Thursday, June 30, 2011

Going up *Ding* with guest Bree Ogden

Photo courtesy of William Freeman
Superstar agent with Martin Literary Management, Bree Ogden is stopping by YAtopia today to talk about Elevator Pitches. Take note peoples as next week you can Elevator Pitch Bree right here!

The Elevator Pitch

A few months ago I was sitting in a dimly lit parlor with a very distinguished editor and my client. As the time came to discuss my client’s manuscript, both my client and I were ready to launch into full blown, overly-hyped, you’ve-never-seen-anything-like-it-before-in-your-life type of pitches. This editor, being the smart woman that she is must have sensed this and preemptively halted us by leaning in close and saying: “What’s your elevator pitch?”

Eek! I looked at my client and we both messed with our words a bit before we were able to come up with something decent.

It’s called an elevator pitch because you have that short elevator ride to pitch one of the most important things in your life, to one of the most important people in the industry; and once that person gets off the elevator, your shot is over.

Intuitively, you think you don’t need to practice your elevator pitch because, after all, who knows your manuscript better than you? Of course you can boil it down to a few sentences if asked to on the fly.

Wrong, no, and absolutely not.

It is true that a lot of the time, when looking for an agent or editor, you will have an entire query letter to court them. But everyone should have a perfected elevator pitch not only for those rare moments when you meet face to face with that one person who can make your dreams come true but also because you need to have a solid sense of what your manuscript boils down to. If you cannot come up with that, it’s quite possible your manuscript doesn’t boil down to anything and that calls for some serious revisions.

During an elevator pitch you want to be clear, concise and captivating in 2-4 sentences. Things that are good to mention: genre/market, main character, basic plot, and conflict. Then leave it off with a little intrigue.

Example of an elevator pitch:

My speculative fiction, young adult manuscript hurls the main character, 16-year-old Suzy, into a post-disease ridden London where adults have all lost their sanity. Suzy has to provide for her younger sibling while trying to make it across the English countryside to a safehouse she’s not sure even exists. She meets two men who play very pivotal roles in her journey: one good, one bad. She has to learn whom she can trust and whom she should just use for her and her sibling’s survival.

Remember, you’re not selling a used car. You don’t want to sound too eager or disingenuous.

Some Helpful Tips:

1. Don’t waste your time talking about anything outside of your novel, i.e., telling the agent/editor how great you think they are, talking about your purpose for writing the manuscript or the manuscript’s back-story, etc. Focus on the story. Nothing else matters—your age, your background—right now it is just about the story.

2. Think of your story in terms of what your character does that drives the plot to move along.

3. Make sure to mention the main conflict.

4. Cut out useless information, namely comparisons. It’s a waste of time to sit there and compare your novel to other books or movies and not really explain the plot.

5. Don’t worry about information like word count, page number, etc.

6. Structure the pitch in the same order that the manuscript follows. Don’t jump around. For example, starting with the end when the girl finds her destiny, then jumping to the beginning when she is starting high school, then jumping to the major conflict then back to the end. That shows that you aren’t familiar with your own book, you’re just throwing out plot points.

7. If in person—do not um and uhh and just generally forget what your story is about. That’s why practice is KEY!

8. Don’t focus on how great other people tell you your manuscript is, or how different and page-turning you think it is. PLOT! PLOT! PLOT! Tell us about the plot. I cannot stress that enough.

So many people try to tell me in three sentences that all their friends think their manuscript is better than Hunger Games and that it is filled with twists and turns and is fast-paced and I’ve never seen anything like it…

Well. Okay. But what is it about?

Remember these three things:

Be Concise:

Perfect your pitch in a few sentences, or spoken out loud in about 20-30 seconds.

Be Accurate/Clear:

Really consider your elevator pitch then pitch people who have never read your manuscript. When you’re done, ask them what they think your book is about. If they are pretty close, then you know your pitch is accurate and clear.

Be Captivating:

Are you hitting the strongest points of your manuscript? Are they the triggers? Are they going to make the listener wonder and want to know more?

I hope this helped. I can’t wait to read your elevator pitches next week. Take this week to reread your novel and get to know it like a best friend. Then and only then will you be able to start developing an elevator pitch for your manuscript.

Bree represents manuscripts in the childrens/YA and graphic novel genres. She especially loves working with middle grade and YA.

Bree’s wish list:

A strong Sci-fi MG/YA

A Dexter-ish type YA black comedy

A manuscript written in the era of Mad Men with panache and style

YA nonfiction

Speculative fiction grounded in reality

*I am no longer looking to represent YA paranormal or fantasy. Unless it blows me out of the water!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

*tap, tap, tap* Is this thing on?

