Wednesday, December 21, 2011

THE BOOK OF LOST SOULS, by Michelle Muto

THE BOOK OF LOST SOULS, the first in the Ivy MacTavish series, provides a unique twist on YA paranormal fiction. While the book looks very dark, it is actually quite humorous and fun. I hope to see more books that aren't afraid to tickle our funny bones.

Synopsis: When teen witch Ivy MacTavish changes a lizard into her date for a Halloween dance, everything turns to chaos. And when no one is powerful enough to transform him back except Ivy, it sparks the rumor: Like father, like daughter. Ivy has heard it all before - that her father, who left when she was seven – was involved with the darkest of magic.

Making the rumors worse, someone uses an evil spell book to bring back two of history's most nefarious killers. Ivy's got a simple plan to set things right: find the real dark spell caster, steal the book, and reverse the spell. No problem! But she’ll have to deal with something more dangerous than murderous spirits that want her and her friends dead: the school’s resident bad boy and hotter-than-brimstone demon, Nick Marcelli. Nick’s offering Ivy more than his help with recovering the missing book – he’s offering her a way to ditch her scaly reputation as a lizard-lover. Demons are about as hard to handle as black magic, and as Ivy soon discovers, it’s going to take more than a lot of luck and a little charm if she wants to survive long enough to clear her status as a dark witch, get a warm-blooded boyfriend, and have her former date back to eating meal worms before the week’s end.

Michelle was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book and her journey as a writer:
How did you come up with this unique story?
I got the idea for The Book of Lost Souls because of my love of Harry Potter. I loved the whole series, but especially miss the early books where things are funny and innocent and new. It seems that most books that are on shelves for young adults is dark and dystopian, which is fine - I love them too. But, I just wanted something light and fun. So, I wrote the story in my heart. The Book of Lost Souls is what I call my Disney book in that it’s appropriate for teens, tweens, and even adults who want something lighter to read.
Can you tell us more about your writing and your experiences since you got started?
I’ve been writing for years, and I did try the traditional publishing route. In fact, The Book of Lost Souls was with a great agent at a major New York agency for a while (over a year). But, an established client decided to write something similar, so they couldn’t represent The Book of Lost Souls. They said wonderful things about it, so I decided to go the indie route after reading about Karen McQuestion, J.A. Konrath, and Amanda Hocking. There wasn’t any point in letting the manuscript languish away on my computer.

Since then, I decided to stop querying and continue with the indie route. I don’t have to wait months to hear back from agents, wait for months to a year to hear from a publisher, and then wait for a publication date. Readers don’t have to wait for my next book. Well, aside from me writing it, having it edited, get cover art, and uploading it. The downside is that it is harder to get the word out about my books. That’s changing in the traditional world too, though. A published friend has to do all her own promotional work.

It's wonderful to know that there are a lot of options, for both writers and readers! Thank you, Michelle, for sharing your wisdom and experiences. Here's some more info about Michelle and where you can find this great book:


Books available on:



Michelle has kindly offered a free ebook copy of THE BOOK OF LOST SOULS to a lucky random commenter! (Wish I could participate!) I'll choose the winner by the end of the week after the New Year--this giveaway has been extended so leave a comment to win!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Why Plotting Works

Some lingo I've picked up recently is "plotting" vs. "pantsing". A plotter outlines plot points and character sketches from start to finish before the novel is written, while a pantser, for lack of a better phrase, "flies by the seat of their pants" and constructs the novel as it comes, changing plot ideas, etc. as the writing happens.

I'm an admitted pantser. I prefer my characters tell me what they want to say (instead of me making them speak), and often times the plot will go in unexpected directions as I'm writing everything out. But the fall-out results in a bunch of plot threads that aren't connected, and a narrative that becomes disjointed.
When I wrote my first novel, an event led to a plot twist, which led to three more sub-plots get the idea.

A former writing instructor offered the following advice: Find the 2-3 most important story threads and either discard the rest or save them for later books. My discarded plots are now acting as working outlines for the second and third books in my series (and I even know what happens at the end of each book).

So how do you know which threads are important and which aren't? Above instructor also encouraged me to outline everything in an excel chart--with chapters across the top and the characters down the side. Something like this:

Completing the above chart for each book usually helps center me when plots start to get messy. It also gives me a place to jot down ideas for future chapters so I don't forget important elements by the time I get around to writing them.

Storyboarding is another good method, usually done on a large poster board. This method didn't quite work for me, as my storyboard got text-heavy and crowded, purple ink here, orange ink there--a mess. The boxes in excel were the precise restricters I needed. Still, if you're interested in this approach, you can find out more about it here.  

In my experience, nonfiction writers tend to have the best grasp on structure. A good book to peruse is Storycraft, by Jack Hart, in which the long-time journalist uses news stories to illustrate Freytag's dramatic structure: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. Janice Hardy provides a lovely variation of this that works well for YA.  Other examples of structuring are found in this post, with tips from another nonfiction author.

So the moral of all this: Pantsing is great fun, and great stories and characters emerge that way. But plotting is a necessary element to make your story readable (and sellable).

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Larkstorm, by Dawn Rae Miller

Today's YA book feature is Larkstorm, by Dawn Rae Miller.

From Goodreads: "In the years following the destructive Long Winter, when half the world’s population perished, the State remains locked in battle against the Sensitives: humans born with extra abilities.

As one of the last descendants of the State’s Founders, seventeen-year-old Lark Greene knows her place: study hard and be a model citizen so she can follow in her family’s footsteps. Her life’s been set since birth, and she’s looking forward to graduating and settling down with Beck, the boy she’s loved longer than she can remember.

However, after Beck is accused of being Sensitive and organizing an attack against Lark, he disappears. Heartbroken and convinced the State made a mistake, Lark sets out to find him and clear his name.

But what she discovers is more dangerous and frightening than Sensitives: She must kill the boy she loves, unless he kills her first."

