Monday, June 30, 2008

Simon Cowell I Am Not

Tip of the Day: Oh, go ahead and order that pizza for dinner. Have you ever regretted ordering a pizza?

My online critique group has an opening and we've advertised for a writer to fill it. We posted messages describing the group on the SCBWI and Verla Kay message boards. The applications have been coming in steadily, along with the writers' backgrounds and writing samples.

I'm so impressed by the quality of the writing we're receiving. Surely this can't be representative of the slush pile. Aren't we always told things like 90% of the slush is unreadable? I want to read all the stories we're getting. I'm going to have a hard time picking a favorite. How do editors pick only a few of the books they receive for the handful of slots open in a publishing season?

I'm attributing it to the places we posted: SCBWI and Verla Kay's Blueboards. If a writer is serious enough to be looking for a critique group with defined deadlines and reading the message boards regularly ... maybe that winnows out a lot. Reading our high-quality applications has confirmed for me the value of putting "SCBWI member" on a query letter. I know some editors and agents have said that doesn't make a big difference to them, but I have now become a believer in it.

But I'm not an editor. I don't have to pick a manuscript with an eye to future sales figures. I want a critique partner. This is a great opportunity for me to think of what I'm looking for in a new critique partner.

And that's hard to say. The critter relationship develops over time. It takes a while to get in a groove with matching my critiquing style to someone's writing style and vice versa. If you needed a new critique partner right away, what would you look for?

This is what I've decided on:

-- someone with enthusiam. This is a novel writing group, and it takes a lot of enthusiam to see a novel through the long process.

-- someone with faith in himself or herself. Because you can't see through the long process without that either.

-- someone with discipline. Or else that novel will never get written.

I've noticed that these are all long-term attributes, which might be hard to spot in a writing sample. Can I read a writing sample and spot enthusiasm, faith, and discipline? Is anyone reading my writing looking for enthusiasm, faith, and discipline, proving I'd be great to work with in the long run? Oh, great, one more aspect of my writing for me to worry about!

-- Kate, Miss Apprentice Writer

Friday, June 27, 2008

Muddle through the Middle

Tip of the day: If you have on-line grocery service in your area, order it BEFORE you go on vacation to arrive AFTER you get home. It's one less thing to do when you get home!

So, welcome to part-two of my three part blog series on beginnings, middles, and endings.

Today we are talking about the middle. Some of you may know it better as the %*^*# middle.

Yes, the sometimes mucky, sometimes miserable, hardly ever mesmerizing, middle.

Why do authors often get lost in the middle of writing the book? I think it can be for a number of reasons.

1) They have no idea where they're going.
2) They know where they're going but don't know how to get there.
3) They don't have a clear idea of what the book is really ABOUT and what is really driving the story.
4) They haven't clearly defined what the main character WANTS.
5) The excitement has worn off and the negative self-talk starts, making it more and more difficult to just keep writing.

So what do we need to remember in the middle? Again I'll refer to the book, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO CRAFTING STORIES FOR CHILDREN, by Nancy Lamb. (If you haven't figured it out by now, this is a pretty good book and has some really helpful information in it).

In a story, there should be a "central plot point that propels the hero from beginning to end, from one scene to the next, from one act to the next." In screenwriting, they call this the 'Throughline.'

Some screenwriters think of the Throughline as the embodiment of the main character's conscious desire."

Now here is the good part, so listen up - "Somewhere at the closing of the second act of a screenplay, or the end of the middle of the book, the character's conscious desire breaks down. What he wants is denied him, either by choice or by the force of outside circumstances. This breakdown exposes a deeper motivation that propels the character forward, a motivation he was originally unaware of. This thirst--this force that motivates the hero and drives the action--becomes a secondary, but equally powerful, Throughline."

If you're having trouble with your middle, perhaps you need to stop and think about what your character really wants, and what obstacles are getting in his way, and what motivations come out as a result of those obstacles, revealing perhaps an even deeper motivation. Sometimes this may be an external desire versus an internal desire. He wants to build a treehouse to have a place of his own, but WHY does he want a place of his own?

Finally, if you aren't an outliner in general, it can be very helpful to stop about 1/3 of the way through the book you're writing, and plan out where the book is going. In the past, when I've gotten lost in the middle, it was usually because I didn't have a good map and had taken a wrong turn a ways back. So, I turn around, delete a bunch of pages, take notes so I'll have a better map on the next trip, and I start on the journey again.

Happy traveling!

~Lisa, Miss Pinch Me I'm Pubbed

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A2A Chat with Stephanie Kuehnert

Tip of the Day: If you want to see a great example of how an author can set up his or her own book tour, check out the GIGS section of Stephanie’s Web site.

I’m so excited that Stephanie Keuhnert, author of the forthcoming I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE, is visiting us at Author2Author today.

From Steph’s Web site:


A raw, edgy, emotional novel about growing up punk and living to tell.

The Clash. Social Distortion. Dead Kennedys. Patti Smith. The Ramones. Punk rock is in Emily Black's blood. Her mother, Louisa, hit the road to follow the incendiary music scene when Emily was four months old and never came back.

Now Emily's all grown up with a punk band of her own, determined to find the tune that will bring her mother home. Because if Louisa really is following the music, shouldn't it lead her right back to Emily?”

Doesn’t that sound awesome? I’m so excited to read this debut book by a cool local Chicago author and I won’t have to wait much longer as it will officially hit shelves in just under two weeks (July 8th!). Now on to our A2A questions:

A2A: Where do you most of your writing?

SK: I do most of my writing in my office, which is covered with lots of music memorabilia and photos and notes to myself and resembles my messy bedroom as a teenager. That is important because it was the period when I got most serious about writing, so my muse comes from that time period. Also in the photo are my three cats who are often crawling all over me when I'm trying to write. For a change of pace (and more sunlight), I sometimes move to the dining room table.

