Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Successful Author Talk With MONSTROUS Author MarcyKate Connolly

No... not like she's monstrous. Although an argument could be made.

I'm very happy to bring you today's SAT (Successful Author Talk) interviewee, MarcyKate Connolly. MarcyKate is one of my regular critique partners, and also one of the people that I met and banded with at the beginning of my publishing journey, years ago. MarcyKate, RC Lewis and myself all met years ago on the writing site AgentQueryConnect. We would read each other's stuff, pick apart our query letters, and root, root, root for each other when we entered contests to try to gain agent attention.

2015 finds two of my books published by Harper imprint Katherine Tegen, RC's STITCHING SNOW available from Hyperion (with a another on the way!) and MarcyKate's MG debut  MONSTROUS available from HarperChildrens on February 10th.

Not bad.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I’m a plotter *steeples fingers*. Outlines and beat sheets are my best friends when I’m drafting a novel.

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

Wellllllll, that varies. A lot. I’ve written 11 novels so far and I can’t really say I have a pace that’s consistent. Every book has its own unique path. First drafts have run the gamut from 10 days to 1.5 years. Add to that necessary time for revision, critique partner feedback, more revision, etc, and the shortest was a few months, the longest about 3 years. 

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

I am a multi-tasking fiend. I use Zoho projects (an online project management software) to keep myself on target and meet goals for revision and drafting. I always have another project in the pipeline once one stage of a book is complete. For example, I may draft one book in the morning (say, MG fantasy) and then revise another in the afternoon or next day (say, YA contemporary). Once I’ve finished revising that YA, I’ll move my next project that’s due for revision up in the queue, and then cycle through them that way until they’re ready for my agent or editor to review.

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

Not really, aside from the pretty normal fear that what I’ve written sucked. (But that doesn’t ever really go away for a lot of writers. Sorry to break the bad news!). 

Though that fear did take a turn that I had to overcome. When I went to revise that first manuscript, I was so terrified of screwing up the writing in a technical sense (misspellings, bad grammar, etc) that I actually edited every ounce of voice right out of that book. I had readers tell me that it was the cleanest manuscript they’d ever read, but they couldn’t connect to my characters at all – that was why! Took me another 2 books before I finally got a handle on voice (and learned not to edit it out!) 

How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?

Six. Monstrous was the 7th novel I wrote, 4th that I queried. 

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

I did decide to set aside three books. One I queried briefly and the response made it very clear the book wasn’t really there and I wasn’t as interested in getting it to where it needed to be either. The other two were NaNoWriMo novels and very much practice books.

I’ve “paused” a couple other books, but I have plans to revisit them and rewrite them eventually. 

Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?  

My amazing agent is Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary & Media. I queried her the traditional way – my book was a slushpile baby despite the fact that I entered agent-judged contest after contest!

How long did you query before landing your agent?  

I queried for about 3.5 years before signing with Suzie. I sent well over 300 queries for three different books and got hundreds of No's in response. The three agent offers on Monstrous were totally worth it!

Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?

The best way I found to get through query hell is to always keep looking forward. 

Write that next book. Yes, THAT book. The one that won’t leave you alone and keeps you up at night. Even if it’s weird and crazy and scares you. It’s worth the risk, and at worst, you’ll learn something and have a fun distraction.

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

I haven’t seen the hardcover of Monstrous on a physical bookstore shelf yet (though I have held a copy in my hands and it is beautiful!!), but when the pre-order links for it began popping up, it was surreal. The fact that this is really happening began to sink in then too. I’m SO EXCITED to see it in B&N and my local indies!

How much input do you have on cover art?

Not much. They picked the (perfect) artist and worked up the (perfect) concept. There was one little issue on the first final draft they sent me, but it was quickly and easily fixed. Basically, they didn’t need my input – the artist pretty much plucked my main character out of my brain and dropped her on the page!

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

How different the process is from one author to another, and one book to another. We’re all going through the same basic process, but the details vary dramatically!