Dawn's journey as an author is a great example of how being self-published is no longer the stigma it once was, evidenced in this interview with her and her agent, Kathleen Ortiz. While it's rare for a repped author to self-publish, I think it may start happening more often, if this experience by a now best-selling author is any indication.

For those who want to travel down the self-publishing path, however, I've heard it's best to do so with caution. First, make sure your book is ready for publication. Self-published books definitely need a copyeditor (if you don't believe me, see this blog post by Catherine Howard). Also, make sure you know where to market your work--you may need to pay extra to help get your book more visibility (though author pages on Amazon are free, at least for now).

Though self-publishing is more lucrative than it has been in years past, I'm still of the opinion that it should only be pursued if other avenues (like querying agents and publishers) come up dry.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Promotional Avenues For Your Writing

One of the biggest challenges in writing, other than the writing itself, is how to make your content marketable and sellable to others (how else will your book get an audience, after all?). This is something I've run into while preparing to query my novel--finding the marketable hooks and plot points that will draw people in, as well as finding ways to network and build an audience.

Structure Your Novel to Make it More Readable

Literary agent Jill Corcoran just wrote a great blog post about activating the first part of a novel (you know, the part that usually has all that backstory?). Jill says, "start right before everything changes for your main character." Backstory is a nice way to help a writer get to where the character needs to be, but on revision, those placeholders can easily be cut.

For example, my main character, Marnie, grew up without her mother. In the beginning, I had a whole section of flashbacks to earlier parts of her childhood--asking her father where her mother went, meeting her stepmother, etc. Upon revision, I found these parts, while interesting (at least to me, anyway) bogged down the overall narrative. 20 pages or so--gone. But I'm hoping my book is better for it.

Partner Up with Other Authors/Writers

I know I've said this before in my post on beta readers, but networking with authors and other aspiring writers opens up all kinds of possibilities, including, but not limited to:

1. A group who can give your work the edits/critiques it needs
2. People who can help you through roadblocks we all run into in the writing process (and if they're already published or repped by an agent, they may be able to give you some insider info about what to do (and what to avoid))

Fellow writers may also be able to help you promote your work, and help you find where you're marketable (take this example from a group of authors in Philadelphia.)

In the last few months, other writers have helped me answer the following questions:

1. When is a novel ready to query? (When you're not editing anything except a punctuation mark here and there)
2. What about my novel needs improvement? (Need to be clearer about the protag's motivation, and which aspects of the plot are most dire)
But remember, this works both ways. In turn for the wealth of advice I've received, I try to help promote newly published authors by featuring their work on my blog, and hope to someday conduct interviews like those I've seen from Literary Rambles and this recent entry from Eliza Loves Sci Fi.

Don't Use Facebook as a Promotional Tool Unless... already have a professional following. I've seen agents successfully promote the work of their clients this way, but if you're a lone author looking for an agent, publisher, or audience, Facebook isn't the place for you.

Back to Eliza, who shares her less than positive experiences with Facebook, and demonstrates why Twitter is a better networking tool. (Caveat: Don't query an agent on Twitter unless you want yourself blocked).

Librarians should also heed this advice, as evidenced by this most recent entry from Annoyed Librarian.

I think that's enough for one day, don't you? I'd be interested to hear from others about positive (or negative) promotional experiences.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Fallen Queen, by Jane Kindred

The Fallen Queen, by Jane Kindred, has such a fantastic premise that I had to share. Its great-looking cover also allowed me an opportunity to finally test posting pictures to my blog:

Here's the premise, from Goodreads:

 "Heaven can go to hell.

Until her cousin slaughtered the supernal family, Anazakia’s father ruled the Heavens, governing noble Host and Fallen peasants alike. Now Anazakia is the last grand duchess of the House of Arkhangel’sk, and all she wants is to stay alive.

Hunted by Seraph assassins, Anazakia flees Heaven with two Fallen thieves—fire demon Vasily and air demon Belphagor, each with their own nefarious agenda—who hide her in the world of Man. The line between vice and virtue soon blurs, and when Belphagor is imprisoned, the unexpected passion of Vasily warms her through the Russian winter.

Heaven seems a distant dream, but when Anazakia learns the truth behind the celestial coup, she will have to return to fight for the throne—even if it means saving the man who murdered everyone she loved."

You can an excerpt of Fallen Queen here. And, if you're interested in following Jane's blog tour, you can go here.

 The Goodreads entry contains a good example of an effective hook: "Heaven can go to hell." I haven't yet figured out the hook for my currently unpolished book, Anderson's Curse, that I wrote for NaNo, but I do know the elevator pitch: "Foster kids with superpowers." (Though a tired interaction and NaNo brain death one evening reduced this to "Kids with foster powers.")

Have you thought about a one-sentence hook or pitch for your current novel? Feel free to share in the comments section.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Expect "Glowing Rejections"

In getting to know some local writers in my area, a phrase keeps cropping up in my conversations with them. "Glowing rejections." What exactly are these?

Essentially, even if you're doing everything right--your query is flawless, pages or full manuscripts have been requested, your plot, storyline and characters are all memorable and easy to follow--rejection may still follow anyway, and most of the time, it has nothing to do with you.

Take one of my writer friends. She wrote a great zombie novel, but the people reading her manuscript were concerned that zombie-lore might be waning. It had to do more with what was already out there than the quality of her manuscript.

Another writer friend, who just published a great novel called Only Fear said that she received many "glowing rejections" before she landed an agent. But despite these, she was eventually able to sell her book. So really, the tides can turn either way.

Glowing rejections don't mean doom, and they certainly don't mean you won't get published. They're just an inevitable part of the process.

I don't yet speak from experience on this--I won't start querying until next year. But when I do, I want to ensure that I am considering an agent's workload just as much as my own. With the staggering amount of queries they receive, it is their job to pick the best ones out of the bunch. And they deserve nothing but respect for that process.

