Friday, November 28, 2014

Writers Take Baby Steps

Duh, right? Of course writers take baby steps.

You don’t just wake up one day and say, “I’m going to write a book!”, write a book, and get it published before dessert.

It takes time. It takes exploration and mistakes and hard work. Ask any writer you look up to. Even “overnight success” stories don’t actually happen overnight. Even if you’re among the luckiest and most skilled, it takes effort and patience.

It’s all in the baby steps.

Source: giphy

When I started writing toward my goal of being a published author, all I had was a terrible manuscript. That manuscript is printed off in a box in my mom and dad’s house. I stumbled upon it recently and didn’t even recognize it as my own because I’ve grown so much since then. It took writing that to get better, though. I wouldn’t be where I am without it.

After that, I got into blogging. One of my blogs gained the interest of people outside my close family and fiends. Whaaaa! I even got paid in product now and then for writing that blog, which amazed me. My two other blogs are more personal, so people who don’t know me don’t generally care about what I write there. But it was the experience of writing these blogs (along with forming relationships and putting myself out there during #PitchWars on Twitter) that helped me get this spot as a contributor on YAtopia. Doing what I love on this blog will undoubtedly help me when I query my current manuscript. I’ve had the best writing year of my life. No, I haven’t accomplished all my dreams and goals, but I’m getting closer and having a blast doing it.

I encourage you, no matter how long you’ve been writing and dreaming of the day you get that book deal, to appreciate the baby-step process. In this season of gratitude, be thankful for every step you’ve taken so far because those steps have propelled you someway, somehow. Be encouraged by all you’ve done. None of it is wasted. Push on. Take more steps. One day you’ll be glad you did.

I’m right there with you and cheering you on!

Source: giphy

Cheerfully yours,
Jessie Mullins


Monday, November 24, 2014

Yes, That's Spam; No, Don't Do It: How to Avoid Alienating Readers

We all hate SPAM. Every author knows that spamming potential readers is a surefire way to alienate them (RIGHT?) - so why do some insist on invading your online space with their advertisements?

It turns out, based on some conversations I had this week, some authors don't believe what they're doing is SPAM. So here's my handy-dandy, not comprehensive guide, called "Yes, that's spam."

1) Direct Messages

Unless you are having an actual conversation (not argument) or the person has asked you to DM her some information, resist the urge to send a private message on any social media site.

The absolute fastest way to get someone who may have been interested in your books to unfollow you is to send one of those gross "thanks for following messages" immediately after they follow you. Bonus points if it's obviously automated.

For ex:

Thanks for following me! Check out my newest release Stupid Book on Amazon! (service of @tweetspammerco)

*yes that is a link to my alter-ego's book. Hey, I needed a link for my example. And you're in my space, after all.

This is not limited to sales links! Telling people where to find your website or other social media, or even messages without links are still considered spam. Private messages are a place for conversation, not for promotion of any kind.

It's like: Those obnoxious phone calls just as you're sitting down to dinner

2) Posting on Someone Else's Virtual Space

Posting about your book on someone's Facebook Wall. Promoting your book on a FB group that has not specifically invited you to do so. Using the comments of another person's blog post to link to/talk about your book. Posting about your book in forums not specifically intended for that sort of thing.

Really, posting about your books on any online space that you do not "own" and you have not been specifically invited to use for that purpose is always a big no-no.

It's like: Walking around a book festival, slapping stickers of your book cover on people without asking.

3) Goodreads "Events" and "Book Suggestions"

I know that someone is telling you to use Goodreads Events to announce your book launch and that someone is telling you to use Goodreads Book Suggestion feature to suggest your own book to anyone who's naive enough to friend you.

Someone wants people to hate you. I want people to like you and I'm saying: don't do this.

Events should be an actual event that someone can attend (virtual events are a thing!), not just an announcement of a book launch. And the Book Suggestion feature's intended use is for people who actually know each other (again, online friendships are a thing!) to suggest books they enjoyed to other people they think might also enjoy them.

