Five Things on a Friday

Thing the first.  I ordered Heist Society by Ally Carter last night. I think the cover is adorable and I love the the Gallagher Girls series, so sold! Do y’all not agree that Ally writes the cutest books ever? Cammie’s voice in Gallagher Girls is very teen without being overwrought or vapid. She writes so well, but every word sounds authentic. Love!

Thing the second. One of my best friends, Emily, just got a new puppy. And guess what she named him? Scout!!! My sweet friends have been so supportive of my writing and it was really cute when she told me what she was naming her new pup. Of course, she liked the name, too, but we’ll pretend it was completely out of love for MY Scout. So, here is a picture of Scout the puppy. (P.S. My Scout would probably roll over in her literary grave at having a d-o-g named after her, but that’s alright!)

Thing the third. Tonight my parents are coming down to celebrate my Golden Birthday!! What is a Golden Birthday you might ask? It means I’m turning 24 on the 24th. For those of you who don’t remember from last year, birthdays in my family are national holidays beginning with a present for the parents on the start of my birthday month, then a countdown at the beginning of the birthday week. It’s all very exciting. So my parents, because it’s my golden, are taking my friends to the Stephen F. Austin hotel for dinner and drinks and then the “kids” (sans parents) are going out on the town. My friends have some festivities planned next week. I believe we’ll be hitting up Midnight Rodeo, aka the happiest place on earth. So, this year for my birthday, I’ve asked for a book deal. Hopefully NYC will get the memo that anniversary of my birth is kiiiiiiiind of a big deal and oblige. Yes?

Thing the fourth. Recently I’ve been working on becoming a better blog commenter. I read a lot of blogs, but am not so good at leaving the comments, which is okay I guess, but I know how much I love comments and that leads me to believe other people enjoy comments as well. So, yes, I’ve been commenting up a storm recently. Well, maybe not a storm, but certainly a flurry. It’s my goal to comment on about 5 blogs a day. I got this advice from Shelli’s blog, Market My Words. I think she actually suggested 10, but baby steps, people, baby steps. Consequently, though, I’ve f0und a bunch of cool new blogs to read like Elana Johnson’s and Cynthia Hand’s.

Thing the fifth. I’ve been tweaking the blog a bit when I have time. I have a new picture up. You can ooo and awww over it if you want (just kidding). You can now subscribe to the blog via email if you’d like and I’ve provided RSS feeds for some of my favorite blogs on the side bar. WordPress is still a bit fussy about what widgets you’re allowed to add, but I hear there is a new follower widget akin to google’s so I’m going to work on that. If anyone knows how to get 2 columns, one on each side, that would probably make me a bit happier.

Review in Questions: I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have to Kill You

The Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women is a fairly typical all-girls schools–that is, it would be if every school taught advanced martial arts in PE and the latest in chemical warfare in science, and students received extra credit for breaking CIA codes in computer class. The Gallagher Academy might claim to be a school for geniuses, but it’s really a school for spies.

 

ityily


Cammie Morgan is a second-generation Gallagher Girl, and by her sophomore year she’s already fluent in fourteen languages and capable of killing a man in seven different ways (one of which involves a piece of uncooked spaghetti). But the one thing the Gallagher Academy hasn’t prepared her for is what to do when she falls for a boy who think’s she’s an ordinary girl.

 

Favorite thing about the book?

The voice is great. Not annoying, but still very teenager. Cammie is clever and likable. However, my favorite part was definitely the format of the book. We talked last week about first person POV and, one of my favorite things to see in a first person narrative is a creative format, a creative reason why the narrator is telling his or her story. 

In this book, the narrative is couched in a Covert Operations Report, which Cammie has been encouraged to write in order to detail her involvement in the events of the semester before. 

Obligatory least favorite thing about the book?

Not sure what happened with one of the main characters. She didn’t really play a part in the end, which was really too bad. Although, I assume she’ll play a major role in the later books. 

What was most surprising about the book?

The last page–sorry, no spoilers here. There’s a quick little sentence, though, that surprised me. 

Favorite Character?

Macey McHenry

Underlying themes?

Girl Power. I think the reader gets hammered on the head with this one. 

After this book you felt…?

Amused and happy. 

Who would you recommend this book to?

Folks that like the teenagery YA voice, but with less angst. 

Fans of Harry Potter or House of Night that are craving the boarding school-set series. 

Readers who enjoy the girl power messages of E. Lockhart. 

Finally, how long did it take you to read?