Grinning, I plop down on the couch next to my sister. She raises her eyebrows so they almost look like question marks.

"I got a query rejection today," I say, still smiling like I used to on ice-cream day in kindergarten.

Her eyebrows now fall into a crease. She knows query rejections are usually followed by chocolate consumption, wallowing and/or a glass or three of wine. She is probably wondering if I've finally snapped. "Why are you --" she begins but, in my excitement, I interrupt.

"The agent said she recognized my name from Twitter and blogs."

"Oh," she says. It's all she needs to say. Because she's supported me on my writing journey since day one - and because she's my sister - she understands.


I put a lot of effort into my social media presence and I often sing the praises of twitter and blogging for writers. But even I have doubts sometimes. Is anybody really paying attention or am I just talking to myself on here?

So that little line in that email from the agent? It was like a warm wind filling my sails after several days of stagnant air. Yes, it's such a small thing to get excited about, but we really must celebrate even the tiniest of victories on this long obstacle-laden journey - if only to fend off cabin fever.

Critics will point out that I was still rejected. While that's true, I received a personalized email with a specific reason as to why. Which, as any querying writer will tell you, is golden.

What's my point? It's the same one I've been making all along: Social media can truly have a positive impact on your writing career, even before a book deal. It's worth it; someone is paying attention.

In the spirit of this post I invite all of you to post your social media links below - and to follow, interact with, encourage, build relationships with each other. I'll start.

Twitter @sarah_nicolas
My blog at
My tumblr

And if you do go over to my blog today, I'm talking about a new interactive blog project I'm pretty excited about!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Lovin' The Language Blogfest

I'm participating in my first blogfest! My friend and critique partner, Jolene, is hosting a Lovin' The Language Blogfest. Since I'm a language lover, I knew I had to participate in this one. All you have to do is share your favorite lines from a book you wrote or one of your favorite reads. Check out Jolene's blog HERE to see more of the participants!

First, I'm going to share two of my favorites from the book I just finished, LET'S GET PHYSICAL. It's about a girl who's tired of being put down because of her weight. Ready to take control of her life, she hires a personal trainer at the gym, who just happens to be a gorgeous, eighteen-year-old boy. On the surface, he's everything negative that pushed her here in the first place and she has a hard time trusting him, but soon she realizes he's so much more than that.

* "Something inside me almost…shifts. It’s like my eyes have been pried open and I see him. I’m really seeing him for the first time. Not the gorgeous boy, the flirty boy, the one who has girls checking him out left and right. No, I’m seeing him."

* "His words are my life boat. He throws them out to me and my instinct is to grab on, to let myself float to safety on them. Tegan always knows how to make me feel buoyant, as though just by him thinking I’m beautiful, or because he likes to be with me, I could make it to shore even without the boat. But what happens when he’s not here? He can’t always be here."

DIZZY is a collaboration Jolene and I wrote together. It's alternating point of view. She wrote the girl, Ziah, and I wrote the boy, Dylan. It's rich, snarky, spoiled boy who meets smart, sensible and snarky girl. Though he definitely gets a lot of girls, he's never fallen for one the way he is, Ziah. It confuses and freaks him--especially since he's seen how loving someone can leave you crushed.

* "My stomach constricts because I MIGHT HAVE WANTED IT TO BE A DATE. I mean, what is that? Dates lead to commitment and commitment leads to temporary insanity and temporary insanity leads to full on mental illness, picking out china patterns, choosing places to get married in and ends with two fucked-in-the head sons and a dad trying to hold it together when he’s just as fucked in the head as they are. So no, I definitely don’t want it to have been a date."

* "It is like a punch to the gut—no a punch to the head that knocks me out and then all of a sudden I wake up and I'm not in the dark anymore. I realized it before, but not until this moment did I comprehend how much I like this girl. That I actually want to give her those things she wants."

* "Sometimes there’s something so big in your life, something so monumental that you make up all these different life-altering reasons that it happened. Really the truth isn’t something big at all. Sometimes there aren’t reasons. There doesn’t have to be. Sometimes, things just are."

Lastly, if you liked these, feel free to stop by my personal blog HERE. I shared a few different lines from each book there as well :).

Saturday, June 25, 2011

I Am Indie. Hear Me Roar.

The world of publishing is changing practically every day. We've seen the rise of e-books, self-published authors (okay, really only one so far), and independent publishers. And in my opinion we're starting to see the decline of the traditional publishing methods.