But don't get discouraged. Just keep trying, even when the glowing (and not so glowing) rejections come in. As my grandfather once said, "There are two ways to climb an oak tree. One is to climb the tree, and the other is to sit on an acorn and wait." (Just make sure you climb efficiently. Don't be an oak tree stumbler, as evidenced in this recent blog post by Janet Reid.)

So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and climb!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Legend, by Marie Lu

Once again lurking on Janice Hardy's blog, I happened upon this great guest post from up and coming author Marie Lu.

Lu's new book, Legend, looks like a great new dystopian read. It releases today, and is published by Putnam/Penguin.

From Goodreads:

"What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic's wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic's highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal."

Marie Lu's guest post talked about the importance of strong secondary characters. She gives some great tips on how they can enhance conflicts for protagonists. (See: Severus Snape (Harry Potter), Gollum (Lord of the Rings), Helen Burns (Jane Eyre), Marilla Cuthbert (Anne of Green Gables), and Billy Costa (The Golden Compass). And that's just scratching the surface.)

So have you thought about your secondary characters, and the role they have in your story?

Monday, November 28, 2011

What Makes a Good Query?

A week or so back, Janice Hardy had a guest author, Elle Strauss, who offered advice on how to write a proper query. For those unfamiliar with Elle, she wrote a great book called CLOCKWISE. (A sequel is forthcoming!)


Here's the synopsis, courtesy of Goodreads:

"A teenage time traveler accidentally takes her secret crush back in time. Awkward.

Boy watching with her best friend would be enough excitement for fifteen year old Casey Donovan. She doesn't even mind life at the bottom of the Cambridge High social ladder, if only she didn’t have this other much bigger problem. Unscheduled trips to the nineteenth century!"

If you want to see Elle's very good advice about how to format a query, go to Janice Hardy's blog, here.  And speaking of Janice Hardy, I'm a bit miffed that my local Barnes and Noble doesn't carry her Healing Wars Trilogy on the shelf. (Sure, they have it on the website, but people browsing the physical bookshelves in the store won't find it.)

But back to querying. Here are some tips I've picked up along the way:

1. Wait until the NaNo wave subsides before submitting to agents or publishers. 

I received this anonymous tip from a friend of a friend who's trying to get published. Apparently, after National Novel Writing Month (NaNo WriMo) finishes, some people feel their manuscripts are ready to go and start submitting right away, which makes for a very large slush pile. To avoid being part of a very muddy deluge, wait to submit until spring.

2. Know where you're marketable, and what your exact genre is.

 Sometimes genres can get messy, and books can fall into more than one category. What if you wrote a dystopian science fiction? Or a paranormal fantasy? My advice is: pick the genre that speaks most to your storyline. Is it more dystopia, or more science fiction? If it's more dystopian, stick with that.

Also--Do you know who the potential audience for your book will be? If so, what demographic is it? Do you know the most important hooks your story has? If so, how do you plan to emphasize them?

3. Let the story sell itself.

The best way to come up with a pitch is to find the parts of your story that are most intriguing to a potential audience.  What makes your story unique? Instead of telling agents how great your story is, show them why it's great.

4. Don't treat your manuscript like your baby.

I know I've probably said this before, but it's very sound advice. I got it from a close friend who used to work in the publishing business. A lot of writers are so attached to the manuscripts that they've "birthed" that they sometimes come off as over-eager or rude to potential agents and publishers, especially after they receive rejections. 

Be sure to gain some objectivity over your work--that way, you can better see where it needs improvement. Remember, agents and publishers can only make a strong book better--they can't make a weak book strong. Seeing weaknesses in your work requires objectivity, and a lack of ego. 

I think that's all I've got--does anyone else have any tips for submitting queries they'd like to share? Feel free to comment!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Beta Readers, anyone?

So I'm looking for one last critical eye on my polished novel to ensure it's at a professional level, or agent-ready, as I've been discussing in my last few posts. When I start submitting to agents and publishers, I want to make sure I'm giving them something worth reading.

At an online NaNo "Ask the Author" session last week, Gail Carriger, author of The Parasol Protectorate Series brought the idea of beta readers to my attention.

Before we get into that, here's a synopsis of the first book in Gail's series:

Soulless: Without a morsel of exaggeration, its publisher describes this debut novel as "a comedy of manners set in Victorian London full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking." At the center of Soulless's "parasol protectorate" is Miss Alexia Tarabotti, a young woman who lacks not only a suitor but also a soul. And those are not her only problems: When she accidentally kills a vampire, it begins a series of events that she must set out to resolve without the help of any proper authorities.--courtesy of Goodreads

So, what are beta readers? According to Gail, they are able to give your work the critical eye it needs to ensure its readiness to show agents and/or publishers. As an example, she talked about "red-lining," in which one of her beta readers crosses out paragraphs and/or chapters that either need tweaking or omitting.

But where does one find people willing/able to give such necessary feedback? Gail is lucky in that she's known her beta readers for many years. But for those of us who haven't yet found an established group, here are some tips:

1. Ask Around

Find where the creative writers are in your community. Are there writing groups? Local organization chapters of RWA or SCBWI? Is there a creative writing program at a local univeristy? People in these groups are likely able to give you the critiques you need, or will know of others who can.

2. Online Communities

Another option is to seek feedback from the collective wisdom found online. A good place to do this is, which has a "Critters Writers Workshop"--a group of online workshops and critique groups all in one place.

3. Once you find your readers (or if you decide to become a beta reader for someone else), know how to give and receive feedback.

Janice Hardy (author of The Healing Wars trilogy) has a great piece on giving and receiving feedback. I know I mention Janice a lot on here, but her blog is top notch and offers a lot of wisdom in all steps of the writing/publishing process.

4. Start your own group.

Gail was very kind to point out that one of the best ways to connect is to start a group of your own (something I'm seriously considering). Your group can be critique-oriented, or it can just be a time/place for everyone to meet and write.

