Monday, September 1, 2014

September MA pitch critiques!

Welcome back to the Mystery agent critique portion of our contest. The 16 entries (some didn't turn in their pitches and some opted out of the crtique) will be open for your amazing feedback all week!

Our rules are simple:
  • Be helpful. 
  • Be relevant.
  • Be kind. 

Thank you to all of you, and to all our amazing entrants! Happy critting!

You can also visit the entries in the tab under the OA blog banner:  MA Critiques.

Just a little more info about the forum:
  • You DO NOT have to register to comment.
  • To comment on a pitch, just click Reply on the main post in the thread. It will bring up a comment box where you can enter your name and comment.
  •  To return to the full list,click September 2014 Mystery Agent in the top left corner of the forum.
  • And once again, we'd love to know what you think about the new format. Let us know here in the comments. Any feedback would be awesome! Thanks!

September 2014 Mystery Agent

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Excerpts and the Art of Ellipsis: Dot dot dot vs. yadda yadda yadda

Now that my middle-grade debut Deadwood is out, I have industry and blog reviews. Some writers won't read their reviews, but I do. At the very least, a review shows that your book exists! Someone read it and thought enough to write about it. I'm very grateful for each one and include review excerpts on my site.


And that's where the art of ellipsis comes in. Dot dot dot. What do you include, and what do you ellide?

Some reviews rings so many happy bells I'd love to include the whole thing, but I can't -- the copyright for the review is owned by the writer, and fair use doctrine means I have to choose an excerpt. Tough decisions!

Most reviews have phrases I love and others that I'd rather not put on a book jacket, and that makes it easier to decide what to include. Easier, but less straightforward.

Excerpt Best Practices


There are Generally Accepted Excerpt Best Practices, which actually may not be generally accepted or well known. Here are the three biggies (reference Kirkus):

1) Do not add words to reviews (including change cases/tense)
2) Use ellipses to indicate when words are omitted. 
3) Do not alter the integrity of the review.

Number one seems clear. Number two also sounds clear, but that's where things get fuzzy. If misused, your ellipses push you into number three, where the review is manipulated so that it appears to mean something it does not. For example, if a reviewer writes, "This is a great book for people with terrible taste," you can't just include "This is a great book..." because you are altering the reviewer's meaning (and why wouldn't you include the whole thing? The full pull quote makes the book sound fun!)

But experienced reviewers take pains not to include phrases that can be easily misconstrued, just as many of them purposefully include pull quotes that can be easily excerpted. Other times, you get a pretty good review with not a decent pull quote to be found -- every positive is snuggling up tight with a negative turn of phrase. And that's where it's tempting to elide, slice, and dice your way into number three territory.

The Guiding Principle:
Use the reviewer's words and intent as your guide, not what you wish the reviewer would have said and meant.

 

As an example of what works and what doesn't, I'm including a short excerpt from my review from Foreword Magazine here, and different ways to elide it that are right, ok, questionable, and wrong.

Right:
“Danger lurks around every corner, but these two strong characters — both of them sporty and clever, with diverse backgrounds — can hold their own. Short chapters amp up the pace and hold attention, bolstering the story’s wild suspense.” Foreword Magazine
Love the whole thing! Yay. Now, what if I excerpted it like this?

OK:
"Danger lurks around every corner, but these two strong characters ... can hold their own." 

That's not incorrect, but it's a little awkward. While the writer might just be pressed for space, a reader might wonder what is missing and suspect it's something bad.

How about this?

Questionable: 
“Danger lurks around every corner, but these two ... characters ...  can hold their own" 
Definitely awkward, misleading, and bowdlerized into vagueness. The reader might play MadLibs with the missing modifier, and it may not be flattering:  "annoyingly peppy," "Marysue-like," "Completely unbelievable."

Wrong:
"Short chapters amp up the ....wild suspense.” 

This one crosses the line into number three. In this case, I'm changing the whole object of the sentence! The part that's missing is crucial to the meaning. In my example, it doesn't truly change the sense, but the elided phrase could as easily be "...the reader's impatience, finally spiraling into general silliness and..." This is where the dot dot dot is the review equivalent of yadda yadda yadda in an old Seinfeld episode.

Every review is individual, and every excerpt has to be included on case-by-case basis, considering the content and character count where the excerpt is to be placed. Now if only we could use ellipses in our everyday life! I'd replace every "but" with a dot dot dot.

Your work on that project was really sound but...
You're a great girl and I've enjoyed the time we've spent together but...
Your child has been working hard to improve his behavior but...
I appreciate your insight on ellipses but....




Saturday, August 30, 2014

DO NOT LISTEN !

Last week was a great week--an amazingly AWESOME week! I found out that another one of my novels is going to be made into a movie. This is the SECOND movie deal I have made in 2014.  I also formed, with a partner,  an intellectual property rights company and two other corporations. One of which is for ancillary rights such as beverages and marketing items related to my films. 

When I first pitched the idea of selling my books as screenplays--many negative people informed me that I couldn't do it. I wasn't a bestselling author, that it would be impossible for my novels to sell as a movie. That I wasn't strong enough as an author.

Thankfully, those negative people were all wrong and the advice was terrible. IF I would have listened I wouldn't have great projects in the works today.

Please keep in mind that I'm not telling you to NOT listen to your critique partners or those who are qualified to give you advice. What I am saying is--do not listen to those who do not support your dreams, those who give mean spirited and negative reviews to cut you down.

Keep pushing forward and do not abandon your dreams.

I believe in you!

Have a beautiful weekend! Angie

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Marriage of Exercise and Creative Thought

Did you know that exercising actually increases blood flow to the brain and helps a person to focus?