Self-publishing used to be and may still be considered less "reputable" and less "impressive". But more and more writers who self-publish are taking the time and making the effort to put out high quality products, and are experiencing moderate success. I actually briefly thought about self-publishing a book a couple of years ago, and many friends gave me funny looks and hurled negative opinions about that method at me. And I agreed with them, but having read some really great self-published works, my opinion has changed. I've educated myself and have found great books by some great authors. It's kind of like the blogosphere, really. There are a few bad seeds that attract more attention than the good ones, resulting in a bad name.

The next publishing route that is quickly growing is having a book published through a smaller publisher, or also known as an "independent" publisher. I myself am signed with one (Pendrell Publishing) and so is our very own Kelley York (Entangled Publishing). I really think indie publishers have it going on, so to speak. They all seem to have a hands-on approach and allow the authors to have the same involvement. I've learned a lot from being with Pendrell and I wouldn't want it any other way :-D. And I think this personal interaction is what's drawing people in and the amount of involvement an author can have. The bigger houses still play a major role in publishing and are still great companies, but there's something about indie publishing that's taking root and growing.

In my opinion, readers don't really care who publishes a book just as long as the book itself is good. And isn't that all that matters? A good book is a good book, right?

So, what are your thoughts on self-publishing and smaller publishers? Does it matter to you who a book is published by?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Writers are a strange breed

Writers are a strange breed of people sometimes to those outside of the industry. Although it's an area of creativity, there are also a lot of protocols that are followed on a traditional publishing path. Oh course there are always people who forge new paths, like our own YAtopian's Leigh and Wendy who are leading the way in publication success through writers' communities.

But there are some standard things, like both Leigh and Wendy have agents. A writer's time needs to be focused on the creation of prose, not the ins and outs of contracts. There are people out there who think agents are out there to get a slice of the writer's success. What they don't realise is that more often than not the agent is integral to the author's success. That's why writers stalk agents on twitter, dream of getting a chance to talk to them at conferences and occasionally do crazy things like turn up at the agent's office (which is a BIG no no).

Lay people also talk to me about self publishing. Someone asked me why would I want to share the profits with a publisher. Well, why would I want to struggle to get distribution, be solely responsible for my marketing and have to hire a professional editor (or run the risk of there being holes in my manuscript). Yes there are a few people that have made successes of themselves by self publishing. But even they will often jump at the change to sign with a traditional publisher.

There are friends, family and acquaintances who know I write and I get asked why I'm not published yet. The general public often don't grasp just how long it can take to write and revise a story to start off with (especially when your a working mum like me), let alone how long the road can be to finding the right agent and the right publisher.

Networking is so important nowadays in the publishing industry - I think that's because it's populated by a lot of social butterflies in part. I often get comments about how much time I spend on Twitter, Facebook and inkpop. I know it's discouraged to spend too much time on there pre-publication, but I also believe it's important to build a strong platform and a following if you can. I write best away from the house, or late at night when everyone else is asleep, so the time I spend on there isn't time I would otherwise be spending writing anyway (well that's the theory of it). Then there's conferences. So many connections can be made there and it can become like a second family. Often my online second family are also called my imaginary friends from those who just don't get social networking.

So to outsiders we can have our quirks, or seem misguided, but a writer with passion who has researched the industry well knows the right path and follows it to reach their dream.

So aspiring and published writers - what's the biggest learning curve you've had in your journey so far?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

This book is AWESOME! This book SUCKS!

Ahh yes.  I’m at that time in my writing career where I’m sitting back biting my nails and waiting for the first trickle of reviews to come in on debut novel.  There isn’t much that could compare to the terror, other than perhaps going to collect your High School / Secondary School final exams results.  Results that ultimate set you on your path to your future, or swipe it all away from you before you take your first unsure step.
I’ve never really put much thought into reviews before.  I was always a pleasure reader, either I liked a book or I didn’t.  But now that people’s thoughts of my book can make or break my fledgling career, reviews suddenly have a whole new meaning.
The problem with reviews is that every reader is so different.  One person delight is another person’s poison.  The more I read into reviews, and the people that do them, the more I realize that there are very few bad books out there.  There are only books that we think are bad, but in actual fact, thousands of others will love. 
Goodreads is a perfect place to go to see this love/hate dynamic in action.  If you look at the lists for the BEST book ever written, there holding number one spot is Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer.  Now look at the next list, The WORST book ever written, and do my eyes deceive me? What is number one on the list? You’ve guessed it… Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer.
I find this both funny and stomach settling.  The way I see it a bad review isn’t exactly a reflection on my book, it’s a reflection of that reviewer’s taste and just a simple case of my book falling into the wrong hands… actually, not so much wrong, but more like, not the perfect hands.  I think as authors the best we can hope for is that the people destined to love our book get their mitts on it so that the good review can tip the balance in the right direction. 
The other thing to remember is that a good review isn’t always the best thing and a bad review isn’t always the worst thing.  There are some book reviewers out there who’s taste in books I wouldn't be too hot on.  They’ve read, reviewed, and loved books that I’ve read and really disliked, so when they LOVE a book it can in fact turn me off it.  It’s a funny old world this book reviewing business.
People have told me over and over again, DO NOT READ YOUR BAD REVIEWS.  I of course ignore this bit of advice.  As soul crushing as negative words can be about your beloved book, there are pearls of advice in each and every review, something to be learned, even if it’s just to ensure your next book doesn’t get into the reviewer’s claws. *WINK*
Have a good day my friends.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Romance & mini review for WITH OR WITHOUT YOU

