Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wednesday Reads: Forget You

Forget You by Jennifer Echols was awesome. It's a "romantic drama" and I thought from the genre I would hate it. Soap Opera for teens, right? Wrong! It was beautifully pieced together and I loved all the characters and interactions.

There's a lot Zoey would like to forget. Like how her father has knocked up his twenty-four-year old girlfriend. Like Zoey's fear that the whole town will find out about her mom's nervous breakdown. Like darkly handsome bad boy Doug taunting her at school. With her life about to become a complete mess, Zoey fights back the only way she knows how, using her famous attention to detail to make sure she's the perfect daughter, the perfect student, and the perfect girlfriend to ultra-popular football player Brandon.
But then Zoey is in a car crash, and the next day there's one thing she can't remember at all—the entire night before. Did she go parking with Brandon, like she planned? And if so, why does it seem like Brandon is avoiding her? And why is Doug—of all people—suddenly acting as if something significant happened between the two of them? Zoey dimly remembers Doug pulling her from the wreck, but he keeps referring to what happened that night as if it was more, and it terrifies Zoey to admit how much is a blank to her. Controlled, meticulous Zoey is quickly losing her grip on the all-important details of her life—a life that seems strangely empty of Brandon, and strangely full of Doug.
First Sentence: "Every strong swimmer has a story about nearly drowning. This is mine." Compelled to read yet?

Beefs: One aspect about the main character is that she is a swimmer, and all of her friends are also on the swim team. It's a nice change from cheerleaders and it provides a built-in community. I would have liked to have seen more of Zoey's swimming--at the beginning she mentions that she isn't the strongest swimmer on the team and towards the end she decides she's going to try harder to be a better swimmer. I wanted more of this internal development. It's not a sports book, but it's an aspect of the character that was intriguing. Not that this detracted from the novel in any way. Maybe I need to go start reading sports books? Haha.

Brownie Points: Oh my. Where to start? The interactions between the characters? The secondary characters? How much of an ass her father is? Zoey's quirks? The twists and turns? The beginning? The middle? The end? The voice? Have I left anything out? Haha.

Recommendation: I won't recommend it to EVERYONE, only because I know a lot of you won't go read it because it's "drama". But I dare you to go pick it up. I double doggie dare you.

Would I represent it? Yes. I'm officially looking for "romantic dramas."

Happy reading!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Follow Friday

One thing I do on Fridays, is stalk Twitter for new blogs to read since anyone who is anyone (okay, maybe not everyone, but hashtags and @s abound) uses #FF to promote their favorites. I'm aware I don't have a "blogs I follow" over there --> on the side (I will eventually, I'm dragging my feet), so for now I thought I'd highlight some of my favorite blogs where I spend my time when I'm not doing the thousand other things I do.

Where I waste my time (all two seconds it takes to read the post each week):

SlushPile Hell
Written by anonymous, I absolutely crack up over these posts.

Helpful: (every blog on the whole list can be termed as "helpful" but here's my favorite)

Query Shark
Walks you through what works and what doesn't in real queries. Covers everything from the greeting line to basic plot to word count. I've been reading this blog for as long as I've been reading blogs (because obviously I don't get enough practice on my own--I just really like seeing someone's process and watching writers grow).

Agent Blogs:

Pub Rants
Very insightful and covers everything from the day to day, the obscure, and wonderful advice on everything publishing.

BookEnds, LLC
Great advice and insight on everything publishing.

Rachelle Gardner
Titled, Rants and Ramblings, she does more than just rant and ramble. Again, great insight and advice.


YA Highway
Features guest posts, writing tips, new releases, etc. I always know the post, no matter the topic, will be worth it.

Adventures in Children's Publishing
Covers all of the children's market including YA and MG. Fantastic advice. Their feature "1st 5 Pages Workshop" is invaluable. And I love stalking their Friday's "Best Articles this Week for Writers."

Book Bloggers: (some of my favoritist people in the world) (the people who make my Mt Rainier reading pile into Mt Everest).

bibliophile brouhaha
She has great recommendations on YA, contemporary, paranormal, and dystopian.

YA Book Realm
I love her short reviews--short, sweet, and to the point, and she always has fabulous recommendations. YA, of course.

Great reviews on Paranormal and Urban Fantasy books. (See? I'm not only about YA, though sometimes I forget that too.)

The Bookanistas
YA, MG, and PB (picture books) book reviews. They give ONLY positive reviews and love promoting fellow writers/authors. Always a joy to read the reviews and putter around on linking sites. 

