Monday, March 30, 2015

The YA Scavenger Hunt is Almost Here!

Want a fun way to spend your Spring Break? Hop on the YA Scavenger Hunt!  This bi-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors...and a chance to win some awesome prizes! At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize--one lucky winner will receive one book from each author on a team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 72 hours!

Go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. There are EIGHT contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of TEAM TEAL and my stop will go live on my Angelic Muse blog on April 2nd, at noon PST. And you'll have two opportunities to win an ARC of Crow's Rest--one in the grand prize, and another giveaway on my page.

There are so many great authors involved this year (including many Fearless Fifteeners and our own OA alumna, Jessica L. Brooks), I feel like I'm in pretty stellar company! I've had a lot of fun researching the author that I'm hosting, and hopefully all you scavengers hunters will too!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Antiheroes, heroes, and Superman


I've never been a huge fan of antiheroes in literature. My favorite example of an antihero is Scarlett O'Hara. She's awful. Her inner voice makes all the good things she does selfish and duty-bound to the image of goodness. House, M.D. is another story with an antihero. Since he's modeled after Sherlock Holmes, we could include him in this category. It's all about the game, not necessarily the lives in jeopardy.

We all tend to love the reluctant hero, but the antihero is different. He isn't just reluctant at first, before he finally responds to the call of duty and honor. He's resentful of the duty all the way through. He has his own reasons for doing what he does, and they have nothing to do with the traditional heroic mind.

Captain America is a hero. He sacrifices willingly for a cause he perceives to be greater than himself. A reluctant hero who stays resentful of the people he must help and the cause he must serve becomes an antihero.

It's tricky to write an antihero successfully and keep people engaged. It can grate on the nerves, especially if there's no perceptible arc or growth in the character.

On the opposite side is the flawless hero. That's Superman. His only weakness is a rock from his home planet, not any kind of relatable human frailty. Just as important as being good and dependable is the necessary human foible or two that make a person relatable. Han Solo is not an antihero because he truly does care about causes and friends, though he prides himself on being tough and detached.

So go ahead and knock your heroes off their pedestals! Just don't knock them too hard. :)

Who is your favorite hero? Favorite antihero?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: Everything that Makes You by Moriah McStay

Welcome to this week's WEDNESDAY DEBUT INTERVIEW!

Today, we're talking with Moriah McStay about her YA contemporary debut, Everything that Makes You, which debuted March 17 from HarperCollins.

Tell us a bit about yourself, Moriah. What do you like to do when you're not writing?

Outside of writing and family, I don’t have as much time as I’d like for other things. I try to exercise every day—either the gym or walking my dogs or yoga. I’m a certified yoga teacher, and I teach aerial yoga a few times a month. I spend so many hours in my head, that coffee or lunch with friends is critical to my sanity, as least a few times a week. I read a ton and travel all that I can manage.

Tell us about Everything that Makes You. What made this an important story for you to tell?
ETMY is the story of Fiona—and Fi—Doyle. Same girl, two different stories. Fiona’s face is scarred, after a freak accident when she was little. Fi was never in the accident. In two parallel story lines, ETMY follows them both, looking at how their lives are the same, different and where they overlap. It’s not a paranormal book; there’s no magic. It’s two, equally plausible options about what a girl’s life would be like, based on different circumstances.

I’d thought about writing this book years before I actually did. When I was little, I was in an accident that left me blind in one eye. You can’t notice much now, but at the time it felt significant. People could tell. I got lots of questions, couldn’t play sports, had to wear big glasses. Later on—in high school and college—I began to wonder which parts of my personality were shaped by the accident. If it never happened, who would I be? And what about my brother and sister? My parents? How did the accident effect their lives? What about everyone else’s individual experiences? What about my friend whose father died when she was young? Or the classmate with cancer? How did those events change them?

There are so many “what ifs”--we all have them. It’s an interesting question to explore, I think.

How long has this process taken for you, from the time that you began the first draft of this book until the date of its publication?
The drafting and revisions took about eight or ten months—but I had the idea for almost fifteen years. I probably worked on it most of 2012. I signed with my agent Steven Chudney in November 2012. He sold the book in March 2013. Two full years later, it’s in book stores. The other day, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in ages. When I told her the book comes out March 17th, she said, “Wow! That was fast!” I replied, “We really need to go out more often."

What do you love most about writing? What do you struggle with most?
I struggle most with balance. Since I’m writing full-time now, I have to consciously make myself go out into the world. It’s great to have so much time to write, but if I spend ALL the time writing, I feel creatively drained. Yoga and exercise helps, but this year, I’m trying to be better about seeking out different things. Art shows, new restaurants, even driving different routes to the grocery store. Anything to get my synapses to fire in new ways!

