writing advice

07/26/15 Life , Mob Boss Series , Reading , Self-Publish , Shadowguard Series , Writing # , , , , , ,

Leaning In to Life and Work

Work_Hard_QuoteMan… it has been a crazy couple of months, you guys.

I came off BEA with a huge work high and rode it all the way into July. In the two months since, I’ve written a whole book, completed a big freelance editing project, completed a smaller freelance editing project, built a pseudonym from the ground up for the Mob Boss series (including new name, domain name, new social media accounts all around, etc.), and developed a new YA concept (with character analysis and synopsis). I’ve absorbed information about self-publishing until I’ve felt like my brain will explode (metadata anyone? covers? blurbs? ISBN #s?), and I’ve connected with lots of awesome new people in the romance genre and in the field of self-publishing. I’ve read like crazy to keep up on things, maintained my household (including the weekly monster grocery shops that seem to go with the territory of having four young people in the house), and spent time with my kids when I can (and when they’re home).

And I’m not going to lie; it hasn’t been easy.

The thing is, I’ve considered self-publishing romance ever since I wrote the Shadowguard novella series (a series of adult romances based on the world in A TEMPTATION OF ANGELS) almost three years ago. I wanted more control over my career, both creatively and financially. I wanted to have the freedom to experiment and to release books as often as I wanted. But there was always a reason why I couldn’t.

I was too busy.

I wanted to focus on my contracted YA work.

I was worried about writing romance under a name most well-known in the YA genre.

I was worried about trying to build a new platform for a pseudonym.

All of which were valid concerns, and none of which have really changed or been resolved.

I’m still to busy to be doing this.

I’d still like to focus on my YA work (I’m not under contract at the moment, but I’d like to be).

It’s probably not a good idea to write adult romance under a name most well known in the YA genre.

It is difficult and time consuming and humbling to start over with a new name.

But you guys… I’m doing it. I’m working constantly. Some things have fallen by the wayside. I’m up until 3am most nights, even when I’m so tired I don’t think I can keep my eyes open. Even when it means I’m only getting four hours of sleep. It’s Sunday morning, and I’m writing this blog post instead of doing something else, and I’ll spend the rest of the day working, too.

Basically, this is me right now.

Ant_Crackers

But I’m doing it.

I think a lot about Sheryl Sandberg’s advice to lean in, even though it was directed more at women in traditional careers. She’s right; it takes guts to lean in. It takes courage to risk everything over and over again. It takes heart to choose your dream over and over again.

And one thing I’ve learned is that dreams are built not on the big moments, but on the little ones. Every time you work when you want to sleep or play. Every time you push when you want to settle in. Every time you risk when you want to play it safe. Every time you believe when you want to quit. THOSE are the moments that build dreams.

But you MUST have those moments.

Because dreams aren’t built by sleeping. They aren’t built by doing the same thing over and over. They aren’t built by being comfy. And they sure as hell aren’t built by quitting.

You have to WERK, my friends.

And the truth is, even that is no guarantee of success. You may fail. You may have to recalibrate. You may have to change course, take a detour, even take a break. But make no mistake; you will not get what you want if you aren’t willing to work, sometimes for years, often through countless setbacks. But the time will pass anyway. You may as well pass it in pursuit of something you really want.

This seems like a no brainer, but it’s interesting to me how many people I meet who want big things but aren’t willing to do the big work. After awhile, it gets boring hearing people TALK about what they want to accomplish.

Watching people DO is so much more interesting, don’t you think?

And when it comes to writing, doing doesn’t just mean output. It means honing your craft (go back to school if you must), learning from others, reading constantly, experimenting, and writing thousands of words that no one will ever read.

Write now I am WORKING. Because I can’t control a lot of things. Maybe no one will like my work. Maybe I won’t be able to sell it at all. But the one thing I can control is the work. I can make sure I never have to look back and wonder if I didn’t work hard enough, and WHEN I reach my goals (because I will), I can look back and say, when the ugly monster of unworthiness rears its head (for me it always does), “You earned this, baby!”

And I can mean it.

Now stop reading and get to work.

And if you haven’t added Michelle St. James and/or Ruthless to your social media sites, would you consider doing so? I’d love to keep you posted on my progress, and all content on those pages is unique to those accounts (i.e. not repeated on the Michelle Zink profiles).

Michelle St. James Facebook

Michelle St. James Twitter

Michelle St. James Goodreads

Ruthless Goodreads page

<3

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06/06/15 Book News , Life , Reading , Uncategorized , Writing # , , , , , , , , , ,

Newsletter – Incoming!

After much deliberation I have decided to join the ranks of newsletter-bearing authors. One of the hardest things about authoring in the modern age is knowing how much to share, how often to share it, and whether people are REALLY interested in hearing it. Here, I’m my own worst enemy, because my assumption is always that people are busy and overloaded with information, and it takes something pretty special to compel them to read something else on their computer.

Do I have stuff to share that’s something special? I’ll let you decide. But I do have stuff to share — about reading, writing, and life.

And sometimes I even have NEWS.

😉

So after taking an informal Facebook poll and confirming that a good number of my readers would like a semi-personal, once-monthly, quick and easy to read account of what’s going on — with my writing and everything else — I decided to give it a whirl. My plan is to include a couple of real life things (recipes, things I’m loving that month, etc.) with a personal snippet and a book recommendation or writing tip. I’m planning to keep it one page, and only put it out once a month.

But the big thing is that I’m going to make as many announcements as possible to newsletter subscribers first. And that includes my next book announcement.

If you’d like to stay in the loop, you can sign up for the newsletter here in under ten seconds. And if you decide to opt out at any time, all you’ll have to do is hit the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of each newsletter.

<3

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05/01/15 Uncategorized # , , ,

Reader Questions

This post goes straight to CrazyBookFan from Goodreads who asked the following questions during the Young Writers Series;

What is the key to success to become a writer?

All you have to do to be a writer is to write. But if we’re talking about publication, I don’t think there is any one key. First and foremost, you must be the best writer you can be. That means writing with courage, digging deep to get to the heart of things even when it’s scary or it hurts. It means being willing to take constructive criticism in an effort to grow in your command of craft. It means being willing to write and write and write. Because that really is the only way to get better, and while writing an excellent book is no guarantee of publication, it certainly improves your chances.

How do writers publish their books and how does a book become successful?

For more on this topic, please see How Do I Sell My Book. As for success, that is a complicated combination of luck, timing, craft, and exposure/marketing. But again, you can always improve your odds by writing a great book — and then writing another one.

I think I see a theme developing…

<3

 

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04/29/15 Uncategorized # , , ,

Young Writers Series Week Eight; Rowing Your Own Boat (What To Do If the People Around You Don’t Take You Seriously)

I can hardly believe that we’re at the end of our eight week series. So much has happened! Two months ago, Lies I Told was on deck, and we were still battling sub-zero temperatures here in New York. Now Lies I Told is out to glowing reviews and Spring seems to have sprung at last.

And hopefully, you guys have eight more weeks ofinsight into writing and publishing.

😉

Last week we talked about how to juggle your social life, school, and other activities with writing. You can find links to previous weeks in that post.

The subject of this week’s post — Rowing Your Own Boat — could easily be written for writers of any age. That’s because writers of all ages sometimes have trouble getting support from the people closest to them — especially before they’re published. I think it’s because A) it’s such a solitary pursuit (how can they be sure we’re really writing as opposed to, say, painting our toenails? Or writing love letters to Channing Tatum?), and B) it’s has the kind of stars-in-your-eyes connotation of wanting to be a movie star or a ballerina. Is it possible? Yes. But the truth is, most of us won’t be a movie star or a ballerina.

So when we tell people we’re writers or say we’re “working on my next book”, it can seem a little… quaint, especially to those not initiated in the passion-filled, emotionally draining practice of bringing to life a whole new world, complete with people and everything.

If you’re a young person, this is probably exacerbated by the fact that you’re, well… YOUNG. I mean, you probably did want to be a ballerina or a princess or a firefighter or an astronaut not that long ago, right? And none of THOSE things worked out (this isn’t me talking – it’s your naysayer, whomever he or she may be). Why should this be any different?

I have four kids ages 15 to 22. They’ve had lots of interests and passions over the years, and many of them have gone by the wayside. As a parent, it’s sometimes hard to know what’s going to stick, and I’ve had to remind myself more than once that whether it “sticks” or not, it’s still my job to BELIEVE. As a freelance editor, I’ve also been in the position of reading work that runs the gamut from the barely readable to the extremely promising. In all of those cases, it’s been my job to be encouraging of someone’s dream while being tactfully truthful about how much work they may still have to do, even while acknowledging that some of those writers aren’t going to make it.

