Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Rules Rules Blah-Humbug

Firstly, I'd like to wish everyone a peaceful holiday full of love, cheer, and sugar plums.

There are few times in the year when I'm not up to my eyeballs in work. It's usually refreshing for a day or two, then it becomes unnerving. I'm currently doing everything I can to hold off working on book 2 until the first of the new year so I can take full advantage of this OFF time. (I consider myself an obsessive binge writer...) So, I've been running around like a crazy woman with the release of DESCENDANT (which is going excellent by the way!), school closures for snow, my son's 13th birthday, last minute shopping, family traditions....

But let's get back to writing. While I do listen to a lot of audio books throughout the year, I tend not to read for pleasure while I'm writing or editing (lest I absorb someone else's style and lose track of my own). That said, being between projects, I have finally been able to read a few books for sheer entertainment! And you know what? I am reminded of a very important thing: THE WRITING RULES ARE NOT BEING FOLLOWED.

I know we all know this to some degree, but what rules/pet-peeves have you taken to heart strictly because they came from someone you respected ten years ago? Or because how-to books make it seem as though breaking rules is unprofessional and raises a "newbie flag" in the world of publication? (Please don't think I'm condoning first-draft writing as publishable.)

Head hopping used to drive me nuts. I'm starting to believe it's ONLY because I've always been called out on the slightest shift and it's annoying to see 'this' or 'that' book get away with it. But...I'm not a stupid reader and I can follow simultaneous PoVs without any trouble whatsoever. In fact, I'm starting to like it! I'm not saying everyone should do it, but if it makes for a stronger story and you can do it without being sloppy, go for it! Who am I to say you can't when so many published authors do it quite successfully?

I've always believed that writers are harder to please than readers—because writers KNOW what rules you're bending to suit a need. Most readers just want a great story and don't care how it happens.

So one of my writing resolutions for 2014 will be to trust my own judgment when it comes to rules, and to remember that the most captivating stories are not the best because they've been conformed, whittled, and slashed to fit into a suitable marketing box, but because they dare to have a life of their own with a certain magical spark of passion and creativity.

I leave you with this bit of editing (below)—as I found it both funny and sad. I wonder how many remarkable stories have been slaughtered in the editing process.

Monday, December 23, 2013

End of Year Wrapup

I've been purging closets and drawers lately, wanting to start the new year with an uncluttered and streamlined house. Much like when I'm rewriting, I find there are some "darlings" I'm holding onto  for inexplicable reasons. Maybe because so much time and effort went into their creation, or because I think I'll use it somewhere or somehow else, or I acquired it for some self that I wanted to be at the time.

So I'm going to create a "dump box," the equivalent of a "dump file." A dump file is where I put large sections of text that I think I might use elsewhere, but they certainly don't belong in this scene or chapter. Honestly, most of the time they quietly languish there, but every once in awhile I realize it was just in the wrong spot. Then I can recover it and put it in the right spot, without having to struggle to remember what I'd written.

The dump box will have items that I'm not quite ready to let go of, but putting them in the box will hopefully bring me some distance to decide if I really need it. After all, we have a fairly small house, and every item in it really has to earn its keep.

Hey--that's like writing too! Every word in a sentence has to contribute to the whole, as well as having its own weight. And here I was worried I wouldn't be able to tie housecleaning into writing for this post. ;)

Anyway, all the best wishes for you and yours and your writing from Operation Awesome! I'll leave you with a lovely winter scene from our snowfall a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Making a connection: sympathizing with the characters

Recently, I was asked a question for my upcoming blog tour for the release of If I Speak True in January. It was: What do you think makes a well-written story? I kind of surprised myself when I didn't even have to think before giving my answer: well-written characters, tension, mystery, and humor.

Later, as I was thinking about my interview answers, I had to laugh. Apparently, a plot--of any kind--wasn't even on my list of necessities. I've found that I love to be in the characters' heads more than anything, which leads me to today's topic: How do you keep that happy medium of delving into your characters' heads enough that you readers connect with them, but not so much that they can't stand reading it?

I know some people have felt that Pity Isn't An Option is way too into Jonas and Hattie's heads, and I get it. Sometimes readers are in the mood for a story like that, and sometimes not. Sometimes they're in the mood to get to know characters and coast along on their journeys, other times they'd rather see a wide scheme of things played out before they reach the back cover.

So here's my question for you: How, as writers, do you attain this? I've often seen reviews where readers share their frustrations of feeling no connection to the main characters (or the opposite--they were tired of the characters and wanted more action), and I've wondered, Does the author's voice have anything to do with this? Is it a conflict of personalities (the reader's and the MCs) that makes this such a touchy experience? Or, Did the author simply miss the opportunity to get you to sympathize with the character/s by not helping you understand where they're emotionally coming from, first?