A2A: Are you a plotter or a plunger?

SK: I'm a bit of both. When I get an idea I jot some initial things down in my journal. Then I start writing the scene that is coming to me the strongest. I keep writing the strong scenes for awhile, figuring things out along the way, but by the middle or so, I tend to need to outline for a better sense of overall story.

A2A: What do you do when you get discouraged?

SK: Listen to music mostly. Music is always my outlet when frustrated, but songs also really inspire me, so sometimes it can lead to a solution for whatever in my writing happens to be troubling me. I also read. Good books make me strive to do my best.

A2A: What are you working on next?

Currently, I am writing about a teenage boy who is trying to figure out why his twin sister committed suicide. He works through this with his sister's best friend, who has a lot of trouble of her own. I'm incorporating the Persephone myth (my favorite Greek myth) into it and there's a musical element, too, of course.

I will have to stop working on that soon to do revisions on my second novel, BALLADS OF SUBURBIA, which just sold to MTV Books a couple weeks ago. The brief summary of that one is: After years of feeling like an outcast in her suburban town, sixteen year-old Kara McNaughton finds her place among a group of punks, skaters, and other misfits who hang out at a local park, but as the teens try to cope with bad relationships and broken homes, life spirals out of control.

You can read more about it, including an excerpt on my website.

A2A: What's your favorite part of writing?

SK: The revising stage. Sometimes I can really nail a scene on the first try, but it's pretty rare. Shaping the first draft is hard and is where I am most likely to get discouraged. Revising is a challenge, but it's where I see the book really transform into what I want it to be and I get the most pleasure out of that.

Thanks so much for visiting us at Author2Author Steph! We can’t wait to read your book!

Kristina, Miss Soon-to-Pub

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Readying Requested Revisions (or Write, Write, As Fast As You Can)

Tip of the Day: Save copies of your work to your hard drive, a removable disk, AND email them to yourself. You can't be too careful where your blood, sweat, and tears are concerned!

It's amazing to me how after completing five novels equaling tons of drafts, I still don't know when my books are truly as good as they can get on my own. Let's take Novel #3 for example, the one I'm currently revising based on an editor's feedback. The Draft #s below span the time between January 2005 and June 2008.

Draft #1: I got 50 pages in before deciding that 1st person present tense wasn't working.

Draft #2: Changed to 3rd person present tense. Yes, you heard me right, 3rd person PRESENT. Finished book in a record 3 months! Got feedback from an agent's assistant saying it read like a synopsis.

Draft #3: Rewrote entire book to 3rd person PAST tense. Oh yeah, that worked much better. It was surely perfect then, since it was fast-paced, funny, and hooky! Sent it to my CPs.

Draft #4: Ooops, not perfect. Revised based on CP feedback. Sent it to a published author for an ms critique exchange sure it would WOW her.

Draft #5: Got back author feedback. Oh yeah, the MC isn't always likable, is she? Hmmm, gonna have to fix that.

Draft #6: Revised whole book from top to bottom, adding many pages and scenes, making the MC much more likable and her motivations much clearer. Sent some queries/pages to agents.

Draft #7: Oh, the MC is STILL not likable enough? Really? OK.... Revised AGAIN and beefed up even more areas that were lacking, including trying to tighten the voices of some of the many characters to make them more distinct. Think to myself I should probably cut/combine some of the characters, and I should probably tone down the MC's sarcasm/snobbery. But meh, nah, after 7 drafts I'm SURE I've got it down fine! Sent full to editor who requested it based on a query.

Draft #8: One year later, I hear back from the editor on the full. She likes it! Except she thinks: (1) I should probably cut/combine some characters, and (2) I should tone down the MC's sarcasm/snobbery. HA! She read my mind, right?

Draft #9: I do what the editor says and give it to my CPs again.

Draft #10: I am currently making the changes my CPs are suggesting.... ***


Knowing that an editor is waiting for it, I could see myself totally doing like 3 more drafts before sending it into my agent based on my Jumping the Gun history, but then she'd probably forget she even requested it!

***Oh dear lord, this is sad. Until I just wrote this out, I was calling my current revision Draft #6.2. I was a bit off.

How do you all know when your novel is READY and as good as it can get? And do you get extra worried that it will actually NEVER get done, and revise incessantly when you have a requested, uncontracted revision? Or is it just me? (Please tell me it's not, even if to only humor your poor blogger.)

Deena, Miss Recently Repped

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tips of the Day

This blog will be short and sweet, since apparently I need to learn to take my own advice (see Tip No. 1). So instead you will get Emily's Five Random Tips of the Week That Really Have Nothing to Do with Anything:

Tip 1 of EFRTOTWTRHNTDWA: When you have a busy week, it's probably best to write your blog entries before the week begins.

Tip 2 of EFRTOTWTRHNTDWA: When you have a busy week, it's also probably best not to get distracted by the numerous dance shows on TV.

Tip 3 of EFRTOTWTRHNTDWA: Has anyone else noticed there are a lot of dance shows on TV this year? Just when you think you've seen all kinds of dance, bam, there's a new dance show. I'm not complaining or anything. I'm just saying there's a lot of dancing going on. (Oh, I guess this isn't really a tip, more of an observation. I guess that's strike 2 against following my own "tips.")

Tip 4 of EFRTOTWTRHNTDWA: Since there's so many dance shows on TV, don't you think there'd be an influx of dance-related books?

Tip 5 of EFRTOTWTRHNTDWA: If these dance books do exist, please tell me. Because I'm really in the mood to read a YA dance book. Because goodness knows I can always use another procrastination tool this week to keep from blogging and working.

That is all. Thanks in advance for the book suggestions.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Crazy book ideas that won't go away

Tip of the Day: Writers will love reading Donald Westlake's novel The Hook. It's a great book, and being able to appreciate the publishing references and novel-writing angst makes it even better.

