Friday, April 18, 2014

Book Talk: (DON'T YOU) FORGET ABOUT ME by Kate Karyus Quinn & Giveaway!

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

Gardnerville is a paradise, a place where the sick will be healed and the healthy can live forever. But everything has a price, and whatever magic allows Gardnerville to work its miracles also has a dark side. Every fourth year, the town's teens are at risk for exhibiting erratic and often violent behaviors.

As a Gardner and a descendant of the founding father of the town, Skylar knows more about the past than she wants to. The last fourth year saw her older sister Piper leading sixteen of her classmates to the suspension bridge where they willingly threw themselves into watery graves below. Memories of Piper from before that fourth year are too painful for Skylar, so she indulges daily in Forget-Me-Nots, little purple pills designed to wipe clean short-term memories.

To forget is all Skylar wants, but there is a weight of responsibility on her that she can't seem to shake. In her lucid moments she records herself on her mom's old cassette tapes, reminding the next day's Skylar what she must do in order to break the cycle of violence that Gardner feeds itself on.

Kate is a fellow Class of 2k13 member, and I also happen to think she's a pretty great writer and person. To help celebrate each other's new books in 2014, we're each writing about and giving away each other's ARCs. So, here on my blog you have a chance to enter to win an advance copy of (DON'T YOU) FORGET ABOUT ME, and over on her blog you can enter to win an ARC of IN A HANDFUL OF DUST. Pretty cool, right?

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

NOT A DROP TO DRINK Chosen As A Choose To Read Ohio Title

I'm proud to announce that NOT A DROP TO DRINK has been chosen as a Choose To Read Ohio title!

Choose to Read Ohio (CTRO) encourages libraries, schools, families, book clubs, and others to build communities of readers and an appreciation of Ohio authors, illustrators, and literature. Selected books are suitable for use in classrooms, libraries, bookstores, by book discussion groups, by families, and by other groups in various community settings. The CTRO booklist is developed by an advisory committee representing schools, libraries, and literary organizations, with input from 50 additional teachers, librarians, and other book lovers.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Debut MG Author Gayle Rosengren Takes The SAT

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Gayle Rosengren, author of WHAT THE MOON SAID, a historical MG novel set during the Great Depression. Gayle writes full-time in her home just outside of Madison, Wisconsin, where she lives with her husband, Don, and slightly neurotic rescue dog, Fiona. Gayle is living her dream, writing books she hopes will make the same difference in children's lives as her favorite books and authors made in hers.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I'm a planner. I don't like to write even my first sentence until I have a good idea what my last one will be. It's not that I rigidly cling to the vision I have in place when I begin a new manuscript. If I come up with something better as I'm going along--as I often do-- I'm delighted to go with it. But I won't begin without a destination and a plan in mind for getting there. It's too easy to get lost somewhere in the deep dark woods of the middle and never find the right path out into the sunlight again.

Although I don't outline per se, I do block out chapters with a sentence or two describing what should take place. I find this to be the most efficient way to keep the action moving and the plot from stalling. Again, if better ideas evolve as I'm writing, I welcome them most happily, but chapter-blocking keeps me focused on the primary plot points. And knowing where I'm going enables me to see the most natural ways to get from "here to there" often several chapters in advance.

How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?

In an ideal world, the first draft takes an average of three months. At this point I run it past my critique group to get their input. Then I go through it a second time, editing with their comments and suggestions in mind. During this same pass, I also do a lot of line editing. The first time I'm too eager to get the story down to worry overmuch about how pretty it is. The second draft is my opportunity to make it smooth and shiny. It may take a month or more. At this point, I send it to my editor, and when she sends me her thoughts and suggestions, I revisit the manuscript with them in mind. This is usually where it goes from pretty to downright gorgeous and will end up ready to send to copyediting. These three drafts usually total approximately nine months of work: In. An. Ideal. World. When everything goes well.  Some books are more of a struggle than others, though. Those can take years instead of months, requiring much hair-pulling and entire rewrites not once but twice or three times. Argh! Just like every child, every manuscript is different.

Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?

