Friday, April 18, 2014

What should writers worry about when they're in high school?

By Sarah Blinco

Sarah Blinco is editor of (, and creator of Media Bootcamp ( which is a digital training tool designed to get you on the fast-track to your dream career. She's worked in publishing and radio and is always happy to answer questions - you'll find her at or Tweet @sarahblinco

‘What should I do with my life’? It's a question we all ponder, and it's a tough one! It’s hard enough being in school, completing the final years of senior and trying to work out what you want to do with your life, but how do you discover all the options? Often mentors are not on hand who are able to answer such industry-specific questions – wouldn’t it be nice if they were!

I was chatting to an author friend about this recently and we both absolutely wish there’d been someone to help us out with more answers when we were in high school. Doing my bit to impart some wisdom then, this post is with particular reference to those of you who love things like media,  writing and English, even drama and the arts. In school you’re usually only exposed to a few job types:

radio personality

The really obvious ones, but did you know there’s a whole array of wonderful jobs out there where you can apply your love of writing and communications?

Let’s try an exercise.

Aside from media, writing or performing, what are you most interested in, or what do you love? E.g. your dog, red carpet fashion, astronomy, music, blogging, technology, movies, traveling?

Write it down on a piece of paper. Now consider, whatever you have written down, there’s a communications role associated with it! If you love your dog – or more widely, animals – you could end up in a communications role with an organization that protects and campaigns for animals. You might end up managing their magazine or website. Or perhaps you’ll be in their public relations department, or devise advertising campaigns? For those who perhaps said technology, well, where should we start? There’s a million tech start-ups who need writers and content creators, or you may end up managing their publicity and writing for a related blog! These are just a couple of examples, but I hope you understand my drift.

Of course, there’s the traditional media stream that you may dwell in too, and that’s great – television news, radio presenting, writing for a magazine, newspaper or digital media, or maybe you’ll talk your way into high places as part of a funky PR team.

The aim of this little spiel is to get you thinking. To get the juices flowing. Don’t get stuck in the mundane or feel like you’re limited, or even that you have to work it all out right now (because you don’t). Just know there’s amazing opportunities out there where you can combine your talents with your passions in life – keep surrounding yourself the things you enjoy, and it will fall into place.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Images, Animated Gifs, and Copyright Law for Bloggers

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

For Bloggers everywhere, copyright infringement is a concern that often lingers in our minds as we post images and wonder if we are breaking the law. I've wondered this many times myself before. And several of you have asked about this. So I consulted James Scott Bell for help on those gray areas I wasn't sure of (Thanks, Jim!) and managed to put together this post. I hope it helps.

Copyright law is designed to protect the creator of a work from people using that work without paying or obtaining permission. (For a more information on copyright law, click here.) Copyright law is sometimes a very gray area, and it can be difficult to know when you've crossed the line. Here are some things I can tell you are blatantly illegal:

-Downloading pirated ebooks, music, TV shows, or movies.
-Using pirated images to make book covers, T-shirts, or any product that you sell or helps you profit (which would include advertising images).
-Putting song lyrics into your book without gaining permission and paying the appropriate fees. (The fees are not a set amount. Each owner decides whether or not to grant permission and how much to charge.)

So what does pirated mean?



1. a person who robs or commits illegal violence at sea or on the shores of the sea.
2. a ship used by such persons.
3. any plunderer, predator, etc.: confidence men, slumlords, and other pirates.
4. a person who uses or reproduces the work or invention of another without authorization.
5. Also called pirate stream. Geology. a stream that diverts into its own flow the headwaters of another stream, river, etc.

verb (used with object), pi·rat·ed, pi·rat·ing.
6. to commit piracy upon; plunder; rob.
7. to take by piracy: to pirate gold.
8. to use or reproduce (a book, an invention, etc.) without authorization or legal right: to pirate hit records.
9. to take or entice away for one's own use: Our competitor is trying to pirate our best salesman.

verb (used without object), pi·rat·ed, pi·rat·ing.
10. to commit or practice piracy.

