Friday, June 29, 2012

How Advances Work

by Jill Williamson

So you've taken the time to write a book, to rewrite it over and over, to edit it, to find an agent, then work on the book with your agent, and it finally sold. Sweet! That was, like, three years of work with no pay, though. But now you're getting a big advance, and then the book will start selling and you'll make even more money, right?

Not quite.

As per the scenario for the amazing novel The Crowl getting published (see part one here and part two here), ABC publishers gave you a $5,000 advance on the book. Think of this advance as a loan. It would be like your boss down at Subway giving you a year’s salary in advance. You’d still need to work to pay it back, but you’d get the money ahead of time—in advance.

This is not something you have to pay back. But it is an amount that you must reach if you are ever going to earn a penny more from your publisher on your book.

Your book advance is calculated on how many copies the publisher thinks they can sell. And once your book comes out, you must sell enough copies at your royalty rates that add up to $5,000 before you make any more money on your book. This is called "breaking even" or "earning out" your advance. Sadly, the majority of authors don’t ever break even. In fact, many bestselling authors don't break even because they get such huge advances that the book never earns out.

That's why I prefer smaller advances. My goal is always to break even in the first year, if I can help it, which I sometimes can’t. But a smaller advance is easier to earn back and, I feel, gives me an easier chance at looking like a success to my publisher.

Once you break even, then you'll start to receive more money on your book. You'll receive the royalty rate from your contract on all future sales--so 8% if you’re selling copies under 20,000 units. You'd refer back to your contract to check these rates.

Also, returns count against you. Ever quarter you’ll get a royalty statement. The first one might look something like this:

If you can't read that image, click here. I uploaded it to my website in a larger form.

All this to say, the vast majority of authors need to have written multiple books that have earned out, are all still in print, and earning royalties before they could really make enough money to live off of. It adds up, but it takes time.

Two things to keep in mind here. First, learn to write more than one book. And second, support authors and the publishing industry.

If you have a favorite author, make a point of buying his or her books new, because authors don't make any royalties off used books or books you get free from their publisher. In fact, if you want to be an author, I suggest you make a point of buying at least one new book for every five you buy used. Because you know what it's like to be working hard to get published, and someday you're going to wish that someone would buy your book new.

And don't think that ebook piracy isn't a big deal. It is. Every ebook that someone emails to a friend without paying for it is another lost royalty for that hardworking, underpaid author.

Thoughts on this topic? Questions about advances or royalties?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

What does the perfect query letter look like?

by Roseanna M. White, Editor WhiteFire Publishing

We've already examined what a really, really bad query letter looks like. So today, we're going to answer the reader question that deals with the other side--the good query letter. =) To keep it real, I'm going use as an example a query I got from one of the ladies who is now a WhiteFire author, whose project we bought after receiving this query. (Well, and after reading the manuscript, of course, LOL.)

Dear Ms. White:

Thank you for taking time to read the proposal for my Women’s Fiction novel, Jasmine. My completed manuscript contains 82,600 words.

Jasmine is a survivor. She’s lived through the abuse of her father, running away at age fourteen, living on the streets, and now she counsels at risk young women—giving them a second chance at life. But when her mother dies, can she go home again and face the past she’s forced herself to forget for the last twenty years? Or will the past she’s long forgotten take over her present once again?

Through the story, Jasmine realizes that even while she suffered at the hands of others, God never leaves or forsakes any of us. Jasmine will reach adult readers as it offers healing Biblical truths, touching on issues of abuse, abortion and reconciliation with the Lord. Readers that like Lori Copeland’s Simple Gifts, or Francine River’s Her Daughter’s Dream will enjoy Jasmine.
I won The Writer Magazine’s prompt contest in May 2010 for my short story The Gift. I have previously published a short story in The Storyteller. I am a member of Oregon Christian Writers and American Christian Fiction Writers. My blog, Faith and Fiction, has over 4000 hits and 700 followers—these numbers are increasing. I am also a regular attendee of Christian writer’s conferences. I can help promote my books via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Grace and Faith Author’s Marketing Group, and at writers’ conferences.

I hope you enjoy reading Jasmine, and I look forward to hearing your response. Would you please send me an email confirming you have received my proposal? Thank you.


April McGowan

Okay, now let's examine it point by point. 

She opens respectfully, which is always good, and knows who she's talking to--a definite plus. ;-) As it happens, I met this author at a conference and had already looked at another of her manuscripts, but she still retained a professional tone. Now, as a note, I had already agreed to read the proposal, hence that first paragraph. But for a cold-query, you can just not mention that.

Next, she gives the important stats right away: title, genre, word count. These are bread and butter to the editor. Why? Because we build lines. And while I was most definitely looking for a contemporary, I was not actively seeking, say, a children's picture book. So it's helpful to know right away what she's pitching, and whether or not I want to read more. She goes directly into a brief blurb of her book, which is both compelling and brief. Brief is good in a query--if the description goes beyond a paragraph or two, the editor will start skimming. Avoid that. ;-)

But after the official blurb, April touches on some of the issues in the story that are not easily included in a blurb, and includes a few comparables--books that are similar in genre or tone, so that I have an idea where it fits in the market.

Next the author lists her credentials--note that this doesn't have to be publishing credits, per se. Contest wins count, as does an active online following. I now know that April has a marketing machine ready to move and can get the word out about her book.

You'll also notice that she asks me to simply acknowledge receipt, so she doesn't have to worry it got gobbled by the cyber monster. This is perfectly acceptable--don't ask for a reply right away on the query itself, but I totally understand wanting to be sure it arrived safe and sound. =)

Now, not all queries are going to follow this exact format, but April's is a fine example of a what works. It's brief, to the point, compelling, and covers all the pertinent information I want to know up front.

