Tuesday, April 30, 2013

If You Can Create a High Concept Story, You Can Sell 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.

High concept. Maybe you've heard this phrase. It's been around a long while, but it's still important to selling stories in any form. A high-concept story puts a fresh twist on a universal theme. It takes the cliché and makes it new. When it's spoken/pitched, you instantly want to read the book or see the movie. And the moment you hear it as a writer, you think, "Why didn't I think of that?"

It's that powerful.

How do you come up with one of those ideas? It's not easy. Here is some advice from people who know more than I do on the subject.

Screenwriter Terry Rossio calls this "The Strange Attractor," which means combining something strange (unique) with something that attracts people (is compelling). 

Podcaster Mary Robinette Kowal twists this a little and calls it "combining the familiar and the strange."

Stephen King likes to combine two completely unrelated things. For example: murder and mayhem & prom (Carrie).

And there's always the What if? question.

Blake Snyder has a chapter on Loglines in his book Save the Cat. Here's one example he gives in his book:

An ugly duckling FBI agent goes undercover as a contestant to catch a killer at the Miss America Pageant (Miss Congeniality).

Snyder says a high-concept logline must include:
-A type of protagonist (Ex: an ugly duckling female FBI agent)
-A type of antagonist (Ex: a killer)
-A conflict that is primal--something we identify with as human beings (trying to stop a murder)
-An opened-ended question like, "What will happen?"

He also suggests that you include:
-Irony (an ugly ducking female FBI agent + the Miss America Pageant)
-a mental picture that blooms in our minds (Can you see the irony? I can.)
-a sense of the audience (This feels like a chick flick/romantic comedy)
-a title that "says what it is" (Miss Congeniality. Here are some other great titles: Legally Blonde, Snakes on a Plane, Four Christmases, Stop or My Mom Will Shoot)

Here are some high concept ideas that have come about in the past few years. 

The Lightning Thief: What if a boy found out he was a demigod?
National Treasure: What if clues to a treasure were hidden by our forefathers?
Hunger Games: 24 teens fight to death on national television.
Toy Story: What if your toys were alive?
The Shack: A man meets God in a shack in the woods.
Smallville: Superman in high school.
The Vow: Would you stay married if your spouse forgot your life together?
Twilight: What if a vampire and a human fell in love?
Cinder: Cinderella as a cyborg.
Groundhog Day: What if you had to live the same day over and over and over?

Whether or not you like them, can you see what makes these ideas high concept? Do you have any tips you'd like to share on coming up with a high concept idea?

And, FYI, today is the last day for the specials on Stephanie's Skylar Hoyt series in which book one is FREE! If you haven't downloaded it yet, waste no time and do it now.

Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Just-Different-Reinvention-Skylar-ebook/dp/B00B76T3PE/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1362590963&sr=8-5&keywords=Me%2C+Just+Different

Monday, April 29, 2013

How are you blooming?

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the soon-to-be-released The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

Well, my curse of getting sick right before a book release has struck again.

Over the weekend, I had some kind of flu thing. Basically all I did on Friday was sleep and groan. My 5-year-old took a picture of me so, as she put it, she could remember me in case I died.

Fortunately, I pulled through just fine, but I didn't have a chance to prepare a post for today.

So instead, I'd like to ask you a question. The May issue of the Go Teen Writers newsletter will be talking about the idea of "blooming." I'd love to highlight some of you in a feature. If you're interested, leave a comment below answering this question:

What writing technique or skill did you used to struggle with that you now feel you've finally gotten the hang of? Too many adverbs? Passive characters? Plot lines that lose tension after page thirty?

Oh, and one last thing...

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Winners of the Respect Your Dream Essay Contest

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 FacebookTwitter,Pinterest, or on her author website.

It was amazing to read how all of you are respecting your dream of being writers! I got giddy just thinking about all the amazing books being written right now. 

It was super hard to judge this contest. There were 49 entries, and Stephanie and I thought they were all amazing. There was no right or wrong answer for this essay. We wish we could give you all books and trophies and hugs. We are so proud of all of you for how hard you're working toward your dream of being published authors. Keep it up! You'll be to the top of that pyramid in no time! (If you're like, huh? See James Scott Bell's guest post.)

But we said we'd choose, and choose we did. 

Congratulations to our top 15!

Rachel Leila
Anna Schaeffer
Leah Good
Tonya LaCourse
Tierney Reardon
Deborah Rocheleau
Jazmin Frank
Daniel Rader
Samuel Deck
Emily Dakin
Sarah Olson
Griffen Bier

Steph and I decided that this entry deserved an honorable mention for creativity, so we added a prize.

