Monday, April 30, 2012

How Many People Hate Your Main Character?

Tip of the Day: It's Meet our Agents week at MiGWriters. If you're looking for an agent, you'll want to read these four in-depth agent interviews.

I've been doing a lot of reading lately, and I figured out something about myself. I'm not crazy about books where everyone likes the main character. It's kind of like that quote: "If everybody likes you, you're doing something wrong."

I re-read Stephen King's Needful Things, since I had last read it in high school. The main character is a small town sheriff. There are people who don't like him. Some people don't like him because he's a cop. Some people don't like him because he's nosy. One of the first lines in the book is how the townspeople think he does an alright job but he's no Big George (his predecessor). Is it me, or do you immediately like this guy hearing about who dislikes him?

Naturally, your Big Bad Villain will dislike your main character, but is that enough? I don't think so. And what if you're writing about a character who is naturally nice? That's what I'm doing. My main character Kiri has been trained since early childhood to be pleasant and helpful. Nobody has any reason to dislike her. But she finds out that because she was pleasant and helpful, nobody really believed she was smart or capable. Even the people closest to her didn't think she was capable of more. They don't dislike her, but they don't respect her. (If you're a Game of Thrones fan, think of Sansa Stark. She's always polite and she gets no respect, but watch out future!) I'm still worried that she's winning too many people over too soon, but I'll put that question to my critique partners.

This is also a YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary) opinion. Some people don't mind a book where everyone likes the main character, where she goes through life with everyone going out of their way for her, and of course she acknowledges their kindnesses with gracious, meaningful thanks. If that's you, there are plenty of books out there for you. That's not me, though. I mean, check out my picture. Nobody in the books likes Sansa and the Hound, so of course they're my favorites. They have no friends. They create tension. But they are essentially good people (well. probably good, in the Hound's case).

What kind of characters do you like?

-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages

Friday, April 27, 2012

Choosing a Cover Artist

Tip of the Day: My newest novel, Afterlife, released today. It's only 99 cents through Sunday. Plus, I'm giving away some Harry Potter souvenirs on my blog. Check it out!

As an indie author, I spend a lot of time on the aspects of publishing that most traditionally published writers never experience. Covers and artwork are a huge part of this. From what I'm told, most trad pubbed authors have little, or no, say in their covers. This is something I LOVE about being self-pubbed. The cover art is in my hands.

It's also one of the parts that terrifies me the most.

I don't have an eye for artwork. I couldn't even tell an artist what I want, really. In my mind, color, shape, contrast, all of that stuff, is just a blob of nothingness. I'm not a very visual person.

When I set out to create my first cover, I perused the covers of a ton of self-pub authors. The one that struck me the most was Ravenmarked by Amy Rose Davis. It's beautiful, isn't it?
I found out her artist was Robin Ludwig. I contacted Robin, told her about my book, and she created the cover for Anathema - a cover that has been highly lauded. Then she took that concept and made my Cloud Prophet Trilogy come alive. Each cover utilizes the same model and background, but just the simple changes (a turn of the head, or removal of a hood) speak so intimately to the storyline. I couldn't have done that on my own. 

For my next trilogy, The Swarm, I went with Phat Puppy Art. I wanted a different feel to these books and Claudia's artwork spoke directly to the heart of my story lines.

If you're interested in self-publishing, I HIGHLY recommend finding an artist to create your cover. Unless you're proficient in Photoshop, don't attempt it. Your cover is the first thing a read will see. If you don't want to come off as amateur, make sure your cover screams professional.

Search through Amazon and find covers you love. Contact the artist for a quote. Some are far more expensive than others. Many times it depends on the amount of manipulation that goes into the creation of the graphic.

Covers aren't the only form of artwork a self-pub needs. I have bookmarks that have been created by Robin, as well as Chris Whigham, a prominent social media manager. My new blog header was created by CP Design.

Without these people, my artwork would be atrocious. I'd probably sell far less than I do. I am so grateful to have found such incredible designers!!!!

Megg, Miss Enchanted ePubber

Thursday, April 26, 2012

7 Clues to Winning You is Out Today!

Tip of the Day: Check out Kristin's first book, A Match Made in High School too. 


Kristin Walker's newest super funny contemporary book, 7 Clues to Winning You, is out today.

From Goodreads:

When a humiliating picture of Blythe goes viral, she's instantly the target of ridicule at her new school. To salvage her reputation, Blythe teams up with Luke to win the Senior Scramble scavenger hunt. But Luke is an unlikely ally and potentially can't be trusted.

Perhaps it's his Shakespearean witticisms that reel Blythe in despite her better judgment . . . or maybe she just craves the thrill of the game. But as the hunt progresses, their relationship heats up. Soon their madcap mischief spirals out of control. Blythe is faced with arrest and expulsion, among other catastrophes - until Luke shows her what the Scramble (and love) is really about.

