Friday, April 29, 2016

Resistance: Fight it!

What Steven Pressfield says in The War of Art about resistance is changing my life.

You can get a little glimpse of the idea from the front cover, that little flower growing out of a block of concrete. It reminds me of the opening image of one of my favorite cult classic movies, Joe vs. the Volcano. The human condition includes a whole heck of a lot of resistance, no matter what we do. But Steven Pressfield opines that resistance is greater when we're about to do something soul-enhancing for ourselves and others. In fact, the more good we're about to bring into the world, the greater the resistance comes pushing back against us.

There was one part of his section on resistance that especially resonated deep within my soul, and that was the impeccable ability of resistance to find true north and fight against it. In fact, he said, you can use the resistance you are feeling against your goals as a COMPASS. Look where you are feeling the most resistance in your life. Without a doubt, that is the area where pushing through persistently will bring the greatest growth to your soul and the greatest good to humanity.

Writers are artists and we understand resistance... or do we? We surely know about writer's block. We know about BIC (Butt-in-Chair) persistence. We know about treating it like a job and putting our noses to the grindstones of our typewriters, pens, and laptops. But I wonder if we truly understand what Steven Pressfield is trying to tell us about resistance.

When we give in to resistance, we are giving in to darkness and depriving the world of a great light! When we let it stop us from creating, we are limiting ourselves, yes, but we are making an impact on the world by our absence!

As writers, we may see the choice we make daily as two options: 1) to write and 2) not to write. But if writing is what you're feeling called by the muse to do, and you don't do it, the consequences are much greater than what this either/or suggests. Every person, Steven Pressfield reminds us, has unique life experiences, unique talents, a completely unique voice in the panorama, the vast puzzle of humanity. When a writer doesn't fill her mission, the world suffers for it. When an artist gives up on his art, humanity feels the lack.

Think of the last time you came across something beautiful created by another human being. Think of how it made you feel. That's what you have to offer someone else, maybe some dozen someone elses, or some million.

I wanted to pass on the inspiration I got from this author. Fight the resistance you feel, that nagging hopelessness that sometimes keeps you from sitting down at your desk. Fight it with productivity. Fight it with vision. Fight it with affirmations. Fight it with prayer. But fight it! It will be worth it.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Final Farewell...

It is with great sadness that I bid my final farewell to my Operation Awesome operatives. I am thankful to you all for your many contributions, and teaching me more than I could ever hope for.

In looking back over my past posts, I was reminded of one of my first, Sailing Through Fog: How Writers Can Chart Toward an Unseen Horizon. Yet again, I find myself in unfamiliar waters, navigating a new job and figuring out a new normal.

Fog Photo by Psytrom, courtesy of Photobucket

You'd think, two years after that post, I would have figured out all the bumps by now. But that's not how it works. You dodge a rock you think is there, only to run into a completely new rock on the other side. Then you have to re-chart again, because the reality you perceived wasn't there at all, and your certainty is dragged from your center until it becomes a delusion.

So you get knocked out of the boat maybe, and once you get back in, you're cold, wet, and irritated. But if you're in the right state of mind, you can start to see the new pattern so clearly that it turns into one that's familiar, and slowly, surely, you can sail forward again.

It's something we face time again, in writing, and outside of it. Something you tried didn't turn out the way you planned. Perhaps a book you wrote went off in a completely unexpected direction. Or your query flopped. Or a publishing relationship inexplicably went south. Or a marketing strategy you put a lot of work into tanked, and you're still not sure why.

All of these have one aspect in common: they all represent trials we have to go through in order to fully understand what we need to learn from them. And with that understanding, we're armed with a oar to do it better next time.

Sometimes we have to go through the same thing a lot of times before it finally registers. And that's okay. Even new mistakes are okay--because in them we can see where we've improved, what we've overcome, and what else we can learn.

So I leave all you wonderful readers in the hopes that you'll find as many new paths as possible, and when the river gets bumpy, remember we're are all sailing through this together, toward that unseen, misty horizon.

I'll let the Shakira song from the new Zootopia movie finalize my point:

Flash Fiction Contest #13 Winner

Good stories, guys! Sorry for the delay in posting this, but here it is, our winner of lucky number 13...