Client Blogs:

Cambria Dillon

Writing. For Real. Kris Asselin

Carolina Valdez Miller

Strange Places. Julia Darcey

These aren't all the blogs I read, but they are some of my favorites. And these obviously aren't the only blogs worth reading out there. There are tons more of course, but these are the ones I go to quickly if I have five minutes.

Your turn. Favorite, funny, helpful blogs?

Happy reading!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wednesday Reads: Falling Under

From page one, I fell in LOVE with Falling Under by Gwen Hayes. The basic plot is: girl falls for evil boy who she shouldn't love, they fall in love, they deal with the consequences. I thought I was sick of demon/half-demon stories and these basic story lines. So what sold it for me? The VOICE. The pacing. The other characters. And the ending. So, let's dive in.

In her dreams he’s irresistible—seductive, charming, and undoubtedly dangerous. But when he appears to her when she’s awake—and captivates her just the same—she’s not sure which way is up and which is down.

Theia Alderson has always led a sheltered life, not allowed the same freedoms as the rest of the teenagers in the small California town of Serendipity Falls. But when a devastatingly handsome boy appears in the halls of her school, she feels every urge she’s ever denied burning through her at the slightest glance from Haden Black. Theia knows she’s seen Haden before—not around town, but in her dreams.

Theia doesn’t understand how she dreamed of Haden before they ever met, but every night has them joined in a haunting world of eerie fantasy. And as the Haden of both the night and the day beckons her forward one moment and pushes her away the next, the only thing Theia knows for sure is that the incredible pull she feels towards him is stronger than her fear. And as she slowly discovers what Haden truly is, Theia’s not sure if she wants to resist him, even if the cost is her soul. 
First Line: "Everything changed the night I saw the burning man fall from the sky." Intrigue, and then, she dives into the voice and a little background of the character (it's far from a background dump, just laying the groundwork for understanding who we are dealing with).

Beefs: I was hesitant at first of the infrequent POV changes--we slide into Haden's POV a few times, very few--but it all made sense in the end, setting us up for something I thought was very daring. I wouldn't advice many writers to try it, that's how tricky it is and how well Hayes delivered.

Brownie Points: Aside from everything I've already gushed about, the biggest one I have to give props for are the dream sequences. I picked the book up thinking, "Oh no, not another dream sequence book in which they fall in love in dreams, yadda, yadda, yadda." Dream sequences are so hard to execute without losing the reader or going completely off the map. These were done so well, I actually wanted to skip ahead to those parts (I didn't because the rest of it was amazing too; I love Theia's friends--they are Brownie Point number 2).

Ending: From now on, I'll be discontinuing this particular section from my Wednesday Reads. For this week, I'll say a few more words: awesome. Okay, that was only one word, and I already gushed about it above.

Recommendation: If you're writing Paranormal Romance, this is definitely one to read. Study how Hayes manages to create something new in a tired genre. If you like Paranormal Romance, read it. If you like YA, read it.

Would I represent it? This particular book, yes. If not for the VOICE alone. However, I'm always wary of manuscripts with dream sequences because they are so hard to do. Not saying I won't take a look, but they have to be very original and well done (and not super weird--my dreams are odd enough, no need to read about it too).

Happy Reading!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Formatting your MS

In today's world of e-readers, getting the format on your manuscript is super important. How important? So important that I'll reject your ms if it isn't formatted properly? No way. I'm not that picky. But it is one of the first things I fix in the revisions stage. But if you get your format fixed before it gets to an agent, she might just forget she's reading a ms on her e-reader because it looks just like a real book! Or it's just one less thing for her to notice.

So, what's the correct format? (I'm using Microsoft Word and I'm reading on a Kindle; please let everyone know if there are different standards for different programs.)

Personally, I prefer Times New Roman 12 pt font, but you can use something equivalent (Arial or Courier)--but don't use Harry Potter font or something equally weird. It's about the words, not how clever you are with ClipArt (please don't add ClipArt).

Make sure you have one inch margins all around (this is a throw back from my English Lit days and I have no idea if the margins actually make a difference).

Next, press Select+A on your keyboard (or go up to the Edit drop down menu and choose Select All), this should highlight your entire document. Right click somewhere and go to Paragraph. Under the Indents and Spacing Tab, go to Indentation. Set Left and Right at 0". Set Special for First Line (this will make your paragraphs automatically indent), By .5". Don't ever use the TAB key; this will not show up on an e-reader.

