Wednesday, May 23, 2012

All About Blurbs

So, in the past week or two I was asked to blurb THREE, literally, one a day for three days in a row, which made me feel like the most popular person in the universe (okay, not really, but it was flattering) and also made me think perhaps I should do a post on blurbs, because they are a part of publishing that, well, can still take me a bit off guard.

What is a blurb?
A blurb is, of course, those wonderful compliments that appear on many book jackets that say things like: "Swoony romance and a strong heroine, this novel has it all"--Famous Person

How do you get blurbs for your book?
Sometimes your editor or your agent will solicit blurbs for you. Other times, you will be asked to get blurbs yourself. With Magic Under Glass I had a little of both, but the blurb we got was one that I asked for, from the lovely Carrie Ryan. It is a terribly awkward position, to have to ask author friends and acquaintances you admire to take the time to read your book, but if you've chosen well, they will probably be delighted to have an early read and a chance to help you out, or deeply and genuinely sorry if they're too swamped or the book doesn't quite click for them.

How do agents/editors/authors decide who to ask for blurbs?
Usually people will ask you to blurb books that seem like a good fit--that are kind of like your book. I've been asked to blurb books that mostly either have a fairy tale bent of sorts, and/or a strong non-white protagonist...Zoe Marriott's Shadows on the Moon, for example, was a book I blurbed that had both. Shadows on the Moon was actually a book Zoe sent me in ARC form (we traded ARCs) and after I wrote a rave review on my blog she asked if I'd blurb it. I was happy to, since I only review things that are a strong 4-star or 5-star read for me, but it is a reminder for published authors that you shouldn't write flattering reviews of books just to be nice because you might end up being asked to blurb and you don't want to have to say, "Er...well...actually...I didn't like it THAT much" or endorse a book you don't really love.

There is also an author hierarchy of blurbs, of course. Editors don't want to launch a book they think will be "the next big thing" with a blurb on it from an author no one's even heard of. At this stage in my life it's unlikely I'd be asked to blurb anything purchased for hundreds of thousands of dollars with a marketing budget to match. I have been asked to blurb some books that have probably gotten more hype than mine, though. This happens. You just don't want HUGE disparity.

As a published author, when will I be asked to blurb something?
If you're a much-hyped debut author you may be asked to blurb someone else's book before yours is even out. But chances are it will come later. You don't have to be a bestseller or anything. But if you've never been asked to blurb anything, it doesn't mean you are an unpopular failure. Many of my requests for blurbs have come from being with a rather large, children's book oriented agency, so if you have a solo agent you might not get as many, I suspect.

As a published author, is there a benefit for my career in blurbing a book?
Besides the obvious goodwill you build with the author you've blurbed, there certainly can be personal benefit in blurbing a book. Some readers might pick up your book because they saw your name on the cover of a book they liked. And perhaps most directly, if you love a book an editor has worked on and you write them a genuinely gushing email that "yes, I would LOVE to blurb this book, ohmigod, it is SO GOOD, I was up all night reading it, IS THERE A SEQUEL?", the next time your agent has a book of yours to shop, she might send it to that editor and that editor is likely to remember you fondly.

What do blurbs do?
I'm not really sure. I've been told that booksellers like them. I think there is a certainly undeniable subconscious psychological impact from seeing words of praise on a book's cover. As a kid, WHO was writing a blurb meant nothing to me. The content of the blurb didn't mean much either, unless it implied romance. When I was young, the YA genre as we know it didn't exist and it could actually be quite hard to find books that had romance in them but not sex scenes (which, to this day, make me laugh more than they turn me on 90% of the time). I spent hours, cumulatively, at the library scanning jacket flaps for books that looked romantic. Especially for boys in somewhat tortured circumstances. Teen me would have been soooo happy nowadays.

Do blurbs do anything for you?

