Saturday, March 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.

Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You'll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!

Worst Case Scenario is a medical thriller about what happens when a desperate woman seeks infertility treatment from an OB/GYN willing to do anything to save his own son’s life. This is a decent hook, it makes me wonder what the two have to do with each other and so I'm intrigued to find out how these two things are going to connect for the plot. But you need to rephrase so that you're not opening with the title of the book.

Sarah Carlson has to pursue infertility treatment in secret because of her husband’s objections. Jay Adams is a brilliant scientist determined to produce the first human clone designed to die shortly after birth--the perfect organ donor. I need more here about who these people are. You're telling me what they want, and how their needs are going to cross paths in order to create the plot, but I don't have any feeling about them as people whatsoever.

Dr. Larry Johnson takes advantage of both and inserts an embryonic clone in Sarah’s uterus that will become a kidney donor for his son. Nine month’s later, his plan threatens Sarah’s life and his partner’s career when the delivery turns into an obstetrical nightmare. So what is the end goal here? Saving Sarah's life? Saving the son? Saving reputations? Saving all these things? Does the Dr. have moral issues about what's going on or is this totally an end game for him? Does Sarah have any idea about what's going on at any point? I need more about where the plot goes as well - is the botched delivery the beginning of the story, or the end? Is the book actually about the fallout from the delivery and trying to cover it up, or is the delivery the culmination of the plot? You've got room to play because what you have here is very short, so beef this up with details and humanize your characters.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Non-Fiction Friday: BEYOND THE WALL: EXPLORING GEORGE R.R. MARTIN'S A SONG OF ICE & FIRE

I haven't tossed a good non-fiction title your way in awhile, and with Season Three of Game of Thrones fast approaching I thought now might be a great time to get my geek on.

BEYOND THE WALL: EXPLORING GEORGE R.R. MARTIN'S A SONG OF ICE & FIRE, edited by James Lowder, is an intriguing collection of thought-provoking essays covering the series from A Game of Thrones to A Dance With Dragons. In these essays, characters are looked at from new angles that may not have occurred to many readers.
  • How are Arya's reactions to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder so different from Theon Greyjoy's that each can take their own experiences and have them completely re-order their lives in such vastly different way?
  • How does each of the female characters live up to, or fall short of the expectations of power and gender?
  • Does A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE transcend the traditional fantasy tropes and present something new to readers?
  • Is Petyr Baelish a true representation of a classic psychopath?
  • How reliable is the heavily myth-based past that the characters rely upon? 
  • A wonderful essay about the collectible factor when it comes to first editions, first printings, and UK vs. US editions of the series.
This is a great collection of insights into a series that has more layers than Davos' sigil. If you jump into these essays you will find more light shed onto a world that seems to operate under the cover of many shadows.

Book Talk - HAND ME DOWN by Melanie Thorne

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.

The only goal fourteen-year-old Liz Reid has is to keep her younger sister Jaime from being hurt. Unfortunately they share homes with the people that could hurt her most- their father, an unapologetically manipulative alcoholic who has nearly killed them all once before; their mother, a once-caring parent who has hit a midlife-crisis and has found new love; and worst of all- her boyfriend, a formerly convicted sexual offender who eyes both girls behind their mother's back.

When the police tell their mother that it's not legal for the girls to be under the same roof as her boyfriend, she makes a fateful decision - she kicks her children out. Now oscillating between guest bedrooms in two different states with distant relatives, Liz has to keep a long-distant eye on Jaime's welfare.

Strings of broken promises lead Liz to believe that one day their mother will return to the woman that she remembers, the one that stepped in front of their father's fists in order to save them. But the years are passing with the boyfriend still sending Liz veiled threats, and Jaime is beginning to resent Liz's constant worrying.

HAND ME DOWN is a crushing semi-autobiographical debut about a young girl trying to hold her family together while being passed around the country, never knowing if there will be a welcome smile at the next airport, or a bed that she can sleep safely in at the end of her journey.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) I was a Tomb Raider freak back in the day and there are still some survival instincts ingrained in me. There's a door down the hall from my office that makes the "Tomb Raider Door Opening Noise" and whenever that happens, my thumbs tense up.

2) Does anyone actually use the little square pocket behind the circular pocket on your jeans?

3) I want to start a new line of candles that are entirely scented by common allergens. I'm thinking Dander will lead the lineup....

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wild Wednesday

Yes, I know everyone wanted their weekly micro-dose of the history of the English language in the form of my Wednesday WOLF (Word Origins from Left Field), but I'm actually out of random bits of facts at the moment. Until I pick up another etymology book - don't worry there's one on the TBR pile right now - I'm shifting Wednesdays to Wild Wednesday.

And here's why -

In the desolate world of NOT A DROP TO DRINK the wildlife have regained the upper hand. Coyotes roam during the day and raccoons stand up for a better look at passing humans, not familiar enough with these odd bipeds to be afraid.

My own little desolate corner of Ohio isn't so very unlike DRINK. I wake up regularly in the night to coyotes raucously celebrating another kill and deer stop to stare whenever I walk outside to load the stove. I've popped the lid off the plastic cat food container more than once to find a possum inside. And boy is that ever awesome. I love it every time.

So anyway, I have two trailcams set up in the field behind my house, and I thought I'd share bits and pieces of the humorous, the odd, and the sometimes downright frightening things that pass by in the middle of nowhere...

Here's a nice freezing early-morning shot of two coyotes hanging out near my backyard. Yep. I was so thrilled when I saw them.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

An SAT and Giveaway with Melanie Thorne author of HAND ME DOWN

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is one of my buddies from the Book Pregnant blog, author Melanie Thorne. Melanie's debut, HAND ME DOWN, which recently released in paperback. It is the story of fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Reid, who has spent her life protecting her sister, Jaime, from their parents' cruel mistakes. Their father, who'd rather work the system than a job, pours every dollar into his many vices, denying his daughters the shoes and clothing they need. Their mother, once a loving parent, is going through a post-post-adolescent rebellious streak and finds love with a dangerous ex-con. When she chooses starting a new family over raising her first-born girls, Elizabeth and Jaime are separated and forced to rely on the begrudging kindness of increasingly distant relatives.

HAND ME DOWN is an intensely personal story, and you’ve said that most of it is auto-biographical. Was it hard for you to revisit your past to write the novel?

