Monday, May 31, 2010

Submit Yourself

If you've got a novel that is close to ready, you need honest feedback and lots of it. Preferably from people who aren't going to blow sunshine up your a$$.

This week you've got four opportunities for critiques from industry professionals. Try one, try 'em all. Every single one is worth your time.


Have you ever played the game Red Light, Green Light? Every so often Cynthea Liu offers the "writerly" version on her blog, Writing for Children and Teens. 

Here's how it works:
  1. You submit the first 125 words of your novel or PB.
  2. Cynthea assigns you a number and posts the results on her blog.
  3. If the first 125 words got her interested, you get to submit 250 more words.
  4. If her bunny Snoop eats your submission (as in you didn't hook her with your prose), you can start again with a new book.
Cynthea has read more than 180 submissions since she started the game on May 18. Talk about paying it forward! I'm thrilled to have made it through the first five rounds, especially since an agent from ABLA is reportedly hanging around checking out entries as well. June 1st is the last day to enter with new submissions so if you want to get in on the fun, head over to her blog for all the rules and get your submission in before midnight! Everyone who enters gets a free-tique of their work once the game is over. Sweet!

Sourcebooks is also offering a free (sort of) critique as part of a promotion for first time author Steven Markley's new book, aptly titled, PUBLISH THIS BOOK. First you have to buy the book (but come on people, this is WAY less expensive than, say, attending SCBWI! And you're supporting a new author. Bonus!). Then you submit proof of purchase to Sourcebooks along with an outline and the first chapter of your novel (up to 5,000 words). In return, you are guaranteed a critique of your submission. Pretty cool, huh? Submissions must be received by June 9.

And if that's not enough fun for you, check out this opportunity over on Query Tracker. Agent Kathleen Ortiz will critique the first chapter and a one-sentence pitch for 100 Query Tracker followers. Submissions open at 9pm EST on Tuesday, June 1. The first hundred to get their pages in will find out where and why she stopped reading. If she likes your manuscript, she might even ask to see more!

Finally, writer/editor Karen Gowen wants to celebrate her good fortune by purchasing and reviewing your published book. But if you're not published, she will critique the first three chapters of a finished manuscript along with the query letter that you've written to go with it. You need to enter this contest today because she'll be announcing the winner on June 1.

So what are you waiting for? Start submitting!!

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Future of Publishing

Every day seems to bring new alternatives to traditional big publishing. The number of small presses keeps growing. Amazon has expanded its empire to become a publishing house.

Even your agent can be your publisher these days.

Crazy, right? And then there's self-publishing. It used to be a dirty word that made you look like an amateur if you were crazy enough to mention it around people in the know. These days, it's coming up in more conversations, and even authors who have had relative success with traditional publishing houses in the past are finding greater financial success by self-publishing their newer works.

So what does it mean when publishing houses like Harlequin start offering self-publishing services? Does your book get more respect if Amazon publishes it for you instead of Lulu? And what about agents jumping in as e-publishers? Yes, things are heating up!

Here are three recent articles from Publisher's Weekly on recent developments for authors and alternative publishing options. What's your take on the future of publishing?

Agents Weigh the Growth of Alternative Publishing Options
This article talks about J.A. Konrath's publishing deal with Amazon and the new publishing arm of Waxman Literary, Diversion Books. Now your agent can be your e-publisher as well...hmmm...

Midlist Author Tries Hybrid Self-Publishing
When I read this article, it didn't seem like "hybrid self-publishing" to me. When you consider the fact that even if you're published by Random House, you're still going to have to shoulder a lot of the publicity yourself, this doesn't seem like such a bad option.

Barnes & Noble to Offer Digital Self-Publishing
I guess Amazon must be making money from authors self-publishing on the Kindle if B&N has decided to enter the market as well...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Adventures in Beta Reading

I haven't blogged much the last few days because I was beta reading for a blogging/Twitter buddy and omigosh, I loved her book. I can't wait until that thing is in print so I can write up a review on Goodreads!

I almost didn't do it. In fact, I almost emailed her to say, Sorry, but you should find someone else. I mean, I'm not published. I don't have an agent yet. What made me think I was qualified to critique her book?

Of course, this was just that same old fear in a different form, the fear that I'm not good enough. I'm so glad I didn't listen to that nasty bugger because I totally enjoyed reading and commenting on her book.

And here's the thing with being a beta reader. The emphasis is on reader. The fact that I write makes me notice things the average reader might not key in on. But really, my job is to ask questions, to point out things that confuse me or just aren't logical for the character. And, like, if there's like, too many repeating words, I try to like highlight those.

I also try to point out things that make me smile or laugh out loud, and especially things that surprise me. I've read a lot of books. So there are certain plot points that I see coming a mile away. When a writer can surprise me with a twist that I didn't see coming, I'm in love. This writer surprised me, more than once. I am in awe.