Flash Fiction Contest #13 Prompt: Argument

Entry by Quentin Christensen

"A zombie? In space? That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard!" McGregor was not one to believe in anything that hadn't had at least three articles in "Nature" and a space shuttle mission about. Until this conversation, he thought Peterson was similarly sensible.

"Zombies don’t need air.”

"How exactly would one become a zombie, in space?" Asked McGregor, not quite believing his own question.

"Being bitten or scratched before take-off."

"That would be picked up in the pre-flight quarantine".

"Maybe it has a long, symptomless incubation period."

"Blood tests, Peterson! Mission prep urine analysis.”

"Only if they knew what to look for."

"So, you're telling me there’s a zombie colony living quietly on earth, and the first person they bite is an astronaut?"

“A pathogen floating in space?"

"That happens to float into a torn space suit? Preposterous!"

Before they could continue the argument, there was a banging on the window. The space station window. Jones couldn’t be alive. Two hours ago during a spacewalk, the robotic arm fell, slicing Jones and his suit, shoulder to hip before hitting the airlock, blocking it and preventing a rescue. Now he was moving, purposefully, trying to get back inside himself.


Zombies in space. Love it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

One Secret to Writing Success

A hearty welcome to Jodi Carmichael, today's guest blogger. She is the author of two fantastic books for young people--Spaghetti is Not a Finger Food and Forever Julia, which was recently nominated for a Manitoba Book Award. Today, she shares one of the secrets of her success.
* * * * * * * * * 

They say it takes a village to raise a child and I say it takes a writing community to raise an author.
I have said that repeatedly, because I strongly believe that behind many successful authors is a strong support group of fellow writers. I can’t help but look at my writing group, The Anita Factor, for proof of my hypothesis. When we first met we were all unpublished developing writers. Less than 6 years later and between us, we have 9 books published, with 6 of those titles released in the past 18 months. Last time I checked, we have 2 more under contract.

What is the secret of that success?

Support. Commiseration. Furthering our writing craft through ongoing education.
Surrounding yourself with others who share the same love of writing, makes you feel like you are a part of a team in what truly is a solitary endeavor. These are the folks who will celebrate with you over coffee, wine, or Chocolate Sin Cake on landing your first magazine article. They will also help drown sorrows and lift spirits when the 4th, 10th, or 21st, “No, we’d rather not” letter on your 150,000 word World War 1/sci-fi/zombie romance pops into your letter box.

When the rejections are flying in faster than a chocolate addict can inhale an extra-large Belgian chocolate bar, your writing support team is there to encourage you to go back to your desk/coffee shop/cave and work harder.

Writing groups are particularly good, if you follow a format that not only gives you a sense of belonging, but also offers useful feedback on your work as well as an opportunity to further educate yourself on the craft of writing. Sharing tips, techniques, and articles about style, grammar, voice, writing tools, resources, conferences, workshops, publishing are just some of the “teaching component” of my writing group.

How to run a critique group session ala The Anita Factor:

This is how a regular meeting of The Anitas goes down:

  •  Every second Thursday, we Anitas meet in McNally Robinson Bookstore where we get tucked away amongst the stacks. (This is truly the best bookstore in all the land. So says me.)
  •  We rotate the role of leader and that person keeps us aware of time, leads the “teaching component”, and ensures all who want to read their work for critique get a chance.
  •  We begin - somewhat promptly at 7:00.
  •  The Anita in charge shares a topic. This can be on anything related to writing such as; writing craft, publishing, marketing, or presentation skills. We’ve discussed voice, POV, plot structure, grammar, social media, book launches, networking, publishing, query letters – everything and anything.
  •  Next, if you have work to share, you read a short section – no more than 4 pages – double spaced. Each writer states the type of feedback they seek. Sometimes it is a general, “Does this work?” and other times a writer is seeking quite specific critique like, “Is my lead character’s voice consistent?”   
  •  We then work around the circle giving our thoughts. We strive to always provide some positives which can be words or phrases that are stand outs or characters that are perfectly crafted, as well as any sections that may not be working well and need to be rewritten. Often, we point out what we call “heads up moments.” That is when we hear something that is so abrupt or out of place in the writing that it pops our heads out of the story. These can be either minor, like a word that is from the wrong era in a historical fiction, or major like a section of text that contradicts something already established in a previous chapter.
  •  Once all readings have been complete we share our writing news; the good, the bad, and the horribly ugly. Many nights this is done in The Prairie Ink Restaurant over a deep and deliciously baked masterpiece.  

