Monday, December 23, 2013

How to build a romance thread in your story, Tangled style

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.

Couple quick notes:

1. This will be the last post until Wednesday, January 1st.

2. Go Teen Writers rewards will be closed between today and Monday, January 6th. You can still be earning points, but I won't be responding to rewards emails until Monday, January 6th. If you want to email me what you're doing just so you don't forget, that's fine. I just won't be responding until the 6th.

I love the movie Tangled, so it was very exciting to me when my daughterwho's very tenderhearted and gets a wee bit emotional about movieswas finally feeling brave enough to watch it. The result is I've now seen Tangled about five times in the last few months because it's become her favorite movie.

Something that story does incredibly well is develop the relationship between Rapunzel and Flynntwo characters who have never met. If you've ever tried to have two characters meet on the page and grow in their friendship or romantic interest of each other, you know the pacing is super tricky. Too slow and you bore the reader. Too fast and it feels unrealistic and forced.

So when we watched Tangled last week for McKenna's birthday, I tried to analyze how the writers built the relationship. (In Tangled, it's a romantic relationship, but this list could be adapted for a story of friendship as well.)

1. We see the characters in their comfortable home worlds.

Rapunzel is in her tower dreaming of seeing floating lanterns and Flynn is on the run from the law. (And loving it. "Oh, the things we've seen, and it's only eight in the morning!") We get a glimpse of who they are as individualstheir strengths, dreams, and needs.

The traditional romance has at least two point of view (POV) characters, the heroine and the hero. Some also have one or two other POVs sprinkled in. If you're only telling your story from one POV, you at least want to know about your other character's starting place or home world.

2. The characters' worlds collide.

Flynn stumbles upon Rapunzel's tower. Rapunzel smacks him in the face with a frying pan. 

If you have a story that involves two characters meeting on the page, you want to give a lot of thought to the when, how, where, and why of the scene where they meet.

In Me, Just Different, Skylar meets Connor right after she's had a traumatic experience that has left her mistrusting of guys. In This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen, Remy meets Dexter when she's up to her eyeballs in details for planning yet another wedding for her mother. We've just gotten a glimpse of Remy's skepticism that real love exists in the world when Dexter approaches her.

3. Their paths merge and they are forced to stick together.

In Tangled, Rapunzel formulates a plan to have Flynn take her to see the floating lanterns. The stakes are high for her because she has always wanted to see the lanterns and she literally knows nobody except her mother. The stakes are high for Flynn because Rapunzel has hidden the crown he stole. In his heart, he's a good guy, so rather than hurt or intimidate Rapunzel, he chooses to take 24 hours to help her on this adventure.

Those stakes are really important for a quest style novel. If you're not writing a quest novel, then the stakes don't need to be high like that, they just need to make sense. In Twilight, Bella and Edward are partnered in science class. In Me, Just Different Connor is dating Skylar's best friend, so the two of them are forced to spend time together. In 11/22/63 by Stephen King, Jake and Sadie are both teachers at the small town high school.

4. The pair is put through a test. 

They must stick together to survive it. During this test, information about the other comes out.

In Tangled, while at a pub, Flynn is recognized by the thugs and they want to turn him into the authorities. Rapunzel goes out on a limb and reveals her desperation and her dream to the group in an effort to save Flynn.

During this test, Flynn learns that Rapunzel has more strength than he thought and that she's dreamed of the lanterns her entire life. Rapunzel learns that Flynn is a wanted man and that he's driven by a desire for riches.

5. The action slows long enough for the pair to process what happened.

This is a really important step that I often forget in my first drafts. The reader needs to see that the pair has gelled, that they trust each other a bit deeper because of the test they just survived.

In Tangled, this moment comes in the tunnel after the pair has escaped the Snuggly Duckling. Flynn expresses admiration for how Rapunzel got them out of there. We also see that he is suddenly more interested in her story than he was before.

This scene is critical to the pacing of developing the relationship because it helps to reveal the change that is taking place inside the characters. In the Lord of the Rings trilogy (which is not a romance, but is also a quest style story with relationships that deepen) these scenes often take place when the group is making camp for the night or stopping for a meal. The story would lose relational depth if those moments had been left out.

6. The pair is put through another test, one that is more intense than the previous. This can be a "big middle scene" and involves some kind of turning point or revelation.

In the next test, Rapunzel and Flynn are trapped in a cave that's filling with water. Thinking they're about to die, Rapunzel and Flynn reveal secrets about themselves. Flynn shares his real name and Rapunzel admits that she has magic hair that glows when she sings.

7. Again, the action slows long enough for the pair to process the test they went through.

This allows for a moment of vulnerability. Rapunzel makes herself vulnerable by using her magic hair and saying she had never before left her tower. Flynn shares about his sad childhood and how he became who he is. And because of what they just went through together, we can understand why they're revealing these secrets to each other.

8. One of them is offered a chance to leave this path, but they choose to stay on it. This time for different reasons than originally.

Around this time Mother Gothel arrives and encourages Rapunzel to leave and come home with her. Originally when Rapunzel set out, all she cared about was seeing the floating lights. Flynn was to act as her guide—to take her to see the lights and to return her to her tower.

But now Rapunzel has been through a lot. She feels something for Flynn, and she's survived quite a bit since she started on her journey. Both these things give her the strength she needs to tell Mother Gothel that she won't be going back with her.