I started writing this book about ten years after my sister and I were forced to leave home, and at that point it was becoming harder and harder NOT to write about my past. The anger and pain I’d tried so hard to ignore kept bubbling up in my mind and in my heart, and my teenage self kept screaming at me, begging me to let her voice be heard now that she had found it, and she was persuasive. There were definitely issues that were difficult to confront and moments that hurt to relive, but writing this book helped me begin to heal and move on. Letting that fourteen-year-old girl inside me tell her story brought both of us some peace. 

Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write that weren’t related to your personal journey? Were there any pure Writer’s Fears that held you back?

I think most writers are haunted by a nearly constant fear of not being good enough, and I am no exception. But I think if the drive to write is strong, if you care about your story, you can power through the voices that tell you your writing sucks at least for long enough to get something on the page.

Are you a Planner or Pantster? Is it hard to be a Pantser when so much of your novel is auto-biographical?

I totally started out as a pantser. When I wrote short stories, I had no idea where they would go. Even if they were based in reality—as all of my stories are—I would begin with the truth and see where that led me. Of course, I knew the basic outline of events in Hand Me Down before I started, but I allowed myself the freedom to deviate from the real life scenes if I felt the story demanded it. I knew certain bits of dialogue, certain scenes and actions and interactions were going to take place, but I wasn’t sure how they would all be connected. I guess I’m still mainly a pantser who got lucky in that the prep for Hand Me Down had already been done: I’d lived it. This next book is taking a lot more actual planning, which is something I’m teaching myself to do, and I think I will probably still pants a lot of it even with an outline.

Elizabeth keeps a journal in HAND ME DOWN to help her cope. Did you keep a journal, and if so did you reference it as you wrote the novel?

Yes. I couldn’t talk to anyone about what was going on at home—it was both painful and embarrassing to admit my mother had chosen a sex-offender over her daughters—so I wrote pages and pages in my journals, released all the thoughts I couldn’t express out loud, said all the things I wished I could say to my family. I cried and ranted and screamed in ink, the letters often ragged and huge and tear-spotted. I underlined words like hate and promise and why so hard I ripped the paper. It was necessary for me to cope, too.

As it turned out, it was also incredibly helpful as a reference while I was writing Hand Me Down. I found real-life scenes written in those journals, descriptions of events and interactions with formatted dialogue and gestures, details I would not have remembered. Probably even more important, the journals were a direct portal to my teenage emotions and perspective. While some of it was so ridiculous (and mortifying) to read as an adult, it allowed me to connect to those raw feelings, to truly remember what it felt like to be young and alone and scared.

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

My agent is Trena Keating, of Union Literary, whom I met at a conference back when she was still an editor. When I was researching agents to query, an author friend of mine who’d worked with Trena told me that she had just started her own agency and suggested I query her, so I did. She responded to my email the next day with a request for the full manuscript and about two weeks after I sent it, she wrote back with high praises and an offer of representation. It was one of the best moments of my career.

How long did you query before landing your agent? 

Trena was the second agent I queried. I met a different agent a conference and developed the biggest agent crush ever. I spent the next nine months polishing my book with her in mind and I queried her first. She loved the first pages, then requested the full manuscript, but ultimately turned me down. I was crushed, so I went back to work on the book, making it as perfect as I could possibly make it, while I decided who to query next. I did a ton of research and had a list of about six agents I thought would be a good fit when my friend mentioned Trena, and she moved to the top of the list I never ended up using.

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

First, make your book as good as you can possibly make it. The two pieces of advice I lived by when polishing my manuscript were: “If you’re not physically nauseous at the sight of your book, you’re not done yet,” and, “Look at the pages that don’t sing, and fix them.” These lines were from agents who said the worst thing you can do is send them a manuscript that isn’t ready. Be patient and really take the time to make your work sing from every sentence.

The second worst thing you can do is send unprofessional, uninformed queries. Do your research. Make sure you are querying agents who represent books similar to yours, and hand tailor each letter for each agent. Check out their client list, and very carefully read their submission policy. It’s like online dating and your query is your first impression. Woo the agent by showing off your book, and then tell them why you want them specifically, not just an agent. 

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

Surreal. Sometimes I still can’t believe I have a book out in the world. I think the first place it was for sale was Amazon, and seeing it there, available for purchase like any other normal book, made me feel like the whole being published thing was really happening. Then seeing this thing I’d written in a bookstore, with my name on the front cover, next to all those other books, next to authors I’d been reading for years...well, that was sort of magical.

How much input do you have on cover art?

I had very little. No one asked me for input; the hardcover image just showed up in my inbox one day, and luckily, I loved it. There were a few small tweaks I asked for, and that was it. With the paperback, I was shown two other options I didn’t like before getting the one that stuck. 

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

So much of the publishing process surprised me: how far in advance things like the cover and the jacket copy are done, how many phases the book goes through before it’s finally ready for press, how many people at the publishing house work on different aspects of each book, how much work authors have to do to publicize, how rewarding and yet exhausting book tours can be, how so much of this business is luck and timing.

How much of your own marketing do you?  Do you have a blog / site / Twitter? 

I try to do what I can without forcing myself to do things I don’t enjoy. I’m on Facebook, I have a website and a blog, and I’m on Twitter. I go through phases where I’m more or less active online depending on how I feel and what’s going on. 

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

Um, what’s a platform again? But seriously, I feel really clueless when it comes to this stuff. I had no online presence before I sold Hand Me Down, so I had to start making those connections pretty late in the game. I’d say if you are someone who loves blogging, loves being online, then go ahead and start building your online presence early. I don’t think there’s any way having that platform already in place can hurt your chances of getting published.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Absolutely, though maybe not always directly. It seems that most readers who seek me out on Facebook or Twitter have already heard of Hand Me Down. But I think my connections to and relationships with book bloggers and sellers, industry professionals, and other authors that I’ve cultivated through social media have spread the news of my book much farther than my own relatively small networks, for which I’m incredibly grateful. 

Thanks so much for hosting me here, Mindy!!

To celebrate the paperback release of HAND ME DOWN I'm giving away a copy - US entries only. Sign up on the Rafflecopter below!

Monday, March 25, 2013

I'm Giving Away an HD Kindle Fire (Yes, Really).

Just so everyone is aware - I'm giving away an HD Kindle Fire.

Why? It's because I want to shamelessly promote my new website - mindymcginnis.com - because the world needs that, you know.