Every writer experiences some rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on?
I wrote two complete manuscripts before I found an agent for ETMY. Ugh, they were terrible--I can’t believe I let actual, real people read them—but the process was critical. I learned necessary lessons, and I’m a better writer for it. Sometimes I go back to those earlier ideas, when I’m working on setting or character.

I submitted both manuscripts to agents. The process is LONG, so I started new projects while waiting. I did the same while submitting ETMY, and that bare-bones effort was the spring board for my second novel, which I’m revising now. I’d say this "Keep Writing" coping mechanism was the most helpful for me. Throw yourself into something new. Not only will it keep you too busy to refresh your inbox 80 million times a day, but if bad news comes in, you’ll be excited and focused on a new project. It helps takes out some of the sting.

How did you find your publisher? What makes them a good fit for you and your book?
My agent Steven Chudney was in charge of the submission process, so he gets the credit for my awesome placement with Katherine Tegen Books. I love the depth and breath of HarperCollins--not just with range of things they publish but their long history, too. As a newbie, I feel respected and supported. The experience has been great.

Also, my editor Jill Davis is a godsend. I’m such a better writer now, because of her. She’s my own, personal MFA program.

Was there anything that surprised you about the publishing process?
The time frame can be surprising, and everything that happens behind the scenes. There are so many elements beyond me coming up with the idea and then writing down the words. ETMY feels like a joint effort now, and it's much stronger because of it.

After signing a contract with a publisher, what comes next for a debut author? What have you been doing in these months between then and now?
Social media is a biggie. I wasn’t very involved on Twitter or the blogosphere prior to my contract. My debut groups—Fearless Fifteeners and Class 2k15—have been a great resource. I’m trying to work out the balance between promoting ETMY and revising my second novel.

I remember seeing your cover around the web -- it's definitely eye-catching! How much say did you have in it? What do you hope it will tell readers about your story?
Isn’t is great? I feel like I lucked out with this. It’s not what I envisioned at all—I actually didn’t want a girl on the cover. But Erin Fitzsimmons—the art director at HarperCollins who designed it—did such a fantastic job. She gets all the credit. The hand lettering of the lyrics on Fiona’s side of the face is all her work. She ripped out a moleskine page and worked on that, to make it the most authentic.

Tell us about your title. Was EVERYTHING THAT MAKES YOU the first title you had in mind? If not, how did its change come about?
The original title was Progressions of Fate. So horrible, right? I didn’t even like it, then. When my agent said, “We’ll probably have to change it,” I was like, “Yes! Please! Come up with something better!”

My editor Jill Davis and I tried out so many titles, some better than others, but none exactly right. She sent me an email one weekend. The subject line was EVERYTHING THAT MAKES YOU!!!! It’s a line in the book, and she’d just read it while revising. Once we had the title, I wrote one of the later songs to go with it.

What's next for you after this debut? What are you working on now?
I’m revising my second book for Katherine Tegen. It’s been a long road—very normal for a sophomore novel, I’m told—but I’m pleased with the direction the book’s taken. I’m not sure when it’ll release, but it will be another standalone, contemporary YA.

How does it feel to have your book out in the hands of readers? Do you have any events planned that you'd like to tell people about?
So crazy! HarperCollins has gotten lots of ARCs in the hands of bloggers and readers. I love the unsolicited love—the emails, tweets and reviews--I get from people I don’t know. It’s surreal seeing conversation threads of people talking about your book, like it’s a real thing.

My book launch is March 17 at Booksellers of Laurelwood, an awesome Indie bookstore in Memphis. I’ll be in Jackson, MS March 31 for some school visits, all organized through Lemuria Books. We’re still fine-tuning the other events, but I’ll announce them on my website as they get nailed down.

Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication?
For me, it was getting involved in social media. I hadn’t done much of it before my contract. I got on board with the Fearless Fifteeners early on—Jasmine Warga and I are in charge of the ARC tours—and that network had been invaluable. Similarly, I’m a member of Class 2k15. I can’t recommend this type of networking enough. Not only can you bounce ideas off of people in your same boat, but you’ve got a supportive group behind you, when your turn to pub comes.

And, just for fun, what's one song that you think relates well to EVERYTHING THAT MAKES YOU, and why?
“We Made a Mountain” by the Mynabirds. While I’m sure it’s not the original intent of the song, it seems like something Fiona and Fi would share with the other, if they could. It makes me teary every time I hear it.

Thanks so much for the interview, and congrats on your debut!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Rhetorical Devices -- by PK Hrezo

What are rhetorical devices? Is that a rhetorical question? Erm, huh??