My Writing Dream by Tierney Reardon

I respect my writing dream,
Scribbling down stories on every theme,
On chickens and roses, on toothpicks and cream;
I respect my writing dream.

I respect my writing dream,
Collecting ideas so they build up like steam,
Then letting them out in an inky stream;
I respect my writing dream.

I respect my writing dream,
Polishing pieces until they gleam,
Make them twinkle, sparkle, glitter, gleam;
I respect my writing dream.

I respect my writing dream,
Filling up notebooks; now they burst at the seams,
To tidy my desk I must hire a team;
I respect my writing dream.

I respect my writing dream,
Nowadays my family deems
My writing commitments a little extreme;
I respect my writing dream.

I respect my writing dream,
Writing page after leaf after ream,
Plotting sagas with elaborate schemes;
I respect my writing dream.

I respect my writing dream,
My tired overworked mind still teems
With dozens of wondrous ideas (so it seems);
I respect my writing dream.

Here are our three runners up:

Anna SchaefferAnna's example of treating her dream like a friendship was lovely. And Steph loved how Anna is going to school rather than trying to publish anything just yet.

Here's Anna's entry:

If you love someone, you demonstrate your feelings by investing in them, spending time with them, and being patient with them.  You don’t automatically become best friends when you meet someone. It’s the same way with my dream of being an author. I've learned that, just like a friendship, I need to allow my dream some time to grow. Because I love writing so much, I’m willing to invest in my dream of being an author: get to know it and practice with it, rather than rush into publishing. I would be cheating myself if I jumped right into the writing world without first learning how to navigate it.  One practical way I’m doing that is by studying creative writing in college. Although it’s tempting to try to publish a novel now, rather than devote four years to studying the craft in a university setting, I know I need to give my skills a chance to develop. The more I learn about how I can live out my dream, the bigger my dream grows. Of course, I’m not putting my dream on hold while I’m in school, but making an effort to incorporate what I learn into my writing. I've learned so much already. So in summary, I respect my dream by treating it like a friendship: I’m investing in it, spending time with it, and learning to be patient so that my dream can continue to grow. 

Leah GoodLeah had us both at "marketing degree." What a clever way to invest in her future as a writer. And we also loved seeing that she's attended a writers conference and is planning to go again. Investing in your dream is so important!

Here's Leah's entry:

When I first got serious about wanting to write for publication, it didn't take long to realize that the road would not be easy. That’s okay, though. I like challenges. In order to pursue this goal I have attended two writing conference and am signed up for a second one. I also shaped my college education around my dream. Because publishers want writers to do so much of their own marketing, I pursued a degree in marketing and worked hard to finish the degree by the time I was eighteen. Now I’m taking a full year to simply concentrate on writing. Thankfully my family supports this goal. I also completed a two year class with The Institute of Children’s Literature, and read lots of books on the writing craft. Oh, yes, and of course, I write! A lot. God has blessed me with several wonderful writing friends to exchange critiques with and help with brainstorming.
Writers studying the craft learn early on to give their heroes big obstacles to overcome. The bigger the obstacle, the more satisfying the goal will be when reached. That’s the way I look at my dream of publication. It won’t be easy, but reaching the goal will be that much sweeter as a result.

Tonya LaCourse—Tonya had some great thoughts about accepting a beginner's status. "Humility is the foundation of all other virtues." —Saint Augustine 

Here's Tonya's entry:

Respecting my dream is accepting my spot as a beginner. When I first dreamed of writing I thought I'd have an idea, write it, and sell it. I didn't expect to have to write multiple drafts or have to be aware of slipped tenses, creating characters arcs, and having unique plot twists. It was supposed to flow and be dreamy.

All to often I want to jump ahead and be great but I'm a beginner, I have to start somewhere. I'm  making  writing goals, writing manuscripts and revising them to make them deeper, I'm reading blogs and books on writing, and I'm keeping my eyes out for the conference that'll be the first one I attend. Most of all I'm allowing myself to make writing mistakes and putting my fingers back on my keyboard for some more.

When I realize my plots are boring, characters flat, and dialogue lacking I get frustrated and defeated because I want to be a good writer. It shuts down any ability I do have. When I stop to embrace my place I'm much happier and move along faster. It's through letting go and handing over my inhibitions I nurture my goals. It doesn't matter how slow you go as long as you don't give up. 