This is sort of embarrassing, but I started reading this in July of ’08! Honestly, this has nothing to do with the quality of the book. Nate read it in a day. But, I would describe it not so much as a can’t-put-it-down type book, but a happy read. I kept picking up this book when I wanted a laugh or feel amused. It’s a nice book for the nightstand and always put me in a good mood. It’s just so darn cute. 

Actually, though, my timing is good because Gallagher Girls #3 comes out soon, so y’all are just in time to read the first two if you so desire and then pick up Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover

 

Fenceposts for Your First Person Narrative

This week I’m going to be talking about writing in first person. I know that I struggled with the idea of writing in first person. I don’t find it the most natural mode of storytelling and always feel a bit of “Why is the character telling me this?” 

But, I’d say the vast majority of YA novels are written in first person and I’ve come to love it. First person adds voice and sympathy for the protagonist. There is no closer narrative form than that of first person. So embrace. I did.

The first work I switched over to first person landed me an agent. Of course, that’s not to say that everyone should write in first person. I love Melissa Marr’s works, written in alternating 3rd limited POV. 

Rather this series of posts is meant to help those interested in a foray into first person. And please, feel free to leave your tips and comments below. Thanks!

 

So today I’m talking about fashioning fenceposts. *So much alliteration, I can hardly handle it!* Anyway, fenceposts are something I use before I start writing. If you want to outline before this point that is more than fine. But, fenceposts are there to help you find your voice. 

I think I can explain this best through illustration. 

From I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You by Ally Carter, narrated by Cammie:

“We waited two weeks. TWO WEEKS! Do you know how long that is in fifteen-year-old-girl time? A lot. A LOT, a lot. I was really starting to empathize with all htose women who talk about biological clocks.”

“Okay, so I didn’t know the Jacksons, much less how Granny way feeling, but Gradma Morgan had taught me that Chinese Water Torture is nothing compared to a grandmother who really wants to know something.”

 

From The Forest of Hands and Teeth (because it’s fresh in my mind) by Carrie Ryan, narrated by Mary:

“But there are times when I stand at the edge of the Forest of Hands and Teeth and look out at the wilderness that stretches on forever and wonder what it would be like if it were all water.”

“Inside it feels as though the stone walls drain the heat of the day and the hairs on my arms stand on end.”

 

Or from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling [Not in 1st person, but definitely a fencepost for Hermione's voice]:

“Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have.”

 

Ok, so of course, I don’t know what these authors did or how they started or anything like that. But what I do, prior to beginning, is talk in my characters voice. I get out a notebook and just think of random things that my narrating character would say. These become my posts. 

Naturally, the focus is not so much on what the character says, but how the character says it. 

I started with an opening line: “If the gnashing teeth ten feet behind didn’t kill me, my dad would. But that was a problem for Future Scout.” 

That was fencepost #1. 

One of my other earlier fenceposts was: “The fact that my eyes hadn’t burned crop circles in place of his nostrils felt like a small miracle. Of course God would be on his side.”

We’ll call that fencepost #2. 

 

After the creation of several more fenceposts, I’m left with a bunch of supporting structures jutting out vertically. That’s good. I’ve got them written down in no particular order, but I’m going to work with them. Because to build the actual fence, I need to constantly link back to the posts. 

Voice is about consistency. The character has to own the voice you give him or her. So these fenceposts you create are there to refer and link back to. Each sentence you write in first person has to be close enough to attach to one of the vertical posts. 

That’s the real danger with first person, I think. You want to go into some beautiful description about what the passage of time feels like, but Cammie Morgan is just going to say that it is A LOT of time in fifteen-year-old-girl time. Yanno?

Or you might want to describe the setting really eloquently. If you are writing from Mary’s perspective, you can get away with the pensive, lovely description. If you are Cammie Morgan, you can’t. Not ever ever. Never. Seriously.

So, start out by writing your fenceposts and in every sentence ask, Is that too far away from one of my fenceposts to link back to?

Friday Forecast: Let’s Talk Money

For today’s Friday Forecast I want to talk about money. A lot of people are disillusioned about how much *the majority* of writers make. What’s a typical advance? Do novelists live off their writing? What the heck is a “nice” deal and why is it different than a “good” deal?

All good questions. And here are you your answers.

For whatever reason–I’m guessing it’s decorum–the publishing industry has broken advances into categories:

A “nice deal” is defined as any advance equaling $49,000 and under (ex. Joy Preble’s Spark)
A “very nice deal’”is between $50,000 and $99,000 (ex. StarLit Productions’ The Break Up Code)
A “good deal” is $100,000 to $250,000 (ex. Lindsey Leavitt’s Princess for Hire)
A “significant deal” is $251,000 to $499,000 (can’t think of one right now)
And…A ‘major deal’ is $500,000 and up (ex. Anna Godbersen’s The Luxe)

(For some humorous descriptions of how these advance categories should really be labeled check this out.)

