Thursday, March 31, 2016

0 Red Light/Green Light Contest Schedule and Announcing Our Agent Judge!

Happy Thursday, everyone!

Here are the details for our upcoming contest, which we announced last week!

First, the SCHEDULE:

On April 7th: We will open for submissions! There will be one submission window at Noon Eastern (9:00 am Pacific), which will close once we have the first 30 entries--25 entrants and 5 alternates--so be ready if you want a spot! Another submission window will open at 3:00 pm Eastern (Noon Pacific), and will accept the first 30 entries--again, 25 entrants and 5 alternates--at that time before closing. Please be sure to follow the rules and use the entry form correctly to ensure your spot in the contest.

Here's the link to the submission form:

On April 14th: We will post 50 first sentences on the website, so everyone can see who made it! While our agent judge is reading and making his or her selection of the top 25, YOU can give your opinions on the best first sentences in the comments section!

On April 21st: The top 25 will be announced! These 25 entries will be posted on the website with their first and second sentences.

On April 28th: The top 10 will be announced! You'll see the first pages of each of the top 10 entries, shared on the blog.

On May 5th: The top 5 will be announced! You'll see the pitches of the top 5 entrants (the agent will see these too, along with their first chapters to determine the winner).

On May 12th: The winner will be announced!

Next, here are the RULES:

1. We will take the first 50 entries submitted via the form we'll be posting on April 7th, as described in the schedule above. 25 will be from the first entry window, and 25 from the second entry window.

2. Any currently unagented person may enter this contest with an unpublished YA or MG manuscript! The manuscript does not have to be complete, but again, it does have to be unpublished.

3. For the purpose of this contest, here's how we'll define a sentence in your manuscript: when a period, exclamation point, or question mark appears, that signifies the end of a sentence. Period. (See what we did there?)

4. If you entered our last contest, you are still welcome to enter this one!* As you know, writing is a very subjective business, and one agent judge may view an entry differently than the last!

*Please note: if you were a finalist (top 10 or above) in our last contest, we ask that you enter with a different manuscript this time around!

Here's a reminder of the PRIZES:

*Choice of a 30-minute phone call with one of the following authors: Martina Boone, author of the Heirs of Watson Island trilogy; Sarah Glenn Marsh, author of the forthcoming Fear the Drowning Deep; or, a 30-minute phone call with our agent judge! During this call, you can discuss your work or book ideas, any questions you have about querying and submission, or anything about writing in general--it's up to you!

*A gift certificate good for 6 months of subscription to One Stop for Writers, an amazing author resource site!

Now that all those fun things are out of the way...we're thrilled to introduce you to our agent judge for this contest:


Kimberly fell in love with reading when she picked up her first Babysitter’s Club book at the age of seven and hasn’t been able to get her nose out of a book since. She is a graduate of both California State University, Northridge and Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. Although she loves all things romance, she is also searching for books that are different and will surprise her, with empathetic characters and compelling stories. Kimberly is interested in both commercial and literary fiction, with an emphasis in contemporary romance, women’s fiction, mysteries/thrillers and young adult. She is thrilled to be back on the east coast and is based in New York City. For a list of her clients, go to her website.

Thanks so much to Kimberly (a former First Five Pages Workshop mentor!) for agreeing to judge this contest.

And last but not least:

Good luck to all who choose to enter next Thursday, April 7th!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

0 Talk to Strangers by Carol Snow

Today we're welcoming Carol Snow to the blog. Her fourth book for teens (she also writes for adults), THE LAST PLACE ON EARTH was published at the end of February, and follows a wealth of beautifully written books -- all of which have been nominated for awards and included in several notable book lists. Today, Carol is writing about how talking to strangers can make you a better writer.

Talk to Strangers by Carol Snow

We hadn’t known each other long, but already Gavin was confiding plans for a Christmastime marriage proposal. Unbeknownst to his girlfriend, over Thanksgiving he had travelled from California to Tennessee to ask for her parents’ blessing. It meant taking time off work, but it was important to do things right. They had met in a bible study group, after all.

I am more cat than dog, more introvert than extrovert. I am a writer, after all; I am shy. But for as long as I can remember, total strangers have entrusted me with their secrets and asked for my advice. It’s not just an American thing, either. Drop me in a foreign city, and before you know it, someone will ask me for directions. (Well-intentioned but utterly lacking an internal compass, I apologize to all the befuddled tourists I have gotten lost, occasionally with the assistance of Google Translate.)

When I say Gavin and I hadn’t known each other long, what I mean is that he was my checker at Target. We had known each other for the time it took to scan and bag my purchases. I wasn’t even buying much. Who knows what else he would have confessed if only my cart had been fuller?

I am female, petite, middle-aged; in other words, I look incredibly nonthreatening, which is surely part of my appeal. (Let us pause to consider how infrequently “middle-aged” and “appeal” appear in the same sentence.) But I think it’s more than that. People fascinate me. Everyone has a story, and I ask a lot of questions. So when a grocery store checker inquires, “How was your Thanksgiving?” (Chatty clerks are an American thing) my natural impulse is to lob the question back: “Nice. How was yours? Did you have to work on the holiday?” Cue the impending marriage proposal story.

One of the first rules every fiction writer learns is “write what you know.” It is good advice, up to a point. Your family, your community, your workplace: you have a deep and intimate knowledge of these things and can write about them with authenticity. But unless you are going to populate your stories with characters who are thinly-veiled versions of people you already know (which can be limiting; also dangerous), you need to expand your understanding of humanity. How do other people think? What is important to them? What obstacles do they face? How do they see themselves in relation to others?

I did not rush home from Target and transcribe Gavin’s story. (His name wasn’t even Gavin; I can’t remember what his nametag said.) Nor did I transcribe my conversation with Enrique (whose name really was Enrique), the shuttle driver at my car dealership who, after five years at the same company, is hoping to be promoted to customer relations representative, which would allow him to quit his night shift driving a hospital car service and give him more time with his wife (they met in high school; she is studying to be a computer programmer) and their two kids. I haven’t recorded the countless conversations I have had with Uber drivers, hair assistants, or the old woman in the sari who walks on the path behind my house and who has informed me, on more than one occasion (and always in an ominous tone), that I should wear a hat to protect myself from the California sun.

