Monday, December 16, 2013

2013 In Review - My Top Ten Posts of 2013

Thank you everyone for your support of NOT A DROP TO DRINK in 2013! It has been a fantastic debut year for me and I look forward to 2014. I'm closing out the blog for the year to focus on reality (which I really, really suck at so I need to concentrate hard). Leaving you with my top 10 posts in 2013, followed by a Christmas card for all my loyal blog readers, courtesy of the lovely girls at Epic Reads.

1) Announcing Participating Agents for the 2103 PAPfest! - Ahhh... my misguided attempt at OB-GYN humor combined with praise of crit partners and an agent contest. It actually worked out really well, with a few of our participants landing agents out of the deal, even if the art kind of made some people clench, er... cringe.

2) NOT A DROP TO DRINK Has A New Pub Date! - Hey, thanks for caring! And sorry you had to wait another two weeks. I was lucky to go on tour with Dark Days during my release week, which was moved to accommodate that. Honestly, I needed the extra two weeks to buy makeup, and stuff.

3) Successful Author Talk with Debut Novelist Victoria Aveyard - Yep, looks like THE RED QUEEN is kinda gonna be a big deal. Also, people seem to enjoy the interviews, even if one of them makes a bad word acronym.

4) Social Media Just For Writers by Frances Caballo - I know, I know. Everyone is overwhelmed about how to do these things properly. Deep breaths and find your groove.

5) Some Things That Happened At ALA... And Some Things That Didn't - My personal favorite of the year, featuring a comic adaptation of me attempting to get an audience member to marry me and Veronica Roth warning everyone off.

6) An SAT With YA Debut Author Anne Blankman - Yes! Support the debuts! Again, I'm glad to see that the interviews get a lot of traffic. This blog is to help writers, and I try to ask questions to the published authors to help the query trenchers along their way.

7) The Return of the BBCHAT with Rachael Dugas of Talcott Notch Literary - Hmm... Big Black Cat's Humane Agent Talk kind of dominates the tail end (see what I did there?) of my Top Ten of 2013. Looks like I need to resurrect that series for 2014!

8) A BBCHAT With Pooja Menon of Kimberley Cameron & Associates - See what I mean?

9) Are Contests Worth It? - Apparently it was a good question.

10) Thursday Thoughts & A NOT A DROP TO DRINK Giveaway! - Hey look! My own book made it into my Top 10 of 2013 in my blog... that makes me think maybe perhaps blogging works :)

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!









Saturday, December 14, 2013

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.

The Adventures of Rita Homez capitalize (or italicize) your title is Holmes and Watson as multicultural, thirteen-year-old girls in modern San Francisco minus the deerstalker hat and the magnifying glass. It's a middle grade, first-person narrative that's around 30,000 words with 60 comic-style illustrations. Normally I think it's better to jump in with a great hook and your ms specs at the end of a query, but honestly your concept is so fascinating, it's perfect up front. Also you might want to specify if you do the illustrations yourself. 

Eric is one of the best surfers in California at age 13? Or is he just he best young surfer? but every time he hits the waves of Ocean Beach, he gets attacked by a shark. Nobody else is attracting Jaws, just him, which is what catches his friend Rita's attention.

It just so happened tense problem here - your earlier para is present, this one slips to past that Jane, Rita's new foster sister, unplugged the computer and dragged Rita out of their house on Baker Beach just in time to see Eric get attacked. And even though Rita's a junk-food-eating, video-gaming zombie who hardly ever leaves her room, nobody is better at figuring out something this crazy. Definitely do some re-arranging here - you've got Eric already being attacked and Rita being aware of it in the first para, and now we're seeing her view it for the first time. You can easily pare down and jam these two paras together for flow and simplicity. I see now that your tense issue actually agrees with this chain of events, but you need to have the query in all one tense.

Also, I'd dump the "Also" for flow Rita knows that if Eric gives up surfing, he'll spend all of his time hanging around her with that goofy smile on his face which will just drive her nuts. She and Jane need to get that boy back in the water and fast. Nice gesture to Holmesian anti-social tendencies going on here. There's a big surf competition coming up this Saturday  and plenty of people in town don't want Eric to compete. Top of the list is Devon, a fourteen-year-old millionaire who designs custom surfboards and his sidekick, Irene, the most popular girl in the seventh-grade. There's also the Grays, a spooky father and son team who run the oldest surf shop in the Bay Area and are famous for surfing the frigid waters without wetsuits. Nice - you've got a good mix of supporting characters in your cast here and are showing it.

