Monday, December 9, 2013

How to travel like a bookworm!

This week, I'm leaving for a monthlong trip-of-a-lifetime to Australia. And though I'll be doing amazing (I-seriously-can't-even-believe-it-will-be-real-AMAZING) things like ziplining in the rainforest, camping in the Outback, scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, and kayaking with seals, I can't forget my first love — books!

TO READ:
When you're packing a month of your life into this bag...
(the Osprey Farpoint 70, to be precise)


... you have limited space. So the books I'm bringing along will all be on my iPad. It's not the best e-reader, but the Overdrive app is my savior. Thanks to my local library system, I have unlimited, free e-books and audiobooks to choose from during my 30 hours of travel. (And we can't forget the 30 hours it'll take to get home ... and the two mid-trip flights! Lots and lots and lots of reading time.)

This is my TBR "pile" so far! Pretty awesome, right?


TO DISCOVER:
I also didn't want to take up valuable suitcase space by bringing books because I'll definitely be buying some Australian YA titles! I'm so excited to be visiting The Little Bookroom in Melbourne, Australia's oldest children's bookstore. And I'll also be visiting indies in Sydney!
(When my husband found out that our hostel is literally around the corner from The Little Bookroom, he just shook his head and said, "We'll be shipping a box of books home, won't we?")


TO COLLECT:
I've started a collection of international Harry Potter paperbacks, and so far I have Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone from London and a French version of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets from Montreal. This trip, I'll be buying an Australian Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and I'm hoping to find this version, which was marketed to adults!

So that's my plan! Leave a comment with any Australian YA recommendations — especially those not available in the U.S. — and let me know of any Aussie bookstores that are a must-visit!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Month in Australia: 6 Steps to Achieving Your Biggest Goals (Like Writing a Novel!)

Australia is known for some big things, like an enormous, ancient rock formation, a wonder-of-the-world reef, and massive (and dangerous) wildlife.*

Uluru, via digitalreflections / Great Barrier Reef, via Wikimedia Commons /
Crocodile, via fvanrenterghem
Traveling throughout Australia has been one of my biggest life goals. And this December, my husband and I will be spending a month there.

A little backstory.

In 2006, when I was 19, I studied abroad in Australia on a college student's limited budget, and I fell in love. I promised myself that, before I turned 30, I'd return — for at least 3 weeks — and do everything that I couldn't afford to do the first time around.

Little did I know that I wouldn't be traveling alone.

When I left for my semester abroad, I had a boyfriend, Steve. We'd been together for just over a year, so a 4-month separation was quite a test of the relationship. He wanted to come visit me, but he was a poor, hardworking college student, too, so it wasn't possible.

At the time, I joked that, if he was willing to spend over $2,000 to see me for one week (including two days of flights and a nasty case of jetlag), then he should save it for a ring.

Against the odds, our relationship survived and thrived during that semester apart, and five years later, we were married.

From the moment he proposed, we started planning that epic, once-in-a-lifetime trip to Australia. We spent a lovely, relaxing week in the Bahamas after the wedding, but our true honeymoon would happen over two years later.

After three years of planning, the trip has finally arrived.**

Via Wikimedia Commons
How it's possible.

Whenever I tell people of our dream honeymoon trip, the first question they ask is, "How is that even possible?" — with the same incredulity I often hear when I tell people I write novels.

Both writing a novel (or two or three) and taking a monthlong trip on the other side of the world seem like impossibilities to many people, simply because they're "big" goals. They take months upon months of dedication, planning, and sacrifice, so they seem out of reach — and travel especially seems so for people like us, with full-time jobs and middle-class incomes.

But achieving both goals requires surprisingly similar steps.

(1) Set your goal.

TRAVEL
Location, duration, budget! Because of the length and cost of flying, I wanted a minimum of three weeks, and I wanted to travel to about 3-4 different locations — without being part of a tour.

WRITING
Genre, plot, completion date. The key is to give yourself a completion date for the first draft. Even if you change it, a deadline is how you get from starting a novel to finishing one. Also, interim goals help keep you on track and make the process less daunting.

(2) Research.

TRAVEL
Look into your preferred destinations, and approximate costs for transportation, lodging, food, and activities. Don't forget to calculate in a spending cushion. Consider whether your traveling in the off-season or at the most popular time of year, because prices can differ drastically. (My husband and I could only finagle a month off from our jobs*** if we went during the most expensive time of year — December-January.) Once you have all the pricing, you can set a budget.

WRITING
What's the average/recommended length of a novel in your genre? (That's a good word count gauge.) Is there anything in your genre that's published or soon-to-be-published that's similar to your idea? (Make sure yours stands out.) And even if a novel is set in your present-day hometown, it inevitably requires research — of locations, policies or laws, slang/language, technology, occupations, even weather and geography. Authenticity is in the details ... but don't feel compelled to include everything you've learned!

(3) Prioritize.