How do you write a good blurb?
The first time I was asked to write a blurb I struggled mightily, because no one gives you instructions on a good blurb. There are no books or websites or Miss Snark for blurb writers, critiquing and analyzing what makes a blurb good. I will tell you that almost everything you write will sound stupid and about as familiar as the formula for a movie trailer. There are only so many ways you can say "this story made me cheer!" or "heartfelt/captivating/romantic/beautiful etc. and haunting/riveting/hilarious/smart etc., this story will stay with me long after the pages are shut" or whatever.

I still have no idea, really, what makes for a "good" blurb and how to write one. Ideas welcome!

That's all I can think of. If you have any other questions about blurbs, shoot!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Experiences Writing Five Books

Every book is different. Some books pour out. Some books sputter along painfully. Some need a little revision and some need a lot.

And sometimes, as the writer, I forgot just how agonizing the process was in the past. I am currently working on what will be my fifth published book--FIFTH! That number still shocks me. I am on my way to having a shelf of my works! But anyway. Like the previous four, the fifth comes with both hair-tearing moments, and good ones.

I've had no trouble getting words on the page, so that's a plus. But I struggled for a while with a serious case of this-sucks-and-I-don't-know-any-of-the-characters-itis (which just became the clunkiest word I have ever invented). Even though it is a SEQUEL, which means I SHOULD know the characters, only they seem to want to be different people than in the first book, which is making me look back at the first book like WHAT...did I have you right to begin with?

And so on.

Sometimes at events I'll be asked what the process of writing a book is like, and I've seen other authors answer the question as well, and some of them say, well, it's always difficult for the first 25k words and then the middle is better, or, the beginning is wonderful and shiny and then the middle is awful, or the whole thing is awful but you just do it anyway, or...whatever.

For me, it is always different.

Magic Under Glass: This was the second book I wrote, but the first I wrote while looking for an agent and having some real information about the industry. My first "professional" book, if you will. I wrote the first version quickly and joyfully. Then I had to go back and rewrite it twice. Each rewrite also came quickly, and just slightly less joyfully. The hard part was the in-between-rewrites times when I was thinking about why the book kept getting rejections and what it might possibly need, and not understanding.

Between the Sea and Sky: Second book. Written under huge stress of having sold first book. I loved the characters and the world they resided in. I lived in it, mentally, while writing. It was a lovely place. But when it came to writing the book? It was horrible. I wrote very slowly. I worked on that book for a whole year, and it isn't even a long book! I didn't have any fun until we got to revisions. I LOVED revising this book.

Magic Under Stone: Had a lot of trouble with the beginning. Getting back into the groove of the characters and trying to re-establish everything. This book clicked after I had a dream about Ifra that showed me who his character really was. Everything else fell into place around him, and I ended up mostly enjoying the writing for the second half. Revisions were very minimal.

Dark Metropolis: Another book written quickly, while dealing with a small string of deaths. This is the only book I've written from a place of catharsis and, frankly, some fear and despair. I wrote it as a way of dealing with those emotions, and I did enjoy writing it, except I was having an existential crisis the whole time. After it sold I kind of dreaded revisions because I'd gotten the emotions that drove the book out of my system and didn't really want to revisit them! But my editor wanted a sequel and forcing myself to come up with something helped me to expand the world in my mind beyond the emotions that drove the first book, and that has helped a lot.

Dark Metropolis sequel: I had huge problems with this book at first because, as I said, initially I didn't want to revisit the world. But now it's been starting to click and become exciting for me, and the other night I had a dream about one of the characters, which, for me, can be a HUGE piece of the writing puzzle (see Magic Under Stone!). Also this is the first time I've gotten to work on a sequel while still doing edits on the first book, which is kind of a cool thing! Working on one compliments the other, and vice versa.

So, if you are writing your first book or two and you think you know how it's going to roll now? Well, maybe not. But that's part of the fun.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Books like Magic Under Glass/Between the Sea and Sky/Magic Under Stone

I periodically get hits to my blog from people Googling "books like magic under glass", etc. Of course, I don't know what it is that these readers are looking to replicate...the style, the time period, girls who fall in love with robots, what? But I thought I'd recommend a list of some YA that I like that I also think my readers would probably like because some aspects remind me of my own work.