What People are Saying:

"In this hilarious account of a girl's reluctant adjustment to new circumstances...Walker (A Match Made in High School) focuses on Blythe's regrets and changing attitude... The vibrant, first-person narrative captures the humor and heartache of Blythe's predicaments." - Publishers Weekly

"7 Clues to Winning You is a definite winner for any contemporary fan! I loved it! This is exactly the kind of YA I need more of in my life. I want more of these kind of stories. Funny light yet deep and thought provoking. I hope you'll all give this book a try!" - Princess Bookie

"A clever, well-woven plot with a loveable cast of quirky characters and a sprinkle of Shakespeare. Kristin Walker's latest laugh out loud book will leave you wanting more." 
– Kristina Springer, author of The Espressologist and My Fake Boyfriend is Better Than Yours

My Thoughts:

Yep, that last blurb was from me. :-) I adored Kristin's newest book! It's on the long side at 317 pages but reads fast because Kristin has such a great and hysterical voice. She first won me over with her debut book, A Match Made in High School, which is a tears rolling down your cheeks from laughter kind of book. And her latest did not disappoint. While I loved her main character Blythe, I have to say the two elderly woman she befriends at the nursing home are by far my fave. Just read it, you'll love it. Promise. 

Find it now on IndieboundAmazon, or Barnes and Nobles. Follow Kristin on twitter at @Kristin_Walker or visit her Web site

Kristina, Miss Author in Action

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Talking to the People (or People Helping People)

Tip of the Day, Librarian Edition: Thinking of a career in public librarianship? Go to your local library and ask the reference librarian on duty some questions. We love to talk about our careers, and will take your inquiries as reference stats. Bonus!
On Saturday, I was a panelist with four other public librarians who spoke to a group of Masters in Library Science graduate students at the University at Buffalo. It was a great experience and I was honored to be asked.

I got a lot out of the Q&A format, and I hope the students did as well. My perspective of my career broadened by listening to the students' questions/concerns, and the responses from the other librarians around western NY.

For example:
--one panelist has been a librarian on four continents
--one had to stand between an angry husband with a gun and the man's wife who worked at the library until the police arrived
--one talked about the need for librarians to listen to what the public wanted, not just to tell the public what we will provide
--one discussed the library's role in being useful to refugees
--one had a cool local history program, where historians talked about old objects and collections important to the region
--one talked about loving the creativity allowed in her job
--and I, of course, talked about needing passion for your job, a forward-thinking apporach, and the idea that one must always try to keep oneself relevent in librarianship as books and access to information continues to change.

What questions would you have for a public librarian about her field?

Deena, Miss Subbing for Pubbing

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Gotta love "advice" by chocolate

Tip of the Day: if you are donating blood and think you can get by with a large snack instead of eating an entire meal, you are wrong. Trust me!

Okay, so it's been kind of a long week already. Whenever I'm feeling exhausted or like I'm about to start pulling my hair out in frustration, I do what any normal person does when they need to relax: I indulge in a few (okay, tons) of Dove chocolate. Not only that, but I do it while watching The Biggest Loser, but I guess that's a topic for another day.

Anyway, not sure when they started including the little inspirational sayings on the Dove wrappers, but the person who thought of it is a genius. It's brilliant marketing and incentive to keep going. I'm sure I'm not the only one that treats them like a fortune and if I don't like my first one I try again.

I have to tell you this latest bag of chocolates really wants to see me accomplish my dreams!

In fact every other quote (or promises as they like to call them, since apparently they are promising you that anything can be accomplished by just eating chocolate...which now that I think about it is a very valid point) seemed to be about fulfilling dreams.

"Live your dreams"

"Dare to dream"

"Daydreaming is free"

"Follow that dream wherever that dream may lead"

"You are the star for which all evenings wait" (which of course is telling me I'm a writing superstar, right? Which I equate to following dreams.)

So what's my point?

Yeah, I don't know either. Just that if you are feeling down, get yourself some Dove chocolates and it will instantly boost your moral. Or at the very least give you a laugh! Who wouldn't smile at the cheesiness of "If you live in the present, every moment is a new beginning" or the profoundness of "Wisdom has two parts 1) having a lot to say, and 2) not saying it."

--Emily, Miss Querylicious

Monday, April 23, 2012

Author Intrusion (Excuse Me!)

Tip of the Day: Rhonda Stapleton is offering her awesome plotting workshop in June. I've taken it and I highly recommend it.

I've been thinking about author intrusion a lot lately. In my humble opinion, those are the spots in your writing where someone can tell you're writing it. These are places where the reader can be pulled out of the story with just a word because the word doesn't fit the storyworld. Instead, it's a writer's shortcut. Your character gets to say or think something she wouldn't normally think or say so that you can get information across to the reader.

Also in my opinion, a lot of long synonyms for "said" count as author intrusion. I don't know about you,  but I talk to people. Occasionally I yell at my kids or whisper to my spouse, but I have never pronounced, stated, proclaimed, or queried anything. These words pull readers out of the story because they're being used by the author to tell you something (how the character is speaking) without using a word the character herself would use. The word is invading from outside your storyworld.

Here's an article from The Editor's Blog: on author intrusion. It points out that another form of author intrusion is giving people of a different time period a mindset and attitude that the characters would be unfamiliar with. This doesn't just mean that your Regency debutantes shouldn't think to go out without a chaperone. This applies to novels set in the future, too, something I'm struggling with. Again, it's me wanting to tell you things my main character doesn't realize. I can't have her going around thinking, "Unlike in the early 21st century in the First World countries, a college education is now uncommon." She'd just never think that.