It's true. 

Brain research shows a correlation between physical activity and the development of brain connections. In 2010, the journal Pediatrics released a study showing that children with as little as 15 minutes of recess each day exhibited better behavior and attention spans than their peers who did not have recess. The Journal of Attention Disorders even states that walks outdoors that normally are associated with recess appear to improve attention and concentration scores of students with ADHD. -The Effect of Recess on Academics
 Not only does physical activity spur the development of brain connections, but it may result in clearer thinking and organizational ability, as research has shown an improvement in recall:

Recess provides a break that allows the brain to "regroup," and research has shown that recall is improved when learning is spaced out rather than condensed. After recess, children are more likely to learn because they are less tense and more invigorated. Even adults are given breaks during their work day, which allows for better production and clearer thinking.
Maybe you don't have time for "recess" in your busy day. Whether you're surrounded by kids or surrounded by other adults, it can be difficult to step out and get some physical exercise without somebody needing you. Yet we know that a break to watch TV and eat chocolate isn't going to have the same brain-clearing effects as physical exercise. It's worthwhile to carve out time in your day to exercise.

Personally, I get a lot of story ideas while running.

One of the scenic places I run by when I'm brainstorming


But I know some people prefer Zumba or UFCor even Spartan obstacle course racing. I have a crazy brother who does the latter and is a certified Spartan trainer. Someday I'll be that awesome. They jump over freakin' FIRE at the finish line!

Anyway, back to how exercise improves clarity of thought. How are you doing on your plotting? Characterization? Ever get stuck? A quick rise in blood flow to your brain might be just the thing...

Happy Friday, everyone! Enjoy your plotting, on and off the treadmill. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Is Beta Reading Right for You?


Beta readers... What do they do, exactly? I've compiled quite a list of articles regarding beta readers below, but first, a definition and my take on why they're so important:

When attempting to describe the definition of a beta reader, I came across this. 
Thank you, Wikipedia, for always being so prompt and informative.

So, in a nutshell, writers use betas for feedback. (Betas are a bit different from critique partners, as critique partners--also referred to as CPs--tend to who know their stuff and really dive down into the nitty gritty of a manuscript.) Beta readers don't necessarily have to have a background in editing, or writing. Their job is to look at the manuscript as a first reader. Betas are great at pointing out inconsistencies, especially series inconsistencies writers tend to gloss over/completely miss after reading that 70+ thousand word MS fifty times already (like, But two books ago you said her eyes were orange, not yellow, or whatever).

Betas are our a writer's best friend. Or, at least, my betas are. I'm not saying they're the people you hang out with and tell your innermost secrets, but they are your manuscript's best friend, because their job is to help you make it the best it can be. When I send stuff to my betas, I know they're going to point out things the readers will notice. I expect suggestions, knowing I might not use them all (but better to conteplate now rather than later, once the book is out and changes can't be made, right?). I expect my betas to tell me things politely, but they do have the right to disagree with my decisions, as long as they're tactful about it. It's important to remember that all beta readers are different, and that, if you choose to beta read for someone, it's okay for your personality to shine through. Some betas send back two pages of notes. Some have detailed suggestions on every page. Some only point out their favorite and not-so-favorite things. Some don't say much other than "yay" and "I'm so excited for ____". The point is, reading it and saying, "It seems decent" isn't going to help anyone, nor is sending twenty negative comments per page. 

Last, betas, a lot of times, end up being an author's core team of fans (but it's also okay if they don't). And by fans I don't mean crazy people who squee over you and stalk you online and get confused and think they ARE you (although, I could deal with that); I mean people who are your advocates. Who spread the word about your work, because they get it. Who you can count on in a pinch to read that novella or ask about a character list and if you missed something before sending something off to print. I don't know where I'd be without my beta readers. 

Now that I've explained what betas do, here are some great articles on beta reading that I've come across, as well as a great recent #k8chat (held by Kate Tilton on Twitter every Thursday night at 6:00 EST) regarding beta readers (lots of tips from readers and authors). I'd like to point out that most of these are written for the writer, not the beta reader, but they're still great and will also potentially give you ideas as to what to request as a beta reader (like knowing what format you'd prefer the document in, for instance). 

Another point real quick: it's important to remember that betas are not editors. It is not their job to point out the technicalities of punctuation (though, if that is your forte, you are more than welcome to mention that to an author before beta-ing... they might appreciate catching that stuff before their MS goes to the editor). I think of betas as the person you go to and say, "Hey, do these shoes go with this outfit?" To which they respond, "Well, last month you wore them with this dress, and it kind of goes but you seem to do better wearing these with pants. Oh and those earrings you had on last week would go great with it! That eyeshadow is not working for me at all, though." (Bad example? Oh well.)

Without further ado, here are some great tips on beta reading (including a couple from the OA blog, too): 

What is a Beta Reader and Where Do I Find One? via Casey McCormick (@Casey_McCormick***make sure to read the comments in this post!

* What is a Beta Reader? Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Getting and Giving Feedback on Your WIP via Jamie Gold (@JamiGold) at Anne R. Allen's blog

The "Art" of Beta Reading via Kati Brown


* Beta Reading Etiquette via Trisha Leaver (@Tleaver)

Five Things You Should Know About Working With Beta Readers via Corina Koch MacLeod and Carla Douglas of Beyond Paper Editing

* Agent Q & A part one: Revisions (in which agent Laura Bradford discusses the benefits of a beta reader) via Kell Andrews (@kellandrewsPA)


**This post was originally featured at my blog, Let Me Tell You a Story, but was tweaked a bit to be more applicable here at OA. :)


If you have any experiences, suggestions, or questions, feel free to share them in the comments!


