Tuesday, April 21, 2015

No Agent? No Problem! A Successful Author Talk With THE ARK Author Laura Liddell Nolen

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Laura Liddel Nolen, who grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. She has a degree in French and a license to practice law, but both are frozen in carbonite at present. She lives in Texas with her husband and two young children. Her debut, THE ARK, is available now from Harper Voyager.

Laura's success story is doubly special to me, because she was a participant in the PAPfest - a writing contest that I hosted on my blog back in 2013. Laura is also a great example of a non-traditional path to success. She's an un-agented writer published with a major house - not something that happens everyday!

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Total planner. That being said, things rarely go according to plan.

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

Since THE ARK is my first, I guess I have to say five years. But the sequel is scheduled for publication next year, with the last book in the trilogy one year after that, so I’m going to have to work on my record quite a bit. To say the least.

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

I work on one project until I get writer’s block, which happens fairly often. Then I procrastinate by writing a short story or starting a new project. It helps my confidence overall, but not my faith in whichever manuscript is stalled at the moment.

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

One problem with writing is, you have to be slightly delusional even to attempt it. Like, what makes me think anyone will want to read my stories? But the more you write, the better you get. It’s quite a learning curve. If nothing else, I can always pull up an old story and cringe my way through it, which helps with confidence in my more current stuff.

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

I actually don’t have an agent yet. I’m planning to start querying this summer. I’m living proof that editors read their slush, though!

Tell us more about being published as an un-agented author.

I’m happy to share my “stats,” in case they offer any hope to other writers: I queried nine agents. Six asked to read my manuscript for THE ARK. Of those, four gave me some helpful comments. Of the original nine, two agents sent a form rejection, and one didn’t even reply!

I also submitted THE ARK to Harper Voyager, the science fiction and fantasy imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, when I heard they were accepting unagented work.

I planned to revise the manuscript and resend it to the four agents who’d given me comments. But then I got a call from Natasha Bardon, editorial director of Harper Voyager UK, saying they’d like to publish me! I guess I got the cart before the horse, in a sense.

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

Yes! My first attempt at a novel was just awful. I think I was trying to copy everything I thought YA lit should be like, which is a great recipe for a terrible book. I’m glad I got that out of my system. I knew it was time to quit when my friend Taylor said, “I can’t believe you’re not writing science fiction. That’s what you always wanted to do, right?” The next day, I started The Ark, and I haven’t looked back.

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

Rejection is an absolute given in this business. That doesn’t make it hurt any less, but at least know that you’re not alone when it happens. It only takes one yes, and bam! You’re in.

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

It’s completely surreal. And I’m not sure who’s more excited, me or my mom.

Just kidding. Definitely me.

How much input do you have on cover art?

I was given two options for a cover. The one I chose is the one the editor liked best as well. I’m thrilled to say that I really do love it, and it was clear to me that the artist had read the book. The details are amazing. For example, the meteor matches her eyes. How cool is that? And there are a couple of lines in THE ARK referencing Char’s ratty hair, which is reflected in the cover image.

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

It’s amazing how supportive the writing community is. I think you wrote a post about this recently, and it really made me smile. As an aspiring writer, you don’t even need an agent or a book deal to reach out and find thousands of other people in the same boat, almost all of whom will be happy to cheer you on along your way. I’ve made some great friends on this journey. There are also tons of established writers who are committed to helping up-and-comers. It’s an exciting, inspiring group to be a member of.

How much of your own marketing do you?  Do you have a blog / site / Twitter? 

Nearly all of it. Yes, thanks for asking!! I'm on Twitter and have a site.

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

If I could do it over, I’d have gotten involved with Twitter a lot sooner. Otherwise, there’s not a whole lot to market before you have a product to sell. I think there’s value in focusing on writing the best book you can.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Definitely! Just look at your blog! I started reading Writer, Writer waaaay before NOT A DROP TO DRINK came out. By the time it was finally published, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Call For Submissions: Elephant's Bookshelf Press Looking for Horror Shorts

Just a heads up for any fellow short story writers out there:

Elephant's Bookshelf Press, an Indie publisher based in New Jersey is looking for previously unpublished horror shorts under 5,000 words. I have worked with EBP in the past - you can find shorts from me in each of their seasonal anthologies, and I'll be contributing to the horror anthology as well.

