been five months so we just did it . . . On the other hand, while I didn't announce it formally online, I very happily told anyone who asked about it, so a lot of people knew at that point. :P

Monday, August 21, 2017

Fall Appearance Schedule & Some Writing Advice

I have a wildly busy fall planned for the release of THIS DARKNESS MINE. Everyone keep their fingers crossed and hope that I don't come down with laryngitis like I did last fall while promoting THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES.

Like all things, when I go, I go big. So I don't just have a scratchy voice. I lose it entirely. Traveling with no voice is difficult, to say the least. I was pointing at pictures on restaurant menus, typing notes on my phone to communicate with people, and ordering room service was... challenging.


In addition I will be celebrating Barnes & Noble's YA B-Fest (BookFest) at two different locations in Ohio. You'll be able to catch me in Pickerington at 1PM and again in Akron at 4 PM (or whatever time I get there from Pickerington). Let's say 4ish.

I also have some great Epic Reads meetups scheduled alongside some fellow fantastic authors:



I've also been participating in some great online events lately. If you missed my Character MasterClass with the WattPad4 you can check that out below.



I also recently was on Writing Fun. For more writing tips, thoughts, tricks, and my basic (quasi) process, check it out:


Saturday, August 19, 2017

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.

A vampire, a fae prince and a mutant werewolf enter the bar. You may know the joke. This is a really different approach to a hook, and I think I like it. That's going to be highly subjective though.

But Claire doesn’t. Not when she travels through the States no one within the US calls it "the States." If you're sending to American agents you might want to rephrase with nothing but a suitcase of clothes and the memories from Chicago haunting her steps. Then, circumstances lead her to take the job of a doorkeeper to a mansion outside a small town, somewhere between Virginia and North Carolina. Technically, there's nothing between VA and NC so the mansion is either in one or the other.

And the mansion’s residents? There is Todd, the vampire who likes a good J.R. Ward book and marshmallows in his cup of blood. He likes to banter, a lot, with Elfas, the Fae Prince from the second floor who likes books by Karen Marie Moning and drinks lots of tea. Which comes from human waste. BLARGH. Holy crap I'm imagining his breath. Other than that, the literary allusions might be a little heavy here. Do all supernatural creatures read novels in their leisure time?

And there’s Jericho, the werewolf of the third floor who likes cooking and woodcarving. For him everything would be better if he wasn’t born in his wolf form and didn’t dread the moment the full moon touches him every month. Making a note here that this is the only creature for whom you have given an insight into their feelings rather than their preferred snack or reading material.

Claire also has to consider the cursed willow tree by the garden, as (and?) also the gargoyle named Fred who comes to life every night and guards the skies. Consider it in what way? She already took the job, right? The job couldn’t be worse, right?

Then a witch, named Mina appears, claiming that the curse around the house and the residents is failing. She is the only one who can save them and free them from the confines of the house. Or else, she’ll die losing her powers. Wait, I'm confused - the curse keeps them inside the house, so that sounds like a bad thing (curses generally are, right?) So if it's failing, why do they need saved and freed? And I'm confused about the tie between her powers and the curse.

Claire will have to work along with three creatures of pop culture and myth, help the witch break the spell and stop her growing feelings for Jericho. When her past from Chicago catches up with her? Well, things will become complicated for everyone.

THE OUTCASTS is a stand-alone Young Adult, Paranormal Romance of 67.323 words. It will appeal to readers of Rachel Hawkins, Julie Kagawa and Claudia Gray.

I’m a graduate student of History and Archaeology and I have participated in short story contests hosted by REUTS Publications. Two of my short stories will be published in the forthcoming anthology "Not-So-Local Legends of Triumph & Terror" by the same Publishing House. The first trilogy I’ve written is also published on Tapas.

I have also been a blogger/reviewer since 2013 with wide reading range of almost all genres, so I have a great deal of knowledge of the Young Adult market. I live in Greece and write novels in the genres of sci-fi, paranormal, romance and fantasy. The full manuscript of THE OUTCASTS is available upon request.

Good bio.

Right now what this query is doing is giving us the setting, but not much else in terms of plot. You hint at the beginning and the end that Chicago and things that went on there are going to be an element, but I don't know what happened there, or how it will tie into anything at all. Don't be coy in the query - things need to be laid out here.

