Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Interview Roundup

Yeesh. I've been meaning to do this for MONTHS, but when Magic Under Glass came out, I was in the midst of confusing hand pain hell, and didn't pursue any interviews. I did all the interviews people asked me if I would do, but then I didn't do much of a job publicizing them. I am so SOOO appreciative of all the people who did approach me and ask to interview me. I also feel bad that I didn't really keep track of where I did interviews at the time. Well, I just spent an hour Googling myself (a hazardous occupation at any time...did you know some libraries list how many times a book has been checked out? I didn't know this until today...) so I could compile this belated list of interviews! See me answer the question "how did you get the idea for Magic Under Glass?" ten different ways!

Authors Unleashed
Bloomsbury UK
The Book Butterfly (Guest post: Interview with Erris from "The Young Maiden's Own Magazine")
The Book Report
The Book Scout
The Compulsive Reader
DaydreamerN's Reviews
Drenched in Words (L. K. Madigan)
The Enchanted Inkpot
The Hiding Spot
In Bed With Books
LiyanaLand! (Interview with Nimira.)
LiyanaLand! (Deleted scene with the original version of Erris, at the bottom of the post.)
Manga Maniac Cafe
Oasis for YA
Post Mortem (A very fun interview between Jackie Morse Kessler's Death and my Erris.)
The Spectacle
Tea Mouse
Windowpane Memoirs
YA Highway

(P. S. Almost forgot, if you did an interview with me that Google didn't turn up, don't be shy! Let me know so I can add it to the list.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Critique Partners, Selection and Care of

My last post spawned a new question, which is, okay, say you're really ready to listen to feedback on your work, but you can't find anyone to read it. What do you do? How do you find these elusive critique partners?

I'll admit I've had a lot of trouble with critique partners myself. If you read Maggie Stiefvater's blog you know she has two wonderful critique partners and she auditioned to find them. (She talks about that here.) My road, however, has not been so smooth. I've never had a regular critique partner. But especially in the beginning. And I think there are three rough phases of critique partner-ing.


The more difficult your work is to read, because it's wordy or confusing or badly paced or whatever, the more difficult it is to find critique partners, because your work just isn't enjoyable to read. You might not even realize it at first, but most writers go through this stage. No shame in it. This is the point where you can get just about anyone to critique you, because there are so many problems that anyone can spot at least some of them. And in fact, it's best to find critique partners that are on a similar skill level to you, because you'll learn a LOT from critiquing their work as well. Maybe you can't see what's wrong with your story yet, but you'll probably notice you don't really enjoy reading their work either. Sometimes you'll have to really think about WHY that is, exactly, depending on what the problem is.

If you're at this stage, I also recommend reading some books on writing. I never went writing book crazy, but there are two I love and still go back to: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King, and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. (You could also opt for the Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook instead if you enjoy that format.) The first one handles how to develop a style and line edit your work (not grammatically, but to improve readability and strengthen the prose), and the second one is good for plotting.

Where do you find beginner critique partners? Well, this is kind of the phase where you probably don't know how bad you are. I would not give your work to family, friends, or people you love and trust. They'll either lie, break your heart, or never have the time to read it. A great place to go is Critique Circle. The website makes it easy to submit critiques and critique other writers, and there is a point system set up so that you have to give critiques to get critiques. Therefore, almost every story will get some critiques because people need to earn points. You might even make some friends there and find someone to exchange with more closely.


At Critique Circle, you submit a chapter at a time, therefore it's best when your work really needs line editing. At some point, you won't get so much line editing, you'll get comments like "This character doesn't work for me" or "The pacing in this chapter dragged"--global comments. At this point, you'll want someone who will exchange larger chunks of story with you. There are a few ways you can find them.

If you have a blog, Twitter, etc and you've been making friends in the writing community, you can put out a call for readers there: "Hey, does anyone want to look at the first 50 pages of my novel? I'll be happy to reciprocate." I wouldn't ask for readers for the whole thing--too intimidating--and always be sure to return the favor. Also, when your friends ask for critiquers, you can always be the first to volunteer and build up "critiquer karma" so you can offer them your work when it's ready.

If you don't participate much in the online community, I think it would be really hard to find critique partners. Sometimes I see people pop onto the Blue Boards asking for crit partners, but I don't know what kind of response they get. I've always gotten critique partners through my blog.