Faery Rebels (in the UK, Knife) by R. J. Anderson
The Hollow Kingdom trilogy by Clare Dunkle
Jessica Day George's books
Eva Ibbotson's YAs like A Countess Below Stairs
Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott
A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan
Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood
A True and Faithful Narrative by Katherine Sturtevant

Are there any other books you've read and enjoyed that remind you of my books? Feel free to let me know in the comments. If I haven't read them I'll certainly add them to my list!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

10 Best Things About Orlando

I have now lived in Maryland for almost three months. And getting out of Orlando was such a huge endeavor that I dumped on it a lot, like a bad boyfriend I finally broke up with. I feel a little bad, so, now that I've had a little time away, I am giving you the ten best things about Orlando. I was tempted to do Florida as a state, and talk about Sarasota and St. Augustine and some of the good times I've had with my friend Amanda in West Palm Beach...

But NO. This is JUST Orlando.

1. The ViMi District.

Many people don't even realize Orlando has a bonafide concentrated ethnic neighborhood. You can easily find good Thai, Chinese, Japanese or Korean food there, but it is first and foremost a Vietnamese neighborhood. There are a number of great Asian markets where you can stock your pantry with sauces and always find reasonably priced avocados, but the best thing of all are the Vietnamese restaurants. They rocked my world and I miss them. My favorite was Lac Viet Bistro, where I always ordered grilled pork or chicken on vermicelli with some fresh basil and cilantro on the side. The scrumptiously marinated meat and light noodles come with raw slices of tomato and cucumber, mint, chopped peanuts and little bits of browned garlic, and you can top it with a generous pour of nuoc mam, the Vietnamese dressing that is a little sweet and a little fishy, and a lot better than that description makes it sound. The perfect compliment, to me, is a glass of sweet and fresh young coconut water.

Basically, every time ANYTHING good happened, even a six-figure book deal, and someone asked me what I wanted to do to celebrate, I always went for yet another $6 bowl of grilled pork on vermicelli noodles.

The ViMi District also happens to overlap with the gay district and the hipster part of Orlando, so you can also find vinyl and vintage clothes and wax nostalgic about the time you saw a Hedwig and the Angry Inch performance at Parliament House at the same time.

2. Nature

Florida has a number of interesting habitats. Most of the year if the heat doesn't kill you, the mosquitos will, but when the north is stark and cold, Florida is lovely and green and indulgent. Flowers are blooming, the swamp looks like a dinosaur could come out of it (but you'll have to settle for an alligator, which, I'm sorry, always did scare the crap out of me), there are cypress trees so massive and ancient that if you could hollow one out it would be about the size of a Manhattan apartment, there are quiet places with gobs of birds. It can be really gorgeous and unusual. Florida also has some of the best sunsets.

(Though I still think northern nature is better, mostly because it has less mosquitos. =P)

3. Polonia

Polonia is a Polish restaurant that was around the corner from where I lived, in Longwood. It was really authentic and a-Polish-Grandma-made-it tasting (although it was not made by any actual Grandmas). At lunchtime they'd have killer sandwich specials, like, $6 for turkey, bacon and provolone with super delicious horseradish sauce on freshly baked challah with a cup of chicken and pickle soup. One time they had a salad with homemade goat cheese. So good. Another time the soup was the best butternut squash soup I've ever had. On a cold day I was partial to the wazanki, which was little dumplings with bits of bacon and kielbasa, cabbage and onion. If I was feeling rich, a bowl of their homemade apple sauce was REALLY GOOD poured over the wazanki.

