Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hosting a Facebook Party as Multiple Pages

Facebook author parties are a huge deal these days - and with good reason. They can be fun for the reader with giveaways, special content, Q&As as well as great promotion for the author. But if you're an author with a pen name and you actually follow Facebook's policies (which I recommend, btw, because FB is not a kind master), FB makes it difficult to host these without giving away your real identity or confusing readers.

Why does this matter? Let's pretend, for a minute, that we wanted to do a YAtopia Facebook party with all our past and present members. Let's also pretend that Sarah Nicolas is a super-secret pen name that I, for whatever reasons, don't want anyone to know about (it's not). I would need to be able to add both the YAtopia Blog page and the Sarah Nicolas page as hosts of the event so they can post and make changes.

To avoid confusion, let's start with two definitions:

Facebook Profile: Sometimes called a "personal profile." This is the one that has "friends" and is the default for when you sign in. A profile is the Facebook home for a real person. This is my Facebook profile. (Fair warning: I don't friend people I haven't met IRL, though I am pretty open so feel free to follow me, but I won't accept your friend request)

Facebook Page: Sometimes called a "fan page." This is the one that has "likes." A profile can own multiple pages and multiple profiles can be admins for a page. According to Facebook, a page is not a person, it is a business, cause, idea, organization, etc. This is my Facebook Page. This is my other Facebook Page.

To put it simply: Samuel Clemens would have a profile while Mark Twain would have a page.

Remember it this way:

Profile = Friends (seven letters in each word)
Page = Like (four letters in each word)

These distinctions are important. This is why I've bolded page and profile in this write-up. Even if it doesn't make sense to you, trust what I've typed.

So here's how to make multiple Facebook pages hosts of a single event. It starts off pretty simply. Yes, it's a long and convoluted process but ... Facebook, am I right?

Warning: This is going to be a very "nuts and bolts" type of post that you may not be interested in right now. But, trust me, you'll thank me some day. :-)

1) Make sure you are using Facebook as one of the pages you would like to host the event. To do this, click on the arrow at the top right of the site and click on the page name.

Note: Ella Vines is a client, not me :-)

2) Create the event.

Go to where you would normally add a new update, and click on "Offer, Event +" then click on "Event."

Add in all the information about the event. If you only want that page as a host, you're done now. But if the event is hosted my multiple authors, here's where it gets tricky.

Note: In this example, I've created an event from my Aria Kane page.

3) You may notice now that you cannot "invite" anybody or add any hosts. Because, if you'll remember, a page is not a person. To do this, you will have to go back to step one and "use Facebook as" your profile.

4) Now find the event. This is easily done by visiting your page (without changing what you're using Facebook as!!). You can find it in the stream or under the "Events" tab.

You'll notice that you can now RSVP and invite people. After you've RSVPd for your profile, the "Edit" button will appear.

Now you'll want to add hosts.

5) You'll notice that you cannot add a page you don't manage as a host. However, you can add a page that you manage as a host, by typing it in the "Hosts" field. You may want to do this if you have a page for your book or a group that's hosting the event. For example, if I were to throw a YAtopia blog party, I would add "Sarah Nicolas" and "YAtopia" as hosts.

In this example, I've added my page for Sarah Nicolas as an additional host.

If you want to add a page that you do not manage as a host (for example: If I wanted to add Kate's page as a host), proceed to the next step.

6) This is where everyone gets frustrated: at the time of this posting, you CAN NOT add a page you don't manage as a host. End of story. There is no way around this. Don't despair, hope is not lost. Here is what you have to do...

First, you must add a profile that manages that page as a host. (I'm picking on Kate because her profile name is the same as the name on her author page so I know I'm not outing anyone. :-) However, this is frequently not the case.)

In the example below, I've added Kate's profile as a host.

7) Kate can now add her Kate Brauning page as a host by following steps 4 and 5. If Kate wrote under the name J.K. Bowling and had a page to represent that pen name, she could also add that page as a host. If she also has a page for her (imaginary) pen name Robert Balbraith, she could add that one too.

I know I'm harping on this, but it needs to be understood: I cannot add Kate's pages as a host. She must do this herself.

