Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

Flirting with a pretty girl takes another turn when Jake discovers she’s a shackled spirit. Irene was raised in the voodoo faith by her Haitian grandmother, but never expected to become trapped in the spirit world she grew up believing in. When Jake encounters her captor, he is forced into that same spirit world. Your opening here isn't bad, but you've got three echoes of "spirit." I would also caution you to be careful when using such a strong faith element as the backbone for your plot. If you yourself aren't a practitioner of that faith, make sure you've done your research, and get feedback from someone that is a part of that faith.

Irene’s captor, Armand, is a man who captures souls to increase his own power, but still claims to be a benevolent force. Hard to see how someone could still claim to be benevolent in this setup... Jake learns that the girl he’s falling for is fading away because she has been trapped by the sorcerer for too long. Here's some confusion on my part - is Irene existing in both worlds, ours (physically) and her soul in a spirit world? That's what I'm inferring but a slight clarification could be good. Armand has no plans to release Irene and intends to use her soul to help him end humanity’s grief. He aims to do so by capturing Baron Samedi, the voodoo god of death, and releasing the dead themselves. But doing so would ravage both worlds. Both the spiritual and physical worlds? How?

Thanks to Irene’s cunning and know-how, Jake survives the spirit world and several encounters with loa - voodoo gods who preside over everything from love to death. But the spirit world becomes chaotic and unsafe when several of the loa fall under Armand’s control. And as his plan succeeds, Jake and Irene have no choice but to act when the battle being fought in the spirit world makes its way to their home. It sounds like they were already acting, though, and that the battle being fought had already made it's way to their home?

I think what you need here is to clarify on what "ravaging both worlds" actually means, as it sounds like that's actually the biggest obstacle. Clarify what that is and how it impacts both worlds. Also, putting Jake and Irene's "no choice but to act" in the last paragraph makes it sound like they don't take action against Armand until the end, which I doubt is an accurate reflection. Figure out what the largest obstacle in the plot is, clarify whether these characters are present in one world or another (or both simultaneously), and I would also say tease out Armand's role a little bit more. What is his motivation for releasing the dead? Does he not see the "ravaging of both worlds" that would take place? Honestly, a misguided villain rather than an outright nasty one is very intriguing, but get just a touch more in there about why he wants what he wants. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: MONDAY'S NOT COMING by Tiffany D. Jackson

Monday Charles is missing, and only Claudia seems to notice. Claudia and Monday have always been inseparable—more sisters than friends. So when Monday doesn’t turn up for the first day of school, Claudia’s worried. When she doesn’t show for the second day, or second week, Claudia knows that something is wrong. Monday wouldn’t just leave her to endure tests and bullies alone. Not after last year’s rumors and not with her grades on the line. Now Claudia needs her best—and only—friend more than ever. But Monday’s mother refuses to give Claudia a straight answer, and Monday’s sister April is even less help.

As Claudia digs deeper into her friend’s disappearance, she discovers that no one seems to remember the last time they saw Monday. How can a teenage girl just vanish without anyone noticing that she’s gone?

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

CJ Redwine On Multi-Tasking

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is CJ Redwine, the New York Times bestselling author of YA fantasy novels, including The Shadow Queen, The Wish Granter, and the Defiance trilogy. If the novel writing gig ever falls through, she’ll join the Avengers and wear a cape to work every day. The Traitor Prince, third in the Ravenspire series, releases this week!

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

A planner, to a degree. I have to know the basic shape of the story and what happens at the end so I know what to aim for. I write out a long synopsis before starting the story so I can figure out the characters, the backstory, and the major turning points of the novel. Then I play connect the dots between the turning points as I write. I don’t really know what happens between those turning points until I write it. 

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

About 3 months of work before I write and then another 3 months of actual writing. 

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

I multi-task … kind of. I work hard on writing one project at a time, but I’m always doing the legwork on about 8 other projects while I’m writing my current one. I might be jotting notes on worldbuilding, tossing songs onto a playlist as I hear them, or writing out quick bits of dialogue and saving all of it to a file I can open when I’m ready to actually sit down and write that story from start to finish. 

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

I have to overcome fears every time I sit down to write. There are very few days where I sit down and think “I’m good at this. I can do this. It’s going to be great.” Most of the time, I have to tell myself “I can fix this. I just need something on the page or I won’t have anything to fix.”

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

One full draft before I was agented (several started that were never finished). And two trunked novels AFTER I was agented because they didn’t sell. 

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

Not since I got serious about being published. Now, I finish what I start.