If you're interested the deadline for submission is June 8th! Best of luck!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: THIS MONSTROUS THING by Mackenzi Lee

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.

In a steampunk 1818 Geneva, people with clockwork appendages are second-class citizens. Many can only find medical care through the Shadow Boys, doctors and mechanics who operate in secret, building arms and legs for victims of the recent wars. As public sentiment against clockworks grows stronger, Alasdair Finch, his brother Oliver, and the father that taught them everything must exercise extreme caution.

Alasdair's life falls apart when Oliver is killed in an accident, his father arrested, and Mary - the girl he loves - is gone. Putting all of his skill to work, Alasdair resurrects his brother only to find that Oliver is not the brother he remembered. With the police on his tail and an opportunity to flee the country to a more accepting place, Alasdair puts Geneva behind him - and Oliver.

Under the protection of the brilliant Dr. Geisler - Oliver's former patron - Alasdair learns that the doctor is not the savior he was hoping for. The automatons he has built protect a terrible secret, and the clockwork girl who serves him is treated terribly. But the doctor's connections may be Alasdair's only hope of returning to Geneva for Oliver.

Meanwhile, the anonymous publication of Frankenstein has the public in an uproar, believing it to be not a work of fiction, but the true story of a resurrected clockwork man. Clockworks everywhere are forced to wear Frankenstein badges to identify themselves, and as Alasdair dives into the novel he finds too many parallels between himself and Victor Frankenstein for comfort. Who wrote it? Dr. Geisler, as wish-fulfillment for his own dark wants? Oliver, as a public rebuke to Alasdair for his abandonment? Or was it Mary, the girl he loved and shared his darkest secrets with?

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Cover Reveal For Liz Coley's TOR MADDOX: UNLEASHED

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.

So what's it like when you're doing your own cover? When it's solely your own responsibility there's a whole new set of worries and concerns - not to mention the job set squarely on your shoulders. Today's guest is Liz Coley, author of PRETTY GIRL-13, and her newest release, TOR MADDOX: UNLEASHED. And don't forget to enter the Goodreads giveaway for an advance copy!


When sixteen-year old Torrance Olivia Maddox, self-confessed news junkie, figures out that the mysterious and deadly New Flu is being spread by dogs, she has one question—if the danger is that obvious to her, why hasn’t the government revealed the truth and taken action?

Her search for the answer will take her farther than she ever imagined. But then again, she never imagined that man’s best friend could become public enemy number one, that men in black might show up in her cozy suburban neighborhood, that she’d spend her sixteenth birthday as a teenaged runaway, and that her effort to save one dog would become a mission to save them all.

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

I knew I wanted my front cover to include my heroine Tor and her dog Cocoa, but aside from that, this cover has gone through three versions of images and title! I hope third time’s the charm!

How far in advance from your pub date did you start working on the cover?

Eight years? I created the first draft of the novel now known as Unleashed during my very first Nanowrimo back in November 2007. I had a motivational habit of designing my imaginary covers and using them as a desktop screensaver while I was writing, so the first version of the cover with the original title Best Friends dates back to 2008. That was a close up of a girl nuzzling her dog with the genetic code for canine flu as a pale blue background. Hours of perusing “girl & dog” stock photos failed to produce a pair who matched my descriptions, so I knew this place-saver cover was just for fun. In 2009, I reworked my website and updated the cover to a pair of sexy legs in high heels and a cute terrier, a different breed from mixed-race Cocoa. Finally, when I got serious in 2014 about self-publishing what had grown into a short prequel and a series of three books, I knew I needed a new look and a unifying theme. Book 1 was now titled Tor Maddox: Unleashed. The three elements of the image were going to be legs (not sexy), a red leash, and a dog.