A writer can – and should – use real-life details whenever possible. To broaden the possibilities of your imaginary worlds, pay attention to the real world around you. Watch; listen. Next time you have a free afternoon, settle into a Starbucks with a Venti drink, being careful to choose a seat near some loud talkers, and transcribe their conversation. Creepy? Maybe. But anyone that disruptive deserves it, and there’s no better way to get a feel for dialogue. When you’re a writer, eavesdropping is practically a career requirement.

But for me, the rules change when I engage someone in conversation, even if it is three minutes at a checkout. When I ask questions of people who have entirely different lives than my own, it is not so I can reduce them to two-dimensional characters, but to better appreciate how circumstances can bring a person to any given point and place in time.

So talk to strangers -- but don’t use them. Think about what they say, and try to see the world beyond your narrow perspective. If you gain a wider appreciation and understanding of humanity, you will be a better writer – and maybe even a better person as well.


Daisy's best friend is missing . . . and not for the reasons she thinks.

Henry Hawking is sixteen years old, brilliant, funny, and sly--and now he's missing. But no one seems worried except his best friend, Daisy Cruz, who knows that Henry's security-obsessed parents would never leave town without taking proper precautions. And Henry would never go away without saying good-bye.

Daisy considers all the obvious explanations for Henry's disappearance (federal witness protection program, alien abduction) before breaking into Henry's house. In his room, she finds a note that pleads, SAVE ME.

Desperate to find Henry, Daisy follows his trail deep into the California wilderness. What she finds there makes her wonder if she ever knew Henry at all . . . and if the world as she knows it will ever be the same.

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads


Called “an author to watch” by Booklist, Carol Snow is an American author of contemporary women’s fiction and young adult literature. Carol grew up in New Jersey. Much of her childhood was spent immersed in books; the rest was focused on avoiding dodgeball. In addition to her psychology degree from Brown University, she holds an M.A.T. in English from Boston College. Before getting her first book published, she had the typical (for a writer) assortment of odd jobs: tour guide, tutor, chambermaid, waitress. She worked for a T-shirt company, a child services agency, and a vanity press. She even had a short stint in local politics. Her campaign brochures were really pretty, with flawless punctuation.

Since leaving New Jersey, Carol has lived all over the place: Rhode Island, London, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Utah, Arizona, and, now, Southern California, where she shares a cat-fur-coated house with her husband and their two children.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

1 Three Ways to Find the Right Place to Start Each Book in a Series (And a MEGA Giveaway)

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Last week in the comments on my post THE JUMP START: FINDING THE PERFECT PLACE TO START YOUR NOVEL, Kessie asked how to find the right place in the second and third book of a series. Let me tell you, it's a darn good question. The need for backstory, a continuing story arc, and a continuing character arc all war with the need to start with action and a new, immediate story question. I'm still weighing my response to Kessie, but in the meantime, I thought I'd turn the query over to one of my favorite author people, the lovely Lisa Gail Green.

The third book in Lisa's OF DEMONS AND ANGELS series comes out today, and Lisa knows how to jump right into things and make the reader care. She also consistently has great insight on questions of craft. AND she's incredibly generous, so not only does she have answers for us, she has a fantastic giveaway including autographed books by John Green, Danielle Paige and more to celebrate her book birthday!

So without further ado, welcome, Lisa, and CONGRATULATIONS. So much confetti! (Also, cake and hugs, because I'm so darn proud of you I could pop!!!)

Monday, March 28, 2016

0 New Releases and Author Interviews for this week 3/28-4/3

Happy Easter! We hope you've had a wonderful long weekend, and a relaxing start to Spring. We don't have a giveaway for you this week, but be sure to check back next week, because it's going to be one of our biggest new release giveaways of the year!

Happy Reading,
Lindsey, Martina, Jocelyn, Erin, Susan, Sam, Shelly, Sarah, Sandra, Kristin, and Anisaa


The Hidden Twin by Adi Rule - Maria M.
The Skylighter by Becky Wallace - Eli S.


Saturday, March 26, 2016

0 Amber Smith, author of THE WAY I USED TO BE, on telling stories that might otherwise be suppressed

We're pleased to have Amber Smith here to tell us more about her debut novel THE WAY I USED TO BE.

Amber, what was your inspiration for writing THE WAY I USED TO BE?

I’ve always felt inspired to tell the stories that might otherwise be suppressed. I had wanted to write about sexual violence for a long time—it’s a reality for so many young people, yet there’s still so much silence surrounding this issue. As I began to develop this story, I saw a chance to really explore what that silence means and feels like, and ultimately, what it might take to break that silence.

0 Adi Rule, author of THE HIDDEN TWIN, on learning what process works for you

We're delighted to have Adi Rule join us to chat about her latest novel THE HIDDEN TWIN.

Adi, what scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

There’s a scene with lots of action and several characters (avoiding spoilers here!) that I reworked a few times. The right beats and pacing are always vital, but especially in action or comedy. It can be tricky to balance the speed at which things are happening with the sensory/spatial/emotional information that needs to be conveyed. I really enjoy sentence-level tinkering, though; that scene ended up being a lot of fun to write.

0 Becky Wallace, author of THE SKYLIGHTER, on finding great critique partners

THE SKYLIGHTER is book two of The Keepers' Chronicles, and we're thrilled to have Becky Wallace swing by to share more about it.

Becky, what scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

The opening scene was REALLY hard to write. I had a grand, multi-chapter idea about how to move the story forward, and my editor wanted a completely different—and ultimately tighter—direction. I think I rewrote the first fifty pages…ten times? In the end, we trimmed about ten thousand words from that section alone. The heart of what I wanted is still there, while it moves at the pace that my editor hoped for!