And the winner of the Respect Your Dream Essay Contest is:

Rachel Leila—When I read this, I was delighted. And it really stuck with Steph too. Rachel and her writing partner have really discovered a creative way to improve themselves, to encourage each other, and to have fun.

Here's Rachel's entry:

How am I respecting my dream? Well first I had to realize it was a dream that needed respect. I needed people to know that I was taking authorship seriously, and they needed to respect my dreams. The next step was to determine how I would achieve publication. It’s one thing to dream about something in your head and another to figure out how to accomplish your dreams. I talked to fellow teen writers, published authors, searched for blogs (hello goteewriters :D ), and purchased writing books. My friend and I put together a writers pact. Once prep work was finished we had to write 2,000 words per week. If we fail to meet the word count we must put 1 dollar for each 400 words we missed in a special jar. The money will then be used to buy the other person a drink at Starbucks during the next writers meeting. Once we have both completed and edited our novels we will have one year to send the novels out to as many publishers that meet our criteria. Whoever has the most rejection letters at the end of the year wins. The other person will have to treat them to something fun, tickets to the fair, gift card to Barnes and Nobel’s, or something along those lines. My writing partner makes a huge difference in my writing and fuels my desire to become published. We respect each other’s dreams, and push each other to success.  

So, Rachel Leila, Anna Schaeffer, Leah Good, Tonya LaCourse, and Tierney Reardon, please email jill@jillwilliamson.com with your mailing address to get your prize. 

And thanks for entering, everyone!

Oh, and one more thing:

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ask An Editor: How Long Until I Hear?

by Roseanna White

Roseanna always dreamed of being a writer--and her husband always dreamed of being a publisher. When their dreams combined, she ended up the senior acquisitions editor of his ever-growing small Christian press, WhiteFire Publishing. Working with fabulous authors as an editor and with amazing editors as an author, Roseanna's days are full to brimming with the written word--just how she likes them. You can connect with the WhiteFire crew on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest

How Long Until I Hear?

Submitting a book to a publishing house can be a nerve-racking thing. Authors work so hard on their books, on their proposals, pouring time, energy, sweat, and tears into them. (Hopefully no blood. Although papercuts can be dangerous things...) Sending them out into the world is scary. Very scary. And then, once you hit that "send" button, the really hard part begins.


And waiting.

And waiting some more.

When publishers submit their info to market guides, they have to say how long it usually takes them to respond to proposals. And most will say 3-4 months. But let's be frank here--that's just an optimistic guess, LOL. Publishers can sit on manuscripts for years sometimes, while at other times they have contracts out within two weeks. And while we all might hope for the second option, how often is that the case?

How long, we all want to know, until I get a response? When can I follow-up?

First, let's take a moment to look at the world of acquiring. When an editor is in acquisitions, sifting through the slush pile isn't his or her only job. She also has to work on the books she has acquired, which means that reading those queries and proposals is not top priority. It comes between other projects, in a few spare moments, often travels home with them over evenings and weekends. This is why it's so crucial that your proposal is attention-grabbing. And it's also why response times vary. If she has two books scheduled back-to-back for content or copy edits with tight due dates, she simply will not have time to look at the proposals waiting in her inbox.

Add in to that the publisher as a whole. I can't tell you how many times, as an author, I've heard my agent say, "They're not acquiring right now." That doesn't meant that the publisher has all the authors it wants and will never take on a new one--it just means that they only schedule so far in advance, that schedule is full, and the next round hasn't begun yet.

Publishing houses, like the rest of the world, often have seasons. I know we at WhiteFire do. While we might pick up a title one-by-one now and then, most of our acquiring is in big swaths. We'll fill out the non-fiction line all at once, schedule the first six months of a year within one committee meeting. Obviously, this means we've all been gathering submissions that are worthy...and it also means that during that time of gathering, we're not actively acquiring. So while you might get a ready "no," you're not going to get a "yes." You may or may not get word we're taking it to committee. Because we may or may not bother opening the proposals until we start to see the direction a given line is going to take and have an idea what other books we want to fill it up.

The editor also know how the rest of the house is leaning, if they're focusing on this genre or that, if they want to fill out somewhere. So she'll be focusing on the proposals that match their current goals...but not necessarily dismissing those that don't. Because who knows what the focus will be in six months? She might read your cover letter and decide to save it for later, when they're back to actively acquiring historicals or YA or what have you.