TRAVEL
Research casts a wide net, but now it's time to decide what's most important to you. I was tempted to go to New Zealand, but I decided to stick with Cairns/the Great Barrier Reef; the Outback; the Great Ocean Road/Melbourne; and Sydney (for New Year's Eve!). Luxury was the least of my concerns, so I booked hostels the whole way. But I spent a bit more on my flight by choosing Qantas over a budget airline because my previous trip made me love love love Qantas planes and customer service! (And honestly, the flight to/from LAX is about 14 hours, so it's well worth the money!)

WRITING
What does your character want? Having rock solid interior and exterior motivations for your main character (and, if applicable, the villain/antagonist) is key in focusing your novel. Everything your character does, every choice he/she makes, must reflect that motivation. And every obstacle has to be in direct opposition to your main character's goal. This way, no scenes are wasted, and you can create a tighter first draft more quickly.

(4) Buckle down & sacrifice.

TRAVEL
Buckle down: Traveling without tour groups is liberating and can save money, but it also requires work. Figuring out logistics of traveling to and from airports, researching & booking excursions, and getting to know the layout of foreign cities takes time.
Sacrifice: In the past three years, I've lost count of how many times I've said, "Sorry, I can't — I'm saving for Australia." Every time I wanted to order take-out or buy a new pair of shoes, I said no. I chose to sacrifice the little things so that, during my epic dream trip, I didn't have to have any regrets. And the little things added up to a budget that I'm proud of!

WRITING
Sit down and write. Repeat, repeat, repeat. You've set yourself up for success, but it's still hard to write a novel. (And we haven't even gotten to revision!) Some days, it seems impossibly hard. The process is a rollercoaster, but if you want to finish a novel, it takes time and sacrifice. You can't add hours to the day, so you'll inevitably be giving up something to pursue this dream. (And some days, that "something" feels like sanity.) It'll be worth it.

(5) Be flexible.

TRAVEL
Something will inevitably go wrong. A flight will be delayed; a reservation will be lost; an outdoor trip will be rained out. Something else will inevitably go much better than you planned. Hour-by-hour itineraries are evil. If you follow them to the letter, you'll be exhausted and (likely) miserable, and if you skip things, you may feel guilty. Leave room for the unexpected, and have some adventures.

WRITING
If a secondary character is hopping around in the background, waving her hand and begging to be your main character, don't ignore her. If a subplot changes the way you see your novel, follow that. Don't be afraid to throw out thousands of words if something isn't working. Starting from scratch is not failure. If it derails your plan, make a new plan. It's much harder to finish the wrong novel than it is to begin the right one.

(6) Have fun.

TRAVEL
Otherwise, what's the point? 

WRITING
 Ditto.

_____________

What's your biggest goal?  Leave it in the comments!



* Australia's also known for epic spiders, but I didn't want to give everyone nightmares with that photo.
** I can't tell you how excited our friends and family are to FINALLY stop hearing about us planning this trip. 
*** And we were very, very lucky to work for companies willing to let us pull vacation time from two consecutive years and take four weeks off.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Getting Specific: What Literary Agents Want to Get RIGHT NOW (Guest Post by Chuck Sambuchino)


(This column excerpted from GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS, from Writer’s Digest Books.)

Image source.
Something that gained attention during the past several months on Twitter was #MSWL, which stands for “manuscript wish list.” It’s a rare yet special occurrence when agents take a day and lay out exactly what they’re looking for on Twitter. For example, instead of simply saying “I represent young adult books,” they’ll get more specific and say “I really want to get a query for a young adult western/horror set in the 19th century,” etc. The value of #MSWL was in the specifics.

Then it dawned on me. For some time now, whenever I’ve interviewed agents on my Guide to Literary Agents Blog, I’ve tried to pry these same specifics out of them—always asking the same question to each: 

Besides “good writing,” and “voice,” what are you looking for right now and not getting? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?

The answers that come back are specific and illuminating, as each agent cuts through the smoke and points to something concrete and unusual that they want to see. These answers are like little lightning bolts that can connect with writers who happen to be querying that very kind of story. So, with no further ado, here is my collection of agent responses upon being asked, “What are you looking for right now?” Look over the list, and then query away!