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Calling the Muse

I used to believe that writing took inspiration, that there were only specific circumstances under which great words might come through me. I don't remember what exactly the circumstances were... but they were complicated enough that it didn't happen often. Thus, I didn't often have to write. Because, you know, I couldn't. Right?

More recently, I've had a realization. This realization was potentially driven by the fact that in the past two years I've been writing under much different conditions than I ever had before. I have publishing contracts, and therefore, I have deadlines. And it turns out that when you have a deadline, it doesn't pay to sit around waiting for the stars to align and for the fourth of the month to fall on a Tuesday, or for your coffee grounds to form a small bird when dumped on a plate. It really doesn't pay to wait for anything, because waiting is no way to get a book written, is it?

And so I was forced to write, muse or no muse. And it turns out that the muse is really just an excuse to NOT write. It's nice to feel inspired and feel like the words are meant to be, that you're writing something cosmically correct and preordained. But the truth is that if you have any talent for writing and storytelling, that talent should be there regardless of the conditions under which you call upon it.

I don't write well when children are standing at my shoulder whining about apple juice and snacks and brothers hitting them. But that circumstance aside, I've found that I can write at practically any other time when I really have to. That said, I've also learned that I write best early in the morning when there are no distractions at all.

So my advice? Ditch the muse. Tell her to take a flying leap. You don't need her anyway. And that writer's block you hear people moaning about? It's a fallacy. It's no more real than the sneaky little muse who makes herself so scarce.

You've heard it before, but it's the truth. The only way to accomplish writing goals is to write. Sit down and start, plain and simple.

I've still got two deadlines ahead. I need to finish a book by October 1st. I've got 6000 words so far. Think I can do it? The simple truth is that I must. So I will. But not if I sit around waiting for the muse or allowing procrastination to circle my desk wearing a shirt that says "writer's block"... Starting Monday morning, I'll be at my desk for an hour each morning before work, pounding out the words that will get me closer to meeting that deadline. Will you be writing, too?

What are your strategies for getting words on paper? Do you need a certain coffee mug, or a specific kind of music playing? How do you make it all happen?

Monday, August 25, 2014

THE GATEWAY THROUGH WHICH THEY CAME by Heather Marie

Last month, on my other blog, I featured the lovely Heather Marie and her new book, THE GATEWAY THROUGH WHICH THEY CAME, which debuts today! I also know that our own Angelica R. Jackson will be on an upcoming the Writer's Bloc panel with her on January 3, from 1-3pm.

Here's a bit more about THE GATEWAY THROUGH WHICH THEY CAME:

From Goodreads:

To seventeen-year-old Aiden Ortiz, letting the dead walk through his body to reach the other side comes with the territory. Being a Gateway isn’t an easy job, but someone’s gotta send Bleeders where they belong. Heaven. Salvation. Call it whatever you want. Dead is dead. But when his search for Koren Banks––the girl who went mysteriously missing seven months ago––leaves him with more questions than answers, he finds himself involved in something far more sinister and beyond his control. 

With the threat of the Dark Priest's resurrection, and his plan to summon his demon brothers from hell, Aiden is left to discover his identity before the Dark Priest's curse infecting his blood consumes him, and before the world as he knows it succumbs to the darkness of hell on earth.





And here's the trailer (with some cool behind-the-scenes stuff too):





And here's where you can buy it!






Bio:

Heather Marie lives in Northern California with her husband, and spends the majority of her time at home reading. Before she followed her dreams of becoming a writer, Heather worked as a hairstylist and makeup artist for several years. Although she enjoyed the artistic aspect of it all, nothing quite quenched her creative side like the telling of a good story. When the day had come for her to make a choice, she left behind her promising career to start another, and never looked back.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/HeatherMarieYA
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/heathermariewrites
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19089172-the-gateway-through-which-they-came
Website: http://heathermarieya.com/




Saturday, August 23, 2014

September Mystery Agent Lottery Winners!!!

Names and masked email addresses of winners, in no particular order:


Sally Lotz Spratt sjlot*****.***
Shelly shell*****.***
Sarah Floyd sarah*****.***
Myra Dyck myra.*****.***
katz  colle*****.***
Sean Lamb seanl*****.***
Stacy Reid nello*****.***
TS Liard tsarl*****.***
Martha Mayberry marty*****.***
Abigail Marble abbey*****.***
Zainab Khan zaina*****.***
Joseph Isaacs jcisa*****.***
Tanya Anne  sepic*****.***
Stephanie steph*****.***
Kimberly Sprinkles Cowger sprin*****.***
Leiann slbyn*****.***
Heather Powell heath*****.***
Linn Shekinah almon*****.***
Tlotlo Tsamaase rosew*****.***
SIan sian*****.***
Sue Berk Koch sberk*****.***
Rachel Hamby raham*****.***
Sharon Chriscoe schri*****.***
Jennifer McCoy jlynn*****.***
Jennifer Hawkins hiker*****.***
Rena Traxel Boudreau rjtra*****.***
Sunny Walker sunwa*****.***
Danielle Dufayet d.dan*****.***
LIsa Frischhertz mukay*****.***
Lucky Williams chama*****.***

Patty Way Medic - alternate #1

quart*****.***
Lira Brannon - alternate #2 lirab*****.***



We had a bit of an issue with Rafflecopter removing ALL formatting from the entries, so we will be asking the winners to resubmit their entries. Winners, please check your email for information on resubmitting. Emails will be sent out shortly. Thanks to all who entered and a HUGE thanks to everyone for your patience as we work the kinks out of this new process. 