It's good to know the market. It's also good to write the story that cries out inside your brain, begging to be released. Sometimes the stories in my head seem like they might make it to a reader interested in the premise. Other times ... where does my brain come up with this stuff?

Examples? For years and years, I've wanted to write a novel about a girl in Dark Ages England from an eeler family. That's right, catching eels. Because teen girls love dead eels, don'tcha think? But I know so many characters in this story! It won't go away, even though I suspect nobody in their right minds would read it.

I also have an idea about a historical novel set in the Outerbanks of North Carolina, about a small community who scavenge whales. It starts (in my imagination) with my main characters, a teen girl and her sister, on the beach surrounded by whale guts, harvesting the, uh, parts and stuff. Are you sensing a theme here? It really makes me wonder what I did in a past life. There will be Spanish shipwreck treasure involved too. I'm not sure exactly how, but I figure the book needs some sort of plot other than kids throwing blubber at each other.

The problem is that I find too many things interesting, which is probably a side effect (or cause) of being a writer. I torture my family with it. I'm always reading them obscure information.

Me: "Here's something interesting ... whitework is white thread embroidered on white cloth. It got started with German nuns who couldn't afford thread so they picked apart linen, but now it's an art form."

Darling preteen child: "Mom, that's the opposite of interesting. What's the word I want? Oh yeah. BORING."

Me: "Boring people are bored and interesting people are interested."

I'm not sure what that means but I say it a lot. "Bored" is unfamilar territory to me because I can always start making up stories in my head. It's just that they're not always great stories. And I suspect that I don't have only one story in my heart that begs to be released to the world. I have lots of stories. I just have to concentrate on the stories that are interesting to people other than me.

What stories occupy a piece of real estate in your brain, even though you doubt they'll ever see the light of day?

-- Kate, Miss Apprentice Writer

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Start at the Beginning

Tip of the Day: Leave a book next to the spot where you keep your laptop. When you go to reach for the computer, with no purpose other than to "cruise the Net," grab the book instead!

One of my favorite bloggers, Jennifer Hubbard, whose blog can be found here:, had a post recently where she talked about endings.

I thought maybe I'd do a three-part blogging series on beginnings, middles and endings, because each has it's challenges, that's for sure.

So today, let's talk about beginnings

I know for some people, me included, beginnings are easy. At least they seem easy. They seem easy because the story is new and the characters are new (unless you're writing a series, I suppose). Let's face it - those first few chapters of a new project are normally pretty fun.

The problem is that as you go, writing along, learning more and more about about where the story is going and who the characters are, often times, the original beginning doesn't work any more. So you go back and fiddle with it, wanting to get it right. Then you go back where you left off, and you keep writing, and more is revealed about the story and the character. And you sense the beginning still isn't right.

Does this sound familiar at all? I've heard some writers wait until the very end and then they go back and completely rewrite the beginning once they have the ending written. I've done that once, with FAR FROM YOU. Every other book, though, the original beginning has pretty much stayed, although I often end up adding things to it as I go along and figure out what elements are important to have in the beginning.

I love writing beginnings, and for the most part, I think I do a fair job. But I've heard some first pages at conferences read out loud and from those sessions, I've gotten a sense that plenty of people struggle with beginnings.

Here are a few things to avoid in the beginning of your novel for kids/teens:

~ Too many details that bog that first chapter down, describing the setting of the story or some other aspect that just isn't that important. Kids don't want to read three pages of what the castle looks like. They want to know WHY the character is IN the castle and WHY he can't seem to get out (if that's what the problem is).

~ Too many characters introduced at once. While Jane Austen may have gotten published doing this, it doesn't work so well in kid lit.

~ Talking to the reader - "I'm going to tell you a story about a little girl names Polly Petunia. Have you ever met a girl with a name like that?" Unless your book is going to be like this the WHOLE way and it's part of the overall voice (like J.D. Salinger's THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, for example), it generally doesn't work well.

So what makes a GREAT beginning? Well, of course, one that hooks the reader and wants to make her keep reading. In Nancy Lamb's book, A WRITER'S GUIDE TO CRAFTING STORIES FOR CHILDREN, she says there are five essentials to keep in mind when creating the opening paragraphs. You may not use all of these devices, but certainly you'll want to use some.

1. Give the reader a sense of what the book is about. What kind of book is this?
2. Uncover a problem. Some books state the problem right away, others just hint at it. You really need to do one or the other. Give your reader a sense of what the conflict might be.
3. Reveal character
4. Pose a question to the reader. When a kid reads the first sentence of CHARLOTTE'S WEB - "Where's Papa going with that ax?" he wants to know, where IS Papa going with the ax?
5. Anchor the story in time and space. But be careful, because you don't want pages and pages of detail surrounding this. We just need to have a sense of where we're at, what time period, etc.

I think writing a good beginning is a little like walking a tightrope. It's a combination of character, conflict and setting, saying just enough about each, but not too much.

So - do you find beginnings easy or difficult? I would love to have you share a first line from a WIP or one of your books.

I'll start. The first line from FAR FROM YOU, my YA novel in verse coming out in January is - We're alone with only the cold and dark to keep us company.

~Lisa, Miss Pinch Me I'm Pubbed

Copyedits…they are HERE

Tip of the Day: Buy Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter granola bars. They’re yummy.

Right in the middle of my horrible rotten last week and the drama that ensued from it, my copyedits arrived. I took the package from the nice UPS guy, said thanks, and pitched them into my office. Where they then sat for DAYS. I just didn’t have the heart to open them. Not that I really knew what was going to be in them or anything—I mean the book seemed pretty much done to me after all the rounds of edits/line edits. But just on the off chance that it was going to be something drastic and make me cry—I couldn’t do it. Yet. Until I realized that time was passing and if I didn’t open them soon I’d only have a week left to do them. I had the suck it up pep talk with myself and finally ripped open the package—peeking through just one narrowed eye (yeah, I’m lame like that. I also cross my fingers for luck and knock on wood so bad stuff doesn’t happen).