So when she sent me this email, I almost cried:

Thank you SO much!

Seriously, I don't think I've ever read a crit that I agreed with EVERYTHING in... I seriously think I've only not done ONE thing you suggested so far, and it was something silly... like a comma somewhere or something...Qualified to read my little book HAHA! You caught things that BOTH of my agents have missed... that's pretty impressive if I do say so myself!

And bless her heart, she's offered to return the favor for me and my little book. Have I mentioned recently how much I love the blogging community?

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Long, Winding Road

If you knew how long the road ahead was, would you have ventured on?

My husband had the day off yesterday so we drove up the coast to Pismo Beach for brunch. We walked out on the pier, let the kids play in the sand, then headed home the back way, down Highway 1. As we neared Guadalupe, a road sign caught my attention. It was for Oso Flaco Lake, a place I'd never heard of. We decided to check it out, see what we would find.

The road dead ended in a parking lot. We walked down a gravel path that led to a foot bridge that crossed this 75-acre lake. On the other side of the lake, the boardwalk continued for a mile, over a wetland area into the Oceano Dunes. At the end of the trail, we were staring at the Pacific. The wind was howling in our faces, but staring out at this beautiful, protected expanse of sand and water was totally worth the discomfort.

When we started up the road, my son asked how far it was to the lake. None of us had any idea, but we were so excited by each new part of the trail we encountered, that the distance seemed irrelevant. We were just having fun together discovering a new place. When I came home and found out we'd hiked 2.2 miles, I was surprised because honestly, it didn't feel that far.

My writing journey has been like this. And I wonder, if I had known ahead of time how far I had to go, how much I had to learn, how much ground I had to cover, would I have been overwhelmed? Would I have given up before I started? Would I have been brave enough to keep going?

I don't know. Because there are still some days when I feel like giving up. But then I read about a friend's success after eight years of trying to get published and I see other friends announcing their book deals. And I realize I can't stop trying. Perseverance is key to success and really, the harder you have to work, the more it means in the end. Right?

No matter how long I'm on this road, I'm going to enjoy the journey. And someday, when I'm staring a book deal in the face, I'll know. Every part of the journey was totally worth it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

What the Kids Are Reading

After two days of subbing I'm exhausted but happy.

Yes, you read that right. The school called me yesterday morning and asked me to fill in for my daughter's class so I ended up teaching both my children two days in a row! Fortunately, both of them were excited to have me in their classrooms. The sight of Jasmine jumping up and down with joy when she saw me at the teacher's desk will keep me smiling for days :)

My son's 5th grade class is currently reading Heartbeat by Sharon Creech and wouldn't you know -- the book is in verse! It's a great addition to my reading list for Caroline's Novel Challenge. I borrowed an extra copy from the teacher and I'm about halfway through.

It's interesting to hear 10- and 11-year-olds reflect on the story. What I see as simple, spare, beautiful language, they see as simplistic, literal and sometimes strange. They were quick to point out metaphors, personification and rhyme but were surprised when I suggested that some passages might mean more than they thought. Yes, the main character likes to run, but maybe she's also trying to run away from things that she really can't escape. And while scenes with the forgetful grandfather are funny, I tried to show them the undercurrent of sadness that comes from watching someone slip away before your eyes.

In my daughter's 2nd grade class, they are reading How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell, one of my favorite books for younger kids. After the 2nd graders wrote a summary paragraph, they drew pictures to illustrate the chapter we'd read together. What a riot! But figuring out the point of the chapter was a challenge for some kids.

Being in the classroom was a good reminder for me that it's so important to look at your writing through the eyes of a child. Phrases you think they'll understand can confuse them. Context doesn't always clarify the meaning of a word, especially when the words are being read out loud by an expressionless beginning reader. While a teacher or parent might be there to help them understand what they're reading, what happens when they read alone? Will your words make them want to read more, or will they put down the book in frustration?

There's a chance I might sub for the first grade teacher who is on call for jury duty this week. I'm almost hoping I get the call. Kids have so much energy. I love their curiosity and enthusiasm. And being a sub is almost like being a grandparent: you go in and have fun with the kids and they're on good behavior because it's a welcome change from the every day. But if I don't, I'll have plenty to keep me busy. I'm a bit behind on my page count...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Substitute

Last night I was up late doing math homework. Why was I torturing myself with finding the solution to 6-2/3 x 3/10 x 4? Because today I'm doing one of the things I swore as a child that I would never do as an adult: substitute teaching. And it's been a while since I've had to do 5th grade math!

On a whim, I took the CBEST in February, so I was excited when I found out I passed in March. My credential arrived by email on April 1. Trust me, I got the irony. Yesterday the Ballard School secretary called to see if I could fill in today in my son's 5th grade class. YES! My first time subbing will be with kids I've known since they were in preschool. How cool is that?

