Sunday, December 28, 2014

Thank You

This is a huge ball of thank you.

Created on

Thank you for a great 2014!

Thank you to faithful readers of this blog. And to new readers. I can't say we couldn't do this without you because, let's face it, we'd do it anyway because of our love for books and writing. But it sure makes our day when you interact with us. If we're talking ice cream sundaes, you're the fudge and sprinkles and whipped cream and cherry and roasted peanuts.

Thank you to the authors who never gave up. To the authors who dared put yourselves out there, vulnerable to the whims of agents, publishers, and readers. Your perseverance and hard work has brought us great joy. Unless we threw your book across the room, but we like having that kind of reaction too, so it's all good.

To the writers who are still striving and who don't give up, thanks to you too. You'll bring us joy in the future.

Thank you to every guest we've had on this blog. Your willingness to share you experience and expertise is gold. We appreciate every one of you.

Thank you to librarians everywhere. Thank you for reading. For suggesting books to us and putting on events. For working in such a magical place. For all the little behind-the-scenes things you do that we don't know about. You rock.

Thanks to everyone involved in any way in the publishing world. You do so much work so we can slip into solace. Bravo.

Thank you to the people in public or in our homes or friendships who don't know we writers watch you for inspiration. Thanks for being interesting and not being too creeped out right now.

Finally, thank you to readers everywhere. Readers of books. Readers who write stuff so other people can read more stuff. A world full of books is a world full of ideas and dreams and understanding. That world isn't possible without all of you. You hold the most power. If the world stopped reading, the publishers would stop publishing, and writers would...well, we'd still write,'s just so much better with you, I swear. Thanks to readers who buy books, write reviews, interact with authors, go to readings and book signings, and suggest books to your friends. Every little action you take makes a difference. You're all amazing!

May you all rock 2015 so much harder than any year before. (It'll be hard to top your previous awesomeness, I know, but I believe in you.)
Happy New Year! Cheers,

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas is an inspirational time!

As Christmas is just three days away – ARGH! – I’ll keep this blog nice and short as I’m sure you’re all flat out busy.

An idea can grow from the smallest seed, and at Christmas time these seeds could be preparing to bloom at every moment. So keep your notebook, post-its, empty envelopes, torn bits of wrapping paper, or anything with the potential to scribble notes on handy. Here are some things to watch out for which might inspire your creativity over the holidays.

1.      Present unwrapping time: There is always someone guaranteed to receive a present that will set up the jokes and memories of the future. It’s real, it happens the world over, and pretty much everyone will be able to associate; even if they haven't ever been on the receiving end! I've still got some of my 'unusual' gifts from Christmas past, and I'm sure one day they'll end up in one of my novels!
2.   Disappointed faces: There’s nothing quite like the wide eyes that follow the reception of an unwanted gift. Young children might just be able to get away with blurting out an ‘I didn’t ask for this’ honesty, but the older you get, the more chance you have of causing lifelong offence. The forced smile; the ‘Wow! What an interesting present’ type response; the abnormally long focus on the item; and the final resting place of the gift when the attention is no longer with the recipient. Watch for the awkwardness, the cover ups, and the facial expressions.

3.    Christmas dinner: Watch your guests or hosts closely. See granny eat the biggest dinner of everyone and then ask for more. Take in the kids’ faces as they chew on a Brussels Sprout. Did the Yorkshire puddings get a little too crispy on the edges? Did the brandy butter flames get a little out of control? OK, some of these scenes might be cliché, but this is a great occasion for noting some humourous and memorable moments.