I will mention, at first, it's better to give more than you take. Offer to give a lot of critiques and you'll learn things, make friends, and build goodwill. At first I critiqued more than I received critiques from others, and near the end of my pre-publication journey I had several people who would read my work just because they liked it. But it took time to get there.

During the intermediate phase, you might have a lot of critique partners. Maybe several at once, or maybe you'll run through them like Henry VIII went through wives. Sometimes you'll get advice that makes your forehead wrinkle, other times you might have three people telling you three different things (note: this usually just means something isn't working and there are many ways to fix it), but you'll learn a lot about how to use a critique. (My rule of thumb: Make changes if several people say the same thing, several people mention the same problem but offer different solutions, or if you're excited about the change. Don't take every suggestion.) You will learn exactly what you want in a critique partner.


Advanced is the ideal! One or two or three (probably not more than that) people who love your work, whose work you love to read, who will exchange entire manuscripts with you, turn them around when you need them for a deadline if they don't have a deadline themselves, and who will hash out ideas and problems when you're stumped. Finding this person is like...well, maybe not as hard as finding a romantic partner--you still don't have to share chores or finances--but it can be hard. Just as some people marry their high school sweetheart and some people go through three divorces and some people live and die alone, you might luck into a perfect critique partner early on, or it might take you 5+ years like me. It's a love match. Don't look too hard for it, let it find you, and don't feel bad if you don't have one. You'll manage without it.

Okay. Phew. OMG. If you like blogs with snappy advice, this is not the blog for you, is it? I'm so long winded...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Want to get published? Learn to LET GO.

I've run into the same conversation a lot lately--with crit partners, friends, on Twitter... It has to do with revisions, and why they're important, and what they really MEAN.

Okay. This is an insanely common scenario when critiquing a beginning writer. (Note: "Beginning writer" = Someone who has not been seriously writing for publication. It doesn't mean you have to actually be new to writing itself. In fact, some of the most stubborn "beginning writers" have been writing their entire life. I know. I was one of them once upon a time.) They keep getting feedback like:

"There are too many characters in the beginning. I can't keep them all straight."
"This setting just doesn't feel authentic. I think you might want to do some thorough research."
"I'm not sure you should tell this story from an adult point of view. It doesn't feel like a teen story."
"I know you've worked really hard on this world building, but it's really dense and slows down the story."
"I'm not connecting with this character. He seems to just be an observer and isn't really contributing to the action."
"The writing here is good, but I'm not sure you want her to meet the mysterious Vampie boy in biology class because it's kind of overdone. Also, while I understand you're going for this half-vampire, half-kelpie thing, that name sounds...uh...stupid."


And this is the writer's response:

"Oh. I see what you're saying, but it has to be that way because of X reason."
"Well, it will all make sense later if you just keep reading."
"Yeah, but if I do that, then I can't do THIS later, and that is an INTEGRAL part of the plot."

Sometimes revising isn't really about just making what you have better. It's about letting GO of what you have. You don't ever have to listen to every suggestion (in fact, you shouldn't--that's another problem altogether), but if you kinda sorta understand what the person critiquing you is saying, yet you're resisting because "that would just be too hard" or "that's not how it goes" or "I don't know how to do that"?


If something in your gut says the story probably would be better if you could only find a way to do that, then find a way. Step outside the box of what you've already written. Allow yourself that freedom. Even if you've been thinking of this story for 15 years. Trust me on this. I've been there. When you write for yourself, you can write about anything your heart desires, but when you're writing for publication, what you're learning to do is no longer purely selfish.

What you're really doing, when revising, is learning to help a reader connect with the heart of the story. It is not so much about you anymore. The details and plot twists and characters you've so carefully planned are WORTHLESS, from a publication point of view, if none of your critique partners or friends can get into the story and no agent or editor seems to want to read it. If you insist on clinging to all your ideas, you will probably not get published.

The fact is, the details are not what make people love books. People don't love Harry Potter because the kids have to carry wands and speak Latin words to do spells, or because the Weasley family consists of this many members, or because it's told in Harry's POV. What grabs people is the heart of the story and the depth of the world and the excitement of the plot. You want to hone that, so you can change any specific part of the story that isn't working without losing the heart. Sometimes, change it drastically.