Most books advances for first novels fall between $5,000-8,000. Nice deals make up almost 50% of advances. The median advance is about $5,000.  Now remember that an advance is not a lump sum. The publisher will break it up into parts usually. At least some of it is paid on publication. Your agent can try to weight the money as heavily toward the front end as possible, but the insistence of publishers on splitting up the advance has become increasingly heavy-handed.

Don’t quit your day job. Until you’ve written more than one book and have begun to earn royalties, do not depend on your writing. Think about this: Ally Carter, author of the Gallagher Girl series just quit her day job this winter and she has two bestsellers, a couple adult books out there, a movie deal with Disney, and another couple books already bought up unwritten.

I always find it funny when people ask, “So, if your book sells are you still going to law school?” Yes, Yes, Yes! I am still going to law school. I am still completely law school. No matter what. Make the time to write. Work it into your life, but if you force yourself to depend on it, your muse might be too stressed out to appear.

 

Status: Later today I will be posting the artwork that goes with SCOUT. I still have not seen it yet, but my fingers are crossed an my hopes are high. Earlier this morning I finished New Moon. I guess it’s time to get Eclipse. I ordered in Story of  Girl by Sara Zarr at the library, too. Now, I’m working on a synopsis for SCOUT, which will be part of a proposal package should we get a request for more materials.

10 Things to Look for When Submitting to Small Presses

First I’d like to point out a great series of posts on what of my favorite author blogs. Ally Carter has a wonderful series entitled 101 Tips on Being a Writer. Ally is the author of the bestselling Gallagher Series put out by Hyperion. In this series of blog posts she covers everything from writers’ block to publishing to completing a novel. Great stuff and a must read. (This is the link to the first set of 101 and you can work your way through the rest via her sidebar.)

On to today’s post: What to look for in a small press.

Thank goodness for small presses. They diversify the type of books available and they are often more accessible to newer authors. So it’s no surprise that there are many good reasons for an author to pursue publication with a small press. An author may want a more intimate experience. If he or she is a new author, a bit of handholding on the part of the publisher can be nice. I’ve mentioned this before, but sometimes it is better for a writer to build their career up from the ground floor. If you go with a big publisher with a big advance and flop, then your career could easily be doomed from the start. Better to exceed expectations. Also, working with a small press editor can be a great learning experience as their lists are smaller and they can devote more time to working with you to grow as an author. 

These are all good things. But, it’s important to remember that not all small presses are created equal.

*Note: Deciding whether or not a particular small press is right for you depends heavily on your goals and expectations. So take that into consideration when reading this post.

1. How will your book be distributed? It’s not terribly difficult to get your book on Amazon. You could do this by purchasing an ISBN number. So, make sure if you want your book to be in brick-and-mortar stores, you ask the publisher if it will be. A lot of times you will get answers like, “It will be available for stores to special order.” That basically means “No, it won’t.” At least not unless someone goes into a specific book stores and asks for your book. If the publisher says, “Yes, it will be in stores” make sure you ask for a list of which ones. Small presses should be able to provide a list of stores where other authors’ books are shelved.

2. The Website: The focus point of a small press’s website should not be a call for submissions. Legitimate publishers–even small publishers–will be flooded with more submissions than they can handle without advertising how to submit manuscripts. Don’t get me wrong, you should be able to find that information, but a little searching never hurt anyone. The focus of the website should be selling books. They should be providing information on their current books to booksellers, to teachers, to distributors, etc. THAT should be easy to find.

3. Will your book be edited? Speak with other authors who have worked with that publisher. Usually you can find them by googling or even on MySpace. Ask how closely he or she worked with an editor. Was the editorial advice useful? Even the best authors need an editor. Be wary of a press that thinks your book is ready to go as is.

4. Advances: There are legit small presses that cannot offer an advance. However, it is something to consider. Do you want/need to be paid upfront for your work?

5. That leads me to my next point…royalties. If you aren’t being paid an advance, then you should be making royalties, right? But, royalties depend on sales. A small press should be very upfront about how many books you should expect to sell. They should be honest, but that doesn’t mean you can slack on your research. Again, contact authors. Ask politely about sales. You don’t need to be blunt, asking exactly how many books they have sold. Just inquire as to whether or not the publisher predicted sales honestly and correctly. No one should have a problem with that.

