Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Guest Post: Submission Tips From An Editorial Intern

I won't rattle on today because, as you may have guessed from the the title, we have a guest post with the fabulous Jennifer Blackwood. 

Thank you for having me on Operation Awesome today! My name is Jennifer Blackwood, and I am lucky enough to be an editorial intern. I’ll point out a few things I look for when a submission crosses my desk.  

This is the first thing I look for in a submission. It is what keeps me going throughout the story—or makes me stop after 50 pages. It’s what sets your story apart from others. I will faithfully read a story with an overdone trope with a stellar voice as opposed to a unique story with a weak voice.

Some things to look for before you submit:

*Passive voice (using “to be” verbs). There are definitely times where using a “to be” verb is warranted, but make sure it isn’t every sentence!

*Telling- especially emotions. It’s very easy to fall back on, but super easy to fix! Helpful hint: Utilize the “find” button in your document to look for any emotion words (Angry, frustrated, happy, etc.) Instead of using these, show the reader with dialogue, facial expressions, reactions, etc. By doing this, you will draw the reader into the story (and hopefully make it farther in the submissions process!)

*If you have dual point of view, make sure your characters have two distinguishable voices. I often see submissions where the two main characters sound like the same person. Make sure they have their own distinct mannerisms, opinions, dialogue, and thought-processes. 

Dialogue- Dialogue should move your story forward. Oftentimes, in submissions, I see really stiff dialogue that does nothing for the characters. Make sure that each character has their own unique way of speaking. If you took away the dialogue tags, you should be able to tell who is talking just by their style.

A good example of this is Derek from the movie Zoolander. Everything that comes out of his mouth is unmistakably Derek. J

Mechanics- Your submission does not have to be perfect. Commas are the bane of a writer’s existence, I totally get that. I can forgive that. What I can’t forgive is twenty typos per page. Before you send in a submission, make sure to spellcheck. Have a critique partner read over it. It’s a safe bet that your submission won’t make it past the interns if you submit a rough draft riddled with typos and grammatical errors.

Overall story- I have read dozens of submissions and it strikes me as odd that 90% of what I read in the submission pile is THE SAME STORY. Sometimes I do a double take because I think haven’t I just read this? I love me some good, solid tropes (older brother’s best friend, anyone?!?!) but make sure you bring something to the table that makes your story stand out. Tropes I am seeing a lot of: Virgins, rape, bad boys turning good, teens discovering they are werewolves/lycan/fae/anything supernatural on their birthday. I’m all for these tropes if done in a stellar voice with a unique twist!  

Introspection- There is a time and a place for your characters to get deep and philosophical. 

The beginning is not a place to bog down the reader with a ton of introspection. Like wasabi on sushi, a little bit of introspection goes a long way. With that said, you shouldn’t leave readers in the dark about what’s going on with the main character, but ten paragraphs of introspection probably isn’t a good idea for the first few pages.

Professionalism- It is really important to be professional in your query. There are a handful of queries/submissions that stick out in my mind—and usually if they stick out, it means they did something really good or REALLY BAD. Usually the latter of the two. I’ve seen submissions with title pages saying it was a rough draft, others saying I was lucky to be reading it. Some said that if it didn’t get picked up, they planned to self-publish in the next month or so…

These probably aren’t things you want to say when you are submitting to a publisher. Or anyone you are querying, for that matter.

Anyhoo, that’s just a little peek inside the mind of an editorial intern. Thank you for having me on the blog, Operation Awesome!  

Jennifer Blackwood is an English teacher and New Adult author. She lives in Oregon with her husband, son, and poorly behaved black lab puppy. When she isn’t writing or teaching, she’s binging on Veronica Mars episodes and white cheddar popcorn. Blackwood writes about gray area issues with steamy tension and sizzling romance. But don't worry—her tortured heroes always get their happily ever after they deserve. She is represented by the fabulous Courtney Miller-Callihan from Greenburger Associates. Her debut novel, UNETHICAL, comes out later this year with Entangled Embrace.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Settings that Pop - by PK Hrezo (guest post)

A ginormous thank you to the Operation Awesome team for having me here today. Just so you know a little about me, I’ve been writing fiction for six years and recently debuted last November, and have a sequel due out next month. I wanted to take this opportunity to share a little about creating believable settings through research, and how to make your scenes POP!

