Pick Me for Pitch Wars!

If you follow me for reviews or to see what’s happening in my writing journey, the title of this post may confuse you. Well, it’s time to send my contemporary young adult manuscript, A BOY COULD, out into the world, and I’m starting with a contest called Pitch Wars. As part of that, I’ve created a video to give potential mentors an extra incentive to choose my manuscript, which means you get to see me talking! I kind of talk the way I blog. Well, you’ll see …

Whew! Majorly going outside my comfort zone here. Hopefully it works! I’ll let you all know. In the meantime, I’ll be back next Monday with an MMGM review and a giveaway!

Oh, and for the mentors, here are a few of those posts I mentioned:

Revision: Killing Those Darlings

Thoughts on Revising from Public Critiques

What I’ve Learned in Three Years of Querying

Revision: Snip, Snip, Snipping the Dangling Threads

Only You Can Fix Your Manuscript

There are more, but hopefully these posts give you a taste of my approach to revision and ability to take feedback and run with it. Thanks for considering!

Posted in Contests | 2 Comments

YA Series Recommendation: The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare

Like many others, I decided to read The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare when the previews for the movie came out. Now, I know die-hard fans of the books have mixed feelings about the movie–I blogged about that here–but I’m glad I waited to read this series until almost all of the books were out because, man, can Ms. Clare write some major cliffhangers! As a result, I read the first three books, then waited to read the last three until the final book came out. However, I didn’t realize that her other series–The Infernal Devices–was connected until something very interesting happened in CITY OF HEAVENLY FIRE that was clearly a reference to something I should have known. It was done cleverly, in such a way as to be sort of spoilerly but not completely spoilerly, but even so, I went into the series 90 percent sure of the outcome, and I turned out to be right. I still loved it, but I’m putting it out there to warn you to read The Infernal Devices series before CITY OF HEAVENLY FIRE. Okay, on to the recommendation, starting with the description for the first book in the series.

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra ClareWhen sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London’s Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos.

Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What’s more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa’s power for his own.

Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by—and torn between—two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm’s length . . . everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world. . . . and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all.

And here are the five things I loved most about this series:

1. The mix of genres – It’s steampunk and urban fantasy and historical all rolled into one. I guess steampunk is already historical, but you get my drift. While the demons and supernatural were still prevalent, this series was much more about invention and intrigue. I found it kind of amazing how it all worked together.

2. The literary references – I was an English major, so I loved the parallels the characters drew to A TALE OF TWO CITIES and the conversations about other literary works. I even enjoyed the poetry at the beginning of the chapters, and I’m not usually a poetry person.

3. The supporting characters – Ms. Clare’s books always have a large cast of characters. Sometimes I wish we wouldn’t jump to another character when I want to stay with a particular one, but she draws them all so well, even the minor characters. One of my favorites in this series shows up in the second book–Bridget, the cook, who sings the most inappropriate songs at the most appropriate times. Or is it the other way around?

4. The heartbreaking twists – Cassandra Clare has a unique flare for throwing a wrench in a story and then twisting and twisting. These books made me cry more than once, and that’s not usually something I’d say I love about a book, but for some reason I do with these. They earned my tears.

5. The romance – Part of what I loved about the romance in this particular series was how it fit into the courting rituals of the time. I do love my historical romance novels. And I have to say, this might be one of the most well written love triangles I’ve ever read. Back to point No. 4 …

As much as I loved these, I wouldn’t recommend them for younger YA readers. There is some older content.

Are you a Cassandra Clare fan? What’s your favorite twist? If you haven’t read her books yet, don’t read the comments, just in case someone spills!

Posted in Reading, Review, Young Adult | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Revision: Killing Those Darlings

If you’ve been following my journey through revisions for my work-in-progress, you may remember that in my last round of revisions I was still getting rid of a number of dangling threads from an early plot thread I’d eliminated. When I received comments back from this round of readers, I was pleased to discover that–finally!–I didn’t have any of those. I had other issues, but only one small thing that could really be connected to that lingering thread. Whew! *wipes forehead*

But as I read through the comments, I came to the conclusion that I had to cut a couple of early chapters, and one of them really hurt. For years I’ve heard writers talk about “killing their darlings.” I sort of understood what they were talking about. There were lines I really liked that I’d had to take out of manuscripts, even some scenes I’d cut that I hated to see go. But it really rang true to me this time. You see, I didn’t just like this scene–I loved it. It was fun, it had a number of great lines in it that readers had commented “LOL,” and there were parts of it that I had a personal connection to.