Not done yet. Now go to the next section, still fixing Paragraph, labeled Spacing. Before and After should be 0pt, and Line Spacing should be Double (unless you've been told to use something else). This will make your paragraphs evenly spaced. Don't take for granted that your entire ms is properly spaced already, there are always mistakes.

For new chapters, you can press Enter a few times or, to get the new chapter on a new page, press Ctrl+Enter. This will put your chapter on a new page and show up nicely on an e-reader (if you press Enter too many times then it might show up on the e-reader as a blank page before we get to the new chapter--profoundly annoying for some reason). Also, don't put your chapter titles in fancy fonts. It doesn't even need to be in a bigger font.

Now your ms should be in the correct format. If you have an e-reader handy, or if you can borrow one from a friend, send the doc to yourself and scroll through the pages.

Viola! You've just eliminated a step from the agent's revising process, made your ms look a lot neater, and it looks like a real book on an e-reader!

Update 4/20/11: Reader @Kris informs us that you can use Find and Replace (Ctrl+f) to delete all your tabs by using ^t in MS Word. Thank you Kris for the information! Hopefully that will cut down on the time it takes to reformat your documents.

Update 4/29/11: For new chapters use Ctrl+Enter. I originally said use shift+enter; that does nothing. Thanks Kris (different Kris than above--I feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone, are all Kris's extremely smart?) for pointing this out! Also to @Bonita's question, no, your chapter titles don't need to be centered. I have no preference on this. Do it or not, just don't spend a whole lot of time on it.

Update 3/23/12: Cassandra Marshall has a great checklist for formatting that I stumbled across, you can find it here. Also, if my info becomes obsolete, what with e-readers updating faster than I can type, please do update us masses!

Skim through the comments, several people have been extremely helpful on this topic!

Happy writing!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The 13th Rejection

Starting March 13- end April 13

How's the new blog post title "The 13th Rejection"? I'm playing around with new titles because I don't like plain "Rejection Rate." Have any better titles? Let me know!

Someone asked last month what my actual numbers were, instead of just percentages, and why I give percentages. My mind works best in fractions and percentages (one thing my mathematically-minded father was able to drill into my non-scientific brain). Each month, I answer about 300 queries and the partials depends on how many I have requested. This month, I've read and replied to about 50.

This month, based on queries, I rejected 86% of queries, much lower than it was last month. That's 259 queries that were rejected based on the query letter. Remember, as busy as agents are, we are looking for any reason to reject your query. You put all that effort into your manuscript, make sure you put just as much effort into the query letter. Go to sites such as Query Shark and ask your critique group to critique the letter (you DO have a critique group right?). There are many contests going on all the time, check out blogs for contests for query critiques. These are invaluable because the critiquers will probably be professionals and will give you honest advice (as honest as if you had paid a professional, which is also an option for you).

Based on partials, I requested to see more pages (50, 100, or the full ms) for only 6%. Out of 48 partials, I requested to see more pages on 3. I read only one full ms this month. Why the higher query numbers and low partials numbers? The queries were good and/or contained excellent ideas/plots/characters. But the partials weren't ready yet and/or started in the wrong place. The biggest reason is that I wasn't drawn in right away: VOICE.

But you've all heard this before. I talk about voice in every other blog post and spout the importance of the first sentence, first page, first five, first fifty pages in all the other blog posts. Someone hasn't been paying attention. Use your critique groups. Get professional critiques. Take classes. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Queries have been replied to up to March 29
Partials and fulls have been replied to up to March 6

Happy writing!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wednesday Reads: The Body Finder

Months and months ago, I reviewed The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting. No one read my post and it was formatted horribly (one of my first Wednesday Reads). So, because I just read book 2: Desires of the Dead, I'm going to reformat and repost.

I'm not reviewing Desires of the Dead because I prefer to review only the first book in a series. But know this: it was AMAZING!


Violet Ambrose is grappling with two major issues: Jay Heaton and her morbid secret ability. While the sixteen-year-old is confused by her new feelings for her best friend since childhood, she is more disturbed by her "power" to sense dead bodies—or at least those that have been murdered. Since she was a little girl, she has felt the echoes that the dead leave behind in the world... and the imprints that attach to their killers.

Violet has never considered her strange talent to be a gift; it mostly just led her to find the dead birds her cat had tired of playing with. But now that a serial killer has begun terrorizing her small town, and the echoes of the local girls he's claimed haunt her daily, she realizes she might be the only person who can stop him.