0 April 1st 5 Pages Workshop Opens in 1 Week!

Our April workshop will open in one week on Saturday, April 2, at noon, EST. We'll take the first five Middle Grade or Young Adult entries that meet all guidelines and formatting requirements. (We are no longer taking New Adult entries.) Click here to get the rules. I will post when it opens and closes on Adventures in YA Publishing and on twitter (@etcashman), with the hashtag #1st5pages. In addition to our wonderful permanent mentors, we have agent Rachel Burkot!

So get those pages ready - we usually fill up in under a minute!

April Guest Agent Mentor - Rachel Burkot

Rachel Burkot has been in the publishing industry since 2009. After completing an internship with two literary agencies, reading mostly young adult and thrillers, she then worked as an editor for Harlequin, acquiring category romance, contemporary romance, multicultural romance and women’s fiction. She has decided to transition her skills to the agenting world in order to be an advocate and champion for her authors because she loves finding new talent and helping authors’ dreams of publication come true.

Rachel’s career highlights include helping her authors achieve prestigious romance book nominations and two selective awards, including the National Readers Choice Award, and several top reviews in Romantic Times magazine for her books.

Rachel is drawn to voice-driven fiction, particularly in young adult; quirky, three-dimensional, flawed characters, including and especially secondary characters; beautiful writing; books that explore good people in morally complicated situations; and complex, detailed plots.

Rachel is interested in representing:
- Women’s fiction
- Upmarket/book club fiction, i.e., Emily Giffin, Liane Moriarty and Diane Chamberlain
- Young adult (no fantasy or paranormal unless it’s very light)
- Contemporary romance, i.e., Kristan Higgins
- Category romance with unique, memorable plots, i.e., Natalie Charles
- Southern fiction
- “Dark” women’s fiction/thrillers, i.e., Gillian Flynn or Mary Kubica
- Urban fiction
- Literary fiction

Follow Rachel on Twitter at @Rachel_Burkot.

0 Judy Sheehan, author of I WOKE UP DEAD AT THE MALL, on not letting criticism slow you down

We're excited to have Judy Sheehan stop by to give us the scoop on her novel I WOKE UP DEAD AT THE MALL.

Judy, what was your inspiration for writing I WOKE UP DEAD AT THE MALL?

Ah! I was riding the subway in NYC, reading a book on the Kindle app on my phone. It was a funeral scene for a young man who died in WWII. His sister observed at his funeral that this was the big party that the guest of honor could not attend. I looked up from my phone, letting that observation sink in. I saw a group of teenage girls across from me, giggling over an iPhone. I suddenly thought of them in the afterlife, wondering whose funeral got the most "likes" on Facebook. And really, the whole book landed in my head. The subway got to my station, and I sprinted home to write down my idea. I was so excited, I knew there was a book here.

Friday, March 25, 2016

0 Write to Scare Yourself by Alexander Gordon Smith

In all the wonderful craft of writing posts we've been fortunate to host here on AYAP, we have very little on writing horror. But we're about to rectify that right now. We welcome back author Alexander Gordon Smith today to advise us on how to free our inhibitions and induce a "creeping terror" into our readers...and ourselves. And if you want to experience some of that creeping terror for yourselves, be sure to check out his newest release, Hellraisers, below!

Write to Scare Yourself by Alexander Gordon Smith

I love horror for a million different reasons, but my favourite of these is that horror is the only genre, I think, where literally anything can happen. Horror works by breaking down the rules—the rules of science, psychology, religion, etc—and it’s up to you how you rewrite those rules. Horror gives you an incredible amount of freedom when you are writing, it allows you to constantly push and surprise yourself. If anything is possible, then the only limits are your imagination.

But horror is also hard to get right, especially when you’re writing for a young adult audience. Back when our only source of entertainment was stories around the fire, it was fairly easy to scare kids. Everything was new, nothing was cliché. Now, though, kids have seen EVERYTHING. I know, from doing events in schools, that most of my audience will have watched scary movies, like really scary movies, even when they’re ten, eleven years old. They play terrifying video games, too, and the stories they tell each other on the playground… Well, let’s just say that I’ve had seven-year-olds tell me Creepy Pastas that they’ve found online that have left me terrified. Scaring readers these days is hard. Concepts and imagery that once upon a time would have been nightmarish have become familiar, and familiarity makes them stale. Kids know these tropes and clichés because they have seen them before, and to know something is to take away the inherent horror of it.

So how do we make horror scary? Well, I’m still learning the answers to that! But the best piece of advice I have ever received is this: if you want people to be afraid, you have to be afraid too. Fear. It’s one of our most powerful emotions. Once upon a time, experiencing fear meant the difference between life and death, it was the emotion needed for survival. These days, when we’re not constantly running from predators, fear doesn’t play as vital a role in day-to-day life (well, for the lucky amongst us, anyway, there are plenty of people for whom terror is still very real). But it is still an immensely powerful emotion, and a fantastic tool for writers.

I think the trick, though, is never to write about what other people think is scary. It just won’t work, because if you’re not terrified of what you’re writing about, then how can you expect other people to be? Fear is universal, yes, but fear is also very personal too. If you have a fear of, say, needles, then write a horror story with needles in it. Or flying, or roaches, or clowns. You may not feel very comfortable writing the book, but that’s the point! Because fear is also highly contagious. If you walk into a room and somebody in that room is terrified of something, then you start to feel it too, it creeps inside, it infects you. Once upon a time that transmission of fear would have kept us alive—if one member of the group sensed a predator then everyone else had to pick up on that very, very quickly. But it still works. If you are genuinely afraid of what you are writing about then that fear oozes from the book, it creeps inside your readers.

Whenever I’m starting a new novel, I use the following technique. I sit down and write a list of my worst fears. Fears change as you go through life, so the list is constantly refreshed. I write down as many fears as I can think of until I find one that makes me stop, that makes the gooseflesh erupt, that makes me feel cold. As soon as that happens, I know I’ve found a starting point. With Escape From Furnace it was the thought of being locked up. With The Fury it was the fear of being chased. With my new book, Hellraisers, it was the terror of not being able to breathe (I’m asthmatic). Once I know the fear, it’s simply a case of asking ‘what if’. What if I was sent to a prison full of monsters. What if I was chased by friends and family who wanted to kill me. What if I could make a deal with the devil to cure my asthma. I know, each time, that the fear will be real to me, so it will be real to those characters.