Did you do this entirely on your own, or did you call in favors from friends?

I have a friend with some graphic design experience who offered to be a sounding—that is, looking—board while I was working with alternate images for the whole series and for two unrelated 99¢ short stories I’m planning to publish to help with promotion (Practically Invisible & Sticks and Stones. My two teenaged nieces and my daughter cast honest, skeptical, and helpful eyes on some early cover mockups. I’ve become handy enough with Photoshop over the years to do my own image manipulation and layout.

Was it expensive to do the cover yourself, or was it more of a time commitment?

My only direct costs were the licenses for the photo images, so something like $75 for the whole shebang. Mostly it was the time commitment of searching huge databases of images, downloading samples, mocking up several possibilities, making and purchasing selections, manipulating images, and tweaking and tweaking and tweaking layout.

Was there any one thing about the process that made you particularly batty?

Looking at images until my eyes were crossed! I literally walked around in a blur for days. As the years passed, the real life girl I had based Tor’s appearance on grew up and went to college and stopped looking like a teenager. So having made the decision not to go searching for a new perfect live model and spend a fortune on photo shoots, I had to find stock photos that suited the different stories and were conceivably the same girl—age, coloring, face, body. In one case, I had to change blue eyes to brown using translucent brown ellipses over her irises (Photoshop contact lenses!). Also, finding my adopted mixed breed Cocoa proved to be impossible. He’s described as having the sweet temper and coloring of a lab, the size and stature of a beagle, and the spirit and mustache of a terrier. I ended up merging two different dog photos together to create my own digital mutt.

What surprised you most about the process?

Pink. If you’d told me back when I was making edgy backgrounds like DNA sequences and Confederate flags that I’d end up coloring my books pink, I’d have choked. But when it came down to branding my kick-ss mystery thriller girl to appeal to the 14-year-old (the sweet spot in my target demographic) and to soften the weaponry and trench-coated spy-girl images, pink seemed to do the trick.

Any advice to authors who want to make their own covers?

If you are going to print, don’t forget the back. It’s actually very time consuming to write back cover copy, let it sit for a while and revisit it. If you want to include any reviews or reader blurbs, plan way ahead to get them and figure where they’ll fit into the layout.

Also, there’s the “shout line” or one line teaser, which can take literally days/weeks/years to write. Even more than an elevator pitch, it forces you to find the sharpest point of your hook without giving too much away. I ended up with two per cover—one for the specific story: “Man’s best friend has become public enemy number one” and one to brand the whole series: “A heroine for our times.” That suggests that the stories are contemporary, not fantasy or futuristic dystopian, and that the reader is entering the danger/adventure/thriller zone.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Announcing My New Book Deal!

If you follow me on Twitter and Facebook you know that last week I signed a two book deal with Putnam for GIVEN TO THE SEA, the first of an epic, multiple POV, fantasy series set on an island of rising tides, where tribes battle for resources, unexpected alliances are forged, and love bends to the whims of war.

Yes, it's true I'm jumping genres yet again. I started out with post-apoc survival for both NOT A DROP TO DRINK & IN A HANDFUL OF DUST, veered over to Gothic historical thriller with A MADNESS SO DISCREET, and will be dishing out a really dark contemporary for you in Fall of 2016 from Katherine Tegen, tentatively titled THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES.

I feel very lucky that publishing has trusted me to hop around with my stories. My brain likes to churn out books, but it's never been fond of staying on any one particular path. Hopefully my readers have similarly chaotic reading tastes that like to bounce around and see what's going on elsewhere in the world... even totally different worlds.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: STARTERS by Lissa Price

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.

Life isn't easy after the Spore Wars wiped out everyone between the ages of twenty and sixty. Teens everywhere have to take care of their younger siblings, and Callie hasn't had the best of luck so far. Continuously on the run from other squatters who are just as desperate as she is, Callie is desperate for an out - any way to offer a better life to her little brother Tyler.