I highlighted the definitions of pirate that applied to our discussion. But basically, it's stealing. If you copy and paste an image or download it from online without paying for it, you pirated it.

So what can you do, then? What's legal?

First, you need to understand fair use. The fair use law is designed to defend the user against a claim of copyright infringement when the subject matter was used to teach, offer criticism, or parody. (For a longer definition of fair use law, click here.) But you can use certain materials when you are teaching, critiquing, or mocking (in a kind way).

Teaching ( Give Commentary)
When I write blog posts, I often use images from movies in my posts. This falls in line with fair use laws. In the Go Teen Writers book, Stephanie and I were able to quote many passages from published novels without obtaining written permission from the publishers of those book because of the fair use law. We were very careful not to abuse this by:

-Using passages of 300 words or less.
-Using each passage as an example of something the author did well. (We never used a quote to say something negative.)
-Using only one example per novel.
-Citing the author's name and book title with each quote.

In doing this, we kept everything in line with the fair use law.

A writer or blogger offers critique when they write a review of something. This is most done in our industry in book reviews. You legally can post an image of a book cover for a book you are writing a review for. And you can legally quote a few lines from the book as well.

This is when you make fun of something. And here, you should be careful. Weird Al writes parodies of famous songs. But, if I'm not mistaken, he gets permission first to keep himself out of trouble. Some people just don't have his sense of humor.

If you are posing images or animated gifs on your blog that come from movies or television, you do not need to get permission. A production studio could see it and decide to make an issue out of it. But they probably would never see it, and even if they did, they probably wouldn't take issue with it. Prosecuting such things is not worth their time and money. Plus, most these blogs only help spread the word about their book or movie. It's free advertising.

I made a series of flyers for an event for our youth group once that used famous movie posters. I took photos of my husband and me and re-made the posters. This is another an example of using copyrighted material to make fun of or parody. Altering an image or video that is copyrighted falls under fair use law as long as you are not using the image for profit and as long as the image does not convey the idea that the original creator is endorsing you. Both those things are deceitful on your part and break copyright law.

Un-famous Images
For pictures that don't fall under fair use law, things get trickier. There are a lot of artists out there---photographers and graphic artists---who are looking to build careers. They put their images online, often on royalty photo sites like iStock Photo or Shutterstock. These are places where they can sell their images. It is illegal for you to copy and paste these and use them for any reason. It is illegal for you to open the image in Photoshop and erase the watermark. These images are for sale, and taking them without paying is stealing.

People download pirated ebooks, movies, TV shows, and songs all the time. And it's illegal. And as authors, we should understand what this means to other artists. When it happens, the musician, author, or artist doesn't get paid.

It can be difficult to know for certain whether or not an image is copyright protected. The only way to know for certain is to purchase images or to use images that have a Creative Commons license. To learn more about Creative Commons, click here.

It's not worth my time to bother searching for Creative Commons images to use. But there are some sites out there in which you can find free images quickly.

Getty Images offers a wide variety of images that can be used for blogging without charge, and they make it easy for users as well. Simply let your cursor hover over the image and click on the embed icon.

Here are some other image sites to consider. Just make sure you read the Terms of Use for each site:

Any questions about copyright infringement?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Top 5 Finalists in the Go Teen Writers 1,000 Word Writing contest

Congratulations to the writers whose entries were chosen for the top five in our 1,000 word contest: (Listed alphabetically)

Ajax Cochrane
Anastasia Elizabeth K.
Elizabeth Liberty Lewis
Deborah Rocheleau 
The Russian Pianist

Their entries have been passed on to super stud agent, Amanda Luedeke. Congratulations!