Where to find a writing group:

  •  Writing associations often have member boards where you can find other writers in your genre. A full list of organizations can be found here at Writers and Editors: 
  •  Attend conferences and network to find like minds. 
  •  Join your local writing guild. They often run writing group sessions.
  •  Consider an online writing group.

Good luck and keep on writing!

Thank you for the great advice, Jodi! You can learn more about Jodi and her books at her blog, Writing . . . and Other Life Lessons.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Chance for a Free Pass into Query Kombat!

Query Kombat is an annual query contest from writers Michelle Hauck, Michael Anthony, and Laura Heffernan. Not only do the entrants receive feedback on their query letters from a panel of judges, but  there will be over 20 agents making requests from entries! Several people from last year's contest went on to secure representation for their work.

I'll be working behind the scenes to help sort through the entries before the contest, tweeting query tips and tantalizing hints. It'll be fun! AND right now both Michelle and Laura are offering a FREE PASS into the contest! That's right! Bypass the slush and guarantee yourself a spot in the first round! Check out Michelle's free pass here, and Laura's here.

I hope to see a lot of the queries I've read for Tuesday Museday in the slush, not to mention former Pass Or Pages entries! Good luck to everyone!

Monday, April 25, 2016

May 2016 Pass Or Pages Details

It's time for another round of Pass Or Pages, the query contest where entrants get direct feedback on their query letter and first page from literary agents! Five entrants are chosen at random to receive feedback on their entries, with the agents' comments shared (anonymously) here on Operation Awesome. We believe that all writers can benefit from seeing an agent's thoughts while reading query letters.

In May, the contest focus will be on Middle Grade Speculative novels. This includes all flavors of science-fiction and fantasy, from realistic settings with a few speculative elements to completely imaginary worlds and people.

Here are the important dates for the upcoming round:
May 3: Agent Announcement
May 9-11: Entry window open (via a form here on Operation Awesome)
May 23-27: Feedback reveals

Please have a look at the rules and previous feedback rounds. For those curious about how this contest dovetails with Query Kombat, you will know before the entry window for QK if your entry was selected for feedback from our agent panel. However, you will not receive your feedback until after entry for QK. BUT because the first round winners of QK get a chance to revise before the agent round, you will have a chance at that time to incorporate the feedback received from Pass Or Pages.

For some great tips on writing query letters, check out Wendy's recent post: Query-Writing 101.

If you have any questions, please feel free to tweet at Kara or Samantha (@reynoldstribe or @saboviec).

Friday, April 22, 2016

Flash Fiction Contest #13

Welcome to another edition of our #OAFlash Fiction contest! Rules can be found here. Gimme all your words! OK, not really, only 200 of them this time...

Flash Fiction Prompt For Friday, April 22, 2016

When posting, remember to include your name and your Twitter handle.

Come back on Sunday night to find out who the winner is!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Hush! What's that sound? Nothing...

Most people are uncomfortable with silence. This holds true both in life and in writing.

When having a conversation--especially a heated conversation--our first reaction is to fill it with something. There's a reason the phrase "comfortable silence" was coined. Most of the time, silence isn't comfortable for any of us.

While in college, I briefly thought about being a psychologist. I was fascinated with the human mind, especially with neurological disorders. I ended up graduating with a minor in psychology, which was unrelated to my science major. One of the classes I took was Introduction to Counseling, which taught tools and techniques for conducting a talk session. One of the tools they gave us was, merely, silence.

When you want to get someone to talk, you just... stop. It's difficult. Even now, after many years, my first reaction is to open my mouth and say something. But if you let the silence stretch on, if you hold out against the uncomfortable feeling bubbling inside of you, the other person will likely fill the void and reveal something about themselves in the process.

In writing, silence is also valuable. In critiquing others' work, I've noticed that we all have a tendency to do something like this to create silence between two characters:

"He waited for her to talk. The silence stretched on."

Rather than showing the reader, making them feel the silence and the wait--which is what we want to do in all aspects of our writing, right?--we're telling them something. And I don't need to tell you that telling is bad. Better to show.