I like when characters are given a chance to undo a choice. When it's done well, it can really add to a story.

9. A glimpse of the happily ever after.

For a romance thread, this is a necessary building block for making your reader root for these two to be together. In Tangled, it's Flynn and Rapunzel enjoying the festivities and setting out on the boat to watch the lanterns. In The Hunger Games, it's Katniss and Peeta in the cave. In Pride and Prejudice (the movie version with Kiera Knightley) it's when Elizabeth and her Aunt and Uncle spend the day at Mr. Darcy's house, and we see them laughing together.

This scene is very effectively followed with:

10. The couple is ripped apart.

This is a third test, but this one they must go through as individuals. Often one of them doesn't have the whole story, and that's used against them. Sometimes neither person has the whole story.

In Tangled, the Stabbington brothers make it look like Flynn abandoned Rapunzel and she doubts that she knew him at all.

11. Each character is pushed back into their old world.

I really love this element of the Tangled story, and I've started noticing it in other stories as well. I think it makes the happy ending resonate stronger.

Rapunzel is taken back to the tower under the overbearing watch of Mother Gothel. Flynn is mixed up with the Stabbington brothers again and lands in jail. They each lived this life for years, but they've changed and now it chafes.

In the 2005 Pride and Prejudice adaptation, we have those lovely scenes where Elizabeth is back home and increasingly agitated with her family. She wants out of there—and she's pretty sure she threw away that opportunity months ago.

12. A rescue mission and final test.

I like how in Tangled, Rapunzel and Flynn take turns rescuing each other. He comes to her tower, but then he gets fatally wounded. She makes a deal to save him, and then he sacrifices himself to give her ultimate freedom.

Or in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy rescues the entire Bennett family by convincing Mr. Wickham to marry Lydia instead of just tarnishing her reputation and also by encouraging Mr. Bingley to try again with Jane.

13. The black moment.

This is where it looks like the odds might be too stacked against the couple for them to survive. Like when Flynn dies and Rapunzel's magic hair is gone. There's no chance now for them to have a happily ever after, is there?

Or in The Hunger Games, when it's announced that two people from the same district can't win, that there has to be one winner. Now to win, Katniss will have to kill Peeta. There's no possible way they can both survive this, is there?

14. Surprise!

And then we get that lovely, creative surprise of Rapunzel weeping magical tears. Hooray!

In The Hunger Games, Katniss beats the game by threatening to leave the Capitol with no winner. Quickly, the rule that was just reversed is now unreversed.

15. Togetherness achieved!

The reader (or viewer) need that glimpse of the happily ever after to leave them feeling like the journey was worth it. 

In a book that has a sequel, like The Hunger Games, that final scene between the couple can also set the mood for the next book.

In your stories, have you had two characters who meet on the page and become close? Do you have additional tips to share on what has worked for you?

Friday, December 20, 2013

My Path to Publishing

Katie French is a former English teacher and current High School Counselor. She's been writing since second grade and penned her first attempt at a novel at the age of thirteen. Besides writing and her job, her family comes first. Her young adult dystopian adventure series, The Breeders, is now available on Learn more about Katie at

Life is a funny thing. Just when you think you are on one path, something unexpected comes along and WHAMO you are spun 180 and heading in the opposite direction. I feel like this is what my writing career has been like so far. But, let’s rewind, shall we?

I’ve been seriously writing for six and a half years. I've always wanted to write, but didn't get really serious until my daughter was born, because, you know, what's better for the writing muse than no sleep and a screaming infant? But I digress. In the first three years I wrote two books (one dreadful, one passably awful) and queried agents like a good girl should. Of course I was rejected. I didn't know my craft back then. But, I kept on keeping on. Then I started my third manuscript. This one felt different from the get-go. I was faster, more skilled and more dedicated. I knew the premise was worthwhile and the characters were working. I got great feedback from my critique partners (who were actually writers this time and not my friends and family). Then I took a huge step and signed up for a pitch contest with some top-name editors in New York City. I flew to NYC and pitched my heart out to editors from Penguin, St. Martin's, and Harper Collins. I got two full requests and quietly did a mini SQWEE!! It was a very exciting time and I thought for sure that this was it. I had made it. Insert Rocky- themed music and arms held above my head.

Then... the doors started slamming in my face. Ouch. 

Now, I’m not one to take no for an answer. It just isn't in my nature. I KNEW this book was good. I KNEW people would want to read it. And, to be honest, I'm pretty stubborn and pig-headed. I knew I couldn't just quit and let my dream die. It was at that point I started to do some major research on self-publishing. I was a fan of J.A. Konrath's blog where he eviscerates traditional publishers on a weekly basis. While I held no animosity toward traditional publishers, they weren't interested, so I had to look elsewhere. I read several books on digital publishing including Let's Get Digital by David Gaughran. I realized I would have to learn to be an author, publisher, and entrepreneur so I read APE by Guy Kawaski and Shawn Welch. I signed up for newsletters on websites like The Passive Voice that talked about all things indie publishing. When my brain was over-brimmed like a steaming cup of joe, I thought I might be ready for this monumental step.   