Learning about these devices in the craft of writing really helped me tidy up my prose and create a lasting effect. Here's what you should know:

Repeating a word or phrase at the beginning of three or four successive clauses or sentences. 

Example:  But her whole body was shivering, trembling, quaking. And she couldn't stop thinking about her empty bedroom. She couldn't stop thinking about that one window. She couldn't stop thinking that should she swear, she would swear that Ed had been standing there all along. 

Cool, right? It creates a lasting effect in the reader's mind. 

Omitting conjunctions between words and phrases. 

Example:  To be honest, I had been restless. It had started back in the fall--this feeling of time passing, of being postponed, pent up, not wanting to leave the house. 

By deliberately leaving off the word "and" in the end sentence, there is a feeling of despair. 

The use of many conjunctions. Using "and" or "or" several times in the same sentence but without commas between them. 

Example:  She noticed the dark circles beneath his eyes. They appeared whenever he was sick or overtired or just worried. 

These three rhetorical devices are tried and true techniques writers use to create an effect. Try going back into your WIP and finding a paragraph or two to try these out on. Once I'd learned these and went back into my own WIP at the time, they made a huge difference. 

Hope you find them helpful. Are these new terms to you? Or do you already employ these devices in your work? Please share ...

Monday, March 23, 2015

More on Contests, April Mystery Agent Lottery, and Nestpitch

I really enjoyed Aimee's post yesterday about contests--and I agree that they're a great opportunity for writers to get their work in front of agents and editors.

I also agree that organizing contests is a lot of hard work--and I'm lucky to have all my Operation Awesome operatives to help when we run pitch contests here (have you entered the April Mystery Agent Lottery yet? Time is running short!)

I'd also like to plug another contest I'm involved in from the other side--Nestpitch, which will be commencing April 1. It's a pitch contest with an Easter theme.

Though I'm sure the judges will be more tolerant than this egg.

More information on Nestpitch can be found here, but here's a brief run-down:

The submission consists of:

(i)    35-word pitch

(ii)    Answer to this question: If YOUR MC was an Easter Egg, what flavor would s/he be? (no more than 15 words)

(iii)   1st 300-words of your manuscript

Throughout the month of April, multiple teams will look at the entries and pick their favorites. Yours could be one of them.

And of course, you should still enter the April Mystery Lottery too, if you can.

Finally, here are some tips if you plan to enter a contest:
  • Make sure you have something ready and polished. Nothing like getting a request for half-done manuscript!
  • Make sure your pitch includes your protagonist, what they want/need more than anything, and what gets in their way
  • Make sure you follow all the contest specifications, especially submission guidelines, which can vary greatly 

And here are some tips if you plan to be a contest judge:
  • Make sure you know the full extent of what's expected
  • Make sure the timetable fits into your schedule, and that you are clear on what is supposed to happen when
  • Make sure that you can glean/learn something from the experience

Question for all: What has been your experience with contests? 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Importance of Contests (And their Hosts)

I've always been a big advocate of query contests. Its a great way to stand out from the slushpile and find agents that you may not have queried on your own. It also provides a lot of opportunities to get feedback for fellow writers and form a community online with those who are on the same path as you. There's really nothing bad about contests.

I entered in my share of contests while still in the trenches and, let me tell you, most of my partial and full requests came from said contests. In fact, my now agent, the wonderful Laura Zats, found me through #pitmad.

But now I've seen contests from the other side of the show, whether it be judging, or, in the case of this past month, organizing. And let me tell you, I was unprepared for the amount of work it can take to put together a contest. This was my first time putting together the Mystery Agent contest and it was stressful. I don't know how some people run much bigger contests on a regular basis!

So today, let's give a collective shout out to all those writers who host and help out behind the scenes with contests to give other writers a chance at landing their agent. I wouldn't be where I am today if not for those lovely people and they deserve all of the gratitude.

We are always told to give back to our community. And for many writers, this online collection of people at various stages of the writing and publishing process, is their community. So thanks to the writers who give back! We appreciate all of your hard work.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Importance of Reading

Before I get started, I want to apologize that I'm not posting the deadline calculator today like I said I would. I've gotten to the point where it consistently has one of two problems and the solution to each problem causes the other problem. I don't know if that makes sense, but I honestly can't look at it anymore. Maybe I'll revisit it in the future or just start over from scratch, but at this point, it isn't happening. Sorry. :(


The other day, I was talking to my daughter and her friend about writing. Both of them like to write, but they both say they hate to read. So, since I will do just about anything to get my kids to read (how I ended up with only one kid who likes to read, I'll never understand), I tried to impress on them the importance of reading if you want to be a writer, but for some reason--probably lack of sleep and spending all day looking at time cards and Excel spreadsheets--I couldn't come up with any compelling reasons other than that you should know your market if you want to be published and it's makes you a better writer.

