Friday, June 28, 2013

What To Do With All Those Rejection Slips: A New Take On Passes

I’m a glass-half-full, always-look-on-the-bright-side-of-life, positive person. But what is it about a simple form rejection letter that turns us into a weepy, rage-y movie monster version of ourselves?

I’ve collected a rejection slip (okay, email) or two (dozen) in my day. And to comfort myself, I made grand plans for my rejection notes. I loved Stephen King’s method of skewering them on a nail (later a hook when the nail wasn’t long enough to hold them all) on his wall, and I’ve heard of authors who wallpaper their bathroom with them, but I had something prettier in mind.

Paper bead bracelet

Yup. I was going to send my rejections off to the magical land known as Etsy where some craftsperson would roll those insignificant scraps of paper standing between me and a dream and attach them to a bracelet that I could wear to someday book signings as a giant raised middle finger (er, wrist, in this case) to all those who blocked my path. I was going to print out another stack to bring to school visits to say, “See kids? See? This is what it takes to get published these days.”

I have had a change of heart. I'm sure it has a little something to do with having a book deal, but I don't think that's entirely it. The more I’m exposed to the inner workings of publishing, the more I’ve come to realize this one tiny nugget of truth:

It’s. Not. Personal.

No one hated me. I actually don’t think anyone hated my writing either (though there was one agent who hated my MC and told me so without mincing words). It just wasn’t there yet.  I had some more learning to do and some more work to put into it. And I had to learn to see past the “I’m afraid I didn't connect with…” starts and realize that a number of those rejection letters were not form letters and were actually taking the time to point me in the direction I needed to head. Most weren’t rejections, they were just… passes. “Not yet's” or “not for me's”.

Watching my agent and author friends deal with editor passes has been enlightening. My agent will absolutely commiserate and acknowledge that, “Yes, it stinks this editor didn't fall so hard in love with this that she’ll be naming her firstborn after your MC”. But then she'll shrug (I’m pretty sure I can hear that through the phone line) and say, “Okay, here’s what we’ll do next.” Because she knows what I'm learning: that this is just the way it works. Authors get agent passes, agents get editor passes, editors get publisher passes, and somehow in the midst of all that a few books get printed.

So I have a new bracelet plan. (I really, really want that bracelet). My paper beads will include a pass email or even two, because that was a big part of my journey and it was character building. But it will also include the email my agent sent me asking if we could schedule “The Call”. It will include squeely “I love this revision!” notes from my critique partners and conference registration forms and the first page of my signed contract on that fancy Simon & Schuster letterhead and my Publisher’s Marketplace announcement and the letter of thanks I got after my first school visit and definitely a printout of this screenshot of this conversation with my editor:

It will be a celebration of the road to publication and I will wear it proudly at signings and pass it around at school visits to show kids and say, “See kids, see? This is how it feels to get published these days and I hope anyone who shares that dream goes for it.”

Okay, but seriously, readers. Please don't give my book a bad review on Goodreads because you do NOT want to know my plans for those!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Guestopia: Emily Wenstrom

How to Write like a Reader
by Emily Wenstrom

When you are writing, how much time do you spend thinking like your target reader, versus thinking about being a writer? It’s easy to get caught up in the process.

There's tons of tips out there to help us “read like writers” and learn straight from the masters’ work--but these articles have never really helped me. Like a lot of writers, I already pick apart everything I read and overthink every line I write.

One of the best things you can do for your writing, I think, is to write more like readers. After all, who are you writing for? Most of us are writing to be read.

How do you do it? It's easier than it sounds:


Know your audience. Gender. Age. What else they do in their free time. Your writing is not for everyone. You don't want it to be. Anything bland enough for everyone to approve of it is not worth your time. Learn all you can about your target reader group.

Immerse yourself in other books for your audience. Let the mentality of these books sink into you. The more you expose yourself to other successful works in your genre, the more you will intuit the styles, techniques and plot devices that your audience will enjoy--because it will be the same as you YOU will enjoy.