It's like: Those pieces of mail that make it look like you're going to get in trouble with the law, but really they're just trying to make you sign up for a loan.

4) Tags

Tagging people in a picture when it's just a promotional image for your book. Mentioning people in a tweet that is promo for your book (or even tweeting a bunch of usernames with something impersonal). Using hashtags meant for communities in promotional posts.

It's like: #2 on this list and also implying that the tagged person endorses your product.

5) Repetitive Promotional Messages

If you tweet the same message about your book every day with a link, rethink that strategy. Also, if you post only about your book and nothing else, mix it up. You may think this is ok because those people have chosen to follow/like you, but you're not building your readership this way. Either your readers are going to unfollow you, or your message becomes background noise.

It's like: a preacher giving the same exact sermon every Sunday.

If you are doing any of these things, you are without-a-doubt alienating potential readers. I know some authors will argue with me, but you're deluding yourself if you think these things are a good use of your promotional time. I promise you the number of books you may sell will never outweigh the books you will never sell because you made someone feel like a customer and not like a person.

Yes, that's spam. No, don't do it.

Friday, November 21, 2014

10 simple but effective editing tips

As NaNoWriMo comes to an end...’s time to start thinking about editing your brand new, but probably not squeaky clean, manuscript. Something, I now realise, most writers seem to despise. Tapping out that first draft is easy; the imaginative, colourful, exciting part of writing a book. But it’s rough. The rough draft. You don’t have time to battle with punctuation and grammar and risk interrupting the creative flow and the communication between your brain telling your laptop the story.

That comes later. Even before employing an editor to help you polish, some editing has to be taken on by you. But it needn’t be a traumatic experience. Here are a few simple techniques to help tighten your writing.

1.      Although sometimes it's needed, mostly you can remove ‘began to’ and ‘started to’ and 'continued to'. ‘He began to eat his chips’ can be written as ‘He ate his chips’. ‘I started to walk to the shops’ can be written as ‘I walked to the shops’. It’s sharper and makes no difference to the reader’s understanding.

2.     Again, some are necessary, but remove as many ‘was’ and ‘were’ from the narrative. ‘I was unhappy’ ‘She was excited’ ‘They were pleased with the weather’ ‘There was a big tree in the garden’ – they are all telling the reader something, and we all know how bad telling is. Find a better and sharper way to reword these sentences, show the reader the scene and the characters’ emotions.

3.      Likewise, remove filter words such as ‘felt’ and ‘saw’. Let the reader use their own senses so they can be part of the book and not sit on the periphery. ‘I felt the hot sun on the grass beneath my feet’ = ‘The sun burned the grass beneath my feet’ and ‘I saw a large tree in the garden’ = ‘A large tree towered above me in the middle of the garden’.

4.      We’ve all got words and phrases we love to use. Mine is 'just', which I happen to know a lot of people share in this obsession. Other common words are ‘that’ ‘really’ ‘very’. Some of your characters might 'roll their eyes' a lot. You are likely to have an inkling as to what your overused word is. Ctrl + F on Word will seek them out so you can delete them or reword them. If you don’t know your word, ask someone to read your manuscript; they will find it! Just like a reader will if you don't deal with them first!

5.      Adverbs. I don’t need to say much on this as I expect you’ve all heard it many times before. ‘I walked slowly’ vs ‘I crept’ or ‘I tiptoed’; 'The door banged loudly' vs 'The door slammed'.  It's obvious which are better.

6.      Cliches. Again, I doubt I need to patronise you all and say get rid, but it is a testament to your writing if you can be original. Please don’t let ‘shivers run up’ your characters’ spines. Please don’t let ‘hearts beat like drums’. Reword and show off. The odd one later in the manuscript might pass by unnoticed but don't risk lots. 

7.      Avoid superfluous words. ‘I shrugged my shoulders’ = ‘I shrugged’. ‘I nodded my head’ = ‘I nodded’. The reader will get it.