But for some crazy reason, Rita's convinced that getting her dorky friend Lenny, I'd use dashes here instead of commas who thinks he's a wizard, ready for a magic show will bust the case right open. Jane may not agree with Rita's wacko methods, but they both know that Eric's either on someone's hit list or he's just naturally tasty. And if they don't come up with an answer, he could end up a shark treat at this Saturday's competition!

This is a solid idea for many reasons - you're riding the wave (see what I did there?) of Sherlockian popularity and answering a very definite call for more diverse literature for youth. Get this query streamlined - you can do some condensing and the tense issue needs addressed - and then get this out there in the New Year!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Non-Fiction Friday: THE LOBOTOMIST by Jack El-Hai

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it. (Which, considering the title of this week's Book Talk, is a pretty funny statement).

Earlier this year I read MY LOBOTOMY by Howard Dully, the memoir of a lobotomy patient who had his frontal lobes severed when he was a young boy. It was obviously an alarming story, one that readers can hardly believe occurred in the very recent past. In it, the performing surgeon - Dr. Martin Freeman - is not portrayed very positively. To be fair, I thought I'd read his biography to get the other side of the story.

And it was truly fascinating. Drawing on interviews with surviving family members and Freeman's own prodigious documentation, El-Hai paints a picture of a man who truly wanted to help the insane - especially those facing a lifetime inside insane asylums no longer looking to treat the insane but rather to manage them.

Truly dedicated to his patients and believing that lobotomy was the answer to their problems, Freeman would personally travel to their homes and track down patients across the country for as long as 10 years after their surgeries to interview them and catalog their recovery or decline. He was honest in his findings, even when they did not align with his own beliefs that psychosurgery was the answer.

If anything, Freeman's failings came in being too zealous in his work - sometimes performing double-digit lobotomies in a single day as an outpatient surgery in his own office. Freeman wanted to provide relief to the suffering... even when the time of the knife as past and the introduction of Prozac and the "chemical lobotomy" offered a much less invasive and reversible solution.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately are sense-based...

1) Everyone probably remembers from health class that our eyes actually see everything upside-down, and our brain flips the image. But what if the world is actually upside down and our brain knows we can't handle that?

2) If you poke something with a stick you can feel its texture via the stick. How the eff does that work?

3) Talked about this before, but still mulling it. Smell is the most adaptive sense. Think about it - you adjust to bad smells and good smells, leave the room, come back, and smell them all over again. What if all our senses worked this way? We could eat horrible food and not care, stab ourselves repeatedly, and go blind occasionally. OK never mind, nature knows what it's doing.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Submission Process Success with RC Lewis... Or, It's Not Always Hell

Today's guest for the SHIT (Submission Hell, It's True) is my tried and true crit partner RC Lewis, author of STITCHING SNOW, her forthcoming 2014 Hyperion debut. In her honor, I've had to rename the SHIT for today, because as you'll see, her story is more of a Submission Heaven. But I think it's good for authors to see that these whirlwind success stories do happen... but you have to remember that RC's whirlwind was based on years of solid writing and more than a few manuscripts that had been passed on by agents - the calm before the storm, you might say.

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

Quite a bit, actually, thanks to friends who’d gone through it in the year or two before I did. (Um, such as Mindy.)

Did anything about the process surprise you?

That it went so fast. I was geared up for long waits and frustration ... basically the Query Trenches, Round Two. With earlier manuscripts, I spent upwards of a year querying one, waiting on fulls and partials, etc. Not so in this case. Sometimes it’s glacial migration, and sometimes it’s a flash flood.

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

I didn’t exactly. My agent gave me a one-line tidbit about each editor she submitted to. Like “Edited (Book X), is awesome, is building (Y type of story) in her list.” That was enough for me, but each writer needs to know their own comfort level. Some like digging into all the possible information, but some would go batty. (Or battier than we already are.)

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

There was an offer on the table after less than two weeks, which naturally meant the other editors still reading rumbled into motion. Within about another week, we had a done deal.

