Wednesday, January 25, 2012

DITCHED and One-Star Reviews

There are so many wonderful people with books coming out this year. Another one of my friends celebrated her debut release with a signing in Santa Monica at Diesel, A Book Store. Not to be confused with Diesel, the clothing store. Trust me, I now know the difference since I showed up at the clothing store first. *head palm* Ugh.

Fortunately, I was close to being on time for a change, so we made the 3-mile trek to the right Diesel with plenty of time to hug, listen to and have a book signed by the wonderful Robin Mellom. Her YA novel, DITCHED, came out on January 10 and believe it or not, she has another book, a middle grade novel, coming out in June. Talk about a banner year!

As for me, I just got back more edits so my nose will be buried deep in revisions while I wrestle with the last act of my story. But I can't sign off without mentioning a great list I found on Mediabistro. There has been a lot of uproar in the last few weeks about one-star reviews and whether or not people who rate books on Goodreads or Amazon can really call themselves reviewers.

My answer? It doesn't matter whether you're reviewing for the New York Times or your own personal blog. Reviews make people aware of a book but it doesn't mean they're going to buy it. And the list I found on Mediabistro kind of proves the point. Look at this list of books and how many one-star reviews they had on Amazon. I've read some of those titles. I know they're awesome.

One-Star Reviews for Bestselling Books
1. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (669 one-star reviews)
2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by  Stieg Larsson (396 one-star reviews)
3. A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin (344 one-star reviews)
4. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (169 one-star reviews)
5. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (157 one-star reviews)
6. Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich (119 one-star reviews)
7. Inheritance by Christopher Paolini (118 one-star reviews)
8. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (191 one-star reviews)
9. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (96 one-star reviews)
10. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (81 one-star reviews)

Yes, everybody wants good reviews, but your book isn't going to appeal to everyone. People can be mean with their opinions, but it doesn't mean you have to respond in the same way. More importantly, it doesn't mean people won't read your book. All you can do is write the best story you know how to write. The rest is out of your hands.

And, oh yeah -- can someone remind me of this sometime down the road when I'm stressing over a bad review!!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Party in New Mexico

Caroline, Kimberley and Me
I love meeting blogger friends in person and being able to attend the book release party for Caroline Starr Rose's debut, May B, was definitely a treat. Especially since not only did I get to meet Caroline for the first time, I also got to meet an another New Mexico author/blogger/friend: Kimberley Griffiths Little.

I've been to quite a few book signing events and I have to say I was impressed with the crowd at Caroline's event. The only author I know to even come close to having that many people attend is Maggie Stiefvater. Pretty impressive for a debut novelist!

And what a great presentation Caroline put together. It was fun to hear her read a few passages from May B and even more fun to see the original sketches from her cover artist and hear how the process went. My kids were thrilled with the punch bowl full of Jelly Belly's. I swooned over the cake with the book cover. Isn't it pretty?

After signing books for more than an hour and a half (yes, the line was that long!), we went out for guaco tacos and sopapillas. Mmmm. (Why can't anybody make good sopapillas outside of New Mexico???) It was a great way to celebrate the day.

I'm so glad I got to share part of this experience with my agent-mate and so excited to see what she does next. Congrats Caroline!!!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Making it Real

From a real estate magazine, the house my MC lives in
Setting plays such an important part of every story. Books that transport you into their world, real or imaginary, make the story come alive in your mind. When I can see the place as I read, hear the water echoing off the concrete as it drips, feel the cold seep beneath my jacket, smell the musty decay -- then you've hooked me. I want to read more.

But how do you make your words create a visual image for your reader?

I'm a very visual person. So for me, photos are a must. Even when I'm making something up, I like to have a visual resource to reference. I'll scour the internet for images that evoke a sense of place. I've drawn neighborhood maps, house layouts and figured out routes on Map Quest.

But sometimes there's no substitute for actually visiting a place. A pivotal scene in one of my novels takes place at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. While the lab isn't exactly shrouded in mystery (they hold an open house every year), there aren't a lot of photos on the web. And try looking it up on Google Earth. You can't get past the gate. I did so many carefully worded searches on Google that I started to worry that government representatives might show up at my door to ask what the hell I was doing!

My solution? Go to the annual open house. And since I didn't have time to see everything I wanted to see, I scheduled a group tour a month later. Yes, it was time consuming. But oh, how valuable. Those scenes would not be as visually real without that hands-on experience.

This weekend I'm taking a road trip, tracing the path my characters go on in part of the story. As a bonus, I'm tying it in with the book release party for my agent-mate, Caroline Starr Rose. Woo-hoo!

How far are you willing to go to make a scene real?


Three wonderful bloggers who I count as friends had books released into the world yesterday. Caroline Starr Rose's debut MG verse novel, MAY B
Robin Mellom's debut YA romantic comedy, DITCHED
Beth Revis' second YA sci-fi novel, A MILLION SUNS

Congrats to all of them!!