Enabling the reader to sympathize with the characters is, after all, part of writing a "well-written" book in the first place--something all of us writers are striving for. Below, I've listed a few books that really made me connect, sympathize and root for the characters. 

How about you? We'd love to hear about your own personal character connections in the comments!

The House of the ScorpionNever Fall DownStolen: A Letter to My Captor
I Capture the CastleRose Under FireJude

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Should You Comp?

In the last several months there have been a lot of online writing contests.  As submissions come in, participating judges sometimes comment on social media about the glaring errors they see in queries and first pages. In a recent contest, a judge questioned why more people were not using comps in their queries.

If you're new to writing and/or publishing you may ask, "what is a comp?" A comp is a competitive title already in the marketplace that could be considered similar to your book. Many writers want to stay away from using comps because they're afraid agents may think it is too similar to what is already in bookstores. This can be true, but there is a reason why agents like to see comps in queries. This is the reason: If they are considering the book, they need to think about how they are going to pitch it to an editor. They also need to know where your book would go on the shelves at the local bookstore. These are all things agents may consider when deciding whether or not a book might be right for their list.

Say you want to use a comp. How would you go about finding one? With one of my recent manuscripts I used keywords to search both the Goodreads and Barnes and Noble websites. Once I read the summary, if I thought the book was similar to my manuscript, I either bought it or borrowed it from the library. After reading, if I felt it was in the same vein as my title, I used it as a comp.

A few other things of note regarding comps:

1) It is NOT necessary to include them in your query, but it IS one more thing that you can use to intrigue an agent into reading more.

2) DO NOT use major bestsellers as comps. No matter how brilliant of a writer you are, you HAVE NOT just written the next HUNGER GAMES or DAVINCI CODE. Rather, you should use middle market titles that have sold well and that agents may recognize.

3) You CAN get creative. In the query for ORIGIN, author Jessica Khoury likened her story to  James Cameron's AVATAR meets Ally Condie's MATCHED. If you've read Jessica's book, you know this is a pretty dead-on comp.

Queries are a tricky thing, but if you can find a good comp title you might want to think about using it. It may just be the added highlight that makes an agent request more!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mystery Editor Reveal + Winners!

Thank you so much to all who participated in the December Mystery Editor contest! And our Mystery Editor is...

Mandy Schoen from Swoon Romance!
Mandy Schoen is the managing editor of Swoon Romance. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband, dog and books. When she's not reading or editing, she can usually be found hovering over her coffee pot, muttering nonsense until it gives her what she wants.

And the winners are:

THE WHITE LEHUA: full manuscript request, and a 10-page critique of this or any other work

LOOKING FOR ORION: full manuscript request

Congratulations to both of our winners! Please e-mail operationawesome6(at)gmail(dot)com for submission instructions, and include "December Mystery Editor winner" in the subject line.

And if you'd like to learn more about Mandy, check out our interview with her below:

1. Any tips for writers struggling with their pitches? Common mistakes you see in them?
The most common mistake I see in pitches is writers trying to cram the entire plot into the pitch, instead of focusing on the hook. A pitch, by design, is a few sentences designed to hook someone’s attention while conveying the basic concept, tone, voice, and genre. That’s a lot of work for a few sentences to do. Leave the details for the query.

2. What books have you read lately that you've fallen in love with (manuscripts you’re currently working with or others')?
I’m currently editing THE ACCIDENTAL SOCIALITE, which is a new adult novel about a girl who moves from small-town Canada to London on a whim to redefine herself, and accidentally becomes famous. It’s seriously the funniest thing I’ve ever read. Which makes sense, since the author, Stephanie Wahlstrom, is hysterical.
3. What are you seeing a lot of in your slush pile lately? What would you like to see more of?
I’m seeing a lot of paranormal lately, and we’re sort of full up on that. On a smaller, semi-interesting side-note, I tend to see a lot of submissions with the same main character name come in at the same time. The last common MC name was Shelley.
I’m not looking for anything specific right now. I just want a love story that grabs me and won’t let go. How’s that for non-specific?
4. As a romance editor, what are some tropes you’re particularly drawn to? How about tropes that turn you off?
I love to see unique twists on familiar situations. I love “falling for the friend’s old brother” and “falling for the older brother’s friend.” I also love contemporary retellings of classic tales. One example is Stephanie Wardrop’s SNARK AND CIRCUMSTANCE series, which is a retelling of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. We also just acquired a YA contemporary retelling of Rapunzel.
5. Any exciting news you can share?
Yes! We’re working on sequels to a few of our titles. One I can tell you about right now is the sequel to EFFORTLESS WITH YOU by Lizzy Charles, which has been one of our most popular young adult books. I’m so excited about this one!
6. And a few just for fun:

Coffee or Tea?
Coffee, definitely.

Sea or mountains?
Sea. I’m terrified of it, which I think is why I’m drawn to it. I’m not the most normal person ever.