Knowing your market is important, but to a teenager who only writes for pleasure and isn't looking to publish anytime soon, it's not important. So that wasn't helpful. And when I mentioned it helps you become a better writer, they, of course, wanted specifics. I told them there were things you gleaned from reading that you can't learn anywhere else. That wasn't specific enough for them. After that, they started talking about something else and the topic was forgotten.

About a week later, I was listening to an audiobook at work and something magical happened. I know listening to an audiobook isn't technically reading, but sometimes that's the closest I can get. Anyway, I have a story I started about four years ago. I love the characters and the premise, and I'd really like to finish it, but I keep getting stuck. I know how I want several of the subplots to go and I have a pretty good idea about the main plot arc--even did a complete outline at one point--but every time I sat down to write, it just felt wrong. The plot needs to go one way but my MC has had no reason do the things she needs to do to move the plot forward. And so it's been sitting, waiting while I work on other things.

So, back to the audiobook. The climax was over and things were wrapping up. The MC was talking about something with her boyfriend and one of them said something (I don't remember exactly what it was) and even though I wasn't thinking about my story, something in my subconscious latched onto some aspect of their conversation, my MC's motivation became clear and everything for my story clicked into place. And it's such a simple solution, it's a little embarrassing I didn't come up with this a year ago. Major duh moment.

This isn't the first time something like this has happened--reading has always been one of the ways I recharge my brain when I'm stuck--but this is the first time it's happened with something this important.

So now I just have to choose between my current WIP and going back to that story. It feels like choosing one child and completely ignoring the other. Such an easy decision. At least now I have more ammo for the next time my daughter asks me why reading is so important for a writer.

What about you? Do you think reading is important if you're a writer? What do you get from reading that helps you to be a better writer?

Friday, March 20, 2015

The New Project Starter Kit

TGIF, Operation Awesome!

As those of you who know me know well, I like to stay... busy, to put it mildly. Even now, as I am powering through revisions on my current project, I am already getting excited about my next idea in the queue. And I have good reason to be excited - usually the end of one project prompts a Battle Royale between fledgling ideas for premium space in my brain, so it's a lovely change of pace to have a fully-formed idea ready to go!

Sometimes, going into that new idea, I don't have a lot to work with until I get into the rhythm of it. Sometimes it takes a couple chapters to figure out what I'm doing. But even when I'm flying blind, I like to make a new project survival kit of sorts. Here's what I take with me when exploring the uncharted project wilderness:

A proper soundtrack. I work full time and have a long commute, so I have to use those long commutes to my advantage and get some serious brainstorming in. And when I need to drown out the loud-laughers and the cell phone-talkers and get lost in my thoughts, I need something to set the right mood. Sometimes that means a full-fledged, 50+ song playlist. Occasionally, that means two songs I will listen to on repeat for weeks upon weeks and will never want to hear again when the project is over. Either way, music, for me, is a serious plotting aid.

A protagonist character sheet. Other characters, I can figure out along the way, but if I can't get the voice right off the bat, it's hard to get going on the project. I shared my character sheet here - help yourself!

Basic plot touchstones. I have done my share of plotting AND pantsing, but I rarely know exactly where I'm going right from the start. Instead, I have key scenes in mind when I start, just to give me and idea and get me excited about the story. A full outline tends to emerge after the first quarter or so of the manuscript.

A pitch letter. Yes, I used to hate them, too. But much like those touchstones, it's great to start out knowing my hook. And it's also great to have something to share with my critique partners to get their early take on it. (And I kind of love getting a little early excitement going, too!)
Have fun, OA, and happy writing!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

'Tis the Season

While the setting may seem like a simple part of the story, it can actually have a huge impact on what is going on. Some stories have more pronounced settings than others. In some books, the setting is more of a subtle background, the stage on which the actors play, while in others, the setting is almost a character in and of itself. Either way, the setting is a very important part of a story.

The events detailed in The Scarlet Letter, for instance, either wouldn't have happened or would have happened in a very different way with a very different outcome if the story had been set someplace like the farthest frontier outpost or a Native American village or in the southern states...even during the same time period. The setting of a story, not just the physical location but everything about it (time of day, season, outside (forest or beach) or inside (and what type of building if inside)) can greatly impact the success of a story.

This is something that I've been paying particular attention to recently because of my current WIP. It's a road trip romance that I had initially set in during the winter. But, my editor and I got to talking the other day. This book will release in the summer - and we just weren't sure if people would be interested in reading a book set in the winter when they were laying on a beach somewhere or finally reveling in a little warmth after a long, cold winter.

