Saturday, July 25, 2015

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.

Nothing terrifies 17 spell out numbers year old Isla Blume more than the thought of being alone, and now that fear may come to life. When mysterious collector droids steal most of her family and her boyfriend Daniel away, Isla and her mom are left alone. No one hears from collected survivors again, and Isla has a feeling she knows why: They don’t survive collection. Right now I'm not understanding if collector droids are part of everyday life - like avoiding them is just part of the routine, or if this is a life-altering, holy shit robots are taking over the world moment. I don't have a feel of whether this is post-apoc routine, or if it's the beginning of the actual apocalypse. You use the word "mysterious" to describe them, but I don't know if it's b/c their arrival is mysterious or if it's b/c these particular droids are outside the norm.

On a regular supplies run See, this sentence makes me think that we're existing in a post-apoc world, which means you need to clarify why the particular droids that took her family were mysterious, Isla and her mom discover not only that a group of soldiers have resurfaced 25 years after the nuclear holocaust began, but that they have murdered an entire town of survivors looking for Isla by name. To make matters worse, they’ve left collector droids at Isla’s house to take her and her mom too. I think you're starting your query in the wrong place. I now understand that we're post-nuclear, but I think I needed that earlier. Also, are these soldiers people that were supposed to be dead? Or a resurfacing of a group / shared vision contingent?

When the droids collect I'm not understanding exactly what "collect" implies. Are they just taken? questioned? kidnapped? forced labor? murdered? her mom, Isla fights to keep what’s left of her family, but after a failed attempt to fight off the droids using magnets—she read that might work in one of her books—she is collected too. Just when she is sure she will die, Deathless rebels, scientists planning to overthrow what’s left of the government I didn't have a feeling that there was a government at all until this point, save both Isla and her mom.  Now if she wants answers to the questions eating away at her, she will have to fight to find her place within the Deathless as their impending war approaches.

How does the government know her name? Could her family and Daniel still be alive? And is any of this connected to the new star in the sky? Ending with a rhetorical question is not a good idea. And you just introduced another new concept - a new star in the sky. If this is important to the plot, get it in there.

Complete at 81,000 words and featuring a diverse cast of characters, I AM DEATHLESS is a young adult science fiction novel that will appeal to fans of Veronica Roth’s DIVERGENT and Kass Morgan’s THE 100. I am currently developing the storyline into a trilogy. As a debut it's better to have a standalone novel with series potential, just FYI.

I have a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh where I studied with Siobhan Vivian. I continued at the University of Pittsburgh to earn my MAT in Secondary English Education in 2012, and I have been teaching my target demographic ever since. I am a member of She Writes, as well as a Wattpad featured author with a Watty Award winning YA novel on the site. This is a fantastic bio.

You definitely need to get the query itself into more of a comprehensive flow. Let us know where we are right from the beginning - post-nuclear survival with a government in place. I don't know what the droids or the soldiers actual represent - is this the overarching government? The rebels are good, I'm assuming, and they're scientists, but why are the fighting this government? What makes the government bad?

Another thing is that right now this query reads like the back flap of a book, not a query. You're doing a lot of leading but an agent needs to know that there's a plot that makes sense here. In other words, go ahead and tell them why the soldiers are looking for Isla. She's special - great. There's a lot of chosen one stories out there so why is yours different? Get that out there. 

Lastly I have no feel for your character's personality. Right now this is all plot, no feelings. She tries to fight with magnets and apparently she reads books, but that's all I'm getting out of her. So is she smart? Interested in science? Is she tough or scared to death? Why is she so scared of being alone? Get the personality of your MC in there along with all the plot mechanics, as well as what makes her special enough that the government is after her. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: PROMISE OF SHADOWS by Justina Ireland

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.