Chocolate or bacon?
Um, there better never be a situation where I’d have to choose.
Ebook or print book?
Print. I buy a lot of ebooks, but there’s just something satisfying about holding a printed book.

Favorite tv show?
Right now? Probably The Big Bang Theory. Or The Mindy Project. Or Supernatural. Or…

Thank you so much to Mandy, and thank you all for participating in our final contest of 2013. Here's to many more success stories in 2014!

Saturday, December 7, 2013


Coming Soon!  March 1, 2014. Clean Teen Publishing.

Natasha remembers little from her Russian childhood, other than the lingering nightmares of her mother's tragic death. So when someone close to her hands her a one-way ticket to Russia, along with the deed to her family farm, and then is brutally murdered, she has little confidence about what awaits her in that distant land.

With doubt and uncertainty, Natasha has no choice but to leave her life in America for an unknown future. Once overseas, the terrifying facts as to why she was really summoned home come to light.

Fact one: Monsters do exist.
Fact two: The only thing keeping those monsters out of the world is an ancient mural hidden below her family's farm.
Fact three: The mural that keeps the evil out of the world is falling apart.
The final fact: It's up to Natasha to restore it and save the world from a horror unlike anything seen before.

Luckily, Natasha isn't alone in her mission. Three Russian Knights are tasked with protecting her from the demons as she restores the mural. And leading the Knights is the handsome and strong Anatoly, who seems to be everything Natasha could hope for in a man. Unfortunately, there is one huge problem. Her Knights are forbidden from having relationships with the artists they protect, and Anatoly is a hardcore rule follower. But rules cannot stop the way she feels.

When a horrifying demon breaches the barrier and pulls Anatoly inside the mural, Natasha can’t help but charge, once again, into the unknown—this time to save the man she secretly loves. Now on the demons’ turf, she risks her own life to free the very one who is supposed to be protecting her. Little does she realize that if she should fail, it could mean the destruction of the very last barrier shielding mankind. Will Anatoly refuse Natasha’s help? Or will he finally realize, when love is at stake, the rules will be broken.

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Singular Focus

Over the years I have become the queen of multitasking. The other night I did laundry, cooked dinner, and participated in a conference call all at once. I was exhausted afterward, but I got it all done.

For most people multitasking is a part of their life, and the only way they can get all the things on their "to do" list completed. I get that and appreciate it. I can juggle pretty well, but there is one aspect of my life where I cannot multi-task, and that is with my writing.

I know many writers who have three different manuscripts going at once. And the even more amazing thing is they are in different categories and genres! How they pull it off I don't know, and believe me I've tried.

Earlier this summer I started querying my Young Adult Thriller and it came back with some requests for rewrites. Only problem was I'd already started my YA Historical Romance. I was in a groove with the YAHR, but I needed to work on the Thriller. For weeks, I tried to vacillate between both and guess what happened? They both started to suffer. In fact, I started switching the MCs names in the manuscripts. LOL! Not good.

While I applaud all those who can jump from one idea to another, it's not a skill I possess. For me there has to be one singular focus.  Oh, my mind may wander to that other idea calling to me from somewhere on my hard drive, but I have to push it away. 

The good thing about all this is that when one manuscript is finished, I know I have another one ready to go. And if a fluffy, new idea pops up as I'm working on the next thing? I file it away and wait patiently. I've learned my lesson - one thing at a time. It will all get done, it just may take me a looong time.

How about you? Can you work on several different projects at once? Or are you like me and must have a singular focus? Would love to hear about it in the comments!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

December Mystery Editor Contest

Welcome to our last contest of 2013 - the December Mystery Editor contest! Yes, you read that right - Mystery Editor! Are your pitches ready to go? Today we are looking for your one-line pitch, plus the first 250 words of your manuscript.

Our Mystery Editor is seeking:
  •  YA contemporary romance 
  • NA contemporary romance 
  • and adult contemporary romance

and is not currently seeking YA paranormal.
The Grand Prize Winner will receive a 10-page critique, and our ME will request at least two full manuscripts for consideration. 

And here are the rules:

1) Again, you must submit a one-line pitch, along with the first 250 words of your manuscript. (If 250 cuts you off mid-sentence, you may finish that sentence, though.) If your pitch exceeds one line, you will be asked to resubmit.
* Make sure your pitch is not several sentences stuck together with commas instead of periods!

2) Entries must be for completed manuscripts. No unfinished drafts, please!

3) Entries must be left in the comments section of today's post (please don't email us your entries!). We'll close the contest once we've reached our limit.

4) You can only enter once today (only one project). If you participated or won previous MA contests, you can enter this one as well!

5) Please include NAME, CONTACT INFO, GENRE, and TITLE, followed by your one-line pitch.

6) The contest will close when we receive 50 entries.

7) If the rules aren't followed, your entry will be disqualified.

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