Thursday, May 27, 2010

Blog Tours and a free copy of So Over It

Today's post will be self-serving. Just saying.

When a publishing house is promoting a new book, one of the big things they do is a blog tour. Every house has a network of bloggers who agree to write up a review of a book in exchange for a free copy. They hope, of course, these reviews will be positive, but the understanding is that the blogger will be honest.

And here's where we move into the totally self-serving part of the post.

My third book, So Over It, releases July 1st. Revell, my publishing house, asked if I wanted to organize a "teen" blog tour. Here's how it looks:

1. You send me an e-mail and say "Sign me up."

2. In June or early July, my publishing house sends you a free copy of any of the three Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt books. Your choice.

3. You read the book. Preferably this summer.

4. You do something that in the biz we call "influencing." If you have a blog, you write an honest review and post it. If you don't have a blog, you can post a little something on your Facebook page. You could also write a review on, share your copy with friends, or put in a request for your public library to order a copy. You can do as much or as little as you like.

5. You send me an e-mail telling me what you did. I then enter you to win a free copy of one of the other Skylar books (if you don't already have them all), or we work out something else of equal value.

And, big apologies to my darling readers in New Zealand and Australia, but this is only open to US residents. I know. I'm sorry.

Um, and since I'm already doing a little commercial for myself, I'll go ahead and mention another way to win a free copy of So Over It, which is to sign up for my newsletter. Receiving my newsletter automatically enters you to win one of five free signed copies every time I release a book. And it's not limited to US residents.

Okay, Skylar Hoyt and Stephanie Morrill plug officially over.

Hope everyone has a fabulous Memorial Day weekend. And a safe one. (I'm a mom - it's mandatory that I tack that on.)

See you all back here on Tuesday!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How do you write a book?

With everyone busy with finals and end-of-the-school-year stuff, questions have been down, so I'm picking a question.

At school visits, I've often been asked, "How do you write a book?"

People tend to think if you're gifted with writing, you must just sit down, and the words come with minimal effort and energy. Um, no.

Writing a book is a big project. You've got all these ideas and characters swarming your mind. You're thinking about a plot twist that should come toward the end, a fabulous line your heroine can say before she stomps out the door victoriously, etc. So how do you do it? What's the best way to bring it all together?

I've found myself returning to Anne Lamott's advice in her stunning book Bird by Bird time and time again. Here's what she says:

"I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments. It reminds me that all I have to do is write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being. All I am going to do right now, for example, is write that one paragraph that sets the story in my hometown, in the late fifties, when the trains were still running. I am going to paint a picture of it, in words, on my word processor."

A few paragraphs later she says:

"Say to yourself in the kindest possible way, Look, honey, all we're going to do
for now is to write a description of theriver at sunrise, or the young child
swimming in the pool at the club, or the first time the man sees the woman he
will marry. That is all we are going to do for now. We are just going to take
this bird by bird. But we are going to finish this one short

This is the way to write a book. Because otherwise it gets overwhelming, doesn't it? You start thinking about all those scenes that have to happen between now and typing THE END, and you can freeze.

You write a book by breaking it down into short assignments and focusing on those. Have a great idea for something a few scenes away? Fabulous. Jot it down, and save it for when you get there. For now, just think about the "assignment" on deck.

Have questions? Post below or e-mail me.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

More on POV

Sorry today's post is late, y'all. I've spent my morning in mourning over the cancelled Muse concert here in Kansas City. They claim they'll make it up to us on the next tour, however it seems like forever since they were here last, so...

(Wiping away disappointed tears.)

Anyway. On with life.

Okay, I'd originally planned to talk about something else today, but I've had a couple e-mails asking follow-up questions about POV, so instead I'm going to talk about that a little more.

POV is different than writing in 1st/2nd/3rd person

When I talk about using proper POV and not head hopping, that's totally separate from if you write your story like, "I saw Suzanne steal the milk," or "Jane saw Suzanne steal the milk." Here's how it looks:

Incorrect 1st person POV:
I saw Suzanne steal the milk. She glanced at me, her eyes sparking because she knew I disapproved and wondered if I would turn her in.