Zephyr has always been a sub-par harpy, better at snappy comebacks than wielding magic. But when her sister is murdered for an affair with a god, Zephyr shoots back with a dark magic she didn't know she had - and kills a god in the process. She shouldn't able to call the dark, let alone be powerful enough to kill a full god when she herself is only a half god - and not a very good one at that.

In deep trouble and banished to the underworld, Zephyr is pretty sure she's going to spend the rest of her existence digging trenches - until a childhood friend (who grew up to be pretty hot) delivers her from hell... except she's not so sure she wants to hear what he has to say.

The other half-gods have been at the mercy of full gods forever, but Zephyr's ability means she may by the Nyx - a dark goddess reborn to even the scales. But Zephyr doesn't believe she can be the Nyx - she's hardly even a harpy anymore since losing her wings in the fall to the underworld. But the half-gods are looking to her, and fate can't be avoided.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Chelsea Pitcher On Letting The Rejection Hurt... Then Moving On

If there's one thing that many aspiring writers have few clues about, it's the submission process. There are good reasons for that; authors aren't exactly encouraged to talk in detail about our own submission experiences, and - just like agent hunting - everyone's story is different. I managed to cobble together a few non-specific questions that some debut authors have agreed to
answer (bless them). And so I bring you the submission interview series - Submission Hell - It's True. Yes, it's the SHIT.

Today's guest for the SHIT is Chelsea Pitcher. Chelsea is a karaoke-singing, ocean-worshipping Oregonian with a penchant for wicked faerie tales. She began gobbling up stories as soon as she could read, and especially enjoys delving into the darker places to see if she can draw out some light. She is the author of THE S-WORD (Simon and Schuster), THE LAST CHANGELING (Flux), and THE LAST FAERIE QUEEN (Flux 2015).

How much did you know about the submission process before you were out on subs yourself?

Almost nothing! I knew publishing houses would be considering my work, but I was fairly clueless about imprints, second reads, acquisitions, etc. Luckily for me, I enjoy a good investigation, so I learned a lot while I was on sub. (And it never hurts to have author friends who’ve been through the process!)

Did anything about the process surprise you?

Oh, definitely. The timeframe can be hard to handle at first. Especially when some people get deals within three days, and others, three years! That’s why it’s so important to be doing other things while you’re on sub. If you put all your focus into one project, it will drive you up the walls.

Did you research the editors you knew had your ms? Do you recommend doing that?

I’ve peeked a little bit. I mean, what’s the harm in a simple Google search? A couple of minutes reading interviews? Checking a Twitter feed? Hopping over to Absolute Write . . . Yeah, it’s really easy to fall down that rabbit hole. And the farther you fall, chasing one particular editor, the more a rejection will feel like a piano falling on your head.

So search cautiously, my friends! I’m definitely a fan of being informed, but once you get that fluttery “OMG, WE WILL WORK PERFECTLY TOGETHER” feeling, run away. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if their Twitter feed is hilarious, you love the same band, and can both quote The Little Mermaid in its entirety. What matters is that they fall head-over-heels in love with your manuscript.

What was the average amount of time it took to hear back from editors?

It really varies. The average would be maybe two months. But I’ve received responses within two weeks, or after six months. It all depends on the editor’s workload, their level of interest in your premise, and a myriad of other factors (is it conference season? Are they finishing a deadline of their own? Did they just request eight manuscripts?) Still, when you’re on sub, it’s hard not to check your email every few hours!

What do you think is the best way for an author out on submission to deal with the anxiety?

First and foremost: start working on your next book! Falling in love with a new project can so lessen the anxiety. But there are lots of ways to cope with the stress of submission (chocolate and margaritas are two suggestions I’ve heard, and I’ve certainly tried both!) But the truth is, what works for one person won’t always work for everyone.

For me, I’ve found that working out a lot helps lessen the stress of submission. I’m not exactly a person who works out regularly, but the first time I went on sub, it helped me a lot. So now it’s a part of my process (and that’s probably a good thing, considering how much time I spend sitting in a chair, typing away!)