Monday, April 14, 2014

How to SHOW your story instead of telling it

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

I'm guessing that every single fiction writer at some point in his or her journey has been told, "You're telling too much and you need to show instead." does that mean? Can you tell that a character smiled, or do you have to show it? (The corners of Piper's mouth raised until her mouth formed the shape of a crescent moon...) Can you say that a character poured herself a glass of milk, or do you have to show it? (Piper reached her hand to the door knob and pulled the cabinet door toward her. Then she selected a glass and placed it on the counter...)

It's confusing, right? Just to offer a bit of comfort, showing rather than telling is one of the last big concepts to click for most writers. (The other is using point of view correctly.) So if you're struggling with showing, and if you're consistently struggling with showing, you're far from alone.

Resist telling emotions.

When you hear industry professionals talk about showing rather than talking, predominately they're talking about emotions rather than action. 

"Piper poured herself a glass of milk" is a fine thing to say in a book. 

"Piper felt angry as she poured herself a glass of milk" is not.

I challenge you to run a search in your manuscript for the word felt because it's almost always used for telling something that you could be showing. Another red flag word is thought:

"Piper thought about Mariano and felt angry while she poured herself a glass of milk."

Why do we naturally tell instead of showing?

Well, for one thing, it's easier. It's how we handle stories that we tell our friends in real life ("I was feeling so bummed out, so I went to get ice cream...") so we're programmed to do it.

But I think the biggest reason is that we want the reader to be perfectly clear on why the character is doing everything they are. That's why we constantly have to fight our desire to explain everything our character is doing. 

I listened to an incredible class on this topic by Jeff Gerke where he said what you'll sacrifice in clarity, you'll make up for in reader interest. While we don't want our reader completely confused, we do want them to feel intrigued by what the character is doing. And part of that is not explaining every detail.

Think of your book as a movie or a stage play.

In the Jeff Gerke class I listened to (which I wish I could link to, but I listened to it from one of my conference CDs) his advice to know if you're telling or not is to ask yourself, "Could an audience see it if this were a movie or a play?" If not, you've likely crossed into telling.

Of course a novel is a different art form than screenplays, and there's definitely a need for internal monologue, so don't go ripping it all out of your manuscript. But do keep an eye out for when you're using internal monologue for sneaky telling. 

You'll notice that lots of classics are full of telling. Those were written for a different audience—an audience who hadn't been brought up on a steady diet of movies and TV shows. The modern reader is accustomed to having their stories shown to them, and while they'll have patience with Jane Austen, they likely won't extend the same patience to you.

Let's go back to Piper and her glass of milk. Put her on stage—how can we show that she's angry and thinking of Mariano while she pours the milk? She could be grinding her teeth. She could pour the milk with a bit too much gusto, and when it sloshes out of the glass she mutters, "Mariano," as if it's all his fault.

There are lots of ways to show it, and all of them are far more interesting than "Piper felt angry."

Is description telling?

Using the Jeff Gerke trick, no. Because it's something the audience can see. You're not telling, you're showing the audience where the character is. Much like decorating a stage.

Is dialogue ever telling?

YES. When your character is saying some solely for the benefit of the audience, you've crossed into telling. My personal pet peeve is dialogue that looks like this:

Guy: How long have we known each other, dear?
Gal: Why, ten years, of course.
Guy: And that's why I'm giving you this 10-carat diamond.

I hear versions of that way too often on shows and in books, minus the ridiculous size of the diamond. Character A should never tell Character B something that Character A knows Character B already knows. (I rewrote that sentence approximately a dozen times to try and make it more clear, and I'm not sure I achieved it! Don't let characters say things they know other characters know.) 

Sometimes writers work way too hard to inform the reader: "Well, Jim, we sure missed you last night at the game but I'm sure you had a lot of fun at your niece's concert."  You can still work in that information, but you can find a much more natural way to do it:

Guy: Hey, Jim. We missed you at the game last night.
Jim: I would've much rather been with you guys, trust me. A kindergarten concert isn't exactly my idea of a good time.
Guy: It's nice that you went. I'm sure your niece appreciated it.