And…here it is.

ACK! It’s all marked up again! How oh how does that keep happening? Just when you think they’ve found every little mistake there are MORE! Sigh.

Oh wait. Maybe it isn’t SO bad. It isn’t really marked up again…just the last round marked up MORE.

Ok. I’m totally cool with it now—I’m actually feeling very revisionally experienced. (And apparently grammatically challenged). It doesn’t seem nearly as daunting as the first couple of passes. It might even be fun (am I reaching here?) I think I can swing it. Now I kinda want to work on them. My only prob is I need to get it done and finding time with a newborn and three little ones is an interesting trick these days. I think Grandma needs a phone call.

I am now confident that this copyedit thing will be a breeze and it puts me one step closer to the final product. And the super cool thing about them is with so many people putting such a huge effort into my book I feel like the end result will be AWESOME. So yay for that! Wish me luck…

Kristina, Miss Soon-to-Pub

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Judge a Book By Its Cover (or My Covers Better Kick A$$)

Tip of the Day: Head to local spring/summer festivals -- they can offer settings, characters, and experiences for novels! (And those deep fried Snickers bars....)

More library weeding words, this time from the cover art corner.

No matter how good a YA novel from a mid-list author's jacket copy reads or how exciting it sounds, if it was:
1. Published between 1997 and 2001, and
2. The cover art is a watercolor or colored pencil drawing, then
3. No one will read it in the years 2007-2008.

YA covers today are flashy, catchy, bright, colorful, gritty, gorgeous, dark, mysterious, intriguing.

Not washed out, not 2-D, and not, well, boring.

Sadly, many covers from the late 90s ARE boring. Kids today who like the bright glitz will not be attracted to these. If a dull-covered book COULD (should?) go out based on its story line and good writing, I can't even put it face out on the shelf to get someone to pick it up. But if I put a more recent book face out that has a fab cover, even if the writing/story are mediocre, someone will still check it out.

I've tried.

A boring cover = a boring book in many minds. Teens who grew up with Pixar as opposed to 2-D Disney won't be impressed as easily as those of us who were teens in the 80s and 90s. Sad but true, and the marketing ppl know it.

So I hope when my book gets bought, I get a fabu cover that will stand the test of time!

What "old" books do you wish had better covers that would still attract teens now?

Deena, Miss Recently Repped

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Switchn' it up

Tip of the Day—over at the 5 randoms this week they are talking about the five biggest mistakes they made that kept them unpublished. Yes, isn’t that the best topic ever?! I highly suggest you go visit.

I could just leave you with the tip of the day about the 5 randoms, but I’m not going to. Instead, I’m going to elaborate on one of Susan Colebank’s biggest mistakes she mentioned yesterday. And that was I kept doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for different results.” She meant it in reference to where or how she went about trying to actually get published, but I hope she won’t mind me borrowing her words and using them in reference to writing the book itself.

Because I’ve been feeling like this a lot lately, and I’m so glad she mentioned it as a mistake. (Thanks, Susan!) I’m just now starting my fourth book, and while I’m grateful for the tremendous amount of information I’ve learned in writing the first three books, I’ve decided to switch things up and try some new things for this book. All in the hope that pushing myself outside my box will not only make me a better writer, but that much closer to my publishing dream.

Sure, switching things up could leave me with an even worse book, since essentially it’s like I’m starting from scratch. But I’m willing to take the risk to explore my writing more.

So what am I doing that’s so radical?

Switching to adults (um…no, that’s, like, so not happening soon)? Switching genres? Writing by hand, in calligraphy, while balancing on a unicycle?

Actually nothing that substantial. Just merely switching my THOUGHTS behind the book-writing process.

  • First, I’m switching from a plot-driven book to a character driven book. Which to me this interprets to simplifying the book plot-wise. Even just one chapter in, I’m amazed at how different I’m writing merely by viewing the book as a character-driven book. I should have been viewing all my books like this. I’ve always known characters were the most important aspect of the book, but now that I’ve given myself permission to think of the plot second, it’s amazing what a difference it makes.

  • Second, I’m writing down every writing rule I’ve ever learned on kickballs, and then methodically kicking them to the curb. Maybe not literally (even though that sounds like a lot of fun!). But I tend to be an overthinker when it comes to my writing. You know the type, the ones that worry about every little aspect, like what font should I be using? Stupid stuff that doesn’t even impact the story in the end. Let alone in a first draft. And now that I’ve learned a bunch of stuff about writing, I think it’s time for me to tune it out and just let the story guide me, instead of worrying about every small writing tool I’ve learned. Especially in the first draft. Because trying to remember them all tends to make me want to kick myself. And now, giving myself permission to forget them, makes me more excited about the story!

It’s amazing how different things turn out when you just switch your thought process. Now, here’s to hoping changing these isn’t going to make me end up with a mess of a first draft. But even if it does, I’ll be thankful for switching it up and trying something different!

P.S. If you haven’t told Lindsey Leavitt congrats yet, the party is still going on over at her LJ blog. She just sold three books! Whoo hooo. Go, Author Lindsey!

--Emily, Miss Awaiting an Agent

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Blame it on the Weather

Tip of the Day: When you start arguing with your children about who in Pokemon's Team Rocket is the smartest, it's time to cut down on the cartoons and get back to work. (Oh, and it's obviously Meowth. Crazy kids.)

Man, I've been procrastinating something awful this week. I was writing two pages a day, five days a week, and all of a sudden, I can't make myself do a thing. I'm wondering why this sudden stubbornness to sit in front of the keyboard. Well, as an old friend of mine always said, if you can't blame it on the weather, you're not trying hard enough.