4.    After dinner ‘uncomfortableness’: Stuffed bellies lead to inevitable consequences. However childish one might find this, it can be utterly hilarious. Did granddad let one slip out as he snoozed in front of the TV? Who made the toilet smell like the bog of eternal stench? Who’s been in the upstairs loo for what seems like an hour? However posh or reserved a person may be, no one escapes the post-dinner aftermath!
5.   Evening game time: Trivial? Monopoly? Hungry Hippos? Anyone competitive in the family? Any rivals on opposing teams? Any disputes over the quiz master not speaking clearly? A classic time to observe the so-called easy going relatives, who often turn into victory hungry animals. The elderly who can’t remember where they put their bag, but whose eye is as sharp as a knife-edge during a game of Pairs or Bridge. Maybe your Jekyll and Hyde is lurking in the lounge on Christmas day waiting to pounce; particularly after a few 'small' glasses of brandy! 

Real people, real reactions, real experiences. These are essential elements to perfecting the character depth of your novel. Keep notes, set up the video recorder, take photos. Observe and enjoy.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Editopia: Jet Black Publishing

Today, we welcome Kim Mungcal, editor at Jet Black Publishing; a brand new and refreshing children's and YA publisher based in Australia. Jet Black's bookstore is now open with their first books available for purchase. Take a look here

Hi Kim. Thanks so much for joining us and allowing us to interview you.

First up, tell us about Jet Black Publishing. 

Jet Black Publishing is a publishing house dedicated to delivering inspirational and inventive stories to children and young adults. We are driven to create stories that will give children a sense of purpose, a moral lesson and overall enjoyment. We wish to inspire a thirst for adventure and to help unlock children's potential through their imaginations. 'Family' and 'community' are integral to our creative processes and underpin the products we deliver. We strongly believe that children are shaped by their communities. Together we can help guide children down paths less taken and on journeys of discovery to a greater future.

What sets Jet Black apart from other children’s publishers around the world?

Jet Black stories are written by parents, guardians, grandparents, aunts, uncles, older brothers and sisters, teachers, librarians, babysitters and kids. These are people who read to children either as a bed time story, daycare story time, classroom activity or library event. They understand what makes stories engaging.
Jet Black Authors and Illustrators aren't in it for the money. They're in it for the love of storytelling and understand the importance of teaching children helpful ways to live extraordinary lives.
We're not a big corporation. We work with Authors and Illustrators to create their vision. 60% of each book sold goes to the Author/Illustrator.
We will donate 20% of each book sold to the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation.

Are you open to submissions for middle grade and young adult novels? If so, what exactly are you looking for? Or maybe, what are you definitely not looking for? 

Yes, we cater for middle grade and YA authors. There are a couple of middle grade novels in the works. However, there are no YA stories in production currently. We'd be interested in similar values as our children's books; in that it inspires imagination and a sense of adventure. We would definitely not take on submissions that encourage hate and discrimination. Our goal is to focus on positive outcomes and learning experiences.

Amongst the submissions you’ve received to date, are you seeing any trends? 

There is definitely a trend in Tooth Fairies! Otherwise, most submissions have been very quirky but fun.

Which genre is your personal favourite?

Personally I find the stories that take you out of this 'world' particularly entertaining as it opens up new and unexplored worlds. Jumping into paintings or a world full of magical creatures lifts the limitations of our imaginations. Supernatural, science fiction and fantasy would be my choice.

How and when did your interest in books begin? How has your life-path led you to set up Jet Black Publishing?

I always liked drawing, and I always liked writing; so I figured I'd do well with making kids's picture books. I wanted to create my own stories but found that there weren't any publishers with the same values or flexibility. I thought it would be a good idea to start my own, then discovered being a publisher was just as much fun because I began working with brilliant authors and illustrators.

Tell us about you. What’s your background? 