Correct 1st person POV:
I saw Suzanne steal the milk. She glanced at me, a strange spark in her eyes. Why? Surely she knew I disapproved. Didn't she think I'd turn her in?

Incorrect 3rd person POV:
Jane saw Suzanne steal the milk. Suzanne glanced Jane's direction, her eyes sparking because she knew Jane disapproved. She wondered if Jane would turn her in.

Correct 3rd person POV:
Jane saw Suzanne steal the milk. A strange spark lit Suzanne's eyes. Why? Was it because she knew Jane disapproved? Of course Jane would turn her in.

Are you seeing the difference? When we use POV properly, we're firmly in Jane's head. We're seeing only what she sees. We're hearing only her thoughts. It has nothing to do with whether or not we refer to Jane as "I" or "Jane."

Using POV properly doesn't mean limiting yourself to only one POV for the entire book

You're just limiting yourself to one POV per scene. Here's how this would look:

Jane saw Suzanne steal the milk. A strange spark lit Suzanne's eyes. Why? Was it because she knew Jane disapproved? Of course Jane would turn her in. As Suzanne moved toward her, Jane took several steps back. Please God, she prayed, don't let her hurt me.

*Scene break*

Suzanne had always known Jane was weak. All it took was a glare and a few powerful steps to make Jane cower in the corner.

Or you move on to a totally different scene and leave us dangling with Jane and Suzanne-the-milk thief. That can be very effective. So like instead of switching to Suzanne's POV, you go into something like:

John had never been on this side of town before.

Or whatever. This is a great method for building tension in your book.

Does this clarify some things for those who had questions? Are there other questions I missed?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Finding inspiration and motivation

A writer asked me, "I'm lacking inspiration and motivation. Any suggestions on how to find any?!"

You're certainly not alone. All writers go through dry spells, and sometimes it's easier to work yourself out of it than others. Or sometimes our non-writing life is sucking us dry. My high school had really challenging curriculum, so sometimes it was super hard to find energy for writing.

I find that writing is kinda like exercise. You know that saying, "A body in motion stays in motion?" The same is often true for writing. When I get myself in a good rhythm, like writing 1,000 words a day 5 days a week, it's easier to stay motivated. And the more I'm writing, the more I'm hit with ideas for other books. So when I'm lacking inspiration and motivation, often the best thing I can do is force my butt in the chair and get some words down on the page. I definitely don't do my best work on those days, but it gets momentum going.

But there have been other times where I experience a more severe type of writer's block. When that happens, I'll usually pick up a craft book I love, like The Art of War for Writers or Bird by Bird. It's amazing how just reading about writing can get me back in the mood to do it myself.

Anybody else have tips to share?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Point of View Oversimplified

You have no idea how long I've been avoiding this subject.

Correctly using Point of View (hereafter known as POV) is tricky, and often one of the last things a new writer masters. (Followed closely by Showing versus Telling. More on that next week.)

This will be an oversimplified explanation of how to use POV, but after judging a contest where 3/4 of the entries I read had serious POV issues, I thought I'd at least bring it up on here.

POV refers to your point of view character. It's whomever's head we're in for the current scene. We should only be in ONE HEAD per scene. Here's an example:

“Well, that went well.” Gretchen’s husband shot her a rare, angry look when she reentered the kitchen from bidding Holly farewell.

Rob stood at the sink, scrubbing viciously at the dinner prep dishes, even though most his dinner still sat on his plate. Rob’s anger was cutting, much more so than Shae’s storming out had been. Gretchen had been somewhat braced for Shae’s outrage, but Rob, he’d been on her side.

“How was I to know she’d react that poorly?”

“How were you to know?” Rob’s laugh held no humor. “Anyone with half a brain would’ve reacted that way. You embarrassed her. You embarrassed Holly too.”

Gretchen’s face heated with embarrassment of her own. “You know I never intended to embarrass her. All I wanted—”

“What you want is impossible!”

Words that never settled well with Gretchen. Nor did being interrupted.

This is all from Gretchen's POV. Meaning every thought, feeling, sensation, they're all happening IN GRETCHEN'S HEAD. We're not hearing how Rob ran the dishwater too hot and is hands are burning, or what Gretchen looks like when she's angry. If you want to convey those things to the reader, then you need to switch POVs and tell the scene from Rob's perspective.