6. Are you encouraged to buy your own books? You shouldn’t be. No one should suggest that to you. In fact, something you want to look for is a fair amount of free author copies for you to give away to friends and family or for you to use to help promote your book. It’s fine for there to be an author discount in place beyond these free copies, but you should not be pressured into buying your own book and selling it from your garage. Further, a small press should provide a certain number of copies and/or ARCs for promotional purposes and you shouldn’t have to foot that bill. For instance, if you are going to have a book signing, the press should send you copies and you can ship back those that aren’t sold.

7. Books published per year: Small presses are small. Therefore, they shouldn’t try to overextend themselves. Very few titles should be published per year and a focus on a specific genre or niche market (such as libraries) is preferable. Titles by the same author should be published more than six months apart.

8. I hope this goes without saying, but you, as the author, should not pay ANYTHING. You get paid. That’s the flow of money…always.

9. Not a scam, but not a good idea. There are a lot of well-intentioned people that start small presses because they want to give the little guy a chance. That’s great, but really, the publishers should have some experience in some aspect of the publishing industry first. Owning and operating a press is not an entry level job. Check the publishers’ resume.

10. Contracts. A sample contract should be available upon request. If you want to see a great sample contract for a small press ask for one from Five Star Mysteries (not the vanity press, the traditional one–there’s two with similar names). You’ll notice that everything is spelled out for the author. There is even an author handbook to help you decipher. It tells you how many author copies you’ll get, how many promotional copies, what reviewers they will be responsible for sending books to. They are honest about their niche and how many books you can expect to sell plus they layout the advance and how royalties work. Moreover, they send you this contract and handbook upfront. They are really a shiny example of how a small imprint should work.

Finally, while this is not an exhaustive list, I want to give you some examples of great small publishers. I’m not saying they are perfect and they are all very different, but look for the things I talked about and then compare them to the press you’re looking at. Hopefully that will help you to better assess your options.

-Kunati

-Quake

-Asylett

-Five Star

-Wild Rose Press (not Wild Rose Publishing)

 

Status: I’m getting ready to go to DC to stay with Nate’s family. They always celebrate the 3rd of July with the grandparents, so I will be going for my third time to celebrate with them! It is a two hour train ride and a great opportunity to get some work done on my graphic novel, SCOUT.

Also, when Ben gets back I plan on putting up some SCOUT artwork, so you guys can get a sneak peek!

Topical Tuesday: Ideas and Execution in Book Packaging

Since I’m currently auditioning for a few book packagers, I thought I’d address an interesting issue involved.

If you don’t know already, book packagers are companies that come up with an idea for a book or series and sell it to a publisher. The editors at the packager (or some call them producers) usually come up with a detailed outline and then hire an author to turn the idea and the outline into a complete manuscript. For reference, some examples of packaged books are Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Warriors, Sweet Valley High, and Nancy Drew.

Generally, the author that is doing this “work-for-hire” earns a flat fee–in other words: no royalties. The packager maintains the copyright for the work, not the writer. This is much different than how publishing normally works.

I will point out that a company called Working Partners pays writers an advance against royalties (though, of course, the copyright is still in Working Partners’ name).

I’m not questioning how book packaging works. I’m really not. I hope to get some work-for-hire myself and am fine with the arrangement, but it’s not exactly intuitive, is it?

After all, how many times do you hear: it’s not the idea it’s the execution. Old ideas are made fresh all the time by different writers. Technically, you can’t even copyright ideas in writing fiction. Someone could steal your idea right off the query boards at Absolute Write and you couldn’t do a thing about it. One thing is for sure, though: Whatever the thief came up with would probably be executed quite a bit differently than what you had in mind.

That’s why I think it’s interesting that the idea is so important in packaging even when it is the writer who is putting the flesh and bones on the project. I think this must have a lot to do with the fact that packagers expect you to write in the voice of the entire series. You don’t get to use so much your own voice as an established voice. Plus, the outline is very detailed, though there is room to get creative.

Just something to think about if you are considering doing some work-for-hire.

But how about in writing fiction in general. Which is more important? The idea? Or the execution?

 

Status: Just got back from an unsuccessful shopping trip with my roommate. I was looking for something to wear for the 4th of July. Oh well. I finished Twilight today, so I will probably talk about that on Saturday. I plan to send in my sample for the Beacon Street Girls tonight and write several more pages of script. Pages of script take much longer than I thought because you have to be able to see very clearly each part of a scene in your head and there are many panels per page.

 

Later, I’ll start in on the Gallagher Girls again!