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“I’d love to get more historical fiction and serious adult literary fiction. I’d also love to get more really well written middle grade stories that don’t talk down to readers. And I’d love to get a totally heart-breaking YA story that doesn’t have death or maiming in it.”
-------------
“I’m definitely looking for smart middle grade books that will appeal to children and adults alike. One category I would like to see more of is humorous middle grade fiction, especially in the vein of Gordon Korman. I’d also love to see more spooky or creepy MG books. I’m interested in wide range of writing styles, and am open to everything from Roald Dahl to R.L. Stein. Kids really connect to the grotesque, and I’d jump at the chance to have a writer on my list who can give me goose bumps, but still be appropriate for MG readers.”
-------------
“I’d love to represent more books that explore healing, perhaps of a sort that isn’t always comfortable or popular to talk about—whether around psycho-spiritual health, sexuality, death and dying, or grief. I also would like to find more books that explore counter-intuitive or common sense approaches to business, as well as books on creativity, either as interesting, illustrated gift books or literary nonfiction.”
-------------
“I’m seeing a lot of middle grade and young adult submissions that are ‘issue’ driven these days, which is really not my thing. Basically, I would love for your story to include a bullying subplot, but if you’re going to preach at me about how bullying is wrong and everyone should be nice to one another, I’m not going to be interested. I’m looking for story first and message is a distant second. So, I would love to receive more submissions that tackle issues without being issue books, if you can appreciate the distinction.”
-------------
1.     “An author on a mission. Rory Freedman comes to mind. She’ll do anything for the animals she loves, and her forthcoming book, BEG, will [sell well] because of it.
2.     The infamous platform. Happily, a platform doesn’t have to mean your own national radio show or network news broadcast anymore. It can mean a developed, consistent voice (and the followers and friends that come with that) on Twitter and Facebook. Or Pinterest and GoodReads. Maybe you blog or interact with fans and fellow writers on sites like fictionpress.com (as our YA client Sarah Maas did for years before publishing her first book, Throne of Glass). I know this implies new burdens on writers, but we think of our authors as partners, and with so much content out there, we need to know how we can work together to distinguish your work.
3.     Historical Fiction and just plain History.
4.     High concept, funny middle-grade.”
-------------
“I would love to see contemporary YA that tackles some real, hard issues in a fresh way; a thriller that I can’t put down because of its intensity; maybe a hot romance that breaks my heart then makes me cry with joy at the end.”
-------------
“For nonfiction, I’d love to see some more popular science projects, something that sheds light on an interesting topic in a compelling and very readable way. I loved Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and would be thrilled to work with something like it that combines history and science in such an absorbing narrative.”
-------------

(Hi, everyone. Chuck here chiming in for a second. I wanted to say I am now taking clients as a freelance editor. So if your query or manuscript needs some love, please check out my editing services. Thanks!)

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 “I’d love an incredible retelling of a fairytale. I do see many of these queries come in, and I almost always request material; I just haven’t yet landed on the right one yet. I think they’re very difficult to do. Ultimately, I’m looking for something like THE MAGIC CIRCLE by Donna Jo Napoli.”
-------------
[Regarding pop culture book topics she’d like to see:] “Women’s issues, relationships, music, sports. I think those are my top four. But, you know, if a great project came across my desk that revolved around psychology or science, I’d love to work on it, if all the chips were in the right place.”
-------------
“For narrative nonfiction and memoir, I see too many proposals that are only about the author’s life and family; they become too much like bubbles of personal experience that don’t connect enough to some bigger picture of the world. I love to have a personal voice on the page that sucks me into some world I didn’t know existed or that shows me what’s so magical about greyhounds or being the director of a giant public hospital.”
-------------
“I want my very own John Krakauer! However in general, I’d like to see more quality nonfiction projects. And I’m still in search of a good animal story, like Homer’s Odyssey or Dewey. I recently found one on raising chickens (not for food) that I liked, but it was already represented when I contacted the author. I would like to see more women’s literary fiction projects. I wouldn’t mind finding the next Carlos Castaneda or Dan Millman, and maybe a spirituality book with a fresh approach. I’d definitely like to see a lot more humor. And [co-agent] Kimberley Cameron is always in search of good horror.”
-------------
“I love nonfiction about science and I love working with academics. I also want more literary fiction. I get a few mystery, crime, and thriller submissions, but I want more. Please, however, keep sending me your sci-fi, and your fantasy, and your YA, and your MG novels. I can never get enough.”
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“I haven’t been finding enough edgy paranormal or contemporary romances in my inbox and I am always searching for steampunk or other non-traditional (not sword-and-dagger) fantasy. I have a fondness for really quirky characters and novels about families that aren’t ‘normal.’ ”
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“I would love to see more women’s fiction. I’m also looking for a good cozy mystery and all types of romance including romantic suspense, historical, contemporary, category, or paranormal. On the nonfiction side, I would love to see an advice/relationships or parenting book with an interesting/new thesis, current events, or narrative nonfiction with an interesting topic.”
-------------
“I always hope I’ll find a great adventure story but these are tough to come by. Anyone can describe just about any situation as an adventure if they stretch it enough, but the books I want to find focus around an unusual or unlikely quest, such as in The Lost City of Z, or that tell a story of survival, as in The Ledge. I also love travel memoirs as long as they are driven by a plot with a real beginning, middle, and end. I also look for remarkable love stories, or any human-interest story in which people triumph over great odds.”
-------------
 “I would love to see more romance (all genres) and sci-fi/fantasy/urban fantasy.”
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“I’m always looking for a well-written cozy mystery. I’m also on the lookout for a good edge-of-your-seat thriller. I am always looking for a good romance. I work with many subgenres of romances: contemporary, historical, paranormal, suspense. I’d also love to get a steampunk.”
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“I’d like to find something with good action in it, with humor and strong characters, and a good, creepy mystery. I’m also always looking for that new paranormal or urban fantasy that just sucks me in and truly stands out from the slush pile.”
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“I want to learn about other cultures and experience different points of view [in multicultural fiction]. In another direction, I think non-white characters are underrepresented in children’s fiction, which just simply doesn’t represent the population.”
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“I’m really hungry for well-written contemporary YA without any fantasy or paranormal elements. I’ve seen a lot of manuscripts in the last year or two about teenagers who can read minds, open magic portals, or talk to ghosts. I think those stories are fascinating, but I’m increasingly interested in reading manuscripts with situations and characters that readers can relate to.”
-------------
Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:
Feb. 10, 2018: Indiana Writing Workshop (Indianapolis, IN)
Feb. 17, 2018: Minnesota Writing Workshop (St. Paul, MN)
March 10, 2018: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
March 24, 2018: Pittsburgh Writing Workshop (Pittsburgh, PA)
April 14, 2018: Michigan Writing Workshop (Livonia/Detroit, MI)
April 28, 2018: Seattle Writing Workshop (Seattle, WA)
June 23, 2018: Writing Workshop of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
July 14, 2018: Cleveland Writing Workshop (Cleveland, OH)
July 28, 2018: Chesapeake Writing Workshop (Washington, DC)
August 4, 2018: Florida Writing Workshop (Tampa, FL)
August 25, 2018: Writing Workshop of San Francisco (San Francisco, CA)
September 29, 2018: Boston Writing Workshop (Boston, MA)
November 17, 2018: Philadelphia Writing Workshop (Philadelphia, PA)