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

Distraction! Work on your new manuscript, catch up on your to-be-read pile, critique for others, throw yourself into non-writing-related hobbies. And remember the lessons learned while querying. Things can move slowly, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it takes one round of submissions. Sometimes it takes two or three. Sometimes the book that landed your agent won’t be the one that sells. 

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

I was unusually fortunate in this case. Since the first offer came so quickly, the rejections felt less like a “No” and more like “Not a Yes.” Does that make any sense? I didn’t have to deal with the intense stings of many query/full rejections I’d had in the past.

But I’m keeping in mind that a single book deal does not mean I’m locked in for life.

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?

Not really applicable in my case. :) But I talked to a couple offering editors on the phone, and we discussed the direction they were thinking of for revisions. Editorial feedback isn’t too different from working through things with critique partners, though sometimes you can feel the higher stakes. It’s all about working together to reach the best novel possible.

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

I got word of the first offer when my agent emailed me so I’d get online for chat. We had more than one offer, though, so in the end I guess I was the one saying yes. Weird position to be in!

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

I didn’t end up having to wait too long. The deal was announced in the Publisher’s Weekly Children’s Bookshelf newsletter, so I just had to wait for that to go out before firing off the confetti cannons.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Futility of The Reader

I did it again.

I bought some books.


Yes, this is a beautiful picture. Yes, I'm stimulating the economy and helping fellow authors. Yes, I'll probably end up putting these in my library when I'm done with them and thus enabling literacy for others. Yes. Yes. Yes. These are all good things.

But look at this:


That's my nightstand... before I added the four new babies I adopted. I think there are roughly 35-40 books on there. And this isn't taking into account my e-reader, I'll remind you.

Now, I want you to look at this:

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Mindy has
read 69 books toward a goal of 80 books.
hide



Yeah. I ALREADY read about 70 books this year and my night stand STILL looks like that and I CONTINUE to buy books.

This is the futility of the reader. We will never read all the books. There isn't enough time.

And I love having this problem.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

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 looking through your information on your website it seems you’re interested in Young Adult fiction, so I’m happy to introduce to you THE EMPYREAN my new YA paranormal romance novel. I know a lot of people tell you to start with the "why" of your choice to contact this particular agent, but I personally think it's better to jump in with your hook. A lot of people have a reason to contact this agent- what's different about you from the get go?

When Lily, sheltered a seventeen year old whoops, got a little word transposing going on there, comes home to find her parents brutally murdered, she sets off on a vengeance filled quest hoping to track down those responsible. I think you can cut some of this - who else would she be tracking down on a vengeance filled quest? But the Mortem, a band of Fae mercenaries responsible for innumerable crimes, are hunting her too. Lots of potentially confusing things going on here - is this taking place in contemporary society, or a fantasy land? You introduce the idea of fairies off-hand like it's no big deal, so I feel like Lily must live in a fantasy world where fairies who hunt you are not a big shocker. You need to be more clear about the setting, and also why would the Mortem be hunting her? Because it was their crime and they're covering their tracks? Because she was the intended target in the first place?

With the help of the damaged Air Fairy, damaged how? Physically, mentally, emotionally? Alec, who is both mysterious and swoon-worthy, Lily must battle her way through the Empyrean, the vast land of the Fae where all the mythical creatures that haunt her dreams are real. Interesting concept here, but it again begs the question of where Lily lives the rest of the time.

With a rebellion building in The Empyrean, and the rebels trying to overthrow the tyrannical King and Queen, there is bloodshed and terror at every turn. Lily and Alec invoke the aide of the rebels, though they realize too late that Lily is not their priority.

Lily must defy all odds in a land she is unfamiliar with and unwelcome in if she hopes to succeed in bringing forth justice to both the murderous criminals who stole her only family from her and the wrongful King and Queen who are destroying the very fabric of their lives. Will Alec be the one to help her, save her? No real need for both endings of the question here. Or will he be a vulnerability, a weakness she cannot afford? How can she find space in her shattered heart for the only person left in her life, someone who has lost just as much as her, without letting it be their downfall?