8.      Don't be boring. Sorry, bit rude, I know. 'I walked to my bag and took out my keys. I walked to the door and put my keys in the keyhole and I pushed the door open with my other hand....blah blah blah.' Yawn. 'I fished for the keys in my tote. God, I had so much junk in there, where were they? There! I grabbed them and rushed to the door, it clicked as I unlocked it and I shoved my way through.' Probably not the best example, but I'm sure you get the idea. Don't over-tell actions, and try to blend in some description and some personality as you write.

9.      Keep moving your story forward. This pretty much means leave out the back story. A little here and there is essential, but blend it in naturally. Don’t pile paragraph upon paragraph of exposition, don’t keep taking us back in time so we can understand, don’t bore us with too many details in one go. Blend, be subtle.

10.  Pay attention to point of view and tenses. Decide how you’re telling your story. First person, third limited or omniscient, past or present tense, etc. Then stick with it. If you’ve been telling the story from Bill’s POV from chapter one to chapter twenty one, don’t suddenly view a scene from Martha’s. If you’ve let us into the mind and emotional turmoil of Adrian, don’t half way through a chapter describe Philip’s. Be consistent.  

That should keep you going for a while! Simple elements to focus on, but all will have a huge impact on your writing and your story. Good luck! I'm here for you. 


Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Accidental NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo - the one acronym that can reduce me to a shivering bundle of nerves and self-deprecation. And why should a month dedicated to the thing I do every day anyway evoke such rabid fear and loathing? Because I really really want to win this thing just once to prove myself that I can, in fact, pump out 50, 000 words in one month. The reality is that I've tried many times before and have never managed to succeed.

My excuses have been many:

1) Insufficiently inspired (the Muse's fault)

2) Insufficiently prepared (my own fault)

3) Too busy (work's fault)

4) Not my style (the excuse I trot out when I want to feel better about failing at the challenge)

5) I can write 50k any other month of the year, November is just a bad month (it is because I work at a school and November gets incredibly busy, but it's still a lame excuse)

And so the list of excuses continues...

The truth is that writing 50k words in 30 days is entirely possible, especially when I plan well, have a decently detailed outline and am totally in the zone of the piece I'm working on. Heck, I've written more than 50k words in one month on works already in progress. My problem is diving into something new with enough gusto to get all that wordage down in 30 days. Point number 4 from above is partly true: writing the way you need to to win NaNo isn't really my style because it takes me a while to ease into a new work and I often end up rewriting and editing as I go - definitely not a good thing if the main goal is building a word count.

This year I was adamant I wouldn't be taking part in NaNoWriMo, but then I started seeing all the tweets and posts about it and I just couldn't resist the challenge. I had a sort of outline for a brand new work and decided to take the plunge. The first 5k flew by and then I stalled. Writing out of my comfort zone with a half-formed outline for NaNo was mistake number one, and secondly, this is a story I want to get right and rushing it for the sake of wordage felt wrong and left me feeling demotivated. Once again I was going to fail at this challenge.

I accidentally stumbled upon a short story meant for an anthology that never happened. I liked the story, loved the characters and had aspirations of expanding the short to be a longer short story of say 15k. I started working on it and the Muse kicked into gear and the words were flowing and suddenly I knew I had a project I could actually make work for NaNoWriMo *sound the trumpets* Despite starting almost a week late with this project, my word count today is at almost 23k, only a little behind where it should be according to NaNo site statistics *toss the confetti* Up until Friday when life threw my a different kind of curveball (which I can't talk about just yet) that will not doubt end up curbing my daily word count, I was feeling pretty good about my chances of winning NaNo this year. While I doubt I'll now be able to hit 50k this month, that's okay because this WIP is taking shape and exceeding all my expectations. Regardless of whether or not I can hit 50k by November 30, the fact that I've got a story I'm excited about turning into a novel feels like a win to me.

Wishing all those participating in NaNo this year the best of luck, but remember - the true goal isn't writing 50k words, it's writing and enjoying that process. I'm no longer going to let November and the unattainable 50k words stress me out because it takes the fun out of writing and what's the point of that?