It’s what I think they mean by writing what you know. I don’t have to write about being a 37-year-old writer in England, but I do have to find an emotional connection to the story. With horror, it’s so easy, because that emotional connection is fear, and we all know how that feels.

And remember, you don’t just have to use your fears as the subject for the story, use them to construct the story too. They can exist as fleeting references, subtle shades that induce a creeping terror in your readers. If you are scared of cockroaches, use insect-like description: ‘Fear scuttled up her spine’, ‘he stared at her with black, emotionless eyes, a spider’s eyes’, ‘her thoughts escaped like cockroaches, vanishing into the shadows’, etc. If you are afraid of drowning, then use this terror carefully in your description: ‘He couldn’t seem to remember how to draw a breath, like he was submerged in dark water’, ‘she fought against the current of her thoughts’, etc. You’re not using your fears literally, but they are still there in your writing, and the reader picks up on them. They are arguably more effective this way, because a reader will grow uneasy, sensing horror there even though nothing horrific might actually be happening.

There’s so much more I could say about building a sense of dread in your writing—and I may come back with another guest post—but I’ll end with this. Horror isn’t a genre, it is an emotion. And it isn’t simply fear or disgust. You can’t show an exploding head or a disfigured monster stepping out of the wardrobe and call it horror. Those things might give the reader a quick fright, yes, or make them throw up their dinner. But they don’t necessarily make for a good horror book.

In fact, the only person genuinely capable of inducing a feeling of pure horror is the reader. You have to make them do the hard work, and the best way to do that is by using mystery. Plant a seed of horror in their mind, a promise that something bad is coming, and then build the suspense by holding back that event, by using red herrings. With every word they will be waiting for something to happen, imagining it, fearing it. They will be creating their own sense of horror and anticipation. The end result will hopefully live up to their expectations, but even if it doesn’t they will be left with that sense of having gone through something terrifying. You’re giving readers the tools to create their own horror.

And it goes without saying that a good horror book, like any book, is only as good as its characters. If you create characters that feel real, that people believe in, that you grow to love, then the horror of the story will feel so much more immediate, and personal. You’ll follow those characters through hell just to find out what happens to them.

So take a deep breath, hurl yourself into the nightmare of your own fears, and great things will happen…

Thanks so much for inviting me back to Adventures in YA Publishing! :-)

About the Book:
When a sixteen-year-old troublemaker named Marlow Green is trapped in a surreal firefight against nightmarish creatures in the middle of his New York City neighborhood, he unwittingly finds himself amid a squad of secret soldiers dedicated to battling the legions of the devil himself. Powering this army of young misfits is an ancient machine from the darkest parts of history. Known as the devil's engine, it can make any wish come true-as long as you are willing to put your life on the line. Promised powers beyond belief, and facing monstrous apparitions straight out of the netherworld, Marlow must decide if he's going to submit to a demonic deal with the infernal machine that will enable him to join the crusade-if it doesn't kill him first.

Amazon | Indiebound | Goodreads

About the Author:

Alexander Gordon Smith is the author of the bestselling Escape From Furnace series, The Fury, and the brand new Devil's Engine books, starting with Hellraisers. He lives in the UK with his girlfriend and his three daughters – one of whom is three months old!

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers

0 Thanks to our 1st 5 Pages Mentors and Participants!

I am sad to say that our 1st 5 Pages March Workshop has come to an end. We had such a great group of talented and supportive writers! And wow – did they revise! And a big thanks to our guest mentors, author Sarah Fine and agent Nicole Tourtelot! They both provided such helpful critiques. If you haven’t checked out Sarah’s books you should – they’re wonderful! I just finished THE IMPOSTOR QUEEN and I loved it!

And as always, thank you to our talented and fabulous permanent mentors, who read, comment, and cheer on our participants every month. Congratulations to our mentor Janet B. Taylor, whose debut YA, INTO THE DIM, was published on March 1. I adored every page of the historical time-travel adventure!

Our April workshop will open for entries on Saturday, April 2 at noon, EST. We'll take the first five Middle Grade or Young Adult entries that meet all guidelines and formatting requirements. (We are no longer taking New Adult entries.) Clickhere to get the rules. I will post when it opens and closes on Adventures in YA Publishing and on twitter (@etcashman), with the hashtag #1st5pages.

So get those pages ready - we usually fill up in under a minute!

Happy writing (and revising!)


Thursday, March 24, 2016

1 Announcing Our Next Contest: Red Light/Green Light Take 2!

Happy Thursday, everyone!

Back by popular demand, we’re hosting another Red Light/Green Light contest starting in April and ending in May!

As before, this contest focuses on developing the strongest possible idea or manuscript--whether it’s at the beginning of the writing process, or the final polish before submission. That's right: while writers who are currently trying to snag an agent are welcome, your manuscript doesn't have to be query-ready to enter this contest!

How the Contest Works: On entry day, contestants will submit the first sentence of their manuscript via the entry form we'll post, and the first 50 entries will be given a spot in the contest--25 from our Eastern Standard Time window, and 25 from our Pacific Time window! Then, an agent judge will choose the top 25 entries from the contestants' first sentences. The top 25 will be narrowed down to 10 based on the first two sentences of their manuscript. Next, the agent will read the top 10 contestants' first pages to narrow the contestants down to 5. Lastly, in the final round, the agent will read a pitch + first chapter from the top 5 contestants to determine the winner.

Contestants and observers alike will be able to see which manuscripts start with a great first sentence and continue to build a strong foundation all the way through their first five pages, and will hopefully be able to learn something new about what makes a strong start to a manuscript!