What's the deal? Pretty easy.

  • Pop on over to my site.
  • Spot my social media icons. They look like this:

  • Click on the blue envelope to sign up for my site mailing list.
  • Rest assured I'm not going to bombard you - expect 2 or 3 mails a year. 
  • If you're already on my mailing list you already have a chance of winning the Kindle.
  • A winner will be randomly picked from the mailing list on April 8th. 
  • The winner must be a US resident.
And really, yes, that's seriously it. All I want you to do is sign up for my mailing list. If you feel inclined to hit up any of my other social media icons and follow me somewhere else, that would be cool but won't increase your chances. Also if you feel like popping back over here and complimenting me about random things that also will not increase your chances, but again would be pretty cool. 


Saturday, March 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.

Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You'll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!

In seventeen-year-old Casey Willow’s world, getting accepted to NYU is her biggest concern until terrorists execute a synchronized attack on America. This is a decent hook, but I question the use of the word "synchronized" - especially in light of the next line.

No one can predict where the next suicide bombing I feel like "synchronized" says that a bunch happen at once. If there's a lot happening in order then I feel like it's "organized" not synched will take place. Except Andrew Tate: Hamilton Prep’s richest and most sought after bad boy (okay, and he’s kind of good-looking, too I think the looks are implied, but the tone here is pretty light in comparison with the rest of the material). He seems to have all the answers, much to Casey’s annoyance. But when Andrew saves Casey from certain death at the hands of a terrorist, she wonders if maybe there’s more to him than just another spoiled, rich kid. Then, out of the blue, he asks her to leave New York with him because it’s the terrorists’ number one target. Oh, again here this is kind of a flippant "oh, yeah" add on that isn't really working for me in terms of both the voice throughout the rest of the query and also the topic matter and the president is about to declare war on the Arabic Alliance, the countries responsible for the attacks, and announce a national draft (which Andrew has no intention of sticking around for.) Wow - lots of talking here in this sentence. Check out your "and-s" - find a better way to get all this information in here without making a run-on. Also the parenthetical needs to go. Against her better judgement, she agrees to go as long as they head to her grandparents’ farm in Wisconsin (Casey’s favorite place on earth). Here again you need a better way to get this information into the query rather than a choppy parenthetical add-on.

But leaving New York isn’t enough to keep trouble at bay. Casey can’t seem to stop her growing feelings for Andrew. Then a cyber attack leads to a national economic crisis. Desperation paves the way for an epidemic of violence. The final blow strikes in the form of a bioterrorist attack that leaves Casey’s grandfather dying of pneumonic plague. Wow - Ok so we've got bombing, cyber attacks, economic depression, complete breakdown of society and then a massive illness. Yes, while it's entirely possible and "house of cards" style to have these things fall together, jamming them all into the query makes it sound like you're just trying to jam as much action as possible into the book. Stick to what's of the utmost importance plotwise for the query.

In order to save him, Casey must risk her own survival for her grandfather’s. How? And why? And what role does Andrew have in this?

You've got some good stuff here, but this query lacks focus. The first thing we hear about is how badly Casey wants to go to college, and then ka-poof, we don't hear about this again. It's part of your hook so I have to assume it comes up later. How does Casey actually feel about all these attacks? Is she scared? Is she angry? Is she resentful that she just lost her chance to go to college and have a normal life? All we know about her is that she thinks she might like Andrew, and that doesn't exactly make her sound like a compelling heroine.

And my biggest question - how the heck does Andrew know when and where the terrorists are going to attack? Doesn't this raise suspicions on Casey's part? How does his knowledge play into the plot and and inform his character? Right now all he's doing is swooping in an saving the MC, then sitting back to be liked once they get to the farm. Give me more about both these people, make them people within the query, not just plot pawns.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Book Talk - MILA 2.0 by Debra Driza

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 like 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.

Mila doesn't know why her mother decided to move them to the middle of nowhere after the house fire that killed her dad, but she adores the horses that they care for together and has found a little peace in her new, quieter life. All that is shattered when she breaks her arm in a car accident -- literally. Her arm is broken open, exposing tubing that leaks clear fluid instead of blood, and metal and wires where there should be muscle and bone.

Her mother grabs a first-aid kit - pliers and screwdrivers instead of bandages and gauze - and explains to Mila that her entire life is a fabrication. Her memories are not her own, but uploaded to create a plausible backstory for their new life together. The woman she calls mother is actually a scientist who stole her from a top-secret lab when she had moral questions about the very human attributes her project was displaying. Even her name is not her own - it's an acronym for Mobil Intel Lifelike Android.

With questions flying and their cover blown, Mila and her mother try to escape to Canada - but there are two groups of people after them. The military wants their expensive prototype back, and terrorists are equally dedicated to finding Mila and using her  for their own purposes. With her elite defense mechanisms activated, Mila is more than capable of defending herself and protecting her mother. But her human elements keep getting in her way. How far will she go?

And is she more human... or robot?

Book Talk - PRETTY GIRL-13 by Liz Coley

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 like 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.

Angie is walking down the street, holding a bag of clothes she knows doesn't belong to her. She just wants to go home after a Girl Scout camping trip. When she walks in the door and non-chalantly says "Mom, I'm home," she doesn't understand why her mother drops to the ground in tears... or why the person in the mirror is three years older than she's supposed to be.

Missing since she was 13, the now sixteen-year-old Angie goes through therapy to find out where those lost three years went to, and what she was doing during them. But there are some secrets you can't even tell yourself, and Angie's mind has built walls that turned into people. One was meant to please her captor, one was made to cook and clean, one was made to work for survival... and one was born for vengeance.

Urged by her parents to undergo a new treatment that will erase her multiple personalities and restore Angie to her full self, she must first decide whether she wants to know what each one has endured for her sake... or not.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) Played the game of LIFE with the extended family this week. Rules state that the winner at the end of the game is the one that has the most money. Great life lesson, Milton-Bradley. That's awesome.

2) I get hurt doing very random things. Yesterday I hit my tooth on my car door while getting into it. Just the one tooth. Not my lip. Direct tooth hit. Right on the door. Who does this?

3) I had to amp the workout routine up a bit because it was no longer winding me. So the treadmill has been kicked up a notch and now I'm in pain. I don't understand why my reward is a punishment. My reward should be Cadbury Eggs.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wild Wednesday - WTF IS THAT!?!?