And speaking of publishing, Gail also wrote a great post about what authors can expect after they sell their first book.

Above all, remember to keep perspective on your work, and the work of others. If you're like me, the draft of your novel never feels up to snuff (even after a few run-throughs) especially if it's the first one you've completed. But if all you're doing is changing punctuation marks, it's probably ready to query.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Good advice for writers, at every corner.

Maybe because it's NaNo. Or, maybe it's because more aspiring writers are emerging. But lately, I've been noticing advice for writers is rampant right now, if you know where to look. (Or maybe this has always been true, and I haven't been looking properly.)

I found the first through an email newsletter I received through Writer's Digest. It's from Robert Lee Brewer, who writes a blog entitled My Name is Not Bob. He talks about 11 Tips for Writers and ways to build and maintain the momentum necessary for a professional writing career (with a particular focus on blogging).

On to Janice Hardy, author of The Healing Wars Trilogy, who always provides a wealth of good information about writing and getting published. Her latest post talks about what to do when your story stalls in the middle, and strides you can make to get it up and running again. If you're in the throes of revising, check out this piece about macro vs. micro editing. If your story is already finished, her tips on the submission process are also helpful.

If you find yourself being discouraged by the whole writing/publishing process, this guest post by Sara Zarr is a necessary read.

Now that we've heard from writers, what do agents have to say? One of the best places for this is BookEnds, LLC, an agent blog I mentioned in my last post. Check out their latest post about accepting criticism. Another good agent to follow is Janet Reid. She spells out exactly what she wants in a query and occasionally posts 100 word contests for blog commenters.

I think that covers most of the bases. Your mind swimming yet? I've found the best way to filter through the available information (especially information that's constantly updated) is to set up RSS feeds. As a refresher, an RSS feed is an alert you can set up in your internet toolbar to notify you when someone has updated their blog. If you are unsure about how to set up an RSS feed, I highly recommend the following video.

Happy Veterans' Day, everyone!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Keep striving, but try to be as informed as possible when you do.

A great post by Sarah Duncan is an inspiration to aspiring writers. It shows the importance of not giving up what you love, even when circumstances can get discouraging. I've decided I'm going to keep writing, whether I get published or not. Because I love it, and because I'm compelled to. Besides, you may be surprised at who is getting published these days, in addition to the sometimes preventable fall out that affects publishers.

Lately, I've been concerned if my book is agent ready. In addition to Eliza Green's post I received very good feedback from today's #askagent session from Sara Megibow and Kevan Lyon on Twitter. It revealed the importance of critique groups, and the importance of letting go of a piece once it's been properly tampered with. Along these lines, a good friend of mine (who used to work in the publishing biz) gave me the following advice: Don't treat your novels like your children. Embrace them as an extension of you, not as a part of you. In other words, cut the cord! This sort of distance will allow you to better accept necessary criticism when it (inevitably) comes your way.

But before submitting, do check out this very useful post, Submissions 101,  by BookEnds, LLC, a great agency blog to check out if you haven't already.

So, by all means keep striving to the top, but learn as much as you can on the way, and try to pay it forward if you can--newly published authors need our support to help garner their audience! And, for perfectionists like me--when your work is ready, cut the cord, and don't be afraid to release your written art to the world.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Another up and coming author to pay attention to...

...though I already mentioned her interview with Literary Rambles here. Ryan Graudin's new book won't come out until next year, but she's definitely an up and coming author worth paying attention to. For more information about her book, Luminance Hour, here's an excerpt from Goodreads:

"In which a partying prince falls in love a Kate Middletonesque fae, who has been protecting the British royal family for centuries, and who must make an impossible choice amidst a backdrop of a palace murder and paparazzi mayhem."

This particular blog post was particularly poignant regarding world-building, something that every fantasy author should be thinking about. I love what she says about making readers comfortable in the worlds that she builds. To follow her blog, go here, or to subscribe to her RSS feed, go here. And, if you're into that sort of thing, she also has a Twitter account.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Is your novel ready for agent eyes?

Something I've grappled with lately is whether my novel is ready or not. I've done multiple drafts, and looked over the pages, words, descriptions and sentences until my eyes glazed over. It's better than it was...but I'm not sure if it's agent ready.

Eliza Green, another aspiring writer, has two great posts that offered me the insight I needed. One had to do with choosing editors, and the other had to do with putting together a checklist before submitting to agents. Her blog is full of useful information, and I highly suggest you check it out.

And as far as your material goes...I've learned...don't rush it. Make sure your work is ready when you submit it.

Tight deadlines.

I'm excited to announce that if all goes as planned, I will have an article published this coming December. For those interested in going this route, I thought I'd share some lessons learned:

1. Be sure they're getting your information up front
When I heard the news that my article was picked up, I was ecstatic. But when it turned out that my editor wasn't receiving my emails, the deadline came up much quicker than I expected. I had to pull an almost all-nighter to get everything finished. If I had made a stronger effort to ensure that they were getting my correspondence, I wouldn't have found myself in that situation (though I've heard tight deadlines are somewhat common in publishing).

2. Make sure you're clear on their expectations
Once the email debaucle was cleared up, I made extra sure I was answering my editor's questions in a way that made sense to both of us. Make your questions specific, and clarify their questions when necessary.

3. Find others who have published articles in similar publications and contact them if you can
To add further content to my material, I interviewed someone who had written an article similar to mine, but with a much different scope. She was extremely helpful in helping wade through unsure waters, and offered very useful advice.

4. Don't worry so much
Be confident in your work. They chose it for a reason. Don't question what you've written (as I so often did). Just dot all your i's and cross your t's, and make sure the material is useful to a wide audience (or relatable to a wide audience if you're writing fiction).

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Great new YA book!

My Very Unfairytale Life, by Anna Staniszewski debuted on November 1st. This book looks like so much fun!