8) This step is totally optional and depends on what level of secrecy you keep your pen names at. Now that your page is a host, you can remove your profile as a host by clicking the "x" next to it. This removes your real name from being displayed as a host, but you can still have full edit rights to the event.

So, theoretically, if Kate didn't want anyone to see her name alongside her super-secret JK and Robert pen names, she could delete "Kate Brauning" profile as a host and still have access to the event.

9) On the day of the event, if you want to post as your page, you will need to use Step 1 again to "use Facebook as" your page.

Um, so there's my highly detailed, complicated description of how to do this annoying thing on Facebook. Please share and remember this post in a few months when you find yourself screaming at Facebook (been there) because it won't let you do what you want to do.

Hope it helps.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Being Honest About Success

Hello, readers! It's Kate again.

Book things are finally rolling for HOW WE FALL, my YA suspense that comes out in November. I had my author photos taken today, I'm almost done with copy edits, and I wrote my acknowledgements this past week. It's surreal, and stressful, and fun. I keep yo-yoing between thinking "this is awesome!" and "what if no one likes it? Oh no November that's less than 7 months away everyone will read this book I wrote what am I going to do?"

My CPs keep reminding me to enjoy it. To not let the stress settle too deeply, to keep my focus on productive things. And there's a bit of publishing advice that goes like this: when an awesome moment happens, enjoy it, because this is as good as it gets. Someone is always doing better than you, selling more copies than you, getting more buzz and attention than you, getting more awards and nominations than you are. Things aren't less stressful or more certain or better closer to the top. The stress and uncertainty and pressure follows you. So whenever success happens, let it be the win you need. Let it be the awesome moment that it deserves to be, because it really doesn't get better than that. Thinking about it that way really isn't even re-framing the idea of success; we might need to pause to think about it, but most of us know that's just being honest with ourselves. Success isn't numbers or checkpoints. But sometimes we forget to celebrate the real successes.

If your book comes out, and some reviewers love it, and people start talking about it-- enjoy that. It's awesome, so let it be awesome. Celebrate, and stay away from Amazon rankings and negative reviews. Don't let those things tear down a moment that deserves every bit of enjoyment and celebration you want from it.

If you landed a book deal with a publishing house and an editor who loves your story and believes in you and your writing-- congratulations! That's awesome. Let it be a moment where you dwell on nothing but how wonderful that is, and how much it's taken to get there. Celebrate your own determination and hard work, and enjoy it.

If you decided to self-publish, and take your book to the world in your own way-- congratulations! Your manuscript is going to be a real book, and that's such an incredible thing. Readers all over the world are going to read what you wrote, and you deserve to enjoy the milestone. It's a life-changing moment. Don't let worry and doubt crowd out the enjoyment. Celebrate it!

If you signed with an agent, if you finished a manuscript, if a beta reader loved your manuscript, if you wrote a scene and know you nailed it, if your work earned an award or nomination, if an agent requested pages, if someone got excited about your book and wrote you a note about how much they connected with it-- let that be the win you need. Something you created connected with someone else, and they felt it deeply enough to care, and it really doesn't get better than that. It just doesn't. This writing business is about connection, and whatever form that happens in, it's a win. It's a wonderful, hard-earned, incredible win. It's success.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

10 Pitch Contest Trends

In the past few months I've been part of a few pitch contests, on both the host/judging side as well as being a contestant. I thought it would be interesting to share some trends I noticed, but if you like statistics, you can check out this post here about Pitch Madness submissions.

Trend 1- Fantasy:

Oh My Goodness! The fantasy was amazing. There was so much of it and it pushed the boundaries. They were hot on agents' lists and they were hot in the slush pile.

Trend 2 - Murderers aka Thrillers and murderous Contemporaries:

And can I just say, these pitches killed it *Boom Boom* Thrillers and mysteries were in, especially ones featuring murders...and sometimes the MCs as murders. Sometimes they were labelled thrillers, other times contemporaries.

Trend 3 - Mental Health: 

Many of the pitches that did well revolved around mental health issues, whether featured as a characteristic of the main character or in the plot overall. They were well received by agents, which is a good sign for diversity representation.