And when it does it's job right, you might just end up with a book in your hands someday. =)

I'll be stopping by to reply to comments and questions. And if you have a question you'd like to ask for a future post, either leave a comment with it or email me at roseanna [at] roseannawhite [dot] com.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

4 ways to make your heroine stronger

by Stephanie Morrill

A writer emailed me to ask, "How can I make my heroine a believable heroine? There is a bit of fighting/action in the book. She won't always win of course, but how do I make the victories believable? In reality it isn't easy or sometimes even possible for a girl to beat a boy. I want a strong heroine, but I don't want her to be over the top. Any suggestions?"

Few things draw me into a book or TV show like a kick-butt, capable heroine. It's one of the reasons I instantly loved the show Veronica Mars, which is about a teen girl who's also a private investigator. 

A character like Veronica Mars could quickly become flat, but the writers built wonderful contradictions into her. Veronica's sassy, yet can also be sweet. She's fiercely independent, yet more than anything she wants a relationship with her mom. She's beautiful and has known popularity, but she also knows the life of an outcast. And while she often catches the bad guy, she's also had them slip through her fingers.

Here are 4 techniques you can use to make your heroine a force to be reckoned with, yet also a girl we'll love to cheer for:

Develop the backstory

If you want to make your heroine's victories believable, the backstory will be critical. For Veronica Mars, her father used to be the sheriff and now is a private investigator. She's learned a lot about mystery-solving and spying from watching him. It also means cases often fell in her lap due to her father's line of work.

The River of Time Trilogy
In Lisa T. Bergren's River of Time trilogy, Gabi's parents are archaeologists so Gabi has spent lots of time in Italy (therefore she knows Italian) and her father had loved the ancient sports and taught his girls fencing and archery. Comes in pretty handy when this modern girl time-travels to medieval Italy....

Your character can know how to do extraordinary things, just make sure you've given a plausible explanation for why.

Keeping it real: Gabi's sword in medieval Italy weighed a ton more than her fencing sword, so it still took her some time to adjust. And because Veronica had spent so much time tracking down cheating spouses, the girl had some serious trust issues and would do stuff like put trackers in her boyfriend's car. Find ways that your character's backstory can also turn into emotional baggage they have to lug around.

Employ a secret weapon

Veronica Mars is petite and blond. She also carries a tazer with her just about everywhere she goes. What kind of secret weapon can you give your heroine?

Nothing but Trouble (PJ Sugar Series #1)
I love the PJ Sugar series by Susan May Warren, which is also about an amateur PI. PJ's secret weapon is her purse. She always has an odd assortment of handy stuff in there.

Get creative with your secret weapons!

Keeping it real: Having their secret weapon turned against them can be an effective technique. Occasionally one of Veronica's many enemies got a hold of her tazer and used it on her. Or in Tangled Rapunzel's hair can be helpful, like when they're underwater in the cave and it lights the way out, but it can also be used against her. Like when she's running and it catches on the tree branch.

The surprise effect

I don't want to launch into a girl-power debate or anything, but if you're writing the kick-butt heroine type, you'll have the element of surprise on your heroine's side because very few would expect a girl to know how to fight. Lisa T. Bergren used that very effectively in the River of Time trilogy when her heroine, Gabi, had time-traveled from present day to medieval Italy. Gabi was often very effective in battle because no one expected her to handle a sword so well.

Keeping it real: Flip it so that your heroine sometimes underestimates her opponent as well. Or perhaps she gets used to others being surprised by her ability, so when the enemy is prepared for her, she doesn't fight quite as well.

Brains and a sense of adventure can achieve a lot

For this one, think Hermione Granger from Harry Potter or even Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Both girls are bookworms, but they also aren't afraid to take risks. Since we typically think of brainy types as being cautious or even fearful of the world, marrying these two traits can have a wonderful, fresh feel to it.

Keeping it real: If you have a brainy character, have her be outsmarted a time or two. 

Who are some of your favorite heroines? What makes them so appealing to you?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

More About the Publishing Process

By Jill Williamson

In case you missed last Tuesday's post (click here to read it), I walked you through a hypothetical scenario of getting your book submitted to an editor and how the editor got the publisher to make an offer. You're signed the contract and are going to be published! Congrats!

But what happens now?

Even though your manuscript was complete when you submitted it, you have a delivery date to officially turn it in and Tom asked for a few story changes in the contract, so you make those changes then go through the manuscript once more to make everything perfect. Once you officially turn it in, you have nothing to do but wait. You tell people you’re having a book published. You start writing another book. But you've got to wait your turn for Tom to get to you again, because remember, he’s a busy guy.

Eventually you get an email from the marketing director asking you to fill out a marketing information sheet. This asks for your author bio, how you'd describe your book, other possible titles, what you’d like on the cover, names of authors you’d like to get endorsements from, names and addresses of people you’d like to get a free copy of the book to review, names of your local newspapers and TV studios… things like that.

A few months later you get an email from Tom explaining that they’ve changed the title to The Crowl. You don’t love this, so you email your agent for help. Your agent gets involved, but in the end, the publisher is too excited about a tie-in with The Hobbit, so you lose out.

A month later you get an email with your cover art attached. Other than the title, you love it. Whew! At least you don’t have to complain again. You’re really trying to be an easy-going author.

A few weeks later the marketing people email you a link to a book trailer they made for your book. It's ah-some!