Romance is pretty much a staple in YA books these days.

Oh, sure, you can find books where the main character doesn't have a love interest, or even where romance isn't a main aspect of the story. But if you compared the number of books with romantic plots versus non-romantic, I think the scale would be tipping toward the former.

I'm not saying this is a bad thing. These are teen books, and a majority of teens are dealing and thinking about this kind of stuff a lot.

They have boyfriends/girlfriends they love, hate, that they date because 'why not? it's the thing to do'. Some date for social status, some date because they think their boyfriend/girlfriend will be easy (or because they're not). Some think they can't live without their significant others, some are more logical (like I was) and realize this is unlikely to be a forever thing, but why not enjoy it while it lasts?

Sometimes kids don't date at all, either for religious (or parental) reasons or simply because they aren't interested. (And that does happen. I had two close friends who never dated anyone all through high school, and it wasn't because no one wanted to date them.)

Some kids date the same person on and off, over and over again, until their friends roll their eyes and say, "Why bother breaking up? You're just going to get back together again." (I had friends like this, too.)

Couples stay together for days, weeks, months, years. Some are committed to the same person through all of high school, others go through significant others every other day of the week.

My point being, there is such a huge variety of relationships out there amongst teens. Drama-filled and not, true love and not. My disappointment with a lot of YA romance is that so much of it is of the one true love variety. While this is fine and good once in awhile, I do wish there were more. Some aspect to leave me wondering will they or won't they? Because so many of the books I pick up are predictable. Maybe they're filled with fascinating and unique plot twists and concepts, sure, but the romantic element, from the time the love interest steps into the picture, is always clear. In the TWILIGHT saga, I never had any doubt who Bella would end up with.

There are so few exceptions. BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE is one that comes to mind. Not only was the ending surprising as far as the romance goes, it was completely natural and had me going, "oh! I hadn't expected that, but it makes perfect sense!" another one was FEED, which was shocking and heartbreaking all at once.

In my own writing, I do try to strive for some sense of realism. My books aren't heavy on the romance, but there always is a romantic element. But it's more plot pushing the romance along rather than the other way around.

I like gritty, I like real. I like couples arguing and breaking up, I like growth. The two who split up because, despite loving each other, things just aren't working. And if, later down the line, the two of them have grown up, matured, and worked past these issues? Then getting back together seems all the more romantic to me. Overcoming obstacles! Defeating co-dependency! Go team!

Sometimes? Having the pair who you just know is meant to be together no matter what happens? That's okay. But when it becomes the norm in YA, the effect of it weakens. Choose your one-true-love-at-all-costs carefully.

What say all of you? Do you prefer your stories with Happily Ever Afters, or do you like to mix it up? Any books you'd recommend because the relationship(s) were just that unique and fun/exciting/heartbreaking to read?

Recommend some heartbreaking books to me! I love them!


Also, starting my mini-reviews... This week is:


Eighteen year-old Evan and his best friend Davis get beaten up for being loners. For being gay. For just being themselves. But as rough as things often seem, at least Evan can take comfort in his sweet, sexy boyfriend Erik–whom he’s kept secret from everyone for almost a year.

Then Evan and Davis are recruited to join the Chasers, a fringe crowd that promises them protection and status. Davis is swept up in the excitement, but Evan is caught between his loyalty to Davis and his love for Erik. Evan’s lied to keep his two worlds separate. Now his lies are about to implode…and destroy the very relationships he’s been trying to protect.

Great romance. Bittersweet ending (heartbreaking and amazing all at once) and fantastic characters. Gritty, real, beautifully written. No real problems with this book aside from wishing they'd included more about the Chasers. More defining moments to ramp up tension. But I never found myself bored. Definitely one of my favorite reads of the year.

Kelley Vitollo also did a (much more thorough) review on this book.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Oh My Gosh, You Guys! Guess What???