My last two novels have relied heavily on research. Both of them being YA/NA time travel stories, my main characters travel back to actual historical events. It wasn’t like I could fudge the settings there. These events have been filmed, documented, and are widely known across the globe. Accuracy was vital to making these scenes pop.

Whether you use real life settings or create your own, our job as the author is to make the reader believe these places are real. We can do this through sensory techniques.

·       How does it look?
·       How does it sound?
·       How does it smell?
·       What does it feel like?

All are important questions to answer in each new setting. Mind you, overkill in any of these areas will have the opposite effect. So go with the general rule of “less is more.”

Okay, so right about now you’re saying, “Yeah, yeah I know this already.”

But the trick is not remembering to use these senses, it’s in describing them. And how do you describe somewhere you’ve never been?

Most of us have overactive imaginations, which is why we’re writers, but when it comes to writing real places, we need a bit of research as well.

Photo Credit: Fanpop
In my novel, Butterman (Time) Travel, Inc., I had to recreate the original Woodstock from 1969. I’m not old enough to have been there, and I didn’t know anyone who’d been there either, but I wanted to write my scenes like I had been there. I watched the Woodstock film documentary with a notepad and pen in hand, and opened my mind. (no drugs required btw ;))

I jotted down anything and everything that stood out to me. From clothes to hair to nature. Then I got more specific: heaviness of eyes, color of skin, pitch of voice. Any little detail. Mainly, the unique way I perceived and responded to these details, and I jotted all of it down.

I also described what I felt and saw while the artists performed. I experienced it like I was there and tapped into that writerly toolbox of creative expressions to give my descriptions an artistic flair—one only I can give because it’s unique only to me. Same as your perceptions are unique only to you. When I was finished with the film, I had a list of amazing images, similes, metaphors, etc.

Remember, the key is to jot these ideas like no one is watching or will ever read them, and that will help open your mind and creative side to be free, as well as chase off that pesky left-side of your brain that wants order and logic. That comes later, and left-side will get its chance when you’re structuring your novel and editing for grammar.

When it came time to write the actual Woodstock scenes, I had my notes handy and could feather in these unique details in order to bring the scenes to life. In turn, readers really connected with this part of the book. They experienced it too, and what a great feeling it is to know they felt what I felt. I still get more compliments on the Woodstock scenes than anything else.

Photo Credit: Titanic Recounts
In the sequel, Induction Day, I did the same with the Titanic scenes. For days I watched nothing but documentaries on Titanic, and of course, the actual James Cameron movie. I had my notepad handy and I noted everything I could that stood out to me, down to the embellishment on a hat, or jewel on a brooch, or brass gadgets on the ship’s bridge.

What brings a setting to life is not the general description, it’s the tiny details sprinkled throughout the scenes that stirs an image. Spoonfeeding the reader a laundry list of how something looks is just plain boring to read, and it separates the amateur novelist from the experienced one. If we bog down our scenes with too many details it becomes laborious reading, but just the right amount here and there is an artistic technique that conjures an image easily in the reader’s head, and they begin to notice things as if they ARE the main character.

Likewise, when an author has taken their setting for granted in the story it always shows. It feels generic and stiff. But when they take the time to flesh out a small detail now and then, using the “less is more mentality,” it makes all the difference.

You may not be writing about historical events or places, but every writer needs to experience their setting in a unique way that will allow them to bring it to life on the page. I’ve written fantasy worlds as well, so I know there are some imaginative places we just can’t see or get to, but we can experience them by closing our eyes and letting the world unfold before our mind’s eye, then jotting details down on paper in that artistic, writerly way that makes us an author. Or, spend the day watching fantasy films with a notebook and jot down little worldbuilding details that perk your senses. These can be tweaked later to your own style so they’re unique to your story.