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

My agent is Holly Root of Root Literary and she is made of unicorns, cookies, and steel. I actually queried her because a fellow writer friend was agented by her and suggested that we’d be a good fit. I queried about 10 agents in that particular pass (I always queried in small batches so I could tinker with things if I wasn’t getting results.). Nine of them said no pretty fast. Holly took another three months to reply, but when she did, she asked for a phone call to discuss the book. I nearly died of anxiety and excitement. The call went well for both of us and at the end, she offered representation, and I accepted. That was nine years ago. 

How long did you query before landing your agent? 

I queried for two years before signing with Holly. A year and a half were spent querying a book that will never (and should never! Ack!) see the light of day. Six months were spent querying the book that got Holly’s attention. 

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

Be professional online at all times (no bashing those who reject you!), query widely, and don’t be afraid to shelve a manuscript or a query that isn’t working and do something new. Also write a new project while you query. Not the sequel to what you’re querying, because if that doesn’t sell, you’ve got nothing new to send out. 

You can do this! So much of publishing, both before and after getting an agent or a contract, is basically shoveling mud out of a ditch—it’s hard, it leaves callouses, and it takes a long time before you see true progress. This is good practice for what comes next, and if you’re committed to working on improving your craft and you have the perseverance to stick it out, you won’t be in the query trenches forever. 

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

So surreal. It was both amazing and terrifying in this weird way. Like I thought maybe if I did something wrong, it would all disappear. 

How much input do you have on cover art?

Not much. I give input on initial design elements for the series as a whole, and then I give feedback on cover concepts they send my way, but thankfully there’s a team of incredibly talented people at my pub house who are far more qualified than me in creating amazing covers. They’ve been lovely to work with. I’m in awe of their skill!

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

That the more successful I become, the more afraid I am to write each new story.

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I do a lot of marketing, though my publisher does too. I just love marketing. I think it’s fun to promote books. (I own yabookscentral.com so I promote ALL the books, and it’s a blast.) I have a website, Instagram account, Twitter account, and three presences on FB: author page, regular page, and my fan group where I interact almost daily and offer sneak peeks, exclusives, giveaways, and more. 

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

I started building it before being agented. Really building a platform is just interacting in a genuine way with others who love what you love. Authors, readers, viewers of your fave tv shows and movies etc. It’s not enough to generate your own content. Social media is a give and take. It’s a conversation. So seeking out others who are doing content that interests you and interacting there (Authentically. Not popping in to say “buy my book!”) is the way to go. 

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Absolutely. As authors, we are the brand. Books change, series start and stop, but we’re the constant. So having a genuine, interesting presence on social media helps draw readers to us. 


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Wednesday WOLF

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

So, it's Valentine's Day. Hooray.

Here's a little etymology for romantic souls. The phrase wear your heart on your sleeve commonly means someone who shows their affection for others openly, without shame or caginess. This likely comes from a tradition in the Middle Ages at jousting tournaments for knights to wear a ribbon, or color, on their sleeves to signify in which lady's name they were fighting.

But if you think about someone actually having an internal organ on their outsides, it's kind of a turn off.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Dan Koboldt On The Importance Of A Mailing List

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Dan Koboldt, who has worked as a research scientist in the field of human genetics and genomics. Currently, he's a principal investigator for the Institute of Genomic Medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.  His debut novel THE ROGUE RETRIEVAL, about a Vegas stage magician who takes high-tech illusions of magic into a medieval world that has the real thing, was published by Harper Voyager on March 1st, 2016. The sequel, currently entitled THE ISLAND DECEPTION, published in February 2017, and the third in the series, THE WORLD AWAKENING, releases today!

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Oh, I’m a pantser from way back. But I prefer the term discovery writer. I don’t start a book with no plan whatsoever. When I have an idea, I work out the central premise (how it starts) and I and I usually know how it’s going to end. It’s the stuff in between that I like to figure out as I go. 

When I started, I was a pure discovery writer. That’s one of the perks of being a new writer trying to break in. I had no deadlines, no contracts, and no reason to outline anything. That changed after my first book deal. I had to learn to write a competent outline for the as-yet-unwritten future books in the series. Luckily, I discovered Larry Brooks and his StoryFix 2.0 story structure. Outlines still don’t come easily to me, but now at least I have a decent framework.  

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

I’d say it’s usually 3-4 months, assuming that one of those months is November. I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo for almost a decade, and it contributes an important boost to my writing productivity each year. I wish I could write at that pace outside of November! I really admire authors who consistently write 2,000 words a day. 

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

It’s easier for me to focus on a single project, but I rarely have that luxury. There were times this year when I was writing one project, revising a second, promoting a third, and pitching a fourth. It’s hard to keep them all straight! That being said, I’m the kind of person who enjoys multi-tasking, because not every activity stimulates me all the time. 