I spent two years coordinating the hot lunch program at Ballard, and two years before that working as an aide in 2nd grade and doing playground duty. I know the kids at this school quite well. But for the first time, I'll be in charge of a class for the entire day. I am so looking forward to it.

I haven't told my son yet. Can't wait to see the look on his face :D

Monday, May 17, 2010

Scientific Sunday

My parents in infrared
I didn't get my pages done yesterday. But I have a really good excuse!

Yesterday I took the kids down to La Cañada Flintridge to the Jet Propulsion Lab's annual Open House. Can I just say that JPL is one of the coolest places EVER? Where else can you take an infrared photo of yourself, get run over by a Mars Rover and stand next to the original camera from the Hubble? All while eating a bag of kettle corn and downing a shave ice?

J with Explorer I
A clone takes our photo on Mars
My seven-year-old daughter wants to be an astronaut (as well as a rock star, novelist, actress, etc.) so she had lots of questions for the scientists we met. We talked to people who worked in clean rooms building new Rovers, men who worked on satellites getting samples from comets, women exploring the moons of Jupiter. To be perfectly honest, I could have listened to any of those scientists talk all day. They had so much wonderful information to share about the solar system, human exploration, spacecraft they've seen launched. They all got so excited talking about it and yet they were able to explain everything in terms we could understand.

When we got in the car at the end of the day, my daughter said she had the BEST time and wanted to know when we could go back again.

I can see a dystopian sci-fi epic looming in my future...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Page A Day

I've been kind of stuck on this new novel I started writing. I'm fifty pages in and more than a little overwhelmed by the possibilities. I made an outline but I'm not sure if I still want to go in that direction. Indecision leads to inaction and...I haven't been writing.

So, when I saw that Weronika was organizing a page a day challenge, I signed up. It's only for a month. I plan to use the time to flesh out backstory, just free write stuff that will probably never end up in the book, as well as to write an actual page of story. Every day.

Need a kick in the pants to get back on track with your writing? This might be the ticket. Find out more about the challenge and the people participating on Weronika's blog.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Deep Thoughts

“Do not lose hold of your dreams or aspirations. For if you do, you may still exist but you have ceased to live.” - Henry David Thoreau

Every week on American Idol at least one judge tells a contestant: don't lose sight of who you are.

It's a good reminder. Sometimes we get so caught up in wanting to achieve that we sacrifice little pieces of who we are. We change our views to fit in or try to make ourselves into who we think other people want us to be.

Don't do it.

Hold on to your dreams, stay true to who you are. And don't forget to live.

Okay, so it's just one deep thought for today. I think it's enough.

Have a fabulous weekend!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

If Only...

Sometimes I think I'd be better off not reading stories like this one:

Model and television host Tyra Banks has followed a new celebrity trend, landing a three-book deal with Delacorte Press for a YA fantasy series entitled Modelland.

"In a concept that marries Top Model and Harry Potter, Modelland centers on a teen who manages to get into an exclusive academy for 'Intoxibel las' -- who are the most exceptional models known to humankind and harbor unknown powers. Once there, she finds herself competing to be accepted as part of that world." (from GalleyCat)

If only I was famous. If only I had those contacts. If only...

At least my critique buddy Kim knew how to put it in perspective.
I shouldn’t think about her shoes, closets, or contracts. That’s her gig, not mine. To me, this writing thing is a journey. My journey. It’s up to me to grow my skills, cultivate my talents, and walk the path. I listen to the wise women along the way (looking at you all), try to enjoy the sun on my face, keep the wind to my back, and keep moving.
And that's why I'm thankful every day for the women in my critique group!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Who's the Boss?

I used to think that once I typed a story, that was it. The words could change a little and we'd call that an edit. I might move a sentence or two, clear up a question, add a beat. But the story that emerged, that was pretty much set in stone. After all, if that's the way it came out, that's how it was meant to be, right? That's what the characters were telling me to do and I had to listen to them. Right?

Not so much. At least, not this time around.

When I started writing Wish You Weren't, I had a pretty good idea where I wanted it to end up. I wasn't sure about all the in between stuff, what Avi calls "the muddle," but I knew the ending so I figured I could flail my way there.

Well, I did plenty of flailing. I wrote this weird, melodramatic, dark crap that I hated. I kept thinking if that's where the characters wanted to go, didn't I, as the author, have an obligation to follow them there?

I've decided that way of thinking is wrong, at least for me, and certainly, for this story. My characters are NOT the boss of me.

When it came right down to it, the problem was lack of confidence. I didn't think I was good enough to write the story the way I wanted it to be written, so I fell back on easier solutions. I gave the characters stupid obstacles to overcome and made it too easy for them, for ME, to find a way out. And it was boring. I hated the story so much I put it to the side and worked on other things.