I hope you’ve  found some of this helpful. I’d love to know your own tricks and tips for making settings pop. Please share in the comments, and thanks so much for stopping by! Thanks again to Operation Awesome for having me here today. It’s been a pleasure!

I’d love for you to join my email list for more tricks of the trade, special announcements, giveaways and sneak peeks.

PK Hrezo is the author of the sassy sci-fi romance series, Butterman Travel, Inc. as well as a self-proclaimed chocoholic, guacoholic, and rockoholic. You can find her and her books on her website at

Monday, July 21, 2014

Guest Post with Wendy Nikel

Today we have a guest post with Wendy Nikel!

I'm a mom of two preschoolers, so often when I get up the courage to tell people that I also write speculative fiction short stories and novels, the reaction I get is usually something along these lines:
"Wow, when do you find time for that?"
"I have come to the conclusion that Wendy is a cyborg. She only needs a half hour to recharge and has eight arms and two brains."*
Maybe you've had that reaction as well. Oh. Maybe not? Most writers don't have the luxury of being able to sit around and write for 8+ hours a day. We're moms and dads, teachers and students, part- and full- and over-time workers. So how do we make the best use of the little time we do have? Well, some of us are 8-armed cyborgs with two brains, and that helps. For everyone else, here are a few tips and tricks to boost your productivity.

1. SET CLEAR DIRECTIVES The past few Novembers, I've taken part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which forces me to set a steep goal: one month, one first draft of a novel. It helps also that NaNoWriMo breaks this goal down into bite-sized daily word counts so I can track my progress. For the other eleven months of the year, I set my own goals, whether it's finishing a revision or writing some short stories or giving my critique partners feedback on their novels, or a combination. Clear, accomplishable goals can really help with making the best use of your time.
Or you might end up like this guy

2. FIND AND SECURE YOUR WRITING TIME You've probably heard it said that people find time for the things that are important to them, and it's true. When I first decided I wanted to seriously pursue writing, I knew I had little "free time" to work with and that writing was going to eat up any time I'd previously spent keeping up on all of my reality TV shows. For me, writing won out over The Bachelor and ANTM and yes, even Project Runway and Cupcake Wars. If I could afford it, I'd totally hire a maid and personal chef to take care of my housework so I could spend that time writing. Maybe someday. But for now, my most effective chunks of writing time come mostly in the evenings, after the kids are in bed.
2gir credit

Writing is more fun than watching TV anyway

3. MULTITASK Disclaimer: Not everything can be multitasked. The trick is to figure out which things you can multitask on and which things are going to require your full attention. You might find it useful to create a list of your common writing tasks and then determine how much of your undivided attention they require (full, high, medium, low). For instance, my "full attention" tasks are writing first drafts, doing revisions, and writing out feedback for my critique partners' work, and those have to wait for my designating writing time (see #2). But I have plenty of "medium" and "low-attention" tasks that I can do while going about my day: sending out short story submissions while I watch my kids play in the backyard, copyediting while I eat breakfast, thinking my way out of plot holes before I fall asleep at night (just make sure to have a pad of paper by the bed), and answering emails while waiting for my soy chai. ]
3pacificrim credit

Multitasking FTW

4. DON'T LIMIT YOURSELF TO ONE FORMAT It also can help to have your work in multiple formats. I use my laptop for most of my writing and editing, but I'll often answer emails on my phone or read and make notes on my work on my Nook. I recently discovered that editing on a printed copy of my manuscript works well for road trips (no outlet or batteries needed!). Use dropbox or some other online file storage to ensure that you can access your work from wherever you are, so that the next time you end up with a delayed flight or a long line at the DMV you won't be stuck twiddling your thumbs. Plus, it's always good to have backup copies of your work anyway, in case the unthinkable happens and your computer crashes. 
4shortcircuit credit
I wouldn't wish this on any writer