Trend 4 - Awesome pitches transcending genres: 

There were some pitches were just plain awesome and got agent attention, even in genres that were not highly sort after. In fact, some were even in tropes that were said to have been in a saturated market, yet they had agents scrambling for the highest bid.

Trend 5 - Contemporaries/General Fiction:

This isn't my natural play ground as I like things under the Speculative Fiction Umbrella. But there was some amazing entries in this area that made me wish I had the whole MS to read.

Trend 6 - Kick-arse genre-bending historicals:

Some historial settings are getting a bit tired, but in the slush I've been seeing pitches that put a new take on historicals from times not over-sautrated in the market.

Trend 7 - Science Fiction:

There were some amazing SciFi entries in the slush. Sadly, SciFi is not hot at the moment. That's not to say they won't get picked up, but they need to be edgy and different. Straight SciFi didn't get a lot of agent attention, but SciFi with a thriller bent or other point of difference did well.

Trend 8 - NA:

Nearly every single NA entry to Nest Pitch got picked up by a blog. And an NA adventure was one of my best performing entry for the contest.

Trend 9 - Mislabelled genres:

There were so many mislabelled genres this time. I think people realised that some genres where not going to do as well, and therefore tried to pull one over the slush readers by mislabelling it. Other people simply may not understand the industry. The most common mislabelled genres were Magical Realism (if it's not set in the real world it's not MR) and Fantasy (if your story features aliens, it's not a fantasy, it's a Science Fiction).

Trend 10 - Pitch Contest Love:

So many people found critique partners, new friends and general shared the love around with the pitch contests organisers. It's great to see the writer and blogger community coming together to thank the people who organise these, because they are such hard work, and getting more out of it then just the opportunity to get before an agent.

Questions for you:

  1. What trends have you noticed in pitch contests?
  2. What future trends would you like to see in publishing?
  3. What things would you like included in future pitch contests?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Editopia: Annie Berger, Associate Editor at Harper Collins

Our Editopia series continues and today I'm very excited to welcome Annie Berger, as associate editor at HarperCollins. I can say from firsthand experience that Annie is an incredible editor who wears her enthusiasm for publishing on her sleeve, which makes her also an incredible person.

Annie Berger graduated from Northwestern University where she majored in history and minored in religion. She attended the Columbia Publishing Course in the summer of 2009. After several internships at Dunham Literary, Bloomsbury Children’s Books, and Egmont USA she started as an editorial assistant at Simon & Schuster’s Aladdin imprint. There she worked with authors Brandon Mull, Rachel Ren√©e Russell and Lauren Barnholdt. Annie was involved in many successful repackages including a Felix Salten line, new Anne of Green Gables books and the re-launch of Fablehaven. She was the editor for both the middle-grade and chapter book Nancy Drew and the middle-grade Hardy Boys series. Annie also signed up debut authors Jen Malone’s At Your Service and Gail Nall’s Breaking the Ice, which publish in August 2014 and March 2015 respectively. Now at HarperCollins Annie is delighted to be looking for both middle-grade and teen and works with authors such as Kristen Kittscher (The Tiara on the Terrace), Jo Whittemore (Confidentially Yours series) and Diane Zahler. Annie also assists with Gail Carson Levine, Lauren Oliver, and Rita Williams-Garcia.

Hi Annie! Let's cover a little basic background stuff first. How did you get your start in the industry? Did you always want to be in publishing?

I had no idea that I wanted to get into publishing until my senior year of college. Right about that time I was panicking about what to do next. I thought long and hard, talked to some people and decided that publishing might be it (book lover for life.) I attended the Columbia Publishing Course right after graduation and then went onto a series of internships. When I finally got my job at Simon & Schuster I was so happy that I danced around my living room blasting Dog Days Are Over by Florence and the Machine. I had three wonderful years there and now I’m excited about my new adventure at HarperCollins!

What does your to-read pile look like? How many manuscripts are in your inbox at any one time?

So many manuscripts, so little time. Just kidding, it’s actually amazing that I have a job where my take home work is reading great children’s books. I definitely always have a stack to read, but I love it! I also like to read at least 50 pages of something before deciding it’s not right for me. There are usually some pending ones hanging out there too, that I’ve read and really enjoyed but am still debating over whether or not I think it works for my list. I don’t like to keep agents hanging so I try to respond in a fairly timely fashion, but those pending ones are the trickiest!