Other columns by Chuck Sambuchino

- How to Write a Screenplay: 7 Starting Tips for Adapting Your Own Novel
- Why “Keep Moving Forward” is My Best Advice For Writers Everywhere
- Do You Need Multiple Agents if You Write in Different Genres?
- How to Write a Novel Synopsis: 5 Tips
- Building Your Writer Platform—How Much is Enough?
- What to Write in the “Bio” Section of Your Query Letter
- 15 Questions to Ask a Literary Agent Before You Sign
- Crafting a Novel’s Pitch: 7 Tips
- 25 Debut Authors Share Advice for Getting Published
__________________________________________________ 


Chuck Sambuchino of Writer's Digest Books edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN'S WRITER'S and ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing.
    His 2010 humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, was optioned by Sony Pictures. Chuck has also written the writing guides FORMATTING and SUBMITTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT and CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM.
    Besides that, he is a freelance book and query editor, husband, sleep-deprived new father, and owner of a flabby-yet-lovable dog named Graham. Find Chuck on Twitter and on Facebook

Thursday, October 24, 2013

You Know You're a Writer If...


We've all seen the lists before.  "You Know You're a Writer If..." and then a joke about caffeine addiction.  Below, you'll find my personal quirks and reasons that peg me into the writerly box.  (Caffeine addiction is not one of them.  Yes, I down as much as 4 or 5 cups of coffee in a day, but as far as I can tell, so do accountants.  And nurses.  And, well, adults.)

If:

1) You see a person talking to themselves on the street, and your first thought is: "Perhaps they're speaking with an invisible spirit that's charging them with an impossible quest."


True story.  The other night I was driving home from work and saw a woman who kept turning to the person next to her and aruging with them.  Except, there was no one next to her.  I'm pretty sure she just had some issues going on, but was that my first thought?  Of course not!

2) The playlists on your iPod aren't titled things like "Summer 2011" or "Driving Mix", but "Battle Scene" and "Book 2" and "Character Theme Songs."

Even though I listen to white noise rather than music when I'm writing, I love making playlists to help keep the inspiration going at times when I can't write. Which is why, if you're driving next to me, you might see me slicing an invisible sword across my dashboard, or weeping into my steering wheel as I imagine the death of one of my favorite supporting characters.

3) Similar to your iPod, your computer desktop is cluttered with 100 different files, all of which
 are documents, all of which have names like "Book 2," "Book2 Take 2", "Book2 3," "Book2 IT WILL NEVER BE FINISHED," and on and on and on...

I am super paranoid about editing a single file over and over and over. I have a fear that I will either accidentally delete something, or purposely edit something out, only to realize 8 months later it was the perfect scene and can never be replicated. So anytime I have an idea that doesn't fit seamlessly into my current draft, I hit select all, copy, and paste that sucker into a new file. Rinse & repeat. Like eight thousand times. A sub-quirk to this quirk is I often get create with file names to help make them more distinguishable, which means I have drafts of my novel with proper file names like "Untitled Novel, Draft 2" and then other copies with names like "Pumpkin Puppy Face Also This is A Book."

4) You refuse to upgrade to anything past Word 97. You have ordered old copies of Word 97 off Ebay to achieve this. When Mac stopped recognizing PowerPC programs, you switched to OpenOffice because it's the closest thing you can get.