Here's an excerpt from Goodreads:

"You know all those stories that claim fairies cry sparkle tears and elves travel by rainbow? They're lies. All lies."—Twelve-year-old Jenny has spent the last two years as an adventurer helping magical kingdoms around the universe. But it's a thankless job, leaving her no time for school or friends. She'd almost rather take a math test than rescue yet another magical creature! When Jenny is sent on yet another mission, she has a tough choice to make: quit and have her normal life back, or fulfill her promise and go into a battle she doesn't think she can win.

For more information, you can follow Anna's blog, or read her interview on Literary Rambles.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Finally Joined the Masses...

...and Twitter-fied my blog. I was very skeptical of Twitter for a long time (mostly because the majority of it is a breeding ground of status spit wads), but have found that it can be a good way to connect with writers, agents, and publishers. The trick is filtering out all that other stuff. So, if you want to follow me there, I'm @WriterLibrarian.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Stage fright.

I thought I was over stage fright. Really. In college, I took a public speaking class. This, combined with a dunk in the deep end of elementary education taught me how to get up in front of a crowd without sweating, stuttering, or fidgeting. Years later, as a librarian, I've grown accustomed to presenting to students. I've been doing it for so long that I don't really think about it anymore--I just engage with the students, and we have fun.

So when I agreed to do a live reading of one of my short stories, I thought "ain't no thing." But as I watched the man in the cowboy hat before me read his poem, my palms started to clam up and my hands started shaking. When I finally got up to read, I hid behind my piece of paper and mumbled, stumbling over various words and phrases. The people up front liked my story, they said--but the ones in back probably couldn't hear a thing.

Even though it was a bit humiliating, I'm glad I did it--part of being a published author (if I get there someday) is standing up in front of people and reading what you've written. Sometimes, this means baring your soul. And that can be petrifying. But if you practice, practice, practice--as I plan to--then--ain't no thing.

What to do with old books, and more ebook surprises

So in keeping with the "librarian" theme of The Writer Librarian, I think it's high time for a library related story. This one by NPR blogger Linda Holmes provides an interesting angle. What should libraries do with old books? We're talking about the ones that not even people want to buy for a penny at the annual library book sale. As the article specifies, some libraries have such limited space (and budgets) that they have no choice but to throw them out. Libraries--'gasp'--throwing out books? Unheard of!

But with ebooks becoming more of the norm, libraries may not have a choice, unless companies like Amazon sell ebooks for cheaper. According to this blog entry, Amazon's pricing for may be a bit steep--They're offering ebooks at a price alternative to hardbacks instead of paperbacks. But what about consumers who prefer a $7.99 paperback over a $10.99 ebook? Or those who--'gasp'--get the hardcover in a library for free? It will be interesting to see when (if?) Amazon takes this into consideration.

So, the book wars continue. Ultimately, consumers will decide which trends will win out. And librarians, publishers, and corporations will need to adapt accordingly.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Literary Rambles does it again, and other musings

...5 Things I've Learned from forthcoming YA author Ryan Graudin is necessary reading for aspiring writers. Literary Rambles does it yet again. If you don't yet follow their blog, I highly suggest you do. Soon.

One of the most useful pieces of advice from "5 Things I've Learned" is about how to conduct queries. Graudin recommends spacing out query letters in fives--and waiting a good amount of time between each wave. This way, a writer doesn't blow through an entire agent list right off the bat. (Another good piece of info I've heard is to not query the same agency at the same time). As I'm going to start querying next year, this was very timely insight.

Graudin also talks about the importance of networking with other writers. When trying to navigate the vast oceans of how to get your work noticed, it helps to confer with someone who's been through the process.

And speaking of process, here's another gem from Janice Hardy about tightening narrative voice. I wish I'd seen this when I was getting the first draft of my novel on paper. She provides a nice step-by-step method to make narrative more readable.

Another thing I've learned recently (that no one ever told me) is that sometimes there will be significant deadline crunches, particularly when working with publishers. It's good to balance time when you can, but sometimes cramming is inevitable. More on this in a future post.

-The Writer Librarian

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Great Blog for Aspiring YA/MG Fantasy/Sci-fi Writers

This past week I found an interview with published author Janice Hardy on Literary Rambles. It's worth sharing with anyone aspiring to write Young Adult/Middle Grade Fantasy trilogies.

For those unfamiliar with Janice Hardy's work, she wrote the Healing Wars trilogy. The newest book in the series, Darkfall, was released Oct. 4.

Here's a summary from Goodreads:

"War has come.

Nya’s the one who brought it. And the people love her for it.

With Baseer in shambles and Geveg now an impenetrable military stronghold, Nya and the Underground have fled to a safer location—without Tali. Nya is guilt-ridden over leaving her sister behind and vows to find her, but with the rebellion in full swing and refugees flooding the Three Territories, she fears she never will.

The Duke, desperate to reclaim the throne as his own, has rallied his powerful army. And they are on the move, destroying anyone who gets in the way.

To save her sister, her family, and her people, Nya needs to stay ahead of the Duke’s army and find a way to build one of her own. Past hurts must be healed, past wrongs must be righted, and Nya must decide: Is she merely a pawn in the rebellion, a symbol of hope—or is she ready to be a hero?"

The interview on Literary Rambles led me to Janice Hardy's blog, The Other Side of the Story. Be sure to check out the left sidebar, in which she provides a useful step-by-step methodology for writing fantasy and gives useful tips on the submission process. (She even has a post this week about query letters!).

-The Writer Librarian

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Paper Sculptures: Appreciation of Libraries and Books

While perusing Neil Gaiman's blog this week, I noted a link he put to a website that showed anonymous paper sculptures someone left in the Scottish Poetry Library. They can be found here.

When librarians (and aspiring writers) have difficulty marketing ourselves, it helps to remember the purpose, the core of what we do. It is when we realize that writing and librarianship are less about books and words, and more about sharing experiences, that we better resonate with our audiences. As the anonymous note left by one of the paper sculptures says: "We know that a library is so much more than a building full of books...a book is so much more than pages full of words...This is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas...a gesture..."