We’re also pleased to announce that this time, the lucky contest winner will have an even bigger prize package! Here’s what you could win:

*Phone Call With an Agent or Author: The winner of this contest will have their choice of a 30-minute phone call with one of the following: Martina Boone, author of the Heirs of Watson Island trilogy; Sarah Glenn Marsh, author of the forthcoming Fear the Drowning Deep; our agent judge (TBD!). During this call, you can discuss your work or book ideas, any questions you have about querying and submission, or anything about writing in general--it's up to you!

*Gift Certificate to One Stop for Writers: Generously donated by Angela from One Stop for Writers, this is a free 6-month subscription to their amazing website filled with resources for established and emerging authors alike! Here’s a little more about One Stop:

“What do you get when the authors of The Emotion Thesaurus collaborate with the creator of Scrivener for Windows? A powerhouse online library like no other.

One Stop For Writers is an innovative site filled with unique tools and resources to help you craft stronger, more compelling fiction. Our focus is to help elevate your storytelling while saving you time. With eleven highly enhanced description thesaurus collections, tutorials, worksheets, idea generators, and timeline & structure tools, we have everything you need, so you spend less time researching and more time actually writing. If you like, stop in and browse the shelves. The library is always open (and registration is always free.)”

*You can read more about One Stop for Writers here:

That’s all for now! Remember to check back next Thursday, when we'll post the contest schedule, rules, and the name of our agent judge!

And remember also: First 5 Pages Workshops open the 1st Saturday each month, and the participants get feedback on those vital opening pages of their manuscript from 3 authors and a literary agent. This is a great opportunity to further polish the beginning of your story to make sure you're starting strong. You can check out the workshops here!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

3 How Writing Fan Fiction Prepared Me for Becoming an Author by Ashley Hearn

Today we're welcoming Ashley Hearn to the blog. Ashley is part of our unpublished writer series, helping AYAP showcase the stages of being a writer that come before publication. Today, Ashley is talking about the benefits of writing fan fiction to a writing education.

How Writing Fan Fiction Prepared Me for Becoming an Author by Ashley Hearn

My name is Ashley Hearn, and I write fan fiction.

Well, not much anymore, but still, for catharsis sake, I needed to see that sentence out in the world. Seventeen-year-old me, scarred from her years on the cheerleading squad and yearning to be popular, was convinced that if anyone discovered her secret fan fiction writing obsession, she would be ostracized to the deepest circle of high school hell.

Needless to say, I survived high school, and I continued writing fan fiction until, late in college, the first seeds for an original story planted themselves in my brain. At that point, the center of my universe shifted, and I began writing with the goal of publishing. Those years spent on fan fiction, however, were not wasted. I was practicing useful skills that would ultimately make my transition to original fiction a little more smooth and a lot less terrifying.

#1 - It got me used to sharing my stories and receiving feedback.

Putting your words, your babies, out into the world for strangers behind computer monitors and online personas to pick apart is terrifying, but learning to receive feedback is an essential skill for any writer. The road to publication is paved with feedback, whether it’s from a critique partner, beta reader, agent, editor, or reader. Some of that feedback will be sweet, some brutally honest, some hard to digest, and some you will resist only to realize in the shower one morning that it’s the answer to all of life’s mysteries.

Writing fan fiction not only got me used to receiving feedback, it made me a feedback addict. I would compulsively check my email after posting a new chapter to see if a review had dropped (wait, writers compulsively check their emails?!), and getting those reviews, knowing people were reading my stuff and reacting to it, kept me going. When I started working on original fiction, I knew I had to find critique partners to fill the void left behind by my reviewers. Upon finding those coveted CPs, and later my agent, I was eager to share my work with them.

#2 - It forced me to think about character and world building.

Full disclosure: I wrote fan fiction mostly for the Legend of Zelda universe. The games left so much up to the imagination. The main character, Link, doesn’t even talk. He’s a blank slate for the gamer to project on, which for someone with a hyperactive imagination, is basically a golden ticket to go nuts.

I’ve often heard one of the “down sides” to writing fan fiction is that the characters and world aren’t really yours. Maybe they aren’t in the legal sense, but the best fan fiction often uses its source material as a starting point rather than a bible. In my 100,000+ word Legend of Zelda epic, over half the characters were entirely of my own creation. I took the game map and blew it up, adding my own regions and cities and cultures and histories. I took a magic system that was a peripheral element in the game and made it essential. I fleshed out backstories for characters that the games either hinted at or omitted entirely. I gave flat characters, like the main character Link, flaws to overcome (and dialogue, I gave him that too). By the time I finished developing my version of Hyrule, it felt like mine in the truest sense. This was great practice for character and world building in my original work, where I still draw from source material for influence: folk stories and fairy tales, places I’ve visited, documentaries I’ve watched, people I know, and books or movies I’ve loved.

#3 - It forced me to think about story structure and plotting.

While I wasn’t the most effective plotter in my fan fiction days (I chose to outline chapter-by-chapter, instead of by beats, as I do now), I had to start somewhere. Plotting my fan fiction got me thinking about romantic arcs, character arcs, plot arcs, how those three are shaped, and how they intersect. I knew where the story was going, what obstacles the characters were going to face, and how they needed to grow to overcome those obstacles. What was the inciting incident? The complicating action? The midpoint? The all-hope-is-lost moment? The best fan fiction hits these beats just like original fiction. You can never have too much practice developing stories.

#4 - It helped me hone my craft.

When I jumped into fan fiction, I was determined to do it the “right way.” That is, rise above some of the blather clogging the pipes of fan fiction websites and present myself as a serious writer who produced quality stories. Immediately, I found a beta reader (thanks Nendil!), who I still owe my writing soul to. She read and marked-up my chapters before I posted them, catching my typos, redundancies, point-of-view breaks, cliches. From her critiques, I strengthened my copyediting skills, started thinking about how to make my side characters more rounded, learned some of my writing ticks (like how I tended to say the same thing two different ways, when only was was needed) and, most importantly, I gained my first true critique partner.

#5 - It got my butt in a chair and my fingers on a keyboard.

