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!