Sarah Dessen is a master of sharing ideas. Right now I'm reading her YA book, Just Listen. It addresses the dangers of witholding truths in order to be nice. It also takes a firm, honest look at what an eating disorder does to a family. When the protagonist's sister plants herb seeds and leaves them, unseen, to grow, the reader knows she is attempting to rebuild what she's lost and put the pieces of herself back together again.

Aspiring writers and librarians should all strive to find ideas that resonate with others. Writers: instead of focusing on whether your sentences are accurately structured, think about the overall themes you want your readers to take away from your stories. Librarians: instead of concentrating on re-branding, focus on what your patrons need to take away from their library experiences. That is how we will all keep our audiences.

-The Writer Librarian

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Social Media and Online Platform Tips

In our digital age of ebooks, digital text, and yes, hybrid books, it becomes all the more imperative to develop an online presence to go along with query submissions. And yes, even us reluctant to get on the social media band wagon may need to bite the bullet and give Twitter a try (no matter how vapid it seems). More often, agents are developing an online presence, which you can use to see the kinds of submissions they're accepting, as well as submission instructions (or if they've stopped accepting for the time being, like this agent).

Let me clarify--social media avenues require discernment. One should not start a blog, join Twitter or Facebook just because it's the "cool" thing to do. Those who do generally tire of the game quickly, finding such means of communication to be a time-suck. And they usually are, unless they're used correctly.

In the theme of working smarter, not harder, consider what social networks have to offer you. Here's what I've learned so far in my experience:

1. Use Facebook and Twitter to find literary agents (try to avoid LinkedIn if you can).

A lot of literary agents have a Facebook presence. Go find them. This will help you keep in tune with what they're doing and what they deem important. Following an agent on Twitter can also be helpful. My experience with LinkedIn was pretty negative--when I joined, they "spammed" all the people in my address list, trying to get them to join LinkedIn too. I called them and asked them to shut the notifications off. As yet, I haven't gotten any benefits or connections by being a member of LinkedIn, but perhaps others have.

2. Create RSS feeds to agents you're interested in querying.

A great blog, Literary Rambles, features a weekly agent spotlight, and links to online presences, if applicable. I've created RSS feeds to three different agents using this method. For those unfamiliar with how to get RSS feeds, see instructions here. Note: many RSS readers are already built into internet browsers. Mozilla Firefox's reader has worked best for me so far.

3. If you want to try blogging, link to author and agent blogs, and follow good blogging practices.

Your blog should:
a) Be updated at least twice a week (I'm trying to get better about this one)
b) Contain content that others can use
c) Link to author and agent blogs through a blogroll

4. Design a website to showcase your writing (including previously published works).

This step is the most daunting, but it's also the most necessary. If you're unfamiliar with web design, I suggest the following book to help you get started. Also, research your hosting site--some charge only about $25 a year. When you query agents, you can refer them to your website, and it indicates that you're serious about marketing yourself as a writer.

I know what some of you must be thinking: all of this will take away from time spent writing. Yes, it will. But you can write and build a platform at the same time. It's just a matter of carving out the time for both.

-The Writer Librarian

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Potentially Bad News?

I read the Annoyed Librarian (AL) blog on occasion. Usually she (I think it's a she, as the AL is anonymous) has some wry quip about how the library profession is self-destructing, and librarians are too worried about staying relevant to notice. I usually enjoy these diatribes, but today's post left me a bit depressed, probably because it had "death" in the title. It's called "Death of the Author" and can be accessed here.

The post references this article from the Guardian which argues that although books aren't going away, the digital revolution will make "The Writer" obsolete as a profession. The AL argues, "Who cares?" My feeling is, a lot of people might, especially aspiring writers who dream of making a living at what they love.

AL also points out that not all published books are of good quality, especially when it comes to ebooks. I'd tend to agree. As was mentioned in my previous post, I am of the opinion that publishing houses are more concerned with profitability than quality. But this overall trend implies that publishing houses may have more to worry about than aspiring writers do.

The author of the Guardian article tends to blame Generation Y, the "Millenials," who prefer digital over paper. He uses statistics from Barnes and Noble to back up his claim. While this might be a bit daunting, I don't think it should stop aspiring authors from putting themselves out there.

Of course, we all know that digitial is much cheaper than paper (and sometimes can be distributed for free). I'm hearing more and more about authors, fed up with the process of trying to make money in a tough market, choosing to create author pages on Amazon and digitizing their books there (at no extra cost to them). They probably won't make a profit, but at least their work is out for others to see.

I've been told that if someone is just writing in the hopes of a big dividend, that they shouldn't be writing at all. Maybe this digitized trend may separate those who write for writing's sake, and those who write because they want to be rich and famous. And perhaps that's a good thing.

-The Writer Librarian

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Who's Really to Blame? Does it Matter?

For a long time, I thought editors were to blame for books that weren't very well-written. After all, wasn't it up to them to clean up unecessary words, sentences, and phrases that didn't move the story along?

But the more I've talked with, researched, and read blogs from people on the editing/publishing side the more it seems they know what they're doing. Their job is to figure out how to tighten up plot points, sentence structure and word choice so the books they represent are more likely to sell. And most of them seem really good at this.

So how, then, do sub-quality books get on the market? If agents and editors are doing their job, then who isn't?

A better question might be, "Who is reading all these sub-standard books?" As long as a book has a market, it will sell. A question floated on this blog a few weeks ago as to why popular authors, once they've achieved success, don't seem to produce the same quality of material. A possible answer might be that people see an author they like, and buy their books on name recognition, and take them home. Regardless of the quality, the author and the publishing house still make money.

Some might say our society is dictated by money rather than quality of work. Owners of tabloid newspapers aren't concerned about producing good pieces of writing. They're concerned about putting headlines on grocery store racks so people will be intrigued enough to buy them.