All told, in five years of writing fan fiction I wrote about 200,000 words. Not a blazing fast pace, by any means, but it is something. To draw on a metaphor from my sports world, you don’t get good at hitting jump shots until you’ve practiced 200,000 jump shots. Fan fiction was my practice for the “game” of writing original fiction. Because I wasn’t writing to publish professionally, I could write freely and hone my craft without the pressures of querying. Essentially, fan fiction was my “practice novel,” so that when I was ready to enter the publishing game, I wasn’t coming off the bench cold.

About the Author

Ashley Hearn is YA author, an intern at Entangled Teen, and a producer for the Badger Sports Report, the football and basketball coach’s television show for the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is an addictive coffee drinker, a Gilmore Girls fanatic, and a proud Gryffindor. When she ferrets away enough gas money, she can be found scouring the Georgia and South Carolina Sea Islands for ruined plantations, folk magic, and a fresh story.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

6 The Jump Start: Finding the Perfect Place to Start Your Novel

There's a big miscommunication that has crept into the discussion about how novels should begin. Agents, editors, and authors often tell new writers (and each other) to "begin with action." As writers trying to grab the attention of a reader, we often take that advice and make it bigger, thinking that "hooking" a reader is as simple as giving the reader "more" action or "more explosive" action.
We also often confuse the action start with the inciting incident. But they are not the same. 

The inciting incident is the event or change that sets the central conflict in the book in motion. Before the reader can appreciate that change has occurred, though, the reader has to understand the ordinary circumstances in which the main character has been living. 

There are unlimited ways to accomplish that. That's the key to everything in fiction. There are rules, but they are so loose that they leave writers nearly unlimited room between the cracks. 

So how do you know where to start your novel? Don't spend as much time thinking about the inciting incident. Think more about the jump-start, the change and conflict that drop-kicks a protagonist with limited knowledge of a problem into action. Start where there's a whiff of change, and follow the change as it builds and builds, until facing the ramifications of that change become inevitable. 

Let's break that down.

Your opening has to:

  • Set the setting of your story, the environment, time, place, mood, and atmosphere
  • Introduce the main characters in the story--the protagonist and antagonist at the very least
  • Show the routine of the pre-conflict situation, including any backstory that is necessary for the reader to know
  • Hint at the protagonist's inner journey--the hidden need, the lack, or thing she's missing.
  • Set the protagonist's outer journey in motion--the goal that the conflict is going to force her to achieve and the problems that she is going to have to overcome.
How do you find the best way to deliver that?

Monday, March 21, 2016

10 TWO Giveaways, New Releases, and Author Interviews 3/21 - 3/27

Happy Monday! I don't know about you, but personally I love Mondays: a whole new week stretched out ahead of you... and of course, a new week means new releases, and new release giveaways! Up this week, we have Adi Rule's THE HIDDEN TWIN and Becky Wallace's THE SKYLIGHTER. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

0 Best of AYAP: The Big Picture

Whilst the nitty gritty of writing craft is undoubtedly important, having writing goals, forming a writing practice and finding inspiration are just as important to achieving those writing dreams.

The posts collected below are a mixture of ways to beat writers block, suggestions to find your best writing process (even if that means you don't have just one), advice on using critique partners, the importance of failure and more. Read, learn, and enjoy!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

0 Stefan Bachmann, author of A DROP OF NIGHT, on easy scenes growing organically

We're excited to have Stefan Bachmann join us to share more about his latest novel A DROP OF NIGHT.

Stefan, how long did you work on A DROP OF NIGHT?

Ages! Up until writing A Drop of Night I had usually been able to finish a book in about a year, with maybe 4-5 months of revising afterwards. This book took a solid three years from the initial idea back in 2012 to now, and there were many, many drafts and rewrites and despairing email exchanges in between.

What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

For me, usually the scenes that are easiest to write end up being the ones I like most. I wish it weren’t like that, but an easy scene usually means I’m in the flow and the scene is growing organically out of what came before. If a scene is difficult to write, I’ve found it usually means something isn’t working with the rest of the story, or I haven’t fully imagined it yet. I think the first 50-or-so pages of this book got re-done quite a few times.

As for favorites, there’s one scene in A Drop of Night where two characters, one a young peasant fellow and the other a wealthy daughter of a marquis, both captives in the underground Palais du Papillon, discuss their various plights and who has it worse. I think it conveys the book’s message in a nutshell and I do like that scene a lot.

0 Darren Shan, author of ZOM-B GODDESS, on serving the needs of the story

ZOM-B GODDESS is the final book in the Zom-B series, and we're thrilled to have Darren Shan here to tell us more about it.

Darren, what scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love? 

The ending was tricky for me, because it wasn’t the end I originally planned. When I started Zom-B, a lot of the overall plot was unclear, but I was sure of the ending – I even knew what the final line would be. But as I progressed through the novels, the main character, B Smith, evolved in ways I hadn’t anticipated, and I started to sense that my ending would no longer work. I wrote it as planned when I was writing the first draft of Zom-B Goddess, but when I returned to edit it, I had to change it. Luckily the plot presented me with a fitting alternative ending, so it wasn’t any great trouble to change it, but I’m pleased that I was able to make that call, and not stubbornly stick with the original ending, just because that was what I wanted to happen. When a book’s going well, it’s not always about doing what you want as a writer, but rather serving the needs of the story.

Friday, March 18, 2016

1 Mythbusting Favorite Craft of Writing Rules by Kit Alloway

Now that we've lost Mythbusters, author Kit Alloway is here to continue the fascinating debunking into the field of writing. She tackles five crucial "rules" I'm sure you've all heard, explaining why they exist...and why they can be ignored. Personally, I'm glad she tackled "kill your darlings" as I think she explains the reason for the existence of this one the best I've ever heard. Be sure to check out her book, Dreamfever, below the post!

Writing Advice, Debunked: by Kit Alloway

Writers are always getting – and giving – advice. Some of it’s useful, some of it isn’t, and some of it’s downright weird. I had a cousin who advised me to “sell out as quickly as possible.” He was not a writer.