And I’ve had my share of naysayers, too. When I left my job as a Director of Marketing for a technology consulting firm to move to a tiny, rural town, hoping to find a better, simpler, more fulfilling life, one of my bosses at the time asked, “What will you do?” I said, “I don’t know. Maybe I’ll write a book.” He laughed and said, “About what?” The disbelief was loud and clear in his voice (I should have said, “Oh, I don’t know, maybe about that time I helped grow a company from $200k to $15 million in four years… 😉 ).  For years while I worked to get published after our move, I would sheepishly tell people who asked that I was a writer, and that I was working on my first, second, third, fourth, or fifth book. But before I was published, people’s eyes kind of glazed over with suspicion.”Hmm-mmm, SURE you are,” they seemed to be thinking. My husband (who is my ex-husband now) listened with barely passing interest when I spoke about my work and never read a single thing I wrote, even when I asked if he’d be willing to do so.

But doubters have always made me work harder. My competitive spirit is motivated by people who think I can’t do something, and to tell the truth, my “I’ll show them” mentality was at least partially responsible for my stubborn determination to keep going. At the same time, I understand how demoralizing it can be to row your boat alone, especially when you’re surrounded by people who only feed your self-doubt.

I wish I could give you a magic potion to make them believe, but we can’t make people believe in us or make them approve of how we spend our time or make them excited about our dreams. Basically, we have NO CONTROL over them.

What you DO have control over is YOU. You can choose to let these people slow you down, doubt yourself, even derail your dream completely. Or you can choose to WORK. Because that’s what it’s going to take. And if somewhere along the way you find that it’s not worth it or that you aren’t having fun anymore, by all means feel free to reconsider. I used to belong to an online writer’s group, and one time someone posted the question, “How do I know when it’s time to give up?” In response someone else wrote, “Go ahead and quit – if you can.” That really stuck with me. We’re not ALL meant to be writers, even if we love reading, even if we enjoy writing the occasional story or poem. I couldn’t have quit writing if I tried. It was literally saving my life in the depths of depression, and it was the thing I most enjoyed doing in my “down” time. I figured if I was going to write no matter what, I might as well keep trying to get my work out there. If writing is a compulsion for you, if it’s something you MUST do, if it’s something you would do for free your whole life through because you love it THAT MUCH, then what else are you going to do with your time that is as meaningful? And if it’s a compulsion, if you MUST do it, does it really matter what anyone else thinks?

All of which is not to say that it’s not disappointing when you don’t get support from friends and family. You’re allowed to be disappointed. It’s how you deal with that disappointment that will define you as a writer. Will you give up? Or will you work to be better? Will you keep trying? Will you keep your head down and keep doing what you must?

While I can’t solve this problem for you, I can give you some tips for dealing with it;

1. Write down the reason you love writing and place it somewhere you’ll see it whenever you have doubts. Whether your note to self reads “I write because I must” or “I write to tell the stories in my head” or “I write because I want to see my name on a book store shelf”, your note will likely remind you how SEPARATE your reasons for writing are from the people around you. When you write because you must, does it change anything that your best friend doesn’t believe you can do it (although I’d counter this might not be the best best friend you can find)? When you write because you have to tell the stories in your head, does it matter that your parents think writing won’t lead to a stable career? When you write because you want to see your name on a book store shelf, does it matter that your sister thinks writing is a waste of time? Your note will remind you that it’s not about them anyway.

2. Read as much as you can. Watch movies. Play great video games. Do anything that inspires you with great story.

3. Seek out support where you can find it. There are lots of wonderful online writing groups, and simply connecting with other writers has a way of keeping up your morale and reminding you that you belong to a timeless, far-flung tribe of storytellers. If you’ve found the right group of people, they will lift you up and give you feedback and cheer you on. If they don’t do these things, find another group. And remember not to give out sensitive personal information online.

4. Start a review blog. Reviewing books online is a great way to stay active in the conversation about books, reading, and writing, and it will also connect you to a larger group of people who are interested in the very same things. If you’re following my other advice, you’re reading regularly anyway. The time you spend writing out a quick review for the books you read may be worth the camaraderie you find in the book blog community.

5. Keep your head down and focus on craft. From the cliques that naturally form in any group (online or otherwise) to buzz about current trends in the marketplace, it’s easy to get distracted by internet noise. But just remember; none of this counts as actual writing, and none of it will make you BETTER. And that’s our goal, right? Because that’s the best shot you have at being published. So when you’re tempted to get involved in drama in your writers group or tempted to be downtrodden by someone’s dire predictions about the publishing marketplace or tempted to change what you’re writing to follow an up and coming trend, remember to keep your eye on the ball. Craft is the ball. Focus on getting BETTER, and everything else will follow.

That concludes our eight week Young Writer’s Series. I’ve had so much fun sharing this information with you, and I hope it’s been helpful. I’ll post a list of all eight topics with links so you can go back and read if you’re just joining us.

Writing has been the one constant in my life. It has seen me through depression and divorce and new beginnings and self doubt. Whatever happens in the “real” world, it is a comfort to know there are infinite worlds into which I can escape. When people talk about retirement, I can only blink. Retirement? From WRITING? What else would I do? What else would I WANT to do? No, I’ll be writing until the day I die. If you feel this way too, you’re probably a writer, and that is something you can carry with you wherever you go, whatever the circumstances of your life.

And the best part of all is that your journey is just beginning.

Make the most of it.

<3

 

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04/15/15 Uncategorized , Young Writers Series # , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Young Writers Series Week Six; Agents and Editors (What They Do and Why We Need Them)

Welcome back to the Young Writers series! I seem to be running at least a day late every week, but this week I have a great excuse; LIES I TOLD released last Tuesday!!! I’ve been super busy with interviews and blog tours and promotion. Things are starting to calm down a bit, which is a good thing. I love talking to readers, but my favorite part is still the writing. I’m happy to be back in my office working this week.

Last week on the Young Writers Series we talked about how to sell your book. I took you through the process step by step, from getting an agent to revising to “subbing” to editors. This week we’re getting into the nitty-gritty of agents and editors, namely what they do and why we need them.

Let’s talk about agents first.

If you read last week’s post, How Do I Sell My Book, you know that you really must have an agent if you want to sell to any of the big traditional publishing houses. They just don’t accept unagented manuscripts anymore. And even if your favorite aunt is the CEO at HarperCollins, you’ll STILL want an agent. Here’s why.

There are good agents and there are GREAT agents. A great agent (which I so happen to have, luck me!) will work through edits with you before submission. Not every agent wants to do this, and that’s okay. But very, very few never-before-published authors are going to hit it out of the park on their first try. Even after you’ve edited your book multiple times and hired an outside editor, odds are good that your book will still need some work if you want to put your best foot forward. I saw this firsthand when I tried to sell what was my second finished book. I had a different agent back then, and we did very, very little work on the book before sending it out to editors. Nine months later, it hadn’t sold and I made the decision to find an agent who was more hands-on with editorial feedback. Fast forward to Prophecy of the Sisters and the TEN MONTHS I spent in revisions with my current agent and you get a three-day pre-empt from Little Brown and a deal that was much bigger than anything I had expected. That just wouldn’t have happened if I’d gone out with my first version of the manuscript. It can be maddening to work through revisions on the front end, but it’s almost always worth it.

Once you begin to sub, a great agent will have street cred that will get your manuscript read faster, and they will also be able to negotiate terms that are favorable to you when it comes to royalty rates, bonuses, geographic rights (some books sell World rights, but if you sell World English instead, your agent may be able to sell your book’s subsidiary rights to a foreign market, and that money goes straight to you instead of toward your publisher’s advance). They will have a good handle on the personalities of various editors and what it might be like to work with them, and they will know which publishers are more likely to follow through on marketing promises (something that matters in a big way). They will continue to be a liaison between you and your editor if anything tricky arises, i.e. deadline related issues, marketing problems and questions, payment concerns, etc.

And none of this ends with your agent. Assuming your agent works for an established agency, you will have lots of legal counsel backing you up. In addition, publishers value their relationships with great agencies, and they will work hard to insure that both you AND your agency are happy with the way you’re treated.

Once your book is sold and settled in its new home, a great agent will guide your career and advise you about long-term strategy. The publishing industry is rapidly changing, and timing plays an important role in how well a book is received. I’ve often had two or more ideas in the queue at a time, and it’s been invaluable for me to pitch them all to my agent and get his feedback on which one has the best chance of selling in the current market.  Great agents also have film and TV connections that can be beneficial to you. In addition to writing books that have sold into traditional publishing, I’ve also written for ABC and have worked-for-hire on books with two other publishers. I’ve collaborated with a well-known adult writer on a YA project, something that was made possible because my agent heard the author was looking for a partner, and I’ve written for an app company. Even if you’re not interested in any of these avenues right now, the publishing process can be fickle and SLOW. You won’t always get paid on time, and sometimes you won’t sell a book, even after you’ve been published. Having an agent with widespread connections can gain you off-the-beaten track opportunities that will help pay your bills during the lean times.