Also, you say right away that Claire doesn't have a foot in the supernatural world, but she picks up this job and there's no reference whatsoever about her feelings or reactions to this new world. Is she scared? Shocked? Intrigued? Is she staying only because she doesn't have other options at first? It's clear at the end that she's all in - possibly for romantic reasons - but we need to know more about her initial reactions, and cause for remaining.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: THE DAZZLING HEIGHTS by Katharine McGee

New York City, 2118. A glittering vision of the future, where anything is possible – if you want it enough.

Manhattan is home to a thousand-story supertower, a beacon of futuristic glamour and high-tech luxury… and to millions of people living scandalous, secretive lives.

Leda is haunted by nightmares of what happened on the worst night of her life. She’s afraid the truth will get out – which is why she hires Watt, her very own hacker, to keep an eye on all of the witnesses for her. But what happens when their business relationship turns personal?

When Rylin receives a scholarship to an elite upper-floor school, her life transforms overnight. But being here also means seeing the boy she loves: the one whose heart she broke, and who broke hers in return.

Avery is grappling with the reality of her forbidden romance – is there anywhere in the world that’s safe for them to be together?

And then there’s Calliope, the mysterious, bohemian beauty who’s arrived in New York with a devious goal in mind – and too many secrets to count.

Here in the Tower, no one is safe – because someone is watching their every move, someone with revenge in mind. After all, in a world of such dazzling heights, you’re always only one step away from a devastating fall…

Want to help me with 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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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

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

Dowager means a woman who holds the property and/or title of her deceased husband. The word comes from the Middle French douage, meaning a woman's marriage-portion.

It's not a huge hop, skip, or jump to see how the word dowry comes into play, then, is it?

And while it does indeed make one sound rather grand to use the word in reference to oneself, there's also the rather unfortunate (though, I assume, outdated) reference to dowager's hump, which is an outward curvature of the upper back due to osteoporosis.

I'll just take the money and title, please.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

AMONG THE RED STARS Author Gwen C. Katz On Illustrated YA Covers

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

Today's guest for the CRAP is Gwen Kacz, writer, artist, game designer, part-time mad scientist (retired). Her debut novel, AMONG THE RED STARS, releases October 3rd from HarperTeen.


World War Two has shattered Valka’s homeland of Russia, and Valka is determined to help the effort. She knows her skills as a pilot rival the best of the men, so when an all-female aviation group forms, Valka is the first to sign up.

Flying has always meant freedom and exhilaration for Valka, but dropping bombs on German soldiers from a fragile canvas biplane is no joyride. The war is taking its toll on everyone, including the boy Valka grew up with, who is fighting for his life on the front lines. 

As the war intensifies and those around her fall, Valka must decide how much she is willing to risk to defend the skies she once called home.

Inspired by the true story of the airwomen the Nazis called Night Witches, Gwen C. Katz weaves a tale of strength and sacrifice, learning to fight for yourself, and the perils of a world at war. 

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


I'm an artist myself, so I actually made a couple of mock covers just for fun while I was writing AMONG THE RED STARS.


Not totally amateurish, but it clearly needs work. It's too low-contrast, and it's obvious that I'm working with preexisting artwork that wasn't designed to fit the space. Also, artwork that looked great on my DeviantArt account was not necessarily cover quality. Later on I made a second one.



This one is nice and clean, but it doesn't communicate the basic information that this is a YA book about girls. No one would be able to tell what this book is about or who it's for based on this cover. Clearly I needed a professional designer.

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

About a year in advance, I think.

Did you have any input on your cover?

I was amazed at how much input I got! The designer actually emailed me to ask for photos of the planes and uniforms, so not only does it look amazing, it's all historically accurate, too.

One of my requests was that if Valka was on the cover, she should be facing forward. A lot of YA covers feature girls looking back over their shoulders, a pose that looks vulnerable and powerless. I wanted Valka to look like she was in control. I love the assertive pose she has on my cover!

How was your cover revealed to you?

I just got it in an email. There was some back and forth with tweaks, but the final cover is still very close to the original draft.

Was there an official "cover reveal" date for your art?

Yeah, I did a cover reveal on YA Books Central and it went great!

How far in advance of the reveal date were you aware of what your cover would look like?

It was a process, but I think we'd gotten the final draft nailed down about a month ahead.

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

Of course! The cover reveal is really your first big book news after the deal announcement, so it's a very exciting moment. It was hard to be patient!

What surprised you most about the process?

I was completely surprised that they went with an illustrated cover. I love illustrated covers, but you really only see them in middle grade these days; YA usually goes for photo covers instead. So I didn't even ask for an illustrated cover. I was thrilled when that was what I got!