Get inspired. Put all that reading to work to get your creative juices flowing.


Listen to your instincts. Don't bother rationalizing…if your gut tells you something is or isn't working, trust it. This your informed judgment speaking, paying you back for all that reading you did. Overthinking is a classic writer challenge—stop. Trust your gut.

Put plot and character first. If your writing is true to the tone of these two basic elements, it will resonate. Never, ever prioritize pretty prose over these key components.

Stop thinking. Just write write write write write. Keep those fingers marching right along there, no time to stop and smell the roses. Don't worry, we'll be back. For now, just get those ideas on paper.


Forget it's yours. I know. There's an anxious writer-you in your head who is dying to re-open that manuscript and see if it likes what's there. Don't let that writer-you anywhere near it. Tie her up if you have to, gag her, lock her in a closet. Give yourself a few weeks to mentally separate from your draft.

Put. The computer. Down. When you read for enjoyment, how do you do it? If you read on paper, print your manuscript out in two columns in landscape mode and fold it over like a book. Even easier, if you read ebooks, PDF it and open it on your ereader of choice. Do NOT read it on your computer. It's too easy to get stuck in editing mode. Just use a notepad for now.

Okay, let that writer-you back out now. I might be picking on the writer-you a little, but she's still important! Using your notes, go back through the manuscript and make the updates to address the reader-you's feedback.

Repeat until done.
It seems safe to say that all writers started as readers. And yet we rarely bring that mentality to our own work. And yet, channeling that genuine love of story is a natural path to an enjoyable book.

You need the writer in you, too … but the writer can sometimes get in your way. By keeping the reader-you at the forefront, you will never forget who you're writing for.

Emily Wenstrom is the editor of wordhaus, a weekly short story ezine. She also blogs about creativity for writers, artists and professionals at Creative Juicer. Follow her on Twitter at @emilywenstrom and @wordhaus.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Setting your setting

Let's play a game of, "Where Am I?"

First round!

This forest is so bizarre. I don't know quite what to make of it. It's so unlike any forest I've ever seen. The trees go this way and that, in no particular direction. Look at those giant toadstools. What colours they are! Those flowers are quite humungous too. Wait a minute... are those faces on them? Where am I?!

Did you guess Wonderland? If you did, you are correct! If you didn't... please leave this blog immediately.

Second round!

From the outside, the castle is even more immense than I could have imagined. Its towers nearly touch the sky! It overlooks an endless stretch of sea from the edge of a high cliff. It's almost as if it could fall off at any moment! But it won't. Just by looking at it, I can tell it has been here for countless years. Through the huge oak doors is a great hall with an elegant staircase made of marble. On either side, the walls are adorned with portraits of people--who move around inside the frames! Where am I?

That's an easy one. You better have said Hogwarts!

Third round--for all the marbles!

 My friends and I are following a beaming brick road made of golden yellow. We've been on this path for what seems like days. Just as I start to think there's no end to it at all, the most brilliant sight unfolds ahead of us in the distance. The thick forest gives way to a sprawling meadow of bright turquoise and pink, but that isn't the most wonderful part. On the horizon stands a city of emerald green! Its luster sparkles under the sun as if it was actually made up of the precious stone. Its many towers reach high into the sky, shimmering under the most gorgeous of rainbows. Where am I?

Sort of  gave that one away. It's Emerald City!

So, if you haven't guessed, this little game was to highlight the importance of setting to a story. When we think about creating the "world" of a story, we're thinking entirely of setting. Sure, things happen in the story. There are characters and they have actions. But they only exist because a setting allows them to. Setting is where the rules of your world are created. The best part about it is, as authors, we are the creators of those rules. Our settings are only limited by our imaginations. We can even change them on the fly! In a sense, we are the cosmic beings of our stories.