THE EMPYREAN is a standalone, with potential for a series that would delve deeper into the magical world of the Empyrean, the four breeds of the Fae, and the epic rebellion that brings down a wicked monarchy. Complete at 79,000 words, this YA paranormal romance novel is filled with extraordinary world building, a passionate romance with just the right amount of steam, and a young woman’s transition into adulthood. Good wrap-up here - looks like you have planned it well, but you need to work on clarity in the query itself. It sound like there's external and internal conflict at work here, but you've focused mostly on the external for most of the query until you get to the end where you say Alec could be a weakness - what's that about? If the relationship is a key part of the story, you need to bring that out and not just give it a hypothetical question at the end.

Also I think the plot needs clarity for the query - it sounds like our MC just lands squarely into the fairy world without really blinking, which brings me back to the question of the original setting. It also seem like an assumed that she believes the Mortem are responsible for the deaths - why not normal human beings? Are the Fae something she's lived with her whole life? 

I’m a book blogger and previously self-published author. I have 1500 Twitter followers, about 500 followers on my Facebook page, over 300 on my blog, and an active 500+ friends on Goodreads. I'm not sure how much of your social media is going to have pull here - yes it's great that you have it, but you need to catch them with your concept. If they're interested in your book they'll Google you and pull up this information on their own without you including it.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Fun On A Friday!

Lots going on for me lately! First of all THANK YOU to everyone who supported Not A Drop to Drink yesterday when the eBook was priced at $1.99. It hit the #1 spot for Nook Books... so I screen capped that, naturally.



In other news, for all my Ohioans that are planning on doing some holiday shopping tomorrow, I'll be signing with 7 other amazing YA authors at the Polaris Barnes & Noble starting at 1 PM. Come see us!


And The League of Extraordinary Writers is celebrating the end of 2013 with a HUGE giveaway of three prize packages. Enter to win in the Rafflecopter below!

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

NOT A DROP TO DRINK is the NOOK Daily Find - $1.99 Today Only!

Hooray!

It's Christmas so that means you're thinking about killing people over shortages. No, not like shopping...

NOT A DROP TO DRINK is the NOOK Daily Find - $1.99 Today Only!


Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) What does the voice in your head sound like? No, not like one that tells me to do bad things, but my actual thoughts. Is it my voice? Is it my mom's? What does it sound like. If you try to sit and figure this out, it will make you a little crazy. Just saying.

2) I accidentally scheduled eye surgery for the same day as a signing next week. I can either show up drugged and wearing a jaunty patch, or I can move the surgery. I'm actually considering the first one just to be colorful.

3) I really want to try the Roman chair at the gym for my abs, but I'm worried about a) looking stupid b) not being able to dismount without falling c) getting stuck and just hanging there until someone disengages me.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

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 (oh, how clever is she? She made an acronym out of her agency's name!) Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

Here's a fun one - ever hear anyone say that if they were wrong about something they'd eat their hat? I personally love that one and use it often, but I never knew where it came from. The first popular use of the phrase is from 1837 in Charles Dickens' The Pickwick Papers:
"If I knew as little of life as that, I’d eat my hat and swallow the buckle whole.” 
But where does it come from? I found a reference to a pork stew made of mostly the bits of meat that no one would eat otherwise referred to as hatte stew. I'm not positive on this one, but the fact that hats called pork-pie hats became popular in the 1830's makes me wonder if there is in fact a connection there.

Pork > Yucky Stew > Pork Hats > "I'll eat my hat (the yucky bits) if I'm wrong."


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

An SAT (Successful Author Talk) with Bethany Hensel & A Giveaway!

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Bethany Hensel, a woman so accomplished that if I listed everything cool about her it would be longer than the interview itself. Born in Seoul, South Korea but adopted when she was young, Bethany was raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and is one of fourteen children. As a child, she performed with the Pittsburgh All-City Honors Jr. Strings Symphony and the Pittsburgh All-City Honors Orchestra. She is an avid animal rights activist and works with the Western PA Humane Society and its adoptable pets. Bethany also runs an excellent arts and entertainment reviews & interviews site, and most importantly - is the author of UNSTOPPABLE.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I would say that I’m more of a planner, though most of my outlines end up changing so drastically that I sometimes think it’s pointless to plan anything. But I like nothing more in the writing process than opening a brand new notebook and uncapping a brand new pen and just splashing the ink all over. 