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

Nope. But I didn’t know what I was doing.

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

I wrote two books before The Rogue Retrieval, though I never queried them. I look at them as learning exercises that helped me become a writer. It’s always possible that I’ll go back to them someday and see if I can make them into something publishable. But it would take a lot of work, and I have newer ideas that get me more excited.

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

I’ve quit (or walked away) from a few projects, sure. Usually that happens when I look at something and realize that the emotional and physical cost of finishing them exceeds the benefit I’m likely to get in return. In other words, I decide that my time is better spent elsewhere.  

How long did you query before landing your agent?  

I researched the query process before I started, mostly because I found it fascinating. Thanks to the wonderful resources like Anne Mini’s blog (now defunct) and QueryTracker, I think I managed to avoid some of the common pitfalls of new writers. Of course, that doesn’t mean I got no rejections. I received plenty of them. If memory serves, I queried about 30 agents over the course of four months before getting an offer of representation.

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

I’m represented by Paul Stevens of Donald Maass Literary Agency. The story of how we began working together is a bit convoluted. I landed my first agent through standard querying, and she sold my book to Harper Voyager in a one-book deal. After that, I was all set, right? Well, not so much. My agent and I had a falling out shortly after that was published. 

So I didn’t have an agent, but there was an option clause in my contract specifying that my publisher got an exclusive look at my next manuscript. Which, as it happened, I’d just finished: it was the sequel to The Rogue Retrieval. I sent it to him, along with an outline for a possible book three. My editor said, “Let’s do both.”

That two-book offer put me in a rare and much-envied position for a writer seeking representation. I reached out to a handful of agents (ones I really admired) to say that I had an offer and was looking for someone to handle the contract. Paul called me that afternoon. We clicked right away. He was familiar with my imprint at Voyager and knew it wasn’t a big money deal, but he offered anyway. 

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

The first thing I’ll say is that you’re not alone. Many of my writer friends whose work I admire are in the query trenches with you. I always encourage writers to query widely, and not to set their heart on one particular agent or agency. Keep querying until you find an agent who loves your book as much as you do. And while you’re doing that, write another book. Not a sequel, but a different book that you can query if the first one doesn’t find a home.

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

The moment for me was when I opened up a surprise package from my publisher, and found my advance copies inside. That was a great moment, and I’ve had many others since. Every time I see my book at a bookshop or in the library, I get the same thrill. I also get it when someone new reaches out to let me know they read and enjoyed my book.  

How much input do you have on cover art?

My publisher has been very good about this, and asked for suggestions. For The Rogue Retrieval, developed the concept art from a stock art image I’d suggested. Their cover artist does amazing work with the art, layout, and coloring. For The Island Deception, my editor sent me two different cover concepts. I loved them both, so I asked them to save one for book three. It turned out to be my favorite of them all.  

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

The kindness of strangers! So many people who didn’t owe me anything showed up to support my books. Obviously, my family and friends have always gone out of their way to help, but it surprised me how often strangers would lend a hand, too. Book reviewers are a great example. These people volunteer their time to read and review books, often on short notice. They’re the unsung heroes of the publishing industry, in my opinion. Several of them reviewed each of my books as they came out, simply because I asked. I’m a little surprised, and very grateful.

How much of your own marketing do you? 

I do most of it, which is the case for many authors. In 2016, the year The Rogue Retrieval came out, Harper Voyager published more than 70 titles. They have done a great deal to get the word out about my books, but they’ll never have as much time or dedication to them as I will. 

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

I think authors should not devote much effort to platform until they have not only an agent, but also a book deal. Until then, you don’t know for certain that you’re going to need a platform. Furthermore, you may not want to establish your brand until you know what your debut novel might be. 

For writers who haven’t gotten that far yet, it’s more important to focus on (1) writing, and (2) engaging the community. The latter is especially important so that you have a support network as you move forward in your publishing career. Some of my closest friends – and most ardent supporters – are writers I met before I broke in. Don’t worry about platform too early. Instead, find your tribe.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

No. I think social media helps you engage your readership (hence the word social). It offers a wonderful, powerful tool to connect authors with the people who read their books. However, contrary to popular opinion, most people do not get their book recommendations from their social media feeds. Maybe if you’re fun and interesting online, someone is more likely to take a chance on your book. Word of mouth and reviews are far more powerful drivers of book sales.

Once there is a relationship (i.e. once a person buys your book), social media is a great tool to develop it. The reader enjoys access to an author whose work they admire. The author gets the comforting reassurance that someone out there read his book and cared about it. That’s a powerful thing. Social media is also useful for notifying fans about price promotions and future releases. 