Despite his fierce protectiveness over her, Jay reluctantly agrees to help Violet on her quest to find the murderer—and Violet is unnerved to find herself hoping that Jay's intentions are much more than friendly. But even as she's falling intensely in love, Violet is getting closer and closer to discovering a killer... and becoming his prey herself.
First Line: "Violet Ambrose wandered away from the safety of her father as she listened to the harmony of sounds weaving delicately around her." Who doesn't want to keep reading? Bueller?

Beefs: The only problem I had with it, was the lack of personal characteristics. Chapter 1 we learn that Violet has curly hair and she wishes she had super straight hair like every other girl in school. It's a great insight into her as a character; wishing she were normal in more ways than one. And everyone can identify with her (who doesn't wish their hair were different?).  But that's all we learn about what she looks like  until nearly the end when she comes to term for a moment with her hair and we learn she has green eyes. This is my only complaint for the entire book, and it's more like a nit-pick than a complaint. All the other visuals and sensory details completely make up for it.

Brownie Points: The concept. If I had to sit through one more book with a telepathic heroine in it caught between two hunks, I was going to scream. Violet's power is so unique and lends itself so well to making the novel even richer (soooo many sensory details). And there is only one hunk. Best friend Jay turning something more. Both characters are so real and their interactions perfect.

The Ending: I have no words for how... AWESOME it is! I walked away satisfied, happy, and ready to gush. Am I gushing? (BTW I read this book about five or six months ago and I'm still gushing.)

Recommendation: Oh read it. Just do it. Then go get book 2. If you can stop marveling at the pretty covers long enough, open it and read it.

Would I represent it? I would have fought other agents off for it.

Kimberly Derting has another book coming out on November 15, 2011 called The Pledge, read about it here.

Happy reading!

Monday, April 11, 2011

What Amazon Can Do For YOU

Last week at the Whidbey Island Writer's Conference, Amazon representative Jon Fine spoke to us about what Amazon is doing now, can do for authors (self pubed and traditionally pubed), and things to look for in the future.

I was surprised to learn how many opportunities Amazon provides for self publishing and Indie publishing. For the self publishers, there are programs such as Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace. There are also more traditional Indie style publishing with Amazon Encore and The Domino Project (powered by Amazon). I had no idea Amazon did all this. I thought it was Buy, Sell, end of story. Boy was I wrong.

Here's the part that I thought was very helpful to authors (and another thing I had no idea about): your Author Page. We've all seen those Author Pages right? Where all the author's books are conveniently displayed? Well, that's not all the Author Page can do (keep this in mind when you are pubed--traditionally or self). On your Author Page, you can upload your books and book covers, announce tours and appearances, display your blog, display video, display a photo, and put up your Twitter feed (brand new). When you are pubed, be sure to communicate with your publisher if they will be doing this or if you should. A lot of people use Amazon now to get info about books and authors, and Amazon is a great place to display it all.
One last tidbit. You know the Search Inside feature on some (unfortunately not all) books? I use it all the time to decide which book I want to read next and it helps me whittle down my stack of TBRs. But it also helps convince me to read a book (importance of a great first few pages). Again, talk to your publisher about this feature. Why is it so important? Jon explained. When Search Inside is available, the entire contents of your book is made accessible by search engines (even though the reader will not be able to see all of it). If you have a mention of something in your book that isn't in the title or synopsis, and someone Googles for it, they will see that your book has it. Voila. Another book sale.
So, don't underestimate Amazon anymore. They are so much more than a convenient bookseller. They are a terrific example of how one company is changing with the changing tides.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wednesday Reads: Wicked Lovely

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr. I was actually pleasantly surprised with this book. I hadn't expected to like it as much as I did. Basic story line: girl gets sucked into a world she didn't want to get involved with, and men compete for her attention. But the voice, characters, and the ending won me over.

Rule #3: Don't stare at invisible faeries.
Aislinn has always seen faeries. Powerful and dangerous, they walk hidden in mortal world. Aislinn fears their cruelty—especially if they learn of her Sight—and wishes she were as blind to their presence as other teens.

Rule #2: Don't speak to invisible faeries.
Now faeries are stalking her. One of them, Keenan, who is equal parts terrifying and alluring, is trying to talk to her, asking questions Aislinn is afraid to answer.