Right now, I have submissions I'm taking to committee that I received six to nine months ago, after our last big round of scheduling. And while I feel bad for keeping authors waiting that long, that's kinda just the business. As an author, I've waited over a year, closer to two, to get word that eventually led to contracts. And not with other small presses, either, LOL.

But it's okay to followup. If you have an agent, they'll do this for you. My first agent referred to it as "nudging." My current agent always says she'll "see where we are." Agents understand the process well enough--and know enough about what's going on in each house--to know when to give those nudges and when to let things ride. When we don't have agents to help with that, though, how do we know when to go knocking on those email doors?

I waited a year at one point. It worked out in the long run, but that was too long--I discovered that when the editor said, "Oh, good! I misplaced the file. Could you resend?" Had I sent that email six months earlier... But at the same time, you don't want to be a nuisance. When I get two dozen emails a month from an author asking if I've read their work yet, it makes me want to say no to them. Because if they're high-maintenance as someone just querying, what are they going to be like if we acquire them?

So the key is to keep yourself in the editor's mind without being too aggressive. You can do this pretty easily if the editor is on social media sites or blogs--just comment once in a while. Not about your book, just about the post. That keeps your name fresh. And then send a quick follow-up within 3-6 months of submission. Usually when an editor responds to that, it'll be with an idea of when you can expect to hear. So if they say it'll be a while, don't followup again the next month. Give them time to get to it. And then rinse and repeat.

Occasionally, you'll hit a publisher at just the right time, with just the right manuscript. In those cases, you might hear back really fast. Those are always fun times. =) But it's the exception rather than the rule. Publishing can be a very slow business, so start exercising those patience-muscles.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Your Character In One Word

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the soon-to-be-released The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

I'm fascinated by the ways people perceive themselves. Sometimes people have a really good grasp on who they are. They know their strengths and flaws, and they don't mind talking about either.

I also know people who pour tons of energy into building an image they can project, that they seem to buy into as well. Like coworkers I had at my old office, who knew how to appear busy and hard-working, and who even seemed to fool themselves.

And then I know people who, for various reasons, don't see themselves clearly at all. I've had friends who will tell me they're horrible at entertaining when they regularly throw the best parties. Or like my sister-in-law who tells me she's horrible with kids...then spends an hour playing hide-and-seek with my children, who completely adore her.

What about your characters? How would they describe his or herself in one word or phrase? Do they see themselves clearly or no?

My new book, The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, releases in one week. (You can get a little preview and read the first chapter on my website.) Here are a few words and phrases my characters would use to describe who they are at the start of the story:
Ellie: Invisible
Palmer: In control.
Chase: Bad news.
Lucy: The life of the party.
Bianca: Second best.
Karen: Aimless
Over the course of a story, your characters' word or phrase should be put to the test. Like in The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, Ellie will have times where she'll feel invisible, times when she wishes she were invisible, times when she has to admit she's not invisible, etc.

With a villain or antagonist, sometimes that descriptor doesn't get revealed until the end, when they let it slip and the reader gets a great moment of clarity and understanding.

Try picking a handful of your characters and listing how they would describe who they are. If you feel like it, share your list below!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

3 Tips for Developing a Theme in Your Book

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

So, theme. We've talked a little bit about theme before, and we covered it in the Go Teen Writers book too. But I was looking through some old notes of mine, and I found some ideas that got me excited. I thought you might like to see them as well.

1. Life Lessons
When you're working on your characters and your plot, ask yourself what your character learns about life in the course of the story. If he learns a million things, it might be that your story is a little too theme heavy. Keep it simple. How? Try interviewing your character now that he's lived through the adventure. Ask him, "Why did you have to go through that? Why did you take that journey? Why did you allow that to happen to you? What did you learn? What he says might surprise you.

2. Flaws and Questions
No one's perfect. And your characters shouldn't be either. Give your main character a struggle, a flaw, or some question about life that he's hung up on. And through the course of the story, let him find an answer to that question or a way to deal with that one issue or flaw. Be careful, though. Simple, spoon-fed answers won't resonate with your readers. But a character who's looking for answers about life or trying to figure out a way to do life better is someone most everyone can relate to.

3. Plant it Early
Whatever it is that you want your character to learn or how you want him to change, have him say the opposite early on in the book. Let him declare to a friend that he will NEVER do such and such. And by the end of the book, oh, yes he will. This is a great way to work in a theme, or, during edits, to strengthen your theme. Here are some examples:

Dorothy starts out singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," wishing there was a wonderful place to life where there would never be any troubles. But at the end of the book she's saying the opposite, "There's no place like home."