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

Oh, what a question! It takes me a couple weeks to a month to write the first draft of a book—and I stress the words first draft. After that, it takes anywhere from half a year to…let’s see...four years to whip the manuscript into shape and have something entertaining and whole to share with the world.

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

I used to only be able to work on one story at a time, but recently, I’ve found that if I’m disciplined and focused, I can have several things happen within the same timeline. For instance, I’m writing book 2 in the Unstoppable series, I’m revising a YA book, and I’m outlining a contemporary romance that takes place in modern day Pittsburgh and Italy. I’m also still keeping up with my reviews and interviews for my arts and entertainment site. So yes, I suppose that was just a long way of answering that I am a multi-tasker!

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

Oddly, the fear doesn’t come when I first sit down to write. At that point, I’m eager to dig into a new world and explore it. I think I’m most anxious when I’m right in the thick of it, when I’m at the thirty-thousand or forty-thousand word mark and I still have a ways to go and I’m afraid of writing myself in corners or finding that the entire structure and frame of the universe I’ve created is unstable. That’s when I can genuinely say I eat my weight in chocolate. 

How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?

I actually got agented on the first book I wrote, though to be clear, I wrote and revised that book about thirteen times, no exaggeration. I was very stubborn with that story. I loved it very much, and still do. However, I have since parted ways with the agent and have since trunked that particular tale. I have every intention of one day releasing it.

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

I’ve never quit on a manuscript. I like that sense of satisfaction of writing The End on a story too much. Also, I suppose I just fall too in love with the characters to leave them hanging. I’m a Scorpio. Loyal to the end. 

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

It was wonderful! The Amazon page and Barnes and Noble page and all the other retailers that had it on their site made it look wonderful. It was a thrill.

How much input do you have on cover art?

Tons! I worked with the fabulous Kim Killion of The Killion Group and she was outstanding. She created a real work of art for me that reflected so much of the story. I love the fire (which reflects the incredibly hot temperatures in the story, as well as the volatile atmosphere the characters are thrust into), I love how the guy is pushed more into the flames than the girl, and I love how there’s a bit of sensuality to the image, but it’s not too shocking—which is very apropos to how the story is written.

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

Hmmm…I was lucky in that there were people who had done this before me and were so open with their advice on how they published and what the process was like. I read a lot of posts from Hugh Howey, Cora Carmack and Jamie McGuire and others. I’ve also been a long time follower of blogs like Pubrants and Literary Rambles. And then I have a wonderful group of friends who are authors and have traveled the path before me and could guide me through the many inroads and detours that make up a publishing journey. Not saying that there weren’t speed bumps and sudden stops, but I felt pretty well-informed about the process and was just so excited to jump in.

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I do have a Twitter account and I may get a Facebook account but I'm still on the fence. However, my main online hub is my website. I post almost daily. The website is also home to my arts and entertainment site, where I interview a plethora of artists and review dozens and dozens of shows and books a year.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I think JA Konrath was right when he said that you go on the internet to be informed and entertained. One of my favorite sites is Buzzfeed. I go on there and I chuckle, I laugh. I leave satisfied. That’s what I think an author’s social media should do. It should give satisfaction to your current readers, and by default, bring in more. (I can't tell you how many people I've told about Sara Megibow's Twitter feed. It's sincere, kind and informative.)


At the end of the day, social media is amazing because it gives everyone a voice. Just remember to be genuine in that voice. Be real. To quote an oft-used phrase: To thine own self be true. If you use social media just to sell, it's never going to work. Instead, use it to laugh, use it to share, use it to build friendships.

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Monday, December 2, 2013

T-Shirts With Words & Earworms

This is not a post about the demise of our culture.

This is a post about the how the human brain is processing our information-infected world. And I say this as a lover of the internet and someone who still occasionally yells, "CHAARRRLEEEE! We're on a bridge, CHAAARRRLEEEEE." And if you don't get that joke, you haven't seen this yet - also you probably don't want to click because you'll never say the name "Charlie" normally again.

Yes, I love technology and I love our world. I adore the fact that I can get weather on my phone and that I'll never need a newspaper to check movie times again. It's great that I can add a book to my wish list (or get crazy and outright buy it) the second that a friend recommends it so that I don't have to worry about forgetting the title later.