Are action tags telling?

Can you say that a character laughed or a character smiled? Yes. If you can see it through a camera (or pick it up with a microphone) then it's showing. You don't need to get all fancy with character's mouths becoming crescent moons or anything.

Is it ever okay to tell?

Yes. And we'll discuss that next Monday!

Friday, April 11, 2014

10 Ways To Deal with the Love Triangle in Your Book

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

Love triangles. Many readers are sick of them. But they remain popular in bestselling books. And maybe you've put one in your book, but now you're torn because you don't know how to end the thing. And maybe, more than anything, you really want to do something different. Something fresh. Avoid the cliché at all costs. So, if you've put one into your book and don't know how to get yourself out of it, here are ten ideas to help you. (Warning: sarcasm is imminent.)

1. Have a plot. I do hope that the entire story doesn't hinge on the love triangle alone. A love triangle should always be a subplot. There needs to be a separate plot in the story. If your book is only about the love triangle, add a plot that readers will still care about even if your love triangle disappoints them.

2. Shoot somebody. I don't recommend killing off one of your love triangle people. It's too easy. And when you end subplots in convenient ways, it doesn't feel right to your reader. But you could always shoot one of their loved ones. The complication and stress would add something to the love triangle. The person would leave to be with their mother/sister/uncle/grandpa/bff and that could bring the love triangle participants closer together or drive them farther apart. Accidents happen, right?

3. Someone gives up. "I just can't do this, anymore!" Again, having one of the trio quit feels lame. But, hey. If one guy isn't willing to put in the fight, who wants him, right? And if you write this well and it fits character flaws that have been foreshadowed, it will feel right to the reader. "He didn't have what it takes, anyway, you know? He didn't love her as much as he thought he did."

4. Send someone away. Does absence really make the heart grow fonder? We shall see. Maybe someone is given an assignment that sends him elsewhere. Maybe the girl takes off to get some air. This type of situation can show which character is the most tenacious in regards to making things work in spite of the odds. In The Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta were thrown together in a life-changing situation. You just can't compete with circumstances like that.

5. Our hero picks neither one. "This is too much pressure. I'll just start over, and this time, I'm only looking for one romantic interest." Again, this feels too convenient. But if the choice fits your character, it could work. If your character can't make decisions, maybe this is something she would do. But to keep in line with the Six Things That Need Fixing, she should have to come back in the end and choose---or at least dump both of them. Running away is lame.

6. Be rational. A couple is a good fit when together they are stronger than they are on their own. Opposites attract for a reason. If I was just like my husband, we'd lave a LOT of fun, but no one would ever pay the bills and we'd likely be bankrupt. My responsible nature balances out his fun-loving nature and vice versa. If I was married to someone like me, we likely would have killed each other long ago for both wanting to be in charge of everything. In your love triangle, one couple should make more sense than the other. Attraction will likely fade in time no matter what, but a logical choice will stand the test of happily ever after.

7. Reveal a flaw. Is there something one person has been keeping secret? Frozen did this well. I was so ready for the typical Disney movie cliché, that I was thrilled how they surprised me with Hans. That's what you want to do. Surprise your reader in some way. And it doesn't have to be quite so dastardly as Hans's plans, but that sort of thing can be lots of fun.

8. Introduce a second love triangle. Why not complicate this already-complicated matter? Why not have a love square? Or a love pentagon? Or maybe even a love decagon?

9. Get real. Have her say, "Listen. The fate of the world is hanging in the balance here. Let's just not worry about romance right now and focus on saving the planet." Maybe the love triangle just doesn't have to become a full-fledged triangle. Maybe our hero isn't the schmoopie type. Maybe she's saving her first kiss for marriage and will not be swayed by hunky heroes vying for her affections. You never know. It could happen.