I took a big leap, despite all my fears, and self-published through Amazon and Lulu (for print editions). It was the only way my words would see the light of day and I took it, jumping in feet first, eyes closed. This time the mini SQWEE! was accompanied by a lot of heart palpitations and some bladder issues

For those of you who self-publish, you know it isn't for the faint of heart. For me, self-publishing was like querying on steroids (the nasty kind that make you grow hair in weird places). I had to send my brand new book baby out into the world without the clout of an agent or publishing house behind me. It was as scary as the time I watched The Ring alone at night in my apartment.

So what was the result you ask, other than some mildly peed pants and a lot of mini-breakdowns? Well, a year and a half in I can honestly say it's been amazing. And scary. And wonderful. And liberating. And ha-ard! The books are doing great (ranked right now in the 7000s on Amazon) and the fans have been fantastic. I love that people are reading and liking my books. I love reading the reviews. And I'm getting paid (modestly) to do something I would have done for free. Amazing.

Then came the WHAMO.

In December of 2012, I was contacted by an agent to which I had sent a full manuscript back in May of that same year. (Eight months, people. Yes, it can sometimes take that long.) Amanda Luedeke of MacGregor Literary emailed to say she was finally reading it and was it still available? Imagine my surprise. I said yes and then disclosed that I had self-published. I thought this would be a deal-breaker and we would go along our merry way. Little did I know that Amanda would not let that sway her. She pursued me further with more emails and a phone call. A year prior I would’ve been peeing my pants and dancing in the puddle, but now I was self-published. What could an agent possibly offer me?

The bottom line is I liked Amanda, really, really liked her. She was young, energetic and in love with my book.  She had a marketing background. The thing that sold me was that she was fine with me saying I didn’t want a tiny book deal that took all my rights and control and gave me nothing in return.

So, I took another deep breath and signed. So, now I am agented. Not a lot has changed for me yet. I’m still doing my thing, blogging, writing and marketing my books, but now I have a cheerleader and adviser to help me through sticky spots. Amanda is currently in talks to secure for my series an audio book deal. (Someone reading MY books. Out loud. Freaking awesome.) We shall see what awaits. Until then, I’m still happily self-publishing and glad I did it. Right now, I’ve got the best of both worlds and everything’s coming up roses.

I'd love to hear from you with any questions you might have. Feel free to comment below. 

Jill here. To support Katie, we're doing a giveaway! Enter to win your choice of the paperback of book one, The Breeders, -OR- books one and two in ebook form. Here's a little bit about book one:

Sixteen-year-old Riley Meemick is one of the world's last free girls. When Riley was born, her mother escaped the Breeders, the group of doctors using cruel experiments to bolster the dwindling human race. Her parents do everything possible to keep her from their clutches-- moving from one desolate farm after another to escape the Breeders' long reach. The Breeders control everything- the local war lords, the remaining factories, the fuel. They have unchecked power in this lawless society. And they're hunting Riley. 

When the local Sheriff abducts the adult members of her family and hands her mother over to the Breeders, Riley and her eight-year-old brother, Ethan, hiding in a shelter, are left to starve. Then Clay arrives, the handsome gunslinger who seems determined to help to make up for past sins. The problem is Clay thinks Riley is a bender-- a genderless mutation, neither male nor female. As Riley's affection for Clay grows she wonders can she trust Clay with her secret and risk her freedom? 

The three embark on a journey across the scarred remains of New Mexico-- escaping the Riders who use human sacrifice to appease their Good Mother, various men scrambling for luck, and a deranged lone survivor of a plague. When Riley is forced into the Breeder's hospital, she learns the horrible fate of her mother—a fate she'll share unless she can find a way out.

(FYI, this series is rated PG13 for mild swearing and moderate action violence. The content is dark the way that Hunger Games or Divergent is dark.)

And if you have questions or comments for Katie about her journey or self-publishing, please ask in the comments below.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Confessions of a Former Book Trasher

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.

Back before I was published, the professionals were saying the same things about platform as they are today. So, in an effort to build a platform, I started writing book reviews on I figured this not only gave me good reason to read my competition, I’d be forced to write on a regular basis and I’d be helping other authors as well. It seemed like the perfect idea.

Between today and July of 2008, I've written over 470 reviews, and most of them were very nice.

But back when I first started writing reviews, I was not yet a published author. That didn’t mean I couldn’t write a good review. But, unfortunately, it did mean that I was discouraged. I held my own unpublished books up against those I read. I compared. And despaired.

How could it be possible that this book had gotten published when I continued to receive rejections? What was I doing wrong? My book was better than this!

The more I fed that despair, the worse my bitterness became. I started to believe that the publishers were making bad decisions. And my frustrations slipped over into my book reviews. This book had no plot. This one had boring characters. This one was filled with telling! I gave my opinion as nicely as I could. And I did try to mention positives along with my negatives. But I was so stuck on those mysterious writing rules that were being broken that I had a lot of negative things to say. I was following the writing rules and these other authors were not. I felt like I deserved to be published more than some of the authors I was reading.

I really had no idea what I was talking about. I was naive and full of my own entitlement, and I just didn’t have the experience to realize it yet.

Then it happened. I wrote a negative review, and the author left a comment. It was a kind, humble comment. Friendly. Apologetic, even. Something like, “I’m so sorry you didn’t enjoy the book. Thanks for giving it a try, Jill!”