Seriously, it is HOT and STICKY. Now, I live in upstate New York so hot to me is probably relative, but 81 degrees is insane. You can't expect me to think in this heat and humidity. Today I sat on the couch and watched two hours of Monster Quest on the History Channel. Guess what? They didn't find any monsters. There's two hours of my life I won't get back.

I thought of other, more rational reasons I might be procrastinating:

1. The scene I'm writing isn't a fun one. I like my funny scenes and my scary scenes. I'm writing an MC bonding with her father scene and pumping him for family information. Not funny and not scary.

2. I don't have any notes. I do much better if I'm scribbled something down during the day to get me started on my night's writing. I can't think of anything to write down lately, though.

3. I have plot questions I haven't resolved in my head yet. Well, maybe, but I'm not going to resolve them by watching Monster Quest.

4. I'm trying to do too much in the first draft. This might be true. I'm trying to keep too much in my overheated mind. I want this scene to explain some things to the MC and raise other questions for her; I want her emotions clear; I want her motivations voiced; I want the description to be evocative; I want the dialogue distinct. I'm paralyzing myself trying to get all that done on the first try. I don't mind using sloppy language in the first draft, but I feel like I'm missing plot points. I have to accept that I'm going to miss one or two and let my critiquers tell me where I screwed up.

Eh, it all comes back to the weather. I'm procrastinating because I'm too hot to think out plot issues, too hot to make notes, too grouchy to ignore the problems in my first draft. This is exactly why I live in the snow belt, by the way. I used to live in Virginia. You know what I did a lot in the summer in Virginia? Complain. I didn't do much else.

Obviously I have to get over this or I'll waste my summer. Ice cream might help. I'd come up with other ideas but I think instead I'll go lie down under the ceiling fan and reflect on the hum of the air conditioner. Hummmmm.

-- Kate, Miss Apprentice Writer who needs more ice cream

Friday, June 13, 2008

What happens after the sale

Tip of the Day: If you ever want to visit Oregon, come in June. The strawberries are SO good here!

A friend recently asked me if there is a web site that talks about all the stuff that happens after a book is sold. I said, no I don't think so. What do you want to know? Mostly, I think she wanted to know the timing of things. Now, I am really not an expert. I can only speak to my experience and what I've heard about others experiences. But I thought I'd give it a try. Feel free to correct me if you see anything that isn't quite right.

When does the contract arrive?

It varies. Anywhere from 30 days to 300 days, give or take a few days, after the verbal offer/acceptance. Okay, I don't know if I've heard of anyone waiting almost a year, but I've heard of people waiting a LONG time. Like 6+ months. Why can it take so long? I have no idea. My contracts have generally arrived within 2-3 months after the offer. But don't be surprised if takes a lot longer. I don't think it means *anything* other than the contracts department at the house is just overworked and underpaid like everyone else in the industry.

When does the advance arrive?

It varies. Anywhere from 30 days to 150 days, give or take a few days, after the contract is signed. Hopefully if the money isn't coming after a few months, you have a good agent who will be following up and yelling "Show me the money!"

How is the advance broken up?

It varies. Some contracts state half at signing and half at delivery of manuscript. Some contracts state half at signing and half at publication. I think some contracts break it up into thirds instead of halves. And if you have multiple books as part of your offer, it's going to be different yet.

How do taxes work on that money?

No taxes are taken out. Your agent takes his/her cut and then you get the rest. But when tax time comes around, you're going to have to report that money as income. If it's a fairly large amount, you'll want to be looking into paying quarterly estimated taxes, so you don't end up owing a bunch of money the following year when you file your taxes.

When does the editorial letter arrive?

It varies. Anywhere from 30 days to 200 days, give or take a few days, after the verbal offer/acceptance. Why can it take so long? Because editors are working on lots of projects, all at various stages, and often they have to finish editing books that come out in the season before yours. So I think those projects early in the process are the ones that are easy to put on the back burner a little bit.

How long after revisions do copy edits arrive?

It varies. Anywhere from 30 days to 120 days after the revised manuscript is submitted to copy editing. The copy editor has piles of work, plus when the manuscript comes back from the copy editor, your editor has to go through it AGAIN, and make notes where he/she agrees or disagrees with the copy editor. At this point, you really start to understand why editors have to LOVE a project to take it on.

I think I'll stop there, but if you have any burning questions you'd love to have answered, let us know and we'll do our best to answer them in future posts. :)

~Lisa, Miss Pinch Me I'm Pubbed

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Suck. Suck. Suck.

I don't have a normal post today. Mostly because my file with all my A2A posts was stolen. Many, many of the things I cherish were stolen yesterday. And I'm completely devastated.

I haven't gone out much since the baby was born but decided I'd take the kids to Grandma's to swim today. While we were gone, someone broke into our house and tore the place apart. Emptied every dresser drawer and crate/box in the house, the fridge and pantry, broke open bathroom cabinets etc. And stole so, so, so many things. Things like the brand new sit-n-stand stroller that I never even got to take out the door yet for a test drive. Things like my camera and video camera with all the footage from the baby's birth. TV and iPods. Every piece of jewelry I've ever owned-- including things I received back in high school, everything my husband has given me, special necklaces from my kids, things from my mom, special gifts for my daughters etc. The worst? My engagement ring. I still can't quite believe I'll never see my engagement ring again. They also got all of the copies of my books. And the police officers didn't understand what I was talking about when I just kept crying that they took all of my USBs! They have all the copies of every book I've written! I just couldn't believe it. I didn't know what I was going to do. I backed up my files onto a bunch of USBs in case one died but duh, never thought someone would just come by and take them all. Today's post was on there too so that is why there is no great post for today. Luckily, when dh got here he mentioned that he happened to make a copy of one of my USBs onto a hard drive a couple of months ago so I do have copies of my books. Just lost the work from the last couple of months. Whew.