I come from a not-so-rich background in the Philippines. My father died when I was barely a month old and my birth mother gave me away to my aunt so I could live a better life.
When I was very young, my aunt (now adopted mother) used to read to me bed time stories before I'd fall asleep. She had a thick book called '366 Bedtime Stories: A Story for Every Day of the Year' and would read one each night; two if I could persuade her. The stories took me on great adventures and left me dreaming of far away places. It formed the wild imagination I have today and is a source of inspiration and courage I use for day to day. With all my heart I can honestly say that they were the fondest memories I have as a child with a loving mother that only hoped for the best in me.
I'm now both a Graphic Designer and Publisher living in Australia; trying to return the favour to other children who could use the same encouragement I got.
Here’s your opportunity to plug some of Jet Black’s upcoming titles. 
Book launch ad Aunty Arty.jpg

Aunty Arty and the Disquieting Muses
Frieda’s Aunty Arty has a magical paintbrush and stickers that can transport them into famous works of art. A new series for junior readers ...

Book launch ad Bradley Banting.jpg

Bradley Banting: 5th Grade Man of Mystery – Socks for Supper
Bradley Banting is the youngest detective in the world (that he knows of), and lives for solving mysteries.

Book launch ad WWAPWM.jpg

Why Won't Anybody Play With Me?
Help your child get a head start at school by using Gavin’s story to discuss ways of making and being a good friend.

Thank you, Kim. If you have a children's book looking for a home, or are an illustrator seeking new and exciting projects, and think Jet Black Publishing might be the perfect home for you and your work, go here and follow the submission guidelines. Good luck! 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Year of Writing in Review

This year has been rather awesome both in the writing and normal-life sphere for me, but the biggest event of the year is happening right now: my husband and I are relocating from Finland to Sweden. In two days. My life right now is all about boxes and immigration admin. I haven't had much time for writing the past couple of weeks but the rest of the year was actually pretty good writing-wise.

As part of the #wipmarathon community (they're awesome! Check them out on Twitter) I have been doing a monthly check-in commenting about word counts, what distracted from writing that month and what I learned that month. I've done a lot of learning this year and thought I'd share some of my favourite lessons today.

1) I am going to fall in and out of love with my characters and that’s okay. I can actually still write even if I’m not currently in love with said characters. Sometimes, it’s better to be a little more removed from the story, better able to see its strengths and weakness and write accordingly.

2) I’m a perfectionist and this is not a bad thing. So that 200 word paragraph took me close to half an hour to edit and get just right – so what? Now it’s as close to perfect as I can make it and that’s what each and every sentence needs to be.

3) Writing a synopsis before having written the book is as excruciating as it is enlightening. The whole process was painful but it really helped, especially helping me connect the dots between plot points I had in the outline and fleshing out character arcs. This may be something I adopt as common practice for all new works.

4) Thinking about a book is sometimes as good as writing. Having not had the time to actually set down words forced some much needed distance between me and the work. I was getting a little bogged down in the plot and having had this time to ruminate on the story, I’ve managed to figure out where the problems lie.

5) Write the thing that scares you. Face that fear and get inside your character’s soul no matter how dark it seems. As an author, I have a duty to tell that character’s story and I can’t do that if I’m too afraid to write authentically.

6) Write to your strengths, but don’t ignore your weaknesses. Each new work is a chance to improve your craft.

7) As soon as you stop trying to come up with good lines, the good lines happen. The more I stress about my prose being prosaic or character quotidian, the more prosaic and quotidian they become. The instant I stop thinking about it and just write, these little nuggets pop onto the page and moments between awesome characters just happen. I think I need to hand over the reigns to my Muse more often.

So there you have it. These were some of the best if not always the easiest things I learned about writing and my writing process this year. Regardless of what's happening publishing wise, I know it's been a good writing year when I can look at where I started in January and where I am in December and see the improvement in my craft.

How did 2014 go for you? Learn anything new or interesting?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Holiday Help!

Hello everyone out there on the interwebs!

Instead of a normal post, though I don't think many of my posts can be considered normal, I have a question to pose to you.

I am now in charge of my own library, which is very exciting, but it needs some work in the YA/Teen section. It needs to grow quite a bit to be as rock and roll as it was at my old library where I was the YA/Teen librarian.