I’m getting published! For real, for real! As of Thursday, I can finally say that. Do you know what it’s like to keep exciting news to yourself for nearly a year? Let me tell you. It’s hard.

Ten months ago I was contacted by an editor at HarperCollins Publishing about my book, Sweet Evil (titled Angel Prophecy at the time). The editor had read my manuscript after making it to the top five on, a website run by HarperCollins, geared toward readers and writers of Young Adult Literature.

When I was contacted, nobody told me not to say anything. My first instinct was to sprint to the inkpop forums and cyber-scream, “OhMyGoshYouGuys!GuessWhat???” but something told me I better not. Possibly the fact that there was no contract offered at that point…and how embarrassing would that have been? I told a couple of very close writer friends who’d beta read my story at several stages, and I knew I could trust them with my secret. When the offer did come, it came with the request to keep quiet until they decided on an opportune time to announce, and I respected that. But in the meantime, something funny happened. I met Leigh Fallon.

I was invited by Kelley Vitollo to start a group blog, our own YAtopia. While brainstorming other possible contributors, we knew Sharon Johnston and Leigh Fallon were active on their own personal blogs, and they both agreed to join. We did the cursory get-to-know you questions, and I noticed Leigh’s statements about her status in the publication process were very vague. We knew she’d had an agent for some time, and she claimed to have “promising prospects,” *wink, wink*, which was exactly what I was telling people. I knew from buzz on inkpop, and an offhand comment from my editor, that there was an inkpop book acquisitioned before mine. So, naturally, I became suspicious and put on my hound dog nose to snoop.

After some back and forth emails, without ever mentioning inkpop or HarperCollins, Leigh Fallon and I totally figured one another out! We were like giddy school girls at that point. Finally, we weren’t alone! We had someone who could truly understand how it felt to be in that silent debut author place. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but agents and editors simply don’t have time to coddle new authors and give us constant updates and reassurances. Leigh came along at the exact time when I really needed a big sister to hold my hand and walk with me. Because, as strange as it might sound, achieving such a far-fetched dream is a scary place to be. And earning publication through a non-traditional means makes it even more frightening.
I had not expected my insecurities as a writer to increase after getting a contract. There are so many things I didn’t anticipate about the publishing world. Maybe someday I’ll expand, but for now I just want to thank Leigh for graciously answering countless questions, making me laugh, and being a strong sounding board these past six months. I would say it was a crazy coincidence that she and I met through this blog while we were both under a gag-order, but after so many “coincidences” in my life, I’ve stopped believing in them. J

(My apologies if I don't respond to your comments until late in the day. I'm traveling from Texas to Virginia today.)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Violence vs Sex in YA

My post is a day late - don't hate me! But as my way of saying sorry, I bring a discussion. Please participate, even if you don't really have an opinion.

So, recently it has been plaguing me that within YA books these days, sex scenes are taboo, but violence is okay. What kind of world do we want to bring our children up in, or do you want to grow up in, where hurting someone is seen as everyday, but talking about sex or having sex or thinking about sex is bad?

There are a lot of different opinions about this. We have the thought that not every teen is thinking about or having sex. Which is a fair enough point except most teens are a bundle of pulsating hormones that means even if they're not doing it, they're most definitely wondering about it and thinking about it. Do we want teens to read about sex from pornos? To only learn about the mechanics of it in sex education? Or can they read about other people in their situation and how their first times, second times, whole sexual relationships can be?

An opposition to this would be that these books are fiction. They're made up from someone's fantasy, someone's mind. Maybe sex is romanticised. Maybe books give teen girls the impression that guys are perfect and will treat you well during your first time and will want to be with you after. They give a false sense that sex means happily ever after. But what about the books where it shows that sex isn't everything? That you should wait? Because while there are definitely books that might briefly touch upon a young couple moving to the next step and it being perfect, there are also the books that show girls choosing to have sex too early, too unprepared for it.

And yet we have violence. We have books that happily show kids dying (The Hunger Games, for example) or parents dying (Harry Potter) or even scenes where innocent strangers die or supernatural bad guys. Scenes where bodies are torn limb to limb and blood is drained and people are bitten and mauled. We describe blood and sometimes guts and most definitely wounds - both physical and mental. But when it comes to sex, we often fade to black.

So, let me ask you a question, how disappointed would you be, reading a YA book these days, if your kick-butt heroine comes up against her nemesis and just as they rush at each other, the scene fades to black, only to reopen with the heroine briefly looking back at it and only explaining her emotions throughout but giving no detail?