In short, the 15% I pay my agent is MORE THAN WORTH IT. I have never begrudged him a cent, because he works incredibly hard for me. He brings game changing expertise and experience to the table, and I have made back that 15% a hundred time over because of his role in my career.

Once your book is sold, the majority of your communication about the project will be directly with your editor. He or she will send you revisions, introduce you to marketing and publicity at the publishing house, and be your main contact for everything related to the book they’ve acquired.

A great editor is one who both understands your vision for the project (hopefully this is a given if they’ve bought your book) and one who will push you to make it the best it can be within that framework. An editor isn’t going to give you all the answers. They’re going to tell you the problems and trust YOU to come up with the answers. This doesn’t mean you can’t run things by them, but you shouldn’t expect them to tell you how to do your job.

Their job is finding potential problems. Yours is to fix them.

A great editor makes all the difference in the finished product of your book, and a great finished product is the best insurance policy you can get in terms of your long term career. A great editor will bring out your manuscript’s potential by guiding you through more revisions with a flexible hand. This matter because once your book has sold, you can expect at least one more round of fairly significant revisions, and maybe more.

Beyond the actual editing, a great editor is someone who LOVES YOUR WORK. He or she believes in you as a writer and wants to see you succeed. They can be your fiercest advocate at the publishing house, fighting for marketing dollars, turning down covers that are less than stellar, and campaigning to buy more of your work. If they really want to keep working with you, they will often engage in a dialog about what they might like to see from you next, giving you a better chance of selling another book to that publishing house.

So as you can see, agents and editors provide a unique set of skills that will help you with both your writing and your long-term career. In my mind, the value they add isn’t even in question, at least not with traditional publishing.

But it’s a two way street. Here are some things you can do to be a good client (to your agent) and employee (to your editor);

1. Keep your communication concise and professional unless and until you know each other well enough to discuss personal matters.

2. Let feedback on your manuscript settle before responding. It’s easy to sound snippy in an email when you’re feeling defensive about your work. And snippy isn’t professional.

3. Be willing to hear your agent and editor out in matters where you might disagree. Remember that they have their area of expertise, and you have yours.

4. Be on time. Try not to take license with the fact that you’re in a creative field. Few employees can get away with being consistently late and plan to keep their job for any length of time. Treat your professional commitments like the promises they are (barring some kind of catastrophe, which does happen now and again) and you will gain the good will of your agent and editor, as well as a reputation for being easy to work with.

5. Never, ever badmouth your agent or editor. If you’re not happy and a friend asks for feedback, you can be honest privately about your experience, but it’s just not professional to badmouth a colleague in ANY business.

6. Know when it’s time to be a team player. Like all businesses, publishing requires that everyone work together. There will be times that you won’t like how things are going. You may be angry about the amount of marketing given to your book (especially if you were promised more), about your cover design, about the amount of conferences (or lack thereof) in which you’re asked to participate. There’s a time to push back on issues like these and others like them and a time to be a team player. Once your editor makes it clear THIS is your cover, for example, there is often NOTHING you can do to change it. You can ask, but if they say something like, “We feel strongly this is the right cover, so we’re going to go out with it and see how it goes,” that means the decision has been made, and the best thing you can do for your career AND your book is plug that book (and its cover) for all you’re worth, be gracious about it, and hope for the best. Being openly angry won’t help you once the decision is made (or before, for that matter, when a calm discussion is in order).

Join me next week for Keeping the Balls in the Air (How to Juggle School, Social Life, and Writing).

And I hope you’ll all pick up a copy of LIES I TOLD! I’ve spent the last couple of years really focusing on craft, and I’ve gotten so many emails and comments and reviews saying this is my best book yet. I’m excited to share it with you guys!

<3

 

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04/06/15 Uncategorized , Writing , Young Writers Series # , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Young Writers Series Week Five; How Do I Sell My Book?

Welcome to this week’s installment of the Young Writer’s series. I missed last week completely! I was so slammed with launch stuff for LIES I TOLD (out tomorrow, you guys! Please pick up a copy!), plus a deadline on another book, that I kept meaning to catch up and just never did. So we’ll call this Week Five and get back on track.

🙂

Last week we talked about outside advice; how to make it work for you and how to know if you should take it when offered.

This week we’re talking about the nitty-gritty of selling your book. For most writers, publication is the goal through all the late writing nights, crippling self-doubt, and endless revisions that make up the process of writing. If it’s not, that’s totally okay! There is a lot to be said for doing something just for the joy of it.

But if you want to see your book published, this post is for you.

The sales process in publishing is a lot longer and more involved than most people realize. Some of it is dependent on the type of publishing you choose (see Week Two in this series), but for our purposes here, we’re going to focus on selling your book to large traditional publishers like HarperCollins, RandomHouse, Scholastic, Little Brown, , Simon and Schuster, and Penguin.

First of all, you need a finished manuscript. Yes, finished. Unless you’re writing non-fiction or have published books before in your genre, a partial probably isn’t going to cut it. So before you do anything else, finish your book, revise it, give it to a beta reader or editor, and revise it some more. I know it’s tempting to cut corners on the editing side. You finished a whole book! You want to see it on the shelves of a bookstore! But you won’t usually have a chance to resubmit to an agent or editor once they reject a certain project, so you don’t want to go out with less than your best work. Polish it until you literally can’t go any further with it on your own.

Once you have a complete manuscript, you need to look for an agent. Some people don’t think you need an agent, and while there might be room for discussion in some areas, you DEFINITELY need an agent if you plan to sell to traditional publishing. None of the big publishers accept unaccented manuscripts, and neither do most of the small ones. And that’s just for starters. There are TONS of other reasons, which I’ll save for next week’s topic, Agents and Editors (What They Do and Why We Need Them). For now, let’s operate on the assumption that you trust me on this.

😉

The best way to look for an agent is to find out who represents your favorite books and/or subscribe to the Deal Report at Publisher’s Marketplace (it was $20/month when I sold Prophecy. It might be a bit more now). Through the deal report you can search recent deals in your genre to make sure the agent your interested in has a solid track record of selling books like yours. This is important, because anyone can hang out a shingle and call themselves an agent. You want someone with a proven track record of selling consistently. Have you ever heard the saying, “A bad agent is worse than no agent?” No? Well, you have now, and it’s true. Hold out for someone great. If you query thirty agents with fantastic track records and none of them feel confident that they can sell your book, it might mean the book isn’t ready or the timing isn’t right. Go to work on another project, even if you choose to query less experienced agents. It will keep you sane and will give you something else to sell in the event your first book doesn’t. Plus, I think you’ll be surprised by how much you’ve learned and grown since your last book.

Before querying you’ll need the following (in addition to your finished manuscript);

1. A query letter – this is a one page letter (you can find examples online) explaining why you’re querying this particular agent (they want to know you’ve done your homework and querying them because you genuinely think they’d be a good fit for the project – not just because you’re querying every agent known to man or woman), a brief paragraph or two about your book, and a closing that provides the word count and an offer to send a partial or full. Most agents will request a partial before they request the full manuscript. This could be a ten page partial or a fifty page partial or anything in between. Sometimes they’ll just request a synopsis, which brings me to my next point. But first, here’s my query letter for Prophecy of the Sisters, aka Indigo Sky, and the book that started it all and got me the agent I still have today;

 

June 20, 2007

AGENT NAME
AGENT ADDRESS
CITY, STATE, ZIP CODE

ATTENTION: AGENT NAME

Dear NAME OF AGENT,

I came across your name while researching potential agents for my YA novel. Your interest in fantasy and work with a paranormal edge makes me believe you might be a good fit for my YA Gothic fantasy, INDIGO SKY

It’s 1890 and sixteen-year-old Lia Milthorpe is at war with the person she loves most – her twin sister.

Alice and Lia are orphans reeling from the mysterious death of their father in the forbidden chamber known as the Dark Room. Immediately after his death, Lia begins having dreams in which she travels the skies at will while her body lies sleeping. But the dreams are not nearly as strange as the symbol blooming on her wrist – that of a snake entwined circle known as the Jorgumand.

Lia soon discovers that Sonia, a young psychic, bears nearly the same Mark. When Sonia shares with Lia the biblical tale of the Watchers, they begin a quest to solve a series of riddles found in a primordial book called The Book of Chaos. If Lia cannot solve the puzzle before her sister, she will lose more than her sanity, she will lose her very life – and bring about the apocalypse foretold in mythological legend the world over. Her journey takes her to the shadowy Astral Plane, to the nether reaches of the spirit world, and to the face of evil itself.

INDIGO SKY is complete at 78,000 words. I welcome the opportunity to send it at your request.

Warmest regards,

Michelle Zink

EMAIL ADDRESS

CONTACT PHONE NUMBER

 

Simple, right?