Friday, November 14, 2014



Sadly once again I have to postpone my examination of the Game of Thrones being secretly a YA novel in the trappings of adult fantasy to talk about change.

Last month I talked about the loss of my best friends and incredible talented author Eugie Foster.
Now I am talking about change. Change is something we all face in life regardless of what we are doing. Change is a constant.

I talked about how at DragonCon I just talked to a kid about Doctor Who and I talked to her like she was an adult, well maybe not like an adult, but I didn’t dumb the conversation down and talked to her like a person.

Well I had another conversation recently which changed my life. And I mean changed it drastically. 

This conversation was a job interview with a new library system.

With that conversation I am now a branch manager of my own library. With taking that job I am buying my first house. I still can’t believe I found a house that fast to purchase.

But this why I bring all of this up; you never know when a conversation will change your life. I have pitched books and short stories in conversations with publisher and editors. That is how I started transforming my world of Amazing Pulp Adventures into a roleplaying game. It is how it was also licensed for a board/card game.

It is thanks to a number of conversations that I wrote for the newest volume of You and Who; which is an essay anthology about individual people and their relationship with Doctor Who.

You never know who you are going to meet and interact with on a daily basis. Or where it might lead you. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The No Spark Rejection

If you're a writer and any kind of good, you'll inevitably get past form rejections and make it to the big leagues of actual comments on your work.

Wow. An agent/editor was moved enough to give a personalized rejection!

But this can be bitter sweet.

Sometimes they might offer helpful feedback that, if you agree with it, can help you fix an area of your manuscript you and your CPs hadn't caught. Heck, they might even request a rewrite.

Other times it's not so helpful.

The "no spark" rejection, also known as the "didn't connect" or "just didn't love it the way I wanted to" rejection, is a big, acrid jug of "no thanks".

And there's nothing you can do about it. Often these rejections are attached with comments saying there's nothing wrong with your work. Not one dang thing! You have great characters, an interesting premise, the pacing is right, there are no cliches--but....

It's a case of "she's just not that into you".

These kinds of rejections can be hard to take. "But you said there's nothing wrong with it!" As productive human beings we struggle with the thought that there is nothing to fix. No flick of the wand that'll brush things up for the next agent/editor.

But on the flip side of things, you don't have to fix anything. Move on to the next agent. Send the work out to the next editor. Just like dating, you can't get bent out of shape over one person, even if you thought you guys would be great together and you really just "knew" it was going to happen.

I've thought about this over the last month in great detail. And I've thought of books I have on my shelf that I didn't really like.

Pet Semetary - Meh. Didn't think it was that scary, just really sad. It made me hug my one-year-old son tighter every day, but I didn't feel that "spark".

The Name of the Wind - I picked it up thinking the hordes of people praising it couldn't be wrong. But they were, at least, in comparison to what I like. It wasn't a bad book. It just wasn't that great. I had higher hopes for it.

Divergent, The Hunger Games, and a good many other YA books - They were written in present tense. I disdain present tense, and that's putting it gently. Not that it means the books are bad. They just don't fit into my wheel of cool.

And this is just my opinion, my taste. I am but one individual and there are plenty others with differing views. It's the same with the people you submit to. They're people--fallible, unique.

But that's what makes this journey we've endeavored to begin so magical. It might take you a few tries at the arcane table. You might have to send more than one raven with your potion of awesome.

It's hard. But that doesn't mean it's not worth it.

-- Sean

Monday, November 10, 2014

Book Blast - Kate Brauning

We are extremely lucky to have a author Kate Brauning today! So without further ado, let me hand it over...