There is a huge difference between going overboard and writing every detail of a fictional couple's first time in bed. But there are ways to do scenes tastefully and without in depth detail. Ways to let the reader know what's happening, while giving them the chance to use their imagination. Why and how has it become okay that kids can read about violence but not sex? And whose fault is this? Why do authors shy away from writing it or editors shy away from publishing it?

What do you think?

*I would like to make it clear that I am not a sex perv, nor am I seriously offended by the fact that sex is seen as taboo in YA. I just thought it would be an interesting discussion*

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Stand Out in the Slush

As many of you know, in April I launched Sift, a group book review blog with a twist: we only review self-published sci-fi and fantasy novels. (Shameless plug: If you have an eReader and want to get the skinny on no less than 16 self-pubbed SFF books per month, I'd appreciate a follow on the Sift blog!)

And it's kind of like a slush pile.

As editor, I review every submission that comes in, checking it against our submission guidelines before forwarding it to the requested reviewer. I'm starting to understand some of the things that irk agents to the point where they complain on their blogs and twitter so I thought I'd share some of these insights with you.

1) Follow the blasted submission guidelines!

I know, I know. We all know this. Still, there are globs of writers who brush them off. These aren't arbitrary; they're designed to help us get through the slush as efficiently as possible. I personally receive about 20 submissions every month. I can review 2.

I suppose I could slog through the ten pages of editorial statements, philisophical discussions, quotes from people whom I don't know, links to "more information," etc to find the half-page worth of info I actually need. Or I could decline your submission, read through two other submissions where the guidelines are followed, accept them for review, walk my dog, write a page of my own and get ready for work. Which do you think I'll choose?

2) Genre matters

Our website says - in no less than four places - we only take works with elements of science fiction and fantasy. You could have the best blessed women's fiction novel ever written on any planet that ever existed and have a raving review signed in blood by Oprah herself and we still wouldn't be interested. And neither would our readers.

3) No Attacments, No Exceptions

Y'all are writers so you get this: My laptop is my life. If anything happened to it I would ...

Then hunt down whoever was responsible and show them what the true meaning of pain is.

I see every unsolicited attachment as a potential virus. When I say "Any unsolicited attachments will be deleted unread" I mean... well, I mean I'll send you a nice email asking you to take a look at our submission guidelines once again but I'm still kinda new at this so I can't promise what will happen when I become more jaded.

4) Yes, your first chapter is important...

But so is the rest of the book! I see SOOOO many books where the summary and first chapter are perfect: no typos, writing with impact, great dialogue. But then? It falls apart.

Grammar and spelling mistakes on every page. Repetitive sentence structure. Stilted dialogue.

I know what has happened here. You've heard that the first chapter is essential to selling the book, so you put it through the ringer. Beta readers, online critique boards, maybe even a professional editor.

But why not for the rest of the book? Either you: are lazy? or don't care about any point past but getting the sale? Either way, I don't want to read your book. And I imagine an agent doesn't want to work with you.

When writers read blogs, we see a lot of "don't do this, don't do that" kind of language. I hope I've helped you understand a little more about why they say these things. AND I hope the lolcats have helped lessen the sting of my tough love :-)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Words you LOVE

Okay, I'm totally being a copycat here, but Wendy's post on Saturday about words people hate, got me thinking about words I love. Or not even words, but phrases or actions, too.

I think it's really easy to have "fall back" words. Words you love and are comfortable with and tend to use a lot in writing. It's a trap that is so easy to get into. I've been there myself. So much that I've started to use the "find" function for some of those well-used words and phrases.

One of the words I realize I use a lot is lame. I don't know what it is, but anything I don't like is lame. My characters seem to think things are lame too. So much so that they say it all the time. How lame is that? Okay, totally bad joke there. Ignore me. I'm typing this late at night after being up early.

Another one I love is totally. I "totally" think, say, do, or feel a lot of things (and you should be proud because I kept myself from using a totally joke there). It's hard not to make my characters "totally" think, say, do or feel things too.

Ah, and those pesky smiles. Sometimes, I think I must write the shiniest, happiest people around for how often they, "look at him and smile" Or how it feels when someone "looks at me and smiles". Enough with the smiles already! Do people really smile that much? And maybe it's not a bad thing to smile a lot, but bad when I want to tell the reader about every, little smile! LOL.

So, what are some of your favorite words? Even if you're not a writer, what words are just you. For those writers out there, any phrases or actions you have to search for and cut?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Words You Hate

We all have those words that make us cringe or go "Ew!" when we hear or read them. I'm not even talking about vulgar or inappropriate words, necessarily, but regular, everyday words that spark a negative reaction in us. Leigh Fallon and I are both creeped out by the word "moist." (I'm not sure what Leigh's reason is, but the nasty grandmother on The Nutty Professor ruined that word for me years ago!) Unless we're talking about cake, I try to avoid moist stuff, LOL.