However, even while I had some comments within the scene about the funny bits, I also received overall comments during this chapter and couple of chapters surrounding it, saying, “I’m starting to skim,” or, “we need to get to point x sooner.” And I have to confess that my current readers weren’t the only ones to say this. While no one said I had to cut this scene in particular, as I stepped back from the story as a whole, I realized that I was stubbornly holding onto that scene for the wrong reasons. The things I loved about it–the funny lines, the interaction between the main character and her best friend, the pop culture references–were the same things that were slowing down the pacing and tension. This scene had become a darling for me, and I would have to kill it.

Oh, it hurt to move that scene from the Manuscript folder to my Deleted Scenes folder in Scrivener. But then, an interesting thing happened. I opened the scene up in a QuickReference panel (if you don’t use Scrivener, this is like a pop-up window) to scan for any information that was referenced later in the story so I could drop it in where appropriate. And you know what? Out of a 2,000-word scene, I could sum up the necessary information in maybe 200 words scattered throughout a few subsequent scenes without causing any confusion.

And that is why we must be prepared to kill our darlings. If they’re only there for us–not to serve the story–they shouldn’t be there at all.

And once again, I am reminded of the importance of patience. It’s the most important lesson I’ve learned in three years of querying, and it’s served me well with this manuscript. A year ago, I have a feeling I would have started querying this MS too early–like I did the others–and figured out I needed to make this change after I’d already burned through half of my agent list. Thankfully I’ve killed this darling before she caused unnecessary grief :).

What darlings have you had to kill? Did you immediately see the benefits?


Posted in Revising, Writing | Tagged , | 1 Comment

How Writing Has Changed My Reading Habits, Part 2

I don’t have a review today because I spent my week of vacation re-reading one of my favorite romance novel series. Yes, I actually returned from vacation last week and had a review then, but that review was written before I left, and unfortunately the book I started reading upon my return that I hoped would be ready for a review today turned out to be one I ended up not finishing–a rarity for me.

Anyway, my week of getting lost in this favorite series got me thinking about how I don’t do that very often these days. I have a whole wall of books downstairs of books that I’ve re-read multiple times. Here’s some perspective. Two years ago I wrote a post titled How Writing Changed My Reading Habits. It was all about how I grew up reading romance novels, thought I would write them, ended up finding my niche in middle grade and young adult, and switched to reading mainly MG and YA.

So here we are in 2014, and I’m faced with a dilemma of my own making, in large part because of this blog. When I wrote that post in 2012, I had just started this blog. I didn’t yet know what I wanted it to be. Soon after that, I started participating in the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday blog hop as a way to network with other MG writers. At the time, I was exclusively writing MG, so it made sense to start reviewing MG books. I’ve since reviewed 47 middle grade books.

I started mixing in YA reviews as I came across YA books I loved, and those have been more frequent in the past year since I’ve been writing YA. I’m up to 27 YA reviews on the blog. I like to set myself goals, and my blogging goal has been to write one review per week, which generally means I need to read one MG/YA book per week, and if one of the books I read doesn’t meet my criteria for a review, then I have to read another one … can you see where I’m going here?

I’ve been getting a little overwhelmed lately. Reading used to be my escape, but when I made writing my career, reading became part of my job, too. Someone asked me the other day how I decide what to read next. Ha! My to-be-read pile is never-ending! Here are a few of the ways I choose:

  • Books I come across on other writer blogs
  • Books by authors I’ve met online
  • Books recommended by critique partners/beta readers
  • Books getting a lot of industry buzz
  • Books by authors I hear speak at a conference and/or signing
  • Books I win in an online contest
  • New books by authors I’ve read before

I read to know what’s out there in the market, to provide review content for my blog, to support authors I know, and to forward a variety of other business-related efforts that go beyond simply getting lost in a book. Now, I’m not saying that doesn’t happen anyway. There are definitely times I do pick up a book for one of these other purposes and fall completely in love, but many of the books I read for work purposes are books I enjoy and want to promote but wouldn’t re-read ten times like the books on the wall in my basement. I think it’s similar to the difference agents cite between liking and loving something.

I guess what it comes down to is that I have to find a balance between the work reading and the fun reading. It’s a challenge when my former favorite past-time is now part of my work, but I’ll figure it out. For blog purposes, it may mean fewer reviews. We’ll see. I’m a pretty hard task-master :).

Has anyone else had this issue? Do you find it hard to read just for fun?