Also, publishing is sloooowwwww. This should not have surprised me – I’d heard it before, of course. But to experience it is another thing entirely. Case in point, my book sold in 2012, and it will finally be on shelves in 2015!

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I’ve had a website and been on social media for years before I started writing seriously, so I was prepared to promote things like giveaways and news across my site, twitter, facebook, tumblr, etc. Social media promotion, and the postcards I’m sending to my local bookstores and libraries are the main marketing I’m doing for Monstrous. I’ve also done some in person outreach to my local libraries and gave them advanced review copies of my book. However, my day job background is in marketing, so if my publisher wasn’t doing a lot of marketing on my behalf I’d probably do more. 

When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?

I already had a platform, so it’s hard for me to say. I do know it’s not going to be a dealbreaker for most agents if you don’t have a social media platform when they sign you provided you are open to building one if your book sells.

For me, social media was most effective pre-sale / pre-agent in finding my place in a community of authors. There’s a lot of awesome people out there, especially in the kid lit community, and getting to know them and knowing they were going through the same highs and lows in the query trenches was really helpful for me. Made me feel less alone. And really, that’s what social media is about – connecting with a community. It’s a way to engage people on a personal level and should be treated like it (not like a sales channel!)

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

It definitely can, yes. But the key thing to remember about social media is that it is first and foremost and place to be social. A lot of people forget that. It is about building a community and engaging with people (which is why it can be great for engaging with your readers). Blasting things like BUY MY BOOK BUY MY BOOK BUY MY BOOK is going to get you blocked and possibly even banned from places like Twitter. Basically, don’t be noise; be yourself – that’s way more interesting. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Finding Your Pack Of Wolves

Here's the thing about being a writer - we're kind of weird.

That may or may not come as a surprise to you.

A lot of us grew up either completely on the outside of society, or - like me - kind of in it but known as being... just a bit off. When I was younger I tried to massage my off-ness away, tried to be normal, tried to fit in. Thank God I failed.

I'm old enough now that I just don't care, and ironically now that I've won the "Published Author" ribbon, it's considered perfectly acceptable for me to just be a bit different. It never ceases to amuse me that people who have read my books but never met me in real life are amazed at how normal and well-adjusted I am (ahem - or just seem to be) when they meet me, whereas the people that know me casually in real life read my books and... are a little stunned. I can't tell you how often I've heard the phrase, "But you seem so normal."

That's because I've been practicing.

My true friends - a very small circle of people that know me very, very well - aren't shocked at all. They kind of expect it.

Writers find their pack eventually, and one of my pack has the end to her awesome trilogy coming out this spring. FORGED by Erin Bowman is a great culmination of her TAKEN series, and I'm lucky enough to have an ARC and nice enough (or appear to be, anyway) to give it away to one of you. And while I loved the TAKEN series, I also want to plug Erin's fall release - a western titled VENGEANCE ROAD, that I was lucky enough to read at an early stage. If you like NOT A DROP TO DRINK, you'll be into VENGEANCE ROAD - promise.

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Saturday, January 24, 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.

London, 1867. Wayward Collins is anonymous. In the hidden magical communities of the city, a man without magic is expendable, and Wayward will do anything to remain hidden. Not a bad hook, but I think you could easily blend all three of this first sentences together to reduce the choppy quality - "... magical communities of 1867 London.... Wayward Collins will do anything to remain anonymous." But a miscalculation one night has tragic consequences, and he is trapped into the service of the wizard Lord Cadogan.

Rich, powerful and well bred, Cadogan is everything Wayward despises, and he immediately starts planning his escape. But when one of Cadogan’s footmen is murdered by magical means, Wayward is reluctantly dragged into the ensuing investigation. I think I need to know more about motivation here - if Wayward's only goal is escape, how can he be "dragged' into an investigation?