Then, while you're on your summer vacation and hop online at a computer in the hotel lobby, there is an email from Tom with your edits. He wants them back in two weeks, and you won’t be home for three more days! You shoot of a quick email to let him know where you are, then open the edits really quickly to see how they look. You see a lot of changes! This depresses you for the last three days of your vacation, but you get home and see that they’re not so bad after all. You spend all day, every day, of the next eleven days getting your edits done and turned in on time. Then you wait.

The edits go back and forth between you and Tom a few more times before you’re both happy with the manuscript. You don’t hear anything for a while until you get a PDF galley of the final book to read for mistakes. This file looks like a book! Your name is at the top of every even page and the title is at the top of ever odd page. You ask your critique partner and your best friend to read the PDF too, make a list of the typos you all find, and email it back to Tom.

More waiting.

Then one day you receive a package with an advanced reader copy inside! It’s your book! It’s beautiful. You laugh and cry and dance and show everyone in town.

You start to get emails from the publicist, who forwards you reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus, VOYA, and, if you’re lucky, an endorsement for a well-known author. The reviews are mixed. Some love the book. A few hate it.

Meanwhile, you've been trying to learn the ropes of self-promotion and have set up a release day book signing at your local Barnes and Noble. You've invited all your friends and family. You get a box with your author copies of the final book and you have your friend video tape the moment and post it to Facebook. That night you sleep with a copy of your book on your pillow.

Your book is now showing up for pre-order on,, and other online retailers! You pre-order a copy from every store, just for fun.

Release day arrives! The book goes live online and you spend the morning watching the Amazon rankings go up, hoping that everyone who promised to buy a copy will. That night you head over to your book release signing. Your friends and family are there to support you. Your mom buys ten copies. Your family and friends all buy one, but you’re most excited about the three people who were actual customers who walked by, asked what all the excitement was about, and bought a book. You’re hoping they’ll become fans and buy book two when it comes out!

So there you have it. Pretty cool, huh? All this takes about a year and a half from submission to the book being available in stores. And that’s much faster than it used to be. Still, if you’d taken a year or two to write that book, to rewrite it over and over, to edit it, find your agent, then work on the book with your agent, we’re talking three years of work with no pay. You've got to really love writing to put in that kind of effort.

So what do you think? I'm going to talk a little more about advances on Friday.

Monday, June 25, 2012

What teen writers should know about pitching their book

by Stephanie Morrill

Last week I had the joy of hanging out at the One Year Adventure Novel conference in Olathe, Kansas. (If you're a homeschool student or parent, this curriculum is amazing. Definitely check it out.)

I got to do some fun/scary things like talk to parents about how to prepare their aspiring novelist for the world of publishing (I wanted to title my talk "Preparing to feed your babies to the wolves" but that didn't go over so well), and I sat on a panel with publisher Jeff Gerke (Marcher Lord Press) and literary agent Amanda Luedeke (MacGregor Literary) where I attempted to semi-intelligently answer questions about being a writer.

I also got to do some things that were fun-and-not-at-all-scary, like meet some Go Teen Writers people in real life - MacKenzie Pauline, Rachelle Ferguson, Abigail Walsh, and Madison Taylor.

Madison Taylor and me at OYAN

Then for two afternoons, I took 15 minute appointments where I did one-on-one mentoring. Amanda was in the room too, taking her own appointments. She, of course, is used to it, but I'm usually the writer who's being led into the room ... not the one waiting at the table.

Holding appointments of my own - though I wasn't really there to be pitched to, just to offer advice - helped me see the process through a whole new lens. Here are some things I learned that will hopefully help you have successful appointments with agents and editors:

It's not a big deal

A lot of the teens who came into chat with me seemed pretty nervous. Which I understood, because I'm always nervous for the first couple minutes of my appointments. But the editor or agent you're walking in to meet has likely already seen 10 people before you, and they maybe have another 10 lined up after you. Hearing writers nervously pitch their story is a routine for them.

It's like when I'm going to the doctor for a yearly poke-and-prod session. I only do it once a year, so it's nerve-wracking. But they spend all-day, every-day poking and prodding people, so it's no big thing to them.

I'm sure I'll still have some butterflies in my stomach next time I walk into a meeting with an editor, but I do intend to remind myself that it's not a big deal to the person on the other side of the desk.

You can tell a lot in the first minute

There were definitely writers who I connected with better ... and I could usually tell within the first minute if that was going to be the case.

Smile when you walk in, shake hands, introduce yourself, and say how nice it is to meet them before you sit down.

Come ready to talk...

This was a unique type of appointment - they weren't exactly pitching their books to me and for some of them writing is just a hobby - but it was nice when people came ready to talk. Some came with lists of questions about publishing or life as a writer, some wanted to talk about book ideas. Those were easy, fun appointments that really flew by.

...but don't spend 10 minutes detailing your book

I had a couple people who launched into very long descriptions of their book. I didn't mind since the 15 minutes were intended to be whatever they wanted, but in an editor or agent appointment, it won't serve you well. For one thing, as you're acting out chapter two, they might already know this project won't work for them, but they can't get a word in to tell you that. Meanwhile you'll spend 7 more minutes detailing the journey of your main character.

That's why the one sentence pitch ("My book is set in colonial America about a lady quillmaker who makes the very quills used to sign the declaration of independence.") is an ideal place to start. Then the agent or editor can either say, "Intriguing - tell me more" or, "I love colonials, but we already have two authors who write them. Do you have any historicals set in other time periods?" and you'll still have time to pitch that fabulous regency of yours.