10. The liar loses. Who's the liar? In many of these love triangle romances, it's our hero. But most often there are two culprits. If someone stole her from her boyfriend, this is a bad sign for both parties. This means that 1. she cheated on the person she was with, and 2. the person who stole her likes the chase. What happens when he wins her? Nine times out of ten, he gets bored and looks for some other happy couple to destroy. This is where you need to take a good look at your characters, how you want to present them, and how you want them to grow. I mean, who wants to be with a home-wrecker? And who wants to be with a cheater? Neither option is a very good sign of how things might go in the future. A smart hero will see that coming.

Okay, so some of my ideas were silly. But I've read plenty of books where the love triangle was silly. And unless you're writing comedy, you don't want silliness in your book. In real life, love triangles are rare. But if they do happen, they're messy and horrible. You can't please everyone in your story. Some readers will like your decision. Some will hate it. Such is life. Try to get out of your own head and into your hero's. Do what you think the hero would do. Choose one over the other? Run away? Choose neither?

No matter what, you've got to write your way out of it. And it can be hard to do. But that's a good thing for your readers. It keeps up the tension in your story. Above all, try to stay true to your characters and to use whatever happens to further your plot. And, whenever you can, do the unexpected. It keeps readers on their toes and keeps your book from falling victim to clichés.

Have you ever written a love triangle? How did you decide to end it? Share in the comments.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Children's Book Types and Suggested Word Counts

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

Last week I talked about chapter books, which is a specific category of children's books. Today I decided to do an overview of the different types of books that can be written for children.

Caveats to this list: These are suggested ages and word counts. There are many gray areas in publishing based on what authors write and what each publishing house accepts. Multi-published authors break these limitations all the time. But if you are a first time author looking to get traditionally published, try and stick to these ages and word counts.

Board Books
Board books aren't really a genre, they're a style of book binding. Most board books are designed by publishers, who create them using stories from popular picture books. This isn't usually a type of book that is pitched. So if you want to sell a board book to a publisher, you're going to need an amazing concept.

Ages: 0-3
Word count: 0-100
Famous examples: Pat the Bunny (Touch and Feel Book), The Cheerios board books. My kids had the three books in the picture below. There are many famous stories that also have been made into board books, but they were picture books first. For example, my children had Goodnight Moon, Goodnight Gorilla, and Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? all in board book form, but those three titles are actually picture books.

Picture Books
These books are a combination of words and pictures. You do not need to be able to draw to write a picture book. In fact, unless you are an amazing artist, publishers don't want to see your drawings at all. Publishers like to pair a news authors with established illustrators and a new illustrators with established authors. Another tip for writing picture books: avoid rhyming.

Early Picture books
Ages: 0-3
Word count: no more than 300
Famous examples: Goodnight Moon (131 words), The Very Hungry Caterpillar (221 words), If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (291 words).

Picture Books
Ages: 3-8
Word count: no more than 1000
Famous examples: Green Eggs and Ham (769 words), Where the Wild Things Are (336 words), The Giving Tree (621 words), Love You Forever (772 words).

Early Reader
These books are designed for children who are learning to read. The books have simple plots and some pictures, but the story needs to carry the book, rather than the pictures.

Ages: 5-9
Word count: 100-2500
Famous examples: the Biscuit books are an example on the shorter word count end. Biscuit Finds a Friend is one 123 words long. On the longer word count side, the Frog and Toad books are a good example. Days with Frog and Toad is 2075 words long.

Chapter Books
These books are targeted at readers in grades 2-7. They are designed to look like grown-up books, though there is usually a picture here and there. Try to include lots of dialogue and humor in these books to keep the child's interest. Word count varies widely, depending on grade and reader level.

Ages: 6-11
Word count: 3000-15,000
Famous examples: Dinosaurs Before Dark by Mary Pope Osborne (4737 words), The Hidden Stairs and the Magic Carpet (Secrets of Droon) by Tony Abbott (7439 words), The New Kid at School (Dragon Slayers’ Academy) by Kate McMullan (10,043 words).