2. A synopsis – I advise having that synopsis prepared, a basic one page synopsis that gives a high level explanation of the events in your book, and a four to five page synopsis that is much more detailed. Don’t be coy here. The agent wants to know what’s really going on in the book and more or less how it ends. I’m giving you guys the goods by also including my one-page Synopsis for Prophecy of the Sisters below;

 

Indigo Sky – Synopsis

Sixteen-year-old Lia Milthorpe’s life is in danger from the person she loves most – her twin sister.

It’s 1890 and Lia and Alice Milthorpe are orphaned twins reeling from the mysterious death of their father and working to cheer their crippled younger brother, Henry. After their father’s sparsely attended funeral, they return two days a week to Wycliffe, a private school for wealthy girls, and attempt to settle into some kind of normalcy.

But Lia’s reality begins to unravel with sensory-rich dreams that occur more and more frequently, bringing with them a winged demon that chases her through the velvet sky of her nightmares. The dreams are followed by the discovery of an unusual mark on the inside of her wrist – that of a serpent devouring its own tail. The strange happenings make Lia long to confide in her sister, but Alice becomes more and more withdrawn, and Lia resolves to find the answers on her own.

But it is only when James discovers an ancient tome entitled “Librum Maleficii et Disordinae”, or “The Book of Chaos”, that Lia begins to understand the timeless battle of which she is a part – the battle between the demonic Lost Souls, fallen angels of the biblical Watchers, and those who try to shield the physical world from their reappearance.

The Prophecy outlined in the Book dictates that the battle continues through a long line of sisters. In each generation one sister is the Guardian, and one the Gate. The Guardian is tasked with shielding the physical world from the reappearance of the Souls. The Gate is the pathway back that will begin the Seven Plagues outlined in the biblical Book of Revelations.

Lia becomes certain she is the Guardian and her sister the Gate. When she discovers that a beautiful young psychic and an outcast from Wycliffe both bear the Mark, the three girls set out to unravel the Prophecy’s riddle and discover how they might guard the world from The Gate. The task is great enough – and is made greater still when Lia discovers the truth hidden in the Prophecy’s riddle.

A truth that will call into question everything she believed she knew about her sister – and herself.

And now there is so much more at stake, for if Lia cannot find before her sister the Keys foretold in the Prophecy, she may lose more than her sanity. She may lose her very life – sacrificing the lives of those she loves most in the process.  Her journey takes her to the shadowy Astral Plane of the Otherworlds, to the nether reaches of the Spirit World, and to the face of evil itself.

 

These are the query and synopsis’s that started my career. I hope they help you, young writers!

Now, once you have agent, that agent should take you through some revisions on your book. Even when we think our books are perfect, they’re rarely ready to sell the first time out the gate, even if you’ve revised with an editor or reader. A good agent has their finger on the marketplace and will know how to tweak your manuscript so it’s in the best position to sell. Once you’re through revisions with your agent, the book goes out “on sub” or on submission. This means your agent is sending it to editors he or she knows that are looking for your type of project. This is excruciatingly painful for the author. You’ve finally done it! You’re book is on sub! It could sell any minute!

Except it probably won’t. Most editors will take at least a month to get back to your agent, and some will take longer. You MIGHT get lucky and be in the very tiny percentage of authors whose books sells at auction (more than one house is bidding on the book at a time) or in a pre-empt (one publisher steps up and offers a lot to keep it from going to auction), but most of the time, the process is much slower and less exciting than that.

Work on something else.

Again, it will keep you sane, and it will give you something else to sell if this book doesn’t. Because yes, that’s right; just because you’re on sub doesn’t mean your book will sell. My second book VERY NEARLY sold, but it just didn’t quite make it. While it was on sub, I wrote the book that would become PROPHECY OF THE SISTERS, and the rest is history.

If your agent receives several rejections, he or she may feel it’s time to throw in the towel and start fresh with a new project. This is super devastating, no way around it. Assuming your agent IS a good one (see above), he or she will probably have submitted to somewhere around ten houses, so if someone hasn’t snapped it up by then, the odds are slim that you’re going to get a sell somewhere else, unless you’re willing to go to much smaller presses (which also have much smaller advances and a lot less to offer in terms of marketing – totally okay if you’re okay with it!). This is when it will be handy to have another project waiting in the wings. Most agents will be happy to look at your next project if your first one didn’t sell, assuming you want to stick it out with them. If you don’t, you start the process over with a different agent.

And that’s the process in a nutshell.

That’s quite a nutshell, eh?

😉

Next Week we’ll be back on track with Week Six; Agents and Editors (What They Do and Why We Need Them).

And please remember that LIES I TOLD releases TOMORROW! Ahhhh! It would mean so much to me if you would consider picking up the book and helping me spread the word online. I’m going to put up a giant giveaway tomorrow with tons of awesome stuff (gift cards! a whole signed MZ library! Victoria’s Secret bath products!), so please come back for a visit.

<3

 

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03/25/15 Uncategorized , Writing , Young Writers Series # , , , , , , , ,

Online Young Writers Series Week Four; A Word About Outside Advice

Whew! It’s been kind of crazy around here the last few days, which is why I’m late getting up this week’s installment in the Young Writers series.

Last week we talked about the different kinds of publishing, and the pros and cons of getting your book to readers via traditional publishing, boutique publishing, and self-publishing. You can reference that post here. And feel free to go back and look at the prior week’s entries as well.

This week we’re going to talk about outside advice, because frankly, it’s kind of a mine field.

If you read my post about self-editing you know that I’m a big believer in having an outside editor. Self-editing is meant to be a preliminary step on your way to the having someone else read and critique your work, not the end of the revision process.

But hiring an editor (or asking a friend, if you must go that route), can be tricky. For both of you.

Many times we ask someone to read our work, not with the desire to truly get better, but with the desire for an ego stroke, for someone to tell us our work is awesome except for that typo on page 23. We SAY we want outside criticism, but do we mean it? It’s a question each writer has to ask and answer themselves. And the truth is, if you don’t mean it, you really have no business asking someone else for feedback. It takes A LOT of time and effort to read for someone, and even more time and effort to give constructive feedback. If you’re looking for an ego stroke, you’re wasting everyone’s time (and your money, if you’re paying someone to edit for you). Your reader/editor will spend hours reading and compiling notes to help you make the book better, and you will spend days or weeks or months waiting for said notes. If you ignore everything they say anyway, what’s the point?

You might as well just ask your mom to read for you (providing she’s not a mom like me, who will tell you if it needs a lot of work, whether you like it or not).

Something I hear fairly often from people who hire me to edit for them is, “I like the book fine the way it is. Just give me feedback on the little stuff. I don’t want to change anything big.”

Here’s me when people say that; ………….

Don’t you truly want your book to be the best it can be? If so, you have to be willing to look at the whole picture, because as an experience for the reader, a book is the sum of it’s parts. True story. Do you think the reader is more concerned with a typo than with pacing so slow they can’t finish the book? Or with cliched character development? Or plot holes so big you can drive a semi through them?

I don’t know about you, but when I read a book, those are the things that make or break it. They are the things that make a reader think, “This is so boring” or “Oh, my god… I can’t finish this,” even if they don’t know why.

If you love your book the way it is and aren’t willing to consider feedback about the big and small issues, my advice is to skip the time and money of hiring an editor (and save said editor a lot of frustration) and just run with the book as is.

But I don’t advise it.

On the other side is your editor/reader/friend. I love editor/reader/friends. I’ve been fortunate to have some truly gifted ones, and it’s not an overstatement to say that they have shaped and improved my writing in HUGE ways, and often very, very quickly. In my opinion, nothing makes you better like a tough-love editor who really knows what they’re doing.

And therein lies the rub.

Not everyone who will read for you knows what they’re doing. Some will be willing to read because you’re a friend or relative. Some are readers themselves. But none of those things necessarily qualify someone to shape your project.

It is very, very important that you hire someone (or ask someone) to read/edit for you who has a solid knowledge of craft.

Let me just take a moment to let that sink in.

………….

Ready? Now listen, I understand that not everyone can hire an editor, especially if you’re in high school or college and money is tight, you may HAVE to rely on a friend or peer. But choose your readers carefully anyway. Make sure the friends or peers you ask to read for you have discerning taste in literature, or at the very least, have YOUR taste in literature. If you’ve written a book you would compare to Twilight, don’t ask your best friend to read for you when her favorite book is The Sun Also Rises. And if you’ve written another The Sun Also Rises, you probably shouldn’t ask the friend whose all-time favorite book is Twilight.

Once you’ve chosen someone to read for you, be honest about the type of feedback you’re willing to consider. Honestly, I don’t like editing for writers who aren’t interested in ALL feedback, because my mind automatically processes all the things that need work, and it’s almost impossible to turn parts of that off while leaving other parts on. This is why I prefer working on developmental edits to copyedits — people who hire me for copyedits sometimes get more than they bargained for.