It's not just about the book

Agents and editors care about the writing and the marketability of the idea and all that jazz, but they also care about you. And I don't mean just how many blog followers you have, I mean they're assessing if you're a person they want to spend much time with. This is especially true for agents, I would guess, who work very closely with their clients. They want to work with people they like

Be teachable

If an agent or editor says something to you like, "I think your stakes need to be bigger" or, "I've been seeing a lot of this kind of plot twist, I think this could use some freshening," I wouldn't waste precious appointment time arguing with them. You don't have to lie and say it's brilliant, but a simple, "Interesting, thank you for your perspective," or a follow-up question will work well.

Again, agents and editors want to work with people they like. And who wants to work with someone who instantly gets defensive over criticism?

Leave Mom outside

Not only do agents and editors want to work with enjoyable, teachable people ... they want to work with mature people. And having Mom along ... well ... it doesn't exactly say, "I'm a professional."

I know that a lot of adult conferences have a rule about minors needing to have a guardian with them .. but they don't mean in your agent/editor appointments.

You can leave early if you want

The agent or editor is bound to that desk for however long he/she is booked for appointments. If the conversation is going nowhere, they can't excuse themselves. They must stay there in that appointment until the timekeeper brings in the next person.

As a writer meeting with an editor, I've been in some stinkers of appointments. Where they're clearly not interested in me or my books or in talking about their publishing house. Next time I'm in that situation, I plan on shaking their hand, telling them thank you for their time, and giving them an unexpected 10 minute break. Before now, I didn't realize it was me who had the power to politely end things.

Hopefully that's helpful for you guys! If you have questions regarding my brief time on the other side of the desk, I'd be happy to answer them.

Tomorrow Jill will be back with the rest of the Crowl saga, so be sure to check that out. If you missed her post last week on the publishing process, you can find it here.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Winning entries from last round

Congratulations to all our winner's from last round!

Not sure when the next contest will be since the NextGen contest is currently open. Stay tuned to the blog, and I'll look for a spot in the schedule that we can squeeze another one in. I so love getting to read all the wonderful entries. Like these:

By Rebekah Hart, first place
I was out long enough for the blood to seal my eyelids closed. I pried them apart, cringing as my shackle deepened the bruises on my face. The silence breathed, sending cold whispers around my ankles.
“If you’re trying for ‘creepiest dungeon,’ you’re doing a fantastic job.”
“Ah, good, you’re awake.” Tagon returned his chair’s feet to the floor. “You do seem to enjoy your rest.”
“Yeah, I’ve a bad habit of taking a nap whenever I get punched in the head four or five times.”
He smirked. “You’ve until nightfall to surrender your rebel troops, or we’ll attend my sister’s execution.” My jaw hardened. “Yes, I know how you’ve been getting information,” feigned pity coated his voice. “Choose carefully-your fiancée or your pathetic revolt.”  
The judge says: Excellent. Creative, compelling. Love the description and details. Love the line, “The silence breathed, sending cold whispers around my ankles.”

By Lindsey Bradford, first place
The pain wakes me. I have a handful of Rye’s hair before my eyes are even open. She shrieks, not in pain or fear but in anger as I wrench the shard of bloodied metal out of her hand. She must have crept up on me in the night to kill me and run off. It angers me that she could get so close.
I hold Rye’s makeshift weapon in front of her baleful eyes. “Did you really expect to kill me with this? It’s weaker than tinfoil. You’d have to try much harder to kill me in my sleep.”
Rye glares at me like a child whose plans have been thwarted – which, as it strikes me, she is – and announces solemnly: “I can wait.”
The judge says: Interesting action, characterization, and detail in very few words. Great job!

By Elyssa Blow, second place

The first thought to cross the newly sentient mind was a simple one.
“I am.”
As a concept, it was not original. Still, the mind was proud.
 “I am,” it voiced, savoring the feeling of consciousness. “I… exist.” The euphoria of such a discovery was so great that the next notion appeared almost by chance.
“I feel. Pain.” The thoughts came quicker now, “I can sense…” almost faster than the mind could comprehend. “I am flesh. I have eyes to see.” They built upon one another unbidden, like stepping stones from places unknown. “I was created; I was begun. I was named. ” Ideas fastened together; forming structure, depth. “I feel pain… because I am broken.”
“I am Ajax.”
“I am flawed.”
I am alone.
The judge says: Fascinating premise. Wonderful writing. I’m immediately drawn into this character and want to take a journey with them.

By Skye Hoffert, third place

My eyelashes fluttered open, revealing a swirling vortex of color. I blinked and the world realigned itself. The clear blue sky formed above me, and I was suddenly aware of the dew covered grass that soaked through my thin, white dress.

“Izzy” a voice called, clearing away the last of the sleepy fog. I rolled over onto my stomach and glared,

 “Alexander, you know I hate that name.” I said.

He grinned. “Please accept my apology then, Miss Isabella Hawthorn.” He said as he gave a formal bow. Looking the part of a gentleman in his black trench coat and fitted waistcoat, but his devilish smile and mocking eyes gave him away.

“What do you want?”

He raised his eyebrows, “Mother has requested your presence.”
The judge says: Great! Drew me right into the story. Descriptions and writing style are lovely. Lots of personality on the page

By Margaret Paquette, third place

I’m jerked out of my blurry dreamland by my head striking the stone floor, sending vibrations down my back, my fingers.
“Kartik, you fool!” the Obsidian King screams, towering over me.  “How did she escape?!”
I stare at him, clutching the floor to make it stop tilting.  The princess?  She escaped?  “I-I don’t know, Your Majesty.”  Each word pounds in my head.  One minute I’m interrogating the princess, the next, my mind is spinning like a crazed top, slamming with pain…  I stare at the tankard on the table.  Was beer all it held?  “They must have drugged me.”
Fury glints in his black eyes.  “Get out!  And don’t come back!”
I should have known we were never allies.  I am just another pawn.
The judge says: Good beginning. I like it. You managed to include lots of detail and a perfect balance of dialogue and narrative. Also, I can picture the scene and I’m not confused, but intrigued enough to keep reading.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

How do you know if your writing is good enough?

by Rachel Coker

There is something that I have realized lately from the number of emails and conversations I have had with teenage writers. And that is that a large majority of teens interested in writing don’t think that they are good writers.