Unfortunately, coming up with your setting isn't easy. Even the most imaginative of writers can struggle with it. Here are a few tips to help you find inspiration in your setting.

  • Use a location from your childhood.

When I was writing a middle-grade novel, I always had one place in particular in mind for the central location of my story. It was based on a house I spent a lot of time in as a kid. Our childhoods are rife with interesting places. At least, we thought they were interesting at the time. Channel your kid or teen self and tap into that moment when you thought that particular place was awesome (or scary!).

  • Go to a unique landmark in your city.
In my city there is a cool little park that has a life-size mock-up of the witch's candy-coated house from the fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel. You can go inside and see the poor children trapped in a cage as the witch prepares to cook them. Sometimes for inspiration I like to go sit on a bench outside the witch's house and just write. It's amazing how just being in an interesting place can get the creative juices flowing. This is the best time to strike gold with ideas for your setting.

  •  Surround yourself with nature.
It's no coincidence that many stories, fantasy ones in particular, have settings based in some sort of natural environment (forests, caves, rivers, etc.). Not only are they easy to describe, but they are also easy for the reader to visualize. If there's a park where you live, go there and write. Stare up at the trees and imagine your story taking place there. My favorite place in the world to write is in the mountains. I did it once and it was the most inspiring writing session I ever had!

  • Think of a place you hate and turn it on its head!
 Absolutely hate your sixth period classroom? How about that musty room in your grandparents' house? The break room at your job, perhaps? Hate and misery are excellent sources of creativity! Harness that by using those dreaded locations... only, spruce them up a little. Maybe with some lava. Or tornadoes. Yes, tornadoes would do nicely.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Am I trendy enough for you now?

Trends in the book world can result in a roller coaster ride for authors and readers, sometimes with new thing sticking around for the long haul and other times with with a trend only getting it's 15 minutes of fame.

So I thought I'd have a look at some previous trends, focusing on YA, and see "where are they now" as well as some current trends and make predictions for where I see them going based on what I've seen through purchasing statistics, agent/editor participation in contests and acquisitions. And I throw in some future trends predictions. So in other words, my humble observations.

Past Trends

1) Young Adult - anyone who predicted YA would die a natural death should be eating their hat. YA
hasn't gone away, but moved from strength to strength and will be here for the long haul.

2) e-Books - I must admit I resisted e-Books for so long. But when my husband bought me an iPad, I was hooked. I can hoard books on Cloud instead of cluttering up my house and it's cheaper (mostly - e-Books are expensive for Aussies, which sucks! There's no freight costs, so stop charging us more. Okay, rant over). I also theorise that there's a lack of judgement as you can read anywhere with no one being able to see the cover. So adults are free to read YA or 50 Shades without judgement (I say adults as they are dominating e-book sales).

3) Paranormal - When I first started writing Paranormal was dominating agents' wish lists. Now, not so much. You really have to stand out with a unique premise to get away with calling something paranormal anymore. In saying that I see a lot of stories with paranormal elements that are in genre mash-ups that get attention so the love for the freakier side is still there.

4) Dystopian - It's like the YA version of Chicklit. The market was flooded and very few concepts stood up to the Hunger Games. Perhaps there's only so many ways you can play with the concept of over throwing a corrupt futuristic government. For me there will still be stories like this, but they will be repackaged under different genres.

5) Chicklit - I think it was the name that was the issue more than anything. There was a time when the term alone seemed to turn agents off. But there are lots of Chicklit stories out there now. They're simply called romance.

Current Trends

1) New Adult - I agree with people that New Adult isn't the best descriptor for this category, SLEEPER, being rejected because a few years ago stories with main characters at college/university didn't sell. Well they do now and I think it's just the tip of the iceberg (and SLEEPER is now being published). Contemporary has dominated, but I think genre NA is about to explode.
especially seeing as YA has different names in different countries. New Adult came out strong with self-publishing authors being brave enough to see the gap in the market and fill it when mainstream wouldn't. I know this from experience with my NA Speculative Fiction,

2) Contemporary - I remember when poor contemporary YA could not get a break, which was when paranormal was running wild on our bookshelves. Contemporary knows how to share with other genres and has taken a nice segment of the market rather than running rampant like other genres, so I think it's a keeper.