At first I worked on one project at a time, but I've learned to be a multi-tasker-extraordinaire. While one book is being considered by my editor, I'm busy working on a new one or reviewing copyedits on a previous one. Time is precious. If I'm not writing manuscripts, I'm preparing presentations for school and library visits, I'm doing online interviews or scheduling appearances at book fairs and literary events, or updating my website. Being a writer is a multi-faceted profession these days, so being able to multi-task is more and more important.

Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?

I have always been writing--since back in elementary school--so writing is as natural as breathing to me. Nothing scary about that. Much scarier to think of NOT writing.  

How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?

I'm not agented.  I'm one of a rare and dying breed who connected with her editor at a conference.  And I don't really have a trunk. On the contrary; because I write relatively quickly and hate doing submissions, I have a few manuscripts that have not yet been seen by editorial eyes. I refer to them as my arsenal.

Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?

I've taken breaks on a few manuscripts, but I've never completely quit on one. Some of my breaks have been years long, but I never count any manuscript "out" because it's always about something I felt passionately about, and if the manuscript didn't work, it was probably because somehow my writing hadn't done the idea justice. These manuscripts simmer on the back burner of my mind like a stew that just needs time and seasoning and occasional gentle stirring for the juices to blend. Eventually I'll either lose my passion for a story or serve it up. 

How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?

I'm still not over the giddiness I feel when I see or hold my book. It was a long-held dream that finally came true. It may sound corny, but I think I will savor the joy of it forever.

How much input do you have on cover art?

Not much, really. I was asked for some ideas of what I thought the farmhouse should look like, but that was about it. The artwork was finished when I saw it for the first time. And I was so delighted by it that all I could do was hyperventilate and say "Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, it's beautiful!  I love it!"  --

Does that count as input?

I have absolute faith in the Putnam/Penguin art team. They gave What the Moon Said the most exquisite cover without any help from me, and I'm sure they'll do the same for my next book. 

What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?

I had no idea how much of my writing time would need to be diverted to social networking and marketing. At first this was disconcerting, but now that I'm seeing the positive results, I'm glad I'm doing it. I think with a first book especially you must give it all you've got; that's the best way to ensure that there's a second book. Obviously there is a point when a writer has to ease back on the throttle to give the majority of her time and energy back to writing. But in the beginning, the more you can do to promote your book, the better.

How much of your own marketing do you? 

I do a lot of my own marketing, but lately I'm finding that the more I do, the more help I'm receiving from others. It's so sweet and so very much appreciated!  I might send out a tweet about an appearance I'll be doing and several of my "people" from blogs and SCBWI and my debut groups and bookstores forward my tweet to other book people.  I post a photo from  a recent appearance on my Facebook page and the same thing happens.  I've said it before (although The Beatles said it first!)  but it's worth repeating: In book marketing as in so many things in life, we "get by with a little help from our friends".  

I have a site, a Facebook, and a Twitter. I do not have a blog of my own, although I have nothing but admiration for those writers who can maintain one in addition to their manuscript-writing. I'd be burnt out in a matter of a few weeks! 
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?

I didn't worry about building platform until after I had an offer for my book. Then I set up a website--very rudimentary at first, containing only the most basic information about myself and my book on a very pretty home page. Then I added to it gradually over the next year until publication and continue to add to it now.

After the website was begun, I joined two debut children's authors' groups: Class of 2K14, which has a maximum of 20 members, requires an initial payment of dues, and is focused on marketing; and OneFourKidLit, which is more of a support and information-sharing group. Both have websites that promote all the members' books and both have proven invaluable. I highly recommend joining both groups if you can.

I have long been a member of SCBWI, and it is another awesome source of support and information and is a super advisory group on marketing.  If you're not already a member, join at once!    

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Absolutely. Readers need to know about your book before they can read it. Sure, most young readers will just stumble on an MG novel in their public or school library, but the librarian needs to hear about it so she'll place that book order. And even if she sees it in a journal with good reviews, her funds are limited. Whether she chooses your book or another one may come down to which one she heard good things about in an online blog or literary chatter on Twitter. 

The truth is there is no accurate way to measure what "works" and what doesn't when it comes to social networking, but getting your title out there in a positive way certainly can't hurt.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Here, Have Some Books

I'm continuing to clean off the bookshelves!