So, I am currently in the process of changing winter into summer (just wish it was this easy in real life) ;-) And I've been a bit surprised by how many tiny little details I sprinkled throughout the story that have to deal with the weather. From my character's clothing to descriptions about the sky and landscape to whether or not my characters can see their breath when they speak - even details about how the react and interact with each other. Bundled in snow suits they can only speculate what the other may look like with less layers. Stripping down to the bare minimum because of the heat leaves little to the imagination.

In the long run, I think we've made the right decision. I'm really enjoying the different scenarios I've been able to pen because of the season change. And I actually need to get back at it because this book is due in two weeks and there is still a lot of work to do ;)

I am curious though - how do you feel about reading books set in a different season than what is going on in real life? Would you want to read a winter set book in the middle of summer?

I hadn't thought about it before this, but honestly...I think I do tend to gravitate toward seasonally parallel books. I don't generally pick up a book with a snow-covered picture on the cover in the middle of summer. I never realized that before :)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

April Mystery Agent Contest Reminder

I'm battling the stomach flu, but I wanted to pop on to remind everyone the April mystery Agent Contest is now LIVE.

What are we looking for?
A 50-word blurb!
What is our Mystery Agent seeking?
Genre: Fantasy and Sci-fi (for YA / Adult) 
When can you enter?
Right now! The lottery will close Tuesday, March 31st, at 11:59pm, CST.

All the details, and entry, can be found here.

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

April Mystery Agent Contest!

Welcome to the lottery for our April Mystery Agent contest! Are your manuscripts polished and your pitches ready to go?

What are we looking for?
A 50-word blurb!
What is our Mystery Agent seeking?
Genre: Fantasy and Sci-fi (for YA / Adult) 
When can you enter?
Right now! The lottery will close Tuesday, March 31st, at 11:59pm, CST.

How to enter:
•  Enter your name and email address in the Rafflecopter below.
•  Make sure you complete the last step in the Rafflecopter and email your entry to operationawesome6 (at) gmail (dot) com. Email the following in this format:

Email address:
Pen Name: (if applicable--this will be the name posted in the forum)
Word Count:
50-word Blurb:
Do you want to be included in the forum for feedback? (yes or no)

Important: Once you have completed this last step, type “Done” in step 3 of the Rafflecopter and click "Enter!" to complete your entry. That's it!

Please enter only once and only if your manuscript is finished and query-ready.
The lottery will close Monday, March 30th, at 11:59 pm CST. Lottery winners for our Mystery Agent's consideration will be posted here on the blog on April 1st (no joke!).

TWENTY 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 20 entries (who opted to be included) here on the blog on April 1st for cheerleading and constructive feedback. And last but certainly not least, the reveal, along with the winner and to-be-announced prize, will be posted here sometime in the month of April.

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

Good luck and...

Monday, March 16, 2015

Interior Design for Book Nerds

I bet you thought this was going to be a post on how to make more bookshelves fit into your home decor, didn't you? No, this post is aimed at those who enjoy the details that go into the design of the interior of the book.

They can range from little artsy accents on the page numbers, all the way up to full-blown illustrations. I personally love all incarnations of art in written works, and believe they can enhance the experience for the reader. Here are a few examples from Honey Queen, by Christina Mercer:

You'll see there's a bee hovering at the page number in the bottom right corner, and here's a closeup of the chapter headings:

Christina includes titles for each of her chapters, and I think this sort of artwork is a great way to draw the reader's attention to each one, while also tying it in with previous chapters.

For Crow's Rest, I had already bought a bunch of vector artwork of crow silhouettes and wanted to sprinkle them throughout--fortunately, Errick A. Nunnally, who designed the interior layout, went along with it and I love how it turned out:

The title page

The top of each page corner features a tiny crow, and what else do you use for section breaks but a line of crow tracks?!?

These are the chapter numberings
I know of several other books that incorporate art this way, and I love how it becomes a unique part of each story. If you have a favorite book that uses interior art, please share in the comments below!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: Fairy Keeper by Amy Bearce

For this week's WEDNESDAY DEBUT INTERVIEW, we get to hear about Amy Bearce's brand new book, a middle grade fantasy called Fairy Keeper, which was released March 5 from Curiosity Quills Press.

First off, tell us about yourself? What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I’m a wife and a mom of two girls, ages 9 and almost 11, and they keep me pretty busy. We’re living in Germany right now, so we get to travel a lot across Europe. I spend a lot of time on Facebook, keeping in touch with family and friends in Texas. My favorite hobby is reading. Even when we’re traveling through a place as awesome as Italy, I make sure I have a book with me. I have a Masters of Library Science and volunteer at my daughters’ school library with a fabulous librarian who has completely welcomed me here.