I know I should just be grateful that we are all ok. That my kids and I were gone when it happened and no one was hurt. That it is all just stuff. And believe me I really, really am! And I do feel that most of it WAS just "stuff" that apparently someone(s) wanted really badly. But I can't help feeling devastated and violated anyway. And completely freaked out. And I realize this isn't a writing-related post but I just can't get in the mood. At least there is one writing tip you can take away from this post-- not only should you save your books in a bunch of places but spread them out so that no one can come in and just pluck them up all together.

Kristina, Miss Soon-to-Pub

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Kids Don't Lie (or The Teens Have Spoken!)

Tip of the Day: Stop scratching your mosquito bite. It will only make things worse. Really. Stop it!

In May, I ran a promotion at my library: YA May Days (Help the Teen Librarian Review New YA Books!)

I was so impressed with the results! 34 teens participated with a total of 47 reviews! They read such a wide variety of YA fiction and manga, it was great to see.

And can I tell you how interested I was in the way they answered the review questions? From the standpoint of a Librarian AND a writer, in a word:


Here's some results.

Why they picked up the book?
The cover and the inside flap copy was the top reason (18 teens cited this as a reason)

The second reason was bc they liked other books in the series (10)

Then the title (9)

Recommendation from a friend, Genre, and Read something else by the author each got (2).

Browsing, Quick read, School assignment, and Mom got it for me each had (1)

Their favorite thing about the book?
Specific plot points was the runaway top reason (19)

Then liking the characters (8) and enjoying the Complex characters (7)

Humor (5) tied with Pov/Storytelling style (5)

Action and Descriptions each got (3)

Message and Mystery/suspense each got (2)

The pictures got (1)

Their least favorite thing about the book?
OK, the number one reason SHOCKED me. The teens cited specific character flaws either the MC or another character had that they didn't like. For example, one teen didn't like that the MC was a liar. Another didn't like that the dad wasn't portrayed as bad even though he broke up his family. A third didn't like the way the family treated the MC. WOW! These teens really put people to task -- and I like it! There were (14) of these reasons given.

Next was that the book/idea/ending was cliche (7)

A certain plot point (6)

The pacing (either too fast, too slow, or too erratic) (5)

Not enough description (3)

Too much repetition (2)

Too open ended, Too sad, Unrealistic dialog each got (1)

Would the recommend the book to a friend? Only two teens would not recommend the book they read. All the others, no matter what they said about the books, would recommend them to their friends. This is huge, fellow writersm HUGE! Teen word of mouth is huge.

So what can a writer take away from this?

Teens are SMART. They notice things. They want likable/sympathetic characters. They want something NEW and DIFFERENT.

Very interesting.

Guess I better make sure the MC in my MG is less mean for sure after this revision!

What do you think about the teens' results?

Deena, Miss Recently Repped

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Look what happens to your brain after no electricty...

Tip of the Day: the new iPhone’s look mighty tempting, especially after this week.

Being without electricity for a day and a half this week, taught me two lessons.

First Thing Emily Learned While Deprived of Power: that I depend on electricity way too much. Take away my lamps, refrigerator, and computer and I’m not very productive. If you throw me back in the 1800s or onto Manor House or Frontier House, I’d probably not last a week. Sad as that may be.

And as writers, without our computers it would be hard to function. Imagine typing on your typewriter (or piece of paper) by candlelight all day. Then if you decide to change the “I” to a “we” on page 2, or change the character’s name when finished, you’d have to retype the entire thing. And if you change your mind with the frequency of Britney Spears, as I’ve been known to do, you’d be retyping 24 hours a day.

If you didn’t know any better, you probably wouldn’t bat an eye, but if you did know those luxuries and they were taken away, it might be harder to deal with being a writer and not having power at all, which leads me to the second thing I learned (sort of).

Second Thing Emily Learned While Deprived of Power: the book I chose to read during my power outage was Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. And even though this book features a mom who’s a writer, and she looses power (and many other publishing-related things, I won’t be mean and reveal), that wasn’t the most important thing I learned from this book.

For those of you that haven’t read this book, it’s written in diary entries from a teen girl during an apocalyptic-type event after a meteor hits the moon, causing devastation on Earth. If you want to practice method-reading, I highly suggest you start this book in daylight and as soon as the electricity goes out in the book, plan it to go black in your town as well (and if you don’t have connections to make these things happen, then just turn out the lights and read by flashlight and candlelight). It’s amazing how much more vivid and realistic this book became during a power outage.

Which leads me believe that I should be setting the mood with all the books I read.

I know they tell you as a writer to appeal to all five senses, but has anyone ever been told to do that as a reader? If not maybe we should start a Reading Mood Trend.

How much cooler would The Princess Diaries be if I took a break and pampered myself with a mani/pedi then a massage and pretended to be a princess myself for a day? Or how about if during I'd Tell You I Love You, but Then I’d Have to Kill You, I took a break to learn sixteen new languages and maybe some kickboxing? It’d definitely bring the book even more alive, and make it more memorable.

Anyone else have any fun books to try reading, while giving us an example of a way we can set the mood to make it even better?

It's amazing the things your brain thinks while deprived of electricty. It almost makes me think I should be doing more without it (almost).

--Emily, Miss Awaiting an Agent

Monday, June 9, 2008

Question: Send it or Leave it?

Tip of the Day: Just because you could take your mild mannered four-year-old out on errands doesn't mean that, when he turns five, he won't turn into a perpetual energy machine capable of mass destruction who should stay penned in the backyard instead of waiting for Mom at her hair appointment.