The question I have for you is what are some of your favorite Holiday YA/Teen books?

Once I look through all of your suggestions I will let you know which ones I have added to the collection. And I am not afraid to add some press or self pub authors as long as you think they are great writers and tell a compelling story. You might also find a book here that you might not have been aware of.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Description - doing it well

This month, I wanted to dive into another writing element: description. I chose this because it's something that comes to me naturally, but I know others struggle with it (just like how others are great at emotion and I have to work really hard at it).

Obviously, the intent behind descriptive writing is to describe a person, setting, or object that can materialize into an image in the reader's mind. Like this:

Or this:

Yes, you can tell I want to lounge on the couch now, can't you?

Anyway...when it comes to describing things, everyone knows that you want to evoke sensory details:
sights, smells, sounds, textures, and taste. You want the reader to experience the scene in as vivid a way as possible.

However, there are other ways you can develop your description. Firstly, it's important to describe unique details. Mostly, people describe the generality of things (blue eyes, cloudy sky, creaking doors). What you want to do is differ yourself from the pack. Instead of noticing the blue eyes of your character, what else can they notice (the earring glinting in their ear, the honey blonde strands rooted with dark). The same applies to objects: the way the sofa sags with overuse, the frayed corner of the pillows, the stain on the arm. The more specific you make your descriptions, the more to life they'll become.

Secondly. you want to use unique word choice. Did the sky sparkle like diamonds (generic) or like white sapphire (specific), was the couch just old or was it decrepit? Is the house just huge, or is it sprawling? Correct, accurate word choice can make all the difference in your descriptions.

And finally, use emotional filters. Depending on your character (and their emotional state, background, and experiences), each scene will look different from their perspective. A person who loves books might see a library and describe it as majestic. Someone who failed constantly at school might see it as intimidating. A perfectionist might describe the sofa as off-putting or unattractive...a bargain hunter might say it's rustic and antique.

So, there you have it. If you look out for sensory, unique details, accurate word choices, and emotional filters through which things are seen, you should have a pretty solid description on your hands.I'd love to know - what helps bring your descriptions to life?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Agentopia, a year in review

Firstly, we'd like to thank all the agents who have appeared in the Agentopia spotlight in 2014. They took time out of their busy schedules to answer our questions and we really appreciate that!

Looking back over everything the 2014 agents had to say, here are a few general points that are worth remembering when you query.

1) Always follow the agency/agent specific guidelines. This seems obvious, but browse through #tenqueries on Twitter and it's soon clear that many authors don't do this. Avoid a guaranteed and instant rejection by giving the agent in question exactly what they want - nothing more, nothing less.

2) Be specific in your query. Avoid generalities and cliche when describing the conflict and stakes for your character. The more specific you can be, the better. Vagueness in a query is not going to get you a request for pages or a full.

3) Voice. Make sure that great voice in your ms comes through in the query. That doesn't mean writing in the perspective of the main character, but it does mean making sure your word choice and turns of phrase in the query reflect the tone of your story and personality of your protagonist.

4) Don't preach. Your query should focus on your story, not why you wrote the book and the lessons readers will learn from reading it.

5) Don't oversell it. Let the story engage the agent and entice them to read more. If you start saying how your book is the next Hunger Games or Harry Potter, or that it'll definitely secure a six-figure advance, chances are you'll end up with a swift rejection.

Remember these 5 points when querying and you'll have a much better shot at getting a positive response from agents. Also remember that this is all highly subjective and what one agent might love another might hate. You won't be able to please everyone. Focus instead on writing the best book you can and representing that book with the best query you can write too. Do your research, follow submission guidelines, and learn as much as you can from agent responses.

If you've been querying this year and have a success story you'd like to share with us about querying one of our featured agents or others, please let us know! We'd love to hear from you!