But some of the advice we hear most often isn’t as simple as it appears on the surface. Let’s examine a few of the most common.

1: “Don’t use adverbs.”

Whenever someone tells me to avoid using an entire part of speech, I’m suspicious. After reading this in Stephen King’s On Writing, I spent a long time examining the adverbs I used and trying to figure out if I was doing something wrong, and I eventually identified two issues.

The first issue is overuse. Many writers try to increase the intensity of their writing by tossing an adverb in along every verb. It’s not necessary, and it will clutter up your sentences.

The second issue with adverbs is redundancy. Here’s my favorite example: “She whispered softly.” Could we not figure out that this character was speaking softly by the mere fact that she was whispering? Isn’t the lack of volume the defining characteristic of whispering? There’s no reason to use “softly” here. The same problem occurs with “He ran quickly,” or “I shouted loudly.”

That said, adverbs can play an important part when they provide unexpected or contradictory information. We assume that a whisper is soft, but what if it’s an angry whisper? In “She whispered angrily,” the word “angrily” gives us information we wouldn’t otherwise have assumed. The same goes for “He ran lazily” or “I shouted bitterly.”

In short, use adverbs! But don’t use a million of them, and try to use them in places where they give us new information instead of reaffirming an assumption.

2: “Write what you know.”

On the surface, this seems like obvious, logical advice. It’s easier to write about something you know about, and you’re more likely to have authentic insight into something you’ve experienced. BUT…Where’s the fun in that?

I have two major problems with this piece of advice. One is that it’s very limiting. Life is only so long, and we have each only experienced so many things. The majority of them are things everyone else has experienced, too. If everyone followed this advice, the publishing industry would be putting out little besides stories about getting a basic education and working a boring job for little money. But we read because we want to experience things we’ve never done, to be someone else, or to see familiar things in a new way. Which is not to say that stories about blue collar jobs can’t be amazing (Moby Dick) or stories about going to school can’t be wonderful (Harry Potter), only that we can’t limit ourselves solely to things we’ve experienced, particularly in this day and age when it’s so easy to research things we’ve never done.

I think the intention of this advice is to encourage us to bring authenticity to our writing. Nothing is more powerful than authentic emotion. But our characters can have – and inspire – those kinds of emotions while doing things their author has never done.

3: “A real writer writes every day.”

Well, maybe.

There are advantages to writing every day. Many of us are more productive if we stick to a regular writing schedule, and obviously the more often we sit down to write, the more we’re likely to get down on paper.

But for me – and many, many others – writing every day isn’t practical. Jobs, families, hobbies, and the unexpected all get in the way. In my case, the number one thing that stops me from writing every day is my health. I have fifteen to twenty migraines a month. Sometimes I manage to write in spite of the pain (I’m doing so now), but during most attacks, I’m in bed with a sleep mask on. Does this somehow make me less of a writer? No. What it makes me is adaptable. I’ve learned to sneak in an hour or two wherever I can, and on the rare day when I feel great, it’s not uncommon for me to write for ten or twelve hours straight.

Moreover, this advice ignores the fact that everyone works best differently. We each have to find what works for us. I need noise-cancelling headphones and music to block out distractions. My boyfriend, however, prefers to work in busy coffee shops. I like to sit on a comfy couch or recliner; Hemmingway wrote standing. Many of the teenage writers I work with prefer to write on their phones, something I can’t fathom doing. As long as you’re getting the words down, you’re doing it right. If writing every day helps you do that, great. If not, don’t sweat it.

4: “Kill your darlings.”

The logic behind this piece of advice seems to stem from the idea that “your darlings” don’t fit into the rest of your writing. The “darlings” are lines or passages that stick out, either because they’re self-indulgent, unnecessary, or simply better than the rest of a piece.

It’s true that sometimes, as creators, we want to hold onto what we’ve created, even if our creations don’t function well within a piece. It’s true that we must be merciless editors. But the way this advice is phrased, the peculiar use of the word “darlings,” seems to suggest that there’s something wrong or misguided in the passages we love, simply because we love them so much. Like much writing advice, there’s a subtle masochism here, a suggestion that writers and the act of writing must be tortured, that truly great work can only arise from a butchering of the soul.

Well, forget that. Try to be objective while editing. Think about whether or not each part of your story, each scene, each line, functions as part of the whole. But don’t cut things you love just because you think that suffering is necessary to the creative process. It isn’t. And don’t assume that because one line is better than the others, it somehow sticks out too much and needs to go. Gogel’s “The Overcoat” contains one sentence that runs 282 words and is so astonishing in its scope, insight, and readability that it towers above the rest of what many think is the finest short story ever written. It would have been a tragedy to cut that sentence because it stuck out too much.

5: “Show, don’t tell.”

Of all the writing advice I’ve been given, this is the piece I hear the most often. It’s also the piece I ignore most often.

What does it mean to show? When people say to show instead of tell, usually what they’re trying to say is that a writer has described instead of demonstrating. For example, writing, “Alan had a roving eye,” isn’t nearly as effective as including a scene in which Alan ogles a waitress in front of his wife. Obviously the latter is going to cause a much stronger emotional reaction in the reader.

Where I take issue with this advice is in it universality. Is Alan a main character? Because if not, we probably don’t need to spend half a page describing him and his obsession with the waitress. Depending on what his function in a story is, it might make the most sense to say that Alan is a horny fellow and leave it at that. One of the mistakes I made in my early writing was over-developing side characters. By “side,” I don’t mean supporting. I mean servers, cashiers, delivery people, and anyone else my characters bumped into.

Let’s go back to Alan. Maybe he is a main character, and maybe he and his friend Bill, the narrator, are having lunch with Alan’s wife, Sue. Since Alan is a major supporting character, it’s a good choice to show him acting on his roving eye instead of just saying, “He wanted to look at everything in a skirt.” So maybe we write, “I nudged Alan, who was staring at our buxom waitress.” Showing instead of telling works for Alan. But what about the waitress? If this is the only sentence in which the waitress is going to be mentioned it doesn’t make any sense to waste an entire paragraph with, “I nudged Alan, who was staring at our waitress. Her brunette hair swung behind her head in a perfectly spiraled pony tail, drawing attention to her long neck . . .” A one-word descriptor will suffice for our waitress.