In January, I sent 2 short stories to the annual Highlights Fiction Contest. The theme was "the future." Highlights received over 1,100 submissions. I was not one of the three winners (but Congrats to them ... talk about a lot of competition!)

Anyway, I received my stories back in the mail recently. One of them, well, I never felt like I nailed the ending, you know? It was a cute idea, but I'm not sure I found the right way to execute it. The other story ... well, I really like it. It's probably too old for Highlights, but I was happy with it anyway, so I went ahead and sent it. And now I have it back.

So what do I do with it?

I know, there's no point in having something written to stay hidden away. It's done, I like it, I should take a chance and send it out. BUT there's not exactly a huge market for short stories for this age group. And even if Highlights bought 100 stories from the contest, which would be remarkable, that still leaves 1000 stories floating around. If everyone feels like I do, there are potentially 500 stories about the future being mailed out as I type this.

I guess could sit on the story awhile and see if I still like it in a few months. I don't know, any other ideas of what I could do with my story?

-- Kate, Miss Apprentice Writer

Friday, June 6, 2008

Plot and Plunge - the best of both worlds

Tip of the Day: Check out Darcy Pattison's NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS: UNCOMMON WAYS TO REVISE if you find yourself struggling with how to break down the process of revising a novel.

I've been thinking about conflict and plot a lot as I'm working on a new mid-grade novel. I was telling a writer friend just yesterday that the first two mid-grade novels I wrote, many years ago, which I shopped but never sold, took me a really long time to write. One of them, I specifically remember leaving and not coming back to it for like six months. I think I hit the sagging middle, and I didn't know where the story was going or what the point was or what should happen next. So, I stopped writing. For months! Eventually, I decided I needed to go and delete a scene, and take the book in a different direction. Once I did that, I was able to continue writing and finish the book.

Often times we'll see interviews where an author is asked, are you a plotter or a plunger? I don't think there's anything wrong with either answer. However, the answer I saw recently that I really loved was from Cecil Castelluci, author of QUEEN OF COOL and BEIGE, among others. She said something like - I'm a plunger trying to learn to be a plotter. I thought, yes, me too!

There is something to be said for writing a book without a lot of knowledge of what's going to happen. Some wonderful things can happen that way. Things you are surprised by, things that take you places you hadn't thought of. However, I do think it's easier to write a book if you have an idea of where the story is going, what the main character wants and how he/she is going to get it.

As I write the first draft, I'm now more aware that almost every chapter should have some conflict. One of the exercises Darcy mentions in the book above (see tip of the day) is to go through the finished manuscript and put a checkmark after every chapter if there is conflict. If you have three chapters in a row without any conflict, you're probably in trouble. Conflict is what keeps a reader turning the pages. Conflict is what makes a good story. But conflict can also be hard to write. We come to like our main character. We don't want to throw him/her in a tree and throw rocks.

So, I now take notes on notecards before I start to write the book. I think about the conflict that's going to occur and how the character will react to the conflict. I also bounce ideas off writer friends. One of my friends gave me a great idea for the book I'm writing now, and it's become an excellent source of conflict in the book. It's okay to talk about your book with trusted friends and get ideas! One little thing can spark your imagination and you're off and running.

One final tip I leave with you - when you are done writing for the day, write some notes on the manuscript below where you left off about where you see the story going next. Maybe even have categories that you make yourself write a little bit on - scene coming up, conflict that's going to happen, characters involved, etc. I find it's much easier to come back and start back in when I've left myself those notes.

What about you? Are you a plotter, a plunger, or like me, a little of both?

~Lisa, Miss Pinch Me I'm Pubbed

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Book v. Kid

Tip of the Day: Epidurals are your friend—whether you are giving birth to a baby or a book.

I see so many authors talk about how publishing a book is just like having a baby. And I used to think—oh sure—I can totally see that. But having just given birth last week to a beautiful little boy, I’m here to tell you it is SO NOT the same.

A comparison:

The Book: Delivery is hard. There are lots of edits and changes that may make you crazy. Long nights, headaches, maybe even rotten dreams, wondering if you are really capable of making a great book.

The Kid: Same worries, more intensified. And a HUMAN BEING IS BEING RIPPED OUT OF YOUR BODY. It hurts a little more than the book.

The Book: The book will keep you up some nights worrying.

The Kid: The kid will keep you up nights. Like, every two hours for months and months. You’ll be babbling in your sleep and diapering the dog from sleep deprivation.

The Book: The book is SO cute.

The Kid: The kid is cuter. And giggles. And gives kisses.

The Book: Is on the shelf for a limited time.

The Kid: Depends on you-- for at least 18 years (though I’m hearing many stick around till 30 these days. God help us.)

The Book: People are going to judge your beloved book and it will be hard. If someone says something mean about your book, you’ll feel bad for awhile and defensive. You may even be tempted to send a nasty comment/e-mail back.

The Kid: People are going to judge your kid and it will be hard. But if they say something mean to your kid you’ll show up at their house and beat them up. :-)

So see? Not exactly the same. Both are super rewarding though and fulfill lifelong dreams. Although the book does PAY you while the kid just takes lots of $$ to raise. I’m hearing, per Dr. Phil, $250K per kid to raise them till their 18. Ok, hmmm, times 4, that makes, uhhhh….yikes. I better go write some more books fast!

Kristina, Miss Soon-to-Pub

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

You So Trendy! (or WWII: Back With A Vengeance!)

Tip of the day: It's OK to hope that the new guys moving into the apartment above you don't play the drums. And if they do, it's also OK to tell them to stop playing the drums. You SHOULD refrain from telling them they suck at the drums.

It's spring and many people are weeding, including me. No, I'm no responsible for removing the pricker bushes and dandelions from my flower gardens (my awesome landlord does that!), but I am responsible for removing the books from my YA library section in order to make room for the new ones.