But this story didn't want to go away. Thankfully, my subconscious kept working on it and when I came back to it months later, I ended up throwing away more than a third of what I had written. This time I took charge of the story. I made it the story I wanted it to be. And it was hard. I honestly wasn't sure if I was capable. I studied other writers and every time they awoke an emotion in me or made me smile or took be by surprise, I tore the writing apart to figure out how they did that so I could do it too. I learned from books that weren't even close to my genre, as well as from books you could say are like mine. And it helped, to not just read good books but to study them.

I think I showed my characters who the boss is, but the work of getting there has made the story stronger, made me a stronger writer.

Have you ever had characters try to hijack your story? Who wins: you or them?

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Novel Challenge

Last year I surprised myself by reading a novel in verse and liking it. I read my second novel in verse earlier this year. Now that might not sound like a lot, but I've never been a person who really liked poetry. Yet both of these books, Because I am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas and Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate, pulled me in quickly and impressed me with their sparse, beautiful use of language.

So I was fascinated when I saw this challenge from Caroline Starr Rose. The rules are simple:

1. Read five novels-in-verse by December 31
2. Create a post about the contest (and link to the original post)
3. Report back in December on your books (nothing fancy...just share your titles and any thoughts you might like to add)
4. One participant will win an ARC of MAY B., Caroline's debut historical novel-in-verse

I'm not familiar with a lot of novels in verse, but I'm looking forward to discovering more. I bought I Heart You, You Haunt Me by Lisa Schroeder a few weeks ago. It's a book I've thought about reading for a while so that will be my first book for the challenge.

If you'd like to join in the challenge, follow the link to Caroline's blog. And if you've got suggestions for some other novels in verse, tell me in the comments. Because my TBR pile isn't big enough already :D

Have a fabulous weekend!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Whole Lotta Awesome

So was Monday awesome or what? Yes, I'm still basking in the afterglow :)

I don't know about you, but I've got enough books on my list to last me for months! And not only did I find out about a lot of new books, I discovered a lot of blogs I'd never visited before which made the whole thing doubly cool.

Something else I learned: I spend way too much time in sweats. Because when I pulled on a pair of jeans yesterday, my son asked me why I was getting dressed up. Apparently a wardrobe intervention is desperately needed over here!

But that's not why you're here today. I know you're dying to find out who won the copy of Marcelo in the Real World. I won't torture you. pulled up lucky #19 and according to my records, that would be:

Suzette Saxton

Yay Suzette! Email me with your snail mail and I will get this fabulous book sent off to you.

I'm off to meet with my critique group which means delicious food, book talk and commenting galore. One of my critique partners, the amazing Valerie Hobbs, has a new book out (her 13th!), The Last Best Days of Summer. She's being interviewed over on The Writer's Inner Journey. You can also read the interview I did with her last year before we became critique partners :)

Hope your Wednesday is productive!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Spreading the Awesome: Marcelo in the Real World

Have you ever gotten to the end of a book and wished there was more? Or better yet, wished your writing could move people the way that the story moved you? Marcelo in the Real World is that kind of book.

It's no secret that I love fantasy, but I try to read outside of the genre as well. Marcelo isn't a super hero. He's a teenage boy with an unidentified cognitive disorder who is comfortable with his routines, his special-ed school, his job at the therapeutic riding stables. His father decides that for the summer Marcelo needs to move outside of his comfort zone and so Marcelo goes to work in the real world: at his father's law firm. But neither of them is prepared for what that means.

In the hands of another author, this story could end up being a sentimental tear-jerker. Author Francisco X. Stork doesn't take that route. Instead he gives us an unflinchingly honest look at what it means to be normal. While there are some obvious fish out of water situations, there are also some unexpected consequences that make this book a real page turner. As Marcelo tries to live up to his father's expectations, he starts to learn that choices aren't always black and white in the real world. The way he approaches these discoveries is what makes this story unique.

There is so much to love about this book. I love that in spite of his differences, I never felt sorry for Marcelo. I love that while the family is Mexican, they are completely American. I love that the story made me think about how what's right in one situation might not always be the right answer. 

Marcelo in the Real World is Francisco X. Stork's third novel and it has garnered a lot of awards. His newest book, The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, came out in March. If it's half as good as Marcelo, it'll be well worth the money.

I loved this book so much, I'm giving a copy to one of you dear readers. If you'd like to win this book -- hardcover I might add! -- follow this blog and leave me a comment before midnight Tuesday PST. I'll post the winner Wednesday morning.

If you're looking for other great book recommendations, check out this list of Recommended Reads from Elana Johnson. If you're making your way through all the awesome this morning, next on the list is Courtney Barr.  She's reviewing Bree Despain's The Dark Divine.

Thanks to Elana for organizing this blogfest of books. I can see my TBR pile growing and growing...!
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