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 critique.org, 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.