And trust me, it's no good to think, "Well, I'm just going to try and sell it anyway and see what happens." Because if an editor DOES buy it, it's quite possible they will suddenly want changes--HUGE changes. You don't have to agree, but you'll want a good reason as to why you're not taking the suggestion. Sometimes it's not even your editor who wants the change, but marketing--or even a chain bookstore! I know people who have made changes because the Barnes and Noble buyer wouldn't carry the book without them. You will want to be a flexible writer who can roll with that sort of thing. Otherwise your editor will be frustrated working with you, and you'll have to find some way of working it out because they will already have paid you an advance.

These are skills you should learn before you even try to sell anything. Your work will be much better for it!

I actually have another point I want to make that is kind of related to this topic, but this is already long, so I'll save that for later.

Friday, August 6, 2010

My ancestors were totally gross

It's quite possible I get a little TOO into researching my historical fantasy. For one thing, they're in a fictional fantasy world. But I generally pick a real place and time they're BASED on and I get really obsessive about getting it right. And one of the many aspects to consider is cleanliness and sanitation. Now, generally, you don't want to get too deep into this. But for Between the Sea and Sky, I couldn't help but think about it, because Esmerine is a mermaid. And when you think of mermaids, you don't really think "sweat". Also, while I had to think a little bit about how mermaids would handle, erm, bathroom issues, they definitely weren't using a chamber pot.

So I got this book from the library called "The Dirt on Clean". It's a history of personal cleanliness in the western world. And you know, I knew Europeans were pretty nasty for awhile, but I figured it was because they didn't have the technology.

In actuality, I guess with all the plagues and everything, since no one knew how these diseases were spreading, they decided water--especially hot water--opened the pores which became a pathway for viruses to just zip right in and kill you. They decided they would keep clean not by bathing, but by changing their linen shirts. People were so excited about linen for awhile that painters actually started getting into white linen glamour shots.

I also found it interesting that people didn't used to want to live by the ocean or look at it. It was considered traumatizing, especially for ladies. Supposedly people didn't start painting the ocean frequently until the "picturesque" movement of the 18th century when suddenly people wanted to look at ruins and weirdly shaped trees and things like that. I've never really paid attention to when seascapes became popular...and of course bathing in the ocean didn't creep in until the 19th century.

But my favorite fact--and I'd read this before, but I still have great difficulty imagining it--people used to poop on the floor of the palace of Versailles.

Enjoy your stay on land, Esmerine!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

One Writer's Timeline

One of the most popular publishing questions: How long does X take?

Well, there is no set answer. AT ALL. But here is my timeline. (Does not include how long it took to write the books. That would take forever to dig up. This is just a business timeline.)

The main reason I thought of this post is, now that I'm waiting for Stuff To Happen with my second book, I keep trying to remember when Stuff Happened with my first book.

June 24th, 2005: Sent out first-ever batch of queries, for my first book SELKIE ROCK.
March 13th, 2006: Sent out first batch of queries for Magic Under Glass.
May 26th, 2008: Sent first batch of queries for Magic Under Glass v. 3, including one w/1st three chapters to Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
June 6th, 2008: Full request from Jennifer Laughran.
July 3rd, 2008: Offer of representation from Jennifer Laughran.
July 21st, 2008: Magic Under Glass goes out to editors.
August 13th, 2008: Accept offer from Bloomsbury.
January 13th, 2009: Receive contract for Magic Under Glass.
February 23rd, 2009: Receive check for Magic Under Glass.
March 31st, 2009: Receive editorial letter and line edits for Magic Under Glass. (The letter also was the first I heard of Magic Under Glass being published by Bloomsbury UK simultaneously, although it had obviously been in the works for awhile since the UK editor contributes to my editorial notes.)
mid-May: Magic Under Glass edits sent to editor.
June 3rd: My first look at the Magic Under Glass cover.
June 8th: Delivery and acceptance check for turning in Magic Under Glass revisions.
June 12th: Copy edits for Magic Under Glass arrive.
July 21st: Final pass pages arrive, along with the first ARC (more came a little later) and catalog with Magic Under Glass in it.
July 29th: Magic Under Glass UK cover.
September 1st: Magic Under Glass selected for Junior Library Guild for Spring 2010.
September 11th: First look at entire final jacket for Magic Under Glass.
September 14th: My second book, Between the Sea and Sky, turned in to my editor.
September 17th: First trade review for Magic Under Glass (Booklist). (Other reviews came in in a staggered way closer to the book's release.)
October 22nd: Receive cover flats for Magic Under Glass.
November 16th: Receive author copies for Magic Under Glass.
December 22nd: Book releases.
February 1st, 2010: Magic Under Glass releases in the UK.
mid-February, 2010: My agent sends my editor a proposal for 3rd book (Magic Under Stone).
March 11th, 2010: First foreign sale for Magic Under Glass (Spain).
March 18th, 2010: Offer for Magic Under Stone, second foreign sale for Magic Under Glass (Thailand).
April 1st, 2010: Magic Under Glass releases in Australia/New Zealand.
May 13th: Asked to contribute to Corsets and Clockwork anthology.
May 17th, 2010: Contract arrives for Magic Under Stone.
May 26th: Receive editorial letter for Between the Sea and Sky.
July 16th: Sent first round of edits for Between the Sea and Sky to editor.