In It's a Wonderful Life, George Bailey wants to shake the dust of this crummy old town off his feet, and he wants to see the world! But in the end, despite never having left Bedford Falls, he learns that he really does have a wonderful life.

In About a Boy, Will says that his life is like a TV show. He is the star of The Will Show. And The Will Show isn't an ensemble drama. Guests come and go, but he is the regular. It comes down to him and him alone. Yet, at the end of the movie he learns that no man is an island.

How about you? Can you pinpoint growth in your character's journey? Do you see a major change? Can you plant an opposite declaration early on?

Monday, April 22, 2013

How do you know if you're starting in the right place for your character?

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the soon-to-be-released The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

Advice I've often heard, and that I've probably handed out a time or two, is that you should figure out who you want your main character to be at the end of the book (or series) and begin when they are the opposite.

But what does that really look like?

Because I have two-year-old boy living under my roof, I have seen/read/listened to the story of Cars quite a bit in recent months.

Connor on Christmas morning with his new "zoom" pillow.
Cars is a brilliant example of the "start in the opposite place" technique. (Warning: I'm going to talk about the ending of Cars in the post, so if you haven't seen it yet and you don't want it being spoiled for you, don't read this!)

In the beginning of the movie, all Lightning McQueen cares about is winning the Piston cup. He cares about it so much that he's willing to risk it all. He doesn't make pit stops. He doesn't have friends, and no one can handle working on his team because he wants to be a one car show. He'll do anything to get ahead and be sponsored by Dinoco.

In the end, Lightning McQueen is so distracted by the way he left things with Sally, he can't focus on the  biggest race of his career. And when he has a chance to win it fair and square, he instead chooses to put on his brakes and go back to help a legendary race car that just crashed. He pushes the car across the finish line, causing Lightning to place last. I get goose bumps every time Lightning says to the King, "I think the King should finish his last race."

The bookends in this movie - the original Piston cup race and the rematch at the end - are a brilliant way to showcase the change that takes place in Lightning over the course of the movie. 

Here are several things to keep in mind as you try to apply this to your stories:

The reader still has to like your main character.

The trickiest thing with the whole, "start in the opposite place" technique is that your reader still has to want to go along for the ride. How did the team at Pixar take care of this in Cars? This is just my opinion, but I think a few traits endear us to Lightning McQueen:
  • He's a winner. We like winners.
  • He's an unexpected winner, this is his rookie season. The only thing we like more than regular winners are dark horse winners.
  • He's funny. Humor makes up for a lot.
It can be external circumstances too.

What about a story like Cinderella, where the main character doesn't change much? Sometimes those "opposite endings" can work in the form of external circumstances too. The story of Cinderella begins with Cinderella as a cheerful, song-singing girl who has been reduced to a servant in her own home. The story ends with her as a cheerful, song-signing princess riding away in a carriage.

Take a look at your work-in-progress and ask yourself:

Who do I want my main character to be at the end?
In light of that, who should he/she be at the beginning?

If you want, share your answers with us in the comments section!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Punctuation 101: Quotation Marks

It's time for another installment of Punctuation 101 with your host Jill Williamson.

*raging applause*

Today we're going to talk about quotation marks. I've critiqued many a manuscript in which the author used quotation marks incorrectly. In fact, I worked on a manuscript this week, a manuscript that was written in 2005, in which the author (Jill Williamson) misused quotation marks all the time!

It's always fun to go back and see how much you've improved, right?

So, how was I misusing quotation marks? Here are the rules:

Double quotation marks vs. single quotation marks
Double quotation marks are used whenever you use a small quote (that's no longer than a sentence or two). For example:

My dreams were dying around me. I needed to get across town to do that audition, but my parents had grounded me and I had no car, anyway. Maybe I could sneak out my window. Walk. As Shakespeare said, To thine own self be true. I could deal with my parents later. Once I'd proved to everyone at school that I could win.

Single quotation marks are used whenever you use a quote within a quote. For example:

       “An Alpha victory all around,” Mr. S said. “But It is the fight alone that pleases us, not the victory. Blaise Pascal.”
       “And I would like to add,” Isaac said, “that A date without a goodnight kiss is like a doughnut without frosting. And that quote is all me.”

Where to put the period and comma and question mark and exclamation point
The closing quotation marks always come after a comma, period, question mark, or exclamation point. For example:

“Can you believe that Doug said, ‘It is the west, and Juliet is the moon,’ when he was supposed to say, ‘It is the east, and Juliet is the sun?’