Prime Destinations is a disturbing new business in Beverly Hills. For an exorbitant price the elderly - called Enders - can rent the bodies of teens. A neurotic implanted in the teens - Starters - brains gives the Enders complete control of the teens' bodies. But the pay is good and Callie is desperate.

When Callie's neurochip malfunctions she wakes up living the life of her renter - and discovers that the woman who is inhabiting her body isn't just looking to have a good time. She's plotting a murder.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Successful Author Talk With ZEROBOXER Author Fonda Lee

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Fonda Lee. Fonda writes science fiction and fantasy for teens and adults. ZEROBOXER (from Flux/Llewellyn) is her debut novel. Fonda is a recovering corporate strategist, an avid martial artist, a fan of smart action movies, and an Eggs Benedict enthusiast.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

An unrepentant Planner. I tried Pantsing once. It was ugly. 

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

It takes me a couple of months in the beginning just to research, outline, and walk around lost in thought. The first draft takes 3-4 months. Revision takes another 2-3. Then it’s off to beta readers. More revision. Off to my agent. More revision. So 10-12 months from concept planning until submission. 

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

I always have one primary project, but due to the publishing process I often need to multitask. For example, I’ll be in the middle of a first draft and an email arrives and I’ll need to switch to doing edits on another manuscript for a week. 

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

I had a successful career in corporate strategy going before I made it my life goal to be a novelist. Truth be told, writing had always been my life goal, but I didn’t act on it seriously until I was in my thirties. By then I wondered if it was too late for me, and if I was being foolish, dialing back on a normal, respectable, well-paying job to chase my dream. 

My fear these days is whether I can make it in the long run, writing and publishing enough good books on a consistent basis to achieve some measure of career success. 

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

One. I spent a year writing a novel that I loved but that didn’t go anywhere. 

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

I did. I had an outline written up and was all ready to go. I got about 10,000 words in and suddenly thought, “I don’t want to do this.” It just wasn’t a book I felt a burning passion to write. I set it aside. Several months later I came back to it, took another look, and thought, “I still don’t want to write the book, but this would make a great short story.” I wrote it as a short story and ended up loving it. 

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

I got my agent through a cold query. However, it certainly helped speed things up when I got three competing offers out of a conference I went to. I’m represented by Jim McCarthy at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. 

How long did you query before landing your agent? 

I’d been querying my previous manuscript for eight months with no success. When I started querying ZEROBOXER, everything happened very fast thanks to a conference I went to (the Willamette Writers Conference) where I pitched to agents in person. A month later, I was agented. 

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

Don’t be surprised if your first book doesn’t land you an agent. Keep querying, but more importantly, keep writing. When you get a rejection, send out another query, shut down your email, and get back to work on the next book. I wrote ZEROBOXER during those many months of query hell when I was riddled with anxiety about ever getting an agent, much less being published. 

How much input do you have on cover art?

My editor and I brainstormed closely early on. He gave me his initial ideas, and I gave him mine, and we sent photos and other book covers back and forth as we brainstormed. After we’d figured out the general gist of what we wanted, he took it to Flux’s internal launch meeting. A few months later, my editor emailed me the cover the designer had created and the Flux team had chosen. It was so awesome I just about fell out of my chair. 

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

How hard copyedits are. Really. By the time you reach the copyediting stage, you’ve read your book a dozen times at least and the words have completely lost all meaning. You’re like, “Is this even good? Is it crap? I honestly can’t tell.” 

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I think all authors these days do a lot of their own marketing. I have a website of course and I’m on Twitter. Occasionally I’m on Facebook and Tumblr. I don’t blog. I only have a certain number of words in me each day, and I’m not going to waste them on blogging when there are books to write.

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

If you’re doing anything before you get an agent, it should be developing your network of fellow writers. They will be your greatest source of knowledge and support going forward. Incidentally, some of them will also like your work and spread the word when the time comes. But I would spend very little time worrying about your platform when you have no books. Your books are your platform.