They have doubts. They question and second guess themselves. Someone gives them a criticism and they feel discouraged and disheartened, and wonder if they should write at all. As both a teenager and a writer, I can definitely relate to this. I think that the teenage years make dealing with self-doubt especially difficult, because our minds are programmed to be alert to criticisms and insecurities. You all know that this is true!

Your best friend tries on a dress that looks fantastic and the first thing you think is, “Man, I wish I hadn’t eaten that cheeseburger for supper last night. Then maybe I might look as good as her.” And when we hear someone say something even a little bit negative about our writing, we freak out and start saying to ourselves, “I knew I shouldn’t try to be a writer. Who am I kidding?”

I’ve also seen this work in the opposite way. Teenagers will walk up to me and plead with me to talk to their friend and tell them that their writing is good. “I’m always telling her that she should be an author!” the best friend will bemoan, “But she just doesn’t think she’s good enough!” I’ve been there before. This may come as, like, a giant newsflash for you guys, but I have insecurities, too! I’m not some type of super-writer, who’s just constantly inspired and motivated and flawless 24/7. No one is. I have never met an author who didn’t struggle with insecurities.

But, despite my fears, I still write. I still publish books. I still try to move forward. And my goal is to help you do that, too! So here is my three step plan. This is how we are going to combat those voices in your head telling you that you aren’t good enough. It’s interactive, so we all have to work together, okay? It’s like motivation bootcamp, minus the blood, sweat, and tears. I present to you…


Step Number One: Make Mistakes, and Be Okay With it

Everyone makes mistakes. That’s not just a line from a corny Hannah Montana song, it’s the truth. Your writing is always going to have flaws. It is never going to be perfect. It may even have historical inaccuracies or—gasp!—typos. You know what? Get over it! Move on! It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to be bad sometimes. There are days that I literally stare at my laptop, read over what I’ve just written, and pound my head on my computer keys moaning, “Why did anyone ever publish my writing? I’m the worst writer in the history of the world!”

We’re all going to have those days. First drafts can be rough, second drafts can be spotty, and sometimes even eighteenth drafts are going to be necessary. That’s okay. Every writer sees the flaws in his or her work. Every. Single. One. I’ve heard of authors who won’t even read their published works because it is so embarrassing to them to look through pages of imperfect writing. Great, fabulous authors who have published outstanding pieces of literature who honestly don’t think of themselves as very good. See? You’re not alone. It’s normal! What you have to remember is this:

Step Number Two: You Have Amazing Potential

I’ve never even read your writing and I know that you have potential. Want to know how? Because you’re motivated. Because you’re passionate. Because you love to write and you’re not afraid to just to do it, even if you feel insecure sometimes. You have something that is so rare and valuable. Even if your writing is sloppy, even if you make mistakes or typos, you still have the potential to create something really meaningful. When you are passionate about something, there is always potential to be good at it. Great at it, even!

I’ve always believed that success is 10% talent and 90% motivation. The only problem is that so many teen writers don’t tap into that potential. They don’t pursue it. They forget that even Olympic athletes started out with knee pads and Lance Armstrong started out with training wheels and Pulitzer prize-winning authors started out with terrible first drafts. Everyone has to start somewhere. You’re not going to bowl a strike without first hitting the bumper a few (or gazillion!) times. And you’re not going to end up with an amazing book without putting in a lot of work.

So if you’re insecure, maybe the problem isn’t that you’re not talented or not good enough to be a writer. Maybe it’s just that you don’t work at it hard enough. It’s not a bad thing to have big dreams. To want to be a fantastic author who publishes dozens of books and never has to scrub a toilet. (That is a lie, by the way. I happen to know that authors scrub toilets all the time.)

Having dreams isn’t bad. You shouldn’t be discouraged by the fact that your fantasies seem so big and out of reach and you don’t think you have what it takes to live up to it. Work at it. Tap into your potential. Take your passion for writing and really give it your best. Even if nothing ever comes of it and you create nothing but terrible, unpublishable mush---it will have been worth it. Because you will have spent a lifetime doing something you love. And what could possibly give you more confidence than that?

And finally, we move on to:

Step Number Three: Tell that Voice in Your Head to Just Shush Up

You know, in a really nice way. The next time that voice in your head is telling you that you’re not good enough or that you’ll never be as good an author as xyz, just don’t listen. Just don’t do it! Think instead of voices like mine and Stephanie’s and Jill’s and all these other wonderful women cheering you on. Encouraging you to just try a different angle and give it another go.

Listen to your friends when they tell you that they like something. Trust their opinions and don’t doubt them. Listen to them when they tell you to fix something. They wouldn’t tell you that if they didn’t love you and want to help make your writing even better! The biggest thing standing in the way of your self-confidence is just that: Yourself. You have so many amazing tools, resources, and encouragement that are just waiting for you if you reach out and take it. So there is no reason to second-guess or doubt yourself!