This is a true story. I've been writing in Word 97 for the past 16 years. Ain't nothing gonna break my stride. Nobody's gonna slow me down, oh no. Especially not the disorienting look of a brand new program. When I close my eyes and imagine myself writing a book, the program on the screen is Word 97. And so you will have to pry Word 97 (or the OpenOffice equivalent) out of my cold, dead hands. We'll all have computers embedded in our eyeballs and I will still be writing on the same word processing program.

This girl isn't pissed off, she's
pondering a plot twist!
5) Let's not forget "Writer's Face." Often confused with Bitchy Resting Face, Writer's Face is the vacant, slightly peeved look one achieves when your body is sitting at Starbucks, but your mind is helping your MC pick the lock to the cellar they've been imprisoned in.

I am a proud sufferer of Writer's Face.

So, what are YOUR writing quirks? (Or reading quirks. They often go hand-in-hand!)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Book Recommendation: Diana Peterfreund's ACROSS A STAR-SWEPT SEA

Because Diana Peterfreund's FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS gave me all the feelings, I was ridiculously excited to delve into the companion novel, ACROSS A STAR-SWEPT SEA.

Whereas FDSTS was a retelling of PERSUASION, STAR-SWEPT SEA is a retelling of THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL set in the same world — and both are excellent.


I've never read either of the original novels, but from what I gathered from synopsis snooping, Peterfreund's reimaginings stay very true to the plot and tone of the originals, but in an entirely unique world.

ACROSS A STAR-SWEPT SEA Summary:

Centuries after wars nearly destroyed civilization, the two islands of New Pacifica stand alone, a terraformed paradise where even the Reduction—the devastating brain disorder that sparked the wars—is a distant memory. Yet on the isle of Galatea, an uprising against the ruling aristocrats has turned deadly. The revolutionaries’ weapon is a drug that damages their enemies’ brains, and the only hope is rescue by a mysterious spy known as the Wild Poppy.

On the neighboring island of Albion, no one suspects that the Wild Poppy is actually famously frivolous aristocrat Persis Blake. The teenager uses her shallow, socialite trappings to hide her true purpose: her gossipy flutternotes are encrypted plans, her pampered sea mink is genetically engineered for spying, and her well-publicized new romance with handsome Galatean medic Justen Helo… is her most dangerous mission ever.

Though Persis is falling for Justen, she can’t risk showing him her true self, especially once she learns he’s hiding far more than simply his disenchantment with his country’s revolution and his undeniable attraction to the silly socialite he’s pretending to love. His darkest secret could plunge both islands into a new dark age, and Persis realizes that when it comes to Justen Helo, she’s not only risking her heart, she’s risking the world she’s sworn to protect.

In this thrilling adventure inspired by
The Scarlet Pimpernel, Diana Peterfreund creates an exquisitely rendered world where nothing is as it seems and two teens with very different pasts fight for a future only they dare to imagine.


I highly recommend STAR-SWEPT SEA because, like FDSTS, it's a complex and well-written novel. The characters are flawed and realistic, with conflicting motives and standout personalities. I especially loved the push-pull between Persis and her best friend (and queen!), Isla, who knows the truth about Persis's alternate identity. Like any quality sci-fi, the book presents multi-faceted ideas on issues of science, politics, war, justice, morality, and equality — but it's never heavy-handed or boring.

And though the romance wasn't quite as bosom-clutchingly epic as that in FDSTS (to me, it had swoon but not the SWOON built by years of longing and separation), I loved the relationship between Persis and Justen, and how they had to overcome their prejudices against each other (and their enemy nations). They were a solid couple I really rooted for ... plus, I'm a sucker for secret identities!

For readers who are itching for just a glimpse of Elliot, Kai, and the rest of the FDSTS crew, you get that and more! The weaving together of the characters is pretty darn awesome. In particular, I loved the outsiders' view of the FDSTS characters we've grown to know and love.

Let me sum up: Adventure, romance, and spies, surrounded by rockstar world-building. Go read this book!

Cover talk: I would've liked the badass spy side of Persis to be represented somehow on the cover (since that's what makes her so awesome), but the gorgeous image of her in full socialite getup in a frothy-looking blue dress ACTUALLY EXISTS IN THE BOOK, plus it matches the romantic title. That's a win, to me!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Book recommendation & giveaway! THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE by Leila Sales

Leila Sales has become an auto-read author for me, and her latest novel, THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE, will definitely not disappoint her fans — and should win her some new ones.

It's a contemporary YA about an outsider, Elise, carving out her place in the world. We're brought along for this rollercoaster, and in the beginning, Elise has dealt with bullying and loneliness for so long that she seriously considers suicide and even attempts it, just to see if anyone will finally notice her.

But despite the dark topics, the narration manages to not feel heavy (and not preachy, thank God, because I have ISSUES with thinly veiled After School Specials with Important Lessons). It just feels REAL. Sometimes (often) painfully real. A lot of it has to do with Elise's voice and Leila's trademark wit — and her keen eye for how the social hierarchy works in high school, and how arbitrarily cruel it can be.

Most of the novel focuses on Elise discovering herself as a DJ in an underground dance party, which is such a reader-rush, and it sets the stage for Elise's transformation. (And I love that, throughout all of this, she's imperfect and makes some realistic mistakes along the way. I had more than one moment of wanting to smack her upside the head to come to her senses.)