If you had any rejections, how did you deal with that emotionally? How did this kind of rejection compare to query rejections?

Best advice for dealing with rejection? Don’t try to use logic to talk yourself out of an emotional reaction. Sure, you know it’s just one person’s opinion. Sure, you know reading is subjective. Still, rejection hurts. So allow yourself to grieve, cry if you want, feel angry if it helps you. And then, once you’ve let out all those negative emotions, you really will feel better. And all that logical “it’s just business” stuff will sink in.

As for querying vs. submission, it felt different at first. When you’re on sub, you feel so close to everything happening, and all you need is one yes. So each rejection felt like a door closing. Now, though, I’ve realized that “yes” is only about halfway up the mountain (because next you need good marketing, good reviews, good bookstore placement…) so agent and editor rejections feel much more similar. In both cases, it’s all about finding the person who can’t stop thinking about your work, who reads passages of your book out loud to their colleagues, who can’t stop taking about your writing. And if you found an agent who feels this way, that editor “yes” could be right around the corner!

If you got feedback on a rejection, how did you process it? How do you compare processing an editor’s feedback as compared to a beta reader’s?

When a beta reader says something that really resonates, you can dive into edits right away. With an editor, it’s trickier, because you’re already out on sub, and what one editor dislikes, another might love. It’s really best to wait for three (or more) editors to say the same thing, and then think about revisions.

Another thing to consider is, while beta readers will tell you what isn’t working in a story, editors might reject a story that is working for personal reasons. Maybe the book just didn’t resonate with them, or maybe they just bought something with a similar premise. And because they’re so busy, they can’t necessarily list all the reasons they have for rejecting a project. That’s why it’s so important to give your projects to betas before you go on submission. They’ll help you hammer out all the plot issues, the pacing, the characterization, so once your book lands on an editor’s desk, they’re less likely to reject your book because there’s something wrong with it.

When you got your YES! how did that feel? How did you find out – email, telephone, smoke signal?

It was surreal, shocking, startling, amazing! Both times, I got the news over the phone. And the first time, it just felt like a whirlwind, because we’d gone through second reads and acquisitions over the winter holiday, and I didn’t know about it. So when my agent called to give me the news, she didn’t just say they were passing the book up the chain; she said the book had reached the TOP!

Did you have to wait a period of time before sharing your big news, because of details being ironed out? Was that difficult?

Yes! We had to wait about two months (between verbal offer and written contract). Most authors I know have experienced the same thing. Even though a verbal offer is taken very seriously, there’s so much more to consider (advances, world rights, film rights, option clauses) and publishers often want all of this hammered out before anything is announced. And yes, it can definitely be hard to wait, but most people tell their close family members before they tell the world. So really, you get to reveal your news two times: once to the people closest to you, and once to everyone in the book world. Which makes for two celebrations instead of one!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

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.

Ivy, James, and AJ are used to the abnormal. Demons, monsters, witches – they have seen them all. They are Protectors, charged with the responsibility of maintaining the balance of good and evil in an ever-waging war. But when a mysterious grimoire shows up, an unknown threat emerges, poised to destroy everything and everyone they hold dear. This is well written enough, but the problem is that this is very generic - a war of good against evil. This particular story has been told - you need to be clear what the unknown threat is in order to make yours stand out in a sea of similar plots.

A grimoire is an ancient spell book, but unlike most, this one is a bound grimoire, said to have demonic powers and able to latch onto the soul of a reader. It is so powerful that it can tear holes between earth and hell. With this kind of book in play, the Protectors must find it and incapacitate it.

While the grimoire seems to pose the largest threat, Ivy and the others soon discover that an even greater threat looms, the Phoenixes. Who they are is uncertain. What is certain is that unexplained disappearances, deaths, and attacks only spell trouble. What makes the Phoenixes special? What is their power / character? Again, unexplained attacks on the good by the bad is very basic plot structure executed time and time again.