4. Best Used Books and Bright Light Books

These two used bookstores were also very near where I lived. Best Used Books was the kind of junky bookstore that has a ZILLION things including weird magazines and you can find anything there. I found two volumes of L. M. Montgomery's diaries once for $2.50, and another time I found a magazine from the 1920s about party planning. Bright Light is the polished cousin. It is run by religious conservatives, which always made me feel a bit weird, but is slightly balanced by the fact that they employ young folk and play indie music. Also I can't deny that it is, perhaps, the most well-organized used bookstore I have ever seen, and they always had an amazing selection of non-fiction for research for very good prices, which I'm a sucker for. I think every area needs a very polished used bookstore and an "everything but the kitchen sink" used bookstore, we were lucky that we had them both near each other.

5. Thrift Stores

Thrift stores in Orlando were plentiful, mostly bad for finding furniture or home decor but good for finding clothes. Values Reborn in Longwood was consistently a great place to score cheap stuff. Sometimes you'd go in and it would be picked over but other days I'd find amazing stuff and they didn't get all Goodwill-prices on you. The best thrifting locale I have ever found, however, is still the Cocoa/Merritt Island area. There are many, many cheap thrifts in a concentrated area, and they always had something old and good in them, every time. I found two-tone spectator shoes, 60s coats with huge buttons, my favorite Western shirt, 60s dresses, Le Crueset, tumblers with drink recipes printed on the side, you name it; even a gorgeous 1960s Emilio Pucci tie one time that I wore until the silk started to disintegrate, probably from how often I fondled it lovingly while wearing it. There are also good places to eat around, which is a must for thrifting.

6. Winter Park

Winter Park is a fine old southern town, with Spanish moss and a train station that Amtrak still stops at and old houses, all the things such a town should have. It's also quite ritzy with a lot of stores I can't afford and mansions to goggle at, but that makes it a romantic place to wander on a nice evening. There is also a decent art museum with a nice Louis Comfort Tiffany collection, and the best public library around. I paid $120 a year to use that library instead of my county library. (Well, actually, not really INSTEAD, but ALONG WITH, I can't resist libraries.)

7. Jeremiah's Italian Ice

Many flavors of ice, which you could also get swirled with soft serve ice cream. Central Florida loves Jeremiah's, evidenced by the fact that they went from one store to like, four, in ten years or so. The best thing, in my opinion, was the horchata flavored ice swirled with chocolate ice cream. It was like $3 for a cup big enough to make you feel slightly ill.

8. Dechoes

Vintage and designer clothing store with two locations. The prices are very reasonable, the stock is good, and they also give you a pretty decent price if you sell them stuff. Sadly I only discovered Dechoes as I was leaving, but if I had known about it earlier I would have bought and sold a lot of stuff there.

9. Disney

Some locals hated Disney. I was not one of them. I love Disney World, especially Epcot, especially the World Showcase. Some of the best parts are the Mitsukoshi department store in Japan and the France movie and the smell of the rides, which stirs deep childhood memories, but there are many wonderful little bits. The downer about Disney is that it is expensive. I didn't really get to enjoy it until I bought us annual passes. Between the passes, the gas it took us to drive across the vast expanse of Orlando to get to the parks, and all the food and drinks we had to buy, it cost me easily over $1000 to enjoy Disney for a year. But, it was something I really wanted to do before I moved away, and I have no regrets.

10. Rock Springs

Central Florida has a lot of springs but this one was my favorite. Spring water is the same temperature year round, which means on a hot day, when you first get in you go "GaaaaHHHH" when it hits your sensitive bits, and then you get used to it and it is amazing. If you get in the water near where the spring feeds in, then you can have an exciting journey down the run, first getting scraped up on rocks, and then reaching a big swimmin' hole type area, and then ending by floating down a shady, low-key stretch, before walking back to your blanket for a much-needed sandwich. There are also a few magical secret spots where tinier springs burble out and you can sit with your feet in them, and sometimes you can find shark teeth, so I am told, although I never, ever did.

So there you have it. I probably forgot a few things, though not many, because Florida never suited me well. But you can't spend 30 years somewhere without missing a few things.