Part of it is a maturity thing. I still giggle on the inside at some uses of the words "balls," "nuts," and "weiner." And I can't stand "barf" or "ralph," although any other vomit-related words are fine. I wasn't going to share my least favorite word of all time, but I'm feeling open at the moment. Here goes...I absolutely cannot stand the word "boner." Thankfully, I rarely hear it anymore these days. Blech!

I got this idea for a post because one of my beta readers, Evie, recently scratched "interjected" from my manuscript, saying, "Ew, don't use this word--it's just one of those words. *shivers*."  I thought that was so funny, because interjected is a totally fine word by me.

Your turn to share! What words make you shudder?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Writing with constraints

For me, my normal writing story is - concept comes to me, spend time obsessing over concept, do a little bit of plotting and then write. Sometimes with short stories I'll try writing to a theme if there's a competition or an anthology. But I often find that my creative juices don't like constraints. I once had a brilliant idea for an anthology submission that revolved around rain, but my mind was stubborn and the words refused to come.

But then a brilliant opportunity came my way. The editor of The Australian Literary Review invited me to write for an anthology with 12 writers, and me being only one of two contributors who were not already established novelists. That was an offer too good to refuse. I mean, who wouldn't want to write with Michael White, who is writing with James Patterson.

Don't despair - you'll find a way to write it!
The anthology is called CHESTER LEWIS and the concept is that each author writes a chapter that is dedicated to a certain decade of his life, from the details of his birth through to his 11th decade (yes he makes it to 110!) I wrote the sixth story, when he is in his fifties.

That meant I had to read the first five stories and ensure my story aligned. Yikes! What a task! I've never struggled so much to get 4,000 words out - even though I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

Here is what I did to help me write this:

  1. Read and take notes. I had to list the important facts about his life, and take note of the potential foreshadowing the other writes had laid down.
  2. Write it from a POV that works for me. What do I know about a 50 year old man apart from my father? Hmm, not much. So instead I wrote from the POV of a young female journalist who was interviewing the title character.
  3. Set myself small writing goals. My normally writing sessions produce 1,000 words at a time in roughly an hour. For this one, I was happy to get out a few 100 words at a time.
  4. Reread the preceding stories as I wrote. Often I would catch something new that would help inspire words.

So have you ever written anything challenging? How did you overcome it?

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011

    Edits, Editing, & Editors - Tuesday Twaddle with Leigh

    I'm in the throes of editing the second book in The Carrier series.  I have to admit, I'd forgotten how painful the first flush of editing can be - seeing all those scribbles covering your beloved manuscript, lines drawn through some of your favorite lines, deleted with a simple strike of a pen.  I've been here before, so I know the pain is short lived.  As soon as you actually get beyond the haze of offending scribbles you realise that the changes work and your manuscript is the better for them. 

    I enjoy the editing process.  The stage I'm at now is with my agent, just getting my manuscript prepped for my editor in the hopes of impressing her enough to want it.  It's critical I get it right, and if I do, I'll be starting all over again with her edits and suggestions, complete with smiley faces and winks. If I don't, I'll have to sign up for an origami class to deal with all the wasted paper.

    It really amazes me every time, but editors are critical to a good story.  We as writers get so wrapped up in the world we are describing and the characters that we love, or love to hate, that we can lose our critical eye, you know, the one we reserve for our critique partners and beta reads.  The fresh eye of an editor with their finger on the YA pulse is essential for making your story a page turner that sells.

    Erica Sussman
    On Wednesday 8th of June, I'm doing a live chat on inkpop, Harperteen's website for aspiring authors.  I'll be joined by my editor, Erica Sussman, editor to New York Times bestselling titles like Paranormalcy, by Kiersten White, The Wings Series, by Aprilynne Pike and The Warriors Series, by Erin Hunter.  We will be doing the live chat for one hour.  If you have any questions about the editing process, or what a top editor in a major publishing house is looking for, well here's your chance.  Make time in your calendar for this amazing opportunity.

    If you're not going to be around for the live chat, you can always post your question on the chat forum and we'll see that your question is answered.  Check out the forum here.

    Good luck with your editing guys, and hopefully we'll talk on Wednesday.

    Now, back to my editing.

    Monday, June 6, 2011

    Big news and reviews!

    This year is flying by. Seriously? It's already June? That means YAtopia has been up and kicking for six months now.