The author had read that? Oh dear. I was instantly shamed and embarrassed. 

Actually, I was a class A jerk face, is what I was.

It occurred to me then that my oh-so-honest reviews weren’t helping anyone. Me, especially. Here I was trying to build a platform, but all I was doing was offending people and sounding like a snob. And if I intended to have a career in the publishing industry, I’d best take care what types of book reviews I wrote because I might someday find myself sitting at a dinner table with an author whose book I slammed. Or asking them a favor.


So I made a new policy. I decided to follow the golden rule. If I couldn’t say anything nice about a book, I would say nothing at all. If I hated a book, I would not review it. And I was careful not to read books I suspected I’d hate. Sure, I became a rah rah reviewer. I only posted reviews of books I liked. But I wasn’t reviewing books to become a professional book reviewer. I had no desire to go to work for the New York Times or Publisher’s Weekly. I wanted to be an author. And my platform needed to respect that.

That didn’t mean I never wrote anything negative about a book. And sometimes this was more difficult that other times. If something bothered me, I pointed it out. But I tried to cushion the negative around positives, and I always tried to be kind and respectful to the author.

But I will never write a one-star book review. Here’s why:

-People have given me one-star reviews and it’s hurtful. I often fall into depression over one mean comment in a review, which is why I don’t read them anymore. Or I get my husband to read them first.

-I now understand that there are a lot of things that are outside the author's control when a book is published. There are deadlines, and authors are sometimes forced to rush their story. Typos sometimes happen in the typesetting stage. And the editor always gets the final say.

-No book deserves one star unless it is filled with misspellings and mistakes and the pages are falling out (in my opinion).

-A bad review not only insults the author, it insults the publishing house as well. And that editor just might read your review and remember your name. And when your proposal comes along … uh oh!

-The internet feels impersonal. And it might feel like those screen names or the author's name on a book is just a name. But these are real, flesh and blood people with lives filled with families and illnesses and bills to pay. Don’t say something online that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.

This works both ways. Too many glowing, multiple-exclamation-point, 5-star reviews can hurt an author too. Books with only 5-stars look like no one but the author’s friends have read them. Buyers don’t believe that kind of track record. In my opinion, four-star reviews can be the best because they say why the reader liked the book, but they don’t claim the book is perfect. Four-star reviews just feel more honest.

If you ever want to give me a three or four-start review, do it! I will still love you, so long as you are kind and respectful.

This is all my experience and my opinion. You are welcome to write whatever kind of book review you want. And please don’t swear off writing book reviews altogether because authors need people who understand the power of a book review and are willing to write one. Book reviews sell books. They give life to a book and keep it from dying. No one should understand that better than another author.

So here are some dos and don’ts about writing book reviews.

DO use the sandwich method of reviewing. Share what you liked about the book, then share what you didn’t like in a kind and fair way, then follow that up with another thing you liked. Sandwich that negativity between two positives. It works great.

DON’T say in a book review that you normally don’t read this genre, then rip the book to shreds. If you aren’t an expert, don’t try to behave like one.

DO be honest, yet kind and humble.

DON’T get angry or emotional in your review. If a book upset you, wait a few days to write the review until you’ve calmed down enough to be fair. We are never fair when we’re angry. And if you can’t be fair, don’t write the review.

DO give a reason for anything less than a 5-star review. It’s frustrating to read an overly positive 3-star review and wonder why it’s so positive when it’s rated three stars.

DON’T hang the author for their difference of opinion. My first books were published in the Christian specialty market. And I have many 1-star reviews from people with different beliefs who rated my books 1-star for that reason alone. That’s cruel and unfair. They’re judging my beliefs in the review, not my competence as an author. If you come upon this kind of situation, simply say: Liberal audiences might not appreciate the Christian themes in this story. Or vice versa. Christian audiences might not appreciate the liberal themes in this story.

DO click “yes” or “no” on reviews that were helpful or not. The more “yes” votes a review receives, the higher it is listed on the page. And that helps the author.

What have you noticed about book reviews? The good, the bad, and the ugly? Share in the comments.

Monday, December 16, 2013

You Can Write That Book

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.

Connor fast asleep in the wagon after his MRI
Many of you who are on the Facebook group or who saw my comment on my post from last Monday already know that my family has been through a rough week.

Last Monday, as my family was sitting around the dinner table, my three-year-old son, Connor, had his third seizure. One second he was himself - joking, laughing, eating - and the next he was not. It was another forty-five minutes before the seizure stopped with the help of magical ER meds.

We had anticipated a normal night around the house, and instead the evening involved an ambulance ride and a cozy room at the local childrens hospital that became our home for two nights. An EEG, an MRI, and two seizures later, we're finally home and playing the trial-and-error game with the dosage of Connor's medicine.

And to make matters extra interesting, there was little time to ease back into normal life since McKenna turned 6 over the weekend, and a birthday party and sleepover were already in the works. The last week has been a very strange mix of IVs, baking, throw-up, and decorating.
McKenna and her best friend, Ellery, at Fritz's celebrating McKenna's 6th birthday

All that to say, I'm exhausted. More exhausted than I've ever been. And you'll have to forgive me that I just don't have it in me to write a full-on post for today. I'm so grateful to Shannon Dittemore who stepped up to take over last Friday. What a lady.