I found this example in The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. It's a great example of how you can show "waiting." Adam has called his friend Blue from a parking lot. Her aunt picks up the phone. He asks to talk to Blue. Upon finding out who he is, the aunt answers:
"How wonderful. I'll go get Blue."

There was a brief, uncomfortable moment while voices murmured in the background of the telephone. Adam swatted at gnats; the parking lot needed to be mowed again. The asphalt was hard to see in some places.

"I didn't think you'd call," Blue said.
Rather than saying, "Adam stood there and waited for Blue to come to the phone," the author put us in Adam's shoes. We heard what was going on through the phone--and haven't we all been there, hearing muffled voices on the other end as the phone is passed from one hand to the other? We waited with him in the parking lot, looking around at our surroundings, seeing the weeds poking through the cracked asphalt.

And she never even used the word "wait."

S. L. Saboviec grew up in a small town in Iowa but became an expat for her Canadian husband, whom she met in the Massive Multi-player Online Role-Playing Game Star Wars: Galaxies (before the NGE, of course). She holds a B.S. in Physics, which qualifies her to B.S. about physics and occasionally do some math for the sci-fi stories she concocts. Her dark, thought-provoking science fiction & fantasy contains flawed, relatable characters and themes that challenge the status quo.

Her short fiction ("I Am NOT Little Red Riding Hood") has appeared in the webzine Grievous Angel. Her debut novel, Guarding Angel, received an honorable mention in the 23rd Annual Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Awards: "... A fascinating story of a particularly loving guardian angel. Overall, the writing is emotionally grounded, character-focused, and technically superior..." The sequel, Reaping Angel, is available now.

You can call her Samantha.

website | twitter | facebook | pinterest | goodreads

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

9 Questions to Ask Before You Sign a Publishing Contract

Writers wait, many times years, for that big breakthrough in their career—a publishing contract.
When the call or email finally comes, it’s a moment of disbelief, excitement, and dreams come true. While it may be tempting to sign whatever contract they send you—after all, who knows if it will ever happen again—there’s a few questions you need to ask first because no contract is better than a bad contract.

 Every writer has different standards in terms of what they’re willing to sign, however I’ve spoken with more than a few authors who have deeply regretted signing bad contracts. Nowadays, there are too many options out there to allow yourself to be taken advantage of. While the following list may sound like an interrogation, if it’s all done politely and in conversation, it will help you and the publisher to align your expectations and get to know each other better.

1.       Marketing

Here’s the thing about marketing—the author needs to market! The days of the reclusive author clacking away at a keyboard from their writing shed are over. You need to plan on getting out there and working your butt off to sell your novel. But, your publisher should be your partner in this work. Ask how they plan to market your book.

2.       Terms
View this contract as a mini-marriage. Once you sign, you’re going have a relationship with this publisher for however long their contract states. These terms rang from a couple years to a lifetime right to publish. Ask how long they retain the right to publish. Are you comfortable with relinquishing your rights for the period of time they’re asking for?

3.       Advance
Personally, I’m not hung up on advances because it’s an advance on royalties, not bonus money.
You’ll get your royalties one way or another before or after publication. However, it’s a question to ask if it’s something you want. Also, ask what happens if you don’t earn out your royalties. I know one author who didn’t earn out his royalties and ended up with a bill in the mail for $500.

4.       Royalties
What percentage of royalties will you be paid? Is the percentage based on gross sales or net sales? How often will you receive a royalty statement?

5.       Rights
Never, ever sign anything that requires you to give up your copyright! Never! The copyright should always be yours. When you sign a publishing contract, you are giving the publisher exclusive rights to publish your book, not relinquishing your copyright. But, what exactly are they asking for—print rights? Electronic book rights? Audio book rights? Movie rights? Merchandising rights? Serial rights? Translation rights? You need to ask.

6.       Editorial process
Are they going to require revisions? If so, what is their editorial process? How many editors will work on your book?

7.       Business background
How long has the publisher been in business? Do an online search and make sure to check to see what their clients have to say. Do they have a good reputation in the writing community? Don’t be afraid to ask to speak with one or two of their authors for references. Again, this is a long term relationship. Don’t go into it blindly.