It’s important to recognize that when you don’t pay to use an online service, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. Companies like Facebook and Twitter are making it increasingly difficult to reach your followers without paying for that privilege. They’re in this to make money, after all, not to serve humanity. Authors should thus focus on getting social media followers onto their mailing list. That’s the only way to guarantee that you can reach your fans when you need to. 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

In Syrendale, citizens find their mate at the Maiden Night Ball, and sparks fly through the air each time a match is made. But at the age of eighteen, life for one daughter from each family holds a different fate. The daughters selected as their family’s Maiden give themselves to the sea and transform into the noble creatures that guard Syrendale’s shores. This is good - you're setting up your world and while the hook isn't necessary splashy, it's effective. The tiniest tweak is to maybe indicate how many families there are, or how many girls become Syrens.

Bookish Verabelle Chetworth is more comfortable immersed in the world of a story than she is in real life. Verabelle is pinned their family’s Maiden, but at the last minute her protective older sister Ameryst suddenly and without explanation volunteers to take the pin for her, leaving false evidence behind to suggest she took the noble leap. I'm not understanding about the false evidence that is left behind... The unveiling of Ameryst’s escape prompts a search for her throughout the land and the family’s obligation remains unfulfilled, leaving Verabelle to confront her insecurities and summon up the bravery that will be required to step off the cliffs of Syrendale during her Maiden Night Ball.

Okay, so Ameryst says she'll be the person to become a Syren, in place of her sister but it's not an immediate thing... so she makes it seem like she made this sacrifice, but actually she just split. Because there are Hunger Games overtones here, I felt like this would be more of an immediate thing - Ameryst is tossed off a cliff, or dragged to the sea, without getting the chance to leave behind false evidence... or anything whatsoever. You need to get that clarification in there, otherwise it's a bit confusing.

As Maiden Night approaches, Verabelle discovers an eerie connection between Syrendale and the world of one of her stories. A world trapped under a vengeful curse, where a sacrifice of women’s lives is hidden under a fairytale sheen. When Ameryst returns and confirms her worst fears are true, Verabelle must decide if she is brave enough to find a way to save herself and those she loves from the Maiden’s macabre fate.

LITTLE WOMEN meets BROTHERS GRIMM, young adult fantasy THE BRAVEST OF THEM ALL combines the bonds and trials of sisterhood within the context of a dark fairytale conflict and setting. It is told in the alternating viewpoints of Verabelle and her two sisters and is complete at 74,000 words. I hold a B.A. in Creative Writing, work as a literacy coach in urban schools, and am a wife and mother to three. I write while my children sleep in Southeastern Wisconsin, amidst the finest cheeses and beers in the Midwest.

Honestly, this is in great shape except for that little clarification snag. Best of luck querying!

Friday, February 9, 2018

Book Talk & Giveaway: AKATA WITCH & AKATA WARRIOR by Nnedi Okorafor

Sunny is an albino Nigerian who was born in New York City. When her parents return to their home country Sunny doesn't fit in for a lot of reasons. 1) She's an albino 2) She's perceived as an American and 3) She keeps seeing the end of the world inside candle flames.

Sunny is smart enough to keep this information to herself, but her odd qualities draw the attention of Orlu and Chichi, fellow students at her public school who are Leopard People (magical folk) and suspect Sunny may be as well. Although years behind in training and study, Sunny is distinct even in the magical realm of Leopard Knocks. She's a "free agent," a Leopard person born of two non-magical parents.

And no, Leopard Knocks isn't Hogwarts. Not even close. Instead of flying around on broomsticks and throwing balls through hoops the adult champions of this magical realm fight each other to the death in a yearly entertainment spectacle. The winner is the winner, the loser is... a saint. And going to your next class isn't as simple as looking at your schedule and manipulating moving staircases. The path to their teacher's hut is a test in itself, one that could kill them if not traveled properly. This is a place where group work is rewarded by everyone surviving to the next day and your juju knife chooses you not by obeying your commands but by slicing your hand open when you reach into a bag.

So why are children being subjected to these tests? To drive them into a sacred bond, as they have been selected by fate to bring down a serial killer. Black Hat Otokoto has been kidnapping Nigerian children and returning them minus eyes and ears. He's gathering black magic to him in order to call up a dark spirit whose power will unleash the vision that Sunny has seen in the candles. Sunny has a limited amount of time to harness the power she's inherited through her Grandmother's spirit line to stop him from succeeding and bringing about the end of the world.

Enter the Rafflecopter below to win both AKATA WITCH and the sequel AKATA WARRIOR!

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