The genius is in how easily you connect with Elise and her point of view, and how you empathize with her. It happens so seamlessly in this book that you almost forget it's simply because Leila Sales is a fabulous writer.

Overall, it's an engaging story, and (as is key in contemporary) the characters are all fleshed out, with great dialogue, and a main character to root for. Read this book!

Buy it at: Barnes and Noble | IndieBound

One lucky reader will win my ARC! Info below!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, September 23, 2013

My ridiculously enthusiastic recommendation for THE BURNING SKY by Sherry Thomas

When you finish reading a book and then immediately read everything else the author has ever written, you know that author is skilled.

That's exactly what happened when I read Sherry Thomas's THE BURNING SKY (Balzer & Bray), which I picked up at BEA. I went on her website to (not kidding) find out if they'd announced the release date of the sequel, and discovered that she had established her career as an author of historical romance. THE BURNING SKY, a traditional fantasy novel, was Thomas's first foray into writing YA, and she transitioned seamlessly into the new genre.

The official summary of THE BURNING SKY:

It all began with a ruined elixir and an accidental bolt of lightning…
Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she's being told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the greatest mage tyrant the world has ever known. A suicide task for anyone, let alone a sixteen-year-old girl with no training, facing a prophecy that foretells a fiery clash to the death.
        Prince Titus of Elberon has sworn to protect Iolanthe at all costs, but he's also a powerful mage committed to obliterating the Bane to avenge the death of his family—even if he must sacrifice both Iolanthe and himself to achieve his goal.
        But Titus makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the Bane closing in, he must choose between his mission and her life.


THE BURNING SKY has excellent world building and a fun concept, with a well-written dual point-of-view, third person narration. (No simple feat!) It's an easy read, but since it's basically about epic-scale political machinations that span both the mage world and our world .... with some complicated magical rules to boot ... I'd say the ease comes from Thomas's skills as a writer and not the simplicity of the plot.

I felt connected to both Iolanthe and Titus, and I became totally invested in their story. And thankfully, there's a perfect balance of romance mixed in with the main plot, so that it never felt overwhelming.

When adult authors transition to YA, many times their debut is a teen version of the type of book that cemented their career in the first place. That's not necessarily a bad thing ... but once I discovered that Thomas was an RITA Award-winning romance writer, it really impressed me how she chose to rein in the burgeoning romance in THE BURNING SKY and really let fantasy take center stage.

The only way Thomas followed the traditional advice "write what you know" is that she stuck to her norm of excellent characterization and dialogue, plus a witty narration. (Like I said, I ended up reading her seven other novels, so I know for a fact that the quality of THE BURNING SKY isn't a fluke.)

I definitely recommend THE BURNING SKY for fans of Rae Carson's incredible Fire and Thorns trilogy. However, where the Fire and Thorns books could've easily been marketed as adult (like Maria V. Snyder's Poison Study or Kristin Cashore's novels), THE BURNING SKY feels solidly YA, mostly due to the innocence of the main characters and the fact that they're still in school. But Iolanthe and Titus's situation is changing quickly, and I have a feeling they'll grow up with the trilogy, as the stakes become higher. (And I wouldn't complain in the least if we upped the swoon scale. Because Thomas can really bring le swoon.)

I'm always anxious reading the end of the first book of a trilogy, wondering if there's enough of a plot arc to support three novels. With THE BURNING SKY, you have a satisfying ending that teases into an epic-scale, trilogy-worthy plot, and I'm looking forward to seeing where the rest of the books go.

Final verdict: Sherry Thomas will be welcomed into the world of YA with open arms, and she earned it.

Links!
More love for THE BURNING SKY from Angieville
THE BURNING SKY is available now! Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Stacey Jay's OF BEAST AND BEAUTY Recommendation and Giveaway!

I'm pretty much in love with Beauty and the Beast and am a sucker for all retellings, so of course I picked up Stacey Jay's OF BEAST AND BEAUTY. Overall, I found it up to par with some of my other favorites, and it stays faithful to the core of the story, but it also brought its own unique, sci-fi twists to the traditional mythology.

Here's the official summary:
In the beginning was the darkness, and in the darkness was a girl, and in the girl was a secret...

In the domed city of Yuan, the blind Princess Isra, a Smooth Skin, is raised to be a human sacrifice whose death will ensure her city’s vitality. In the desert outside Yuan, Gem, a mutant beast, fights to save his people, the Monstrous, from starvation. Neither dreams that together, they could return balance to both their worlds.

Isra wants to help the city’s Banished people, second-class citizens despised for possessing Monstrous traits. But after she enlists the aid of her prisoner, Gem, who has been captured while trying to steal Yuan’s enchanted roses, she begins to care for him, and to question everything she has been brought up to believe.

As secrets are revealed and Isra’s sight, which vanished during her childhood, returned, Isra will have to choose between duty to her people and the beast she has come to love.