And yet... this also means that I'm wiring my brain to digest and forget the written word. It hungers for little morsels it can tear through like drive-thru cheeseburgers, not getting any lasting nutritional value and learning that the easy rewards are best, after all. Because I'm everywhere at once online when someone asks me where I read some nugget of information that I repeat a couple days later, I breezily reply, "Oh, online somewhere," which any librarian will tell you is pretty much the worst Works Cited response ever.

In his book THE SHALLOWS Nicholas Carr investigates the rise of the internet and streaming information on how our brains process all of this material. I read this a few years ago, and I highly recommend it to everyone. You'll re-think how you approach reading, and if you're a social media person like myself, it'll change the way you view these venues as well.

Today everyone has a blog, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, YouTube... you name it. Anyone can print their own clever t-shirt online, and honestly I wouldn't want to be in the Clever T-Shirt Business because standing out on that crowd would be pretty hard. I guarantee you at the moment you are reading this, at least a couple thousand people are singing to themselves, "What Does the Fox Say?" I know I was as I brushed my teeth this morning.

How can writers compete in a world where funny one-liners get free chest display and mammal-inspired ear worms have tunneled into the brains of the best of us?

I don't advise starting with a t-shirt that has War & Peace on it, although it would be an interesting conversational piece.

I think the answer is to just keep going, be the best we can be at what we do and ride the waves. When radio came along they said the printed word was done, when tv showed up they said radio was dead, when cable happened they said network television was sunk.

We're still here, all of us.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

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.

Meet Good King Johnny. He’s handsome. Charming. Heroic. Shining armour and all.

He’s just woken up the morning after Happily Ever After. Technically your hook is fine, but I love this idea of the morning after Happily Ever After. If you can make that your hook, it'd be more powerful. After pouring his soul into being known as the ‘good’ king, defending his borders, building hospitals and sewers, being honest and gallant and true, this is the ending he’s been dreaming of. He’d just like to live out his days with his new bride in peace.

Too bad he can’t stand her. Nor is anyone grateful for his hospitals and sewers; the taxes they require incite rebellion. Oh, and his neighbors are annexing his border castles again, probably because he spares those who surrender.  He knows dead men don’t trouble you twice, but a good and benevolent king does not stoop to butchery. Nice this all looks good so far.

Conveniently, his evil younger brother will.

Edmund’s unchivalrous. Sneaky. Brutal. Even has a pointy beard. Not a full sentence here. His willingness to burn people to death in their sleep is reprehensible… but it ends the war, saving far more lives. The violence he uses to force taxes out of the populace makes Johnny’s skin crawl… but unfinished sewers leak filth and disease.

Johnny’s no longer sure what he stands for. If he uses what works, he’ll be the evil he despises, but if he sticks to his principles, countless people will die. It was never supposed to go like this; he’s supposed to be the hero! Save the world, get the girl, the end.

Problem is, there is no end. There’s just the point where the storytellers stop talking. Fantastic sinker here.

HAPPPILY EVER AFTER is a 90,000 word historical fantasy with fairytale influences. It would appeal to fans of Sharon Kay Penman’s “Lionheart” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Into The Woods.”

I am history nerd and professional performer. I’m not a knight in shining armour, but I play one at a Renaissance Faire. Great bio!

Overall this is a solid query, with a great concept - the reality behind HEA. I love the questions of the gray area between what is right and wrong. With a couple of polishes like getting the hook a little snappier, you're ready to query.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Successful Author Talk With Debut Novelist Victoria Aveyard

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Victoria Aveyard, a member of the Freshmen Fifteens and author of THE RED QUEEN, coming from HarperTeen in 2015. And if that doesn't make you sing a little ditty, nothing will.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Full disclosure, I had to look this up. I guess I’m sort of in between – I started TRQ with about a ten page outline and a few more pages of background world info, then I dived into the story. I despise outlining, but love worldbuilding, and made a conscious effort to rein myself in from worldbuilding too much and killing my drive outright. I’m a big believer in letting the story and the characters take you where they want to go, and the second act reflected this the most. I like to know my first and third act down cold, and then let the characters knit the two together with their own actions and growth.

With other projects, I’m definitely a Pantster. Last night I wrote about 2k words of a story and I had no idea where it came from or where it was going, I just know it wanted to come out.