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

Remember that everyone involved wants to give your book the most amazing cover possible!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Join Me For An Online Character MasterClass!

Tonight I'll be joining the Wattpad4 lineup of authors doing master classes through a Google chat. I'll be live TONIGHT at 8PM Eastern on this channel!

I promise to wash my hair, and stuff.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: JANE UNLIMITED by Kristin Cashore

Jane has lived an ordinary life, raised by her aunt Magnolia—an adjunct professor and deep sea photographer. Jane counted on Magnolia to make the world feel expansive and to turn life into an adventure. But Aunt Magnolia was lost a few months ago in Antarctica on one of her expeditions.

Now, with no direction, a year out of high school, and obsessed with making umbrellas that look like her own dreams (but mostly just mourning her aunt), she is easily swept away by Kiran Thrash—a glamorous, capricious acquaintance who shows up and asks Jane to accompany her to a gala at her family's island mansion called Tu Reviens.

Jane remembers her aunt telling her: "If anyone ever invites to you to Tu Reviens, promise me that you'll go." With nothing but a trunkful of umbrella parts to her name, Jane ventures out to the Thrash estate. Then her story takes a turn, or rather, five turns. What Jane doesn't know is that Tu Reviens will offer her choices that can ultimately determine the course of her untethered life. But at Tu Reviens, every choice comes with a reward, or a price.

Want to help me with 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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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Kes Trester On The Cover Process

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

Today's guest for the CRAP is Kes Trester, a former feature film development executive, independent film producer, and television commercial producer. In an attempt to raise kids who could actually pick their mom out of a line up, Kes turned to writing full-time. Her contemporary novels for young adults are cinematic, fast-paced, and above all, fun.



Seventeen-year-old Riley Collins has grown up in some of the world’s most dangerous cities, learning political strategies from her ambassador dad and defensive skills from his security chief. The only thing they didn’t prepare her for: life as an American teenager.

After an incident forces her to leave her Pakistani home, Riley is recruited by the State Department to attend Harrington Academy, one of the most elite boarding schools in Connecticut. The catch: she must use her tactical skills to covertly keep an eye on Hayden Frasier, the daughter of a tech billionaire whose new code-breaking spyware has the international intelligence community in an uproar.

Disturbing signs begin to appear that Riley’s assignment wasn’t the walk in the park she’d been promised. Now, Riley must fight for her life and Hayden’s, as those around her reveal themselves to be true friends or the ultimate betrayers.

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

My book, A DANGEROUS YEAR, is fast-paced and action-packed (think “Alias” meets “Gossip Girl”) so the cover had to convey elements of action and romance. I also wanted colors and a font that were a bit playful, so readers would know this book is fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

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

Just after I signed my contract, which was about eighteen months before publication, I sent my publisher ten book covers I liked. I listed what I liked about each one, and even sent headshots of actors/models as visual references for the main characters.

Did you have any input on your cover?

As it turned out, I had a tremendous amount of input. The first two sets of cover mockups were, in my opinion, targeted to the adult fiction market. The Riley Collins series has crossover potential, but Riley is a 17-year-old high school senior. I was concerned about being overlooked by YA readers, and conveyed my reservations to the publisher. To my surprise and delight, they tossed the covers and brought in a new designer.

By the time we settled on the final cover, my publisher had presented me with seven distinctly different choices. Once we decided on the general design, they allowed me to influence color and edit the objects pictured on the cover. It was a long, stressful process, but I’m tremendously happy with the final image. 

How was your cover revealed to you?

Designing the cover was a three-month process with mockups sent at intervals. The “reveal” was the moment I saw the cover revised with my suggestions and realized the designer had nailed it.

Was there an official "cover reveal" date for your art?

The cover turned out so well, Hypable.com offered to do an exclusive cover reveal! 

How far in advance of the reveal date were you aware of what your cover would look like?

The cover was finalized about three weeks prior to the reveal.

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

I had shown it to a few trusted friends for input, but I was dying to send it out into the world. It would be the first impression people would get of my book, and it was hard to keep it under wraps!

What surprised you most about the process?

The generosity of my publisher, and the respect I have been shown as a writer. The CEO of the imprint personally communicated with me during the design phase to insure I was satisfied with the direction of the cover.

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

Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Carrie Fisher got stuck with the Princess Leia hair buns because she was afraid to tell George Lucas what she really thought. Don’t get stuck with hair buns. Politely and respectfully communicate your opinions. You’ve got nothing to lose.