Monday, February 28, 2011

The Death of Retail

I was driving through my little town on Friday and saw a big yellow banner across my Blockbuster: “STORE CLOSING.” It made me sad, and I hardly ever go there (which, now that I think of it, is probably why they’re closing). The thing is, I’m not a huge fan of the big chains when it comes to anything. I’d prefer to browse the shelves of my local indie bookstore than the Barnes & Noble. But we all know indie stores are struggling, and with the all the big chain bankruptcies over the last few years (think Borders, Circuit City, Tower Records, Hollywood Video) it makes me wonder what retail is going to look like in a few years.

In this electronic age, streams of data (think books, music, movies) are available instantly from the convenience of your living room for a few strokes of your keyboard and a mouse click. I can sit here in my footie pajamas and buy almost anything else that the UPS man can deliver in the same manner, as long as I don’t mind waiting a few days for it. So, why would I drag myself to the store, which would entail actually getting dressed? And, speaking of getting dressed…personally, I don’t like to order clothing on-line because I need to try things on, but I know plenty of people who do. I’m starting to think the only thing safe from the ravages of the internet might be perishables. I can order my groceries on-line, but they still come from the local grocer.

If the internet kills retail it's because we let it happen. Instead of running to the hardware store, we ordered that new circular saw on-line. Once the stores are gone, will we realize the true convenience was being able to run down the street for that little thing we need right now? Will we be sorry?
So, what do you think? Is the internet going to be responsible for the downfall of traditional retail? Will any stores survive? What will the new retail landscape look like?

Friday, February 25, 2011

My love/hate relationship with revisions

So…I promised a post on revision…

It’s interesting how perspectives can change, don’t you think? I know I’ve commented several times on the blog about my love of revisions. I really do love the revising process. Sending my manuscripts out to my agent, crit partner and editor is always a little scary, but what I know is, they’re going to look at it with fresh eyes, see the things that aren’t working, and help me to make my manuscript into the book I thought I wrote. It’s thrilling and terrifying all at the same time.

But, The Novel Formerly Known as Hellbent has been another story. As I mentioned Wednesday, wrapping up a series isn’t easy. You have to fit all of those little sub-plots back into your story and tie it all up with a bow before you type The End, and sometimes it looks like this.

This is by far the toughest revision I’ve ever done, but here’s how I’m trying to approach it:

1. Tackle the big stuff.
I first go through and make all the big changes. If my feedback is that a plot point isn’t ringing true, I pull that section of my manuscript out into a separate document and have at it. I rip and tear until I’ve whipped it into submission. Likewise, if a character isn’t working, I pull his/her major sections out and revise away. Once I’ve made the revisions, I can figure out where the section fits back into the manuscript and revise around it, making sure all those puzzle pieces still fit together. If not, I revise some more.

2. Tackle the small stuff.
Once I have all the major issues worked out, then I can work on the smaller things, such as character development or point clarification. It makes sense to do these last, because if I do these things first, I’m likely to lose some of it in the major revisions. This is when you can layer in emotion or sharpen dialog to flesh out a character or clarify an event. These are easier, because they seldom entail any major rewriting.

3. Clean up/Polish
All the hard work is done, but, just like with any big construction project, now I've got scraps laying all over the place. I want to make sure the story is still consistent. I may have pulled my chainsaw out in step one, so I need to make sure when I put all those hacked up pieces back together into a whole, everything is in order and still flows. For example, a character can’t reference something that hasn’t happened yet.

So, yes. I have my chainsaw out for TNFKH. I am not enjoying these revisions as much as I may have hoped because getting all those pieces crammed into this puzzle in the first place was a trick, and if I pull one out, the whole thing will explode in my face. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Things I wish I knew when I signed a three-book deal

When you sign a three-book deal, it means:

1. You have to actually write three books.
I got that, of course. What I didn’t get is, when you (read: I) don’t write with an outline, it’s trickier than you might think.

2. Those three books have to actually go together.
Again, obvious. I love my characters, and it’s great that I get to keep writing about them, but that means I don’t get to keep my happy ending from book one—because bliss isn’t that fun to read about. Also, I think it’s important that the entire trilogy is cohesive. I talked about the concept of cohesiveness when I posted on critiquing, but essentially, I just mean that the concepts, characters, conditions and conflict should flow smoothly throughout the series. This means you should foreshadow key events where you can even if they don’t happen until much deeper into the trilogy, and past key events should factor into everything that happens from there on out. But, again, when you don’t write with an outline, and have no idea where the story is going, this is a bit of a trick.