Yes, I know everyone wanted their weekly micro-dose of the history of the English language in the form of my Wednesday WOLF (Word Origins from Left Field), but I'm actually out of random bits of facts at the moment. Until I pick up another etymology book - don't worry there's one on the TBR pile right now - I'm shifting Wednesdays to Wild Wednesday.

And here's why -

In the desolate world of NOT A DROP TO DRINK the wildlife have regained the upper hand. Coyotes roam during the day and raccoons stand up for a better look at passing humans, not familiar enough with these odd bipeds to be afraid.

My own little desolate corner of Ohio isn't so very unlike DRINK. I wake up regularly in the night to coyotes raucously celebrating another kill and deer stop to stare whenever I walk outside to load the stove. I've popped the lid off the plastic cat food container more than once to find a possum inside. And boy is that ever awesome. I love it every time.

So anyway, I have two trailcams set up in the field behind my house, and I thought I'd share bits and pieces of the humorous, the odd, and the sometimes downright frightening things that pass by in the middle of nowhere...

This is one that I stared at for awhile, trying to figure out WTF it was.



Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Submission Tale from 2014 Debut Author Jaye Robin Brown

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 Jaye Robin Brown, a OneFour Kid Lit member with her debut SING TO  THE WIND coming from HarperCollins in 2014. Jaye is an early morning writer, a day-long high school art teacher, a night-time farmer, and an all-the-time free spirited animal lover. She's prone to fits of giggles, bad puns, and sarcastic banter. She loves coffee, good books, her dogs' sweet bellies, and time spent with friends. Most folks call her JRo. You can, too.

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

Only what I knew from the Internet. But there’s no way to know exactly how crazy it’s going to make you until you’re in it. Part of it, I guess, is that it’s the closest you’ve ever been to SELLING a book. It’s really the final submission process. *cue The Final Countdown*

Did anything about the process surprise you?

The amount of angst and inner stalker that manifested totally surprised me. I actually went through the process twice, so this time (the second) I didn’t want to know anything. It was kind of like, “Just call me if you sell it or have enough information to suggest a revision.” In fact, I didn’t even know I was on submission until my now editor followed me on Twitter. I DM’ed my agent and was all, “Um, an editor at Harper Collins just followed me.” And my agent was like, “Oh yeah, she loves your book.” Then things got real!

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

I did with my first manuscript (on sub) and first agent. As for recommending it, I’d say it just depends on how you can tame your head monkeys. There’s a tendency to think every “I’m reading” tweet is directed toward your manuscript, which in reality is bunk. If you can take a step back and separate reality from the crazies, then I say go for it. But if you’re super neurotic, then maybe not.

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

Well, for the book that sold, the first editor who read ended up buying it and the process was relatively short. Less than a month and a half from sub to the PM announcement. On my first trip through Submission Hell, the responses ranged from 1 week to 5 months, through two small sub rounds and one minor revision.

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

Without question, write another book! Keep those creative juices flowing and get your mind off it as much as you can. In my case, the book that first went out didn’t sell. But the book I wrote while it was out on submission did sell! What if I hadn’t written that book?

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

Strangely enough it was better than query rejection because most of the editors had nice things to say, even though it wasn’t what they were looking for. It was thrilling for me that real, live, NYC editors were reading my words. Amazing! Of course, as you get more rejections and no one is buying it’s depressing. But my first manuscript is an odd story, and I feel like it may have some life left in it. I’m not losing hope anyway.

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?

So, back to the first manuscript. The first small round had some comments in common which I tried to address through revision. But some of the comments were simply about what the market could handle and I grew to realize it was less about me and my story and more about straight up business. That made it both tolerable and infuriating. I missed a trend and that was not something I could fix through revision. At least not easily. It was a good lesson in looking at publishing through a lens greater than my writer’s lens.

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

My agent sent me an e-mail on a Friday afternoon that said something like “I’ve got happy news, let’s schedule a call for Monday.” And I was hyperventilating and flash e-mailed her back - “What! I have to wait all weekend? Are you trying to kill me?” She immediately e-mailed back and told me to call her then. She told me my editor loved the book, but wanted to talk about potential revisions and make sure we were on the same page. When I got off the phone I scared my dogs with crazy screams and jumping gymnastics!

The actual news of the offer came on the first day of the 2012 SCBWI Carolinas Conference. All day I was checking my phone because I knew my book was in an acquisitions meeting. The whole day went by with nothing. I finally went up to my hotel room around 5pm, and sometime during the elevator ride the e-mail came. My writing buddy, YA writer Jen McConnel, was in the room with me when I saw the offer in my e-mail. Then I got to share the news, secretly of course, with all of my friends at the conference. It. Was. Great. So perfect to be surrounded by people that got it!

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

No, not too terribly long. I think the details took another week, maybe two and as soon as we accepted the deal, my agent told me I could blab. That was a Friday and my PM announcement went in over the weekend. I felt lucky because I know other people who’ve had to wait for months and months to announce.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Slightly-Less-Awesome-Than-The-Book Vlog About MILA 2.0

I originally posted this vlog last week on the League of Extraordinary Writers blog to celebrate fellow Leaguer and Katherine Tegen-sister Debra Driza's debut with MILA 2.0

Here's another look for anybody who missed it.


Saturday, March 16, 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.

Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the last) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You'll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!

Two days ago, Reese’s country was attacked.
Today, she saved the life of a stranger.
Not only is West a stranger, but he is also the enemy. Hmm... I'm not sure if the choppity-chop delivery of the hook here is working for me. It could be entirely personal opinion though. Also this doesn't tell me much about genre, it could be anything from high SF to a post-apoc to a contemporary set in a war-torn country. 

When Reese comes across enemy soldiers about to kill one of their own, without knowing why—having no reason other than her heart telling her to hmmm, maybe just b/c she's a moral person? I'm not sure that the "without knowing why" is such a big incentive to read here. All it's establishing is that the MC is a good and decent person—she saves his life. Within the next few days, Reese quickly finds out that West isn’t like any other boy she has ever met . . . and she might be falling for him. Torn between not trusting him and having no choice but to, Reese is determined to find her younger brother, refusing to believe he’s dead. What's the story with younger brother? Is he a soldier? Is he simply missing? What kind of attack are we talking about and in what kind of country? What are the living conditions? Does she have a cell phone still? Are there any social services available or are we talking total anarchy? Right now I'm seeing these two MC's existing together in a vacuum, and that's not painting much of a picture. 