If you already subscribe to the Go Teen Writers newsletter, you would have seen this a couple weeks ago. If not, I hope you enjoy it. I know that after this week, I needed the reminder all over again:

Yes, You Can Write That

So there's this guy I know. Let's call him Dave. 

Dave is older than me by quite a bit. He's a big reader, and he's very creative, but he's never been interested in telling stories.

Until he had The Idea.

You know the kind of story idea I'm talking about. One that won't leave you alone, that your mind drifts to when you're riding in the car or washing your hair.

If you've been writing for a while, The Idea commonly makes you run for your computer because you can't wait to start working.

But if the writing thing is new to you ... or if you're in a season of doubt ... or if you never really thought of yourself as A Writer, then The Idea is more likely to make you want to give your computer a wide berth.

"I'm not qualified to write this book, am I?...Someone else should really do it. I'll probably just make a mess of it...Would anyone even want to read about this?...What if I write it, and nobody wants to look at it?"

So many questions. And no guarantees. No tidy answers.

Dave asks me what he should do first. He's been thinking about The Idea for a while now, so I suggest he work on his major characters. That he write up a character analyses of sort. 

"On your blog, I've seen you talk about action beats and dialogue tags." Dave looks nervous. "I had never even thought about that kind of stuff."

"You don't have to think about that kind of stuff yet," I tell him. "Try to just focus on the characters and the story."

He asks about POV and I make the mistake of trying to explain the difference between omniscient and third. It's a good reminder to me that crafting a novel is HARD WORK. There's a reason that not everybody who wants to write a book actually writes a book. Even still:

"I believe you can write this book," I try to tell Dave a few times. I've said the same thing to a lot of writers on Go Teen Writers or in classes I've taught. I say it because I think it's true. And because there are times when people need to borrow someone else's belief.

Some days, I just plain don't believe anymore. Not in the story, not in myself, and not in the calling I've always felt to be a writer. During those times, I've borrowed belief from others. From my husband, my agent, my editor, my best friend. I need to borrow their belief in me for a moment - or two - until I find mine again.

I don't know where you are in your writing journey. I'm in kind of a funky place, to be honest. The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet released just a month ago, and after a year of my brain being full of Ellie, I'm asking, "So...what's next?"

My writing goal this Christmas season is to get my story groove back. I've been doing marketing and promotions and all that crazy fun stuff, and now I'm ready to get some face time with the story churning around my heart. One that feels a bit too scary, a bit too big, and a lot exciting. I want to write without dwelling on how I would market it or who would buy it. I want to write simply because it brings me joy to do so, and that's reward enough.

I hope this December you can find a way to write with joy and freedom. With confidence that you are successful the moment your pen touches the page.

Because you are.

Friday, December 13, 2013

I Have No Idea How To Get Published

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes Trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a focus on youth and young adult ministry. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. Learn more about Shannon at

I read a blog post once and I’d love to give the author credit, but for the life of me I can’t remember where I saw it. The takeaway from the post, however, was genius, and went something like this:

Debut authors have no idea how to get published. They simply know how they got published.

At the time, the dream of my story on a bookshelf seemed a near-impossibility. I assumed every published author could tell me exactly what to do.

But, the more I talk to debut authors—the more I read about their journeys—the more I understand just how small we authors are in the gigantic machine that is the publishing industry.

Oh, we play a part. Each of us. A vital, important part. But, we’re very specific cogs in a very particular machine, and our journeys to that spot are near impossible to duplicate.

That blog post was right: I can’t tell you how to get published. Because I don’t know.

I can only tell you that the things I did, as misinformed as they sometimes were, didn’t prevent it from happening. Over the past two years, I’ve had three books published. Here are a few things I can pass on to those of you walking a few steps behind me on the road to publication.

Waiting sucks. For everyone. I hate waiting. My agent hates waiting. My writer-friends hate waiting. We all hate it. But, it’s part of the process. It doesn’t mean bad things. It doesn’t mean good things. It just means you’re waiting. You can let it drive you crazy or you can write your way through the wait. The choice, as always, is yours. I say write. Life is short and there are words out there that need to be put on paper. And by submitting your novel to editors and agents, you’re saying, “Hey, I can do this! I can put words on paper.” So, do it. Do it while you wait.

Timing is everything. I have a whole blog post worked up on this point, but the short version is this: Are you ready? Not ready for good things to happen to you–though that part is awesome–but are you ready to work? Because the word “contract” is synonymous with “a ton of work.” So, don’t begrudge the wait. Timing is everything.

There will be hiccups. Oh yes! And they’ll hit when it’s most inconvenient for you. In my case, my first agent quit the business of agenting while my dream publisher was actively considering my manuscript. Um. Yeah. Inconvenient to say the least and havoc on my nerves. But, while I was panicking, every writer-friend I know told me the same thing, “If someone wants what you’re selling, hiccups won’t stop them from buying it.” And you know what? They were right.

Playing by the rules worked for me. There are folks out there who recommend sending pink, perfumed pages of your romance manuscript to every editor you can think of. There are brave souls who claim they’ve attracted the attention of a super-agent by standing on their heads and serenading them from four stories down, but I am far too squeamish to attempt feats of grandeur. Instead, I paid attention to submission guidelines on agency web pages. I stalked agents and publishing gurus on Twitter to get a feel for their likes and dislikes, and then I queried only those who seemed to fit my manuscript. It took a bit, but it worked.