And just so you know, all three of them are holding contests to celebrate their book releases, so you might want to pay them a visit to see what they're giving away. And don't forget to tell them happy book birthday!!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Agent Spotlight on: Ammi-Joan Paquette

One of the best things about the start of a new year is that feeling that anything is possible. This is the year that I (fill in the blank) ______________________.

If signing with an awesome agent is on your list, here's someone you should consider. I first came in contact with Ammi-Joan Paquette when she was the Secret Agent for a contest I entered at Miss Snark's First Victim. Joan selected my story as a runner-up and requested pages. Even better, after I revised based on her suggestions, she was happy to look at it again. Her comments helped me make the story stronger and I'll be forever grateful.

Joan has been part of the venerable Erin Murphy Literary Agency since early 2009, but she's been writing since she was a child. She's been on both sides of rejection, she knows how to revise and she understands the thrill of being a debut author. Are you in love yet? Read on to learn more about Joan and what she's looking for in an author.

You’ve been an agent now for a few years, but I'm sure you remember: how excited were you when that first deal went through?
I was absolutely beside myself—the more so because of what an exciting sale it was! This was in June 2009, and I had only been an agent for a few months, so when I received an offer for Jennifer A. Nielsen’s hilarious middle-grade fantasy, ELLIOT AND THE GOBLIN WAR, I was thrilled. Then we got another offer! The book ended up selling in a three-book deal, at auction, to Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, and the results have been absolutely wonderful. The second book in the series, ELLIOT AND THE PIXIE PLOT, came out this summer (with the third due next spring) and the series is garnering terrific reviews and a loyal following of fans.

One of my best rejections (if there’s such a thing!) came from you. Do you think being a writer yourself makes you more sympathetic as an agent?
Aw :D

I have to say that I definitely feel a kinship with other authors. I’ve had more than my fair share of rejections along every step of the process, so I do try to put myself in the shoes of the recipient, and remember those times when I was on the receiving end! This is such a tumultuous business, full of extreme lows and surreal highs, and having someone in your corner who’s been there and has experienced all the stages can only help. At least I hope it does!

I definitely think it does.

I keep seeing your name pop up on Publisher’s Marketplace, not only as an agent, but as an author. Can you talk about your upcoming titles?
My first novel, NOWHERE GIRL, came out this September from Walker. It’s the story of a thirteen-year-old American girl who was born in a Thai prison and has to find her way home while unraveling the secrets of her past. While I also have a picture book out—THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING FAIRIES (Tanglewood, 2009)—releasing a novel has been a very different experience for me, so much more personal. I love it! Next on the publishing horizon is the companion picture book THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING MERMAIDS, due out in May 2012, which will be filled with sea, sand, and scales—and much glitz and glitter too. I also have several other novels and another picture book due out in 2013.

And what are some of the soon-to-be-released titles by your authors?
There are some terrific titles near on the horizon! The most recently-published client book is Mary Lindsey’s dark and dangerous paranormal romance SHATTERED SOULS (Philomel, December 2011), and others soon to come include Jennifer A. Nielsen’s blockbuster adventure THE FALSE PRINCE (Scholastic, April 2012), J. Anderson Coats’s epic tale of life in 13th century Wales, THE WICKED AND THE JUST (Harcourt, April 2012), and Eric Pinder’s rollicking picture book, with illustrations by Marc Brown, IF ALL THE ANIMALS CAME INSIDE (Little Brown, April 2012). There’s something for everybody!

Love the cover for THE WICKED AND THE JUST. But all of these titles are going on my list. They sound really good.

Since you don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, how can writers catch your eye? Do you plan to be at any upcoming conferences?
I love to receive queries from writers who attend the conferences I speak at, even if we didn’t actually meet in person during the event. This spring I’ll be in Austin, in Nebraska, and at the yearly New England conference.

Are you more attracted to character-driven stories or tightly woven plots?
Good question!—More and more, I’m really looking for both. I am definitely a plot-driven gal: I love it when the tension is strong and plot twists are both completely logical and entirely unexpected. With that said, none of this can possibly work without a strong, layered character that gets right to work on your heartstrings. I really believe that the true masterpieces, and the books that will stand the test of time, are the ones that weave these two elements to maximum effect.

What’s the hardest thing about agenting?
Sometimes manuscripts you fall in love with and put hours and weeks and months into don’t end up finding that perfect home. And that’s tough. But I believe utterly in the skill and heart and tenacity of each of my clients, and over and over we’ve seen those elements come through eventually: whether finding just the right spot for that lingering manuscript, or breaking out with something completely new. As long as you’re writing (and revising!), you’re moving forward.

And your favorite part?
My absolute favorite part of this job, hands-down, is picking up the phone and making that call for a debut author’s very first book sale. There is no better feeling in the world.

I think every author would agree with that one!
Thanks so much, Joan!

Places around the internet where you can find Ammi-Joan Paquette:

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