3) Erotica - I'm not an erotica reader. I've never read 50 Shades and I don't intend to. It's just not my thing. I'm sure a lot of people are getting a thrill out of it now, but I believe sales will decline. Of course it will never go away, but I've seen too many copy cats out there. Originality is the key.

Future Trends

1) Historical mash-ups - These have started coming out, especially in YA with the likes of Infernal Devices. But I think future releases like  The Falconer by Elizabeth May will see readers wanting more in this area.

2) Thrillers - There's no doubt that readers love the action they get from speculative fiction, but those who love the more contemporary setting and want action as well then thrillers are the answer.

3) Science Fiction - I believe Sci-Fi will make a comeback. Stories like Across the Universe and Girl Parts are showing authors and readers that there are different ways to tell scifi stories.

4) Breaking down boarders - I believe there will be more international stories getting out into the world as Generation Y and Z want to see more stories set in different locations. These generations think globally, and the book industry should too (says the unbiased Australian)

So that's my view. If you want some real trends on book buying then check out the recent Random House Notes on this, or these articles on YA sales, or this article on e-Book sales and the publishing industry.

So what's some of you're favourite trends and what would you like to see in the future?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Curse of a Good Book

Most aspiring, and even published authors are often racked with doubt and self-deprecation, constantly asking the question: is my writing good enough? or even, am I good enough?

I'm one of these writers, constantly worrying over the quality of my sentences and whether or not my story is worth telling, if it would make any sort of impact on a reader's life, if it lives up to the idea of it in my head, and if it's good enough to share shelf space with my favourite novels.

As a reader, I devour books in the genre that I write, to see what kind of stories are being told and sold, which characters are the most beloved, what works and what doesn't. Sometimes I'll read a book that just takes my breath away, that makes me wish I'd written it and that makes my soul ache to know it's not my name on the front cover. This is the sort of book that makes me want to strive harder, to write better, and simultaneously makes me wonder why I even try because I'll never be as good as that.

This is the curse of the good book.

This curse happens in three stages:

1) AMAZING book, I am so in love, I want to read it again right now, I won't live another year waiting for the sequel, I must stalk the author on Twitter, I want to be her best friend, I wish the characters were real, I'm going to write out my favourite quotes and stick them above my bed...

2) I HATE this book! It's so good, so much better than any of my ideas. Why didn't I think of this amazingly awesome stupendous idea? My characters are flat, emotionless, boring Mary Sues and Gary Stues, no one will ever want my hero as a book boyfriend, I'm wasting my time writing, I'll never be good enough, I'll never write a book this awesome...

3) Of course I can write a book this awesome! In fact, I will. I'll stop comparing my first draft to this perfect, polished, published piece of art and get stuck into revisions, whipping my story into shape. My characters are totally swoon-worthy. I can so write a book as good as the one I just read.

There is so much to learn from reading a good book: What makes it so good? What did I love about the characters? How did the author move me? What devices, tip and tricks can I apply in my own stories? And while reading these books can often be a little demoralizing and make me wonder if I'll ever be that good, they definitely inspire me to strive harder, to write better and dream bigger.

Have you ever experienced the curse of the good book?

Friday, June 14, 2013

After the Book - Are You Selling a Book or the Author?

So you have written the book.

You have gotten it published.

Now what?

The obvious answer is to start writing that next book, but there is so much more to it than that; along with so many different philosophies as well.

I am going to look at what has worked for me and how I see it from the librarian perspective, which is where I am going to start.