I feel like it's a mix of UNDER THE NEVER SKY (which, if you haven't read it, go read it!) and the traditional Beauty and the Beast story, in that the Smooth Skin "beauty" (Isra) is a queen of a city under a dome, protected from the dangers and mutations of the outer desert where the Monstrous (and "beast," Gem) live.

*Updated to add: One thing that I especially loved about this retelling was Isra's imperfections, both physical and emotional. Generally, it's only the "beast" who must be redeemed, but Isra has her own prejudices and misconceptions to overcome. She's just as flawed as Gem, so they both have many things to learn about themselves and each other. I also found it a refreshing twist that, among her own people, Isra considers herself beastly, since she has a touch of the mutations that plague the Monstrous.

OF BEAST AND BEAUTY also echoes the timelessness and magical elements of Kristin Cashore's novels, and like Cashore, Jay has strong characterizations and very immersive writing.

Though the book wasn't a fast-paced read (it's very internal), I was definitely invested enough in the characters and their journey that I never grew bored. I recommend it for fans of fairy tale retellings, but it stands on its own for readers who aren't particularly enamored with the Beauty and the Beast story. (Oh, and it's excellent for anyone attempting to recover from the awful, awful, awful CW show that disgraces the name Beauty and the Beast.)

The "meh" news: My only complaint? The beast's name is Gem, and I kept thinking of the 80s and bedazzling. Not so helpful with the swoon at first! But I got used to it. And he was a great reluctant (and tormented) hero.

The good news: I rarely comment on covers, but I think the final one, pictured here (different from my ARC cover) really does the book justice! Cover win!

The great news: OF BEAST AND BEAUTY is available now! And you can win my ARC here!


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Monday, August 12, 2013

What to Write in the “Bio” Section of Your Query Letter (Guest Post by Chuck Sambuchino)


(This column excerpted from GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS, from Writer’s Digest Books.)

Photo by welcometoalville
In my opinion, a good query letter is broken down into three parts – the quick intro, the pitch, and the bio. Strangely enough, the third section (the bio) often generates the most questions and uncertainty with writers. In fact, when I speak at writers’ conferences on the topic of how write a query letter, there are typically a ton of questions about this small paragraph. So with that in mind, I have tried to cobble together some notes on what to include and what not to include in a query letter at the end when you’re talking about yourself and your writing.

FICTION VS. NONFICTION

Before you read on, you need to realize that the bio section of a query letter is a completely different beast for fiction vs. nonfiction. If you’re writing nonfiction, the bio section is typically long, and of the utmost importance. This is where you list out all your credentials as well as the greatest hits of your writer platform. The importance of a nonfiction bio cannot be overstated. It has to be fat and awesome. Fiction bios, however, can be big or small or even not there at all. Most of the questions and notes I address below are discussing the murky waters of fiction query bios.

YES: INCLUDE THESE ELEMENTS IN YOUR BIO

  • Mention prior traditionally published books. This is the top bio credit you could have — past traditionally published books. Always mention the title, year and publisher. Beyond that, you could quickly mention an award your previous book won, or some praise it received.
  • List any published short stories. If you got paid for them or they ended up in a respected journal, that is always a great thing to mention. It immediately proves you’ve got fiction writing cred.
  • Discuss self-published books that sold well. If you had past self-published books that sold well, feel free to quickly discuss them. Such discussion will show you already have a small (or big!) audience and know how to market. Concerning what number of sales is impressive, I would say you should sell at least 7,500 e-books before an agent will be impressed. Truthfully, the number thrown around at a recent conference was 20,000, but I believe that’s pretty high. (Note that your target number of book sales must represent true sales — not books downloaded when you gave them away for free as part of some kind of promotion.)
  • Tell if you’ve penned articles for money. Feel free to skip titles and just list publications. For example: “I’ve written articles for several magazines and newspapers, including the Cincinnati Enquirer and Louisville Magazine.” Brevity is appreciated here. The agent can inquire if they want more info.
  • Divulge awards won. The bigger and more impressive, the better. For example, if your manuscript was a finalist for the RWA’s Golden Heart Award, that’s a big deal. If you won third place in a local writers group contest where the group was so small that there is no chance to agent has heard of it, that award is likely worth skipping in the bio. Use your best judgment here.
  • Share if you’re active in a recognized, nationwide organization – such as the Romance Writers of America (RWA), the Mystery Writers of America (MWA), the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the American Medical Writers, etc.
  • If you have an MFA. However, simply having a basic degree in English is common enough that a mention will likely not help you.
  • State your profession if it connects to the book. I wasn’t sure about this one until I heard several agents saying they wanted to know. What this means is that if you’re writing a legal thriller and you’re a lawyer, say so. Same thing for doctors writing about medicine/hospitals, musicians writing about musical protagonists, and so on.
  • Your research — but ONLY if it involves travel and seems like something amazing. If you’re writing a book with a Native-American protagonist, it’s not worth mentioning that you have done “heavy research on the subject.” (That makes it sound like you’ve scoured the web and read a few books — nothing that will knock anyone’s socks off.) But … if you spent two years living among the Sioux people on a reservation, then is that worth mentioning? I say yes. It’s research on a whole new level. If your novel is set in Paris and you worked there for 10 years as a translator, then say so.
  • Explain your platform if you feel like certain elements are impressive. Nonfiction writers must discuss platform at length. Fiction writers don’t need to discuss such elements, but certainly can if they believe they’ve made notable progress in an area. If you’re a blogger for a big YA Authors blog, say so. If you contribute to The Huffington Post or other websites/newsletters of note, say so. If you run a local writers’ conference, say so.