Rule #1: Don't ever attract their attention.
But it's too late. Keenan is the Summer King who has sought his queen for nine centuries. Without her, summer itself will perish. He is determined that Aislinn will become the Summer Queen at any cost—regardless of her plans or desires.

Suddenly none of the rules that have kept Aislinn safe are working anymore, and everything is on the line: her freedom; her best friend, Seth; her life; everything.
First Sentence: From the Prologue: "The Summer King knelt before her. 'Is this what you freely choose, to risk winter's chill?'" Here's what I love about the Prologue--it's short. While it isn't super important to the story, it does let you see how it began with one character, and helps round out her story arch.

While deciding whether I actually wanted to read this book, I looked up the excerpt from Amazon. It was the first few pages of Chapter 1 that hooked me. "'Four-ball, side pocket.' Aislinn pushed the cue forward with a short, quick thrust; the ball dropped into the pocket with a satisfying clack." She's a fun character, and we get to see her spunky attitude combined with her fairy-sight and how that's affected her, right off.

Beefs: This sassy, pool playing chick that opened the book sorta goes away. She is still spunky, but she's also a shy character who doesn't put herself out there very often. It's nice that she has so many facets, but I was disappointed that we didn't see her return to the pool hall. But her friend Seth and his uniqueness mostly made up for it.

POV shifts were good, but at time I found myself skipping ahead to get back to the main story line. Seth and Aislinn are amazing together.

Brownie Points: The end. I can't give it away. But the decision Aislinn makes--about which boy she ends up with--seriously made me happy.

Ending: Happy making.

Recommendation: If you like YA paranormal romance, read it.

Would I represent it? Probably. :)

Happy reading!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

YA, Authors, and Amazon--Oh My!!

The Whidbey conference last weekend was amazing! If you're in the area and you didn't get a chance to attend this year (or you want to drive or fly in) definitely do so next year. Wonderful speakers and topics, and the format of the entire conference (laid back and friendly) really lent itself to helping people learn and connect with each other.

On Sunday, we had a presentation by Amazon, which I will touch on in another post.

There was also a panel on the Agent/Author relationship, which I will also touch on in another post.

Andrea Hurst gave a two hour class (I'd attended her class before, but again was struck by how helpful it was to everyone) about the Perfect Pitch. At any conference you attend, if you are able to attend hers, or if local classes offer the topic (or webinars) make sure you take advantage of the opportunity. One of the things Andrea does is allow participants to pitch the entire room. Scary, yes, but you can gauge the audience's response. If they all sit up and go Ooooooo, then you know you've hooked them. If their eyes sort of glaze over, then you know you need to redo the pitch. An extra perk is that you are pitching Andrea at the same time, and she can give you feedback/request material for herself or her agents.

The "Chat Houses" were literally in people's homes, from in and around Coupeville. In our chat house, we were all cozy in the living room on couches and chairs and listened to authors Mandy Hubbard, Deb Lund, and Michele Torrey talk about writing and publishing for children's, middle grade, and YA.

  • VOICE is the most important thing (like I don't preach that enough)
  • CHARACTER is the next most important thing
  • Have a HOOK and STORY QUESTIONS from the very first page
  • For your comparables and to see how debut authors broke into the business, read debut novels
  • TENSION can turn a slow paced story into something riveting (my wording, Mandy's wisdom)
  • Don't be SLIGHT (Deb on Children's books)
  • Don't be TRITE (Michele on MG)
Mandy shared her experiences from both an agent's perspective and a writer's. Michele read to us from several books of all ages to demonstrate the power of voice (by the way, she's an amazing reader). Deb revealed a few tricks and made us play charades.

The Tricks: Deb had two decks of cards. One of them were "Emotion Cards"--on each one was an emotion--scared, worry, devotion, unsure, etc. We played charades which meant no talking. We guessed what the emotion was (easier said than done) then discussed what it was about the person's BODY LANGUAGE that gave it away. This was a live demonstration of SHOW DON'T TELL, and I've never seen a better presentation. Everyone went away thinking, ooooooooh, I get it now. Describe how your character is acting to show how they are feeling.

Trick Two: The second card deck had actions on them. We were to think of a scene in our manuscripts before choosing a card, then think about how we could incorporate that into our scene to "spice it up." Cards included: lie, trust the wrong person, run away, and (my personal favorite) disguise the enemy. These are helpful to get you over writer's block or to make your scene more interesting.

Check out all authors, read their books, and, if you have the chance, make sure you hear them speak some time.

Happy writing!