3. Book three has to wrap up all those loose ends.
All those cool sub-plots and character twists? This is where they come home to roost. The end of book three needs to wrap up 1200ish pages of character quirks, foreshadowing and plot twists into a tidy little package tied with ribbon. Nathan Bransford did an interesting post a while back on what happens when you leave all that mystery dangling. This is the real trick, and the reason I wish I’d had some clue how this trilogy was going to end before I started book one.

With Personal Demons and Original Sin I could leave stuff hanging. As a matter of fact, as an author, you kind of want to leave some mystery in the first books of a series. Both of those books took under two months to write and another month to revise. The Novel Formerly Known as Hellbent has been started, restarted, burned and stomped on then restarted again, and again…and again, over the course of about a year. In December, inspiration (borne of necessity since my deadline was approaching) hit and I pulled it together. After all the angst, I was euphoric. It was The Best Novel Ever! Except, that’s not what my agent and crit partner thought. So I’m revising (More on revisions later this week.) and it’s sucking the life out of me. (Which is why I haven't been here much over the last few weeks. Sorry!) I struggled so hard with point #3 above--fitting all the pieces together just so--that it feels like my whole novel is a house of cards. If I mess with any one part, the whole thing is going to topple.

So…I’m indescribably grateful to my seriously cool editor and everyone at Tor for having enough faith in me to sign me to a three-book deal. But, I seriously need to learn to outline if I’m ever going to do this again.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A funny thing happened on my way home from the bookstore...

For the last few years, since I started writing, I've been reading almost exclusively in the genre I'm writing, which would be YA. But, this winter, I decided to catch up on some of my favorite adult authors. I just realized something. My favorite author isn’t very good. I’ve been really disappointed in his last two novels. His stories are interesting, so I keep reading them, but the writing is really lacking.

All the things I struggle so hard to avoid in my own writing—using the same phrases over and over…and over and over; using too many dialogue tags (especially the character’s name) over and over…and over and over; putting my characters in the same situation over and over—okay, you get it, I know—he does, over and over…and over. And his attempts at suspense are kind of lame and very predictable—which is bad, since he writes thrillers.

I’ve decided that I need to go back and read the first book of his that really sucked me in. Then I can figure out if I was just a less discerning reader before I started writing or if his suckiness is more recent—maybe due to deadlines and being rushed. He’s a NYT bestseller and puts out at least two books a year, so he clearly knows more about writing than I do but…

But it’s really disappointing to realize that someone I looked up to (and recommended to a lot of other people) isn’t as great as I thought he was.

I know. You’re rolling your eyes and yelling at the screen that I need professional help. Hero worship and all that… And you’re probably right.

I’ll reread some of his earlier books and report back.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The fate of the world lies in my hands. Be very afraid.

Is it just me, or are the stakes going up in YA literature?

I have a fun new WIP. It’s a YA urban fantasy. It’s also the first thing I’ve ever written chronologically. But, here’s the thing…

I don’t write with an outline, so I generally don’t know where my novels are going until they get there. With this one, I’m 45k words into what will probably be a 75-80k word novel, and I can start to see where it’s headed. I love it. But I can’t help wondering if the stakes are high enough, because they're not the fate of the world.

Think of Twilight. The only true stakes in that series were whether Edward would turn Bella. Bella was the stakes.

Now, think of the next “big” series: The Hunger Games. Though the story still revolves around one girl, the stakes are much higher than just the fate of Katniss. An entire society is at risk. It seems in many of the popular series these days, there is the fate of, at minimum, groups of people at stake, and sometimes the world. In my Personal Demons series, Frannie’s decisions will impact the shape of Heaven and Hell, and therefore, Earth. High stakes.

I know this varies by sub-genre. Contemporary YA lit is obviously based in reality, where the stakes, realistically, are usually only one person or family. But in the fantasy, dystopian and science fiction sub-genres, is more expected?

So, my question to you: How big do the stakes need to be in YA books to keep teens interested? Is it a different standard for adult books?

Monday, February 14, 2011

15 Original Sin ARCs up for grabs!

Happy Valentines Day!! Spread the VD love. know what I mean...

I'm currently possessed by my WIP, and Luc's not even in it, so I can't blame him. But...I have some fun news if you're interested in reading Original Sin, which Luc definitely is in ;p

You have three different ways of entering to win one of 15 Original Sin ARCs through Go here for deets.

Good luck!!!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How to find your very own Truly Fabulous Agent (because you can’t have mine)

I posted Monday about how truly fabulous my agent is, and I promised a post on finding your very own truly fabulous agent, so here it is.

Congratulations! You’ve written The Best Novel Ever. You’ve polished it to a high shine, and now you’re ready to query. There are some things that you need to know before you start. Or, really, one thing in particular. The thing that no one talks about. A big, dark secret when it comes to publishing professionals. Only those of us in the know will ever find our perfect agent.