I think I speak for authors (and agents) everywhere in saying, "Thank you for timely responses!" What trends are you seeing in kidlit these days? Are there any subjects or genres you don’t want to see in your inbox? Any you want to see more of?

I think we are totally done (for now) with paranormal (I’m looking at you vampires) and relatively over dystopian. I’m seeing A LOT more realistic fiction, and that’s been working really well for us. I would love to see more fantasy. I love fantasy that’s seamlessly woven into the plot. I keep talking about this everywhere, but Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races is a perfect example of this. Her book actually had me on Wikipedia double-checking that there were no such things as flesh-eating water horses. I’d also love to see more strange and off-putting stuff, bring on the books about cults!

I totally agree with you on those water horses. I was sooo intrigued by them. Cults, huh? Very cool. Okay, so without implicating anyone, can you tell us one of or some of the weirder submissions you’ve received?

Oh gosh, I’ve gotten a lot of strange ones. One was a very interesting (unsolicited) picture book submission about a love affair between a snail and a tape dispenser. Which is actually quite funny if you think about it, but definitely wasn’t right for me!

Um. I don't even... okay, I'm just going to leave that one alone. Now I know it’s just plain evil to ask a children’s book editor to name a favorite book, so I won’t. Instead, tell me about your favorite children’s book covers.

Well, I’m biased, but I am in love with the covers for the Anne of Green Gables repackages at Simon & Schuster. (note: see next question for that beauty!) I remember loving the covers for the Fallen books by Lauren Kate, I thought Burn for Burn by Jenny Han and Vivian Siobhan was amazing, The Beautiful Creatures books were beautiful and I love the cover for 33 Minutes by Todd Hasak-Lowy. I also love those Penguin classics. Oh! I can’t believe I almost forgot this one…Nightsong by Ari Berk and illustrated by Loren Long is one of my favorites of all time, it’s my background screen on my work computer.


33 Minutes is on my bookshelf and even the spine is attention-grabbing! Is there a particular book that sparked your love of reading or a book that you re-read time and again?

There are so so many! But one of my absolute favorites of all time is Anne of Green Gables. I remember reading it for the first time while I was on vacation and just not being able to put it down. I’ve probably read the books in that series about six or seven times. And the best part of the story is that while at Simon & Schuster I worked on a repackage of them. That was probably one of the most rewarding parts of my career so far, writing the copy for one of my favorite books of all time.

That cover!! So, soo beautiful!! Okay, just a couple more. I love to swim but have a total fear of drowning, so I find it really hard to read books where that is a plot point. What about you? Anything you hate to read about? On the other hand, are there subjects you’re drawn to?

You know, I’m not a huge fan of “illness” books. I don’t think I’ve ever picked up a book about a child dying of cancer and said, “Yes, can’t wait to read!” The only exception to that is The Fault in Our Stars (just because I was such a big John Green fan before it came out.) But in general I’m not going to pick up a book that’s going to make me weep the entire time. On the flip side, I am a HUGE animal lover, so if there’s some kind of adorable something in there I am hooked. I also was obsessed with the Animorphs series growing up so I love the whole idea of transforming into animals.

All animal books except those about snails, I guess:) Ever since stumbling upon a Pinterest page that rounds up page shots of all the books that have a variation of the line “S/he released a breath s/he didn’t know s/he’d been holding” I spot it left and right in books and now it makes me giggle! What about you? Any writer’s tics or clich√© pet peeves that jump out at you?

I am so glad you asked this. I am done with girls who are unaware that they are strikingly beautiful. I actually think this trend has definitely died down, but for a while every heroine thought she was a plain jane until its “revealed” to her that she is actually the most beautiful person who has ever lived. I’m not saying every main character should be horribly vain, but this kind of description never rang true to me.