Cadogan doesn’t care that Wayward wants to stay hidden from magic users; he just wants to find the murderer. Why is Wayward the person to catch him? Wayward hates Cadogan from the top of his perfectly groomed head to the tips of his expensive shoes—there’s no way he’s going to co-operate. But Cadogan isn’t asking nicely, and every step of the investigation stirs up further trouble. The dead footman had his own secrets, certain magical factions are suddenly interested in the whole affair, and one particular police inspector just won’t leave the matter alone. This is well written, but again why Wayward and what's keeping him there?

Dogged by forces magical and mundane, Wayward is unwillingly entangled in the magic and power brewing in the heart of the city. After a lifetime of hiding, he’s attracting the attention of the most powerful magical force in the country. Even if he manages to escape Cadogan, he must play very carefully to ensure he doesn’t end up as a pawn in the magical plots he’s spent his whole life trying to avoid.

CHALK CIRCLES is a historical fantasy novel complete at 75,000 words. It is the first of a planned series, but will also work as a standalone novel.

This is well written and interesting, but the big question still stands - if all he wants to do is leave, why doesn't he just do it already? It sounds like he has no loyalty to these people, so what's his motivation to stay?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: WHAT HAPPENS NEXT by Colleen Clayton

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.

Sid Murphy has never been conventionally attractive. Her curves are a little too curvy, her hair a little too red. Sure, she's a cheerleader, but she's always on the bottom of the pyramid because she's "sturdy." Guys in high school seem to want something else, but when she's goes on a ski trip and ends up next to a handsome college student Dax on the ski lift, Sid realizes maybe the guys she grew up with are too narrow minded when it comes to beauty.

Even though Sid has always been a good girl - and her grades reflect that - when Dax asks her to sneak away from the other students and chaperones to come to a party at his cabin she agrees, against her friends' advice. Getting attention is new, getting attention is nice, and Sid doesn't want to seem like a simpering high schooler. The party turns out to be just her and Dax, and Sid has a drink with him, only to wake up in the morning naked in a strange bed, a lock of her hair missing.

Everyone thinks they know what happened, which is ironic to Sid because she has no idea. Back home, her reputation shredded and her confidence shattered, Sid drops her college prep classes, opting instead of volunteer in the A/V room where she's hoping to evade all the stares in the hallways. But Corey Livingston is there too, they type of guy old Sid would've never exchanged three words with.

Sid discovers that the only thing to calm her anxious mind is running. The pounds fall off, and guys start to notice her... something she suddenly doesn't want - at all. Corey liked her even before she lost weight, but Sid doesn't know how she can build a relationship after what happened to her on the school trip. Right now she can't even maintain her old friendships or get along with her family, how can she try to have a boyfriend?

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Debut Author Talks About Covers: Michelle Falkoff & PLAYLIST FOR THE DEAD

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 Michelle Falkoff, author of PLAYLIST FOR THE DEAD, available January 27th from HarperTeen.


Here's what Sam knows: There was a party. There was a fight. The next morning, his best friend, Hayden, was dead. And all he left Sam was a playlist of songs, and a suicide note: For Sam—listen and you'll understand.

As he listens to song after song, Sam tries to face up to what happened the night Hayden killed himself. But it's only by taking out his earbuds and opening his eyes to the people around him that he will finally be able to piece together his best friend’s story. And maybe have a chance to change his own.

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

I actually didn’t—I had some vague ideas about what I might not want (I tend to like abstract covers better than realistic ones, for example), but I’m not super visually oriented, so I hadn’t really imagined what it could be.

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

My editor sent me the first iteration of the cover in February of 2014, so the first conversations happened nearly a year before the book’s scheduled publication date.

Did you have any input on your cover?

I did, though I didn’t need very much—I was thrilled with it from the first time I saw it.  I definitely got the sense that if I had concerns the house would address them, but it didn’t come up, which was great.

How was your cover revealed to you?

My editor emailed a picture around to everyone involved in the book up to that point.

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

There was no official date, but I did a “cover reveal” post for YA Highway, which was posted on the site on September 9th.  It was a really fun way to get the cover out there.

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

I got the final version of the cover on March 24—it went through some tweaks before it became official, though the ARC has the earlier version of the cover art.