Do you want to know what it is?

Are you sure you can handle it?

All right. Here it is:

Agents are actual people.

I know! Hard to believe! But true, nonetheless. And because they’re people, they have their own personal tastes. Think about yourself (assuming you’re also an actual person). If you watched 100 movie trailers, would you love them all? Probably not. Some would impress you and others would leave you flat. That’s why, when you go to an action movie, you’ll always see trailers for other action movies, not romances. It’s called target marketing, and you need to approach querying the same way.

In my post on my journey to publication, I mention that I had a fairly high percentage of requests for manuscripts on my query for Personal Demons. I believe this happened for a number of reasons. The first and foremost is that I spent weeks researching agents.

It makes no sense to me that a person can put weeks, months, or sometimes even years, into writing their masterpiece, and then almost no time into trying to find it a good agent home. The most wonderful novel will wallow in an editor’s slush pile if it’s repped by an agent who’s not passionate about it. Your career is essentially in your agent’s hands. Make sure they’re the right ones. (Side note: My fabulous agent sister, Nikki Loftin, posted Monday about all the qualities of a truly fabulous agent. Some good things there to consider.)

To me, the query process is the most important step. In this electronic age, volumes of information are available for a keystroke. There’s no excuse for not doing your homework when it comes to agents. At bare minimum, most agents have a listing on their agency’s website. Sometimes these profiles include a wish list so you can see what they’re actively seeking. But your search should go beyond that. If you think you’ve found a match, dig deeper. Google them and see where else they have listings. What do they already rep? What have they sold? Maybe they have a blog, or they’ve done blog interviews. (That’s how I found Suzie.)

For the three weeks I was researching agents, I turned into SuperCyberStalker (electronically—I didn’t actually follow them around with heat sensing binoculars, because that would be creepy). I read everything they had ever put out into the ether. I pared a list of thousands down to the 19 agents who were looking for exactly what I’d written. When you query the right people, your request percentage will be higher. Common sense. (Another side note: Another of my fabulous agent sisters, Kristin Miller, just announced her promotion to associate agent at D4EO! She's repping MG and YA, so if you're looking for an agent, check her wish list out here. Congrats Kristin!)

Next, you need a kick-ass query letter. Honestly, this is the trickiest part for most people. Your query needs to be the best thing you’ve ever written. Think of it as a mini interview. Every word counts. It’s not just a summary of your book; it’s a reflection of you. You need to show agents what your book is, not just tell them what it’s about. After a quick introductory paragraph (title, genre, word count and if you were referred, by who) you need a killer hook--one sentence that makes the agent HAVE TO keep reading. Then, you need to boil the essence of what makes your book unique down to one or two short paragraphs, and the writing should be in the style of the book. If you’ve written a dark, edgy historical, your query shouldn’t be cute and funny. Close with something personal if you can, but don’t make something up. (ie: Don’t say you enjoyed one of their client’s books if you never actually read it.) That’s just stupid and you’ll always get caught in the lie. Would you want to do business with someone you know lied to you? I thought not...

Again, for me, research was the key. I read every successful query letter I could find. There are plenty available on the Net. Nathan Bransford, Kristin Nelson and Janet Reid at Query Shark all have examples. Read them and learn.

So now you’re seriously ready to go. You’ve researched and have your list; you have a killer query…

One last suggestion:

Don’t send the queries all at once. Choose four or five agents off your list (and not necessarily your top choices) and sent the query to gauge response. My reasoning was, if I got back five quick form rejections, maybe my query wasn’t as killer as I thought. If response is good, go ahead and send the rest of the queries. If not, you can tweak your query and still have agents on your “dream list” to send it to. In all my research, one thing I found as a common pet peeve among agents is requerying of the same project they’ve already rejected. Once they’ve rejected it, they’re generally not going to change their minds. Leave yourself some wiggle room.

The biggest thing is not rushing the process. Take the time to give your book a fighting chance. Remember that agents receive in the ballpark of 200 or more queries a week. If you haven’t taken the time to write the killer query, and to be sure you’re querying the right people, get used to rejection.

And, remember, it all stems on writing a really good story. Good luck!

Monday, February 7, 2011

What would I do without Suzie?

Have I mentioned lately how much I love my truly fabulous agent, Suzie Townsend? No? Well, I do.

I posted a few weeks ago on the art of critiquing. It’s sooo important for any writer to have someone they trust read their work and give them feedback. But, I also think it’s really important for an author to have an industry professional in their corner. I know how lucky I am to have found Suzie.