😉

But if you genuinely DON’T WANT developmental feedback, be honest about that up front so your reader doesn’t spend a lot of time putting together notes that you intend to discard anyway.

After your reader is finished and gives you his/her notes, take some time to process everything before you start defending your work. This will be harder than you imagine it to be. Your instinct will likely be to explain all the reasons you did what you did, even though it didn’t work for the reader/editor, or to go into long-winded descriptions of what you were trying to do.

Operative word here? Trying.

If your reader/editor says it doesn’t work for them, it doesn’t work for them, and it may very well not work for others. If you want to have a discussion about what you were trying to do in the context of how you missed the mark and what you can do to ACTUALLY make your point, that’s okay. Sometimes it’s very helpful to brainstorm possible fixes with someone who has read your work.

But here is where you need to check yourself before you wreck yourself; Do you REALLY want to have the discussion to come up with ways to fix the problem? Or is that just a way to justify a discussion in which you defend the work as it is?

It’s an important distinction.

I’ve sold ten book and six novellas now, and I STILL have to fight a knee-jerk reaction against editorial notes. I read through my Ed Letter and think, “That’s not true. I say X right here” and “It’s OBVIOUS she’s scared because of X reason.” It’s a perfectly natural reaction to criticism against something to which you’ve given your heart and soul.

But I’ve learned to let the feedback simmer for a bit. There have been very, very few times in the span of my professional writing career when I’ve started out thinking the editor was wrong and still believed they were wrong three days later. Usually the cycle post-editorial letter goes like this;

Annoyance > Disbelief > Anger > Reflection > Inspiration

I start out annoyed that my editor thinks my project has big problems, move onto denial that they are right, slide into anger that they would dare think all this stuff is wrong, ease into reflection about the truth of their feedback, and then become inspired as ideas begin coming to make the book better.

I’ve learned to save a detailed response to editorial notes for after I’ve hit the Reflection phase. Instead, my initial email response is something like; Thanks so much for your feedback! I’ll give all this some thought and get back to you with any questions.

😉

And the truth is, edits are still terrifying after all these years. I liken it to pulling apart a giant puzzle and hoping you can make all the pieces fit back together again in a way that makes sense. There’s always a little part of me that wonders if I can really do it. But being scared isn’t a valid reason for NOT doing something that will make your book — and your writing — better. In fact (life lesson alert!), I’d say that’s true of everything in life.

What if you’re not sure about the suggested changes? What if they just don’t FEEL right in your writerly bones?

Well, ultimately the decision to change something or not to change it lies with you. Just make sure your desire to leave things as they are is TRULY rooted in the belief that the story is best served that way rather than ego or unwillingness to do the work. Questioning your editor’s credentials now is a little too convenient. You hired them/asked them to read for you because you thought they were the best person for the job (and if you didn’t, you SHOULD, see notes above). What has changed? Are they not the best person for the job because they had criticism for your work?

Hire the best person for the job, then really listen to what they have to say. That’s kind of the point, right? Because you want to be BETTER. In fact you want to get better with every book. I’m still learning, and it’s my favorite part of the process. You don’t WANT to be writing the same kind of book ten years from now that you’re writing now. You want them to get better and better and better.

Right?

The only way to make that happen is to read and write, listen and learn, and most of all, be willing to set your ego aside.

A quick checklist about the editing process;

 

1. Self-edit as much as possible before handing your project to someone else.

2. Choose someone who is somehow qualified to give you the best possible advice, then commit to listening to said advice.

3. Be clear about what you’re hoping to accomplish with your revision.

4. Take some time to process your editor/reader’s notes with an open mind before jumping to defend the way you’ve already done things.

5. Enter with an open mind into any project discussion with your editor/reader.

6. Be willing to do the hard work to make your book the best it can be.

 

Next week we’ll be covering How Do I Sell My Book? (A Step-by-Step Walk Through the Process). Hope to “see” you there!

<3

 

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03/16/15 Uncategorized , Writing , Young Writers Series # , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Online Young Writer’s Series Week Three; Publishing Options

Last week in the Young Writers series we talked about self-editing. Namely, what you should really be looking for when revising your work before passing it on to someone else. I got quite a few messages about the post and am glad it was helpful to so many of you.

This week we’re talking about the different kinds of publishing. Or SOME of them anyway. It used to be that you sent your book to an agent or editor at a traditional publishing house and left it in the hands of universe. There were big publishing houses and small publishing houses, but they all pretty much did the same thing. The big houses just had more money and more clout.

All that has changed over the last decade or so. With the advent of self-publishing, it’s become easier than ever to to see your words in print. But it’s also become more confusing than ever, because now you have OPTIONS, and all of those options come with inherent pros and cons. It can be tough to know what to do and how best to get your work to readers.

And I hate to say it, but there’s no easy answer. Plus, I’m not big on giving people answers. I like to give information instead. Then YOU can come up with your own answers.

😉

Let’s start with TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING. For the sake of this discussion, we’re going to call traditional publishers those that typically pay decent advances and have similar processes when it comes to acquiring new work, marketing, etc. We’re also going to stick with the bigger companies that have been around a while in this category, not because smaller houses don’t add value to the process, but because I’m giving them their own section in Boutique Publishing (below).

When you think of traditional publishers, you probably think of companies like HarperCollins, Random House, Simon & Schuster, Little Brown, and Penguin. But the are lots of companies that would be categorized as part of Trad Pub, and many of the smaller ones are divisions of the bigger ones (called IMPRINTS).

Traditional Publishing is the toughest way to get your work to the general population. This is because to many, it’s still the gold standard in publishing, and there are many layers to the process of being signed with them.

First of all, barring some personal connection to an editor, you MUST have an agent. Editors at traditional publishing houses stopped accepting unaccented manuscripts a long time ago. There are just too many of them, and an agent is one way editors can narrow their focus to work that has, on some level at least, already been vetted by a professional. Once an editor reads your book and likes it, they typically have to take it to Acquisitions, and that means getting a whole bunch more people on board with your book (more on that process in Week Five: How Do I Sell My Book?). By the time your book is actually bought by the publisher, LOTS of people have agreed that it’s a viable book, which means one that will make everyone money. And while it’s sometimes tempting to dismiss this part of the equation, remember that advances to authors cost money. Paying editors and marketing people and cover designers and accountants and legal people cost money. Having offices to do all of this stuff costs money. Marketing books costs money.

So… yeah. I have thoughts on the Trad Pub model of deciding where this money goes (because I don’t always agree), but I’ll save that for another time. For now, let’s just accept that big business costs big money to run, so they’re not going to buy books  they don’t think they can sell.

One note of clarification; just because THEY don’t think they can sell it doesn’t mean it WON’T sell. Keep reading.

😉

So it’s hard to break into Trad Pub, but the silver lining is that there is a certain amount of quality control involved with books that are traditionally published. At the very least, they’ve been edited and deemed good enough to buy by lots of people on the publishing team. That PROBABLY means the book doesn’t suck, and that is worth something to readers, most of whom view books that are trad pubbed as safer bets than books that are, say, self-pubbed (I’m not saying this is always true, just that this is a typical school of thought… keep reading!). Some of that street cred is passed onto you when you publish traditionally. Whatever happens to your book in terms of sales, you’ve SOLD BOOKS to big publishing houses, and that isn’t very easy to do.

Upsides to Trad Pub include more money to spend on advances and marketing. Not that this money will go to you – advances and marketing treatments vary wildly in publishing. But at least you know they HAVE it. It’s also easier to get placement for your book in bookstores, which have limited shelf space and are very picky about what they put on display. Lastly, you have access to a lot of expertise in all facets of publishing, so at the very least, it’s a tremendous learning experience, both on the editorial side (working with a great editor will make you a better writer like nothing else) and with regards to cover design, marketing, etc.

But I’m not going to lie; there are downsides. Remember all that money I told you about? Money for advances and marketing? Well, it’s far from even distribution. One book might get a $5,000 advance and another might get $500,000. One book might get a teeny-tiny marketing budget while another gets a massive campaign. And let me stop you before you say you don’t care about marketing.

You do. You SO do.

That’s because once you publish a book, those numbers follow you to the next book. And the next. If your book doesn’t sell well (which it’s much less inclined to do without significant marketing – there are just SO MANY BOOKS in the world now), your next contract, if you can get one, will likely be much less lucrative, setting you up for an endless cycle of low advance/low marketing that almost assures your authorial demise in Trad Pub. Publishers want to protect their investment, so they spend most of their marketing dollars on books that garner big advances. And those are a tiny minority of books that are bought by them, which means it’s tough for all the other books in the line up to get the kind of attention that makes Trad Pub an advantage over other methods of publishing.

Timing is also a factor with Trad Pub. Because they’re so big and have so many books, your book likely won’t be published until at least a year-and-a-half after the publishing house acquires it (I waited more than two full years for Prophecy of the Sisters).