When the question mark or exclamation point is part of the quote, they should go inside the end quotes. For example:

“But at least he said, ‘See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!’ the right way.”

But when the question mark or exclamation point is not part of the quote but part of the speaker's dialogue, it goes outside the quote. For example:

“Still, I can't believe he said, ‘You can't act’!”

Where to put the colon or semicolon
Unlike periods and commas, when a colon or semicolon is part of the sentence, they are never put inside the quote. For example:

I love the song “Call Me Maybe”; my boyfriend hates it.

One more thing to note
When a double quotation mark and a single quotation mark are side by side, publishers sometimes put a little space between them. You can put a space if you'd like. Or you can not. Whatever you decide, be consistent. Here is what it looks like with a space. If you add spaces, make sure your quotes are pointing the correct direction.

“ ‘Genius not only diagnoses the situation but supplies the answers,’ so said Robert Graves,” Mr. S said.

This ends today's installment of Punctuation 101.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Teen Writers and Expectations From Parents

by Stephanie Morrill

Last week on the Go Teen Writers Facebook group, some of the writers were discussing the anxiety they feel about sharing their stories with their parents. Even if your book wouldn't be shelved next to Fifty Shades of Grey, there's still plenty of room for feeling awkward. Like if your book has a serial killer in it, you might feel uncomfortable about those parts written from his or her point of view. Or the character who cuts herself. Or that bit of bad language in chapter three.

I've been where you are - I've been a teen writer handing her story over to her parents with trembling hands. It was a book that involved teen pregnancy, drunken parties, and clueless parents. It's uncomfortable, and there's no way around it. I can't provide you with a clear action plan for navigating this situation, but I can offer some thoughts that may help:

Wait until you're ready.

Because I've reaped the benefits of not showing anyone my manuscript until it's been edited, I'm a big believer in telling others, "No, you can't read it yet." This might hurt a person's feelings, which is unfortunate, but they need to understand that your book is a piece of art, and that you get the final say in when it gets to be revealed. Some writers don't mind sending out chapters after they've written them, and others, like me, keep that door firmly closed until after the story has been edited and proofed.

If you feel like you need the big guns to back you up on this one, you can tell them Stephen King says in his book On Writing that it's a bad idea to show anyone your writing during the first draft, and that you're trying out his advice. Tell them how much you appreciate their interest, and that you'll be excited for their feedback when the book is done.

Nobody understands fiction writers except other fiction writers.

Go ahead and prepare yourself for the fact that you are and will continue to be a mystery to others. You have a lifetime ahead of you of questions like:

Why do you write books for teens when you're an adult?
How can you write about murder all the time? You seem so normal.
How can you write romances when you've been married to the same man for 20 years?

The real answer to these questions for most writers is, "I don't know."

I have no idea why I love the young adult genre so much or why at age twenty-nine I've yet to come up with any motivation to write for adults. It's just in my wiring.

Non-writers can certainly support and encourage us, but they'll also find us puzzling. That's okay.

Communicate your fears and expectations.

If you've decided to let your parents read what you've been working on, I find it best to tell them what your expectations are. Something like, "I'm still reworking a lot of it, so I don't need a line by line edit, but if you have general thoughts about the story, I'd love to hear them."

And there's nothing wrong with telling them you're nervous. They'll probably figure it out anyway. Last week, my husband read my upcoming release, The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet. I mentioned to him that I struggled with the voice of Palmer, who's southern. I didn't want to overdo his accent and drop every g at the end of his words, but I also wanted him to sound southern. Ben and I then started talking about books we love that have a ton of accent in them - Cloud Atlas, The Help, and The Harry Potter series.

I became so scared that I had made the wrong choice about Palmer that I was very short-tempered with my poor husband. I acted like that for about twenty minutes before I realized what was happening. When I apologized, he said, "It's okay. I know you're just nervous."

It's okay to be nervous. And it's okay to be honest about it too.

Consider starting small.

I'm not the type of girl who acclimates to a cold pool by running and jumping in. I ease my way into the water. In the same way, if you're not sure about handing over your whole manuscript to someone, consider a chapter or two. Or offer an alternative, like a creative nonfiction essay you had to write for school. There's no shame in baby steps!

Support is nice. But ultimately, you get to choose.

Say the worst happens - your parents read your book, they don't like it, and they're now concerned you're mentally disturbed. Or maybe they think writing is a fine hobby for a teen, but not something to be pursued as an adult. What then?