But what Reese doesn’t know, is when she saved West’s life, that one selfless act changed the course of the war. Nice sinker, I like this. But I need to know why?

Sunlight is a YA science fiction novel complete at 96,000 words. Sunlight was the top pick on Harper Collins’ website Inkpop in 2011, and also nominated for the Watty Awards on Wattpad.com in 2012. Nice, this is great information to include, but you need to show why in the query. Why is this book so good that it received these accolades? Praise alone isn't going to get your foot in the door - it helps, but you need to get your it factor out front in the query to go hand-in-hand with the praise.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Book Talk - HOOKED by Liz Fichera

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.

Fredericka "Fred" Oday is only too aware of how much she stands out on the golf team at her predominantly white school... especially since she's the only girl. All she wants to do is play- it's the only outlet that fits well with her alcoholic mother's lifestyle and her dad's schedule as the country club's greenskeeper. But being one of the few Native Americans on this side of the Pecos Road means she can't just keep her head down and her chin up anymore.

Ryan Berenger is less than thrilled to be paired with Fred for their tournaments, even if Lone Butte High School is suddenly winning again. His best friend was cut from the team in order to make room for Fred, and his molded blonde girlfriend is less than pleased about where his gaze is roaming these days. He's been checking out more than Fred's perfect swing... and Fred can't ignore the fact that her concentration slips every time Ryan looks at her.

But there's more separating them than the barbed-wire fence that lines the reservation. Fred's brother can't forget the silver Jeep that nearly ran him off the road one night, and Ryan's best friend will never forgive the Native American drunk driver who killed his father when he was only a baby. Ryan & Fred's aren't the only passions running hot in a situation fraught with tension, romance and the emotional showdown between the girl with the killer swing and the boy with the killer smile.

Book Talk - GONE FISHING by Tamera Will Wissinger

Everyone knows what it's like to have your heart set on something, and then have to share that something with someone else.

Sam is nine years old, and a fishing trip with his dad is one of the best things that could ever happen to him. But when little sister Lucy tags along and - gasp! - catches more fish than he does, Sam feels like the day is ruined.

Sam's excitement and frustration, Lucy's elation and self-confidence, are mixed with Dad's endless patience, all voiced in different poetic forms- quatrains, ballads, iambic meter, rhyming lists, concrete poetry, tercets and free verse.

Tamera Will Wissinger's GONE FISHING, is an outdoor family-adventure story, as well as a great way to teach and explain different poetic forms to children.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) You know how sometimes when you toss your laundry in the dryer there will be a sock that gets the corner pinched in the door after you shut it, so it just spins in intense heat with its toe stuck? If that sock were a human being, that would really suck.

2) Re-watched The Ring recently. Had to think it would suck to be the poor bastard stuck with that VHS tape and doesn't know anybody else who still had a VCR.

3) Someone needs to make a body spray that smells like a new book.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

An SAT with YA Debut Author Anne Blankman

Today's guest for the SAT is a 2014 debut, Anne Blankman, author of NIGHT'S EDGE, coming from Balzer & Bray, Spring 2014. Anne may have been meant to be a writer because her parents named her for Anne of Green Gables. She grew up in an old house with gables (gray, unfortunately) in upstate New York. When she wasn't writing or reading, she was rowing on the crew team, taking ballet lessons, fencing and swimming. She graduated from Union College with degrees in English and history, which comes in handy when she writes historical fiction.

After earning a master's degree in information science, Anne began working as a youth services librarian. Currently, she lives in southeastern Virginia with her family. When she's not writing young adult fiction, she's playing with her daughter, training for races with her husband, working at her amazing library branch, learning to knit (badly), and reading.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Planner! Maybe it's my background as a youth services librarian, but I like being organized. Putting together an outline helps me keep the story on track. That said, my characters have surprised me...so maybe I'm a planner, with a side order of pantster. 

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

NIGHT'S EDGE is my first novel, so I don't have a "typical" time frame -- at least, not yet! This book took me about two years to write, from getting the idea to typing the last sentence, but I spent a lot of that time learning HOW to write a book, too. I also wrote in little drips and drabs, squeezing in an hour after work, or another hour while my baby was napping. Now that I'm more focused and experienced, my sequel is whizzing along.

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

I like writing one manuscript at a time, so I can stay in one character's head and world. Since I have a three-book deal, I'm writing one ms, and planning the next. 

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

Of course! I don't think the fears ever really go away -- they just change. Writers are always moving on to the next book, the next project, the next school visit, the next interview, the next new experience. Being a writer means you're constantly putting yourself out there. So, you start off wondering if you can actually write a book, to wondering if a publisher will want it, to wondering if any readers will buy it... I've learned to silence that self-doubting voice by reminding myself that I landed an agent and a book deal, so clearly I'm doing some things right. 

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

I wrote a horrible picture book a couple of years ago that was, thankfully, rejected. Then I wrote NIGHT'S EDGE, met an agent two weeks after finishing it (not that a book is ever really finished), and signed with her about a week later. The whole process felt like a very fast dream.

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

Sure. I've noodled a few ideas  recently, and knew within a chapter or two that they wouldn't work, for a variety of reasons. 

Querying and Agent Hunt Process:
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them? 

My agent is Tracey Adams of Adams Literary (also known as Dream Agent). I had signed up for a fifteen-minute critique session at the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Conference in October 2012, hoping I would be matched with Tracey, my top choice for an agent. As I walked into the meeting (the last one of the day), I told myself that no matter what, I would at least get some great editorial suggestions. 

We hit it off immediately, and ended up chatting for over half an hour until the SCWBI regional advisor politely came in and murmured something about dinner (we were meeting in her hotel room). Not only did Tracey love the first ten pages and request an exclusive full submission, but I got the gift of meeting an agent in person. 

I thought Tracey had sounded great in all of the articles and interviews I had read about her, and I knew Adams Literary has a stellar reputation, but once I met her, I knew I wanted Tracey as my agent. She has such a great personality -- she's funny, smart, enthusiastic, passionate about what she does, and she's nice. That last part may sound corny, but I knew I wanted an agent who would be pleasant to work with, someone who could be tactful but firm when negotiating contracts. 