Tell us about FAIRY KEEPER. What was your favorite thing about the story?
FAIRY KEEPER is about a tough girl who was born to take care of fairies, but hates doing it. I found myself wondering, what if fairies weren’t like the cute ones that were in all those children’s shows I watched with my girls when they were little? What if they were more like angry, swarming bees, and we were using their magic for our own gain? What would happen?

What would happen if they all suddenly…disappeared?

My favorite thing about the story, actually, is the relationship between the two main female characters on this quest, Sierra and Nell. They start off as enemies, but during their journey, they eventually develop a tentative friendship. There’s a line that says, “Understanding Nell made hating her much harder.” And I think that is true for everyone.

How long has this process taken for you, from the time that you began the first draft of this book until the date of its publication?

I started writing FAIRY KEEPER in 2011. I got distracted about halfway through when I had an idea for a different middle grade story and wrote that one, instead. I probably spent a year focused on the other manuscript. Then I went back and finished FAIRY KEEPER in 2013. It was submitted to Curiosity Quills in the beginning of 2014. March 5th, 2015 is its publication date, so it’s been a few years since I first started this manuscript!

What do you love most about writing? What do you struggle with most?
I love the freedom to make up worlds and events. I love getting to fall into this story and see what happens. The hardest part is that sometimes it’s hard to balance that world with the real one. Making time to write everyday is challenging for me, because when the writing is going well, I don’t want to deal with reality at all. And when the writing is NOT going so well, it’s tough to make yourself sit there and write anyway. But that’s the only way any story of mine is ever finished. There’s always that first love of the new story, all the shiny possibilities, but then by the time I’m halfway through, it gets hard and I have to use a lot of self-discipline through the last third of the book to finish it.

Every writer experiences some rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on?
I found a lot of encouragement from fellow writers and my critique partner in particular. I also actually sought out stories of beloved authors and books that were rejected many times before finding their home. I’d cling to those stories. I created a 10X10 chart with 100 boxes and decided my goal would be to fill up that chart with 100 rejections, much like Stephen King talks about his giant stake on the wall that held all his rejections. I forgot about keeping up with it after a while, but it did take the sting out of the earliest rejections. It helps so much to remember that everyone experiences rejection. Every No, thanks can be one step closer to finding success, if you learn from it.

How did you find your publisher? What makes them a good fit for you and your book?
Curiosity Quills and I actually met up through a Twitter contest organized by Brenda Drake. But it’s a little unusual, in that I hadn’t actually entered the contest in which my tweet was found. The year before, I had entered #PitMad with that other manuscript I had written, which was a middle grade supervillain story. When Lisa Gus went looking for #MG on #PitMad, though, my entry from the year before still popped up because people were using the same hashtags. She asked to see a query if it was still available, which it was. Turns out, she loved it, but unfortunately, had another title on their list that was too similar, so she couldn’t make an offer on that one. But she asked if I had anything else to show her, since she liked my writing. I had finally finished FAIRY KEEPER, so I sent that. She offered a contract and I was thrilled to sign on with them. You just never know what types of connections will happen once you put your work out there. It’s amazing!

Was there anything that surprised you about the publishing process?
I had read a lot about the publishing process during the years that I’ve spent writing and focused on becoming a published author. However, I don’t think anything can really prepare you for how sick you can get of looking at your own story after all the edits and proofreading. It’s a long process!

Speaking of which, after signing a contract with a publisher, what comes next for a debut author? What have you been doing in these months between then and now?
We actually moved to Germany within a few months of my signing the contract, so it’s been a wild, wild year. The months after the contract were spent working on edits, setting up a better website, and increasing my social media presence. I also started the companion novel to this story. Then we moved and everything came screeching to a halt for a while. Once our internet was hooked up, it was time to get back to editing FAIRY KEEPER. An international move is exhausting (any move is exhausting), and I didn’t write any new material for months after we moved.

As far as edits went, we chose to make some major changes to my manuscript, more than I had expected, but I think they were all important and necessary changes. I’m glad we did them. The story was originally YA, written in first person present. After discussion with my editor and others in-house, we opted to make this story upper-middle grade by tweaking it just a bit, and switched to third person, past tense. That meant my first round of revisions involved changing several words in every single sentence. I hope I don’t have to ever do that again, but I’m glad I did it this time. It’s a better book because of it.