Lastly, the amount of input you have in a traditional publishing house will likely be small. This is true when it comes to everything – marketing, cover design, even the title of your book. I’ve been lucky with LIES I TOLD, because HarperTeen has been very inclusive about title and design, but that hasn’t always been the case. And the bottom line is this; when you sell your book and accept an advance, you are no longer its sole proprietor.

In a perfect scenario, one where you get a good advance and a great marketing plan and have lots of talented people rooting for you at the publishing house, Trad Pub can be awesome. But that endorsement comes with the caveat that I’ve sold books to four major publishing houses now, and my experiences have been mixed.

Let’s move on!

I’m going to refer to BOUTIQUE PUBLISHING here as companies that are small and/or up and coming. Just a few years ago, these publishers were divided into camps; traditional boutique publishers (small companies who published print books) and digital boutique publishers (those starting to publish books on digital platforms for ereaders). Back then, many traditional boutique publishers didn’t really have a handle on the rise of digital publishing, and digital publishers didn’t have a mechanism for getting printed books into bookstores.

All of that has changed. Most small traditional publishers have become savvy about digital publishing and how to use it to their advantage, and new distributors have stepped up to provide brick-and-mortar placement for boutique houses that once specialized in ebooks. This is all awesome news for writers, so let’s start with the upsides!

Working with a boutique publisher can mean more hands-on input about cover, title, and marketing. This isn’t always the case, but most of the time you have fewer cooks in the kitchen with a small house, and that means you have direct access to the people collaborating on these decisions. Timing can also be accelerated with a small publisher (although not always), meaning your book may make it in front of readers much faster than it would with traditional publishing.

Small publishers tend to cater to niche markets. That means if you write romance or sci-fi or erotica, or any “genre” novel, you won’t be competing against all of those books PLUS books in every other category for a spot. And once the book is published, that publisher may have a loyal following of readers in that genre who trust them to publish the books they like. Translation; sometimes it’s an easier way in.

Most importantly, small publishers can be more accessible to writers both before and after publication. You don’t always need an agent to get your manuscript in front of an editor, and after your book is acquired, you’ll likely have direct access to many of the people on your team.

As with anything, there can be downsides. Easier access and acquisition isn’t always a good thing. Sometimes (not all the time!) a book isn’t picked up by Trad Pub because, well, it’s just not good enough. It could be that it needs more editing or it’s in a waning genre or any number of other things, but sometimes having your book rejected by Trad Pub is a blessing in disguise.

When I first got an agent, we tried to sell my second book. I loved that book. I thought it was absolutely perfect. But it didn’t sell, and while I was super disappointed, I’d spent the months it was on submission working on a Gothic fantasy called Indigo Sky. That book became Prophecy of the Sisters. The failure of my second book to sell prompted me to seek out a new agent, and I ended up with Steven Malk and Writer’s House, who have been amazing to me and amazing for my career. Prophecy sold for a much larger advance than that second book ever would have, insuring me more marketing and a better start in the business. I believe I would have been published either way (I wrote five books in two-and-a-half years – I was DETERMINED), but I think it would have been a rougher start with that second book, and there’s no telling where I’d be now.

The thing is, those editors knew my second book wasn’t ready, even if I didn’t. If I were trying to sell it now, maybe I’d sell it to a smaller publisher or self-pub it. But that wouldn’t magically render it ready. It wouldn’t magically render it GOOD. And do I want a book with my name on it floating around out there if it’s not, at the very least, GOOD?

No.

Small publishers also have less money to spend on marketing, although this is only an issue if we’re talking about the BIG money spent in traditional publishing compared to the small money spent in boutique publishing. If your book falls into the latter category, there might not be much of a difference between small money in Trad Pub and average money in Boutique Pub. Also, your advance with a small publisher will likely be small or even non-existent. Maybe you’ll make it up in royalties, maybe not.

Let’s move on to our last category; SELF-PUBLISHING.

Self-Publishing used to be a four-letter-word in publishing. It was only done (supposedly) by hacks; people who weren’t good enough to sell their books to a “real” publisher. And to be fair, this criticism wasn’t always unfounded. There are downsides to making it easy for anyone and everyone to upload their writing and call it a book. Because let’s face it; writing is harder than it looks, and just because you love to read and own a computer, well, that doesn’t mean you’re a great writer.

Which is not to say you shouldn’t write! I say if something brings you joy, do it! But as a reader, let’s be honest; it sucks to take a chance on a book, pay for it with your hard earned money, and then have it be downright bad.

Luckily, self-publishing no longer carries the stigma it once did, and there are endless resources available to make sure your work is as professional as possible before you show it to the world. You can hire editors and cover designers and even PR people to help you get the word out. And if you’re on a budget, there are countless resources online that will give you information about how to do these things yourself. You can collaborate with other self-published others on Twitter and Facebook, cross-promoting and learning the ropes from each other.

You also have complete control. Over your title, your cover, your release date. Everything. If your cover doesn’t play well with readers, you can change it and have the new one up in twenty-four hours. If you need to make edits after it’s been published, you can do that, too. Your book can be released within days, and your paychecks (if your book sells) will start arriving within a couple of months.

All of that control comes with a price, though, and it’s called RESPONSIBILITY. Your cover will only be as good as the cover designer you hire or the cover you design yourself. Do you have the expertise to do it? Does your cover designer REALLY know what makes for a cover that sells books? Your book will only be as good as  the editor you hire and the revisions you make. Nothing can destroy a book’s potential like a bad editor — or an author unwilling to make the changes necessary for the book to shine. Are you willing to do that? Do you have access to an editor that REALLY knows what he/she is doing? Marketing is a HUGE part of self-publishing. There is no publisher to send press releases or get your book up on Goodreads or give out advance copies to librarians and teachers at conferences. Do you have the time and knowledge to make all that happen?

If so, self-publishing may be for you, and many authors have made a name for themselves (and a good living) doing it.

Bottom line; there are more options than ever for writers. By taking a hard look at your work, your goals, and your resources, you can decide which route is best for you. The good news is, if it doesn’t work out, those other options are still out there, and there’s nothing saying you can’t switch gears later on. Many traditionally published authors are now “hybrid authors”, which means they traditionally publish some of the their work and use other methods as well.

I hope this helps! Please feel free to leave questions in the Comments section. And check back next Monday for Week Four; A Word About Outside Advice.

Because not all advice is good advice.

😉

Also, we’re doing an awesome video project for the LIES I TOLD launch and would love for you to participate! All you have to do is send a video via Skype to LIESITOLD detailing a lie you’ve told yourself or one someone else has told you, how that lie has impacted you or your self-esteem, and how you go about moving on from the lie. The first five people to submit videos win a personal Skype video from me plus a signed hardcover of LIES I TOLD. And I’m participating, too. Yikes!

Check out the details an my video message about the project here.

 

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03/09/15 Uncategorized , Writing # , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Online Young Writers Series Week Two; Self-Editing

Welcome back, young writers!

🙂

Last week we talked about the things you can do now to give yourself a head start if you’d like to write as a career. This week we’re going to talk about self-editing, because while EVERY writer needs an editor other than themselves, it wouldn’t be nice to give your book to someone else without first doing some work on it. That’s because NO BOOK IS EVER “DONE” right after you finish writing it.

One more time for good measure.

NO BOOK IS EVER “DONE” RIGHT AFTER YOU FINISH WRITING IT.

It doesn’t matter how awesome it is or how much you love it. And that goes for every author everywhere.

Even if you circle back and edit as you go (I do this in 100 page increments), you won’t have an objective view on the book until you get some distance from it and then read it front to back. Even then, you will STILL need an outside reader/editor. But they will hate you less because you will have done at least some of the clean up ahead of time.

😉

When I first started editing my work, waaaaaaay back in 2005 when I started trying to get published, I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, and to be honest, I didn’t even realize that I didn’t know what I was looking for. Of course, there was the obvious; typos, inconsistencies in the timeline, pieces I’d forgotten to take out when I’d cut other pieces with which they connected, etc.

But I wasn’t focused on the big picture at first. You know what made me start focusing on the big picture? Reading for OTHER people.

I belonged to a few online writer’s forums and began trading work with a couple of people I liked and admired (one of them is now also published, which was so fun and exciting to find out). It was only when I started reading for other writers that I saw the things that REALLY mattered. And it wasn’t typos (although I should say for the sake of clarification that your manuscript shouldn’t be riddled with them).

That was a turning point in my own self-editing evolution, because I was able to look for the things I knew readers would notice.

But before I get to the checklist, I want to stress one very important thing about self-editing; GIVE YOURSELF TIME AWAY FROM YOUR MANUSCRIPT BEFORE YOU BEGIN EDITING.

I know, I know. You’re DYING to read it! DYING to send it out to other people so they can read it! DYING to start querying agents! DYING to put it up on Amazon and Apple and B&N if you’re self-publishing.