Each individual agent has their own style. Some are much more hands on: critiquing, revising, editing with their authors before the manuscripts go to editors. Others leave that process up to the editors. My seriously cool editor, Melissa, has no idea that I’m totally clueless because Suzie makes my manuscripts work before they ever get to her. Then Melissa has even more great suggestions on how to make the manuscript even better, so by the time they get turned into books and in your hands, I have everyone totally fooled into thinking I know what I’m doing.

So, The Novel Formerly Known as Hellbent that I was all giddy about? After looking over Suzie’s notes, not so much anymore. But I’m getting giddy again with the revisions I’m working on for her. Whether you believe in luck or fate, thank something for me that I found Suzie!

Off to revise some more!

Did I mention I love my agent?

More on finding the perfect agent later this week. Maybe even tomorrow. Maybe.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sneak Peek at the Original Sin Playlist

I've posted more than once about how important music is to my Muse. I hear people describe writer's block in all different ways, but speaking for myself, the only time I struggle with a scene is if my Muse is missing musical inspiration. Music is so important that I feel compelled to include the artists of the two or three most influential songs in the acknowledgements at the back of each book.

Initially, I took a bit of an unconventional approach and wrote a good chunk of my playlist right into Personal Demons. There were 17 songs embedded into the text. My agent and editor helped me see the error in my ways, however, and that got pared down to maybe eight songs in the finished book. The thing is, I fall so in love with my playlist, that I can’t stand not sharing it—because I want you to love the songs and the story as much as me. In Personal Demons, Nickelback, Savin’ Me was the inspiration for Luc. The themes in that song drove all his decisions and everything that happens to him from page one. For Frannie, whose overriding theme was her struggle with her belief, or lack thereof, in God and love, the song was The Fray, You Found Me. For Gabe, who struggles with his role of protector the inspiration was Ryan Star’s Breathe. You can click the characters names for their individual stories and to hear the songs, or you can hear the entire Personal Demons playlist here.

I just built my Original Sin playlist over on so I can eventually share it with all of you. After listening to it for months during the writing and revising of Original Sin, I’d long since moved on to my The Novel Formerly Known as Hellbent playlist. I’d forgotten how totally off-the-scale amazing the Original Sin playlist was until I just listened to it again. In my first draft of Original Sin there were 18 songs embedded in the text (most of which have been edited out). This book has a lot of dark themes (even more so than Personal Demons) and some pretty terrible stuff happens.

 Because I’m obsessing over this playlist and can’t wait to share it, and also because ARCs are starting to go out and theses songs are in the acknowledgements, here are the main songs from Original Sin.

From Luc’s perspective, the song that shapes the story is Three Days Grace, World So Cold. The feel of the song is perfect and every single lyric is spot on.

From Frannie’s perspective it’s The Fray, How to Save a Life. (She’s a Fray girl, what can I say.) And that’s all I can say without spoiling… (I'm so far gone I just started crying watching this O_O)

Gabe is probably the most conflicted character throughout the series. For Original Sin, the song that embodies this is Anthem of the Angels by Breaking Benjamin.

As always, if you love these songs, please visit your chosen mode of music purchase and buy them.

These songs carry over through the entire novel then, within individual scenes, more specific songs apply, and they’re written in where that could be done seamlessly. Full playlist to come...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I'm not a machine after all

I am discovering that I’m not a machine. I thought I was, but it turns out I was sadly mistaken. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, it’s a little thing that serves as a wake up call. (Versus a big thing, or even a disastrous thing.) Some of you may remember these:

They’re my wrinkly Polish contracts that came over Christmas week and sat on my front steps, out in the rain, while I was away. I painstakingly dried and ironed them, then sent them back to my agent…without signing them. They showed up on my doorstep again today. (Side note: Thank you Meredith and Suzie for not including the “What the h*ll is wrong with you?” letter that I’m sure you were more than tempted to enclose.)

So…I have now signed them and will send them back tomorrow. But, I’ve realized that three jobs, two kids and a husband may be too much—which is really hard for me to admit. I’ve always been a ring-grabber. I finished my masters degree while working full time, and defended my thesis when I was nine months pregnant. Then, because it was one more ring to grab, I went back for my doctorate while still working full-time and raising two kids, even though I didn’t need a doctorate. But this silly little thing has made me think it may be time to reexamine and reprioritize.

Considering my husband is the only reason said kids are still alive, and CPS will come after me if I ditch the kids, I’m thinking a job might be on the chopping block. I could give up writing, but considering it's a obsession, bordering on an addiction, I'd probably have to go through some sort of behavior modification program, which would likely be very expensive. But, giving up a career that I’ve spent umpteen years building, and umpteen years before that going to school for, on the hope that I can sell more books is terrifying.

Excuse me while I go throw up…