Be sure to check back September 1st for the critique forum. All entries from winners who opted to participate will be posted for cheerleading and feedback.

Congrats to everyone who made it through! And don't worry if you didn't make it through this time around. We have another contest coming up in October. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Today's required reading: confirming receipt of materials

TGIF, Operation Awesome! Summer is almost over (EEEP) and you know what that means: people are going to be returning from vacations and hopefully requesting up a storm! But, as in any business where you receive approximately 10,000 e-mails a day, sometimes things get missed. To that end, sharkly agent Janet Reid has posted some advice on when and how to confirm receipt of requested materials if many months have passed and no one ever told you "Hey, I got it."

Sending e-mails like that can be daunting, I know. I see a similar sort of phenomenon in my day job, where something will go wrong, but the person in question won't tell me about it for fear of bothering me. (And I can't hold that against them - I worry about bothering people all the time!)

But if you're terrified that you're going to come across as pushy or step on someone's toes, then chances are, you're not the kind of person who would do that. If you're here, reading this, then you already know how important it is to be polite, professional, and recognize that you are not entitled to an agent or editor's time. And if you're received a full request, or an R&R, or have otherwise gotten past that initial contact with a publishing pro, then this is a person who is potentially interested in working with you. Don't let that slip by you!

Have a great weekend, all, and happy writing!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Real Life And Writing


Quote of the Day:
It is hard to master both life and work equally well. So if you are going to fake one of them, it had better be work. ~Joseph Brodsky
A few years ago, I was asked:


Have you ever had anything cause you to step back from writing? If so, what was the cause and how long did it take you to get back into the swing of things? If not, do you have any advice for other writers about not letting life get in the way of writing? 

My answer…..yep, yes, yeah, definitely, frequently, more often than I would like, totally, all the time, and FOR SURE!

Writing can be fun. I love it – it’s thrilling to create a world and characters and situations and to see how they all mesh into this wonderful conglomeration of ideas. But it is also work, hard work…it takes time and effort and energy….and sometimes I just don’t have any to spare.

How long it takes me to get back into it depends on what made me step back in the first place. Sometimes Real Life intervenes and I am just too busy with dentist appointments, parent/teacher conferences, sick kids, a neglected husband, and a dirty house to take the time to write. When that happens, I usually just step back for a few days, take care of what I need to take care of, and jump back in.

What else will make me take a break for a bit? Sometimes, I get stuck on a scene or a plot twist. When this happens, it may only take me a day or even a few hours before something occurs to me. And sometimes it takes a month or two :D Depends on how bad I’m stuck :D

And then sometimes, I just get tired of it all. Maybe I’ve revised so many times I can’t stand to look at my manuscript one more time…or maybe it all just seems like too much effort and not enough reward. When this happens, I might stop writing for weeks. I spend my spare time devouring every book I could find. I reread my favorite series, I watch movies, listen to music and chat with friends, and eventually, I'll get that itch again…the one that just makes my fingers ache to pound the keyboard.

I still go days without writing sometimes, due to one thing or another (unless I have a looming deadline and then I don't have a choice ;) ), but I miss writing now…I think about it, I want to do it, and I try harder to make the time. I’m sure another slump will come along, but it too will pass.

Do you have any advice for other writers about not letting life get in the way of writing? 

Honestly, no. Because let’s face it…sometimes life IS going to get in the way. There really isn’t anything you can do about it. If writing is important to you, you will come back to it. It might take a few weeks or even a few years before that happens. But if it is something you truly love, eventually you’ll find your way back.

I would, however, advise not to berate yourself for time lost…don’t feel guilty about taking time out of your life to go back to writing, and don’t feel guilty for taking time from writing to deal with Real Life. You may not always be able to juggle Life and writing at the same time. But at some point, if writing is what you really want to do, you’ll ultimately find the time for both.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Blast from the OA Past: Never Give Up. Never Surrender.



"You don't start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it's good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That's why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence."
Octavia Butler

No matter how much we love it, writing is hard. If anyone says anything different then I want what they're having. But, despite the (occasional) tough moments, you write. You make the time to sit at the computer to type those words day after day. You edit, rewrite, query. You go through the rainbow of emotions that accompany it. 

You smile at requests. You file away the rejections. You shelve manuscripts you love. You write scenes and dialogue on scraps of paper/cereal boxes/text messages. You balance your real life with your fictional ones. You write. You persist. And that is the important thing. 

Never give up. Never surrender.  

You are a writer. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Cover Reveal for Crow's Rest by Angelica R. Jackson

Reveal Day is here! I can finally show you all the marvelous cover for Crow's Rest! Are you ready?
(No fancy blank space to scroll down because I'm just too impatient) Click on the image for a larger view



Squeeeeeeeeeee!
Now that I got that outburst out of the way, onto the book blurb:

Avery Flynn arrives for a visit at her Uncle Tam's, eager to rekindle her summertime romance with her crush-next-door, Daniel.

But Daniel’s not the sweet, neurotic guy she remembers—and she wonders if this is her Daniel at all. Or if someone—some thing—has taken his place.

Her quest to find the real Daniel—and get him back—plunges Avery into a world of Fae and changelings, where creatures swap bodies like humans change their socks, and magic lives much closer to home than she ever imagined.


You can add it on Goodreads here. My book comes out from Spencer Hill Press in paperback and ebook in May 2015.

I'd love it if you'll celebrate with me on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments here. And if you haven't checked out my new website yet, it's at www.AngelicaRJackson.com. This was my concept, by the way, brought to life by the multi-talented Kelley York of X-Potions Designs.