But trust me on this; you will NOT see your work objectively until you give your mind time to breathe. Consider it a palette cleanser, like those little dishes of sorbet they give you between courses at super fancy restaurants. Work on something else, read, take walks, hang with friends, watch movies. Anything BUT start revising your manuscript. In a perfect world, you’d be able to give yourself at least a month away from it, but if you absolutely can’t wait that long, promise me you’ll wait at least two weeks.

Pinky promise?

Good.

Once you’ve had a break, go back and start reading your manuscript with these things in mind (this checklist pulls from a talk I give to schools and libraries about self-editing);

1) Setting

Setting is so important to that immersive quality you get in a good book. It’s the thing that makes you really feel like you’re in a different place, like you can taste the food and smell the air and see the trees and flowers and weather unique to that area. A well developed setting makes the reader feel like they are THERE. This was a very big part of Prophecy of the Sisters. The rural New York setting in the late 1800s allowed me to create a lot of the creepy, moody vibe that pervades the book, with fog hanging low over the fields and shrouding the mountains, rain battering the windows, and the wind making an old house creak. In A Temptation of Angels it was Victorian London, its nighttime air sooty with lamp smoke, the clatter of carriages a backdrop to everything outside. In This Wicked Game it was modern day New Orleans with sultry, humid weather, the sound of jazz bands, the smell of magnolias. And in LIES I TOLD it’s a California paradise on a cliff over the water where wild peacocks strut the streets and parrots flit through a thick canopy of trees, the sound of the surf breaking against the cliff like a lullaby to everyone who lives there.

See what I mean? It’s important! And even suburban America has a look, feel, and smell. Your job is to capture it so fully that it almost feels like another character in your book – without distracting from the story.

2) Character Development

This might seem obvious, but the nuances to creating well-rounded characters are many and sometimes difficult to quantify. In short, you want your characters to come on the scene fully developed, with a personality, likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams, habits and tics. And you want your protagonist to change somehow through the happenings of your story. To arc, if you will. The protagonist could start out strong and be broken by the end. He could be broken and grow strong. She could be rigid and unmoving and the grow to see that things aren’t so black and white. The important thing is that your character be so unique that he or she isn’t interchangeable with just anybody.

In Prophecy of the Sisters, Lia starts out the meeker of the two twins and must grow to own the responsibility that is hers, even if it means forsaking her twin. In A Temptation of Angels, Helen evolves from a sheltered, over-protected Victorian girl to someone willing to risk her life to save others. In This Wicked Game, Clare eventually begins to question her disbelief in voodoo, and her harsh judgement of those who practice it, when she realizes that life is a lot more mysterious than we think. In LIES I TOLD, Grace begins to question not only the things other people tell her about herself, but the things she’s believed to be true as well – all in an effort to become more fully HERSELF. Not the Grace everyone else says or believes she is, but the one she in in her heart, and the one she most wants to be.

A big part of the fun and challenge of reading about interesting characters is watching them grow and change. Make sure yours are fully developed from the beginning, and that the main characters make some kind of emotional, physical, or mental journey in the story.

3) Relationship development

This is very similar to Character Development. In real life, our relationships with others are sometimes complicated, full of love and dislike and competition and jealousy and admiration. And as people undergo change, so too, do our relationships with others. This should be reflected in your story. Relationships should be authentic, backed up by what you show or tell us about them. This is easiest to illustrate in a love story. In a good one, we see the gradual progression from first meeting to love through a series of (hopefully realistic) encounters and exchanges. But relationship development can be more complicated when it comes to other types of relationships. If two people have always been competitive, that should be evident, even subtly, in their interaction and/or the accompanying exposition, and that should be true of any relationship you build. If you show us that someone is protective of someone else, that dynamic should be evident throughout, until and if it isn’t anymore.

In Prophecy of the Sisters, Lia and Alice grow from having a slightly distant relationship to being actual enemies, and then find their way back to each other in a more honest way. In A Temptation of Angels, Helen has an adversarial relationship with Darius, Griffin’s older, cynical brother. But in the end, Darius comes to respect her, and she comes to see beneath his brittle facade. In This Wicked Game, Clare and her parents are at odds. Clare doesn’t want any part of voodoo, but it’s an important part of her parent’s history and current business. We see them clash in the beginning, but gradually Clare’s stance softens, and her mother thaws a bit, too. In Lies I told, Grace and Parker start out close, like the adopted siblings they are, then grow apart as their goals diverge.

Whatever the relationships in your story, make sure they are authentic and fully developed. Think about the complexities of your own relationships! Try to capture them on the page.

4) Pacing

Pacing is the speed with which a reader moves through your story, and it is largely dependent on the things you’ve included, the things you’ve omitted, and the way the story is structured.

When I’m preparing to write a book, I use a screenwriting “beat sheet” to outline the pivotal moments in the story (you can find sample beat sheets online). Then I write a 4-5 page summary of the story, laying out those pivotal moments within the narrative of the story. To keep things moving, you want to move between pivotal moments as quickly as possible.

When you read a book that feels slow, it’s often because the writer has rambled a bit in the space between pivotal events. It’s okay to mention what a character’s wearing from time to time, for example, or to show us what they order at a diner. But we don’t need to see what they’re wearing everyday (unless this is a book with a fashion component or it serves the plot somehow), and we don’t need to hear about every meal they eat.

When I was working on pacing it helped me to visually my book like a movie. In a movie if two people are going to a diner to eat, we don’t always see them in the car in the way there. And indeed we SHOULDN’T – unless something happens in the car that is material to the plot or some other important facet of the story. More often than not we’ll see two people agreeing to go to the diner, and then the director will cut immediately to the diner and the conversation that takes place there, because THAT is the next pivotal moment.

See what I mean?

Structure can play a part in this, too. Sometimes we can most easily see the things we need to see with POV shifts or flashbacks. Whatever it takes!

5) Voice

Voice is that intangible quality that makes you feel like you’re inside a character’s head. It’s a hard thing to learn, so I can’t really tell you how to do it. But I can say the best way to cultivate voice is to first look closely at the things I’ve laid out so far. If your setting is rich and atmospheric, if your characters are fully fleshed out, if their relationships with others are real and sincere, voice will often come naturally.

I heard Lia’s voice in my head before I ever started writing. It was somber and a little heavy. Helen’s voice was young and scared in the beginning and grew to be strong and even a little impetuous. Clare was difficult for me at first. She was just a normal, modern girl. How could I make her stand out? I waited for a long time to start This Wicked Game because I couldn’t hear Clare in my head. I thought about her when I drove or when I cooked, imagined what she would think of various things. Then one day, she was just there. Grace came easily to me and by the time I’d written the Prologue, I had her in my head. Her voice in LIES I TOLD is a little sad, a little weary. I had trouble with voice at first in my current WIP, so I wrote a stream of consciousness narrative for each of the two main characters until I felt like I “knew” them.

You can do this too!

Try writing something short from the first-person POV of someone you know. It could be someone from school, a sibling, a friend, your bus driver. Imagine what that person thinks about, what matters to them. There are no rules! Just choose something to write about and go. It can be about that lonely kid on the bus who never talks to anyone on the way home or the bus driver who always looks so tired. What is he/she thinking about? What matter to him/her? Just write a stream of consciousness something in this person’s POV. You can do this anytime you want as an exercise, and you can do it with the characters in your book if you’re having trouble nailing their voice. In the case of the latter, do it until it feels right, because it’s important that you have that down when you begin.

Voice is also YOUR voice. That is, the unique quality to your writing that will make a reader know they are reading a Michelle Zink book or a John Smith book or a Jane Doe book, even when those books seem wildly different on the surface. That isn’t something that can be taught, but it can be cultivated. How?

Simple. You have to write. A LOT.

6) Authenticity

Few things are as important as this. Have you ever read a book and groaned aloud because, well, people don’t TALK like that!?! Or you just know that character wouldn’t do that? In movies this is a big pet peeve of mine. I call it the “Running from an Explosion” effect. It’s like, really? The building explodes  and they just run and they’re okay? They don’t get hit with debris or anything? They don’t get cut or banged up?

But dialog and narrative can be tricky too. Try to hear your characters in your head (having their voice down will help with this) so you can imagine them talking. Remember that most real people use contractions. They do not say something like this. They’re much more likely to say it like this.

😉

I’ve been lucky to have teenagers and young people in my house for the last ten years, so I’m pretty much surrounded by youth speak at all times. The downside is that I probably sound like a sixteen year old sometimes, but the upside is that I’ve always gotten compliments on my dialog. Just remember that speech, like everything else, is affected by character development. A surfer from California probably won’t sound the same as a street-wise kid from New York City, and THEY will probably sound different from someone who’s grown up on a farm.