Ha! I agree. Finally, here’s your chance to plug a few books on your list you’re excited about…

Well, let’s see. I have to say, this isn’t on my list anymore (tear) but I am so excited for At Your Service to come out this August! (note: Me too!!!) I also am in love with Kristen Kittscher and thrilled to be working on her next book, The Tiara on the Terrace, a sequel to the fantastic mystery The Wig in the Window. I know Jo Whittemore from my days at Aladdin, so I am very excited to get to work on her super fun, tween Confidentially Yours series. And I just took on a very cool Sci-Fi series that I think is going to be amazing. So lots of fun stuff in the pipeline!

I think you said it best above: so many books, so little time! But much better than the reverse, of course. Giant hugs and heartfelt thanks for being here today, Annie!!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

2014: The Year of YA Adaptations

Earlier this month I wrote an article for BTS eMag about it being the golden age of YA adaptations. This morning, I watched the first trailer for the film adaptation of Gayle Forman's If I Stay  - it looks awesome!and thought this was a topic definitely worth some more discussion, considering the number and variety of YA stories coming out this year.
The Golden Age of YA Adaptations 
(First published April 9, BTS eMag)

Book to film adaptations are nothing new, be they sci-fi cult classics based on the seminal works of Asimov or Philip K Dick, or the gooiest of romance films adapted from Nicholas Sparks novels. Since Harry Potter burst onto the scene and became a multi-millionaire dollar franchise, movie studios have been jumping on the YA bandwagon, eager to adapt the latest best-seller for the silver screen. Most recent smash hits include the Twilight saga adapted from the books by Stephanie Meyer and The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, which has so far only delivered the first two films in the planned 'quadrilogy'.
2013 saw a truckload of new adaptations including the movie adaptation of Stephanie Meyer’s alien romance The Host, Cassandra Clare’s paranormal smash-hit The Mortal Instruments: The City of Bones, and Orson Scott Card’s space epic Ender’s Game. This year, we’re in for several more YA book-to-film adaptations, from endearing contemporary tales of love to the bleakest dystopian tales, and let’s not forget the ever-present vampires.
Here are some of the YA film adaptations already out or still to come in 2014:
Vampire Academy based on the books by Richelle Mead
Divergent based on the books by Veronica Roth
The Fault in our Stars based on the book by John Green
The Giver based on the book by Lois Lowry
If I Stay based on the book by Gayle Forman
The Maze Runner based on the books by James Dashner
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I based on the books by Suzanne Collins
The vast majority of this year's adaptations fall under the speculative fiction umbrella, particularly into the science fiction genre. While I’m not completely vamped out yet – I’m an abashed fan of the blood suckers provided they don’t sparkle – it is refreshing to see so many sci-fi stories being made into films given the somewhat disappointing ‘adult’ science fiction films being churned out lately – films like Prometheus, After Earth and Pacific Rim. Say what you will about young adult literature, but the stories making their way into film have a lot more to offer than awesome special effects and adrenaline-soaked action sequences. There’s real heart in these YA stories, with relatable heroes and heroines who are resonating with viewers of all ages and genders. And this is a trend that isn’t limited to the big screen.
As an avid fan of CW shows like Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries (another YA book series adaptation!) and The Originals, it has warmed my geeky heart to see so many new sci-fi series eschew werebeasties in favour of aliens, genetically superior human beings and a radioactive, futuristic Earth. While The Tomorrow People and Star-Crossed are CW original series, the recently debuted The 100 is yet another YA adaptation, this time from the similarly titled book series by Kass Morgan. While all three of these shows boast incredibly good-looking casts – as we’ve come to expect from the CW – these three series are about a lot more than pretty people saving the day.
The Tomorrow People examines what it means to be a family, calling the old adage of ‘blood is thicker than water’ into question in every single episode. While this show is definitely science-lite, the main teen character’s struggle to come to terms with his new found powers and the responsibilities thrust upon his admittedly broad and buff shoulders, is a fairly obvious analogy for what most teens go through as they transition from child to adult in that search for self and identity.
Star-Crossed presents something rather different. Although this show features good-looking, tattoo’ed aliens, there’s a lot more going on than interspecies hook-ups. Again, this show presents thinly veiled analogies to ongoing social issues such as racism, xenophobia, intolerance, immigrant integration and cultural acceptance. Featuring a diverse cast including Asian, black, and even LGBT characters, this series has a lot of potential if it’s given the chance to develop a second season.
The 100While the science behind the premise is somewhat dubious, I can suspend my disbelief because this show has a real Lord of the Flies element to it that I find as engrossing as it is disturbing. Who honestly thought sending 100 teenagers to Earth unchaperoned would be a good idea? Still, here’s a show that doesn’t shy away from the brutality of teenagers, that doesn’t mince its words and isn’t afraid to ask difficult questions, like what would you be willing to do if the fate of humanity was in your hands? Not a question easily answered and yet this show expects a bunch of petulant, criminally-minded teenagers who are finally free from the constraints of guards, government and parents to step up to the plate and deliver humanity from impending doom.
Love it or hate it, the golden age of young adult is happening right now, and I expect – and can’t wait – to see a lot more adaptations of these exhilarating, heart-breaking, soul-touching books making their way on to the big and small screen in the future.