Posted in Reading | Tagged | 4 Comments

Thoughts on Revising from Public Critiques

Two weeks ago I was privileged to participate in #BLOGPITCH, a blog hop hosted by Authoress for the purpose of gathering critiques for my Twitter pitch and first 250 words. First of all, I want to say how much I appreciate everyone who stopped by to comment on my post. I really appreciated the critiques. They were very constructive and supportive!

While critiques are a part of Authoress’s popular Secret Agent contests, this was different because people were visiting my blog and so I wasn’t anonymous. To be honest, that’s one of the things I’ve always liked about those contests. The comments pile up, you collect them, and make your changes afterward without anyone–except your critique partners–knowing who you are. So when this opportunity came up, I debated whether or not I should reply to people as they commented. I tend to feel like if I reply to one person, I should reply to all, and I might just end up with a lot of, “Thanks for stopping by!”

Even in forum situations I tend to err on the side of less is more. I’ve realized it doesn’t do much good to try and explain a short sample–whether that’s a pitch, query, first page, or even first five pages–in a public forum. If something isn’t working, I’m better off fixing it than trying to explain why I did it that way in the first place.

I didn’t always have this philosophy. It’s something I’ve learned over the last few years. I quickly realized that by trying to explain my reasoning, I usually just went deeper down a rabbit hole that made things even more confusing for the people I was trying to explain it all to.

Ok, so that was all a lot of background on why I didn’t respond individually to the critiques I received during the blog hop. But the real purpose of this post are my thoughts on how I applied the critiques to revising my pitch and first page. Once again, thank you all!

The Pitch

This particular opportunity focused on a Twitter pitch, which meant there was a character limit. In the past, I’ve found the best success juxtaposing two comparison titles and then specifying how my story diverges. Doing so maximizes the limited space because it immediately gives the audience an idea of the story by drawing on an already familiar premise. It was interesting to me that several of the critiques I received said they didn’t recognize the comp titles, and that’s a fair point. However, when it really comes down to it, other writers are not my audience for a pitch, and I think the odds are agents would recognize them. Even if they don’t, the positive thing about most Twitter pitch opportunities are that you get to use more than one pitch! So, I’ll keep my comp title pitch but also create a separate pitch without them. Comments noted and filed :).

The First Page

Overall, the comments I received on my first page were very complimentary, so thank you! I really appreciated the specific details commenters left telling me what worked for them. Here are a few questions I asked to determine what I needed to tweak:

Are they questioning something that will be answered within a page or two?

Something to remember about a first page is it’s only one page! Sounds obvious, right? And yet I think sometimes we get hung up on trying to cram too much into it, particularly for the purpose of shining in contests and forums where we’re trying to catch the eye of an agent. Yes, these can be great opportunities to get a foot in the door with an agent, but the pages that follow have to widen that opening. So, what’s my point with that? You don’t have to answer every question commenters ask about that first 250 words. There’s a reason you’re writing a novel. There are things readers can wait to find out. It’s called tension :). Now, I’m not talking about something that’s downright confusing. Anything like that you should fix. But if the person’s just asking something out of curiosity, you don’t have to work that into your first page to appease them. If that information shouldn’t be revealed until page three–or page fifty, for that matter–save it for the right moment. If an agent is intrigued enough by your writing and voice, they’ll stick with the story to get those answers when the time is right.

Did multiple people mention the same issue?

Did anyone hear a doorbell ring? If you didn’t read my sample, this won’t make any sense. Suffice it to say, I heard you! I had a similar issue with my pitch and the name Gid (short for Gideon) confusing several people. If it’s a stumbling block for more than one person, it needs to be fixed.

Did people disagree on the same issue?

Here’s where things get tricky. If you receive differing opinions, you have to determine whether you really have an issue. Maybe one person loves it and another hates it. If you’re ambivalent, you should probably nix it. Either way, take a closer look because it’s a point of contention.

Does the comment resonate with you?

Sometimes, even if only one person says it, a comment will hit you in such a way where you say, “Yes, you’re right!” But even if you feel the complete opposite, don’t reject it out of hand. Every comment has merit. If one person thinks it, chances are there’s another person out there who will, too. Maybe you don’t care about that person :), but keep it in mind and reject it with caution.

What’s your philosophy on public critiques? Do you try to hash it out with critiquers? Are there other questions you ask yourself before revising?

Thanks again to Authoress for hosting this blog hop and to everyone who commented! It was a great experience. If you commented and you had a question about my pitch or sample you really wanted answered, ask it in the comments on this post and I will answer.