So, I shot off my full to Adams Lit, and tried not to check my email obsessively. When I got Tracey's email, saying she loved NIGHT'S EDGE and wanted to talk to me as soon as it was convenient, I replied (sounding very blasé, of course), "Sure. How about right now?", plunked my three-year-old in front of the TV, and tried to answer the phone without sounding as though my heart was about to explode. I signed with Tracey that night. 

How long did you query before landing your agent?    

I met my agent before starting the query process (Sorry! Ducking the glares from readers right now! Believe me, I know I was incredibly lucky, and my experience is not the typical one!). 

But I had a query strategy, in case Tracey hadn't liked my ms (did I mention I'm a planner?). I had already researched tons of agents/agencies, and divided them into groups of ten -- the first group being my top choices, second group my second choices, and so on. I'd compiled information on each agent -- about a paragraph or two long -- noting what the agent was looking for, some of the authors she represented, and any little bits I had gleaned from reading about her. That way, I was fully prepared to start sending out queries. I think it really helps if you have a plan for the next step, so a rejection doesn't stop in your tracks, and you have to flounder around and figure out what you're going to do now. You didn't want my ms? Fine. On to the next agent, or batches of agents. Keep moving.

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

Research, research, research. Your agent represents you and your work. She's the person who submits manuscripts to publishers, negotiates offers, and checks contracts . So she needs to be someone who's reputable, trustworthy, and communicates easily with you. 

And I can't stress this enough: Follow the agency's submission guidelines. They're not optional; they're there for a reason. Don't send your edgy paranormal YA fantasy to an agent who's looking for contemporary coming-of-age stories. You're wasting her time and yours. 

Personalize your query letter, too. Mention how much you enjoy her blog or her recent article around social media. Show that you've done some research on her. Then send it off and instead of sitting around, worrying and wondering when you'll hear back, start working right away on something else.  

Social Networking and Marketing:
How much of your own marketing do you?  Do you have a blog / site / Twitter?

So far, I'm doing my own marketing, but I know that will change as I get closer to pub. date and begin working with my publisher's publicist. Right now I have a website - please watch the book trailer! I'm ridiculously excited about it. 

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

I think it depends on each writer's comfort level. I kept a low online profile before I signed with my agent, because I'd heard that no online presence was better than the wrong one. One of the main things, in my opinion, is to avoid the obvious pitfalls. No drunken pictures on Facebook. No rants in your blog about the agent who didn't offer you representation, and who therefore must be a horrible, soulless person who deserves only pain. Pretty obvious stuff (at least, I hope it's obvious!)

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Absolutely! But there's a right way to do it. When it's used in an open, supportive community, social media can help you reach out to others and create interest in your work. 

Thanks for having me on the blog, Mindy! 

Monday, March 11, 2013

A New Vlog: Mindy & Mindy Talk Books!

I'm reposting this vlog from the Magical Urban Fantasy Reads blog, hosted by the lovely Mindy. We had a great time putting together this video interview, so I hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, March 9, 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.

Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You'll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!

All her life, Kathryn has been second best in everyone’s eyes but her own. Her younger sister, you see, I'd take this out, it's adding to your word count and not necessary. is the image of perfection: beautiful and charming, sweet and well-behaved. Everyone wonders: why can’t Kathryn be like Blanche? Well, same here with the unnecessary wording why would she want to be? Why shouldn’t she speak her mind? Why shouldn’t she call a man a fool if he is one? Oh yes, this shrew has her reasons.

Tradition requires an elder sister to marry before the younger, but no man wants to court Kathryn and risk a tongue-lashing... until Sir William arrives in town. For the first time, Kathryn’s supremacy in a battle of wits is challenged. He won’t even call her by her right name, for heaven’s sake, insisting that she is Kate from the very first. His courtship feels like farce –  like some comic Romeo, he stages a midnight visit to her window that sets every dog in town howling – but Kathryn is reluctantly attracted to this handsome, clever knight. I like this para, it works for me.

Sold into marriage by a father who wants to be rid of her, Kathryn plunges into a chaotic new life.  Though he claims he loves her, Sir William will not let her eat or sleep. He offers her a new gown to replace one wrecked by days of wear, then yanks it away. He shouts and curses, then cajoles and confides. His erratic behavior makes her worry that he is mad, or worse, that he is trying to drive her mad. Okay... that doesn't sound so great. Definitely not a good situation.

For all these years, battled-scarred Kathryn’s sharp wits and clever words have been her defenses in her war against the world. She must fight to the end in order to learn that she doesn’t have to fight any longer: that she can give up her armor and still be safe. That she can have her Will does she seriously still want him? and keep her will.  That she can let go of Kathryn and be Kate.

Um - the writing is fine here, but... do we actually want the female MC to end up with a male who won't let her eat or sleep? I really don't think that's something a reader can get on board with- or an agent. If the male character goes through some kind of massive change of heart that needs to be addressed within the query so that it doesn't look like the ms is promoting female oppression.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Book Talk - LET THE SKY FALL by Shannon Messenger

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.

Vane can't remember his parents, or the tornado that killed them when he was a young child. But the image of a girl with dark hair whipping around her face reaching for him in the storm has stayed with him ever since. She's been in his dreams since he was a small boy, she followed him to his adoptive parent's home, and now she's showing up in the real world whenever he's on the verge of getting his first kiss.

Audra is a sylph - an air elemental - who chose to become a Guardian at a young age. It was her father's duty to protect Vane and his family, but when he made the ultimate sacrifice Audra took the duty on as her own. Now she's sworn to protect his life at all costs, even if it means losing hers.

Vane is the only Westerly left alive, the secret language of the west wind buried deep within him. His parents were killed for this knowledge, but they never shared it. Raised as a human and ignorant of his heritage, Vane has to unearth the language inside of him in order to thwart the sylph's greatest enemy. With the power to command all four winds, their enemy could destroy humans and sylphs alike.

Audra won't let that happen. She'll protect Vane and sacrifice herself in the process if she has to.

But will he let her?

LET THE SKY FALL brings a fresh angle to paranormal romance, available March 5, 2013 from Simon Pulse.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Wednesday WOLF

Before you get your English language lesson of the day, a quick reminder that I will be one of the debut author guests on #yalitchat tonight on Twitter - 9 PM EST!! See you there!

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.

Let's talk about something we haven't talked about before: cliches. (did you see what I did there?)