Owners of publishing houses also seem concerned about profit margins. This is probably why they're more likely to take chances on well-known authors rather than a new ones. (Though feedback I'm getting from librarians seems to dispute this--they say publishers are doing a good job of finding the best new authors out there.)

As for the authors themselves? What else motivates their art besides a paycheck? Those who remember Alanis Morisette know the quality of her music went down considerably after she found success. Was it because she no longer had the angsty tone that made her a commodity? Or were there other reasons that affected her ability to produce good work?

I'm not sure answering any of these questions will get us any further ahead, or make us feel any better. My solution is this: no matter the condition of things, do what you love. Write what you love. Read what you love (when you can find it). The rest can fade into white noise.

-The Writer Librarian

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Corrections, Delays and More on Why Authors Produce Drivel

Many apologies for the delay. New job, new house, moving to a new state, and other life events forced my writing to the backseat, which I always hate. Now that things are settled, I'll be posting more frequently.

I'd like to place a correction to my Twilight reference from the previous post. Stephenie Meyer did not live anywhere near New York, nor did she have many networked connections in the writing world before she was published. Her story is one of having the right book for the right market at the right time.

So maybe that's half the battle after all. Perhaps your masterpiece sitting in a drawer collecting dust hasn't found it's market yet--maybe it's a fantasy novel trying to make it in a world of Dystopias, led by the immensely popular Hunger Games (Note: Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins is an example of previous connections paying off--she was a screenwriter for Clarissa Explains It All before someone suggested she try her hand at novels.). Or, maybe, like Stephenie Meyer, you can defy the odds and be an exception to the rule.

After the last post, a kind commenter also pointed out that popular authors, once established, don't seem to put in the same amount of effort when they write subsequent books. She cited Fannie Flag and Jaqueline Mitchard as examples. I have not yet read these authors, but I'm familiar with the phenomenon. (See: Nora Roberts, Janet Evanovich, Mitch Albom, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Julie Powell.) My theory is this: once successful, authors are restricted to deadlines, and their creativity is more forced--which produces less desirable results.

Because who, unless they have superhuman talent, can write on demand? I sure can't, particularly when my husband nudges me into putting poetic greetings in our holiday cards (even though I don't work well under pressure and, with the exception of Emily Dickinson, despise poetry). I did write said poem, but the process wasn't fun and the content reeked.

But, that's just one theory. I'm open to other suggestions as to why writing quality is being sacrificed for other things. So, for those of you still out there, I'm interested in your thoughts.

-The Writer Librarian

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Another Stinky Galley

I've commented in previous posts about some of the books I'm assigned to review. Some are interesting reads, while others are, shall we say, not.

An interesting read results when an author considers their reader. This translates into straight-forward sentences (with no unecessary words dangling like useless branches waiting to trip up the narrative) and unique content that sparks universal interest (not how cute your daughter looks during her ballet recital).

The unpublished galley I just finished reading had neither of these characteristics, and included all sorts of "daughter" references (come to find out said daughter is grown and well into her 20s). The horrible irony is this: The author is a children's writing instructor, and her book is filled with all kinds of rookie mistakes. Too many words. No sentence variety. No overall structure. And she, high on her pedestal, proposes to tell parents how to help their children become better writers.

How this got past the slush pile and into the hands of an editor (who must have been sleeping instead of making corrections) I'll never know. The only thing I can figure is that she spearheads a lot of well-known literacy organizations and she lives in New York (location, location, location).

So this begs the question: Do connections and location trump writing ability? The Twilight novels point to yes. So how can good writers transcend these barriers, and get their writing recognized in the way it deserves?

I wish I had the answers to these questions. If I find them, I'll be sure to share in subsequent posts. In the meantime, I'll keep sloshing my way through the stinky swamp of galleys.

-The Writer Librarian

Friday, June 24, 2011

Useful Blogs Updated

I've updated the "Useful Blogs" section to include blogs from literary agencies. I also included a really great one that features up and coming YA titles.

I'm in the throes of moving, but will send more updates once we're settled in the new place.


-The Writer Librarian

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wise Words from Sandra Cisneros

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing Sandra Cisneros read at a local library. Never had I seen a writer captivate her audience so easily. She told us about her days at Catholic school (with the "happy housewives of God") and how she was taught to be a "dutiful daughter." She read a beautifully woven short story called "Eleven" that conveyed the thoughts and feelings so many of us experience but are afraid to talk about. She also told us how she wanted to write a book where girls could see themselves (what I hope to accomplish with my first novel). And, she gave some very valuable writing advice:

1. Take your ego out of it

In other words, be humble about your writing. Don't write to impress others. Write because you love it. Write because you're compelled to create something beautiful.

2. Be courageous and fearless in your writing

I really needed to hear this one. Too often I'd censored myself in my short stories (and on this blog) because I feared reprimand from those who read my material. Ms. Cisneros likened writing to an empty bedroom where you can say anything you want--which I found oddly satisfying. Censoring myself wasn't all that fun, really.

3. Tell the truth without hurting anyone

Write about anyone you want--just change them enough so that those you are slicing apart with your pen don't recognize themselves. Change hair color, gender, or anything else you see fit.

Ms. Cisneros might have seemed gentle at the podium, but when I spoke to her afterwards I saw the tigress underneath. I told her how much I admired her and identified with her writing, and she firmly told me to write what I knew, to seek out my own voice. After I left that evening, I felt a new sense of bravery and determination. I hope to thank her someday for the wisdom she passed along, to convey how much she helped me as a writer.

-The Writer Librarian

Monday, June 13, 2011

Stop Blowing Smoke up my Skirt!