Posted in Blog Hop, Critiquing, Pitching, Revising, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

YA Review: ALIENATED by Melissa Landers

Have you ever picked up a book and thought, “This author has been inside my head?” That’s kind of how I felt when I started reading ALIENATED by Melissa Landers. Completely different premise, and yet her alien race and planet bore an eery number of similarities to those in my middle grade sci-fi novel. Hmm. Great minds? Anyway, here’s the description.

Alienated by Melissa LandersTwo years ago, the aliens made contact. Now Cara Sweeney is going to be sharing a bathroom with one of them. Handpicked to host the first-ever L’eihr exchange student, Cara thinks her future is set. Not only does she get a free ride to her dream college, she’ll have inside information about the mysterious L’eihrs that every journalist would kill for.

Cara’s blog following is about to skyrocket. Still, Cara isn’t sure what to think when she meets Aelyx. Humans and L’eihrs have nearly identical DNA, but cold, infuriatingly brilliant Aelyx couldn’t seem more alien. She’s certain about one thing, though: no human boy is this good-looking. But when Cara’s classmates get swept up by anti-L’eihr paranoia, Midtown High School suddenly isn’t safe anymore.

Threatening notes appear in Cara’s locker, and a police officer has to escort her and Aelyx to class. Cara finds support in the last person she expected. She realizes that Aelyx isn’t just her only friend; she’s fallen hard for him.

But Aelyx has been hiding the truth about the purpose of his exchange, and its potentially deadly consequences. Soon Cara will be in for the fight of her life—not just for herself and the boy she loves, but for the future of her planet.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The sci-fi – This was totally my kind of sci-fi, with human-like aliens and cool gadgets and a bit of space thrown in.

2. The integration story – On the surface, the story is about humans and aliens, but it’s clearly a broader look at fear of integration and change. There are those on both sides who resist, those who are willing to stand up no matter what it costs them, and those who want to do what’s right but are afraid. It was a really inventive way to show a very important story.

3. The romance – To be honest, for about half of the book, I wasn’t sure I was going to buy the romance, mainly because of Aelex’s character and the nature of the L’eihrs. But once he started to open up, it became very believable and I was rooting for them all the way.

4. Aelex – Talk about a flawed hero. It took me a while to warm up to Aelex, but I think that was the point, and notice that I’m listing him under one of the things I loved best. He wasn’t the typical YA love interest the girl falls for right away. He had to earn Cara and the reader, too, thanks to his actions. He’s the one with the real character arc in the story.

5. The stakes – Things just keep escalating from the moment Cara finds out she’s been selected for the exchange program. Ms. Landers doesn’t go easy on these characters, from a physical or emotional standpoint, and the stakes in the end are catastrophic. I can’t imagine what she has in store for the rest of the series!

Has anyone else read ALIENATED? What did you think?

Posted in Reading, Review, Young Adult | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

What I’ve Learned in Three Years of Querying

Today marks three years since I seriously started querying my work. As a frame of reference, I’ve queried three manuscripts during that time. All of them started out middle grade, but one of them I aged up to young adult after a revise and resubmit request from an agent. I’m currently getting a fourth manuscript ready to query–this time a young adult contemporary.

Unlike the past two years, I didn’t sit down to write this post this week. Rather, I’ve been adding to it since about a month after I wrote the two-year post, jotting down thoughts as they occurred to me throughout the year, anticipating that I would have to write another one. (You can also check out my one-year post.) Sure, I hoped it would turn into a “What I Learned in Two-and-a-Half Years of Querying” or some other partial part of the year, but it didn’t, so here we are. And you know what? I’m ok with that. Because of the first thing I’ve learned:

Patience. Yeah. I’ve finally learned how to be patient, and I’m not talking about waiting for responses from agents because that’s still excruciating. I’m talking about being patient with myself. I’ve blogged about my tendency to rush, rush, rush before, but I’ve finally found the strength to force myself to slow down with my current work-in-progress. Honestly? I finished the first draft in late 2013 and thought I’d already be in the querying trenches by now. Instead, I have it out with a fourth round of readers, and I’m 100 percent ok with that. Some of my second-round readers would be astonished with what I’ve done with it since they saw it. Heck, I’m astonished with what I’ve done with it. That’s the beauty of giving it time and having PATIENCE. If only I’d learned that three years ago. Oh well. I’m not one to dwell on things I can’t go back and change. Moving on. I refuse to send this manuscript out to agents before it’s ready. Been there, done that, had my heart broken before. There may not be some magic formula, but I will not let my own impatience be my downfall this time!