You need a writer friend. Or two. Or twelve. Because this road can be lonely if you let it. The good news is there are lots of ways to interact with writers: crit groups, workshops, conferences, bookstores. If you can find another writer in your hometown to connect with, all the better. Nothing beats a cup of coffee with someone who understands the daily grind of writing sentences.

Acknowledge the luck factor. That’s right. I said it. Of course, I generally attribute these luck-type things to God and His providence, but it’s important to understand that being in the right place at the right time really does have its advantages. Often, that’s something you can’t control. Sometimes you’re exactly what a publisher (or agent, or editor) is looking for. Sometimes you’re not. Accept that rejection—like in issues of love—can be about what they want, not who you are. Decide to be okay with it.

And, finally, keep the faith! The funny thing about hope is this: we all have something to hope for. You may be hoping to land an agent or attract a publisher. Me: I’m hoping my books continue to sell. There are no guarantees in this industry, but the rest of us can spot a bitter soul a mile away. Keep hoping, keep dreaming. Keep believing. And write because you love it.

I have no idea how you’ll get published, but my guess is you’ll find a few things along the way that are worth passing on. Share ’em. Share them here or with a friend. Share them on your blog or at your crit group. Share them with the guy you see standing in the writing aisle at B&N.

Our journeys are all so different, but the business of writing sentences ties us together.

So, spread the love!

For the next twelve days on my blog, I’ll be drawing names and letting the winners choose just which of my Angel Eyes books they’d like to receive this Christmas.

12 days. 12 winners. 12 books. Fun, right? Visit to enter.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Do You Use Too Many Generic Action Tags?

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.

Rebecca Luella Miller was the first person who told me about generic action tags. And it was one of those "Ah ha!" moments for me. Many years ago, I had paid Rebecca to do a freelance edit on The New Recruit. And she said that I used a lot of generic action tags. And she underlined them all. And it was pretty embarrassing.

What's a generic action tag?

It's an action tag that comes before or after dialogue that tells the reader little or nothing of interest. For example: He shrugged. She laughed. He smiled. She sighed. She rolled her eyes. He groaned. He grinned. She scowled. He frowned.

It's not wrong to write these types of things. But using such little sentences too much makes the writing feel blah to the reader. Generic action tags don't characterize. And they tell, rather than show. My first drafts are packed with these. And I tend to fix them during the rewrite stage.

Action tags are great places to put character's actions, descriptions, character's thoughts, and infuse your character's voice into it all. Pick up some books and see how different authors do it. They'll likely all be a little different.

Here are a couple places from The New Recruit where you can see a variety of different things I tried to spice up what were once generic action tags. I've underlined the changes below. I also put notes in parentheses to explain my intention behind each one.

       Arianna forced me onto the bench beside Gabe. “Be right back.” Arianna nudged Gabe. “Make him stay.” (--This one shows Arianna's forceful personality. Her actions match her words. She's bossing people around. It's what she does.)
       “Spencer, Arianna says stay.” Gabe flashed his metal smile and looked at my shirt. “Ooh. What happened?” (--Here I remind the reader that Gabe has braces. Gabe looks at Spencer's shirt and comments on it because that's a natural reaction to the fact that Spencer is a mess, which reminds the reader what Spencer looks like, as well.)
       “Jeb Beary happened.” I flicked spaghetti off my black necktie. “I hate school uniforms.” No sign of Isabel yet. My tray looked like roadkill. I shoveled spaghetti into my mouth anyway, keeping one eye on the entrance for exotic Ee-sa-bell. (--Here we get Spencer's action to match the spaghetti mess problem. Then he's thinking about Isabel again.)
       “You normally sit with the basketball team?” Gabe asked.
       “Yeah,” I said, opening my carton of milk. (--A description of what he's doing.)
       And suddenly the goddess stood before me, giggling with Arianna. They’d come from behind me. Arianna snorted a laugh, her eyes filled with tears. But like a slow-motion scene out of a music video, Isabel tossed her hair and smiled. Her face glowed like bronze, her eyes sparked.
       “What’s so funny?” Gabe asked.
       Arianna’s expression sobered. “Do you have room for Bill and Bob?”  (--Shows Arianna's expression.)
       Isabel linked her arm with Arianna’s and murmured, “Mande? Which one is me again?”  (--Show's Isabel's movement.)
       “You’re Bob Rod, remember? I’m Bill Slo,” Arianna said.
       “Ah, si.” Isabel leaned toward Gabe and stuck out her hand adorned with glossy, claw-like fingernails edged in white. Her brown curls tumbled over her shoulder—again with the slo mo. “Me llamo Bob.”  (--This shows movement and describes Isabel through Spencer's eyes.)
       Gabe shook her hand, one eyebrow raised. “Nice to meet you, Bob.”  (--Describes Gabe and his actions.)
       I stared at her flawless cheeks as I stuck out my hand. “Spencer Garmond.” (--Describes Spencer's actions.)
       She turned her eyes on me and it felt like the heat of the bat signal. She shook my hand. “Me llamo Bob.”  (--Describes Isabel's actions and Spencer's reaction in his voice.)
       She let go all too soon, and, like a cloud crossing over the sun, the heat vanished. The girls sat across from me and Gabe. At least now, if Kip saw me, he’d understand why I ditched him. He and I had talked about the goddess before.
       Arianna leaned across the table and whispered. “We worked out undercover aliases in case we need them this summer.”  (--Describes Arianna's actions.)
       “So you came up with Bill and Bob?” I asked.
       The girls burst into hysterics again. I didn’t get it, but watching Isabel laugh was not unpleasant.
Gabe ripped off the end of his straw and blew the wrapper at Isabel. “You don’t need aliases yet, Isabel, don’t worry.”  (--Describes the action around Spencer and his thoughts.)
       “Yo sé. It’s only for playing.” She wadded his straw wrapper and flicked it back.  (--Describes Isabel's actions.)
       I wished I had a straw wrapper to flick. I must have lost mine when Jeb attacked.