5. DON'T MULTITASK Though it may seem like a contradiction to #3, it's not. As discussed above, some things can be multitasked, but when the time comes to do those things that need your full attention (writing first drafts, doing major revisions, etc), GIVE THEM your full attention. For me, that means waiting until the kids are in bed and then turning off the WiFi so I'm not tempted to go check twitter (@wendynikel) or get distracted by emails or Facebook or BuzzFeed or the Absolute Write Water Cooler. This time is precious — use it wisely! Try this: The next time you get an uninterrupted writing time, turn off the WiFi. Seriously. Do it. You'll have plenty of time for social media after completing your goals.
5terminator credit
... after I finish this revision

6. GET ORGANIZED I have what may be an unhealthy obsession with spreadsheets. But they help keep my life orderly and they're especially helpful when querying or submitting short stories. My short story spreadsheet outlines markets with their word counts, genres, pay rates, and submission info, so that when I write something new, it's easy for me to pull up my spreadsheet, see where I already have stories out and where my current work would fit best. Other great writing tools to check out:
Just sending out another short story...
Just sending out another story...

7. RECHARGE YOUR BATTERIES Everyone needs some downtime, including writers and 8-armed cyborgs. If writing is stressing you out, try recharge your creative batteries by spending time reading, taking a walk, observing nature, talking with others, or, you know, dancing or something.  

8. ACCEPT THAT YOU'RE NOT GOING TO BE ABLE TO DO EVERYTHING Even 8-armed cyborgs sometimes wish they had 14 arms instead of just seven. Sometimes you're not going to be able to reach your goals. Real life may interfere and throw you off track. The important thing is to not let it discourage you. The best thing to do is pick yourself up and try again tomorrow! 8r2d2

*thanks, krash!

Friday, July 18, 2014

The August Mystery Agent Lottery

It's time for another Mystery Agent contest! Woo hoo!

Our Mystery Agent will accept 50 pitches, with a maximum of 50 words each. Starting now, you can enter the Mystery Agent Lottery for one of those 50 slots.

Our Mystery Agent is actively seeking YA and MG novels of all genres.

If you have a completed YA or MG manuscript, please enter your name and contact information into the Rafflecopter below. Please enter only once, and only if your manuscript is finished and query-ready.

The lottery will close on July 25th, a week from today. Not only will our agent be able to read the entries, but so will all of you! All 50 of those lucky entries will be posted here on the blog on our Mystery Agent days, for your cheerleading and constructive feedback. And last but certainly not least, the reveal, along with the fabulous to-be-announced prizes, will be posted here sometime in the month of August.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If I left anything out, or if you have questions, feel free to comment below. Good luck, everyone!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Evolution of a Writer

As a reader/fangirl of many newish authors, I have really enjoyed watching the way each author evolves in his or her work. It's customary to see variances in tone and genre in the same author's work, but sometimes it truly is a brand evolution.

For instance, Mandy Hubbard started out with Prada and Prejudice, a time-traveling romantic comedy, but now frequently writes as Amanda Grace with concepts a bit darker, like But I Love Him, a story of an abusive relationship and "love gone horribly wrong."

The evolution of a writer can even happen within the same series, like the transformative and epic Harry Potter series, which began with the magic and delight of Diagon Alley and ended with a war.

One of my very favorite YA authors, Kiersten White, started out with the Paranormalcy trilogy, a fun, riotous romp through the land of the paranormal with a girl obsessed with pink and teen sit coms.

But her work took on a more mature darkness, as well:

Then there are those whose evolution brings them back from adult writing to children's books, like Stephen King and Weird Al Yankovic.

As for my own writing, I find I'm still evolving, too. My tastes are evolving, my style is evolving, and by the time I get published who knows what that first book will be. I've already written NA science fiction, YA paranormal, YA romance, and YA spy mystery. 

Advice I've received from published writers is often to enjoy the process of writing for no one in particular, not having deadlines and industry expectations that are imposed rather than chosen. I gotta say, I am enjoying the process. It's great being able to write whatever I want, whether it's poetry or paranormal fiction. 

How have you changed over the course of your writer journey?