Armed with innate gifts like what? What makes them different from other paranormal good guys in the genre?, the Protectors must combat an unknown enemy before the situation explodes. Ivy struggles to keep herself in control when she realizes that the Phoenixes are after her, trying to recruit her by any means necessary. She and the others must prepare for this danger even though it is hard to discern where and when the next attack is coming.

THE PROTECTORS is a complete young adult fantasy manuscript at 69,000 words. It is designed to be the first book in a trilogy. This is my first novel. I am a graduate of the University of Mississippi where I received a B.A. in religion and attained the Evan Harrington Scholarship Award for Writing.

Overall, this is a well written query, but the problem is that it is also vague. Everything you're saying could be theoretically about any number of YA paranormals. You need to get the specifics of what makes your book different from them into this query in order to stand out.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: ALIENATED by Melissa Landers

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.

Cara has the perfect transcript, but the only thing that could make it look better for college applications is being a foreign exchange student... in space. The L'eihrs made contact two years ago, and now they want to find three Earth households to host teen aliens, then return the favor. Cara is thrilled to be picked... but not everyone agrees with her.

The L'eihrs have their detractors, Cara's boyfriend and best friend being among them. Plenty of people think the aliens have ulterior motives by planting teens around the planet, and not a few have no problem with blaming the humans who house them as part of the problem.

Aelyx, Cara's assigned L'eihr is easy on the eyes, which doesn't make her boyfriend any happier about the situation. While Cara and Aelyx grow closer, the forces separating them grow stronger. An organization against the L'eihr alliance is gaining strength, Cara's former boyfriend and best friend (now a couple) among them.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Shannon Grogan On Inspiration... From A Commercial

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today's guest for the WHAT is Shannon Grogan, a second grade teacher who writes at night (and while her kids are at ballet and baseball) in a small logging town east of Seattle. She holds degrees in education, and graphic design/Illustration. When she isn’t writing, she's baking, reading, watching scary movies, and wishing she were at the beach.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

When I got the idea for FROM WHERE I WATCH YOU, I was revising another story. The only thing I had in place was a MC who wanted to be a baker. Then I was driving down the highway and a Campbells Soup commercial came on the radio. By the time it was done I was pulling over to jot down notes. By the time I pulled back onto the road I had my MC’s mother (a crazy lady who thinks her pea soup was blessed by Jesus and has healing powers) The rest of the story came from this point—my MC who wanted to become a baker and also wanted to escape her life and her crazy mom.

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

I figured my theme was leaning in the direction of escape, so I added in the baking contest, which if she won she’d get a scholarship to culinary school, and away from her mom. I also wanted something ghostly, so I decided to have her dead sister hang around so she’d want to escape this and the bad memories associated with her. I love contemporary and focused first on the betrayal, and ultimately, the forgiveness within her family, but I also love scary thrillers, and romance. So I added those elements in along the way: a stalker to escape, and a boy to love and push away/escape from (also betrayal and forgiveness).

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

I usually have the main plot really solid in my mind and it pretty much comes out on paper the same, mainly because I use a quick visual plotting method to help me. But the subplots change the most, and/or are added/deleted.

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

I seem to have times where story ideas come one after the other. I write them on index cards and file them away. Most of the ones that come that are total crap on their own. But one idea might combine with another idea or two to form a good story idea. When they do I give them their own page in my book idea journal.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

Ooh, this is happening to me now and I’m leaning towards the one I enjoy writing down notes on the most.

Given the choice of losing your feet or your hands, what goes?

Feet. I need my hands to type and write and draw. And eat. And hug my kids.

Monday, July 13, 2015

If You Feel So Inclined...

...please consider supporting this IndieGoGo for a friend of mine who has written a picture book to memorialize his deceased son. The book aims to foster more quality time between parents and their children at bed time. His son's favorite time was "Snuggle Time."