       “Why do you people need an alias?” I asked Gabe. I mean, James Bond was one thing. But Biff Gar? Another thing entirely.  (--Gives the reader Spencer's thoughts.)
       “You don’t,” Gabe said. “Not until your second summer—before your first red card.” He huffed a laugh. “Bo Sto isn’t going to cut it.”  (--This is a generic action tag that I left in. Like I said, they're not wrong. You just don't want to use them often.)
       At least Gabe could see that much. “What’s a red card?”  (--Gives the reader Spencer's thought on Gabe's dialogue.)
       “An intercessor-assigned mission. That’s probably why Isabel is considering aliases. Who knows why Arianna’s doing it. She’s—”
       “You pick an alias, yet?”
       Gabe faked a cheesy smile that showed off his braces. “Maybe.”  (--Describes Gabe's actions/what he looks like, reminding the reader of his braces. I don't want to over do the braces thing. But in the beginning of the book, I'll try to remind readers a few times of a strong feature like that.)
       “I hope it’s better than Bo Sto.”
       “It is. But if I told you, I’d have to kill you, and I kinda like having you around.”
(I didn't need an action tag or said tag with every line of dialogue in this section. It's only Spencer and Gabe in the scene, so the reader knows who is talking.)

Action tags work best when they react with what's happening in the scene and reveal the character's personality.

Do you have any tricks that work for you with writing/re-writing action tags? Do you use too many generic action tags? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, December 9, 2013

How to Show Your First Draft Who Is Boss

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.

I'm glad we're all writers here, because I'm going to talk about that weird phenomenon that we all seem to recognize, but that makes non-writers ("normals" as writer Brandilyn Collins calls them) give us a look like we just grew a second head.

I'm talking about when your first draft isn't going as planned. If the content you didn't anticipate is turning out for good, we say things like, "The book is practically writing itself," or, "I thought my character would do this, but instead he chose such-and-such instead."

But when it's not going well, we might say, "The characters aren't really doing much yet." Or once Jill said to me, "The book just isn't loving me yet."

Our first drafts can feel like a rebellious toddler who want to be in charge. Once when my daughter was three, we were at the neighborhood playground and she was in a rare foul mood. I told her that because of her bad choices, we were leaving. She informed me that she would not be leaving until she went across the monkey bars.

Yep, this little angel did that! McKenna turns 6 on Saturday, and I'm proud to say has never again thrown a tantrum over leaving the playground.
That left me with a choice. If I helped her on the monkey bars, I knew she would probably walk to the car with me and we could drive home and eat lunch. I also knew that would leave her feeling as though she was in control of this situation. So I told her no and gave her the choice of walking to the car or being carried. She responded by wrapping her arms around a pole and screaming that I had to help her on the monkey bars or she would not go to the car. I pried her off the pole and carried her to the car kicking and screaming.

And sometimes you have to do the same thing when you feel like your first draft is being demanding with you and trying to take the reins. Don't hand them over. You're the boss.

But how do you handle a rebellious first draft?

1. Reevaluate your characters.

Sometimes I'll get surprised by something my character says or does. I hear other writers talk about this too. "My character just surprised me by pulling out a knife," or whatever actually applies.

What's really happening when my character seemingly acts independent of me is I've spent enough time with them that when I'm writing, I now react to situations as them rather than thinking through, "Okay, so what is Ellie thinking now that Chase has said that? What should she say back?"

Your first draft is about exploration. You're exploring the facets of these people, same as how you didn't simply understand your best friend the moment you met her. Or how your sister, who you've shared a room with for most your life, can still say things that surprise you.

As the story changes, your character is (or should be) changing too. When you're working on the first draft, you're figuring out how your character will evolve on her journey.

Often it's okay to trust your gut in those situations, but not always. If you're having trouble getting your character to do what you want, and if you can't follow her down the path she's trying to go, then your job becomes to find the right motivation to urge her along the journey. 

Katniss doesn't want to go into the arena. The author finds the right motivations - saving the life of her little sister - to get her there.

In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth doesn't want to marry Mr. Darcy, but Austen unravels Mr. Darcy's character until Elizabeth (and the reader) can see why he's the perfect man for her after all.

Characters are like people - they tend to avoid change if they can. You'll have to get creative to keep them engaged in the conflict.

2. Check your story structure.

Roseanna White is a self-described gut writer. She doesn't read craft books, she doesn't storyboard or chart out her stories. She writes by intuition, and she does a lovely job of it.