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

I had never finished a novel before TRQ, so I can only go by that particular project. The first draft was 160,000 words, and took six to seven months to write. Another two months to revise with my agent Suzie, who took a very well-wielded machete to my mammoth of a manuscript. Basically, I wrote the first sentence of TRQ in late June 2012, and we sold to HarperTeen in April 2013.

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

I generally like to multitask, but when I’m down and deep in a project, I work on that and that alone. During TRQ, that was the only idea I worked on, and I’m currently trying to get back into machine writing mode.

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

I started the book about a month after I graduated college, where I spent four years in writing workshop styled classes for my screenwriting BFA. I’d basically been writing every day for years at that point, and sitting down to write wasn’t an issue. It was creating something I was proud of, that I actually liked reading, and that surprised even me when the characters developed minds of their own.

How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?

Never finished a manuscript before, but I have five feature screenplays that will probably never see the light of day. I’m proud of all of them, but they are definitely staying locked away on my computer.

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

I guess the first manuscript I quit on was a picture book about an escaped princess I started when I was six and promptly forgot about ten sentences in. Since then, I tried my hand at Tolkien-esque high fantasy too many times to count, and always got bogged down. They were derivative, clich├ęd and eternally flawed, and I knew it. But the experience was nice!

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

My warrior princess agent is Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary & Media. I came to her untraditionally, and, judging by what I’ve heard about querying, I’m so glad I never had to face down that firing squad. Long story short: I pitched the idea of writing a kickass YA novel to the talent management company Benderspink in Los Angeles. They brought me in to pitch pilots and screenplays, and the little voice in my head told me to do this instead. They liked the idea, I wrote TRQ, and in January, the company passed on my manuscript to Pouya Shahbazian at New Leaf. He had sold the movie option to The Planet Thieves by Dan Krokos in conjunction with Benderspink, so they had a working relationship. Pouya thought TRQ was up Suzie’s alley and, against all odds, she read it the weekend she got it. After a revision, she offered representation.

I never spoke to any other agents and I’m so glad I landed where I did. I honestly had no idea how publishing worked or what good agencies were – and somehow I ended up at one of the best! I honestly think I must have been crucified and/or killed by Mongol invasions in a past life to earn this one.

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

Everyone comes in differently. Weird things happen. What works for someone else might not work for you and vice versa. And above all things, do what suits you best, not someone else. Just because so-and-so blasted 80 queries out in a week and got repped off it doesn’t mean you will. It could just take one, or 100, or 1000, or none at all. There’s no set path for this – you can only make your own.

How do you think it will feel the first time you see your book for sale?

I’m expecting to faint and/or set up camp in my local Barnes & Noble to pet my book when it comes out.

How much input do you have on cover art?

My wonderful editor Kari Sutherland at HarperTeen has just gotten the ball rolling on the cover process. We’ve started discussing, and my ideas were definitely welcome, if not encouraged. I’m so excited to see where we end up!

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

How nice everyone in publishing is. From the agents to the Twitter followers, people are absolutely grand. I spent four years learning how to break into the film agency and it was full of horror stories of awful, shark-like, Ari Gold people who I would probably punch in the face. Instead, I’m now working with people I consider real friends both in publishing and in film. They’re so genuine, and they let me ramble about Game of Thrones. They even join in!

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I’m most active on Twitter, mostly because it gives me an outlet to vent my sports/Game of Thrones/boring feelings and complaints. I also blog occasionally (I’m terrible at keeping up with it), and more so at Tumblr because it allows me to reblog funny Game of Thrones gifs. I’m very much a fangirl. As for true marketing, this is my first ever interview, and I expect things to intensify when we get closer to my publishing date in 2015.

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

I didn’t have a platform/probably still don’t properly have one. I don’t do much more than tweet my feelings about odd things I find in Target (VELVET SUNGLASSES), but I do finally have a Goodreads author account, and TRQ is on there as well! It magically appeared overnight, probably because of a fairy.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I hope so, but I assume it won’t be the end all to be all. Hopefully after people read my book, they go hmm, I wonder what that Victoria lady is like, and find my Twitter full of Game of Thrones theories and derogatory things about the New York Jets (PATRIOTS 4 LIFE). Then they’ll shrug and be happy I found a job that keeps me away from real people.