How We Fall How We Fall
Kate Brauning
Merit Press, F&W Media
Releasing November 11, 2014
Hardcover: 304 pages
ISBN-10: 1440581797
ISBN-13: 978-144058179

Ever since Jackie moved to her uncle's sleepy farming town, she's been flirting way too much--and with her own cousin, Marcus. Her friendship with him has turned into something she can't control, and he's the reason Jackie lost track of her best friend, Ellie, who left one knows where. Now Ellie has been missing for months, and the police, fearing the worst, are searching for her body. Swamped with guilt and the knowledge that acting on her love for Marcus would tear their families apart, Jackie pushes her cousin away. The plan is to fall out of love, and, just as she hoped he would, Marcus falls for the new girl in town. But something isn't right about this stranger, and Jackie's suspicions about the new girl's secrets only drive the wedge deeper between Jackie and Marcus. Then Marcus is forced to pay the price for someone else's lies as the mystery around Ellie's disappearance starts to become horribly clear. Jackie has to face terrible choices. Can she leave her first love behind, and can she go on living with the fact that she failed her best friend?

Praise for How We Fall:
Kirkus Reviews: "Debut novelist Brauning tells a touching story of young, star-crossed lovers caught in a drama they have tried hard to avoid.... A sweetly written mix of mystery and romantic turmoil."

School Library Journal: "Heartbreaking and well-paced, this mystery novel challenges readers to look past preconceptions and get to the know characters, rather than focus on an uncomfortable taboo. Brauning's characters are well developed and their story engrossing. An intriguing thriller... this title will raise eyebrows and capture the interest of teens."

ALA Booklist: “…an unusual combination of romance and suspense…There is also something universal about Jackie’s struggles with her feelings and her desires, and readers will identify with her emotions, while going along for the plot’s ride. This quest for identity, wrapped up in an intriguing mystery, hooks from the beginning.”

How We Fall is available through:

All book lovers are invited to attend #YAlaunch, a giant book party for How We Fall and The Hit List on Monday, November 10th, from 6-9pm central time. Broadcast live over video, the party will allow you to see, hear, and interact with the authors. 10 YA and adult authors will be discussing everything from writing a series to how they write love interests. They’ll also be playing book games with the audience, taking questions, and giving away 100 books to guests attending online. Authors attending include NYT bestsellers Nicole Baart and Tosca Lee, Kate Brauning, Nikki Urang, Kiersi Burkhart, Bethany Robison, Alex Yuschik, Blair Thornburgh, Kelly Youngblood, and Delia Moran. It will be a fun and interactive evening for anyone who loves books and wants to spend some time with great authors. For more information and to sign up to attend, please click here. We'd love to see you there!


Author Bio: Kate Brauning grew up in rural Missouri and fell in love with young adult books in college. She now works in publishing and pursues her lifelong dream of telling stories she'd want to read. This is her first novel. Visit her online at or on Twitter at @KateBrauning.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Agentopia: Renee Nyen

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

This month Renee Nyen from KT Literary is in the spotlight.

Several years in the editorial department at Random House’s Colorado division provided Renee with the opportunity to work with bestselling and debut authors alike. After leaving Random House, she came to KT Literary in early 2013. She loves digging into manuscripts and helping the author shape the best story possible. Though this is great for her profession, it tends to frustrate people watching movies with her.

With a penchant for depressing hipster music and an abiding love for a good adventure story, Renee is always looking for book recommendations. Even if that means creeping on people reading in public. Which she does frequently.
She makes her home in Colorado with her husband, their young daughter, and their hygienically-challenged basset hound.

Renee also kindly answered a few questions for our readers...

What are you looking for in YA submissions right now? 
I'm looking for YA and MG. Specifically, I'd love to find a gritty space pirate story! Also, I'm a sucker for deep, meaningful friendships. Especially between females. I see many queries where in the opening pages the boy-crazed, shopaholic best friend dolls up the beautiful-yet-introverted main character and drags her to a party. There is so much more depth to friendships in high school. I want to see that reflected in YA books.

What's an immediate turn-off in a query, something guaranteed to get the author rejected?
I know it sounds basic, but following agency submission guidelines is really important. A lot of our email is automatically sorted. For kt literary, if the word "query" isn't in your subject line, your email may end up in our spam folder. It seems fussy, since every agency has different guidelines, but it's for a reason.