Perhaps I should be sad that some of these older titles aren't getting read, but I actually love weeding! Because as much as I hate to say it, some YA novels (a)just do not stand the test of time, or (b) their topic is over done so there's too much competition to pick it up, or (c) better books have been done on a similar topic since that one was published.

A lot of the novels I'm removing from the collection were:
1. Published between 1997 and 2001
2. WWII novels (how many times can a teen read about a family torn apart by WWII?)
3. Vietnam War era
4. Mid-1800s/turn of the century

I have to say, I do love me some historical novels, and I have a fond place in my heart for some WWIIs (THE BOOK THEIF, SUMMER OF MY GERMAN SOLDIER, THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK), and I'm plotting out a Vietnam War book in my head right now....

BUT, my weeding process includes reading the book's blurb -- and THIS IS THE KEY AREA WHERE I FIND MYSELF YAWNING/SKIMMING/SAYING "BORING" AFTER THE TENTH WWII NOVEL IN A ROW! I can't help it. I'm only human with a propensity to get bored by the same old things. I just imagine an editor getting her 50th WWII submission during the week of June 1st, 2000. How can one keep reading the same topic over and over and NOT get bored?

When I check these books for the last day they went out, I see the teens feel the same way; most of them haven't gone out in over a year so they get discarded from the collection and moved into our book sale.

Yes, there are trends, but I completely understand some of the trends NEEDING to recede at a certain point so that their value can once again be seen -- unlike WWII YA novels in the year 1999. :)

What trends do you remember being over done at one time? What trends do you think are over done now?

Deena, Miss Recently Repped

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

When is it okay to fudge the truth in fiction?

Tip of the Day: did you know Instant Star started back up this week?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

As I’m starting a new project and have gotten feedback on it, I’m beginning to wonder if one aspect of my book idea is going to come under fire for being “unrealistic.” The unrealistic part in question is central to the plot and revolves around an actual activity and job teens do. But one that’s heavily regulated by the law and has many safety concerns (i.e. there are certain aspects of the job that might look unrealistic in the book, if teens are given the chance to do).

Now I know there are books about teens doing various jobs, such as being teenage spies, that aren’t entirely realistic. Despite the fact these jobs do exist for adults. And to me, it’s okay because it’s a given that it’s stretching the truth slightly for the story’s purpose, especially because people know that teenage spies generally don’t exist (or at least not that I know about). And it’s just plain fun.

But how do you handle the situation if it’s an actual job that teens can do? Are you under different obligations in fiction to keep it as realistic as possible? Only allowing them to do aspects of a job that someone their age would legally be allowed to.

Or does it even matter?

Normally, I don’t really care about how realistic stuff is in contemporary fiction. The more outlandish, the more I generally like it. But lately, I’ve been watching a few TV shows (cough, Men in Trees, cough) that just seem to get the facts about certain industries blatantly wrong. And it’s kind of annoying. If they only did it one episode, it would be okay, but so many errors regarding multiple industries it often feels like they aren’t fact checking. And as a viewer it makes me want to lose interest, because it pulls me out of the story to think about the facts (which generally is a bad thing).

In that example, it could be just the execution of it. And the fact, as a viewer, I don’t think they “need” to change the truth, so it doesn’t work for me personally or seem to fit the character. So if it feels realistic and necessary to the story, maybe the reader won’t question or care if it’s unrealistic?

Now that I’ve probably used way too many question marks in this entry, I’m going to run wild with it and use more. What do you think? Do you think it’s okay to fudge the truth in fiction? Does it depend on how it’s done? Even if the character should know better, if the general public doesn’t, doesn’t it matter if it’s not exactly correct?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Power of Dreams

Tip of the Day: My tip is really a gentle reminder to clean out your bookshelves. Pull out the books you and your kids are never going to reread (be honest) and donate them. My local library accepts donations year round for their fundraising booksales. Ta-da! I made room for new books!

Writing creatively is about output, but there's no output without input. So we read, we observe, we listen, we learn, and we hope that somehow everything we digest gets processed into our subconscious, to lurk in the back of our brains as we write.

I don't know what's going on in my subconscious. But recently, I decided to try to remember my dreams. Normally, I don't make a habit of remembering my dreams because they're pretty repetitive. I'm taking a test I've never been to class for; I'm driving a car from the backseat. These dreams aren't hard to interpret. I'm anxious about something. Of course, with kids, a full time job, critiquing deadlines, family obligations, and that whole "not being born a billionaire" thing, anxious isn't really new information. So dream interpretation never tells me anything I don't already know. But lately I got on this kick of spending my morning teeth brushing time purposefully reflecting on my dreams and trying to recall as much as I can.

On Sunday morning, the strangest thing happened to me. I dreamed the first scene of the next book I want to write. And it's good! It involves the main character, it describes him and his situation, it has action, and he meets one of the other major characters in the perfect way. I woke up amazed, thinking "That's it!!"

I fended off the hungry cats to look for a pen and notebook. I normally keep a pen and notebook in my bedroom, but I brought it downstairs on Friday to type something out of it. Once I got downstairs, I found my kids were awake and had made themselves breakfast: pancakes, syrup, and whipped cream. I think you can guess the proportions involved. I'm not sure there were actually pancakes. I think they just passed the box of frozen pancakes over the plates of sugar and called it good. Unfortunately, this encounter wiped the really funny joke part of my opening scene out of my memory. I think I got the rest of it down on paper though.

I'm very surprised by this tum of events. I haven't written a word of this book yet, and I have too many other projects going to want to start it. I was putting it off for NaNoWriMo in November.

I keep thinking of interviews I've read where writers say the idea for their books just came to them or came to them in a dream. It makes sense, I guess. All that stuff we put into our minds has to come out somewhere.

What stories and story ideas came to you in a dream? And when you acted on the dream, how did it work out?

-- Kate, Miss Apprentice Writer