Roni Loren's writing blog also has a great post called Author Intrusion: 12 Pitfalls to Avoid. I love her pitfall #5: Burly Detective Syndrome. This is when characters "think" of each other by their occupation or physical description so you don't have to type their names over and over again. Just stick to one name per character, please. Once you start calling one person "Vera" "the redhead" "the librarian" and "the mother of three," I no longer have any idea who you're talking about. Vera thinks of herself as Vera, so let's leave it at that. I don't wake up in the morning and think, "The spunky brunette brushed her teeth and thought about authorial intrusion." Maybe I should. I'm also thinking of dubbing in the soundtrack to Charlie's Angels to make my life more exciting, but I'm totally off-topic now.

Anyway, author intrusion. I gave you some of my pet peeves. I know you have some, too. Here's where you get to complain about them in the name of helping our manuscripts.

-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fright Fest

Tip of the Day:  Want a chance to win an e-ARC of my upcoming novel, Afterlife? Click here to enter!

"When you're working on a book do you ever become paralyzed by fear?"

A writing friend of mine PM'd me over Facebook a couple days ago looking for an answer to this question.

I'm not sure if she expected me to say: "No! Writing is all flowers and hearts! I flit from page to page with joyful abandon, sure my perfect prose will win the Pulitzer!" *cue sparkles and butterflies*

Here's my actual answer: "Afraid? TERRIFIED 24/7. I am scared <bleep>less every time I write, every time I edit, and every time I publish a book. I am convinced everyone will hate it. I think every phrase is awkward. I am sure people are laughing at me behind my back.

Is that what you mean? lol. I think that's how we creative types define normal."

I think everyone needs to hear this once in a while. All writers are insecure. If we waited to feel good about our writing before continuing a project then I'd bet the only books on the shelf would be from literary luminaries like Snooki (who may have an incredible book - I don't know, I haven't read it).

 (I'd also really like to go on record and say that she could be a lovely person in real life. I'm talking REAL life, not that "reality" junk that's shown on TV.)

I think that confidence in writing becomes an even bigger minefield in self-publishing. SELF-PUBLISHING IS CRAP! DON'T SELF-PUBLISH! MICROSCOPIC BUGS WILL EAT YOUR BRAIN WHILE YOU'RE SLEEPING IF YOU SELF-PUBLISH! Isn't that what Jodi Piccoult said? ;) lol

Just because I self-publish, it doesn't mean I'm vain. I'm seriously insecure. I self-publish because I love telling stories. Are they perfect? Doubtful. But if I don't tell stories then it's quite possible my brain will explode and, really, nobody needs to clean up that mess.

No one writes because they have complete confidence in themselves and their work. We write to exorcise the demons. We write to express ourselves. We write to give others a piece of our souls. Is there any greater gift?

Give fear the finger and keep writing. 
-Megg Jensen
(feel free to quote me)

Megg, Miss Enchanted ePubber

Thursday, April 19, 2012

I Love Author Fairs!

Tip of the Day: Did you all see this debate, "Is The DoJ Vs. Publishers Lawsuit Good For EBooks?" between writer Will Entrekin and Literary Agent Michael Bourret? Interesting stuff!

Last weekend I attended yet another author fair-- this one in my town and it was so fun! I've been going to these things for years and you'd think I'd grow tired of them but they're actually getting better. I think it's because as young adult fiction gets hotter and hotter there are more YA authors at the events. It used to be just me and maybe one or two other YA authors years ago (and the rest would be adult book and children's book authors) but this time we had a long line of them and they were loads of fun to hang out with. Here's a shot of me and Megg at our table.

I thought this was also the perfect time to resurrect an old post on why I love author fairs so much. Enjoy!



Five Things I Love About Author Fairs

I attended another FUN Author Fair this past weekend. I can easily get hooked on these things (have I mentioned in previous posts that they give you candy? Oh wait, I gave up candy. Never mind.). I want to road trip around the country just hitting author fairs. The people who come are so nice and the people who run the fairs are awesome. Love it. But here are five specific things I love about author fairs:

1) Kids who are writing their own books and are very excited to chat about them.

I loooooove hearing about all of the cool books young people are working on! What a bunch of talented creative kids out there. When I was a pre-teen and teen I was too busy chasing boys (they could run fast! Haha.) to sit down long enough to write a book. So impressive!

2) Kids that come by with their autograph books.

I have huge love for the autograph book! I totally had one as a kid and I asked every famous person I met for their autograph. Of course, back then famous people to me were the guys on the soccer team and the high school kids in the school play. I still remember chasing Danny Zuko around after a matinee of Grease. "Danny Zuko! Danny Zuko! Sign my book pleeeeeeeease!"

3) All the authors.

It's so fun to walk around and see everyone's cool tables set up with all their books and swag. Some have tables covered with a dozen or so books. And everyone is so darn smiley and in a good mood. Of course, that could be from the free lunch (and the candy. Did I mention the loads of candy?) but I'd like to think it's just from sharing the love of writing.

4) The staff at the libraries.

They are always so nice! And they kinda treat you like a rock star. "You can go relax and grab a beverage in the Green Room." Green Room? Wh--? Am I on Oprah? I scooted right over to the Green Room (aka storytime room with a Green sign that said Green Room) and chilled with the other guests.

5) The badges.