We all like to make our parents happy, and when we're living under their roof, this feels exceptionally vital to our existence. Eventually, though, you'll be an adult. You'll buy your own milk, set your own bedtime, and make your own car payments. You'll also get to choose what you're going to do with writing. So as horrible as it can feel to have a parent frowning over what you wrote, don't forget that ultimately, it'll be your choice.

Have a suggestion of your own? Leave a comment!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Journey with Gillian: Procrastination Doesn't Pay

A tale of deadlines, woe, and sleepless nights.
by Gillian Adams

A couple of weeks ago, I put the final polish on my fantasy novel and sent it off to my agent. It marked the end of a crazy two weeks where I did nothing but wake up, write, eat, write, sleep, write, wake up, delete, write . . . you get the picture. (In case you were wondering, sleep writing doesn't work out so well!)

I had been working on revising and editing the novel since the middle of January, and for some reason, I was having a really hard time with it. No lack of motivation—I had every reason to finish, I was desperate to finish!—but both character and plot work were required, and I couldn’t wrap my head around it all, much less get it onto the page.

So I allowed myself to procrastinate. I had the best of excuses, of course. I was working on the story. I was thinking about it. That counted as work, right? But I kept thinking long after I should have buckled down and started doing.

When I got an email from my agent asking if she could have it by a certain looming date, I started to panic. Because I didn’t feel like I was anywhere near being done. I’d made changes I wasn’t entirely sure about, and I wanted to get feedback before I turned it in.

But there’s one thing I’ve discovered about myself: I work best under a challenge. So I gritted my teeth and started typing.

The allotted two weeks passed in a blur of sleepless nights, Dr Pepper cans, and some of the fasted typing I had done in a while. I discovered that you can get a lot done when you stay up until four o’clock in the morning. Even more when you stay up until five. And when you’ve done that for a few nights, sleep becomes more of a commodity than a necessity—at least, that’s what you think until you fall asleep at your computer and wake up to find random sentences scrawled across the screen.

At last, after finalizing the edits with the input of some sweet friends (including Stephanie!) I clicked send . . . and went to bed.

Now, it could make for a cool story about the craziness of a writer’s life, if I hadn’t gotten myself into the mess in the first place. Sometimes a writer’s life is crazy, but when the craziness is the result of something you did or didn’t do . . .

Well, let’s just say the moral of the story is procrastination doesn’t paySo in your battle against procrastination, what are some things you can do?

Diagnose your problem.

Call your inner writer-doctor and figure out what’s holding you back. If it’s pure laziness, slay it. If you’re simply weary of typing, maybe it is time to take a little break. But know that those little breaks can easily become days, even weeks.

If it’s fear, know that and face it. Fear can be a deadly enemy. A lot of the time, I find that when I’m dealing with a severe case of writer’s block—the kind where I can’t seem to get a single word on the screen—what I’m really dealing with is fear. Fear of failing my dream, my novel, all the people who have encouraged and supported me. But if I don’t try, then I’ve failed already. Don’t ever let fear of failing hold you back.

Allow yourself time to think

Sometimes the best thing you can do for your story is take some time to think. It certainly helped my novel. There was so much think-work I needed to do. So don’t be afraid to give yourself time to sort it all out. But there’s a time for thinking and there’s a time for doing, and you don’t want to be stuck on the thinking forever. Once you have it figured out—or at least, somewhat figured out—dive back into writing.

Brainstorm with friends

When you stare at your own story for an extended period of time, it’s easy to become trapped in a box of your own making. Creativity becomes stymied. Your brain feels stagnant.

Try talking through difficult scenes with friends. Even non-writers can sometimes offer a unique perspective on book problems. Even if their suggestions don’t give you the answer you need, hearing fresh ideas may spark some of your own.

Challenge yourself

No challenge. No hurry. Right?

Unfortunately, yes. Like most of you, I lead a pretty busy life. Unless I have a deadline for a certain project, chances are it will fall to the wayside. So I often set deadlines for myself—though I do tend to be a bit overly optimistic.

But if you’re not accountable to anyone, it’s easy to treat your deadline casually and just smile and wave as you pass by. So it helps to find a writing buddy (preferably someone with a whip to crack) who will help keep you accountable.

At the very least, learning to write under a deadline is invaluable. Certainly having a looming deadline for my novel helped me finish the edits. And it proved to my wimpy-writer-side just how much I can get done when I set my mind to it.