As for personal taste, be specific! It's hard to get excited about a main character's "deep inner struggle with personal demons" or their "journey to enlightenment and self-discovery" because the language is so general. I look at thousands of queries and the ones that stand out are concise, detailed, and interesting. I know that seems impossible, but it can be done!

What's the story got to have to make you want to represent it?
Voice! It's pretty easy to tell upfront if I want to spend 200+ pages with a character. That's the crux of YA and MG for me. I want a character who is relatable or interesting. Someone who will challenge the way I look at the world or put a smile on my face. Those are the books that stay with me, and ultimately, are the books I want to represent!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Loud and Clear: Part 2: The Technical Elements of Voice: POV

Last month, I began this series on voice by defining what it is we mean by “writing voice.”
This month, I’m going to begin talking about the technical elements—the writing mechanics—that play a direct role in voice.
Before we get into the specifics, keep in mind that both the type of story you are writing and the intended audience will influence your writing voice.
The voice for a horror story will be very different from the voice for a picture book (or at least I hope it is!). The voice for a nonfiction blog about finance will be very different than the voice for a fashion blog for tweens. The first might be quite formal and professional, while the second will likely be fun, bubbly, and accessible.
As I go through the technical elements of voice, keep these two things in mind: the type of content and your intended reader.
The Technical Elements of Voice
There are five areas I want to touch on in this overview of the writing mechanics that are core to voice.
1. Point of view or POV
2. Tense
3. Grammar and punctuation
4. Syntax (arrangement of words and phrases), sentence structure, rhythm
5. Word choice (specificity, consistency, and staying true to your characters)

Point of View
This post is all about point of view.
Point of view plays a direct role in voice. It’s a key decision because it sets who’s telling your story and from what narrative perspective the reader is experiencing the action of the story.
In a first-person POV, like that of The Hunger Games, the story is told through the eyes of the main character. We see only what Katniss sees, we feel only what Katniss feels. The voice of your story is the voice of your main character. All the words used and the tone employed come from who that main character is. It’s the clearest example of how voice can come from a technical element.
But then there’s third person POV, which runs on a spectrum from very close, similar to first person, to third person objective and omniscient. As you run along this spectrum, you are increasing the distance away from your main character. Making the decision to tell your story in third person means you’ve made a clear choice to put a bit more space between the character and the reader. This is a voice decision.
The Harry Potter series is told in third person limited, staying very close to Harry in all but a few instances.
While not used much, second person, in which the narrator addresses the protagonist as “you,” as if addressing a younger version of him or herself or perhaps as used in a letter or diary format, is another key decision that affects voice. If your character is writing in a diary, essentially talking to him or herself, the voice is going to be very different from the voice that character would use when in conversation with other people.
Once you have your POV, you need to remain consistent in its use. And while every character, main or secondary, in your novel should have his or her own distinct voice, this idea is especially important in books with multiple points of view. 
Often in books with multiple points of view, the character’s name is used in the chapter title. Or different fonts are used for each narrator. Those are easy ways to tell the reader which character is narrating the chapter, but if a book is well-written, you shouldn’t need those clues. You should be able to tell which character is narrating simply from the language and style used—from the voice.
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell is an excellent example of two very strong, distinct POVs in the same work. You know from their voices if it’s Eleanor or Park narrating that chapter. That’s exactly what you want to achieve.
One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received on my writing was when a beta reader highlighted a line of dialogue and then added a comment in my Word file that said, “That’s so Henry!” about one of the characters in Becoming Jinn. That she could feel so strongly that a single line truly reflected my character means I drew him well, with a distinct voice that was different from all my other characters’ voices. You can bet I studied that line long and hard to see how I did that and to make sure (hope!) I could do it again!
Next month, we’ll move on to tense, grammar and punctuation, and sentence structure.

Lori Goldstein is the author of Becoming Jinn (now available for preorder; Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, May 12, 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.