Oh, the power of getting to wear an author badge. I kind of want to wear one everyday. Would that be weird? I could wear it at the gym, picking up kids from school, at the grocery store etc. How cool would that be? If I got pulled over for speeding I could be all, um, do you not see the badge? Emergency Author Fair obviously. You'll be providing police escort, no?

Kristina, Miss Author in Action

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dystopian Fiction Overload? (or Reality Bites but That's What Life Is*)

*with apologies to Limp Bizkit

Tip of the Day: My library won the area's Library of the Year award! Click here for details! Thanks to everyone who nominated Brighton Memorial Library. You rock!

I just read a YA book where:
--the main character is under house arrest on and off over her life
--phone lines are government controlled, only available intermittently, and rarely available for international calls
--the internet is highly monitored and all modems must be registered with the government
--outsiders are often forbidden from entering the country, and citizens are often not allowed out
--those who sneak information about the country/government outside the borders and are caught are subjected to imprisonment, physical torture, and death
--those participating in peaceful protests against the government are subjected to imprisonment, physical torture, and death
--disease runs rampant
--citizens are poor and powerless to overcome their situations
--the government spends millions on its lavish capital while the citizens starve in the other cities
--elections are rigged

Is this the latest dystopian novel on the shelves at B&N?

Nope. It's not even fiction. It's the story of Burma in the 1980s-present as presented in CHAMPIONS OF FREEDOM: AUNG SAN SUU KYI by Sherry O'Keefe (Morgan Reynolds, 2012).

I read this book to review it for VOYA, knowing nothing about Suu Kyi or Burma when I picked it up. I reached the end where the author compared Suu Kyi's world to that of George Orwell's 1984, I thought, holy crap. This horrific reality IS real for so many people across the globe.

So the next time you want to write about a government-controlled world but you keep hearing that dystopian fiction is overdone (I'm definitely reaching "full" on my library shelves), pick a country where this issue is a reality. Write about the real world -- even if we wish it was not so. I would totally read and buy those books.

Will I write them? I was very inspired by Suu Kyi's story, but would need to do a ton more research about a country that I just touched upon. Perhaps some day. Until then, I want to read more. Get writing! :)

Deena, Miss Subbing for Pubbing

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Going backwards...

Tip of the Day: if you love baby videos, check out this fun one featuring roller skating babies!

Back in my youthful days when I spent my weekends at the roller rink, going backwards was "totally rad." Heck you were even still considered cool if you could move backwards using the awkward Figure 8 motion, instead of the more sophisticated method of whipping one foot behind the other.

But now a days, going backwards is rarely a good thing. In fact on many occasions, when I feel like I'm slipping backwards it's incredibly frustrating.

Especially with writing. And even more specifically publishing.

There's nothing more annoying then feeling like you are making progress with your publishing goals, only to then have numerous set-backs and then all of a sudden you feel like you are worse off now then you were 2 years ago.

Recently, I've been subbing a middle grade novel that I love and my request rate is about 1000 percent less (give or take--my emotions might be outweighing actual math on this one) then it was on all my previous subs combined. Which is incredibly frustrating, especially when you know your writing has improved and that if people gave the book a chance they might just enjoy it.

But I honestly think that's the nature of today's publishing market. It's just so much tighter and so much more competitive that you really need to have something that sticks out.

While I love my concept and know after working in a library that it is exactly what the age group wants, at the same time, I understand the concept isn't huge enough for most publishers or even agents to want to take a risk on. Not that I'm giving up on my book. Far from it. Like I said, I know it has a market. And it only takes one person to believe it in.

Regardless, with so much change going on in the publishing world it's hard not to get swept up and feel like you are in a never ending circle and going no where. But the second you step back and pause and look at the big picture, you'll realize there's still tons of opportunities out there for writers now: such as ePubbing or smaller publishing companies that continually keep popping up.

It's just different. And if we take the time to rephrase our thoughts, we might find that we aren't stepping backwards, but maybe into something even better :) (Or that super cheesy comment could be the result of watching too much of the Voice this evening.)

--Emily, Miss Querylicious

Picture from here.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Your Weekly Planner (imagine Weather Channel music here)

Tip of the Day: Following the Department of Justice lawsuit against publishers for price collusion? Here's today's Mashable article arguing that this is a good thing for everyone involved:

I treated myself to Writer's Digest weekly planner recently. I decided this year to be more goal oriented, and I was using a blank book to write down goals, but I don't know. Something about those blank pages let me slack. I was kind of like, here's a bunch of goals that should be accomplished sometime. Then I was like, well, I keep writing the same goals down in the book, and really I know what I want to accomplish. I shouldn't have to keep writing it down. After a while, I was back to wondering what my priorities were and why I gave up writing in the book.

So in typical writer fashion, I bought myself a new book. New books solve problems, right?

I like this planner because the top of the page has room for each day of the week for daily goals, and the bottom of the page is open for weekly goals. Every other page has blank lines and boxes labeled "Goals," "Notes," and "Musings." This gives me room for something I did in the blank book: when I was feeling negative, I jotted down some positive things about my life.

I also have a lot of room for both my personal writing goals and my deadlines for other people. This way, I can make sure I'm working on my novels on a regular basis. I find it helps me to be able to look at my other deadlines and see that they're manageable before I do my own writing.

Do you set weekly goals, or even daily goals? Or do you keep a running to-do list of your critiques due, articles, novel chapters, etc.? What works for you?