If you'd like to break from reading YA for a little bit, or simply crave some good old-fashioned darkity-darkness, enter to win some thrillers I've picked up that need good homes.

Titles you can win are:

ALEX by Pierre Lemaitre
THE ANDALUCIAN FRIEND by Alexander Soderberg
INDISCRETION by Charles Dubow

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

Twenty-four-year-old Norm Run-of-the-Mill Stevens has always lived in the shadow of his brother, Heroic Man. Unlike Norm, the intrepid superhero possesses the full spectrum of superhuman powers—super strength, super speed, super sexual prowess, flight, even a superhumanly muscular ass, which has become an icon of the city. And he uses them all to fight crime on a daily basis, much to the city’s admiration. You definitely have my attention. And it's not just because of the ass icon.

But Norm is incredibly bright, phrasing here leaves a little to be desired after that awesome hook and has finally completed the blueprints for a far superior electrical power grid for the city that would save it billions of dollars a year and propel him into the limelight. Kind of a lengthy sentence here, I'd hack off the end. It's assumed. Not to mention finally gain him the respect of his parents. If the parents aren't a major plot point, I'd not bother mentioning here. Feels like a tack-on and messes with your rhythm. Problem is, his mailroom boss at Electrifirm refuses to show the blueprints to the C.E.O., C.E. Olsen, I think dashes here instead of commas? claiming a kid Norm’s age couldn’t possibly have come up with something so brilliant.

Out of pity for Norm’s misfortune, Heroic Man presents the blueprints to Olsen, giving Norm his well-deserved credit. But Olsen, out to boost his own reputation, claims in front of the whole city that Heroic Man stole the new grid plans from Electrifirm. I don't understand how smearing a much-loved superhero would boost Olsen's reputation? He asks Norm, who (whom?) he presents as the rightful creator, to confirm his story on the spot, and Norm is left with a tough choice: Refuse to go along with Olsen’s story and continue to live in his brother’s shadow, or stab his brother in the back and gain the respect and reverence he always dreamed of. Fairly long punctuation-filled sentence here. Definitely re-work these.

I think you've got a great, humorous thing going on here... but I'm not seeing a novel-length plot. Right now your query is focused on one scene - the moment where Norm decides what he's going to say in front of the (city? nation? world? CEO?) In order for there to be an entire novel here, the agent needs to know where this goes. Does he stand behind his superhero brother? I'm guessing not or else there'd be nothing left to say. So is there fallout? What's the real crux of the novel?

Right now you're basing your query on one scene, but it sounds like this is the point where the novel actually begins - not what it's necessarily about. Make sure you're pitching the focus of the book, not just a tease as or a what-happens-next scenario. The agent isn't invested enough in your characters after two paras to care. Show them you've got a novel length material here, and your voice can carry it.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Book Talk: ALL OUR YESTERDAYS by Cristin Terrill

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

Em holds the key to the future and it's written in her own handwriting. A cryptic note sent from a past version of herself lets her know what she must do in the present in order to prevent mass chaos - but it may mean sacrificing the one thing in her past that she wants to hold onto.

Marina leads a coddled life, but it means nothing to her without her childhood friend James. Even though he sees her as nothing more than that, she's dedicated to making him realize her true feelings. She has never understood why James puts up with the bedraggled Finn tagging on their heels all the time, getting in the way of her opportune moment to declare herself.

But Finn is there for James when their world falls apart one fateful night, and Marina begins to see the his value. It may be too late though. As attacks on James' life continue, Marina and Finn band together to protect their mutual friend from two teens who always seem to know what their next move is.

Em fights for her freedom in the future, eluding the dark and sinister Doctor in order to complete her mission. But her path is set to collide with Marina's - and their mutually exclusive goals will challenge them to question what they each value most.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Cover Reveal Conversation With MG Author Carmella Van Vleet

I love talking to debut authors. Our experiences are so similar, yet so very different, that every one of us has a new story to share. Everyone says that the moment you get your cover it really hits you - you're an author. The cover is your story - and you - packaged for the world. So the process of the cover reveal can be slightly panic inducing. Does it fit your story? Is it what you hoped? Will it sell? With this in mind I put together the CRAP (Cover Reveal Anxiety Phase) Interview.