Monday, November 25, 2013

How To Stop Women From Writing

I spent the weekend in West Virginia with my boyfriend's family for Thanksgiving. It was really lovely to sit down to eat food I didn't make, and be able to sit down and relax in a house I didn't feel responsible for cleaning.

And then I came home.

I have two indoor cats and two dogs. My mom was nice enough to let the dogs in and out while I was gone, but everybody was anxious at my absence and it was easily seen. At some point someone had clearly dug into the garbage can. There were little cat paw prints on the counter that could only be seen in a certain light, but I knew they were there. Judging by the defiant looks, I'm guessing the kitties knew I knew and didn't care. The laundry I was supposed to do last week was waiting on me, the dishes in the sink were still dirty, and I really needed to put fresh bedding on my bed.

But the drive home had given me a few hours of warm, fast-moving-cocoon, quiet time. And the little seed in my brain that wants to become the WIP germinated in those few hours, sprouting supporting characters and ripping off a series of things I need to research if I really want to do this project justice.

Seeing all that housework waiting on me the second I walked in the door was like a killing frost on that seedling, as effective as the 15 degrees outside. There were things staring at me in the real world that needed my attention. People notice when you let these things go.

But the only person that knows when you let things go in your imagination is you.

So I decided to be dutiful, and I started in on the dishes when I suddenly remembered a quote from Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes:
I've seen women insist on cleaning everything in the house before they could sit down to write... and you know it's a funny thing about housecleaning... it never comes to an end. Perfect way to stop a woman. A woman must be careful to not allow over-responsibility (or over-respectabilty) to steal her necessary creative rests, riffs, and raptures. She simply must put her foot down and say no to half of what she believes she "should" be doing. Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only.
In MindyLand this translates as, "F#(*! the dishes. I'm writing."

Saturday, November 23, 2013

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.

When her best friend’s careless mistake steals her life away, seventeen-year-old Hayley Brighton aches to find the future she deserves. Resolving to not accept her death lying down confusion here - whose death? It's ambiguous so far who actually died / is under threat of death - the friend, or Hayley?, Hayley sets out in search of a continued life very unclear - is she, in fact, dead? And how does one search for continued life? and meets the person who makes her feel like she still has one: handsome and magnetic Clark McConnell. Clark renews Hayley’s hope that she can obtain the vitality she craves—and a chance at once-in-a-lifetime love. You need to get some clarity in here - what is the "mistake" and who did it effect? Hayley or her friend? How does one search for a continued life? Also, I have no feeling for genre here - because I scanned this before hand I know it's magical realism, but from this first para I don't have a feeling for whether the setting is contemp, fantasy, or SF.

But first Hayley must face a devastating assignment. From who? An assignment implies someone else told her to do it. To secure the life—and new love—she longs for, she must save the life of the person who ripped hers away. OK so... she IS dead?

And she has mere days to do it. Shackled to the mistake of killing her best friend, Leah Isakson Uh-Oh, POV switch inside of the query isn’t sure how long she can live as a prisoner to her guilt and has nearly decided that joining Hayley might be her only freedom. OK so Leah is considering killing herself and Hayley needs to stop her. Got it - but why is there a deadline of mere days on this? You can mention Leah without giving her the POV in this para.

Now Hayley must figure out how, unseen and unheard, to reach and rescue Leah. If she fails, she loses both Clark and her chance to replace what death snatched away. If she succeeds, the girl who just died will have her entire life ahead of her. Good closure here, but your pronouns are causing you problems because of the ambiguity of who is being referred to. Rephrase so it's clear the last sentence is about Hayley, and also -- she'll have her entire life ahead of her? Like, literally? Or in some kind of parallel universe / magical thing?

Hayley Brighton refuses to lose her life all over again. Honestly I'd say that the last para is strong enough that you don't need this line.

CERTAIN AS THE SUNRISE, my YA magical realism novel, complete at 55,000 words, will resonate with fans of Lauren Oliver’s BEFORE I FALL and Gayle Foreman’s IF I STAY. Nice comps here. I think the premise is strong - a girl makes a mistake that kills her friend, that friend then attempts to stop her suicide from the afterlife and as a reward.... well, I'm unclear on the reward. What this query needs is an infusion of clarity. Get that in there and your concept gets the attention it deserves.