-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages

Friday, April 13, 2012

ePublishing Panel or I Did Not Vomit

Tip of the Day:  Imagining people in their underwear during a presentation doesn't help everyone. Instead, keep a cup of water nearby and a cough drop to suck on. You'd be surprised how much those really do help. ;)

Last fall, my friend Jane Hertenstein contacted me for some advice about epublishing. We spent hours on the phone going over everything she needed to know about getting her books changed into ebook. She owned the rights and was really excited about this new technology.

Once her books were live and she was happy with her experience, she thought it would be great if I shared my knowledge with her SCBWI group. I could get up in front of an audience and talk.

Now, in real life, I really enjoy talking. I have a bit of a reputation (within my family, at least) for never shutting up. However, when it comes to speaking in front of a live audience, to people I don't know, I don't do well. My hands shake and sweat. My voice cracks and my mouth goes drier than the Sahara. I get nervous. I say stupid things and embarrass myself.

I promptly turned her down. Not only was I not confident enough in my speaking skills, I really felt I was too new to epublishing to get up in front a group and declare myself some kind of expert. So, I suggested a panel with me and my friends.

Jane agreed. We tried to set a date for winter, but it just didn't work out, so we decided to do it in March. My friends Karly Kirkpatrick and Norm Cowie sat on the panel with me and Susan Kaye Quinn came in support (I didn't know her when Jane & I set up the panel or I would have invited her to speak too.)

I spent a month being really nervous. Like heart-pounding, scared-to-death, convinced-I-was-going-to-vomit-on-Norm nervous. I considered backing out. As the months passed I focused more on my career and less on the upcoming meeting. My books took off. I learned so much more about epublishing every day. By the time March rolled around, I really felt like I had something to contribute to the panel.

My nervousness faded. I knew I had something to say - a lot of somethings, in fact. I told Jane the day before the panel that she might need to use bodily force on Karly, Norm, and me because we are all skilled in the art of talking.

How did the panel go? Fantastic! I felt like I really was able to impart my message to people. (ePublishing isn't for everyone and it isn't simple. ePublishing is a business, totally separate from writing.) I met some writers whose names I knew from the SCBWI listserv I belong to. It was a really fantastic afternoon.

Moral? Don't agree to speak on a panel as an expert unless you feel like you are one. Had the panel occurred last fall or winter (like we'd originally discussed), I would have been far more nervous because I didn't feel like I knew enough. By March, I had real facts, data, and experience to give out.

Since then I've been contacted by two other people to give talks about epubbing. Will I do it? Absolutely! And next time, I think I can even do it alone. :D

Karly, Megg, Norm

Megg, Miss Enchanted ePubber

Thursday, April 12, 2012

IRC 2012 Conference Recap

Tip of the Day: Ever wonder how many copies a book sells over a year? Check out this huge list of 2011 sales for children's books.

This week on A2A were talking about conferences we've been to lately. And I LOVE a good conference! Or author fair. I'm going to our local author fair this Saturday from 11-4pm (details here if you're in the NW burbs of Chicago) to hang out with 37 other awesome authors, like our own Megg Jensen and middle grade author Hillary Wagner, and to meet readers (my fave!). And in mid-March I attended the Illinois Reading Council Conference which was awesome! I blogged about it on my personal blog and I'm going to copy that here in it's original form.


I'm finally getting to share some pics from the Illinois Reading Council Conference in Springfield, IL, last week! First, it was AMAZING. Like, amazing amazing. I couldn't believe how huge it was. They were using meeting rooms throughout two big hotels and then also the convention center for exhibitors to set up. And then people still stayed at even further hotels and were bussed over. I heard there were about 3000 kindergarten through college English teachers there. So cool!

This is the view outside of my hotel room. Believe it or not, this was the first time I ever stayed in a hotel on my own! No husband or kids! It was weird at first but then I got used to the giant bed and massive tv all to myself. :-)

My badge and a page in the conference line-up guide.

The one and only pic I have of me from the whole conference. I sent it to my husband at 7am the first day to see if he thought I looked okay. :-)

Then I was off to give my hour long presentation three times.

My presentations went great! PHEW!

At the end of each one I gave out a list of my favorite funny contemporary YA also. Here's a copy of my handout if anyone is interested-- Kristina's Top Ten Fave Funnies.

I also got to sign in the exhibitor hall (and check out the great booths. Okay, and buy lots of stuff for the kids).

Then at 8:30 that night I went to the Hear the Authors Read event. It was HUGE.

Tons of teachers!

I got to sit with a ton of super cool award winning authors in the front. That's Nick Bruel above.

Including this year's Newbery Medal Winner, Jack Gantos. He's HYSTERICAL.

We took turns going up to read and when it was mine I read the first chapter of Just Your Average Princess. Then we signed books until about 11pm. It was a looooong but awesome day.

Night view from my window.

The next day was an awesome luncheon for 30 Illinois authors and 300 teachers to hang out at. We each got our own table and signed more books.

After two and a half days away from the hubs and the kiddies I was really missing them. I said goodbye to Springfield late Friday afternoon and headed for home.

Kristina, Miss Author in Action

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

SCBWI MD Conference Recap (or In the Merry Land of Maryland)

Tip of the Day: It's National Library Week! Tell your librarians how much you appreciate their services -- and their books!