You have a lovely book cover! How much say did you have in it? What do you hope it will tell readers about your story?
Thank you so much! I love my cover and I feel so fortunate! Curiosity Quills matched me with an amazing artist, Amalia Chitulescu. She asked me a number of questions throughout her work, and was very open to my original idea. I wanted the focus to be on the fairy keeper mark on the back of Sierra’s neck, and I wanted a magical, mystical cover with the fairies all around Sierra, who would need to be facing away somewhat to show off the mark. So in this case, my cover is not only what I hoped for, she created something better than I could have dreamed!

Was FAIRY KEEPER the first title you had in mind? If not, how did its change come about?
FAIRY KEEPER was not the original title, actually. For a long time, I didn’t even have a working title. I just called it, “the fairy fantasy,” which definitely lacks a little something. Then it became FAIRY FORTUNE. That title just didn’t resonate with me. Then after I finished drafting the book, I brainstormed a list of various title possibilities, and FAIRY KEEPER came up. My critique partner and I both liked it best, so I used it. My publisher liked it, too, so it stayed.

What's next for you after this debut? What are you working on now?
I’m currently finishing up a companion book that focuses on Sierra’s little sister, Phoebe, and her relationship with the merfolk. Their tie is hinted at in FAIRY KEEPER, and this next story takes place four years later. Because the focus is on the merfolk, much of the book takes place under the sea. The setting has been both challenging and really fun to write. I also have a YA urban fantasy that I just pulled off the backburner and started working on again.

How does it feel to have your book out in the hands of readers? Do you have any events planned that you'd like to tell people about?
Having my book out is both thrilling and terrifying. I honestly didn’t expect this much terror!

Because I’m in Germany, I do feel rather insulated, because most of the people I know personally who want to buy my book are across the ocean. There are a lot of Americans at my current location, though, and I am excited to have a presentation scheduled at the local middle school here in March and May.

Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication?
When you are ready, get your work out there and learn to take criticism well. It’s always hard to hear that someone doesn’t immediately love your work and want to publish it, but learning to receive feedback well is a gift that will pay dividends the rest of your writing career.

And, just for fun, what's one song that you think relates well to FAIRY KEEPER, and why?
The song “Fireflies” by Owl City comes to mind, because my fairies look a lot like fireflies in the fields during summer. It’s how I always pictured them. Sierra experiences some dreams that are "real bizarre," too, about mid-way through the book, and she's uncertain if she's awake or asleep. On a more practical note, I heard that song a lot when we first moved here and I was working on edits, so the two will always be entwined for me now. Here’s my favorite video of the song, performed in American Sign Language by D-PAN (Deaf Professional Arts Network). I don’t know much ASL, but I do think it’s a gorgeous language.

Thanks, Amy! Congrats on your debut!

Click here to buy FAIRY KEEPER!

Monday, March 9, 2015

On the Quantification of Things

Congratulations to the winners and runners up of the March Mystery Agent Contest! Keep your eyes out for the next one--we have them pretty frequently over here in the Operation of Awesome.

And with the word frequently, I segue into today's blog topic: quantification.

I see quantification a lot in my academic library job--mostly because what my department does isn't something that can always be measured. (Specifically, whether or not students become lifelong learners and researchers.)

Along the same vein, the disciplines that I work with (the humanities, mostly) are more difficult to measure than some of the STEM areas. As a result, I, and a few of my colleagues, were required to conduct a session where we explained what we did to other library departments, so they could see the value in what we did.

Which got me thinking--as a society, we seem pretty numbers obsessed, especially when it comes to measuring value.

The problem is, it doesn't always work.

Except here, maybe.

I see this a lot in the writing world as well as the librarian world, probably because the publishing side of things is more business (and therefore numbers) oriented. But that aside, sometimes, even some of the yet-to-be agented or yet-to-be published get worried when they see things like this:

  • Only 50-60% of first novels actually get picked up by a publisher.
  • You have to get at least ten full manuscript requests to land an agent. 
And so on. I get quantification when the business becomes reality, like advances and sales and such (and I'm sure there are countless other measurements), but I'm wondering if dwelling on hypotheticals like the ones above is a masked attempt to control a completely random process. Even worrying about word counts falls into this category--as if the perfect word count would guarantee an opportunity that might not otherwise come. 

I think, there, in the word, "category," we have our answer--it's not necessarily the quantification itself, but which category we think the quantification puts us in. If we don't have enough fulls out, we're in that other, lower, category. Same if book sales don't do as well as we hope (though it's very true that this sort of quantification has some very real effects). 

Our society's need to categorize is a separate blog post, probably, but we see it everywhere, lines that are put up that don't really exist. 

So I say--let's tear those lines down, and not let them limit us. And to put this more eloquently, I'm going to quote someone much smarter than me:

"Yes, you can calculate what percentage of writers actually sell their first book, but don't expect it to be meaningful information. In the end, it is just another pointless thing to fret about. Go forth and write something fantastic." -Amy Schaefer

So what about you? Where do you find yourself trying to quantify? Has it helped or hurt your process?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

March Mystery Agent Reveal and Winners!