Was it hard to keep it to yourself before the official release?

That presumes that I was able to keep it to myself, which I wasn’t! I showed pictures of it to pretty much everyone I knew, but I didn’t arrange for an official reveal until I realized that pictures of it were popping up on places like Amazon and Goodreads.

What surprised you most about the process?

There were a couple of things, some more surprising than others. I wasn’t exactly surprised by the level of thoughtfulness that went into it at HarperCollins, since they’d been fabulous about everything else, but I was pleasantly surprised that they decided to use an outside artist who does posters for some of the bands featured in the book. It was a wonderfully creative decision, and the cover has a really appropriate feel to it as a result. The more surprising thing was the fact that Barnes and Noble was part of the process—someone over there had opinions about some aspects of the cover that the artist took into account in revision. I’m pleased that B&N was interested in how the book would be presented there, but I hadn’t realized that was something that happens on what seems like a fairly routine basis.

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

I suspect it very much depends on the author’s relationship with the publishing house. If your relationship is good, then I’d be inclined to be trusting—your editor knows the book well and knows the market much better than we do, and everyone has the goal of making the book as striking and beautiful as possible. That said, I do think it’s appropriate to speak up early if you’re not happy with the direction things are going. You’re going to spend a lot of time with the physical object of the book itself, and you want looking at the cover to make you happy and to remind you of everything good about the process, which sometimes involves work on our part.

One more thing I know some people have been concerned about is what happens when the publisher reveals the cover unofficially before they’ve had a chance to do a formal reveal. I know this is a big deal for some people, but I’d suggest not getting too worried about it—doing the reveal on YA Highway was a great experience even though the cover was already around, and I suspect no one pays as much attention to these kinds of details as we do.

Saturday, January 17, 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.

Gray must embrace either the wild beast in his soul, or the destructive human in his mind. Good hook.

Born with the mind of a man and the soul of a wolf, nineteen-year-old Gray Lupelle hopes the kingdom of Starfall will be a place free of persecution. Unlike his home in Tymeria, Paladins you might need to make it clear what a Paladin is are not permitted to hunt wolfborn and other non-human races inside the limits of the kingdom. But when a rogue wolfborn fails in assassinating the Tymerian king, his actions destabilize two hundred years of fragile peace between Tymeria and Starfall. You might want to be clear on why his would affect relations between the two kingdoms -- is it because Starfall harbors the worlborn?

Suddenly, the loyalty of the wolfborn are questioned. Loyalty to whom? Time I'm not sure this is the best phrasing has made the wolfborn feared for the same reason they were loved during the war against Tymeria: They are superior warriors.

When Gray is offered a deal by who? sparing his siblings from the slaughter who is slaughtering them and why?, he must make an impossible decision: his siblings or his entire race. If he saves his siblings by helping helping who? in the eradication of his entire race, he’ll be rewarded with their permanent hatred. If he fights against who?, he risks the possibility of joining them in extinction. One thing is certain – he must kill to survive. Good sinker.

Told through several character viewpoints, WOLFBORN is a New Adult Fantasy novel of 94,000 words.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: THE FALL by Bethany Griffin

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.

Madeline Usher is the favorite of the house... and in her family that's not a good thing. Generations of Ushers have passed through those halls, cursed, demented, and eventually lost entirely to its will. Madeline has seen it happen, watched both her parents fall under the curse, and she's determined not to let the same fate strike down herself and her brother.

But fate is against her, and the very walls of the house. Her father tried to take her away when she was a child, but the house would not allow it. Her inexplicable sickness - the Usher curse - daily drains her vitality as she tries to escape the inevitable. The arrival of a new doctor - young, attractive, and unhealthily obsessed with the Usher woes - puts a new barrier in her path of escape.

Madeline knows she must bring the house down in order to maintain her sanity. Through small acts - like planting ivy close to the house so that green fingers can do their work - to larger ones meant to destroy on a grand scale, Madeline fights for her life and mental stability in this Poe re-imagining.

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