Which are your favourites? Which YA books would you like to see made into movies?

Monday, April 14, 2014

An Interview with YA author A.J. Hartley

Here we go again! This time I sit down with A.J. Hartley and interviewed him for MystiCon 2014!

Until next month!


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Time: The Elusive Minx

Has it been a month already?

I tell you, lately it seems I'd have better luck finding Sasquatch over seizing free time to write or do anything else. If a writer writes, how does a writer write if the time to write can't be gotten?

Alright, enough riddles.

If you're a new parent like me or have mounting responsibilities at the day job or any other life event blocking your productivity, you know how much it can suck to reach the end of the day and have the tough choice of writing vs. sleep.

So, let's cover that first. Sleep should win nearly every time. Your work will usually suffer if you attempt to write while exhausted. Don't do it. You might get some words down, but the next day you'll be shot and will lose another day that could have otherwise been used for quality scribbling.

Next, you have to make writing a top priority. If you don't schedule it in, it won't get done. Your spouse and children may or may not be supportive of your passion for fiction but you shouldn't use that as a crutch. Be unrelenting but also realistic. If little Timmy is having his birthday party, you'll look like a real putz if you neglect him for time at the keyboard. At the same time, your family and friends should understand that you have a burning that can't be vanquished. You may have to wait until everyone goes to sleep or wake up before the sun to get your word count in. Heck, you might even have to leave the house and go find a library.

You may have to sacrifice rituals. I love to have quiet and refuse to stop until I've reached my daily goal. Get rid of your OCD and understand that you may have to do tiny sprints throughout the day. A hundred words here. Two-fifty there. You might have your cinnamon-infused mochachino go cold because you have to change a diaper or take someone to the doctor. Come back ready to attack the WIP once again.

Don't get depressed because you've missed a day. It happens. You may be so tired your eyes write you off and slam shut on their own. You may have to go out of town. Work around it if you can but don't be so hard on yourself if the writing doesn't get done. As long as you are persistent in trying to come back and get at it again, that's what counts.

Look into time management techniques and see what might work for you. Have a real heart-to-heart with the ones around you who might be zapping your time and energy. See if you can come to a compromise.

And relax. The book will be waiting for you. And like anything else, busy times will subside and you can get back to riding alongside your ninja elves or vampire tax attorneys.

Until next time (if I have any to spare),


Monday, April 7, 2014

Agentopia: Sandy Lu

Welcome to the April edition of Agentopia! For more information and to see other Agentopia posts, click here.

This month Sandy Lu from The L. Perkins Agency is in the spotlight.

Sandy Lu joined The L. Perkins Agency in 2009 and is actively building her list. She is particularly interested in fiction, including mystery/suspense, thriller, horror, science fiction/fantasy, historical fiction, and YA. Her non-fiction categories include narrative non-fiction, history, psychology, sociology, biography, science, pop culture, and food writing. She is looking for submissions that will draw her in with a unique voice, make her miss her subway stop with a pulse-quickening plot, and keep her up at night with compelling characters who stay with her long after their story ends.

How to Submit

Email your query letter to Include a brief synopsis, bio, and the first five pages of your manuscript. No attachment please. For more information, please visit

1. What are you looking for in YA submissions right now?

I grew up reading mystery, suspense, horror, action/adventures, sci-fi/fantasy, and martial arts novels. I’m partial to anything with a supernatural element, and I have a weakness for all things historical. I also love a new twist on a familiar story, such as a classic play or fairy tale retelling. Mix and match any of the above, and you have my attention.