Angelica R. Jackson, in keeping with her scattered Gemini nature, has published articles on gardening, natural history, web design, travel, hiking, and local history. Other interests include pets, reading, green living, and cooking for food allergies (the latter not necessarily by choice, but she’s come to terms with it). Ongoing projects include short fiction, poetry, novels, art photography, and children’s picture books.

In 2012, she started Pens for Paws Auction, which features critiques and swag from agents and authors to raise money for a no-kill, cage-free cat sanctuary where she volunteers, Fat Kitty City.

She’s also been involved with capturing the restoration efforts for Preston Castle (formerly the Preston School of Industry) in photographs and can sometimes be found haunting its hallways.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Lizzie's Story: Reverting Rights - Guest Post by R.M. Clark

In August of 2011, I signed a contract to have my middle grade book, Dizzy Miss Lizzie, published by a small press called Stanley Publishing of El Paso, Texas. It was not an easy decision to make. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the worst decision I had ever made as an author, one that would haunt me for years.

Two years earlier this book landed me an agent and he tried for many months to find a home for it with the major publishers. When it became painfully clear that he (and the major pubs) had lost interest in Lizzie, I let him go and set out on my own. Like a good author, I wrote to several small press editors and followed their guidelines to the hilt. Some wanted to see more, others passed. When the smoke cleared, I had received four offers to publish Lizzie. In a way, that acceptance represented a “neeener, neener” to the agent and all the bigger presses who passed. Lizzie was a popular girl, after all.

I knew a little something about all four presses, but the real test came when I received the contracts. I had all four of them on my desktop and I vetted them carefully. One press was a “pay to publish” outfit (there was no indication of this on their website). Goodbye! One had a terrible royalty rate and, as it turned out, many unhappy authors. Adios! The third had real potential until I read in the contract that Lizzie would only be available as an e-book until a certain number of e-copies sold (100, I believe). This was a deal-breaker for me, since I felt middle grade books needed to be in hardcopy form right away to reach the widest audience. Plus, the royalty rate was dreadful. Hit the road!

And then there was one. Stanley Publishing. The contract was superior to all the others. It had a really good royalty rate. My book would have a print run as opposed to print-on-demand. The books were returnable, so bookstores could order them. The company had been around a few years and the authors I contacted were happy with them and were enjoying better-than-average sales. They even had a distribution plan in place and a new website. I signed the contract. Lizzie would be released in the spring of 2012.

Much joy!

We went through typical publishing steps over the next few months: a few rounds of edits, a wonderful cover and some early reviews. The book launch in March was a success as a local bookstore handled the sales. Most of the reviews were strong and sales numbers looked good. A few months later, I got my first royalty check. Dizzy Miss Lizzie was the best-selling book on the publisher’s site!

The Beginning of the End


Okay, cue the sound of a train coming off the tracks. Something — to this day I honestly don’t know what it was — happened to the publisher. By the fall of 2012, the publisher stopped replying to all emails and phone calls. We received no royalties for Q2 or Q3, yet the books were clearly selling. I called, I wrote, I emailed, I even had my (new) agent contact the publisher. Nothing.

This was bad. Very bad.

I contacted the El Paso chapter of the Better Business Bureau, but they could take no action since our relationship was not business to consumer (just business to business).

Amazon and B&N continued to sell my book. I could see the rankings fluctuate with every sale. I figured all I had to do was write these places and they would stop selling Lizzie. I emailed the legal department of both companies and gave them the details about the publisher but they couldn't stop selling it based on an author email. I contacted a Texas lawyer and asked if he could help and he said he could make it all go away. Then he showed me the estimated cost. It was quite a bit and at the time didn’t seem worth it.

Need for Control of Author Brand


Slowly, some good things began to happen in my writing life. My new adult mystery, Center Point, was accepted by a small press, Writers Amuse Me Publishing and published in late 2013. My agented book, then called Good Golly Miss Molly (now The Secret at Haney Field), was picked up by a wonderful small press, MB Publishing, and is due for publication next month. It was about this time that I realized I had an author brand I needed to protect. I needed to fight back. I needed Lizzie.

My wife and I decided to pay the retainer and get the El Paso lawyer involved. I sent him my Stanley contract as well as all pertinent online information about where to purchase Lizzie downloads. It was fairly simple to get my rights back since the publisher never responded to any of the legal notices the lawyer sent to her. I won by default. After that it was a matter of getting Amazon and B&N and Google Books to cease and desist. The lawyer sent them what is rightly called the “mean, scary letter” with the law firm’s letterhead in bold. It worked and the download capability was removed from all three sites. Lizzie was now mine, free and clear. The cost was more than I could ever make from royalties, but that’s not the point. I needed control and I got it.

Beginning of the Beginning


This story would not be complete without the requisite happy ending. In the spring of 2014, I gave Writers Amuse Me Publishing the opportunity to re-publish Dizzy Miss Lizzie and a chance to publish the two sequels, Running On Empty and Cat Scratch Fever. They agreed to a three-book deal with Lizzie to be published in November and the others in 2015. Many thanks to the fine folks at WAMM for the second chance.

This author fought back. I fought for my author reputation. I fought for all the other authors out there who have been hurt by a publisher. I fought for Lizzie.

And I won!

About RM Clark:
Robert (R. M.) Clark spent nineteen years as a baseball coach—from T-ball to American Legion and most levels in between. It was from his typical place in the third-base coach's box that he imagined a baseball mystery told from the viewpoint of a bat girl, which developed into his middle-grade novel, The Secret at Haney Field: A Baseball Mystery.