How about you? Do you enjoy setting deadlines for yourself? What are some things you do to fight off the deadly procrastination monster?

Gillian Adams blogs over at Of Battles, Dragons, and Swords of Adamant where she writes about anything relating to books, fantasy, villains, and costumes. Her book Out of Darkness Rising will be published Fall 2013. She loves interacting with other writers and readers on her blog or facebook page.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Respect Your Dream Essay Contest

by Jill Williamson

We've got a new contest for you! And the grand prize is pretty cool. It's the proof copy of the Go Teen Writers book. It came to me for approval back in March. It looks just like the final books. So I signed it, mailed it to Stephanie, and she signed it too. It was the very first copy of the Go Teen Writers book in print and the only one so far that we've both signed. Cool?

Here's how the contest will work.

1. Sometime between now and 6:00 p.m. (Pacific time) Tuesday, April 23rd, you can fill out the form below and submit your essay. All you have to do is tell us about how you're respecting your dream of being a published author in 250 words or less.

2. After the contest closes, the entries will be judged. We will pick a grand prize winner and three runners up, depending on how many entries there are.

3. On Friday, April 26th, I'll post the top three essays. You will not receive an email that tells you whether or not you finaled. Please check back on the blog to find out. The winner will receive the autographed proof copy of the Go Teen Writers book. If the winner already has a copy of the book, we'll work out an alternate prize. Runners up will get a copy of Captives.

AND-- if the grand prize winner is international, we'll work out an alternate prize since it's too costly to ship the proof copy overseas. International runners up will get a copy of Captives too.

This contest is open to all ages and all countries. One entry per person please.  

Questions? Leave them in the comments section or send me an email.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Great Writing Spaces - Winners announced!

by Stephanie Morrill

In case you missed it, on Friday we hosted James Scott Bell on the blog. He has some wonderful words of encouragement for aspiring writers, and we're giving away a copy of The Art of War for Writers, a book that Jill and I frequently recommend. Don't miss your chance to get entered!

Many thanks to all of you who voted on the name for Ellie Sweet's blog. (So far in my draft of The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet, I've had to use GIRAFFE in place of the blog name, and that's getting a bit old.)

The most popular name was Sweet Scribbles, which was suggested by Amanda Fischer! Amanda will get a free download of The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, plus a "guest appearance" in the sequel. Thanks Amanda, and thanks to everyone who voted!

The other two popular names were Sweet Somethings, suggested by Anna Schaeffer, and Princess of the Pen by Amo Libros. They'll also be receiving a free download of the first Ellie Sweet novel.

And the voter who won Jill Williamson's latest release, Captives, is Allison. I don't know which one, but I left a comment by your name on the post, so email me to claim your prize!

Onto the writing space winners!

When the pictures started pouring in, Jill and I had a talk about how great it is that you guys love writing enough that you HAVE a designated spot, that you've made a space for it. Even if it's just your bed, a TV tray, or notebooks shoved in a backpack, it's awesome to us that you're finding a way to write.

Here are the honorable mentions:

Most Desperate:

This entry came from Kelsey G., and I absolutely love it.

This is a closet in her room that she's converted into a writing space, "complete with a pillow, makeshift desk, pens, hanging notebook compartment, ENFP poster, and a sign that says 'Kidnapped' for no good reason."

Best Getaway:

We love Emii's writing space in the old caravan!

Most Creative:

This could have also qualified for "most desperate" but we loved this writing space of Jacinta's:

She says, "Believe it or not I do 50% of my writing up in my favorite tree that over looks our farm. It is so calm and quiet up there, I don't get disturbed for hours, and I get a lot of writing done."

Cait D. would probably appreciate not getting disturbed. She gets the honorable mention for:

Most Crowded:

Coolest Desk:

We had to give it to the refurbished piano. How sweet is this desk that Katia's mom made for her?

Coolest Chair:

We love this one of Kristian's!

Most Mobile:

Maddie Morrow says she writes wherever she is. "I carry at least two tablets in my purse at all times, along with my favorite pens, and my iPod for any research I need to do. And NEVER any procrastination." She also said she finished writing her work-in-progress just a couple days ago, so this  is obviously working for her!

And the winner of the Go Teen Writers book for our favorite overall is:

Elizabeth Ryan! We're totally digging that white board, the to-do list, and the big windows. Congratulations, Elizabeth!

Tomorrow Jill will announce a brand new contest, so make sure you're back here bright and early!