And...that's where I'm at!

Monday, August 2, 2010

5 YA Characters I'm tired of

Okay. There are a few characters that just keep popping up in contemporary YA (fantasy/paranormal or non) over and over in a proportionally high number to where I sometimes feel like I just keep reading the same book over and over. Consider this a brief rant.

1. Hippie Parents.
I grew up with hippie-ish (new age-y, really) parents. For one thing, the *average* parent of a teenager would now have been a teen in the 80s. Please update parents! I do seem some books that consider this, but still a surprising amount that seem stuck in the 60s as far as parents go. Also, the people I know who are children of hippie/new age parents don't roll their eyes about everything their parents do. Some things, yes. But within reason. Please stop playing hippie parents for purely comedic effect.

2. The Goth Girl.
Why is there ALWAYS a goth girl? Sometimes she's the friend, sometimes the protagonist, sometimes the love interest, sometimes the antagonist-turned-friend, sometimes the complicated figure who brings about a revelation about judging by appearance...she can fill almost any role, but she is EVERYWHERE in YA. Is it because goth is semi-timeless? Why is she so prevalent? Does every American high school really have one attractive, mysterious goth girl with an appropriately gothy name to match who is more than meets the eye?

3. Perky Friend.
Perky friend has been the main character's BFF since they were kids. Now, I love positive female friendships. I would rather have perky friend than bitch friend. Nevertheless, I'm a little tired of the perky best friend who is a little more flaky and wild than the MC so she can urge the MC in crazy situations. Also, if the MC has an older brother, she will have a crush on said brother. But really, it's the flakiness that drives me nuts. In this kind of story, the MC and her best friend seem SO close forever, like they've had sleepovers at each others houses since they were 6 years old, but the friendship just seems vapid, with contrived rituals to make us think they've been close friends forever.

4. Cool Grandma.
My grandma is pretty cool, in real life. I'm sure many of you have or did have cool grandmas. And I love awesome older women in YA. But I am starting to groan at the cool grandma in YA who is you know, so sassy and constantly reminds you how she is not like OTHER grandmas. You know, those other OLD PEOPLE grandmas everyone else has. Usually grandpa has already died or something, you don't see as many cool grandpas, although they pop up sometimes. Cool Grandma often likes to rock out in some fashion, I've noticed, but she never actually plays an instrument. (Why does she never play an instrument? That *would* be cool!!) And despite being so cool, she's still not that up on what the young people are doing sometimes.

5. Jerk Boy.
Jerk boy is kind of like jock boy and often overlaps, but he is a specific breed: the guy the MC is dating because he is the hot guy in school but she really discovers she likes this nerd/weirdo/musician/whatever boy. Jerk boy is the most typical boy ever. There is NOTHING redeeming or attractive about him even though we're told there is. We might get a mention of his abs, but otherwise, he boozes it up, wears baseball caps constantly and calls her "babe", but has no actual personality, not even a glimpse of humor or spark that might have attracted MC in the first place. I know we don't want to risk taking the limelight off nerd/weirdo/musician/whatever boy, but really, it won't harm the book to give jerk boy nuance.

That is all. Feel free to rant about characters you are tired of in the comments. Although I will add, since I got a bit snarky, I do still love a lot of books with these characters in them. Sometimes I think the author even pulls it off.

(But I still want more variety! PLEEEEASE!)