2. What's an immediate turn-off in a query, something guaranteed to get the author rejected?

It’s an automatic rejection when an author obviously did not do any research, did not follow our agency’s submission guidelines, or did not bother to spell check their letter or get my name right.

3. What's the story got to have to make you want to represent it?

The writing is everything. I need to see enough raw talent, good instincts, dedication to the craft, and potential for growth before I take on a new client. I can help fix plot holes, adjust pacing, or enhance character dynamics, but I cannot advise someone on how to create a unique voice or develop an eye for details. It’s also important that the writer has read widely on what’s already been published and has something new and fresh to say.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Laundry Line: Story Structure

In last month’s installment of this novel planning series, I moved onto story structure, discussing the big-picture methods I find most useful. I work through each, ending with a handful of major plot points. This is a great way to start. But then I delve deep. Like oil drilling deep.

Because my ultimate goal is to create a scene-by-scene beat sheet, which incidentally, is why this series started where it did.

When I began, I assumed you had your kernel that you’d popped into three disasters because you can’t plot a novel if you don’t have an idea! But before we could get to structure and beat sheets, we needed to go through the steps: writing exercises, inside and outside story, characters profiles and the wound and a want, and setting.

With all these elements in place, we can fill in that beat sheet, right?

Not quite.

Because we now need to start thinking about the smaller picture. To ease us into this idea of breaking down our bigger plot points into bite-size scenes, I want to share an analogy that hit home for me: the laundry line.

Picture a wide open space, green grass on the ground, puffy white clouds in the sky. The sun is shining down on a backyard clothesline. One tall pole staked in the dirt on one side, a matching one on the other, and a long, straight rope in between.

Think of the first pole as your opening scene. Think of the second as your ending scene. And the rope is your story. Start “hanging” your plot points on the laundry line. Your inciting incident goes somewhere very close to that first pole. Your first “disaster” goes 20%-25% of the way in. Your midpoint dangles at 50% and your third at 75%. Do you have a climax yet? If so, stick a pin on that line at 85%-90%.

Step back and take a look. Start thinking about how you get from each element to the next. Think about the characters you’ve fully developed by doing character profiles. Think about the setting that you’ve placed these characters in. Think about their wounds and their wants that form the inside and outside story. Think about the points introduced last month like Story Engineering’s “pinch points” and the fifteen Save the Cat beats. Put all that hard work you’ve done so far to use by figuring out what additional big scenes you need to get the story to work, to go from disaster to disaster.

Start hanging them on that line and stringing them together. And don’t worry, you can move them around. But get them up there so you can see them. If a small scene comes to you, great, get it up there too. But for now, concentrate on the bigger milestones. We’ll get to the small ones next.

This is a great way to, literally, visualize your story taking shape. You can do this by hand on a long scroll of paper (rice paper or butcher paper works well); with physical index cards; with online programs like Scrivener. There are even apps for smartphones that mimic index cards. Or you can list them in outline form in a notebook or in a Word file. Do whatever works for you.

I’m a bit old school and I like the index card method. I sit at my dining room table and start filling out card by card and arranging them in a row. Standing there, watching my idea actually become a story is exciting and fulfilling — a reward for all the effort I’ve put in just “thinking.” But that thinking is why this clothesline method works as well as it does. I find once I start writing scenes on those cards, my hand can’t write fast enough. I’ve internalized who my characters are and where this story is going. The physical writing of one scene sparks my brain to move to the next and the next. When I get stuck, I do some laps around the house.

Free-Write Synopsis

Let me deviate here for a second, because there’s another technique I use right about this same time: I “free write” a long synopsis. Not one of those one- or two-page synopses we all dread. This is for my eyes only, which takes the pressure off. In truth, the order here varies. Sometimes I take my hook, my three disasters, all my other prep work on characters, etc., and dive right into this synopsis. Other times I wait and do the laundry line/index cards first. I can also be writing this simultaneously while working on the index cards. Figure out what works best for you, and like me, that may change from story to story.