Hi-Lo Books
Hi-Lo stands for high interest-low reading level. These are books written for struggling readers and students who have English as their second language. So they are written at a lower reading level, but have subject matter that is interesting enough for an older age. They are designed to increase a challenged reader's confidence, so they will have lower word counts. For more information, check out this Publisher's Weekly article on the topic.

Ages: varies, often between 10-13 and 14 and up
Word count: 500 - 50,000
Famous examples: (These examples might not have been written as a hi-lo books, but I found them on hi-lo reading lists.) Upper elementary ages- Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (19,784 words), Middle to high school ages- Crash by Jerry Spinelli (31,485 words).

Middle Grade
These are books written for readers from ages 8-12. These books tend to focus more on plot than characters. That's not to say that middle grade books have bland characters. They just don't tend to go as deep into the characters' points of views. These types of stories are often about the adventure and fun. Romance, drugs, graphic violence, swearing ... you usually won't find this content in a middle grade book.

Ages: 8-12
Word count: no more than 45,000 words for contemporary, mystery, or humor genres. For fantasy or science fiction, the word count can be much higher---but doesn't have to be.
Famous examples: Into the Land of the Unicorns by Bruce Coville (32,762 words), Matilda by Roald Dahl (40,009 words), The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (87,223 words).

Young Adult
These are books written for ages 12 and up. YA books tend to focus more on the characters and their problems. They tend to have deeper points of view and be more emotional.  The plot is important, but often not as important as the drama. Romance is often a big part of YA books.

Ages: 12-16 or 14 and up
Word count: no more than 70,000 words for contemporary, historical, mystery, humor, or romance genres. For fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, or dystopian the word count can be much higher---but doesn't have to be.
Famous examples: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (118,933 words), The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (65,752 words), Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (46,591 words), The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (99,750 words).

Also, if you are trying to find word counts for books, a great place is the Renaissance Learning site. Keep in mind, their genres aren't always correct for publishing industry terms. Click here to search.

What category does your book fall in?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Last day of the Go Teen Writers Word War!

Stephanie here. It's a little hard to believe, but it's the LAST day of our word war. Wow, it's been fun to see how much progress you guys have made. We will definitely have to do this again soon.

 I'm taking Roseanna to the airport this morning, and while we've savored the time away from our normal routine to focus on doing something we love, we're both eager to see our families. Roseanna closed out the retreat with about 37,000 words written, and I finished with 30,740 which included the unexpected surprise of being able to type "The End."

We were both pretty intense yesterday as we pushed toward our goals. We worked right through lunch:

Here's Roseanna arriving at 10k with plenty of the day still ahead of her:

And I just have to show this because it's way too cute not to. Roseanna and I stayed at my parents house while they were out of town. They've moved in the last few months, and my mother was clearly worried that I wouldn't be able to find my way around the kitchen:

Sticky note labels :)

They're pretty much the best.

Can't wait to see how you guys do today! 

If you're just joining us on the word war (or if today's the first you've heard of it) here's a quick recap: 

A word war is when you and another writer (or in this case, lots of other writers!) compete to see who can write the most in a designated period of time.
This word war began Thursday and ends today. It's a come-and-go, write-when-you-can style of war, so it's not too late to join us!

The goal is to buckle down and focus on our manuscripts whenever we can, make good use of our writing time, and encourage each other as we do. Hopefully you'll be meeting new writers and deepening friendships as the weekend goes on!

Here's how you can connect with each other:

1. In the comments section of the blog. Something as simple as "Just wrote 1,000 words in the last hour!" is fine. There's strength in being able to encourage each other and in knowing that others are hard at work too.

2. On Twitter, using the hashtag #GTW or on the Go Teen Writers Facebook Group. (This is a closed group, so if you're not a member yet, apply to join and then shoot me an email telling me so that I can get you approved pronto.)