8.       Termination clause
What if things go poorly with this publisher? Ask about their termination clause. Will you be able to get your rights back if something unexpected happens? What happens to your rights when the book is considered out of print?

9.       Obligation to publish
Ask if there is a publish-by date. Without an obligation to publish with a deadline, the publisher can sit on your book for years. You won’t be able to publish it yourself or be able to seek out another publisher.

Always read any contract carefully and seek legal advice. If you can’t afford a lawyer, many writers’ organizations have resources available to their members. Know what you’re signing, and if you don’t understand something, ask. Remember: most publishers aren’t out to take advantage of you. Most want what you want—a profitable partnership and a great book. It’s up to you to sort the good from the bad and to decide what’s best for your book and your career.

Do you have any contract advice? If so, leave a comment below.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Murderous Tuesday Museday

Guys, I have some bad news.

I have to kill some darlings in my book.

No, I don't mean that some lovely people will be meeting an unfortunate end. I mean that I have to take out a section of my book that I thought was really clever.

I had a blast writing the beginning of this book during NaNoWriMo. I flew through it, patting myself on the back the whole time at how brilliant I was. I even showed my husband what I'd done (he doesn't usually read my stuff until it's very polished).

But I just got feedback from my first reader that let me know the beginning was not clever and brilliant, it was repetitive and frustrating. She spelled out exactly why she feels that way, and she is ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.

So the beginning must be changed, and that darling piece of writing I loved must be killed. I'm quite looking forward to it, actually. The great thing about growing as a writer is learning to see which feedback is valuable and needs to be incorporated into your work, instead of getting hurt feelings because someone doesn't think every single thing you write is perfect. I'm looking forward to the changes; I sincerely feel they will make the beginning of this book stronger.

So for Tuesday Museday, I encourage you to take the reins and cut out those parts of your MS that you know aren't working, even though you love them.

Need fresh eyes on your query letter or Twitter pitch? I'm offering up a couple critiques this week. Query Kombat is coming up, and I'd love to help you get your query nice and shiny. Let me know in the comments if you'd like me to take a look!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Family Relationships in Fiction

Good fiction tells an important story.

Great fiction draws realistic relationships and plays on tropes that don't end where you expect.

For instance, Katniss and Prim in The Hunger Games. When Katniss volunteers for the Hunger Games in Book 1, it's to protect Prim from almost certain violent death. But by the end of the series (spoiler alert) Prim is the heroine of her own story, rushing into a war-zone to protect those she deems worthy of her protection. She becomes a protector through her own nurturing way, a way that is as alien to Katniss as Peeta's incomprehensible kindness. Her character arc honors the differences between Katniss and Prim; it doesn't make her into Katniss or their mother. She is inspired by Katniss, but also shaped by her own internal voice.

In Pride and Prejudice, sibling relationships are central to the romantic plot between Darcy and Elizabeth. It is Darcy's little sister who, long before Elizabeth is even aware of her existence or importance, draws Darcy to Elizabeth as he sees her defensiveness and protectiveness of her own family. Though many characters are drawn comically--Mary with her pious studiousness and Lydia with her opposite flagrance and lack of piety--Elizabeth does not treat them as static stereotypes so neither can the reader. As she tries to teach them, sometimes gently and sometimes sharply, we see them as people capable of change and growth. Even the old father, set in his ways so long and comfortable with his escapes from five silly girls, is capable of growth and determines at the end to take a more active role in his children's upbringing while he can. His relationship with Elizabeth redeems him as a careless father because of his obvious love of her and the growth her story inspires in him.

In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie's grandmother arranges to marry her off at the tender age of sixteen. This seems to be done for Grandma's own peace of mind, to know Janie will be taken care of after the old woman's death. Janie never fully forgives her grandmother for this bit of selfishness, though her grandma tells her she is doing it for her own good. Such an act of desperation gives us sympathy for the grandmother at the same time we may feel shock at the decision, and especially shock at how little say Janie is given in an era when slavery has already been abolished. (spoiler alert) However, when we think that her grandmother came from slavery during the Emancipation Proclamation and was the victim of rape, having very little say in her own relationships, we understand better how her opinions about marriage and the freedom of young women were formed. Though the grandmother dies early in the story, her influence remains through the entire book as Janie experiences levels of freedom in her marriages and eventually rejects the ideas that made her grandma make that pivotal decision.