In order to create this synopsis, I take the plot points and bigger picture scenes I have so far and simply write — anywhere from five to fifteen pages. I write down the opening image (which I decided on when I worked through last month’s Save the Cat method), expanding on it, sometimes even writing a very short scene with dialogue. I then plug in each plot point I have so far and start writing between them. It’s almost a stream-of-consciousness type of writing. I let my mind wander, and the synopsis is often full of questions. Would the character do this or that? If she does this, then later, what about that other thing? I don’t worry about answering these questions. I don’t worry if the thread doesn’t make complete sense. I let myself go tons of places and explore every random idea that comes to me — any and every route that can take me from one plot point to the next. If a full scene comes, I write it. If dialogue comes, I write it. I don’t stop myself until I’ve written that closing image (which again I decided on thanks to the Save the Cat exercise) and exhausted myself and my brainstorming.

(Side note: this “free write” synopsis that I did when plotting Becoming Jinn ended in a final closing image and what I thought would be the last few lines of the book. You know what? Those lines in my initial synopsis are still the final lines to my book, post my revisions, post agent revisions, post editor revisions. They’ll be the ones in the final, published book. Pretty neat, huh?)

The Clothesline

After I complete this long synopsis, I then go back to my index cards. I print out this rambling story my brain has strung together and figure out what parts should actually make it into the book, highlighting them and crossing out the others. The ones that stay, I then hang on my laundry line. I start with the big scenes and then add the small ones. I then do the same exact thing with each of my subplots. I plot the subplot disasters, free write the subplots into that synopsis, and then get those subplot scenes onto index cards.

Each time I hang something on that clothesline, I assess what comes before it and what comes after it. I make sure I have a transition into and out of each item pinned to the line. For the subplots, I figure out if they are evenly spaced and spread throughout the novel, appearing at intervals and not all clumped together.

Are all of these scenes complete, fully fleshed out? Absolutely not! There very well may be a card that says “need interaction with XYZ” or “need romance scene here.” But the very notion that I know something is needed makes sure it will eventually be inserted, and inserted in the right spot. This makes the initial writing and the subsequent revisions a heck of a lot easier. I’m not trying to find room to jam something missing into an already finished manuscript. I plan for it at the start (even if, at the start, I don’t know exactly what that “romance” scene will be).

I continue to hone my long synopsis, often it will reach forty pages or more. I leave my index cards on the table for as long as it takes — days, a week, two weeks, three? My husband and I have dinners in front of the TV while my story haunts me from the dining room, calling me to add another card and another and another. Until my entire story, main plot and subplots, is laid out before me.

It is then that I can translate this into a beat sheet. Which I’ll discuss next time.

Lori Goldstein is the author of Becoming Jinn (Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, Spring 2015, sequel, Spring 2016). With a degree in journalism and more than 10 years of experience, Lori is a freelance copyeditor and manuscript consultant for all genres. She focuses on the nitty-gritty, letting writers focus on the writing.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Writing IS Exercise

I came across this quote on Facebook and wanted to share it because it really captures how much exercise a writer gets.

Exhausting, isn't it? ;)

I find it ironic when people ask me what I've been up to. I usually say, "Writing," and shrug, because it's not like I'm ACTIVE, per se. On the other hand, I've been so immersed in another world, feeling what the characters feel, and utterly obsessed with where the plot is going that I feel like I've lived another life entirely. 

Does that ever happen to you?

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Laura Diamond is a board certified psychiatrist and author of all things young adult paranormal, dystopian, and horror. Her Young Adult Paranormal Romance novelette NEW PRIDE and novel SHIFTING PRIDE debuted late 2012 from Etopia Press. A spin off short story based on the lions of Tsavo, TSAVO PRIDE, is now available on Kindle. In 2013, her Young Adult Dystopian series, ENDURE and EVOKE, are being published by Etopia Press. Her Young Adult Paranormal Adventure, THE ZODIAC COLLECTOR, is coming 2014 by Spencer Hill Press. When she's not writing, she is working at the hospital, blogging at Author Laura Diamond--Lucid Dreamer, and renovating her 225+ year old fixer-upper mansion. 

If you’re interested in reading more about me, or interacting with me on the web check out the following links:

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Hope to “see” you soon!