On Saturday, March 31, I attended the SCBWI MD/DE/WV chapter’s spring conference: “Rx for Children’s Book Creators: Getting Your Stories Right.”

Why did I drive all the way to Maryland for a one-day regional conference, you may ask? Because I needed to visit my friend and her new baby, and I figured with the conference only an hour away from her, I'd squeeze it in and write off my trip! Another interesting tidbit: the first SCBWI conference I ever went to was in MD while visiting this same friend in 2006.

Anyhoo, the morning started with PB/MG author and writing coach Esther Hershenhorn and her talk, “Getting Your Stories Right.” She focused on how not only should writers and illustrators focus on the plotlines of their characters’ stories, but that they should also view their own creation journeys as plotlines. Kind of a cool concept, one I hadn't considered before.

After lunch, HarperCollins Associate Editor Sarah Dotts Barley discussed “Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.” I was familiar with a number of the “mistakes” she saw in her submissions, like “show don’t tell,” and a reminder to not include every stage direction that your character makes to get from point A to B. But for beginners it was a good talk, and she was a gracious and patient speaker with cool credits like the DEAR BULLY anthology who clearly knows her stuff.

Rachel Orr, agent at Prospect Agency, was the final solo presenter of the day with her talk, “Voices Carry: Discovering and Developing Your Own Personal Style.” And oh em gee, her discussion and examples were the most clear I have heard on the subject of the elusive "voice!" Go Rachel! She took portions of published picture books and novels, stripped them of their “voice,” and put both versions on a PowerPoint slide for comparison. Voila! A great presentation.

The final session, “Fairy Tales and Cautionary Tales,” consisted of a panel of eight of the region’s members who are agented or published. They talked about the mistakes they made along their journeys and what they would do differently now, how they got their first published gigs, and what their best advice was for writers and illustrators struggling to make it today. It was a frank, humorous, and realistic chat on the publishing industry that I really appreciated.

After decompressing my brain at my friend's house where I hung with her baby and we dyed Easter eggs, I drove home excited to dive into my MG revisions again with a focus on voice and the knowledge that I am a character in my own writing life who will one day achieve my greatest writing desires. Woo hoo!

Deena, Miss Subbing for Pubbing

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Non-fic vs. Fic

Tip of the Day: Want to show your love for libraries? Get creative from now through tomorrow (Wednesday) by composing a story about libraries on Twitter, and tag it with #nlw6words  

We are talking about writing conferences this week on A2A, and to be honest I haven't been to a writing conference in at least 2 years. But not because I don't love them...because I do. I really do. I love how motivating they can be. But timing hasn't worked out for any recently.

However, I did have an author visit at my library this evening, and I found it very interesting. Especially since the author was Katie Hacker who writes non-fiction books about jewelry.

And I was once again reminded how different fiction and non-fiction books can be, and yet sometimes they are so similar. So what did I learn about non-fiction books?
  1. They take just as long as fiction books to come out, if not longer. For her, from pitch to finished book it takes about 2-3 years.
  2. But not all books are slow releases. She also writes "books" for national craft stores, and just last month they called up and wanted her to write a complete book by the end of the month and will have it in stores shortly afterwards. Now these are shorter books that usually only show 10 or so different necklaces, and are more pamphlet size when bound. But still it is an entire book in a month.
  3. It helps to have an "in" at a publishing company, unless you are already famous in a given area. She got her start because she was working at a craft book publisher and pitched a jewelry book that ended up selling really well. And everything sort of grew off of that. Now she has multiple books in print that have sold more than half a million copies, a PBS show, a line of products sold nationwide, and more. 
  4. However, since she did work at a publishing company, she did make it clear to point out that anyone can pitch a non-fiction book. And if it's a good idea it will sell, regardless of if you are famous or not. And if that publishing company doesn't like it, just keep pitching elsewhere and come up with more ideas.
  5. You can't write with the trends in non-fiction, just like you can't write with the trends in fiction. She did make a point of saying that it's almost like you have to try to "predict" what trend will be popular in 2 years when pitching books. In her case it would be jewelry trends. So who knows if books make the trends in regards to making your own jewelry or if fashion does? But I'm sure it's fun and hard to guess what the trend might be. 
So what do you think? Any other differences or similarities between non-fiction and fiction?
As a side note: she did talk about her PBS show a bit, and the thing I found the most fascinating is she mentioned that sometimes they film multiple years in advance. Especially if it will be the same guest presenter. It's just easier to get them to fly out once. So she has to keep her hair the same year after year. If she didn't, she'd need to buy a wig. I know they film in advance, but it is interesting to know that some PBS shows film that far in the future.

--Emily, Miss Querylicious

Monday, April 9, 2012

Day Tripper: Hanging Out at the SCBWI Conference

Tip of the Day: Carpooling to conferences means you can talk about books to fellow book lovers during the ride. 

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Western New York SCBWI conference in Syracuse. The speakers were Shawn Goodman, author of the Delacorte Press YA Contest winner for best debut, Something Like Hope; Donna Farrell, children's book illustrator and website designer; and Noa Wheeler,  editor at Henry Holt Books.

I try to attend the Syracuse conference every year, so it was nice to catch up with old friends. I met some great Central New Yorkers at a weekend novel retreat a few years back, including Shawn, and it's inspiring to see so many people from that retreat still writing.