Today's guest is my fellow Ohioan Carmella Van Vleet, here to talk about the cover for Eliza Bing Is (Not) A Big, Fat Quitter in which a preteen girl struggling with ADHD must stick with a summer taekwondo class to prove that shes dedicated enough to pursue her true passion: cake decorating. Available from Holiday House now.

Did you have any pre-conceived notions about what you wanted your cover to look like?

Sometimes I use clip art to create my own covers, but for this particular book, I didn’t. I was reasonably open to just about anything. The only thing I was really concerned about was it being too girly. Especially since I’d written it so teachers could read it out loud without alienating half of their class. The other thing I was concerned about was a having “cake” cover. (There’s a cake decorating aspect to the story.) Not that there’s anything wrong with cake or baking covers. But I was really hoping the publisher would focus on the martial arts aspect.

Well, shoot. Apparently I DID have some pre-conceived ideas about what I wanted after all!

How far in advance from your pub date did you start talking covers with your house?

 ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER wasn’t coming out until February, but I was attending a book event in November (with some of my other titles). I wanted to be able to print out some bookmarks or at least have some kind of sign about the upcoming title, so I contacted my publisher and started bugging them. (Nicely, of course.) As it turned out, the art was just about ready so I didn’t have to wait long. The publisher sent me a file so I could see it and use it.

Did you have any input on your cover?

Nope. None at all. I tried to get it into my contract that I could see and approve it, but it didn’t work out. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust my publisher to do a good job. (Because, frankly, they do this all the time and know what they’re doing.) But as a 3rd degree black belt writing about a girl taking up taekwondo, I wanted to make sure any uniform on the cover was accurate. Many people think a dobok (taekwondo uniform) and a gi (a karate uniform) are the same thing. Dobok collars are different, too, based on the person’s rank.

Thankfully that wasn’t an issue. And even if it had been, I’m confident my publisher would have been open to my input. They don’t want a mistake any more than I do.

How was your cover revealed to you?

My editor sent me an email with the cover attached. Her note said, “Here it is! Smashing (no pun intended), isn’t it?”

I told it was and to please let the artist know how thrilled I was with it. I think it has a “Ramona” feel to it, which I love because the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary were the first books I remember reading on my own.

Was there an official "cover reveal" date for your art?

After the editor sent to me, I asked if she had any problem with me sharing it on my website and all that. She didn’t, so I posted it and began sharing it pretty much immediately. I didn’t have any big “cover real” or special promotional event. I know other publishing houses and authors like to do that, but *shrug* I’ve never done that.

How far in advance of the reveal date were you aware of what your cover would look like?

I had no idea what it would look like before my editor sent me the file with my cover. But it was four months before the actual release date that I got to see it and share it.

What surprised you most about the process?

This is my 17th book and what surprised me the most about the process is how scary it (still) is while you’re waiting to see your cover for the first time! We invest so much in the writing and we know - right or wrong - how important covers are in attracting readers and selling books. The whole process is nerve-racking. I didn’t know just how anxious I’d been feeling until I saw it and like it. There was this big feeling of relief. I’m not going to lie to you, a couple of my books have covers I really don’t like. (And no, I won’t tell you which ones.) It can affect how excited you are about the project.

Any advice to other debut authors about how to handle cover art anxiety?

First, try not to invest too much energy in what you think the cover should or will look like. Most of the time, it’s something that’s completely out of your hands anyway.

Second, I know you know your book better than anyone else in the world, but your publisher has likely been selling books for a long time. Trust them to know what they’re doing.

And finally, take some time to process the cover once you do see it. You’ll have a gut reaction and that’s fine. If you love it, congratulations! Go celebrate. But if you hate it, wait and get other people’s feedback before you go complaining to your publisher. Sometimes it just takes a few days to grow on you or for you to appreciate what the artist did. I know several authors who’ve had legitimate concerns about their covers. And in each case, they were able to calmly articulate those concerns to their publisher and have the cover changed - even first time authors. So no panicking allowed!