After graduating from the University of Idaho with a Computer Science degree, Robert moved from the Gem State to northeastern Alberta to Southern California before settling into a cozy town in Southeastern Massachusetts, where he lives today with his wife and two sons. Read more about his novels at rmclarkauthor.com.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Collaborations: Unique Pros and Cons

I've had the fun of working on a project with my sister who writes mainly fantasy. Together we're writing a Young Adult Sci-fi novel, working title TEMPOR.

Here's the just-for-fun cover I made for it (clearly I'm no cover artist):



Our last work on it was in 2013. My lovely sister then got preoccupied with something else awesome... my nephew! As life settled in and settled down, she recently contacted me with some new material for our book and I was elated! Except that I just had a baby myself and we're not quite settled in and settled down yet. (I like to give it six months until the new family dynamic feels comfortable for everyone.) 

So here's my pros and cons list for collaborations:

Pros:
Exciting brainstorming sessions
Two heads for solving difficult plot and character problems
Built-in secondary editor
Two distinct wordprints to aid in different character voices

Cons:
Difficulty coordinating schedules
Disagreements in vision (plot, character, setting, etc.)
Disagreements in editing (commas, LOL)


Though it's a challenge, overall I'd have to say that collaborating on a writing project is enjoyable, rewarding, and a fresh way to look at your own craft. It's helped me to understand elements of story and characterization from someone else's point of view. Since my sister and I read in different genres, overlapping in the fantasy/paranormal genre, we come at plot problems in slightly different ways. It's been an education so far and I'm excited to continue... in a few months when my newborn isn't so newbornish. :)

Have you ever collaborated on a novel or book of poetry or comic book? What's the best lesson you've learned out of your collaborations?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Depression, Suicide, and Mork & Mindy.

I am going to stray from normal writing things today, and open myself up a bit. I hope you don't mind me sharing this sensitive topic.

On Tuesday, my husband and I took a three hour trip to get our fingerprints taken. We’re updating our adoption paperwork, and we are required to go to the FBI and make sure we haven’t turned into hardened criminals since last year.

We randomly stopped at a restaurant call Buzzard Billy’s which serves Cajun/American food. (And, btw, the food was excellent.) The restaurant is decorated in retro pictures, and each table had different themes. Our small square table was decorated with trading cards from the 70s TV show Mork & Mindy.

Have you heard of it?

This, of course, started a discussion about the program, and how it brought Robin Williams out in the public—and yes, I am old enough to remember watching the show with my family. And I know what “Na-nu Na-Nu” means.

So needless to say, when I came home that evening, I was more than shocked to find out that, at the moment we were reminiscing about Robin Williams during our meal, talking about how far he has come and fondly remembering him, was a few short hours before he was found dead.  We could have been even praising his talents the moment he took his life.

That was a very sad and surreal moment.

Robin Williams had depression, like lots of people.

Depression is HORRIBLE.

I know.

I've been there.

I lived in a dysfunctional home and was bullied at school. I felt so completely ugly and unlovable, that I wanted my pain to end. I hated myself. My acne was so bad that every day I layered on foundation to cover my skin. At night, I didn't have the courage to wash it off, because I couldn't stand to see what I really looked like underneath.

This, of course, perpetuated the situation, and my skin would only get worse. The vicious cycle continued until the day when my “friend” gave my school pictures (you know, the one you exchange to each other) to some of the bullies. They proceeded to write all over my pictures. UGLY. PIZZA FACE. DOG. ZIT FACE. BITCH. What smidgen of my self esteem I had left crumbled to dust. It was that event that pushed me over the edge.

I ran to the office sobbing, trying to find someone to talk to.

They did nothing.

I went home, trying to talk to my family.

Nothing.

The problem is when your family is also depressed and suffering, sometimes they don’t have the strength to help you either. So I found myself alone, contemplating ending it all, standing in front of the bathroom medicine cabinet trying to figure out what might get the job done. I had to make a choice. Life or attempt death.

I chose to keep going.

Poor Robin. My heart aches for him. He had wealth and fame and people loved him—just as we were talking about him that very day. But he too was putting on his humor, much like I applied foundation to my skin, to try and cover up what he was truly feeling.

I can’t say I still liked myself the next day after I chose life. I still felt ugly. I still hated myself. My faith is what slowly pulled me out of that darkness of self-loathing. And now, at the ripe “old” age of 42, I like myself. I'm not perfect, by any means, but that's ok with me. Nobody is perfect. And I would've missed out on a ton of things if I had listened to that depression screaming in my ear.

I still have emotional battle scars. I still struggle with forgiveness—and have yet to attend one of my class reunions. But I also have more empathy for the underdog. I feel passionate about anti-bullying. I am more aware of people's feelings. My experience helped me become a better person today.

I've seen a lot of people tweet about “talking to people”. And YES PLEASE DO! Go to your doctor. A counselor. A friend. You might need some medical help. A friend of mine talks about her "happy pills" and says they make all the difference for her. But sometimes even if you try to talk to someone, such as I did, you fail. Or if you are in a situation where you are alone in this fight, or have yet to find help, know that ...

You are important.

You are special. 

You add value to this world. 

You make a difference.

You were put on the earth for a purpose, even if you don’t see it right now.

It may be hard to keep going, and you may not see how things can change, but it can.

Things WILL get better. 

Keep going.

Choose LIFE.

Get HELP

You won’t regret it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The September Mystery Agent Lottery is CLOSED


We have another Mystery Agent contest coming up in just a few weeks and now's your chance to get in on the action!