Just because you have a great request rate on one manuscript doesn’t mean you’ll have a great request rate on your next one. There was a huge difference in the number of requests I got for DEXELON versus DUET. And I have to say, it was quite discouraging to go from getting tons of requests to eking them out, even though I knew my skills as a writer had improved. There are so many factors beyond your actual writing involved in how your work will be received–the concept, the current market. I don’t know for sure, but I think magical realism was hot when I queried DUET and science fiction was not when I queried DEXELON. Oh well. Onward.

The longer you query, the less query rejections hurt. Let me clarify that I’m only talking about the query rejections. I’ve gotten to the point where I just shrug when a query gets rejected. I think this comes from a better understanding of how different agents’ tastes are, and if my premise doesn’t appeal to them, of course I don’t want them as my agent. Maybe there’s a slight twinge if they’ve requested from me before, but I still shrug it off. Submission rejections still sting, though, because they’ve shown interest and I get my hopes up.

The longer you query, the pickier you get about which agents to query. I used to send queries to any agent I thought was a remote possibility of a match. I’ve gotten much more selective as I’ve watched writers change agents or have bad experiences with an agent who wasn’t the right fit. I tend to shy away from agents who are vocal online with opinions I don’t agree with, thinking we might not work together well. I’m also not as willing to trust my work with new agents who aren’t at established agencies–unless they have documented sales. I used to think it didn’t hurt to go ahead and query them, but I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t want to waste either of our time if I don’t think I’d actually sign with them.

The more times you query an agent, the trickier personalization gets. Maybe I’m just over-thinking things, but I always err on the side of assuming an agent will remember me. That’s probably because I have an excellent memory for my interactions with people, but then I’m a detail person. When I queried my first novel, I personalized wherever possible, mentioning clients’ books I’d read, things they’d mentioned in interviews or on Twitter, thanked them for sharing their knowledge with writers. But by the time I queried that same agent a second and then a third time, it just seemed awkward. In some cases, I barely personalized at all because I didn’t have anything new to say, and what if they remembered I’d already said that before? As I said, I’m probably over-thinking it, but that’s what I do :). Also, if an agent has requested more than one project, it gets awkward saying, “You requested my previous projects, THE MODERN CAVEBOY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING BATS, BULLIES, AND BILLIONAIRES, DUET WITH THE DEVIL’S VIOLIN, and THE DEXELON TWINCIDENT … ” Kind of a mouthful, right? And yet I want to remind them we’ve interacted before in case they don’t see my name and immediately recall the titles. If I were an agent, that’s one area I’d have to go look up.

The longer you query, the easier it is to let go of a project you love. Each time I’m querying something new, I think, “This is it!” If I didn’t think that, I shouldn’t be querying it. And yet, the more rejections pile up, whether I’m getting requests or not, the more I start to think maybe it won’t be. I still push through because I know all it takes is one “yes,” but I’m less attached to each individual project and more confident that it’s my writing, not a particular story, that will eventually advance me to the next level.

Just because an agent replied the last time doesn’t mean he/she will now. I’ve noticed that agents who responded to queries two manuscripts ago aren’t replying anymore. I don’t know if the volume has increased too much or if other responsibilities are taking more of agents’ time, but fewer and fewer agents are replying to all queries. Unfortunately, not all of those agents have updated their submission guidelines to reflect the change, so you can end up waiting months to figure out you’re not going to get a response. I’m ok with a no-response-means-no policy, but I do wish they’d list it on their submission guidelines if they’ve switched.

The more manuscripts you write, the harder it is to find an agent who will rep it all. Let me clarify this–I’m not saying I expect an agent to represent everything I’ve ever written. It’s more that if I’ve written sci-fi in the past, I might have another sci-fi idea in the future. So it’s not in my best interest to query an agent who will rep my contemporary young adult but has no interest in sci-fi. And let me tell you, this is hard to swallow. There are agents I interacted with on my first manuscript who I loved but I couldn’t query with a subsequent manuscript due to tastes. Who knows? Maybe that’s why it’s taken me so long to find the right agent fit–because I might have signed too early with an agent who would have turned out to be a bad fit later. I’m always looking for the positive spin on things :).

Looking back at what I learned in the first two years of querying, I’m amazed at how much I’ve grown, and as fantastic as it would be to be further along on this writing journey, I’m satisfied with where I am right now. Do I want to move on? Absolutely! But I have faith that everything will happen when the timing is right. And I’m sure I have much more to learn!

Posted in Agents, Querying, Writing | Tagged , , , | 15 Comments