But sometimes her gut tells her something isn't working and she can't pinpoint why. This happened with her book Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland. She had written the first draft and it was a very powerful story ... until about the last 20 pages. And then it just kinda meandered to a close. It wasn't bad, exactly. Just lacking.

Finally, one of her critique partners said, "You know what's missing? The black moment. The way it is now, I have no doubt that it'll work out for Lark and Emerson. We need the black moment."

I know story structure can feel constricting to new writers, or at least it did to me. If it helps, don't think of structure as rules that you must follow. Instead think of it as a tool in your toolbox. Or if you write mostly by gut, you can think of it as a way to check your book to see if you might have forgotten anything important.

3. Investigate the order of your storyworld.

This applies to you no matter what you write. Wherever we live, there are rules, patterns, and truths that we are aware of even if they aren't articulated.

Everyday when my husband leaves work, he calls me to say he's on his way home. We've never had a conversation about whether he should do that, he just does. And if he showed up at home without having called, I would first assume I somehow missed his call, and if not, he would have to explain why he wasn't able to call. It would not feel satisfactory to me if he said, "I just didn't feel like calling today." That violates the natural order of my world and it's out of character for my husband. It would nag at me all night long. It's just so weird. Why didn't he call? Why didn't he want to call?

How annoying would it be if that were in a story and it just never got answered? That's because it violates the natural order that's been established. If you violate the natural order of your storyworld, you have to give a good reason. Sometimes when a story is feeling off, it's because we're trying to make something happen that doesn't fit in the rules and patterns of the world our characters live in.

4. Roll up your sleeves.

I feel like this is becoming my new mantra on here but writing a book is hard work. About half the emails I get from writers include a question that boils down to, "This is hard - can you do this part for me?"

I love helping writers and there is certainly a time and place to have someone else brainstorm ideas with you. But only you can do the actual writing part. No one can hand you a story you're passionate about writing. That has to come from you.

Going back to my story about Roseanna. After she figured out that her story needed a black moment, she had to scrap her original ending and rewrite it. That can be a tough pill to swallow when you thought you were doing final edits before sending it off to the editor. But she did it, and it turned out amazing.

With first drafts being about exploration, you will have to backtrack, cut big sections, and rewrite them if you want to turn out a polished book. I don't like it either. Some days I feel pumped to fix the book. Others, I'm more like, "So...what's new on Pinterest?"

Allow yourself grace - no one can be a writing machine everyday - but if you're serious about creating a good story, you have to push yourself to do the hard work too.

What gives you the most trouble when you're working on a first draft?

Friday, December 6, 2013

What is Snippet and Why Should You Use It?

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.

I first heard of Snippet at the marketing retreat my literary agency hosted in Chicago this past November. A few weeks later when the Snippet dashboard opened to writers, Chip MacGregor talked about it again on his blog. I looked it up to see what it was all about. After a few minutes of looking around, I started to get ideas of how I might use it in my writing. But before I invested a lot of hours crafting a short story, I decided to create a Snippet using my Punctuation 101 posts from the Go Teen Writers blog. This seemed like a good way to test the tool with content I'd already written.

What's a Snippet, you ask?

Snippets are sort of like mini ebooks. They're short. Each chapter must be 1000 words or less. They're easy to make and free for authors to create. You simply paste text into the dashboard, format it, and publish. You can also add photos, audio clips, and video to give your Snippet more variety. Snippets work on iphones with the Snippet app. And while they are free for authors to design, they are not free to customers. The author sets the price from .99 to 4.99.

Why are these cool for authors? Because you can sell novellas that promote your books, shortened versions of your book, a companion piece to one of your books, additional topics that are related to your book, the origin story of your book, and even a series of blog posts. Take a look at the Snippet library to see what others are already doing.

You can do this as long as you own the rights to the material. I couldn't self publish a short story about Omar from Captives since Zondervan holds the rights to the characters in the Safe Lands storyworld. So if you have a contract, check it before publishing a Snippet. If I could "sell" a Snippet for free, then I could publish a story about Omar and Zondervan wouldn't mind since it would be promotion with no money involved. But that's not an option, unfortunately.

Want to try it? You can sign up for a Snippet account and check out the writer dashboard without committing to actually publishing a Snippet. Want to know more? Check out this video:

I decided to give Snippet a try. It was fun and easy. They only have one color for everything, so there was no need to worry about how to design it. All I had to do was copy and paste my text into each chapter, then format it. I also needed to create a cover, which I cobbled together from the Go Teen Writer's cover and a different picture.

I thought it might be fun to make a Snippet of the Punctuation 101 posts so that people could have them handy for quick reference. I priced the Snippet at .99 since people can still get the blog posts free if they prefer to look them up one at a time or bookmark them. But for .99, I figured some might enjoy the convenience.

My Snippet is now available through the Snippet App Store for .99. I hope it proves useful to someone, though even if it doesn't, in creating it, I learned how to use Snippet. And I think I'll be using it again when I have more time to create something unique.

If you want to learn more about Snippet or check out the Snippets availble for purchase in their library, download the free app here:

You can also visit the website at:

What do you think of Snippet? Can you see any other creative ways an author might use Snippet besides those I mentioned? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.