Cliches are 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, March 5, 2013

An SAT with Kim Rendfeld - Author of THE CROSS & THE DRAGON

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Kim Rendfeld, author of THE CROSS & THE DRAGON. Rendfeld grew up in New Jersey and attended Indiana University, where she earned a BA in journalism and English, with a minor in French. She was a journalist for almost 18 years at Indiana newspapers, including the Journal and Courier in Lafayette, The Muncie Star, and The News and Sun in Dunkirk, and won several awards from the Hoosier State Press Association.

THE CROSS & DRAGON is a tale of love in an era of war and blood feuds.

Francia, 778, the tenth year of Charlemagne’s reign: Alda has never forgotten Ganelon’s vow of vengeance when she married his rival, Hruodland. Yet the jilted suitor’s malice is nothing compared to Alda’s premonition of disaster for her beloved, battle-scarred husband.

Although the army invading Hispania is the largest ever and King Charles has never lost a war, Alda cannot shake her anxiety. Determined to keep Hruodland from harm, even if it exposes her to danger, Alda gives him a charmed dragon amulet.

Is its magic enough to keep Alda’s worst fears from coming true—and protect her from Ganelon?

Inspired by legend and painstakingly researched, The Cross and the Dragon is a story of tenderness, sacrifice, lies, and revenge.

Writing Process:
Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Pantster, mostly. When I started TC&D, I was so eager to get it on my computer screen. If I had started with an outline, I’d likely have gotten stuck and never written a draft of the story.

Upon seeing the draft, my critique group asked me to write an outline. I did, and it helped me get focused. And then I ended up throw two-thirds of it away as I made revisions.

Definitely not efficient, but this is the process that works for me when writing fiction.

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

This is a complex question for me to answer because my writing process is not continuous. With TC&D, I spent a year or two on the earliest draft and thought it was done. About a year or so later, I found a critique group who kindly informed me it wasn’t done, that it read like a very good outline but not a novel. And it was mired in back story. And the characters weren’t showing enough emotion. And there wasn’t enough conflict.

Two years later, I had another draft, which I was certain was ready for publication. Wrong again. Over several years, I sent out queries. When I got a useful rejection letter, I would revise the manuscript, setting other work aside.

If I were to total it up, I’d say five years.

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

I was going to say one project at a time because it would be difficult to write more than one novel. But as I thought more about this, I realized after I got my first manuscript done, I am more of a multi-tasker. I have a full-time job. On top of that, I was querying agents and working on a second manuscript. Even as I work to promote TC&D, I am trying to find time to work on its companion, The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar.

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

I was a newspaper editor when I started on TC&D and encountered people who thought they could write well. I had to ignore the voice in my head that whispered, “How do you know you’re not one of those people, the ones who just think they can write?”

Querying Process:
How long did you query before landing your publisher?

I began querying in earnest in 2003, the bad, old SASE days (stamped, self-addressed envelope for the acronym impaired). Most of the time, it was the equivalent of a cold call; a few times the query went to someone I met at a conference. I finally got an agent in 2007 through the query process. My agent was not able to sell the book and after three years had, for all intents and purposes, given up on me.

In early 2011, the saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results” came to my mind. I knew I had to do something different. I terminated my relationship with my agent and entered TC&D in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition.

I ended as a quarterfinalist and couldn’t have been happier with my prize, a positive review of the unedited manuscript from Publishers Weekly. I had another tool to promote myself to agents and editors. Just as important, the review gave me a boost in confidence when I really needed it.

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

My publisher is Fireship Press, a small press based in Tucson, Arizona. I decided to query them after reading a blog post from an author who had a bad experience with one of the Big Six and an agent but later connected with Fireship and was happy with them.

I sent an e-mail to a Fireship editor, along with the first chapters, as specified on their submission page. The editor liked what she saw and asked for more.

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

What helped me most in getting through query hell was writing another book. Of course, I still checked the mailbox (as I said I go back to SASE days), but pouring my creative energy into other characters and another story helped take some of the sting from the rejections. And I had a lot of them, enough to paper a large walk-in closet.

A couple more pieces of advice:

  • If you get the rare response that tells you specifically why your work was rejected, pay attention. By acting the suggestions in the rejections, I made my book better, and ultimately publishable, in the end.
  • While you should be patient—this industry is fraught with rejections—be mindful that these days, there is more than one path to publication. If it’s been several years and one path simply isn’t working, consider something else.

On Being Published:
How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?

Dreamlike, as in wow, this is real!

I still am adjusting to the fact that my book is for sale on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It’s a heady feeling to see the novel for sale not only in dollars but also in pounds and euros.

How much input do you have on cover art?

Cover art is one of upsides about working with a small press. Not only did I get to suggest images for the cover art, I got to ask readers to help me and my publisher decide on a public domain image. My readers chose my favorite image, Rowland Wheelwright’s Enid and Geraint. They have great taste.

The cover artist did a nice job, and I got to approve it.

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

I was surprised by how much control I had in the process, another upside to a working with a small press. My editor’s suggestions for the story were minor but they improved the book. She and I also worked together on fonts for the cover and decorative elements of interior.

I could not be more pleased with how it turned out.

Social Networking and Marketing:
How much of your own marketing do you?  Do you have a blog / site / Twitter? 

For now, I do all my own marketing. Although it is taking time away from work my second book, The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, it will be worth it in the long term.

I’m all over the Web. I have a website, blog, Twitter account, as well as a presence on Facebook, Goodreads, and Amazon.

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

I built my site, blog, and Twitter platforms after I had written two manuscripts but long before publication. I’ll admit it. I was a skeptic about blogging. How was I going to find time? And who would care about what I had to say, anyway?

Yet if you’re a historical novelist, you have an advantage. You have done more research than you will ever be able to fit in one book. You can’t show it all off the novel. I’ve tried, and it just gets in the way. But you can show off your research in a blog, in short essays. If your period is not well known, mine is one example, this whets readers’ appetites.

I am glad I set up the platforms before I was published. (The Facebook fan page was after I signed the contract, and Goodreads and Amazon were after publication.) I was too busy making revisions and proofreading once the process gone under way.

It’s important to remember the novel should come first. My limit in most cases is one blog post per week, and I’ve started opening it up to guests. When I was in throes of the final proofread, I didn’t write in my blog for three weeks.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Oh yes. I’ve met so many nice people, and I participate in Facebook and Twitter promotion boards, where we post links to each other’s blogs. It is key to letting people know when you have a new blog post.