Meant to get this post out earlier today, but life does happen! However, without further ado, let's meet our Mystery Agent!

The wonderful Laura Zats of Red Sofa Literary! And the winners are...

FULL REQUEST (including query):
Name: Carissa Taylor
Genre: YA sci-fi
Word Count: 95,000

PARTIAL REQUEST (query + 3 chapters):
Name: Kelly deVos / THE SIX
Word Count: 65,000

Name: Krista Wayment
Genre: MG Science Fiction
Word Count: 42,000

Name: Laura Rueckert
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Word Count: 79,000

Name: Aniko Rajci
Genre: YA Fantasy
Word Count: 75,000

Please email us a operationawesome6 (at) gmail (dot) com with the subject March MA Winner for further instructions.

Laura was kind enough to answer a few questions for us so we can get to know her a little better.

Any tips for writers struggling with their pitches? Common mistakes you see in them?
The biggest mistake I see authors make is either going too big or too small. Some people just can’t resist giving me enough details to amount to almost an entire synopsis. Other authors live in the Land of the Vague, where “ordinary girls” roam in packs and decide to either “put everything on the line for love” or save the world.

What books have you read lately that you’ve fallen in love with (manuscripts you’re currently working with or others)?
Published books I’ve fallen in love with lately include ANCILLARY JUSTICE, Lev Grossman’s THE MAGICIANS, and ALTHEA & OLIVER.
All are odd, quirky, and push the envelope in some way.

What are you seeing a lot of in your slush pile lately? What would you like to see? What are you tired of?
As someone who reps YA, I get tired of a lot of stuff really easily, because I see it a ton!
Things currently on the hit list include:
Horror movie creatures (including Death)
Chosen Ones
Tolkienesque fantasy
“Normal” or “Ordinary” characters who fall in love with a popular guy

What do I want to see?
Diversity of all kinds
Non-Western settings

Any exciting news to share?
The first book in my list, Aimee Hyndman’s HOUR OF MISCHIEF is slated to come out this fall!

And a few just for fun:

Favorite caffeinated beverage?
Tea! Lady Grey tea, to be exact.

Sea or mountains?
Er…both. As long as I’m in the shade!

Chocolate or bacon?

Ebook or print book?

Favorite TV show?
Three-way tie between Buffy, Doctor Who, and Breaking Bad.

Thank you so much to Laura for being our Mystery Agent this month! And congrats to all the winners!

Stay tuned for info on our next Mystery Agent contest!

Saturday, March 7, 2015


For almost two months, I've been working on modifying my word count tracking spreadsheet to create a deadline tracking spreadsheet. It's taking me longer than I expected and a couple of the formulas aren't working the way I want them to. I thought I had it all fixed last night and I was going to post it today, but when I went to test it this morning, something else was off. I've tried all day to fix it, but it's not going to happen today. So instead I give you a little bit of fluff. Enjoy!

Check back in two weeks for the deadline tracker. If I can get it to work the way I want it to, it should be pretty awesome. :)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

March 2015 Mystery Agent Critique Forum - OPEN NOW!

Welcome back to the Mystery Agent critique portion of our contest! Those who wished to be included in the open forum are ready for your critiques.

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 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 March 2015 Mystery Agent in the top left corner of the forum.
Any questions? Leave in the comments below this post.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Share With Us!

I'm curious! (as writers tend to be) :-) How is your current writing project coming along? Are you keeping up with goals you might have made at the first of the year?

I'm in the editing stages of book 3, waiting on the first round of beta readers, working on the back cover blurb and cover art...semi-distracted by the spring cleaning bug.  

How 'bout you? Anything exciting going on in your world? Share with us!

March Mystery Agent Lottery Winners!

The results are in and here are our randomly selected winners of the March Mystery Agent Contest Lottery!

Congratulations to . . .

Mindy Gray Schmidt

Aniko Rajci

Lyndsay Ely


Debra Daugherty

Ilana Ostrar

Tina Spear

Tamara Girardi

Heather Murphy Capps

Diana Pinguicha

Laurisa White Reyes

John Berkowitz

Krista Wayment

Keely Parrack

Laura Rueckert

Kelly DeVos

Terri Paquin

Elena Tabachnick

Jeri Baird

Sue Berk Koch


Megan Reyes


Carissa Taylor

Tonja Tomblin

You all made it to the next round of the contest!

Be sure to check back tomorrow March 4 for the critique forum. All entries from winners who opted to participate will be posted for cheerleading and feedback.