(Hi, everyone. Chuck here chiming in for a second. I wanted to say I am now taking clients as a freelance editor. So if your query or manuscript needs some love, please check out my editing services. Thanks!)

NO: SKIP THESE ELEMENTS IN YOUR BIO

  • Don’t say the work is copyrighted. All work is copyrighted. Saying so makes you look amateurish.
  • Don’t say the work is edited. All work should be edited. Saying your work is edited is another sign of an amateur.
  • Don’t say how long it took you to write it.
  • Don’t mention past, autonomous self-published books that did not take off. If the book you are pitching is the sequel to a released e-book, then you will have to disclose such info. But if this new book you’re pitching has nothing to do with previous self-published works that sold poorly, then just skip any mentions of those books. Elaborating on them will only hurt your chances.
  • Don’t say anything about a desired movie adaptation. And especially don’t say that you should play yourself in the film adaptation of your memoir.
  • Don’t mention you have a website or blog. Neither is a big deal, unless they’re huge in size. You can always paste the URL of your blog or website (or both) below your name in the e-mail signature for the agent to investigate if she wishes.
  • Don’t say this is your first novel.
  • Don’t say your age. The people who mention their age are typically very young or seniors. This will do you no good.
  • Don’t say you’re part of a small writers group at the local bookstore. Only membership in big organizations is worth noting.
  • Don’t say that family or friends or writing peers or your goldendoodle loved it. Their opinions will not sway an agent.
  • Don’t say God or aliens told you to write the story. This will get you the wrong kind of attention.
  • Don’t list your favorite writers. The only time to do this is if the agent put a call out for something specific, like “more fiction in the style of William Faulkner,” and your favorite write is indeed Faulkner.
  • Don’t say how many drafts of the novel you’ve went through.
  • Don’t talk about your personal life or what you like to do for fun: “I’m going through a nasty trial separation right now. Besides that, I just LOVE ‘Arrested Development,’ don’t you? Buster is my favorite character! Anyhoodles, thanks for considering my manuscript…”
  • Don’t say that the book was rejected by other agents.
  • Don’t say that the book is fiction, but partially based off your own life.
  • Don’t say that you have children, and that qualifies you to be a writer of kids books.
  • Don’t discuss pen names. If you want/need a pen name, that is definitely something that needs to be addressed, but you can tackle that subject when an agent calls you to offer representation and all topics are aired out appropriately.
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Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:
Feb. 10, 2018: Indiana Writing Workshop (Indianapolis, IN)
Feb. 17, 2018: Minnesota Writing Workshop (St. Paul, MN)
March 10, 2018: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
March 24, 2018: Pittsburgh Writing Workshop (Pittsburgh, PA)
April 14, 2018: Michigan Writing Workshop (Livonia/Detroit, MI)
April 28, 2018: Seattle Writing Workshop (Seattle, WA)
June 23, 2018: Writing Workshop of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
July 14, 2018: Cleveland Writing Workshop (Cleveland, OH)
July 28, 2018: Chesapeake Writing Workshop (Washington, DC)
August 4, 2018: Florida Writing Workshop (Tampa, FL)
August 25, 2018: Writing Workshop of San Francisco (San Francisco, CA)
September 29, 2018: Boston Writing Workshop (Boston, MA)
November 17, 2018: Philadelphia Writing Workshop (Philadelphia, PA)


Other columns by Chuck Sambuchino:
- How to Write a Screenplay: 7 Starting Tips for Adapting Your Own Novel
- Why “Keep Moving Forward” is My Best Advice For Writers Everywhere
- Do You Need Multiple Agents if You Write in Different Genres?
- How to Write a Novel Synopsis: 5 Tips
- Building Your Writer Platform—How Much is Enough?
- Getting Specific: What Literary Agents Want to Get RIGHT NOW
- 15 Questions to Ask a Literary Agent Before You Sign
- Crafting a Novel’s Pitch: 7 Tips
- 25 Debut Authors Share Advice for Getting Published
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Chuck Sambuchino of Writer's Digest Books edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN'S WRITER'S and ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing.
    His 2010 humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, was optioned by Sony Pictures. Chuck has also written the writing guides FORMATTING and SUBMITTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT and CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM.
    Besides that, he is a freelance book and query editor, husband, sleep-deprived new father, and owner of a flabby-yet-lovable dog named Graham. Find Chuck on Twitter and on Facebook

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