    Today I have three things to share, including a mini-review:

    1. Our own DJ DeSmyter has his first ARCs of his book, HUNTED, out and about! I was fortunate enough to land one and able to post a review on my personal blog. To summarize:

    Seventeen-year-old Lily Atwater has always kept to herself, living a lonely life with her workaholic dad. Not the most thrilling life, but it's quiet and ordinary, two things she's come to expect from living in Victor Hills, Michigan.

    When kind and mysterious Alex takes refuge in her home, she is suddenly thrown into his world of were-wolves, a world he wants to keep her safe from. But while the two of them grow closer, a relentless hunter continues his search, stalking the woods with hopes of catching the wolf that got away...

    The strength in HUNTED really lies in the characters and their interactions and relationships. Lily was a refreshing female MC. Down to Earth and sweet, but not without her flaws. Alex was the same. It was great to have a good, sweet boy as opposed to the typical bad-boy that has grown pretty common in YA these days. I was rooting for them the whole way, and that's not always something I can do!

    For the full review, click here!

    2. Speaking of my personal blog, I've relocated from Blogspot over to Livejournal. Anyone using GoogleReader or something similar can simply subscribe to it for continued updates. I hope some of you will drop by and say hello over at my blog's new location. I'll be having a giveaway sometime in the next two weeks, so keep your eyes peeled.

    3. I'm exceptionally excited and pleased to announce that my book, HUSHED, has been picked up by Entangled Publishing and will be on shelves this coming winter!

    There are no words for how ecstatic (and terrified) I am! Everyone at Entangled has been welcoming and kind, and I look forward to working with them in the coming months.

    And, lastly, this week's mini-review!

    WARM BODIES by Isaac Marion
    R is a young man with an existential crisis--he is a zombie. He shuffles through an America destroyed by war, social collapse, and the mindless hunger of his undead comrades, but he craves something more than blood and brains. He can speak just a few grunted syllables, but his inner life is deep, full of wonder and longing. He has no memories, noidentity, and no pulse, but he has dreams.

    After experiencing a teenage boy's memories while consuming his brain, R makes an unexpected choice that begins a tense, awkward, and stragely sweet relationship with the victim's human girlfriend. Julie is a blast of color in the otherwise dreary and gray landscape that surrounds R. His decision to protect her will transform not only R, but his fellow Dead, and perhaps their whole lifeless world.

    Scary, funny, and surprisingly poignant, Warm Bodies is about being alive, being dead, and the blurry line in between.

    I've always loved any books dealing with zombies (hello, THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH?), but WARM BODIES wasn't exactly your typical horror zombie novel. It puts a zombie as not only the main character, but a sympathetic protagonist and the 1st-person narrator. Not to mention, romance? I was really uncertain about this one, but it was the first e-book I purchased on my new Nook and I wasn't about to let it go to waste.

    This book? Absolutely. Amazing. Gorgeous writing and not at all the type of book I thought it would be. Yes, some moments were uncomfortable and squicky, but "R" made the most charming narrator. Marion's writing style is fluid and, at times, poetic without being overwhelming and burying the plot. I can honestly think of no complaints with this book in any way and it is not only one of my all-time faves now, but one I'm already wanting to go back and re-read.

    Have a great beginning-of-June, everyone!

    Saturday, June 4, 2011

    First Few Chapters

    I hate writing the first few chapters of a new project. The only time I haven't is when I wrote Hunted and, well, I guess that was a good sign. :-)

    You always hear that the first line/chapter is important. If it doesn't hook a reader or an agent then you most likely need to re-work it. I think this importance puts a lot of pressure on me and other writers, so much that it makes starting a new story stressful. And, because I write from start to end, it often takes me forever to get going, which sucks because I just want to dive right in and write like a maniac, haha. Emily Dickinson is known for having chosen every word in her poems with the utmost of care and consideration, a practice that is time-consuming, but helpful, especially in writing that first line. But sometimes that first line just doesn't come out right at the start.

    What are your thoughts on writing an effective first line and few chapters? What kinds of lines and introductions do you prefer?

    Thursday, June 2, 2011


    There are lots of things that distract me from my writing, like:


    Phone calls


    Worrying about the Zombie Apocalypse

    Getting distracted by the Internet

    Trying to get your kids to eat their tea

    Being caught up looking at your book cover

    Being caught up looking at your friends' book covers
    (look to the left and there's two more excellent covers)

    Finding projects to do around the house

    Looking up amusing pictures to use on your blog

    There is no doubt we have so many conflicting priorities in our lives, and some more serious and important than what I've listed. But if you truly want to be a writer make the time to get the words onto paper (or into your computer). If you leave those ideas bouncing around in your head too long you just might go insane. 

    So - how do you make sure that you get some writing in?