When can you enter?

The lottery is now closed. Names of winners will be posted Saturday, August 23rd.

Right now! The lottery will be open until August 22nd. Please note, we're doing things a bit differently from last month. This time around, you'll need to have everything ready to go when you enter.


What should you include in your entry? (all of these items are required to enter)
  • Title
  • Genre
  • Word Count
  • Twitter Pitch (140 characters max)
  • First 250 Words
  • Update - Critique Forum Preference - you can now indicate if you'd like your entry to be included in the critique forum. If you've already entered your information you should still be able to go back in and list your preference. Please note: Since this option was added after the start of the lottery, if you do not respond to this option, we will assume you want to be included in forum.

What is our September Mystery Agent seeking?
  • Young Adult
  • New Adult
  • Romance
  • Picture Books

If you have a completed manuscript in one of these categories/genres, please enter all of your info into the Rafflecopter below. Please enter only once and only if your manuscript is finished and query-ready. 

The lottery will close Friday, August 22nd at 11:59 pm EST. Lottery winners will be posted here on the blog on Saturday, August 23rd.

Thirty (30) lucky entrants will be selected and not only will the Mystery Agent take a look at them for a chance to win fabulous prizes, but we'll be posting all 30 entries here on the blog (in our new forum format) on September 1st for cheerleading and constructive feedback. And last but certainly not least, the reveal, along with the to-be-announced prizes, will be posted here sometime in the month of September.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Editing 101: Easy fixes #1 - The Dialogue Tag

I've been editing longer than I've been writing fiction, so my roots are really sunk deep in the firm foundations of irritating everyone I know about proper punctuation, spelling and usage. But as I've been working in the fiction world, I've learned lots of new editing tricks to tighten up a story, and I thought this would be a perfect forum for those (all new folks to irritate!)

Despite my joking tone, I do take this stuff pretty seriously. There are plenty of books on craft, and most writers have read any number of them. But sometimes it's hard to make the jump from reading a book to tightening up your own writing. So I thought I'd tackle a few easy fixes. And the first is the dialogue tag.

When I edit for others, this is one of the things I try to smooth out up front. We all use them, and a lot of us overuse them.

Not sure what I'm talking about? Try this on for size:

"I'm dying to go out with him," Michelle said, twirling her hair.
"He is really cute," agreed Margot.
"I know," Michelle said. "And his hair is so shiny and purple."
"I love boys with purple hair," Margot said, tripping over a rock as she skipped along.
"Be careful!" Michelle cautioned. "This road is covered in rocks."

You get the (painful) idea.

So let's tighten that up by removing some of the unnecessary tags. (It won't make the faux story any better, though, I fear!)

"I'm dying to go out with him." Michelle twirled her hair around her finger as she talked.
"He is really cute." Margot nodded.
"I know. And his hair is so shiny and purple."
"I love boys with purple hair." Margo tripped over a rock as she skipped along.
"Be careful!" Michelle pointed at the road. "This road is covered with rocks."

This is a terrible -- really, truly terrible -- example. But the point here is that adding "he said" or "she said" -- or worse: "he moaned/whined/smiled" after every line of dialogue feels stilted. Instead, the tags can often be replaced by something else, something that SHOWS the action in the scene. (Isn't it funny how every piece on craft eventually drops that 'show, don't tell' thing?)

When you have only two people talking, it's easy to eliminate tags. Hopefully your characters have distinct voices, so the reader can tell who's speaking without being told. A tag here and there never hurts to clear up any confusion, but we definitely don't need them for every line.

In a piece with more than two speakers, tags become more needed, but again -- use them sparingly and try to replace them with a shot of action instead.

This is pretty basic, but I find that sometimes the most basic things are the rules I need to review now and then. Happy writing!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Before the Query Stage, and What I've Learned Editing a Second Draft

We hear it all the time. Finish what you start. Complete that novel. And we do. We write "THE END" and jump in the air. (Cue marching band.)

Until we realize, we just completed a first draft. Which is fantastic. But it's still only one piece of the journey. (Send marching band back to the rehearsal room.)

I've done NaNo WriMo before, and even adapted an excel spreadsheet from it when I'm drafting. But for me, drafting isn't the issue. I'm usually good about meeting my word counts and getting words on the page in an efficient manner.

This often feels like this:




But after NaNo ends...then what? We don't hear a lot about what to do after first draft is on the page (or perhaps after the second or third draft is done either). Perhaps it's because drafting is sexier than editing. Editing is work. Drafting is fun! But one of my previous NaNo novels was so messy that I wasn't able to get it off the ground at all, and it's currently sitting in a drawer waiting for me to sell it for parts.

And maybe someday I will. But right now, I'm almost 200 pages revised into the second draft of a manuscript I drafted last year. The story is shaping up much differently than when I first wrote it, which means, after I finish this pass through, I'll need to trunk the novel again, bring it out of moth balls, and edit it at least once or twice more before showing it to beta readers.

This process is more like this:




I was lucky enough to land on this blog post called "Braving Your Second Draft." It said: "Each draft is an essential step on the road to the completed manuscript you’re trying to write." The good news? No words are wasted, despite what I claimed in this previous post. Those anchors aren't always bad, and sometimes, they can be stabilizing, offering further proof that the true joy comes from the writing itself.

So with that in mind, here's what I've learned in my second draft edits this go-round:

1. Instead of word count, do a minimum page count.

I'm forgetting where I heard this advice, so I'm unable to cite anybody on it. But I discovered that if I grapple with at least five pages a day, and get them done, I still accomplish something. And if I do more, great. This breaks the perfectionist part of me that wants to dwell on a word and paragraph level, which is not what I should be doing at this stage, and prevents twelve hour editing binges (you think I'm joking, but this actually happened).