When most people come into the library looking for any sort of fiction book, what do you think they ask for most of the time? Let me give you a few options…

  1. The Title of the Book
  2. A piece of a Title of a Book
  3. An Author
  4. An Author's New Book
  5. I want a Book that reads like author X

Well if you guessed any of them you would be right, but the question we guest asked the most, from my almost 10 years working in the library is “Do you have Author X’s new book?” Most people if you are lucky might know a piece of the author’s book title but most of the time they don’t. What they know is what authors like to read and know when the author is releasing a new book.

What a lot of new authors don’t realize is that you are not only selling your book(s) but you are also selling yourself as an author. You, the author, are your brand.

I may never get the chance to sell out and become a New York Times bestselling author, which I would do in heartbeat, but I have created; as one person liked to call a cult of personality.  I have gone out and marketed myself out at Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Multi-Genera/Gamming Conventions and created my author brand. People know who I am and what I do; so in turn I sell books. I have worked long and hard to make sure people who attend these shows know who I am.  I knew I was doing something right when someone, I really don’t know who, create a Wikipedia page about me.

I also knew I was doing something right when I started do a series of charity anthologies called Writers for Relief and I was getting big names to donate both original and reprint fiction. So I may never become a huge house hold name, but I have been able to give back and help in times of need.

Something to remember most publishing houses don’t have large marketing budgets and they are going to market things they know are going to sell; aka their big name authors. They are a business and they are going to try and put their money into a sure thing. And if you are working with a small press their marketing budget is even smaller if they even have one at all. A lot of the times, especially the smaller presses, are looking for the author to market themselves. 

And please remember I am mostly talking about more about genera fiction and not contemporary fiction, niche fiction, regional fiction, romance writing, etc. those are all different monsters and we are all going to write the fiction we want to write.

Things I have done to grow my cult of personality:

Whenever I can I always try to get a table at these conventions. This gives me a home-base where I can engage people, show off my books, and give away swag (bookmarks, pins, audio samples). Never be afraid to say hello to someone passing by the table.

I try to do as many panels or talks as possible. I want as many people to get to know who I am. I am not afraid to moderate these panels. I am willing to do panels, as long as I am moderating them, on topics I know nothing about. This has led to some incredible learning experiences on my part.

I will attend after hour’s events. These are a great place to meet other authors, publishers, people in the biz and mingle with fans in a different sort of light.  

I have worked on a number of successful podcasts. I wouldn’t suggest this to everyone. It takes a lot of time to do one of these things right. But podcasts that do news, and fiction reviews are a good place to try and get interviewed to get your books and yourself out there. You never know who might be listening.

Don’t be afraid to embrace social media. Yes a lot of authors do it, but if you do it long enough and consistently – you will be heard; especially if you have grown your fan base in other ways. Facebook, Twitter and whatever will come next will help you interact with your fans away from conventions and book signings. Fans like to know what is going, what is happening next, where you might be appearing.

Go after book signings where ever you can; from small books stores to large ones to libraries to comic book stores to university book stores to book fairs to anywhere someone is willing to let you set up and sell your book(s). And if you know a group of published authors joint book signings work o extremely well. Again conventions fall under this as well. These sorts of things don’t come after you, at least not until you make a name for yourself.

Also get yourself a website or a blog if you can't get a website up and going. Use your first and last name as the website address if it is still available (for example update the website/blog/whatever you have as much as you can; especially if people can’t connect to you on facebook and twitter. Wordpress sites work great and require every little work to update and can be redirected to from any website name. 

In the end the name of the game is name recognition.

In the end you really need to find what works for you and do it. I really think at times writing the book is the easy part. The next hardest thing is getting published; though now in this very new world of publishing, it is an easy thing to do. But it is your name recognition that will let you cut through the sea of anyone can be published with a few simple clicks on the internet. Because, regardless if you are being published by a large publisher, a small press or self-published you are all now competing for the same market share. The internet, the ease of publishing, e-book markets, fan fiction followings, etc. have changed the entire paradigm. You just don’t know who is going to hit it big next.