If you're just starting to learn about the business, day conferences are essential. But after you've been to them for several years, should you still keep going?

I think there are benefits:

  1. Affordability. This conference provided me with inspiration and ideas without breaking the bank.
  2. Networking. This includes the invitation from a closed house editor to submit, but it also helps me stay in touch with writers outside of the Rochester area in my SCBWI region.
  3. Enthusiasm. It's hard to find the energy to keep going sometimes. Conferences can provide a nice kick in the butt.
  4. Insider information. This is a great time to ask editors and writers about what's selling and how lists are being affected.
  5. Getting in touch with the "zeitgeist." I'm writing a science fiction novel, and I keep hearing that everyone and his brother is writing science fiction. But you know what? My first page was the only sci fi entry in the first pages session. So maybe I should stop being discouraged by the "I'm so sick of science fiction" crowd.

So I'll continue attending the Syracuse conference every year. It's small and intimate, and it's also part of what I do that helps me identify myself as a writer. And our coordinator does an awesome job!

Are you an SCBWI member? Do you attend your local conference every year?

-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages

Friday, April 6, 2012

Megg as a Teen: Sacred Writing Spot

Tip of the Day: Nothing about writing is typical. Do what works for you!

Megg & her daughter on a grain bin

I grew up on a farm. Two and a half miles from town doesn't seem far - but it was. My brother and sister are six and eight years older than me, so I was pretty much on my own as a kid. Well, not totally, my mom was at home with me (my dad worked a lot), but I spent a lot of time by myself in my room.

<--- That's my daughter and I standing at the top of my dad's new grain bin.

Writing was always a big part of my life, but as the angsty teen years crept up on me (okay, so maybe they slammed into me like a freight train) my writing exploded. Suddenly I had all sorts of feelings to write about. It wasn't pretty. Here's an excerpt of song lyrics I wrote:

When I'm all alone
I just think of you
And the way it could be
If you loved me too

(There is obviously a good reason I'm not a poet.)

But, to teen me, those were deep lyrics. So, so meaningful. I wrote lyrics to more than fifty songs. Want to know where I wrote them?

In my closet.

Yep, in my closet. I grew up in an old farmhouse, the same one my grandma was born in. Yeah, you read that right. My grandma was born IN the house. Because my sister and I had to share a room, we were given the traditional master bedroom because it was bigger than the other two. Our bedroom had a walk-in closet. It was old, covered in cracked, peeling paint (most likely filled with lead). The orange carpet worn thin from years of women standing in it, wondering what to wear. The door didn't close all the way, but I would pull it shut as tightly as possible. Then it creaked its way open, just a tidge, until the tiniest stream of light shined inside.

I'd write in there for hours at a time. Lyrics, short stories and poems (which actually got better as I got older, but I'm very protective of my poetry because I don't want anyone to tell me how horrendous it is). I didn't tackle a real novel until the late 1990's.

So it's no wonder that when I write now I still like to cocoon myself, whether it's with music blasting in my ears, wrapped up in my bed, or writing in total darkness with nothing other than the glow of my computer (or iPad) and a candle. 

There are secrets in my closet than no one will ever find. Distant memories, some precious, others I'd rather forget, float in veiled silence.

And now? I have a walk-in closet but I can't write in there. Not because my kids would think I'm weird (they already do), but because there's too many pairs of shoes in there. :)

Megg, Miss Enchanted ePubber

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Finding Focus

Tip of the Day: While I loved the movie Titanic and want to go see the 3D version no matter how bad of a headache I leave there with, this review on Jezebel is HYSTERICAL.

I really need to focus. STAT. If there is one thing I'm rarely short on it's book ideas. Which isn't an awful problem to have except when it seems like you're getting a little done everywhere versus a lot done in one place. Right now my brain is mulling over the following:

One contemporary YA book fully outlined, 3 chapters written
One contemporary YA book, synopsis written, notes, and first few pages
One sci-fi YA (collaboration with hub), notes and first chapter written
One contemporary middle grade, synopsis and first six chapters written
One contemporary middle grade series outlined, lots of notes, and first chapter of book one half written

And then you know what I went and did this week? Started plotting a super funny adult contemporary book collaboration with another author.

My head is ready to explode. How do you guys deal with having so many books pull you in different directions? I keep telling myself that I need to put things in order, deal with one at a time and just know that I'll get to them all at some point.

Right now, I daily bounce back and forth between the two middle grade books because I'm having so much fun with them but even there, I keep telling myself to pick one and stick with it. But then fit the collaboration projects in there too since there is down time when waiting for the other author to add/respond.

Do you guys go through this? Do you try to write numerous books at one time or do you pick one and stick with it to the end? I guess I read like I write because I'm always reading several books at one time as well.

Any advice? :-) 

Kristina, Miss Author in Action

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sit-Com 101 (or Lessons Learned From TV)

Tip of the Day: Want some adult book recommendations? I've actually read some targeted to those over age 18! Try STATE OF WONDER by Ann Patchett, ROBOPOCALYPSE by Daniel H. Wilson, THE WILDER LIFE by Wendy McClure, and THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern. My reviews are here.

I don't like sit-coms anymore.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not a television snob. I watch The Bachelor, reality talent shows, and the Food Network with the best of them. Basically shows that don't require me to pay much attention so that I can read/write/cook/internet while having the TV on in the background.