This advice breaks down when it comes to pacing a story, too. Do we want to describe time passing between scenes? We can write twenty pages about a character getting ready for a big date – cleaning his car, showering, shaving, dressing, driving – or we can write, “I rang Kelly’s doorbell at seven o’clock on the dot.” Editors love to cut unnecessary scenes.

Ultimately, the only good advice is the advice that works for you, the advice that helps you through a tough scene or inspires you to return to work. It’s a good idea to know the rules—but only so you can break them.


Dreamfever by Kit Alloway

Finding out that she is the True Dream Walker hasn't gone at all the Joshlyn Weaver would have expected it to. The only special gift she seems to have is an ability to create archways, which really isn't that special. In addition to her inability to connect with the Dream, she has also started having nightmares that are so terrible she can't tell anyone about them. Not even Will.

Just when Josh thought her life couldn't get any more complicated, the lost dream walker princess returns to claim her parents' right to the throne, right as the Lodestone party threatens to take control of the government during the upcoming Accordance Conclave.

With the clock running down, Josh must rely on not only her friends, but also her enemies, to stop the radicals from taking power and controlling the Dream. But how can she expect to save everyone else when she's struggling to pick up the pieces of her own shattered life?

Purchase Dreamfever at Amazon
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Kit Alloway writes primarily for young adults, having always had an affection for teenagers. In addition to writing, she plays various musical instruments, decorates cakes, mixes essential oils, and studies East European languages. She lives in Louisville, KY with her family and four very tiny dogs. Dreamfire is her debut novel.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

Thursday, March 17, 2016

1 Agent Interview: Patricia Nelson

Happy Thursday, everyone!

As mentioned last week, we have another contest in the works (details on that to come next Thursday!). But in the meantime, we wanted to take another moment to thank our agent judge on the recent Red Light/Green Light contest, Patricia Nelson.

Today, we have a mini-interview for you with Patricia about her recent experience as our contest judge!

1) What were some of the best things you saw about those openings?

The single most important thing an opening sentence needs to do is make me curious enough to want to read the second sentence -- there should be something unique about the situation, character, or setting that pulls me into the story's momentum and makes me say "Huh. I wonder what happens next?" The other element that put a first sentence in the definite yes column was voice -- a way of saying something that was beautiful, or quirky, or startling, or daring, or otherwise unexpected. In a situation like this where I was reading 50 first sentences in a row, the ones that grabbed my notice were the ones that made bold choices that helped them stand out and held the promises of equally bold and attention-grabbing sentences, paragraphs, and pages to come.

2) What were some common mistakes you saw in entries' opening sentences?

Grammar errors or awkward syntax put the author at a disadvantage from the start, as did anything that sounded generic or overly general. That first sentence should give me a sense of a specific character and tone, so any opening sentences that felt ordinary, bland, or confusing didn't keep me reading on. I think sometimes writers want to start with something profound or big-picture, but you have to earn generalities -- there should be a specificity and uniqueness to that first sentence that some of the weaker entries lacked.

3) What stood out to you about the winning entry and made you choose it?

I loved the voice in this entry -- I actually wasn't sure about the first sentence, which sounded like it might be leading to a bit more of a "gross-out humor" book than I tend to go for, but it was definitely a bold choice that made me intrigued, so the author made it to round two, and from there I was completely hooked on this character, who the author has painted with lots of intriguing specificities that make him start to come to life on the page. I also thought the author did a great job with the pitch here -- just from the premise, I can tell that this story has the potential for great conflict between the characters, strong forward plot momentum, and clear stakes.

4) What, in your opinion, are the common elements of a strong opening to a book?

The very best openings make me connect to a character and voice -- overarching plot, backstory, and worldbuilding can all kick into gear at the end of the first chapter, or even in chapter two, but what I want on page one is the sense that this is a person I want to go on a journey with. That's not to say that you should have a first chapter where nothing happens -- part of what's going to make me connect to a characters is seeing them DO something -- but I think that a lot of authors try to overstuff their first chapters and as a result the character gets lost. The tricky negotiation is to allow the reader time to get their footing in the world you're building while still bringing in enough action to hint at the conflict this character will face and make us curious what will happen next. It's definitely a balancing act!

5) Going along with that, what are some of your favorite opening scenes in books you've read?

Such a hard question! I'll go with a couple favorites from different genres for variety. All of these first scenes pulled me in right away:

Sarah J. Maas' THRONE OF GLASS, in which a prisoner is escorted to a throne room (first sentence: "After a year of slavery in the Salt Mines of Endovier, Celaena Sardothien was accustomed to being escorted everywhere in shackles and at sword-point.")

Laurie Elizabeth Flynn's FIRSTS, in which a teen girl does something she's done many times before (first sentence: "Tonight, I'm doing Evan Brown's girlfriend a favor.")

Rebecca Stead's LIAR & SPY, in which a girl learns some new information in science class (first sentence: "There's this totally false map of the human tongue.")

Liane Moriarty's THE HUSBAND'S SECRET, in which a woman tries to decide whether to open a sealed envelope she knows she's not supposed to have in her possession (first sentence: "It was all because of the Berlin Wall.")

6) Bonus Question: Name one oddly specific thing you’d love to see in your submissions inbox right now!

Recently I've been desperately wanting to find a magical realist middle grade with lovely/timeless writing, diverse characters, and a lot of heart and warmth (without being sappy or sentimental). So if you have something like that, send it my way! (That said, I want to see lots of other stuff too! I'm constantly tweeting on the #MSWL hashtag and always like to be surprised by wonderful stories of all sorts.)

That’s all! On behalf of everyone at AYAP, huge thanks again to Patricia for generously donating her time to this contest!

And remember, check back next Thursday to hear more about our next contest—it’s going to be another fun one!