Remember that if you love what you do, and you give it your all, you are never going to be anything but successful. Because your idea of success shouldn’t hinge on whether or not you get published, or whether or not you write an amazing scene, or whether or not your evil villain is scary enough. I think that every author’s idea of success should be based on whether or not their writing is making them happy. If you love what you do, and you’re passionate about it, then the self-confidence will be there. Trust me. :)

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I really hope it helped in some way! For those of you who are interested, I always have more tips and advice on my blog! And, big news here, I recently announced the title and cover for my second book (due to be released in December) on my blog and Facebook. Check it out!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What's the big deal about story structure?

by Stephanie Morrill

Today I'm spending my afternoon in lovely Olathe, Kansas for the One Year Adventure Novel conference. I'm holding mentoring appointments with teen writers, and I'm a teensy bit  nervous because I've never done anything like that before. I'll be there again tomorrow as well, which means I probably won't be quite as chatty in the comments section this week.

When I was writing my first novels, I gave zero thought to story structure. I read all the time, and I'd always been good at writing. It had never crossed my mind that a novel had a structure. I honestly would have thought it beneath me to pick up a book on story structure. Writing was an art form - I didn't need to read some stuffy, close-minded rules about story structure. Wasn't it more of an instinct thing, really? For a true writer, anyway?

But it would have served me well as a young writer to pick up a book like Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell or Story by Robert McKee. I could have saved myself a lot of time and frustration, a lot of hair-pulling, and "Why isn't this story working?!"

So as we talk about story structure on here, don't think of these as rules. Think of them, rather, as principles. I love this quote from Robert McKee:

A rule says, "You must do it this way." A principle says, "This works and has through all remembered time." The difference is crucial. Your work needn't be modeled after the "well-made play"; rather it must be well made within the principles that shape our art. Anxious, inexperienced writers obey rules. Rebellious, unschooled writers break rules. Artists master the form.

If story structure is new to you, I don't want you to feel anxiety over following everything perfectly. But I've found that studying story structure has helped me not only craft deeper, stronger stories, it's also helped me:

  • Figure out what story ideas are good and which ones need more work before I've written half a first draft.
  • Write more than just the beginning.
  • Determine where my main character is headed and how I can help her get there.

Are any of those things that you struggle with?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Publishing Process and last round's winners

By Jill Williamson

Today we’re going to daydream. Pretend you have an agent and you two have worked hard to get your book and book proposal perfected. Now she's ready to submit your proposal to an editor. She will likely send a quick email to tell you, “Just submitted your proposal to Tom over at ACB Publishers. Now we’ll wait and see what they say!” Depending on how you communicate with your agent, she might call you to tell you this.

What happens next depends on the publishing house. Some houses are really slow. Some move faster. So you might get an update from your agent in a few weeks, or you might not hear anything for many months.

Meanwhile, here's what Tom is up to over at ACB Publishers. As the young adult editor at ABC, he works from seven in the morning to about eight at night. He’s on salary, so there is no overtime pay. He works on about twenty-five books in a year. Today he’s working on a content edit for one title, slogging through some more pages of a line edit on another, he’s got a meeting with a cover designer to give feedback on a reprint cover, he’s got to talk to Rachel in marketing about a book trailer, he needs to call the publicist in New York to talk out some ideas one of his authors has for promoting her book, he has a meeting with his boss, the publisher, to touch base, and he had 356 emails in his inbox, including some projects to reject, and he'd love to get his inbox to 300 before he goes home.

A few weeks later your agent calls to follow up. No, Tom hasn’t had a chance to read your proposal yet but promises to try and get to it today.

When Tom finally gets a chance to read it, he LOVES it! He still needs a good fantasy project in his spring 2014 line, and this could be the book! He’s so excited he puts the project on the agenda for the next editorial board meeting. He doesn’t have time to call your agent and let him know this, however. So you don't know either!

But Tom does bring your proposal to the next editorial board meeting. At ABC, this meeting is made up of four people: Tom, the YA editor; Sue, the children’s editor; Kathy, the middle grade editor; and Mike, the editorial director, a guy in charge of all the editors. Even though each of these editors are responsible for different things, they work as a team when they develop the ABC children’s line. In this meeting Tom will pitch your project to the other editors. If they hate it, they’ll say so. And if Tom can’t get the editorial board excited about your book, he likely won’t take it any further. Your book might be rejected here.

Here is a sample conversation from the editorial meeting after Tom presented your book to the team:

Kathy (middle grade): I love it. But the premise sounds younger. Maybe you should send it to me.
Mike (editorial director): Tom, you think this should maybe be a middle grade project?
Tom: No. I want this one for YA. I think it has great appeal for an older reader.
Sue (children’s): My concern is that this is a new author. You’re so busy right now. Do you have time to work with a new author? You know how they can be.
Tom: I love this project so much it will be worth the extra effort. I’ll work on it from home if I have to.
Mike (editorial director): Wow, okay. Who’s the agent?
Tom: Melanie Smith.
Mike (editorial director): Good! Melanie wouldn’t send us someone who couldn’t follow through.

The editorial board likes the project, so Tom makes a note to include your book in the next pub board meeting and puts the whole thing out of his mind. He’s got a lot to do, after all.

Since the pub board—publishing board—only meets once a month at ABC Publishers, the next time your agent follows up, she learns that Tom intends to present your proposal there. Tom tells your agent how much he loves the project and is hoping it will fill that last publishing slot in the spring 2014 line. Your agent emails or calls you to relay this information.

You're doing a happy dance. You want to tell everyone and their cat, but you hold back. There is still a long way to go.

Things are still crazy over at ABC, so crazy, in fact, that the next pub board meeting got pushed back two weeks to deal with a crisis from a bestselling author who demanded a six-month extension on a book that’s already pre-sold 200,000 copies. It’s “all hands on deck” at ABC to fix this thing. Thankfully, Tom is not the editor working with this bestselling prima donna, but he still gets drawn into the drama.