2. Covering a plot hole might make more, so be careful when this turns into a domino effect.

 About mid-way through the draft, I finally figured out my villain's true motivation. It went against some of what I'd written previously, and when I fixed it, more plot holes opened, and soon I was in a gopher field, with my novel progress halted. So I took a step back and only made the changes that were absolutely necessary to remain consistent with what the villain wanted. If there's more to it, I can always address it in a subsequent draft.

3. Don't be afraid of the delete key...

Once the words are down, it's hard to get rid of them, and I carry this anxiety of not getting back what I delete if I need it later. So I created a document where I could put excess stuff (including plot points that went nowhere). And I'm discovering that I'm only drawing from it rarely--it's grown to over 100 pages and 24,000 words. A novella of scraps, in other words. What this has taught me is it's okay to delete words and write new ones that are better--and the more I'm willing to part with, the better the novel will be.

4. ...but also don't be afraid to flesh out those skeletons.

All the novels I've written with the NaNo spreadsheet, even if they took a few months, ended up pretty skeletal, and those drafts always needed more fleshing out. So look for areas of expansion, and remember to go deeper instead of wider.

5. Editing can really be fun. Really.

I'm still having scads of fun with this novel and its growth spurts, so at least for now, the editing doesn't feel like work yet. I'm in the third act, when a lot of previous plot clues are answered--but also found the big reveal wasn't well established or consistent. So I wrote outside conversations between my characters to establish some clarity, which were tons of fun. And lo and behold, a plot point I didn't know was staring me in the face revealed itself, and today I combed the novel to make this detail more apparent throughout. I'm sure there are some places I missed--but I can always catch them on the next go-round.

Of course, none of this is on official deadline--so I'm curious to hear from those of you needing to make these kinds of editing decisions quickly. How do you negotiate the changes you're asked to make? 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Querying for the Young Writer

Hello everyone! Its been awhile since I've posted on here. That's because I have been absent for the past month. For the first ten days I was on a cruise in Alaska with my family. It was really a breathtaking experience and I'll talk more about that in my next post.

But today's post has to deal with the other thing I was doing this July. For two weeks I was a Residential Assistant at a creative writing camp called Shared Worlds. Its a fantasy writing camp in which kids from ages 13-17 get together in world building groups and create worlds together from scratch. Its truly an exciting experience. I should know: I went there myself for three years.

All of the kids who went to camp with me understand what its like to be a young writer. Some of them are more advanced than others. Some of them have been writing for longer. But they all have aspirations to one day have books in print.

So today, I'm talking a bit specifically to young writers, especially those who are querying or want to start querying in the future. I started diving into the trenches when I was sixteen, so I know how it can be. Let's go over some tips for querying your novel.

1) Seek advice

This is important for any writer out there. Everyone should get multiple sets of eyes on their query and first pages before sending them off. But for young writers in particular, this can be a helpful resource. If you were like me in high school, you didn't show a ton of people your writing. Taking this into consideration, the querying process can seem really frightening. So before diving in blindly, you want to do research. Talk to other writers online who have been through this. Sign up on agentqueryconnect.com and find people who are willing to lend you a helping hand. They're out there and super friendly. I don't know where I'd be without the people online who gave me advice for the querying process.

2) Beg for Critiques

If you are a young writer, people will be inclined to critique you less harshly. Again, if you were like me, you received heaps of praise from your peers and teachers and believed, naively, that you were the best writer ever. It only takes a stack of rejections to tell you otherwise. It is possible that, as a young writer, you have never received a thorough critique. Beg for one. Hand out your writing under the guise of 'tear it apart. Leave no word alive.' Not only will it improve your manuscript, but its better to get a harsh critique from people you trust first.

You have to build up a backbone to enter the trenches. It might hurt, but your writing will be better for it.

3) Query as if you were Older

Something I see in the slush pile a lot when it comes to young writers: A stress on their age. People who point out that they are 'just sixteen' or 'in high school' and writing a book. You don't see older writers saying their age. Why? Because its not the age that matters. Its the writing.

I think some writers stress their age as a bragging point. Like 'I'm young but I'm querying and that's special'. Honestly, its awesome for ANYONE to be able to finish a book, no matter the age. If you're a good writer, then age won't make a difference. My agent didn't know I was eighteen until we had the call. And it worked out fine for me.

Those are three important tips for young writers, though some of that advice holds true for writers of any age. Get advice and get critiqued. And young writers, never stop trying to get better. You have a long road ahead of you, but you have the talent and the drive to back it up.

Happy Writing!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Recharging Your Writer Brain

A few weeks ago, the very awesome Agent Jessica Sinsheimer posted the following on Twitter:



I love the idea of creative crop rotation. Such a great way to look at it.

There are many times when I come home from work and feel too brain dead to make a simple dinner, much less write for an hour or to reach a 1000-word goal. But I start to go a little crazy--okay, a little crazier than usual--if I don't have a creative outlet. Besides, I have my suspicions that writing actually kills the sane brain cells and causes the crazy ones to multiply. Rapidly. ;)

To rebuild some of those sane brain cells, sometimes I'll sew or crochet. And I love to make things with Photoshop and Excel. Yes, I said Excel. Numbers, colors, and conditional formatting? What's not to love? Plus, it's one of those things that, like writing, I don't think I could ever really learn completely, so I'll never get bored with it. 

So what about you? What do you do to recharge your writer brain? Any crafts or nerdy programs you enjoy?