However, that doesn’t mean that the 300 friends you have on Facebook will result in 300 sales. And whatever you do, don’t bore them with “Buy my book, buy my book.” On my Facebook fan page and Twitter feeds, you will find promos for my posts, reviews, and interviews. You will also find links to other author’s posts, reviews, and interviews as well.

You still have to reach out. Review and interviews with book bloggers are a great way to let get your work before new audiences.

Thank you, Mindy, for this opportunity to share my writer’s journey.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Rituals & Pouring Chocolate on Stuff

When I was in high school I worked at an ice-cream and pizza place.

And if you think that's funny - I worked at a Hallmark during college. Yep. Mindy, selling greeting cards. It's downright surreal.

Anyway... whenever we had a new ice cream flavor for people to try we let them have a sample before committing to buy. But I had a little trick where I offered to pour chocolate on stuff if they were unsure after a plain taste.

And it totally worked.

It's weird the things that become buried in your skull, popping out at completely inappropriate moments years down the line. I don't know what it was... maybe the fact that there was a counter between us, or that I really wanted the student to fall in love with the book I was giving them, but with that ice-cream joint 10 years in my past I told the kid -

"Try this. If you don't like it bring it back and I'll pour some chocolate on it."

Since the title was THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO by Patrick Ness, I didn't end up pouring chocolate on anything, but it was a good lesson in a few ways.

1) The kids knew early on that the new librarian was insane.
2) Association can be buried deep, and we're not always in control of what our brain is kicking out.

Because of being in the service industry for most of my life thus far, I wanted the person across the counter to be happy. My brain randomly offered to pour chocolate on something to accomplish that goal and my mouth said HELL YES! GOOD IDEA, BRAIN!

This is why writing rituals work so well. Once those synaptic pathways in our brains have been beaten into well-formed tunnels, our thoughts squeeze through without a lot of voluntary action on our part. This can apply to so many things in life, but it's especially useful for writers.

We're always terrified we're going to fail, that this time the white page will remain blank, or the cursor is just going to blink instead of produce a string of words in its wake. If you can set up a ritual before writing - even a small one - and stick to it, soon you'll find the thoughts flowing from your brain out through your fingertips because both brain & body instinctively know what to do in this situation.

My own ritual is quite simple. I write in my bed, lying down, usually between the hours of 9 and 11 PM. If I'm not working on a WIP at the moment, I use the time for blogging, or reading. My brain knows that I'm either going to write, or absorb writing through reading. Either way, many of the same synapses are firing, and I can count on them to rev right up when I call on them to do so.

The drawback?

I haven't poured chocolate on anything in a damn long time.

Saturday, March 2, 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.

Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You'll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!

Over a millennium ago, The Shadow of the Fallen was banished from Ethereal to rot in the caves of Sheol and as centuries passed so grew their strength, numbers, and bitter hearts with time. In my opinion you've got way too many unfamiliar words and concepts knocking around for this to be a hook. I was a Religion major in college, so I get what you're throwing out here, but the vagueness is not going to appeal to someone who doesn't know these terms out the door. Also, as a sentence this hook is a bit rambling. Now with the battle for our world on the horizon, The Shadow seeks a mighty weapon to secure their success, a weapon that myself the first-person, query-as-written-by-MC doesn't really work for me. That might be personal opinion, but I think it's gimmicky and two others have kept guarded. Hidden among the Sewn Mountains in a town called Hermits Hollow, we have raised Nevaeh Night as an ordinary human. Nevaeh knows nothing of the danger that hunts her or has yet to awakened typo- "awaken?" the power she was born with. But I fear the time is quickly approaching. The day has already turned to night and the mountains are tainted by The Shadows mark. Soon The Shadow's collectors will come for her and if they succeed, we will all fall into darkness.

That is why I have acquired a writer that, with your guidance, can prepare mankind. Together, we can avoid the brouhaha of our kind springing out of the ground like determined weeds in a vegetable patch. Which, most weeds are actually dingleberry troll hairs. But humans like uprooting dingleberry troll hairs, don't they? I find it a rather odious task myself. I actually think this bit here is pretty clever, but it does nothing to convey what the story is actually about.

I have chosen a promising candidate that can tell our story. With my approval, she has completed the first novel HEAVEN SPELLED BACKWARDS at 90,000 words. She asked me to include the genre which is NA Fantasy and sends her regards, as do I, for taking time to review this inquiry.

While the second para and specs closing para use the device of 1st-POV-query rather cleverly, the query is not doing it's actual job - telling the agent what about this story makes it unique and awesome. Right now it's got a classic setup - good vs. evil, a hidden Chosen One who will save the world... but that's been done approximately 25,000 times already. Why is yours different and special? As it is, this query isn't doing the job of conveying why this story is better than - or different than - every other query in the slush that has a similar premise.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Book Talk - DUALED by Elsie Chapman

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.

West Grayer is the last of her family.

In a world where teens have a window of opportunity to kill their Alt - a genetic copy of themselves - she's lost her brothers and sisters through violence. Even being a complete - someone who has successfully killed their Alt - didn't save her brother Luc when he went along with their mutual friend Chord for his assignment.

Now Chord is complete, and West is left in a house by herself when she gets the text - she's now Active... and her Alt is looking for her. Although she's been training her whole life to be the killer and not the killed, West doesn't have the confidence she needs to take out her Alt. She joins an underground group to become a Striker - a killer for hire who will eliminate someone else's Alt for a fee.

Strikers aren't well-loved, and West's strikes aren't the cleanest ever performed. The marks on her palms that distinguish her from the rest of the population of Kersh disgust Chord, who tries to help her see that every strike she accepts is killing time in her window of opportunity, something that her Alt isn't taking chances on.

West waits for her Alt to come to her - and finds herself face to face with a better version of herself, with colder eyes and a Striker of her own who loves her. West's bullet misses its mark, and she's left wondering if life in Kersh is a massive game of survival of the fittest... is she really the one who is supposed to live?

Chapman's debut is a tour-de-force of a world where everyone is born knowing someone else is out there training to kill them from birth. West's self-doubt fills her every action and opens up avenues into this complex character that any teen will relate to. DUALED is available from Random House Books for Young Readers.