Eventually, the pub board meeting rolls around. This meeting takes place in a long room at a big table with chairs all around it and a lot of snacks in the center. Since ABC Publishers is a smaller house, there are only ten people present. The publisher (boss), the editorial team (Tom, Sue, Kathy, and Mike), the sales director, his top sales rep, the marketing director Rachel, her assistant, and the finance director.

Here Tom gets his (and your) big chance. He spent a few hours preparing a video presentation to illustrate your project to the pub board. Mike tells everyone that Tom is going to present a young adult fantasy novel by a new author and that the editorial board things this could fill that last slot for spring.

Sales Director: I think this one is great. It’s got a Percy Jackson meets Hunger Games vibe that I can totally sell.
Publisher: I still don’t understand what a crowl is.
Marketing director: Offspring of the gods and an elf. Think Galadriel.
Publisher: So it’s Lord of the Rings meets Percy Jackson meets Hunger Games?
Sales: I like adding Tolkien. That will tie in with the upcoming Hobbit movie.
Publisher: But didn't Percy Jackson do the Greek god thing to death? Can we sell Greek gods anymore?
Marketing director: This one isn’t Greek gods. They’re crowls, which are Greek-like gods set in a fantasy world.
Sales director: I can sell anything I can relate to the Hobbit right now, you bet.
Publisher: Okay, Tom, tell us about these crowls.

Everyone is silent as Tom shares your plot in pictures, almost how a book trailer might look, though Tom narrates the story himself. He also presents the profit and loss statement and talks about sales figures for similar titles, how you have a YouTube channel where you post humorous video book reviews and have a huge following, and how he thinks you would be a great author for ABC.

Publisher: And you want this for spring 2014? You think a new author can turn around the edits that fast?
Tom: Yes. And I’m willing to put in the extra time to make it work.
Mike: The manuscript is done. And the writing is great. 
Finance Director: But it’s a lot to invest in an unproven novelist. Can you sell really sell twenty thousand copies on a new author? 
Sales: With the Hobbit angle, I can sell fifty. 
Finance Director: *snorts* Sure you can.
Publisher: I still don’t understand what a crowl is. It sounds like crone, and what teen wants to read about old ladies?
Sales: A crowl is the new hobbit.
Marketing: A crowl is nothing like a hobbit.
Sales: It is if I say it is.
Marketing: Whatever.
Mike: Well? Do we make an offer on this one?
Finance: Cut that advance in half and I say yes.
Sales: I say yes. I’ve been looking for a Hobbit angle to sell.
Marketing Director: I vote yes. It’s clever and smart, but accessible.
Publisher: It’s not my kind of book, but I didn’t like vampires or the dystopian craze, either, so I trust your judgment, Mike. And if we can sell twenty-five at the lower advance, I’ll go for it.

And so you get an email or phone call from your agent with an official offer from the publisher! Hallelujah! And offer might look like this:

1. World English language rights
2. All international language rights, worldwide
3. All electronic/digital and ebook rights to the text of the book
4. Non-dramatic audio rights, both on a hard medium (such as a CD) and digital audio download rights
5. DVD curriculum rights

Advance: $5,000 ($2,500 payable on the receipt of signed contract, $2,500  payable on acceptance of manuscript)
Royalty: On 1 to 20,000 copies sold 8% of net, on 20,001 to 40,000 copies sold 9% of net, and on 40,001 and up 10% of net.
Format: Softcover, $9.99, approximately 300 pages
Delivery: April 2013
Target Publication: March 2014

Here you might bring up your concerns over the advance, the royalty rate, or when the manuscript is due. Your agent will negotiate this with the editor and, once she's done, email you a PDF of the book contract. You read this carefully, ask your agent any questions you have, and when you’re done, print three copies, sign each contract, initial each page, and mail them off to the publisher, who will process them, keep a copy for themselves, mail one to you, and the other to your agent. Sometime later, you’ll receive the first half of your advance payment in the mail, minus your agent’s 15%.

What happens next? Tune in next Tuesday to find out.

So what do you think so far? Did you realize how many people the acquisitions editor needs to convince to publish your story? Did you realize that his job was so much more than reading new manuscripts?

And congratulations to those who finalled in last round's contest!

First Place
Lindsey Bradford
Rebekah Hart

Second Place
Elyssa Blow
MacKenzie Pauline

Third Place
Skye Hoffert
Margaret Paquette

Honorable Mentions
Taylor Copeland
Eliza Salinas
Julie-Anne Hepfner
Laurie J. Curtis

Monday, June 18, 2012

Writing Killer Backcover Copy

by Stephanie Morrill

The back cover copy is one of the most important things you’ll write.


It’s a tool for selling your book – to agents and editors, sure, but also to readers. When people are at Barnes & Noble, they flip the book over to read what your book is about. Or when you’re being interviewed on blogs or in magazines, they’ll often print the backcover copy. Or when you’re on TV, they use your back cover copy to explain your book to the audience.

What are the qualities of a good book blurb? It should include:

Character – Who is this story about? Who is the main character?

Setting – Where and when does it take place?

Conflict – What are they trying to achieve? Why are they on this journey?

Action – How do they go about doing this?

Uniqueness – Why is this book different? Why should I invest the time in reading it?

Mystery – Often phrased in a question at the end, this is the part of the back cover copy that triggers and “itch” in the reader’s brain, that makes them “scratch” by starting to read.