I took a creative nonfiction writing class recently, where I learned a lot about format (including what a nut graf is), and how to make my descriptions more relatable. The class was taught by someone who had worked for a very popular magazine (I won't say which) for over 30 years, so I figured if there was anyone who could give proper criticism on my writing, he'd be it. The unpleasant surprise came when it turned out he'd been criticizing people for 30 years--and was tired of it. He gave us these wonderfully intricate short stories to read, and we were more critical of those than we were of our own writing.

On the flip side, criticism isn't useful unless it's constructive. Anyone who says, "I don't like this because it doesn't have enough sex in it" or "This isn't how I would have written this" isn't giving feedback that's useful. I'd rather hear "This description doesn't work because of..." or "This line of dialogue isn't relatable because..." or "If you eliminated this word, this sentence would read better..." etc. Without constructive feedback, writers run the risk of getting an inflated perception of the quality and relatability of their material.

I have a few friends who have done professional editing for people--people who paid for feedback. What I kept hearing was "This person didn't like my feedback and we stopped being friends" and "She gave me her manuscript because she didn't understand why it wasn't published. I told her my thoughts and she never spoke to me again."

How will we grow as writers if we aren't willing to accept criticism? Where is the lesson if we pick apart published writers (like we did in my class) and don't take a good look at our own?

So I say this: Stop blowing smoke up my skirt! Please be honest if you don't like something about my writing. Please tell me what does and doesn't resonate with you as a reader.

I ended up approaching this instructor to ask how my writing could improve. After a few weeks of deliberation he told me to use more sentence variety. I am thankful for his feedback and have been taking a closer look at my sentences ever since.

-The Writer Librarian

Friday, April 1, 2011

Juggling Two Careers: Writer or Librarian?

In finishing the second draft of my novel and figuring out where to network and make connections, my writing pursuits are starting to turn into a full-time career. In this process, I am increasingly finding that the demands of my day job are starting to clash with the pursuit of my dream job. The sad part is, I'm not even in a tenure-track position (those of you who are have my sympathies!). If I were to take one, I'd have more pay to supply my writing habit (and networking possibilities) but less time to actually write creatively (with the pressures of academic publishing and other ephemera that come with tenure-track requirements). So: what do we do when the demands of our day-job clash with our dream job? And how does one find the time to keep organized, and still leave time for other important life demands, like family and marriage? For answers to this query, I consulted "Dr. Google" and came across this article that focuses on television writers (beware profanity) and sums up some possible solutions. The message is this. Have no time? Make it. Set up a disciplined routine and stick to it, like you would for any other career. I'm reminded of one of my writing instructors who would set his alarm for 5 am and squeeze in a few hours of writing each day. This might be harder for some of us non-morning people, but we will only see the fruition of our efforts if we put in the work to begin with. The same article argues that it's also vital for an aspiring writer to "give up things that are important." This is where I disagree. Balance can be found, and it is just as imperative to value your loved ones as it is to value your career as a writer. It is equally important to relax, recharge, and find time to experience life. This will not only help your well-being, but also your writing. How can you write accurately about a beautiful sunset if you never experienced one? How can you write characters if you never meet them on the street, in a bar, or at the store? So should you find extra time to write? Absolutely. Should you also take the time to relax, give yourself, a break, and spend QT with your loved ones enjoying life? Absolutely. -The Writer Librarian

Friday, March 25, 2011

Useful Blogs

I'm putting my ear to the ground and looking for online resources to help with networking. The other day, I stumbled on this really useful blog called "Literary Rambles." Not only a clever title, but offers a useful and comprehensive list of literary agents, updated weekly through their "Agent Spotlight" feature. I've included their blog under the heading "Useful Blogs," if you'd like to take a closer look.

If anyone out there is aware of other blogs they've found useful in the writing world, please notify me at

-The Writer Librarian

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Correction re: Cicada

Cicada is not accepting submissions at this time. I noted this when I visited their website today. FYI.

More later.

-The Writer Librarian

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Poor Man's Copyright and Where to Submit Literary Fodder

The second draft of my novel is nearly done. It will still need a lot of work, but I'm going to back it up a disc and mail it to myself. This practice, if you're not familiar, is known as the "Poor Man's Copyright." This way, if someone claims I stole their idea, I can back it up with an unopened postmarked package with a date.

The writing part of the novel was a wonderful, excruciating, daunting, and delirious process. Now comes the part where I put it down for awhile (I found it surprisingly saddening to say goodbye to my characters) and get some distance from it. In the meantime, I am submitting it to some trusted writer friends who I hope will rip it to shreds. That way, it will already be beaten to a pulp before I think of submitting it to an agent.

I've also been told that I need to get some short stories published, otherwise an agent or publisher won't give my work a second look. I found a list of publications (and specs) to send submissions, courtesy of Poet & Writers magazine. The list can be found here. Since I'm also trying to break ground in the YA genre, I will see if I can draft up some material for a publication called Cicada.

The attempt to publish will I'm sure be even more excruciating, daunting, and delirious. It's like I've climbed an Everest, just to be presented with another Everest. I've heard horror stories. How getting published is like winning the lottery. That the business side of art is ruthless. How cold calls will be necessary. How I'll have to write probably ten more drafts of my novel before it's even readable. But hey, nothing worth doing is easy, right? At least that's what I'll be telling myself as my palms sweat and the nausea bubbles in my stomach.

-The Writer Librarian

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Publishing in Library Land

Stumbled upon a really interesting article on the In the Library with the Lead Pipe website today. The author is well-informed, and goes over all the hoops involved with publishing a book in the ebook and internet "exploding text" age. The article can be found here.

One of the things she talks about is how complicated the process is, and how many different people have to have stamps of approval on the work. This is something that isn't commonly talked about among writers, but it definitely should be a necessary topic of conversation for those who want to market their work.

For those interested in query letters, here's a link with some useful tips. This focuses on publishing young adult fiction, but can likely be applied to most genres.

I'm interested in researching other ways to network in the writing world--with every Tom, Dick, Harry, Sally, and Molly trying to get published, this task seems even more daunting. More on this later.