Our next Agentopia agent will be in the spotlight January 6, 2015!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Loud and Clear: Part 3: The Technical Elements of Voice: Tense, Grammar and Punctuation, and Sentence Structure

This month, I continue our discussion on the technical elements—the writing mechanics—that play a direct role in voice by focusing on tense, grammar and punctuation, and sentence structure. (Click here for the first part in this series and here for the second part, which introduces the first element of voice: POV.)

Another decision that affects voice at a basic level is tense. Present tense is often thought to be faster paced and more urgent. But the key thing to remember about present tense in terms of voice is this: Everything is happening to your character in the now. Right now. The reader is experiencing everything right along with the main character. Your character doesn’t know what happens after this very moment. This means the voice does not allow for a lot of perspective.
Unlike in past tense when the narrator is telling us what has already happened. Past tense allows the character to have more perspective and reflection. A key component of using past tense is figuring out when your character is narrating this story. Is your character narrating something that happened yesterday or ten years ago? This is a difference that will affect the voice.
The Hunger Games is present tense while The Fault in Our Stars is past tense.
Grammar and Punctuation
Now, this might sound strange because there are rules of grammar and punctuation, right? Why, yes, there are, but we all know the saying that rules are made to be broken. And that’s never more true than in writing.
If not overdone, playing with punctuation and grammar can have a beneficial impact on creating your writer’s voice.
For example, say you have a character who speaks without a single contraction and with many big-ticket words. And then say you have a character who speaks with a lot of slang, abbreviations, or poor grammar.
What does this tell us about these characters? A lot. The first might be a scholarly professor from Oxford and the second might be a street rat. We can get hints of who your characters are—education, economic level, even attitude—all through their voice and the words you choose.
Also keep in mind that playing with the rules of grammar and punctuation lend believability to your writing, especially in dialogue. People don’t speak in complete sentences with perfect grammar. And neither should your characters.
Going back to what I said at the start of this series in terms of content and audience, you may want to play with elements of grammar and punctuation (ellipses, exclamation marks, slang) in a gossip column but not if you are writing for a bank.
Syntax, Sentence Structure, and Rhythm
Like with punctuation and grammar, sentence structure can also tell us about character. For example, lots of run-on sentences may show an overexcited character. Lots of short sentences may show a character who is reserved and efficient, not wasting a breath on anything extra. We get hints about who these people are just from the length and construction of their sentences.
But that’s not the only way sentence structure is important. It’s a key element in creating a rhythm that engages the reader.
I’m going to now include a passage from author Gary Provost. It’s one of the best illustrations I’ve seen of how important something as seemingly mundane and simple as sentence structure creates voice.

From 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing: Proven Professional Techniques for Writing with Style and Power 
by Gary Provost

Pretty powerful, right?
I’d like to include another example, which is actually the first page of my novel, Becoming Jinn. It’s the very start of the book.
A chisel, a hammer, a wrench. A sander, a drill, a power saw. A laser, a heat gun, a flaming torch. Nothing cuts through the bangle. Nothing I conjure even makes a scratch.

I had to try, just to be sure. But the silver bangle encircling my wrist can’t be removed. It was smart of my mother to secure it in the middle of the night while I was asleep, unable to protest.

Though my Jinn ancestry means magic has always been inside me, the rules don’t allow me to begin drawing upon it until the day I turn sixteen. The day I receive my silver bangle. The day I officially become a genie.


What do you see in that example in terms of sentence structure and rhythm? There’s an immediate mood set with the repetition in the lists of the tools; it’s bolstered by the word echoes of “nothing” and “the day I.”
What I’ve tried to do in this section is lull you into a mood with the rhythm of the writing so that when you get to that single-word sentence of “Today” you are hit with its power. It hopefully wakes you up and makes you take notice.

That’s all done with the sentence structure. It’s one of the strongest weapons in your writing arsenal. I love wielding this particular one!

Next month, I'll tackle the final technical element of voice: word choice.

Which of these voice techniques do you use? What else do you use to create voice?

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.