And you need to do it as concisely as possible. But how do you boil your huge, beautiful masterpiece into just 150 to 200 words? These authors did it:

So Not Happening by Jenny B. Jones

Isabella Kirkwood(CHARACTER) had it all: popularity at a prestigious private school in Manhattan, the latest fashions, and a life of privilege and luxury. Then her father, a plastic surgeon to the stars, decided to trade her mother in for a newer model. (CONFLICT)
When her mother starts over with her new husband, Bella is forced to pack up (ACTION also CONFLICT) and leave all she knows to live with her new family in Oklahoma. (SETTING) Before her mother can even say “I do,” Bella’s life becomes a major “don’t.”
Can Bella survive her crazy new family? Will the school survive Bella? How can a girl go on when her charmed life is gone and God gives her the total smackdown? (MYSTERY)

The ”uniqueness” of a story isn’t so easy to label, but for this book I would say there are lots of books about wealthy, snooty Manahattan-ite teens. This one just got dropped into smalltown Oklahoma, though.

The Peculiars by Maureen McQuerry

On her 18th birthday, Lena Mattacascar (CHARACTER) decides to search for her father, who disappeared into the northern wilderness of Scree when Lena was young. Scree (SETTING) is inhabited by Peculiars, people whose unusual characteristics make them unacceptable to modern society. Lena wonders if her father is the source of her own extraordinary characteristics and if she, too, is Peculiar.
On the train she meets a young librarian, Jimson Quiggley, who is traveling to a town on the edge of Scree to work in the home and library of the inventor Mr. Beasley. The train is stopped by men being chased by the handsome young marshal Thomas Saltre. When Saltre learns who Lena’s father is, he convinces her to spy (ACTION also CONFLICT) on Mr. Beasley and the strange folk who disappear into his home, Zephyr House. A daring escape in an aerocopter leads Lena into the wilds of Scree to confront her deepest fears. (MYSTERY)

Uniqueness: A child searching for a lost parent has certainly been done in stories before, but the wilderness of Scree with those Peculiars running around sounds rather interesting.

What if your book is about multiple people, though? Like in a romance where you often hear from the point of view of both the male and female?

Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland by Roseanna M. White

In 1784 (SETTING) peace has been declared, but war still rages in the heart of Lark Benton. (CHARACTER) Never did Lark think she’d want to escape Emerson Fielding, the man she’s loved all her life, but then he betrays her with her cousin. (CONFLICT) She flees (ACTION) to Annapolis, Maryland, the country’s capital, and throws herself into a new circle of friends who force her to examine all she believes. (MYSTERY)
(NEW PARAGRAPH FOR THE OTHER PRIMARY CHARACTER) Emerson follows, (ACTION) determined to reclaim his bride. Surprised when she refuses to return with him, (CONFLICT) he realizes that in this new country he has come to call his own, duty is no longer enough. He must learn to open his heart and soul to something greater… before he loses all he should have been fighting to hold. (MYSTERY)

Uniqueness: There are tons of romances out there, this romance however takes place after the couple is already engaged.

If you're registered for the NextGen Writer's Conference - a free, on-line conference for those 19 and under - we're running a backcover copy contest. You can win cool prizes, but more importantly you'll get feedback from professional writers about your story description. Make sure you check it out!

Which element do you think is hardest to include? I struggle most with action and uniqueness. What about you?

Friday, June 15, 2012

How Etymology Can Help Your Writing

By Jill Williamson

This from


  [et-uh-mol-uh-jee]  Show IPA
noun, plural et·y·mol·o·gies.
the derivation of a word word origin, wordsource, derivation, origin.
a chronological account of the birth and development of aparticular word or element of a word, often delineating itsspread from one language to another and its evolvingchanges in form and meaning.  word history,word lore, historical development.
the study of historical linguistic change, especially asmanifested in individual words.
1350–1400; Middle English  < Latin etymologia  < Greek etymología, equivalent to etymológ os studying the true meanings andvalues of words ( étymo s true ( see etymon) + lógos  word,reason) + -ia -y3

I find etymology helpful in writing my historical fantasy stories. If you take a look at the bottom of the post above, see the part where it says "Origin?" (I highlighted it in yellow.) All that information is part of etymology. And anytime you look up a word on, you'll see the origin of the word at the bottom.

Why is this helpful, you ask?

Well, if you're wondering if a certain word was used during the time period of your story, you can find out. Simply look up the word.

More so than, I prefer to use Etymology Online. Here you can type in any word and it will list the history and give similar words too. For example, I looked up the work "kitchen" and here is one answer:

kitchen (n.) Look up kitchen at
c.1200, from O.E. cycene, from W.Gmc. *kokina (cf. M.Du. cökene, O.H.G. chuhhina, Ger. Küche, Dan. kjøkken), probably borrowed from V.L. *cocina (cf. Fr. cuisine, Sp. cocina), variant of L. coquina "kitchen," from fem. of coquinus "of cooks," from coquus "cook," from coquere "to cook" (see cook (n.)). The Old English word might be directly from Vulgar Latin. Kitchen cabinet "informal but powerful set of advisors" is Amer.Eng. slang, 1832, originally in reference to administration of President Andrew Jackson. Kitchen midden(1863) in archaeology translates Dan. kjøkken mødding. Surname Kitchener ("one in charge of a monastic kitchen") is from early 14c.

Another way you can help you word usage if you are writing a time period story is to read book from that time period. It can be fun or frustrating reading historical literature, but it's the best place to see dialogue from your time period. If you're writing medieval, try to read some of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. If you're writing regency, read some Jane Austen (This link leads to Persuasion online). If you're writing steampunk, read some Jules Verne (This link leads to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea online).

Movies are another option. They're sometimes easier, but then you are trusting that the filmmakers did their research, which can be risky.

How about it? If you write in an different era of time, what are some ways that you find accurate dialogue and word usage?