But one word of warning; don’t make caricatures out of your characters! Just because someone is from the Bronx doesn’t mean they Towk Like This. And just because they’re from California doesn’t mean they’re, like, soooo stupid! Think about your character, where and how they grew up, who they ARE, and let that inform your dialog and the story to make both authentic.

7) Plot

This is kind of a loaded bullet point for the sake of this online series. There are TONS of diagrams and graphs online to illustrate story arc. As I’ve said, I use a beat sheet when I plot out my books, but it doesn’t matter what you use; just make sure your books HAS a plot.

Most plots are made of up the following; Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, and Climax. You could go crazy looking up all the varying perspectives on plot. There are subcategories to the above, and sometimes subcategories to subcategories. But the main thing to remember is that a plot has CONFLICT, and pretty much everything in the book revolves around the resolution of that conflict. Sometimes it helps me to see Conflict as Goal. In Prophecy of the Sisters, the goal was to figure out the Prophecy (first book) and then bring it to an end (in the second and third books). In A Temptation of Angels, it was for Helen, Griffin, and Darius to figure out who was hunting them and why, and then eliminate that danger. In This Wicked Game, it was for Clare to figure out what the mysterious woman wanted and how she was connected to the Guild – and to Clare’s family. And in LIES I TOLD, it’s Grace’s internal conflict between staying on the grift with her family even if it means betraying someone she loves or finding a way to have a real life.

A plot isn’t wandering around in a made-up world seeing interesting things and it’s not just people talking. There has to be a conflict, and from that conflict a goal typically arises (goal=to resolve conflict). Make sure your story has these things, and it will also have the kind of order that makes a book readable and engaging.

Whew! That was quite a lesson. I hope it helps. Please feel free to leave any questions in the Comments section, and please pass this along to any other young writers.

Remember that you can go back and read last week’s lesson about how to prepare for a future writing career. There are lots of different ways to get your words to reader, and next week we’ll be talking about the different paths to publication and the pros and cons of each, including traditional publishing, boutique publishing, and self-publishing.

And you guys! Less than a month until LIES I TOLD releases. Then you can all read Grace’s story.

🙂

 

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03/02/15 Uncategorized , Writing # , , , , , ,

Online Young Writers Series Week One; Preparation

Welcome to Week One of the Online Series for Young Writers.

*throws confetti and hands you a pretty mocktail*

😉

If you were here last week, you know that I announced this eight-week series as a way to give writing advice for teenagers and other young people. You can find that post, which breaks down the topic for each week, here.

This week’s topic is What You Can do Now (Prepping for Your Future Writing Career). I chose this as a week one topic because it’s one of the questions I get most often at book events when talking to young writers. Sometimes it’s phrased differently.

“What is your best advice for young writers?”

“What’s the most important thing for a young writer to know?”

“Did you write when you were young?”

But these are all really asking the same thing. “What can I do NOW?” And I totally get it. If you’re fifteen or sixteen or seventeen and still in high school, your future as a writer can seem a world away, which can make anything you do now seem pointless anyway.

But it’s not. Trust me.

In fact, this is the BEST time to lay groundwork for your career as a writer. Why? Well, for one, you have more free time than you will ever have in your life (unless you’re training to be a ballerina or for the Olympics trials or something like that). I know it might not seem that way. You have school and friends and parents and chores and homework and school events and probably multiple sports and/or extra-curricular clubs. Maybe even a part time job. But you also have weekends and holidays and breaks. You have TV and social networking time you can trade for time to write or read or research.

And here’s what you DON’T have; kids, a house to run, groceries to shop for, a full time job (probably), a spouse who needs your attention, bills to pay, dry cleaning to take in or pick up, older parents who need you to help care for them, etc., etc.

The truth is, it will never be EASY. Making time for something you feel passionately about rarely is in the modern world. But there are times in life when it will be easier than others, and for 99% of you, this is one of those times.

The other good news is that LOTS of unexpected things fall under the category of preparing yourself to be a writer. Of course, writing is very important.

Writing is good! You should do it as much as you can!

🙂

But reading is also part of being a great writer. Stephen King has famously said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

It’s THAT important, guys. So every hour you clock reading? That COUNTS as writing prep. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re reading fiction or non-fiction, whether you’re reading the newspaper or an essay for school. Something crazy happens when you read; your brain processes EVERYTHING, even when you don’t realize it. It’s making little notes about which sentences are pleasing to the ear, which phrases sound “right”. It’s leaving little bookmarks in your brain that your subconscious will go back to later, bookmarks that will tell you (when you’re writing), “That’s too long” or “That sentence sounds clunky” or “That’s not the word I’m looking for” . These bookmarks tell you when you’re bored, when you check out of a story, and when you sit up straighter in the moment a story gets your full attention.

And all that stuff STAYS WITH YOU. It stays with you even if you don’t know it’s there. The next time you sit down to write? Your writing will be informed by all the lessons you’ve learned, often unwittingly, while you’ve been reading.

All of this is why READING is #1 on my list of Things You Need to Make Time for if You Want to be a Writer.

Even before writing.

But of course, writing is next. If you want to be a writer, it’s probably because, well, you enjoy writing.

🙂

So make some time for it on a regular basis. It can be every day before bed or every Saturday at 10am, but make time to write SOMETHING, even if it’s just a journal entry or a poem or a snippet of a story idea or a stream-of-consciouness rant about something that’s ticking you off. As with reading, you will learn while you write, even if you don’t realize it. I’ve found that earmarking a certain time of day or certain day of the week for writing makes it more likely that I’ll actually do it (more on this later in Week Seven; Keeping the Balls in the Air (How to Juggle School, Social Life, and Writing)). It can be five minutes before bed in your journal, an hour on Saturday morning to work on a short story, or twenty minutes in Study Hall every other day. But try to find time to write on some kind of regular basis. For me at least, the longer I go without writing, the harder it is to jump back in.

Reason enough to regularly put words on the page!

Now this next one is going to seem obvious. And maybe a little weird because it’s so obvious, but stay with me here.

To be a good writer, you have to THINK.

I’m not just talking about school thinking or studying or thinking about what outfit to wear (although all of those things will also inform your writing in unexpected ways). I’m talking about CHALLENGING yourself to see things in another way.

That kid at school that you can’t stand? What’s his story? What might have made him obnoxious/annoying/rude/disrespectful/ chauvinistic? That person who has a different political viewpoint? Where is she coming from? Does she have any valid points? Can you see why she might feel the way they do? That teacher who seems a little beaten down? What is going on behind the scenes? Has she had a rough morning? What might have happened on in the hours before school (an alarm that didn’t go off in time? A sick child who was up all night? A fender bender? Spilled coffee on a favorite shirt?)? You’ll be surprised by the paths you travel and the ideas you get for stories if you think beyond the obvious.

Which brings me to my next point.

OBSERVE. As writers, most of us do this anyway, but sometimes it’s nice to know all those little thoughts you have throughout the day aren’t for nothing. When you feel anxious before a test, note the physical response; are your hands clammy, is it harder to take a good, deep breath? What does school sound like? What does it smell like? That beautiful sunset? How would you describe it on the page? When you see your crush in the hall, do you feel your cheeks get warm? Do you want to run and hide or profess your undying love? Or maybe both.

😉

All of these things are the stuff of LIVING. And you can’t write about life if you’re not living it.

Lastly, I have a fun assignment for you! Seek out other kinds of stories. Plays! Movies! TV shows! All of these things are stories told in different formats. Not only will they keep your creative juices flowing, but you might just find your interest in writing extends beyond book writing.

Let’s recap! To give yourself the best head start possible for a future writing career;

1) Read as much as you can. Anything! Everything!

2) Pick a consistent time each day or week when you will sit down and write something. Anything!

3) Think. Go beyond the obvious to establish empathy for people who are different than you and to see things in a new way.

4) Observe. Pay attention to the little details that make a story – and life – interesting.

5) Broaden your story horizons.

And lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself. Adolescence is a busy time for most people. Keep your eye on the ball of what you want for your future, but recognize that all the living you’re doing now is setting you up to write about it later. Someday you’ll be surprised at all you did and learned when you didn’t even know you were doing it! And believe me when I say that you have lots of time for other writing-related stuff after high school (and even college).

Feel free to put your writing questions in Comments. And join me next Monday for Self-Editing, a Checklist.

<3

 

 

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Michelle Zink is the award-winning author of over seven novels. She lives in New York with too many teenagers and too many cats.
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Acclaim

"This arresting story takes readers to other planes of existence…"
- Booklist (starred review)


“An intense and captivating story…”
- VOYA (starred review)


“A fresh and engaging cast of characters, a page-turning plot and lyrical prose add up to an accomplished feat of storytelling…”
- The Guardian


“A captivating tragedy…"
- Publishers Weekly


“Zink’s methodical unfolding of events will draw readers in…”
- Kirkus


“Tingly suspense is craftily managed…”
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