But I do have a small tolerance for bad acting, cheesy lines, and overdone dramatic plots, lots of which I find in sit-coms.

Back in the day I loved my Full House and Seinfeld despite the irritating laugh tracks. This past weekend, though, while staying with some friends, I watched a couple episodes of New Girl and was reminded why I don't miss them. I think a big part of that is because now I watch them like a writer.

Here's what was reinforced to me about writing fiction based on what I observed in the sit-com New Girl:

1. Show Don't Tell -- Yes, this goes back to the laugh track days. Don't TELL me that something's funny by throwing in fake audience laughter; SHOW me it is funny with quality writing/acting so that I laugh on my own.

2. Look Out for Cliches -- How many times have we seen the Thanksgiving episode where the fledging cook forgets to thaw out the turkey and then tries to quickly defrost it only hours before the big meal?

3. ALL CAPS and Constant! Exclamation! Points! Lose Their Potentcy -- Why do writers of sit-coms think that if they make their characters yell at each other, that the audience will laugh? Louder is not funnier.

I don't fault anyone who still can live in the blissful worlds of sit-coms and laugh. I wish I could just let myself overlook the parts that bother me as a writer. And not every part of every show is bad -- heck, I laughed out loud at the New Girl scenes involving the bell choir. But I wish more scenes were done that well.

Then again maybe I don't. I need to spend my time writing, not watching TV!

What shows do you like to watch, and what ones drive you crazy?

Deena, Miss Subbing for Pubbing

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sometimes you just gotta go with it!

Tip of the Day: if you get 12 inches of hair cut off, expect people to call you by the wrong name.

I'm notorious for changing my mind. This past weekend I got my hair cut off to donate for Locks of Love, which is a nice thought. But unfortunately it came with a decision of how I actually wanted my new short styled hairdo to look. Searching for "short haircuts for 2012," brought up way too many pictures of celebrity haircuts to choose from and there were only so many pictures of Ashlee Simpson hair styles that I could look through, despite the fact I had no idea why her image kept popping up.

Plus, I never really know if a stylist likes to have direction or not with a picture. I'm a trusting person, but after moving and switching to a new stylist it's kind of hard to trust them to understand your "hair speak." Especially when you are getting 12 inches chopped off.

So after a lengthy internal debate of "to bring a picture or not," I settled on the 101th picture (give or take), which was generic enough that it allowed me to point out general characteristics that I wanted but still gave the stylist some freedom to add personal touches. Because honestly I really didn't even care as long as it didn't look like a bowl cut.

In the end, the picture was a moot point because I had to get more cut off in the back, so it really ended up with me flying-by-the-seat of my pants when I pretended to know what words like "bob" and "fringe" actually meant.

However, the whole experience served as a reminder of the fact that I change my mind way too much and never just stick with something and go with it. Especially given the fact any style would have worked for me.

With writing that's kind of what you need to do: just stick to an idea and run with it. Being wishy-washy really doesn't get you anywhere. Except with far too many headaches, unnecessary revisions, and rejection letters.

So next time I'll save myself the time and just own my decision and move on! Unless of course it's with writing and all my critique partners tell me I might want to rethink my choices. In that case, it's a good thing stories are easier to change then sitting around waiting for your hair to grow (most of the time).

--Emily, Miss Querylicious

Que the dramatic before and after...

Monday, April 2, 2012

Writing Away from Home

Tip of the Day: Just for fun, it's the Game of Thrones premiere poll! (My opinion, which wasn't a voting option: More Direwolves!)

I'm writing this blog in a Barnes and Noble/Starbucks cafe while I wait for my dog to be groomed. I know a lot of people love getting out the house to write. Me, two years have gone by since I've written in this cafe. I'm a stay-at-home writer, which of course offers lots of distractions. But you think I don't get distracted in a book store? Ha ha ha.

In fact, right now I'm just staring around at people and toys (I swear they sell like 3% books and 97% other stuff here) and trying to force my attention on my keyboard. And the latte I'm drinking probably won't help my attention span. The clerk asked me if I wanted another shot of espresso in it, and I was like, heck, I shouldn't even have this shot. In fact, the more I sit here analyzing the clerk's choice of playing the Titanic soundtrack, the more I wonder if this was a good idea. Maybe I was meant to write in a dark, soundproof room, with periodic electric shocks when my mind wanders.

Funny, when the kids were little, I could block out a lot more. The crashes from their bedrooms? Probably just the cat. Whines of "I'm thirsty"? After two or three of them go unanswered, kids actually do figure out how to get themselves a cup of water. My kids learned that launching into a long story of how unfair their siblings were usually ended with me asking if anyone was bleeding. No? Then work it out yourselves.

But now that my kids don't bother me so much, I seem to have lost my ability to block outside stimuli. I know it's just a matter of being out of practice. So here I am. The Titanic soundtrack has changed to Alannis Morrisette. The employees can't stop ragging on some girl who's at lunch who tried to heat up a coffee drink on the panini grill. Maybe I should have brought headphones, although I'm a little charmed by the panini grill story. Can I work it into a novel? Um, no, probably not.

Okay, I'm going back to Word right now. We'll see if this is a success by my results at the end of the day.
-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages