Wednesday, June 30, 2010

13 WOW Wednesday: Tracy Clark on How I Got an Agent

Today's Wow Wednesday post is provided by Tracy Clark. Tracy has completed two YA novels and is currently working on her third. She is represented by Michael Bourret of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. She’s a wife, mother, lover of words, private pilot and irredeemable dreamer. Tracy was mentored by bestselling author, Ellen Hopkins, in the NV SCBWI Mentor Program.

Please give her a warm welcome. What you are about to read is amazing and inspiring.

    How I Got an Agent

    by Tracy Clark

    While I was on the search for an agent, one of the things I found most fascinating were “agent stories”. I wanted to know the tricks and secrets, maybe glean a little from those who had jumped from the boat of the agentless to the boat where every sentence begins with, “My agent said…”

    I see now that people’s stories about how they became agented are varied and unique. Mine doesn’t fall into the category of ‘common ways to get an agent’, but I think there is a helpful lesson in the path I took. I hope so, cause I want you in the boat with me.

    When I began thinking about how I got my agent, the savvy and sweet Michael Bourret with Dystel & Goderich, I realized there were a series of steps that led me to that thrilling moment.

    I have to say, it really started with winning the SCBWI Work in Progress Grant in the fall of 2009 with my YA novel, The Circle Journal (now titled: Chalk Houses). I am not being falsely modest when I say that I sent that grant application off with a very, “hell, you can’t win if you don’t play” kind of attitude. I am seriously still in awe that my work was appreciated in that way. I will always be grateful.

    Shortly after the grant announcements, I was contacted by an editor who was interested in reading the manuscript. Funny enough, I didn’t feel it was ready to be seen yet but told her I’d send it when it was. In January of this year, I attended the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York. I introduced myself to that editor who asked again when I was going to send the manuscript. She also asked me if I had an agent and instructed me to introduce myself to Michael Bourret, who also happened to be at the conference.

    I cannot deny or confirm that what happened next may or may not have involved quickly ducking into a VIP party to meet him. Needless to say, I left having made the introduction and sent him a query within a couple of weeks…on my 40th birthday, figuring that turning the big 4-OMG had to have a silver lining. This is a prime example of why you should ALWAYS make a wish on your birthday, by the way!

    Not wanting to put all of my eggs in one basket, I did query a handful of other agents as well. Just to show you how subjective this business is; the responses ranged from form rejections, to rejections of heartfelt regret and encouragement, to requests for partials and fulls.

    About three months later, I knew that Mr. Bourret was to attend a local Nevada SCBWI event and was very hopeful and excited that we would get to meet again and perhaps chat about my submission. I was also thrilled to learn that I was placed in his manuscript critique group over the weekend! I think one of the wisest decisions I made was to read from a new, current work in progress so that he could see what else I had up my sleeve.

    Within a couple of weeks of that Nevada SCBWI conference, I accepted Michael Bourret’s offer of representation.

    Back to that valuable lesson I alluded to earlier: I believe that it was the brave act of putting myself ‘out there’ that helped me to find and sign with my dream agent. If I hadn’t had the pluck to apply for the SCBWI WIP Grant, or to approach the editor in person in New York, or the moxie, okay…swagger to finagle an introduction to Michael at that party, or participated in my local SCBWI events, then it wouldn’t have happened the way it did. Be brave. Put yourself out there! Meet people, participate, take chances. Hell. You can’t win if you don’t play!

    Tuesday, June 29, 2010

    2 Critique Clinic: Line-by-line Contest Round One

    As we posted last week, we were inspired by the blog post from one of the writers who didn't make it through to Round Two in our Line-by-line Novel Opening Contest. So much so that we decided to see if we could get the participating authors to offer critiques not just to the top 25 finalists, but also to the people who might be feeling more overwhelmed. We had a couple of schedule conflicts, but we've supplemented those with new recruits. Long story short, we have an amazing team of talented authors poised to review the first five sentences for the writers whose first sentences didn't compell our contest judge, Natalie Fischer, to read on.

    There are no rules here. Over the next week, the authors will comment on the entries for which they have suggestions, and we invite you to kindly and respectfully do the same. Feel free to include lots of praise.

    The entries will appear below this post. Please participate. This is an amazing learning opportunity for us all!

    Please Give a Warm Welcome to Our Participating Authors:

    • Barrie Summy writes a humorous tween/teen mystery series for Random House. Her books include I SO DON'T DO MYSTERIES, I SO DON'T DO SPOOKY, the just-released I SO DON'T DO MAKEUP and the upcoming I SO DON'T DO FAMOUS. She lives in San Diego with her husband, four chatty children, a dog named Dorothy, two veiled chameleons and 83 chameleon eggs. She is addicted to the internet and licorice.
    • Riley Carney is seventeen years old and has written seven MG/YA novels. The first book of the five-book Reign of the Elements Series,The Fire Stone, was released January 2010, and the second book, The Water Stone, will be released August 2010. Riley is passionate about promoting global literacy through the nonprofit corporation that she founded because she believes that the way to help children break the cycle of poverty and exploitation is through literacy. 
    • Tracy Clark has completed two YA novels and is currently working on her third. She is represented by Michael Bourret of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. She’s a wife, mother, lover of words, private pilot and irredeemable dreamer. Tracy was mentored by bestselling author, Ellen Hopkins, in the NV SCBWI Mentor Program.
    • When Cole Gibsen isn't writing she can be found shaking her booty in a zumba class, picking off her nail polish, or drinking straight from the jug (when no one is looking). Cole's debut YA paranormal, Katana, is due out from Flux in spring, 2012.
    • Tahereh a.k.a. T.H. Mafi works as a graphic designer. Her blog Grab a Pen consistently entertains the masses. She writes YA novels and is represented by the ever-fabulous Amy Tipton of Signature Literary Agency.
    • Lisa Green is not a demon, ghost, vampire, fairy or shape-shifter*. She has, however, enjoyed reading and writing about them since the age of seven. Her short stories and poems have been featured in several online magazines and her manuscripts are represented by the amazing Rubin Pfeffer of East-West Literary.
    • Maurissa Guibord is a YA author whose debut novel, Warped will be published in January, 2011 from Delacorte. Warped is a romantic fantasy about a girl, an ancient unicorn tapestry and the threads of fate that bind them together.
    • Suzanne Young currently lives in Portland, Oregon where she uses the rainy weather as an excuse to stay inside and write obsessively. She is the author of THE NAUGHTY LIST series (Razorbill/Penguin) and the upcoming A NEED SO BEAUTIFUL (Balzer & Bray, Summer 2011), its sequel (Summer 2012) and DELINQUENTS (Razorbill/Penguin, Fall 2011)
    • Leah Crichton resides near the majestic Canadian Rockies with her husband, three children and two pets. With a teacher for a mother and a writer for a father, she had two choices: succeed or die trying. By day she manipulates geophysical data, but at night she dives head first into the different places created inside her mind because a lot of interesting people live there. Her YA debut novel "Amaranthine" will be released in November of 2010 by Canonbridge LLC
    Happy critiquing,

    Martina & Marissa

    7 #64 Susan Bradley

    Slowly I pushed the door all the way open and craned my neck to peer inside. All the crime books I’d ever read stated never to go inside and to call the police from a neighbor’s house. I intended to do just that until I saw a running shoe with purple laces out of the corner of my eye.

    I rushed inside and my world froze.

    I couldn’t process what I was seeing.

    5 #9 Vicki Tremper

    “All cockroaches step forward,” a voice barked.

    My heart dropped into my stomach at the command. How could anyone call people that? Didn’t these boys in their torn and dirty clothing recognize us as human beings?

    No one moved.

    12 #86 mumfusa

    Riley Razer has issues and they’re not minor.

    “Hurry up, Colle…Craig…” her mom, Sue, says.

    Riley’s spoon stops halfway to her mouth. “Me?” She looks around to find she is the only other person in the kitchen.

    5 #48 bfav (rewritten)

    Most things came naturally to Rett Adams and, shoot, he could find trouble faster than most kids could spell it. He fished a small rock out of the grass by the playground. The girl by the monkey bars rubbed her arm while tears slid down her cheeks. He watched the pack of sixth-grade boys huddled on the grass plotting their next victim. It had to stop, but starting something with Cole Williams wasn't like spitting paper wads at Mr. Ector—there were going to be consequences.

    6 #96 Authoress

    The warm rain spattered Eric’s face and dripped from his eyebrows and nose. It was the last time he’d ever feel it.

    Unless, of course, they would let him outside the City sometimes. That wasn’t likely, though; he’d read enough, heard enough, to understand that life in the City was completely self-contained, sealed for everyone’s safety and happiness. Eric failed to see how anyone could be happy in a place without rain or wind or rich, dark soil.

    8 #69 Natalie Hyde

    Celia never meant to lie. And besides, it wasn’t a big lie. Really, how bad could it be to impersonate the daughter of a famous author? OK, a famous dead author.

    It had all happened so quickly.

    7 #53 Stephanie S.

    Without a word, the guards brought her in, hard hands shoving her forward as they closed the door behind them. Axia wanted to tell them how unhappy Master Malit would be to find them rough handling his property like this but the echoes of the clanging door were already fading around her, leaving her in silence and solitude. As a born Owned, solitude was something she was used to, fighting in the arena being her only purpose.

    She shrugged, loosening her shoulders and making the bones of her neck crack. Ionic energy shackles bound her wrists, their dull glow barely piercing the darkness of the cell.

    5 #99 girl jordyn

    After high school, we were going to move to Austin. We were going to forego college and get a tiny, unglamorous apartment that would barely hold our bodies and our instruments. Bit by bit, we told ourselves, we'd break into the business. We wouldn't be stars - that was too ambitious - but we'd be something. We'd be musicians, real ones, with fans outside of our school district.

    5 #32 Sue Ford

    I can’t believe I found you! And I thought the Ides of March were ‘sposed to be bad luck or something.

    But when Tamiko and me were surfing the net during guided study today and saw your picture on your website, I knew you had to be my dad’s older brother. And it’s not just because you have the right name, you look EXACTLY like him, so I KNOW you have to be my uncle. Please write me.

    5 #93 Jenn

    How does this start again? Oh right…Once Upon A Time, (notice the capital letters) there lived a king and queen of a quaint little country. It used to be vast and plentiful, but much of it was sold off to cover the king’s gambling debts as well as the queen’s fondness for golden rosebushes.

    Yet for all their imperfections, selfishness, and arguments about being imperfect, these two could not love each other more.
    It required too much work to try.

    8 #37 Bonnie Staring

    He just didn’t get it.

    The cute new guy in the desk next to mine kept waving at me. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but during one of Mr. Bhatia’s math tests it was a total don’t.

    I risked a glance to the front of the classroom. Our teacher focused on the back row—probably eyeballing one of the delinquents who forgot it was a test day and showed up.

    7 #48 Jillian Audrey

    I was in the kitchen flipping blueberry pancakes on the griddle when I saw her for the first time. Well, it wasn’t quite that I saw her at first, but I felt her. The hairs on my arms prickled up, the air pressure in the room dropped like it does just before an electrical storm, and I got that warm, tingly “being observed” feeling that happens when you know someone is standing just a few behind you. Mom was upstairs and Dad had already left for work, so besides my cat Muffin there was no logical reason that I shouldn’t be in the kitchen alone. I turned my head slightly to the side and it was then that I could just barely see her out of the corner of my eye –- my grandmother’s Blue Angel.

    6 #19 Nicole Zoltack

    My papers scattered everywhere, and my books fell with a loud thud. I braced my arms for impact against the cold, hard floor. Snatching my belongings, I glared at the culprit, a senior football player.

    “Look at the freak.” He snickered, elbowing a friend.

    8 #23 Michele Shaw (revised)

    Beads of sweat popped out above my lip. Not good, because Sweaty Lip Syndrome, my unofficial medical term, was the first sign I was going to fall apart. It started when the secretary interrupted my fourth period AP English class. Her voice came over the intercom in pops and squeaks when she said, "Tell Colleen Anderson she needs to leave with her mother for a dental appointment." No one knew about the ruse, that my mother was gone and my aunt, Zia, now played the part.

    9 #40 Carol Riggs

    No…no way. She couldn't be seeing this.
    Rylee Spencer made a strangled noise and a comment that was unrepeatable in polite company. She frowned at the closed bathroom door. Was it too much to expect, to get up this morning and be able to get into the bathroom?

    6 #56 Anonymous

    Here’s the thing about new beginnings: they’re not easy, no matter how brave you pretend to be. Take my first day of fifth grade, for example. There I was, gathering my ponytail in one hand while I picked up the scissors with the other, ready to chop off all my hair with one graceful snip. But as soon as I glanced at the photo on my dresser of Anna, I couldn’t help thinking about that day back in third grade when we walked into Sassy Salon. Arm-in-arm, wearing our Best Friends necklaces.

    Monday, June 28, 2010

    19 The Truth about Show versus Tell in Fiction: Fixing Your Problems and Deciding When to Use Narrative Summary

    "Show, don't tell" is probably the most common advice given to writers. But that's not the whole story.

    I've been thinking a lot about this issue in the past weeks. Michael Bourret described how he has been seeing a lot of manuscripts that aren't engaging or engrossing because of too much telling. Mary Kole had a post on "Good Telling" based on an essay she received from Melissa Koosmann. The Plot Whisperer (Martha Alderson) also had a great post on how people may hide strong emotions.

    So I'm going to tell you what I think. And I want to know what you think. Tell me if you agree or disagree, and let me know how much you think style, skill, POV, and genre fall into the equation.

    First, there's a difference between narrative and scene, and each has its role in a novel.
    • A scene takes place in real time, in an idenfied location, and it involves action and/or dialogue between characters. By definition, a scene is "show." It engages the reader, engrosses them, and makes them feel connected to what the characters are feeling.  
    • Narrative summary describes--"tells" about--action or an event, but doesn't show it. Just as you would have a hard time selling a manuscript that's all narrative, you would have a hard time getting a reader to enjoy a book that is all nonstop action. As readers, we need time to breathe and absorb. Narrative serves that purpose.
    For me, deciding whether something should go into scene is part of planning the novel, and it comes down to issues of tension and pacing. If you think you need a scene, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
    • Is the event or information significant enough to the story to warrant a full scene?
    • Does it move the story forward?
    • Does it lead the character toward a turning point or plot point, preferably both, that you want the reader to remember and experience along with the character?
    • Are the events action or reaction? In other words, is something happening, or are the characters making decisions based on something that has already happened?
    • If it is action, does it directly impact the POV character and are you giving her an opportunity to react to it?
    • Is there identifiable conflict between two characters, between what your main character wants and what she needs, or preferably both?
    • Are you providing important information that a reader is likely to skim over, misunderstand, or not care about in narrative form? Remember, the reader doesn't know what you know -- that it's important.
    If the answer to any of those questions is affirmative, then you probably don't want to put information into narrative. This goes double for plot devices such as memories, monologues, and so forth. Flashbacks and visions, well-crafted and used sparingly, may work as scenes, but bear in mind that you have to give characters time to react to them. They work best at turning points in your story, the same way that backstory is ideal at turning points, where information is placed in context of past and present combining to help the character make a decision that will lead to resolution and a new complication.

    Narrative summary, on the other hand, works best for:
    • moving the story forward in time.
    • covering repeating actions so that the one instance you show in scene will stand out.
    • varying the rhythm of the writing.
    • giving the reader a break after a tense scene.
    • briefly covering a character's reaction following a scene.
    • providing information in a way that would fall flat in a scene through lack of conflict.
    • delivering information that's not significant enough to merit a scene.
    • subtly directing attention to an emotion or piece of information that might otherwise get lost.
    • misdirecting attention to manipulate the reader's perception.
    • supporting the reader in the suspension of disbelief.
    • inviting the reader to share a secret.
    One more reason is pure practicality. It always takes more words to show than it does to tell. If your scenes stretch out too long, it may be time for a little narrative summary in the mix.

    Melissa Koosmann's essay was in part based on excerpts from a speech by Arthur A. Levine senior editor Cheryl Klein titled "A Few Things Writers Can Learn from Harry Potter." Klein described how J. K. Rowling uses brief lines of narrative "telling" to carry scene shifts and provide a context through the use of topic sentences. Klein further points out that narrative can misdirect as well as direct.

    Just as the best dialogue doesn't always tell the truth, great narrative summary doesn't always say what you think it does. One of the great examples provided in essay is the line that precedes Harry's unexpected trip to the zoo on Dudley's birthday: "Harry had the best morning he’d had in a long time." Why is this a great line? Because it is followed by Rowling's examples of Harry getting treated like a second class citizen. Instead of merely going on for pages and pages with scenes of how Harry's life sucks, she lets us see that things we would think are horrible, Harry considers a special treat. Rowling's narrative shows the events from Harry's perspective and subtly calls attention to the humble, resilient side of Harry's nature.

    But Rowling's narrative does even more than that. As the essay puts it, there is a supportive web of good telling even within the scenes; Rowling uses it to punctuate and control the reader's takeaway. All of that together lets Rowling's readers know that we are in the hands of a master. We feel we can trust her.

    Especially in fantasy, trust is essential. Nicola Morgan did a post last week about Suspending Disbelief in which she pointed out that a strong narrative voice is critical to allowing readers to believe in your story. And the more incredible the story, the more you must work to earn their trust.

    Which brings us to the little things that build credibility. Showing details and small pieces of business within your scenes is what brings your characters to life. And again, this is crafted into your novel through planning, not through some rote repetition of insert Action A into Dialogue B, add Dialogue Tag C, and punctuate with Action Beat D. As Mary Kole points out, "a lot of convoluted, cliche stuff happens when a writer desperately tries to avoid telling (like hammering hearts and foot-tapping gestures, instead of just saying, “She was nervous,” or “He hated when she was late,” or whatever)."

    To avoid these:
    • make your scenes visual and memorable by setting them somewhere with built-in actions, props, and symbols to use in punctuating the emotional conflict within the scene.
    • know your characters well enough to know how they will react.
    • make other characters react to each other.
    • don't overdrive the words and actions to substitute for emotion.
    • don't make your characters too emotional to substitute for lack of conflict or tension in your scene.
    • do look for fresh ways to show what the character feels or sees or experiences.
    • employ telling stylishly, and use it with confidence in situations where you want to call attention to the narrative, bridge or transition between two scenes, or use irony to show that things aren't what they seem.
    • avoid telling things you've already shown; trust your reader to infer from action and dialogue.
    Half of what I found while searching for articles on "show versus tell" contained "good" examples with cringe-worthy writing. Yes, these examples followed all the rules. They showed instead of told. They avoided adverbs, used strong verbs, provided lots of action beats. But they felt cliched and overdone, as if they were trying too hard to convince us.

    Now I am often guilty of lapsing into schmaltz, and I am an active member of Overwriters Anonymous. The word "look" and its variants appear in my manuscripts too often and must be ruthlessly stamped out. I have do a word search for the word felt as often as the next writer. But I firmly believe that a character's heart shouldn't clench over every set-back. Eyes really can just look at someone or something. They don't always need to gaze, or narrow, or bulge. Tears don't have to be present in every scene. And characters shouldn't coo, croon, sneer, or smirk more than once in a very great while. (And certainly NOT in a dialogue tag!!) Those kinds of stock actions are conveniences to the writer, crutches just as false as the "she was something" or "she felt something" telling pattern. Characters can nod, shake their heads, and do things that are relatively invisible to the reader, but more unusual actions must either be used as a habit you've deliberately given to your character--and only that one character--or reserved for one-time use.

    And I'm not saying that most instances of telling wouldn't be stronger when converted to showing. But after agonizing over the examples in my own writing, and changing most of them, I'm not sure that the obvious cure isn't sometimes worse than the problem. If you can't come up with a unique and original way to express emotion, is it better to stick with simplicity?

    It comes down to this: the rules for writing well are guidelines. Good writing is an art. Like pornography, we know it when we see it, but it is different for each of us. I know that from now on, when evaluating showing versus telling in my own work and that of other writers, before suggesting that something is "telling," I'm going to be careful to see if there is a reason why the writer "told," and evaluate whether there is a pattern in that telling which brings integrity to the book. If the telling results in lack of connection and engagement, that's one thing. But if it doesn't interfere? Should we fix it if it isn't broke?

    As a parting thought, here's the prologue to Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely. There's some telling in this and some bits that almost qualify as telling. So I ask you, does it work? Why do you think there is such a stark contrast between the prologue and the snippet of Chapter One that I'm putting in immediately after? How does that effect what we take away as readers and how we view the entry into the real world in Chapter One. Rewrite the prologue, if you like, to eliminate the telling, and see if it works as well--or if the magic falls apart.

    The Summer King knelt before her. "Is this what you freely choose, to risk winter's chill?"
    She watched him—the boy she'd fallen in love with these past weeks. She'd never dreamed he was something other than human, but now his skin glowed as if flames flickered just under the surface, so strange and beautiful she couldn't look away. "It's what I want."
    "You understand that if you are not the one, you'll carry the Winter Queen's chill until the next mortal risks this? And you'll warn her not to trust me?" He paused, glancing at her with pain in his eyes.
    She nodded.
    "If she refuses me, you will tell the next girl and the next"—he moved closer—"and not until one accepts, will you be free of the cold."
    "I do understand." She smiled as reassuringly as she could, and then she walked over to the hawthorn bush. The leaves brushed against her arms as she bent down and reached under it.
    Her finger wrapped around the Winter Queen's staff. It was a plain thing, worn as if countless hands had clenched the wood. It was those hands, those other girls who'd stood where she now did, she didn't want to think about.
    She stood, hopeful and afraid.
    Behind her, he moved closer. The rustling of trees grew almost deafening. The brightness from his skin, his hair, intensified. Her shadow fell on the ground in front of her.
    He whispered, "Please. Let her be the one. …"
    She held the Winter Queen's staff—and hoped. For a moment she even believed, but then ice pierced her, filled her like shards of glass in her veins.
    She screamed his name: "Keenan!"
    She stumbled toward him, but he walked away, no longer glowing, no longer looking at her.
    Then she was alone—with only a wolf for companionship—waiting to tell the next girl what a folly it was to love him, to trust him.
    From Chapter One
    "Four-ball, side pocket." Aislinn pushed the cue forward with a short, quick thrust; the ball dropped into the pocket with a satisfying clack.
    Her playing partner, Denny, motioned toward a harder shot, a bank shot.
    She rolled her eyes. "What? You in a hurry?"
    He pointed with the cue.
    "Right." Focus and control, that's what it's all about. She sank the two.
    He nodded once, as close as he got to praise.
    Aislinn circled the table, paused, and chalked the cue. Around her the cracks of balls colliding, low laughter, even the endless stream of country and blues from the jukebox kept her grounded in the real world: the human world, the safe world. It wasn't the only world, no matter how much Aislinn wanted it to be. But it hid the other world—the ugly one—for brief moments.
    "Three, corner pocket." She sighted down the cue. It was a good shot.
    Focus. Control.
    Then she felt it: warm air on her skin. A faery, its too-hot breath on her neck, sniffed her hair. His pointed chin pressed against her skin. All the focus in the world didn't make Pointy-Face's attention tolerable.
    She scratched: the only ball that dropped was the cue ball.
    Denny took the ball in hand. "What was that?"
    "Weak-assed?" She forced a smile, looking at Denny, at the table, anywhere but at the horde coming in the door. Even when she looked away, she heard them: laughing and squealing, gnashing teeth and beating wings, a cacophony she couldn't escape. They were out in droves now, freer somehow as evening fell, invading her space, ending any chance of the peace she'd sought.
    Happy writing,


    About the Author

    Martina Boone is the author of Compulsion and Persuasion, out now in the romantic Southern Gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. Illusion, the final book, will be out in October of 2016. Martina is also the founder of, a three-time Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She's on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.

    11 Conference Round-Up: Words in the Woods

    This week's conference round-up comes to us from the wonderful Carol Grannick, who recently attended the Words in the Woods retreat. Also in attendance were Award Winning Author Kathi Appelt, HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray Editor Kristin Daly, and Foundry Literary + Media Agent Stephen Barbara. If you have recently attended or plan on attending an SCBWI event and would like to share your experience with us, please let us know!
    Because I’m a writer who works hard at staying resilient, and because I help other writers to do the same via blogging and counseling, I’m always searching for experiences that fuel resiliency. Positive emotions created by optimistic thinking (learned or natural) and intellectual and emotional nurturing do just that.

    The Words In The Woods Lakeside Retreat, planned and executed with exquisite finesse by the Illinois-SCBWI Downstate committee of children’s writers John Bown, Louann Brown, Sara Latta, Toni Leahy and Alice McGinty.

    I’ll share some brief moments here, even though it seemed that absolutely every moment was special. I hope the concepts and information shared spark not only your creativity and energy, but your desire to find a fabulous conference and do everything in your power to attend.

    Words in the Woods offered a perfect format of large-group presentations, small-group critique sessions, time to write, critique group meetings with our guest author, editor and agent, and informal one-on-one conversations, thanks to the generosity of the guests and respect of the participants. Why does the conference format matter? Because it stimulates the brain in different ways, creating opportunities for different types of experiences. If you’re conference-searching, look for a format that’s a good match for you!

    A lot of us took in the light Kathi Appelt shed on character during the opening workshop by introducing the concept of Controlling Belief. Many of us are used to thinking about our main characters’ occupations, how well they perform those occupations, their goals, and what is at stake if they don’t reach the goals.

    Kathi stressed the importance of those aspects, but said that when we ask a different question, “What does my character believe?” we plunge more deeply into our character’s inner life. “And ask yourself,” Kathi said, “What your character’s main role is. How well does your character believe he or she is performing in that role?” Your character’s overarching controlling belief doesn’t have to be true…but it does propel your character through the story.

    I could feel the impact of asking this question as Kathi spoke…And I know I wasn’t the only writer in the room to feel it. It was a light-bulb/goosebump moment.

    And since the concept isn’t exactly non-complex to think about, Kathi helped us along with some examples. In KEEPER, her recently-released novel, her main character’s controlling belief is that her mother is a mermaid. In SKIPPYJON JONES, Skippyjon believes he is much more than just a Siamese Cat. Romeo and Juliet offer this controlling belief: “I can’t live without you.”

    Kristin Daly, editor at Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins Children’s gave a powerful argument for creating emotional, lovable, layered characters that readers like – and then “putting them in peril”. Action is fabulous, Kristin said, but without showing character reactions and choices in the face of obstacles, the deep humanity of our characters is lost.

    Stephen Barbara, Literary Agent at Foundry Literary + Media, gave an in-depth presentation about a topic near and dear and difficult – the anti-hero. How do you pull it off? How do you create vulnerability in, and empathy for, a difficult, misbehaving, even somewhat evil, character? Stephen patiently highlighted a number of techniques from current children’s and adult authors, including reader direct-address, and characters justifying their own behavior. Stephen recommended BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver and Lynne Jonell’s EMMY AND THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING RAT for great examples of managing the creation of fabulous anti-heroes.

    As the weekend unfolded, we covered Voice, Dialogue, Plot and questions about the business in general. If I had to pick a few more points to share (and I do!), they’d be these:

    • Voice: What would the ‘soundtrack’ of your story be? What musical tone would match your character’s feelings?

    • “Don’t Be Afraid”: to play around with voice, dialogue (to get it fast & sharp); plot; to revise; to make your characters suffer; to be patient so that you only submit the very best manuscript you can.

    • Learn and follow the etiquette of the business – manners in person and in query/cover letters matter.

    Honestly, Words In The Woods was a bundle of abundant information, support and encouragement! It fueled my memory about how nourishing a good conference can be, and triggered a fabulous week of work. Now, where should I go next?

    Have you had conferences that push you into high-creativity mode, too?
    Carol Grannick is a children’s author and clinical social worker in private practice. Her stories have appeared in CRICKET and HIGHLIGHTS, and she writes picture books and middle grade novels. At her blog, THE IRREPRESSIBLE WRITER and in her private practice, she helps writers build and maintain resilience for writing and life.

    Friday, June 25, 2010

    17 Best Articles This Week for Writers 6/25/2010

    Another great week in the blogosphere, along with some timely and excellent trends in blog topics. We're a little shy on contests that you can enter in the coming weeks though. Please let us know if you hear of anything to add. We wish we could visit every blog, but we can't. So if you come across a fantastic post, please share it with us.

    • Conference Success Stories [DFW Writer's Conference] Three authors tell how they landed an agent through a conference.
    • Pre-published [Dystel & Goderich] Michael Bourret provides a reminder of the things you give up once you are published: time to explore your craft, and discovering new characters and plot-twists by happenstance without having to color within the lines of an outline.
    • Why No Writer Knows What He's Doing [Wordplay] K.M. Weiland explains why even a Pulitzer Prize winner is an apprentice when it comes to "this unexplainable magic [that] can somehow pour from our unworthy fingertips and create something that will touch the lives of others and be remembered beyond our own lifetimes."
    • The Secret to Getting Published [Coming Down the Mountain] You have to want it more than anything else. Karen tells us what getting published means, and what it doesn't mean.
    • Sunshine Shouldn't Stop Us [The Writing Bug] A little motivation for sticking to a daily writing schedule courtesy of the post office.
    • How to Call Your Must When You Need Her [The Creative Penn] Guest post from Jim Wawro with four sure-fire steps to creativity.
    The Craft of Writing
    • Creating a New World: Inside the Mind of Author R.J. Anderson [Inkpop] What does it take to write compelling fantasy? The author of WAYFARER provides a few things to consider.
    • The Central Action of a Story [Murderati via @ElizabethCraig] Alexandra Sokoloff discusses seeding the "PLAN" to let the reader know that you're in the driver's seat.
    • The Plan [Alexandra Sokoloff] Learn how to spot and analyze the main character's plan to assess on whether yours will be strong enough. Contains links to analyses of a number of blockbuster films.
    • Stimulus First, Then Reaction [] Literary agent Mary Kole notes that an error she commonly sees in the manuscripts submitted to her is one in which writers try to build suspense by placing a reaction to an event or trigger before revealing the event to the reader.
    • The Hero's Journey Part 11: Resurrection [Justus R. Stone] The next part in his very thorough series, this article covers the last threshold before the hero returns to the ordinary word a changed individual.
    • The Rule of Twenty [Upstart Crowe Literary Agency] Michael Sterns shares a rule he first heard from Bruce Coville that can help you weed out unoriginal plot lines, characters or names from your manuscript until you dig down to the shining, unique ideas you're capable of reaching.
    • Tips from the Masters of Writing [C. Patrick Schulze] Sage advice via quotes with a little bit of analysis thrown in.
    • Meta-Vampires [Dystel & Goderich] Michael Bourret lets wanna-be vamp author dinosaurs illustrate the tell-don't-show trend he's been seeing in submissions lately. Excellent!
    • When to Tell Instead of Show [] Mary Kole shares an essay from Melissa Koosmann about "Good Telling" as illustrated by J.K. Rowling. Completely brilliant.
    • Plot Trick: Showing Character Emotion, Not Telling  [Plot Whisperer] Sometimes deep emotion is barely discernable, but it is always there. Martha Alderson recommends "writers keep a notepad and pen with them at all times in coffee shops, at the beach, waiting at bus stops to jot down not only the traditional snippets of overhead dialogue but to note the behaviors that indicate emotion in the passer-bys."
    • Parentification [The Character Therapist] Jeannie Campbell covers the psychology of a very common element in YA fiction.
    • Suspending Disbelief [Help I Need A Publisher] Consistency is key, plus reason and strong narrative voice.
    • Inherent Contradictions in Character [Talk to You Universe via @ElizabethCraig] Juliette Wade explains an important ingredient in creating compelling characters for your novel.
    • Peer Critique Submissions Open Until Tomorrow [Write It Sideways] Submit the first 250 words of your adult or YA fantasy, literary, or mystery for critique. Awesome opportunity!
    • Toughening Up [Jody Hedlund] Learning to accept feedback is a necessary part of the process of becoming a published author.
    To Market
    • May Query Stats [Caryn Johnson Literary Agency] Elana Roth lists her overall query responses for the month -- how many, what type, etc.
    • Basic Information on Query Letters [Folio Literary Management via Victoria Mixon] Literary agent Jeff Kleinman discusses how writers psyche themselves out and the possible obstacles we face when writing a query letter. And then he shows us how to overcome them.
    • Synopsis Writing Made Easy [The Kill Zone via @JaySubject] The synopsis in five easy steps.
    • 7 Things That Can Go Wrong with Your Query Letter [A. Victoria Mixon] Fun, and unfortunately all too true.
    • Luxury of Choice [Jennifer Represents] Jennifer Laughran (@Literaticat) from the Andrea Brown Literary Agency reminds writers to notify all agents who have your fulls when an offer comes in.
    • The Politics of Offers [Caren Johnson Literary Agency] Agent Elana Roth (@ElanaRoth) gives  you an agent's perspective on what you can do before making a decision after you receive the call, how long you have, and more about what goes into getting the call in the first place.
    • Why I Write Vague Rejection Letters [Nathan Bransford] Lit agent with Curtis Browne explains that it is often impossible to articulate what makes him not love a manuscript enough to take it on.
    • Talk about the Money [Pub Rants] Agent Kristin Nelson discusses how much you can expect for an advance by genre.
    • Pitching to Agents: A Survivor's Story [] Shannon Messenger provides tips for pitching at a conference.
    • Agent Spotlight: Adriana Dominguez [Literary Rambles] Casey McCormick provides ALL the lowdown on a great agent with Full Circle Literary.
    • How Not to Be an Email Goober [Don't pet me] Fantastic suggestions on how to avoid #queryfails because you hit the send button too early.
    Trends & Issues
    • To Kiera Cass, author of The Siren, for having The Selection and it's WHOLE TRILOGY picked up by HarperCollins in a fantastic deal. For those not familiar with the story, Kiera self-pubbed her first novel, The Siren after not finding an agent interested in it, then quickly found representation by Elana Roth of the Caren Johnson Literary Agency for her second book. The Siren was voted Most Underappreciated YA Novel in our recent poll - so there are a lot of people who believe this is well-deserved and are sharing Kiera's happy dance.
    • To Kaitlin Ward for landing an agent for her YA work!
    • To Neil Gaiman for the Carnegie Medal awarded to The Graveyard Book!
    • Christina Meredith and the Chudney Agency for the sale of Counting Cars to Greenwillow.
    • Brenda Stanley for the sale of I Am Nuchu to Westside Books.
    • Name the Event Contest [Coming Down the Mountain] Help Karen rename the We're Readers & Writers Not Salesmen So Leave Us Alone salad event and win manuscript critiques, promotion, and more.
    Just for Smiles

    Other Weekly Round-Ups:
    Did we miss anything? Anyone? Please leave a comment!

    Happy reading and joyous writing,

    Martina & Marissa

    Thursday, June 24, 2010

    21 NEW! Line-By-Line Contest: Round One Critique Clinic

    If you entered our Line-By-Line contest but didn't make it past Round One, we have an amazing announcement for you! Inspired by Michele Shaw's post today about how losing the Line-by-line contest helped her see the problems with her novel opening, we have decided to extend critiques to those who need them the most.

    A number of incredibly generous authors have agreed to host a critique clinic for the 25 who didn't make it through to Round Two. If you are one of those individuals, and you're interested in participating, post your first five lines in the comments of this post by Monday evening at 6:00 p.m. We will put them up on Tuesday for input from our panel of authors and other writers interested in helping you make your opening more compelling.

    We'll be posting bios of the participating authors on Tuesday. Some of them are already scheduled to do the other contest critiques, but we have some exciting additions, too. Don't miss this opportunity!

    Happy editing,

    Martina & Marissa

    69 Line-by-line Novel Opening Contest: Round One Winners

    Congratulations to the 75 Round One winners in our Line-by-line contest. Our judge, agent Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, had a hard time eliminating 25 of the original entries based on the first sentence submitted. In the end, the reason for elimination was that the 25 entries she dropped just didn't make her feel compelled to read the second sentence.

    In accordance with our rules, the following contestants are invited to submit the first two sentences for the next round. Entries must be submitted via comments to this post by Tuesday 6/29/10. If desired, you may edit your first sentence to correct grammar or punctuation, but please submit it together with the second sentence.

    Congrats to everyone who entered. Remember, each of the top 25 will receive some form of feedback from Natalie Fischer or one of our ten fabulous author volunteers. And good luck in the next round!

    #1 Kat Zhang

    Adie and I were born into the same body, our souls’ ghostly fingers entwined before we gasped our very first breath.

    #2 Creepy Query Girl

    ‘How do you punish someone who’s already dead?’

    #3 Pam Harris

    "It's not that I'm ugly or anything."

    #4 JayceeKaycee

    The shriek of my cell phone in the quiet classroom meant only one thing: the killer had found us again.

    #5 Natalie Aguirre

    “You don’t know what it’s like not knowing if you’re like your real mom or dad,” Jasmine said.

    #6 Christine

    Mary Kate Stewart secretly hoped that her Calculus teacher would get hit by a taco truck.

    #7 Hanna C. Howard

    I am told it is wonderful to be beautiful.

    #8 Stina Lindenblatt

    It was like leaping off a ten-meter platform when you’re terrified of heights.

    #10 Robyn Campbell

    Anna threw open the barn door and smiled at Fancy, who stamped her foot and stuck her head over the stall opening.

    #11 L.J. Boldyrev

    There’s a dead girl in the trunk and all I can think about is how white the trees are.

    #12 Marquita Hockaday

    I’m in hell.

    #13 Sangay Glass

    Yeah, it was gross, but with only seconds to spare Aleksandra really had no choice.

    #14 cchant

    My hope of living a normal life in Lindenville faded faster than my fifteen dollar jeans the moment I got to the school bus stop.

    #15 Dunnes in UK

    Ellen’s forehead cracked painfully against the window as her Aunt’s ancient pick-up hit a huge hole in the questionable country road, waking her from the most bizarre dream.

    #16 Janice

    Ann stood in the foyer, pulling off her gloves and then her coat, and considered how little the war had changed things at home.

    #17 Courtney Lowe

    "Screams ripped me from sleep."

    #18 Jenn Fitzgerald

    Madame Bhut’s Finishing School in the town of Whut was known across Amalthea as a respectable place to send your daughter if you were hoping to marry her to a gentleman; not for producing evil queens with ideas of world domination.

    #20 Heather

    Amidst the never-ending fires and screams of defiant terror, Abby collapsed to the ground, feet twisting inward, eyes unwilling to stay open, and desperately wishing to pass out.

    #21 Buffy Andrews

    I have a secret.

    #22 Margay

    "I always knew my name would get me into trouble one day."

    #24 Natalie C. Markey

    Water churned all around like a water sprout encasing me in a prison.

    #25 C David

    The old van in the woods had been rooted in middle school lore since ages past.

    #26 jamilamosi

    My hands went numb as the officer gently told me the news.

    #27 salarsenッ

    The test began like all the rest, although the dead corpse look was different.

    #28 Cambria Dillon

    Whoever said cell phones made life easier was full of BS.

    #29 Leah Odze Epstein

    The day my parents tricked Rachel into signing herself into the "Program," they tricked me, too, bringing me with them as a decoy.

    #30 Ebyss

    Ellyssa, a.k.a. Subject 62, sprinted through the dark alley after escaping from her long-term captors who she’d thought of as family for eighteen years.

    #31 Holly Dodson

    Mandy Samkirk had no warning of the life-changing events about to unfold; only the lingering worry from a recurring dream that nagged at her thoughts.

    #33 Heather Trent Beers

    The last day of fifth grade should mark the beginning of a fun-filled summer for a girl.

    #34 amongdahlias

    Riding to school with Max Holden is only slightly less traumatizing than riding the big yellow bus.

    #36 A. Grey

    Life is so much easier without underwear.

    #38 Julie Musil

    This day is going to suck.

    #41 Valerie

    I died before I was even born.

    #42 Jess

    Unfortunately for the Fredalia Tigers, Regina Brinkwell chose a crucial moment during the last soccer game of the season to lick her lips.

    #43 Angela Ackerman

    When Mom and Dad started throwing around the D word, I never imagined an old folk’s home would become my Post Divorce Relocation.

    #44 Christine

    Was he following her, or was she being paranoid?

    #45 Tara

    My name is Rufus William Gunther Chase, but people who know me call me Spoon.

    #46 CL

    What kind of animal sounds like a woman singing?

    #47 Margaret Nichols

    The bonfire in the middle of the grand plaza of New Tikal sent sparks up to greet the low-hanging stars; the stars Mau B'ah-Pakal hoped were still speaking to him, because no one else was.

    #50 Traci Van Wagoner

    My hand hovered over the latch, my stomach churning.

    #52 Marilyn Hilton

    If you're marked for trouble, it will trail you like a homeless dog, looking and acting like love but smelling like the shady bend of the river.

    #54 shanini3

    There was no mistaking the darkness on the eastern horizon; they were coming.

    #55 Melissa Gill

    The truck hit Milo.

    #57 Sheila

    Jacob shook the bamboo bars of his cage, but they held fast against his skinny arms.

    #58 Tracy

    Dearest Mother;

    I know you’ve been wanting to know the latest gossip from this end of the underworld, but the truth is, that there hasn’t been much going on since his Evil Lordship succumbed to death by piano.

    #59 JD Spikes

    It wasn't the first time a good idea had come back to bite me in the ass, but i was afraid it might be the last.

    #60 authorwithin

    The cries from a flight of ravens echoed through the forest as they struggled to escape from the trees behind me.

    #61 Ara Burklund

    "Homo sapiens sluttiwhen drunkus--the subspecies to which I apparently belong."

    #62 Liz

    Freedom is feeling free, and separate ain’t equal, no matter what the law says.

    #63 brenda

    If this were a movie, you'd be hearing Elvis music right now, the soundtrack to my life.

    #65 Suzanne Lilly

    Jynx first found out about her father’s secret life by accident.

    #66 Christine

    Dragons are actually more curious than cats.

    #67 shelley

    "I'm never getting out of here."

    #70 Amanda P.

    Whispers of an outsider’s arrival have been flying between the mouths and ears of the Forsaken all day.

    #71 mshatch

    For Lucy, it began with a package; a small, unobtrusive, brown-paper wrapped package.

    #72 PaigeC

    We stood side by side in the dark, me holding a pack of matches, my best friend holding the gas can.

    #73 Angela Ackerman

    Not many people look down at a dead goldfish and wonder if that’s how they looked the day they died.

    #74 jrmosher

    Artificial lights brightened beneath the protective red dome, giving the illusion of morning over the campus of Red Cloak School.

    #76 Deb

    Crowded, loud, annoying.

    #78 Kelly Hashway

    I’d heard of signs of the apocalypse, but I didn’t know that one of them was a crazy guy wandering out of a forest and into my favorite hangout.

    #79 Renee Pace

    I am suffocating inside my plastic lined steel barred cage; dying with the thickening silence and quiet sobbing coming from the other room.

    #81 Carol Riggs

    Day #236: Status log…Dark Troy emerges from the rest station, yet finds himself still stranded in the High Desert with the zombie villagers.

    #85 Angela Townsend

    Sassy Smit was seven years old the afternoon she found Leroy Jebber dead.

    #86 Alison Wells

    First off, I just want to say I did not invite the aliens to drop into my backyard.

    #87 Angela Townsend

    Gloomy shadows crept across the tired oak floor, stealing what little light peered in through a set of stained glass windows.

    #88 Bonnie Staring

    I stared at the smoke drifting up from Erika’s fingertips.

    #89 ann

    As we follow Jax in the dark up the wide stone steps to the library, I feel like the marble lions on either side are somehow watching and will keep us safe, no matter what.

    #90 Emily Casey

    Ghosts can be so rude sometimes

    #91 Jennifer

    Don’t let them lock you in the closet, Nancy!

    #92 andyland

    "Shit, I may as well be dead," my mother said the day I killed her.

    #94 Melissa Hed

    Angela Fortunata woke up with a thump and a whack.

    #95 Stefanie

    The newspapers all said it was an accident.

    #97 Annie McElfresh

    Life lines.

    #98 Authoress

    Kate Raddish lived on an island and could not swim, which made her an anomaly from the start.

    #100 Jordyn

    In seventh grade math they taught us that a triangle is the sturdiest shape, stronger than rectangles or pentagons or anything else.

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010

    19 WOW Wednesday: Michele Corriel on Never Giving Up on Publication

    It's time for another Wow Wednesday, and today's guest blogger is Michele Corriel, an award-winning journalist, freelance writer, book reviewer and--as of next month--debut author. Michele's middle grade novel, Fairview Felines: A Newspaper Mystery, comes out in July 2010, and her debut picture book, Weird Rocks, will be out this fall. She is also the Regional Advisor for SCBWI's Montana Chapter and conducts writing workshops throughout the year. She is represented by The McVeigh Agency. Keep reading for her insight on getting published....

    Giving Up Is Unforgiveable

    by Michele Corriel

    If I were to give one word of advice to writers trying to get his or her book published I would say don’t give up. I recently heard a quote that I LOVE:

    “Failure is inevitable but giving up is unforgiveable.”

    Failure is inevitable. Of course it is. I should know. I could probably repaper at least one room of my house with my years of rejection letters. So, yes, failing is really quite easy. It’s inevitable. It’s inevitable because we learn from our mistakes. We learn to write better queries. We learn how to meet agents and to go to conferences. We learn to be better readers and we learn to be better writers. And we do it all by failing miserably.

    But then one day, the phone rings and it’s an editor who loves your manuscript and wants to publish it. And you start to realize that all those years of hard work, all those rejection letters that you cried over, all those hours, days, months spent alone in front of your computer talking to yourself didn’t mean you were crazy – it meant you hung there. And finally you’ve climbed one mountain and are looking out at the world from the top.

    It may not be the highest mountain. It may not have the best views. But you got there.

    Of course once you’re there you can see all these other mountains you want to climb – higher ones, prettier ones – but now you know you can do it. If you keep your feet on the trail and put one foot in front of the other, you can make it to your destination.

    For me the important thing is know it’s possible. Because I am relentless. And I say that with some pride. (Of course, some people don’t think of that as a good quality.)

    Okay – so, in brief, here’s my how I am living proof that going to conferences, doing my homework, and not giving up got me two book contracts in one week. (Yes, two in one week!!)

    I’d written this funny mystery and I really loved my main character, Thomas Weston, a hard boiled reporter with newspaper ink in his veins. I rewrote the manuscript at least four times, and I was still getting rejections letters. But one day I got a rejection letter that suggested I change the ending. So I did. Then I took it to a conference where I met the publisher of Blooming Tree Press. I told her about the book and she asked me to send it to her. Nearly a year had passed and I hadn’t heard anything. Then one day the phone rang and it was Miriam Hees saying she wanted to buy my book!

    Later that same week, I got another phone call from Mountain Press about a non-fiction picture book I’d sent to them two days before. They wanted to buy that book! Two offers for two different books in one week after YEARS AND YEARS of rejections.

    So just let me just say this: Failure is inevitable. It is. We are human. And because we’re human we make mistakes, we fail. But we also learn. And that’s the important thing.

    But giving up IS unforgiveable. If that manuscript is sitting in your computer or on your desk no one is going to see it. It is just that. Sitting there. So do your homework, accept the fact that you will fail. But don’t give up. You will succeed.

    Michelle Corriel
    Fairview Felines: A Newspaper Mystery
    Blooming Tree/Tire Swing Press
    July 2010

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010

    12 Self-Publishing Q & A: The Answers

    Last week, you gave us your questions about self-publishing. And this week, YA author Kiera Cass has the answers. Kiera has a great foundation for comparison between starting through the self-publishing route and going the tradition publishing method via an agent. Her first novel, THE SIREN, was self-pubbed, while her second novel is currently being offered by the Caren Johnson Literary Agency. her agent Elana Roth of the Caren Johnson Literary Agency just sold (6/22/10) her second novel to HarperTeen in a three-book deal!!!! Congratulations, Kiera! Her story of perseverence is amazing and inspiring.

    Hello all! I hope that I got all the big questions, and if anyone needs to follow up, please feel free to email me at kierasfriends at I can be a bit slow sometimes, but I will answer.

    Q: Why did you self-publish?
    A: Mostly because I’m impatient. I did go through several rounds of query letters and got a few nibbles from some agents, but no one fell in love with The Siren. No one said my concept or writing was awful, and I was too in love with the characters to not do something, so I went with self-publishing. It was something I’d considered from the very beginning, and since I already had a following, it worked out pretty well.

    Q: What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?
    A: The big pro is control. No one can make you edit out things you love, you get to choose your cover art, and you get to be hands on with the inside design. The speed is also helpful. Traditional publishing usually takes a year and a half from the submission of the manuscript to the book making it to the shelves. If you’re writing something time sensitive, that can be a little too long. Also, if you’re planning to market to a small group, self-publishing might be something to consider.

    The big con is the immediate assumption that what you’ve written is crap. Because anyone can do it, there’s A LOT of bad stuff out there, and you will be lumped in that group. It’s also damn near impossible to get your book into a store. Independents will be more flexible, but you can pretty much kiss Barnes and Noble or Books-A-Million goodbye. You have to rely on online sales, and if you can’t make that work, it’s tough. It’s also a lot of work to do on your own. Even with traditional publishing, you’re going to be responsible for giving your book legs, but it’s magnified when there’s no one there to back you up.

    Q: If I want to self-publish, how do I even do that? Where do I go?
    A: Do your research! Since you’re paying for a service, you should be getting exactly what you want. Have a plan and know what you need. I went with iUniverse because their fees were very straightforward and their services were the ones I needed. In fact, they let me trade services I didn’t need for ones I did and expedited my printing. iUniverse is a print on demand company, so you don’t have to pay to have thousands of books printed (which some places ask you to do), and then not know if you’ll be able to sell them (do you have garage space for ones you can’t?). I paid the original printing fee, and that was it. They make money at the same time I do: when I make a sale. If you choose to go with someone who asks you to pay per printed book, I’m very sorry, but I have no wisdom for you. Personally, I don’t think I could have done it that way.

    Q: What about going digital?
    A: Lots of places will have that as an option, and that’s really up to you. Sometimes it’s simply part of the package you get. I’d say if you had to add it on to not bother with it. That’s just my opinion.

    Q: Who was your editor?
    A: Me. And I was literally changing things until the very last second. Most companies will offer editing services (and tons of other options) for an extra fee, and now that I’ve been my own editor, I would suggest springing for a real one. It was too stressful. You can always look up independent editors who may be less expensive or are local so you can actually meet with them. Recently a friend of mine started a business specifically for editing with self-publishing authors. Check out, it might be a good home for you.

    Q: How did self-publishing effect querying agents? Did it hurt you in the long run?
    A: After I decided to self-publish, I didn’t try to pitch The Siren to any other agents. To me it was a done deal. However, I did ask everyone I knew to go buy the book on Amazon on the same day. If you self-publish, DO THIS! It helps get your book up the rankings so that people who don’t know who you are see your book. For me, this worked so well that two agents saw the book and asked to read the manuscript for possible representation. Again, neither of them fell in love with it, and that was fine. In my mind, it was out there, and I was happy. But it does happen that way for some people. The Shack, Still Alice, and Eragon were all originally self-published and picked up by traditional printing houses. I asked my agent, and her feeling (and mine as well) is if you’ve already self-published your book, then that’s it. It’s out there and available, and agents would rather have a fresh idea. If you’ve got remarkable sales, then maybe you could try querying it again, but you’ll probably just need to count that book as a learning experience and move on to something new.

    I did decide to go the traditional way for my new project, The Selection, and I expected to have as difficult a time pitching it as I did with The Siren. My experience was much different this time around. I think the timing just happened to be right, and I now have an agent who is pretty much walking awesomeness. When I queried this time, I was upfront about self-publishing. I think you have to be. Your relationship with your agent is hopefully one you’ll have for a long time, and it should start out honestly.

    And while we’re on the topic of agents, if you’re going to start querying, please go to, stop by their website, and/or follow them on twitter. They tell you exactly what they want if you only listen.

    Q: How many copies did you sell of The Siren?
    A: I don’t have an exact number right now. If I did, I’m not sure I’d share. I will tell you that the average self-published book doesn’t make it to 100 sales. I went well beyond that, but nothing close to what a traditionally published book could do.

    Q: What did you do for promotion? Any suggestions?
    A: Whew. Okay. I made a website before my book was published. You should have one. I promoted The Siren on my YouTube channel, Facebook, and (now) twitter. I asked everyone I knew to buy it at once for the sake of sales rankings. I went and found book blogging sites and sent them free digital copies of my book to review. Do not underestimate virtual followings. I researched book festivals and got into their author’s tents. There are TONS of festivals out there, and it’s a great way to meet people. I had contests that helped promote my book (awards for people who left reviews on Amazon, a Facebook flair making competition). I got a local independent store to carry my book. I considered doing a small tour of independents, but I was getting to be very pregnant, and it wasn’t possible. I made a store, so people could sport Siren goodies if they wanted to… there are tons of things you can do. Be creative.

    Q: Would you do it again?
    A: No, I don’t think so. Not because I had a bad experience, but because I’ve had a taste of what it’s like to have a team now, and I couldn’t go back.

    Q: Any other advice?
    A: Again, do your research. There are quite a few places you can go with (check out Writer’s Digest List for 2009 so know what you want, and find the right place for you.

    Work on your platform (your social presence). You need to have a website, at least one social networking site that fans could have access to, and should align yourself with organizations that have something in common with the topic you’re writing about.

    Keep track of yourself. Get a Google alert for when your book is mentioned places and watch your Amazon, B&N, and BAM rank numbers. It helps to know when people are buzzing about you and when you make sales.

    For goodness sake, since you have control over your cover art, please don’t do something ugly. Actual picture with naked people you drew in Paint over it with a random rocket in the background is NOT okay.

    And have fun. The reason you’re doing this is because it’s your dream to publish a book, right? So enjoy it. If every step feels like death to you, back out now.

    Monday, June 21, 2010

    23 Conference Round-Up: WriteOnCon

    What's better than attending a kid lit writer's conference? How about attending one for free right from the comfort of your own home? Last week, WriteOnCon was announced. Here's what you need to know:
    • WriteOnCon will be completely internet-based using various forms of social networking.
    • Registration opens July 1st.
    • The actual conference will run August 10-12
    • Expect big names, such as Catherine Drayton, Steven Malk, Michelle Andelman, Suzie Townsend, Mark McVeigh, Joanna Stampfel-Volpe, Kathleen Ortiz, Lindsay Eland, Dan Ehrenhaft, Mandy Hubbard, Daisy Whitney, Lindsay Leavitt, Josh Berk, Anica Rissi, Jodi Meadows.
    And who do you thank for this awesome conference? Check out this excerpt from the WriteOnCon website:

    Jamie Harrington, Elana Johnson, Casey McCormick, Shannon Messenger, Lisa and Laura Roecker, and Jen Stayrook started this project with a single goal: paying it forward. We’d all heard so many writers tell us they wished they could attend a conference, but simply didn’t have the time or money. So we decided to bring a conference to them—a free online conference that anyone could attend in the convenience of their own homes. And so, WriteOnCon was born. (Rated MC-18: for main characters 18 and under.)

    Thanks, ladies! Don't miss the video they have created:

    Do you plan on *attending*? We'd love to know! Post your thoughts about this idea and whether or not you'll be taking part to comments!

    Happy networking!
    Marissa & Martina

    Friday, June 18, 2010

    17 Best Articles This Week for Writers 6/18/2010

    Want to know what's happening around the blogosphere? Here's our weekly round-up of new articles and some older things we happened to find on our travels. Do you have an announcement, article, or good news we missed? Please comment and let us know!


    The Craft of Writing
    To Market

    • To Lisa McMann on the news about the WAKE movie deal. Simply awesome.
    • To Rachel Hawkins on the Hyperion Deal for REBEL BELLE in a 3-book deal.
    • Rachel Renee Russell for the sale of DORK DIARIES Books 3 & 4 to Aladdin.
    • Elizabeth Miles for the debut sale of her paranormal trilogy FURY to Simon Pulse.
    • Lisa Bigelow for her deal for STARTING FROM HERE with Marshall Cavendish.
    • Georgina Bloomberg and Cathy Hapka for their sale of THE A CIRCUIT -- a YA horse series YAY!!!!
    • Cat Hellisen for the sale of her debut fantasy SEA ROSE RED to Farrar, Straus.

    Trends and Issues
    • What If? On Indie Publishing [The Creative Penn] Guest blogger Amy Edelman from Indie Reader poses (and answers) some questions about and the importance and future of independent publishing.
    • Libraries are the Torch of the World [Libba Bray] "Libraries are a force for good. They wear capes. They fight evil. They don’t get upset when you don’t send them a card on their birthdays. (Though they will charge you if you’re late returning a book.) They serve communities. The town without a library is a town without a soul." And budget cuts across the country are robbing us of these magical gateways to knowledge and other worlds. Read this article to see how you can help!
    • Paranormal Lives On [Dystel & Goderich] Attention all YA writers! Check it out.
    Twitter, Blogging and Social Media
    Just for Smiles

    Other Weekly Round-Ups:
    Did we miss anything? Anyone? Please leave a comment!

    Happy reading and joyous writing,

    Martina & Marissa