What we don't want to do is mix the two. Like this:

“Well, that went well.” Gretchen’s husband shot her a rare, angry look when she reentered the kitchen from bidding Holly farewell.

Rob stood at the sink, scrubbing viciously at the dinner prep dishes, even though most his dinner still sat on his plate. Which was a shame. He loved roast beef and had been looking forward to it all day long.

Rob’s anger was cutting to Gretchen, much more so than Shae’s storming out had been. Gretchen had been somewhat braced for Shae’s outrage, but Rob, he’d been on her side.

Do you see how much more confusing that is, blending the POVs? That's referred to as "head-hopping." And, yes, Jane Austen did it, and, yes, you'll come across it in modern novels, but no, you shouldn't do it.

So when you're writing a scene, get in your character's head and stay there. Tell us only what he or she is observing, feeling, and wondering.

Questions? Shoot me an e-mail, and I'll do my best to answer.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I haven't worked on my manuscript in a month...

Um, no, there was no post on Thursday.

I'm so sorry, guys. I don't talk about much personal stuff on here (I limit that to my author's blog), but the deal was I'm quite pregnant, which makes me quite tired, which makes me quite unreliable at times.

Looks like everyone survived okay without me, and let's get on to answering questions:

A writer e-mailed me to ask, "I haven't worked on my manuscript in a month. Is that normal?"


Here's the thing - you're human. And I'm guessing like the rest of us, you have a life. You're in school, you have homework, you have friends, a boy/girlfriend. There are TV shows you like and movies you want to see and books to read.

There's a lot going on. And it's important as writers that we experience life. Otherwise, we run dry.

But let's say you haven't had anything particular going on. Maybe you've had some free time, and you just haven't felt like writing. While frustrating, it usually means nothing. There are few things I love to do more than writing, but sometimes I'd rather play Wii instead. Because I'm a professional, I park my butt in my desk chair anyway and get my words on the page. Sometimes I bargain with myself. "A thousand words, then a brownie." Give that a try.

Now, if you're never in the mood to work on your story, if you find yourself going weeks and weeks without thinking about it, then it's time to consider that this might not be the right time for this particular project. That's okay. That happens to published writers as well. Just happened to me, actually. Fortunately, it's not something that's under contract, so I'm setting it aside and working on something else. Nothing wrong with that so long as you don't have a publishing house waiting on you.

Hopefully this helps. Have a question? Shoot me an e-mail.

I'll be back here on Thursday - promise.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What's the best way to title your book?

A writer e-mailed me to ask, "How do you name your books? Whats the best way to go about it?"

For a writer, titling is one of those funny things where it matters ... but it also might not.

I didn't come up with a single one of my titles. Actually, I came up with So Over It, but that was when my publishing house came back to me and said, "We're not sold on these original titles - what else you got?"

They say somewhere around 50% of writer's titles get changed by their publishing house. The theory I've heard on this is that writers tend to pick titles that you "get" only if you've read the book, whereas a marketing department is better at picking something that will sell.

So does it matter what you come up with? Yes.

Your title is your first impression. When you write your query letters to agents, it's one of the first things they see: "Dear agent, Please consider representing my manuscript, TITLE GOES HERE." And that title leaves an impression.

Here are a few tips for titling:

1. Brainstorm

Don't expect the title to just pop into your brain fully formed. I hear it sometimes does, but it's not often. Don't be afraid to brainstorm.

2. Talk to others

When you've done all the brainstorming you can do, see what others think. When my friend, Roseanna, has brainstormed some decent options, she'll post a list of them along with a description of the book on her blog and hold a titling contest. She often gives away a free book or two, and in return she not only gets feedback on the titles she came up with, people suggest others. You can also do this on your Facebook pages. (I often do this with character names as well on my Facebook Fan Page.)

3. Google it

When you think you've got The Title, Google it and see what comes up. Search for it on and see if there's anything close.

Anyone have some favorite book titles they'd like to share? One of mine is Carolyn Macklers, The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things. Makes me chuckle every time. And, by the way, I happen to know she came up with this title herself. If I'm remembering the interview correctly, it took her like two years or something.