The Weasley Family from Harry Potter is my favorite family in fiction because the sibling relationships ring so true, from jokesters Fred and George trying to put their little brother under The Unbreakable Vow for a laugh, to the fierce loyalty they display to each other during the final battles of the epic saga. The parents, too, display all the characteristics and behaviors of real parents overwhelmed by raising responsible magical children on a shoe-string budget. Like most parents, they believe school is the surest road to financial success, and are horrified with the decisions their children make that take them off the well-beaten path. Then, when success comes unexpectedly, they are unduly proud as if this unorthodox living were what they wanted for their children all along. It's their foibles as much as their virtues that make them feel real to the reader.

I hope you feel inspired as you consider each of these examples of family relationships in fiction, and get some ideas for your own writing. Reading about family relationships in fiction can help us heal and forgive in our own real-life relationships. It can inspire us to change something in ourselves that we see in a relentless parent or unkind sibling.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Query-Writing 102: Query DOs and DON'Ts

On yesterday's blog "Writing a Basic Query," I laid out the basic structure for writing novel query letter. Today, I'm providing you with a checklist of dos and don'ts, complied from multiple blog posts, interviews, and tweets, to make sure your query is effective and doesn't get immediately rejected without so much as a second glance.


Before querying --
  • DO check the agency's guidelines before querying... and follow them!
  • DO have someone who has not read your manuscript read over your query to make sure it makes sense
  • DO proofread for typos
  • DO make sure that your manuscript is 100% ready to go before you begin querying
  • DO use the word "QUERY" and your novel's title in the email subject line (unless otherwise noted in the agent's guidelines)
  • DO keep your query short and sweet (250-300 words on average); agents are going to be looking for tight, concise writing
  • DO query one project at a time
In the salutation/personalization --
  • DO address the agent personally
  • DO mention in your query if you met the agent, if you have a referral from one of their clients, or if they have requested materials from you for previous manuscripts
In the pitch section --
  • DO use specific details in your query -- think about what in particular sets your story apart from others in the same genre
  • DO choose specific words that will give the agent a feel for the tone/voice of your novel
  • DO try to bring out what makes your manuscript unique
  • DO stick with the story's major plotline (particularly what happens in Act I)
In the "housekeeping" section --
  • DO include comp titles that have been published within the last five years
  • DO include relevant biographical information
  • DO pick one category (MG, YA, NA, or Adult) to pitch your novel
  • DO include the genre where your book would appear in a bookstore
  • DO include the word count of your novel, rounded to the nearest thousand
  • DO make sure that your book is an appropriate length for your genre (no 200,000 word middle grade novels! no 35,000 word sci-fi novels!)
In general --
  • DO act professionally and politely AT ALL TIMES
  • DO query widely; it might take dozens of rejections before you find the agent who's looking for a writer like you.
  • DO be patient in waiting for responses. Many agents will note in their guidelines how long it takes to respond to queries, but during certain times of the year may take longer.
  • DO stay positive!
  • DO write something else while querying. It's a great way to take your mind off the process, and if you do get an agent, s/he will want to know what you're currently working on.


Before querying --
  • DON'T self-publish your work to "test the market"
  • DON'T query agent who do not represent your category or genre
  • DON'T query agents who state they are closed to submissions
  • DON'T pitch to agents on social media
  • DON'T cc: or bcc: multiple agents in the same email
  • DON'T pay a third party to query for you (it's a scam!)
  • DON'T use fancy formatting, fonts, colors, borders, or backgrounds.
  • DON'T query multiple agents at the same agency simultaneously
  • DON'T send "exclusive" queries
  • DON'T send queries from an unprofessional-sounding email address or one that you share with anyone else
  • DON'T send submissions to small presses while you're also querying agents
In the salutation/personalization --
  • DON'T address the query "Dear Agent"
  • DON'T try to fake a referral (or, really, any aspect of your query)
  • DON'T comment on an agent's appearance
In the pitch section --
  • DON'T use gimmicks; agents have seen them all before, and they only make your query stand out in a bad way.
  • DON'T write your query from the 1st person perspective of your character
  • DON'T use more than three proper names (any more than this can be incredibly confusing)
  • DON'T use too many world-related/"invented" words in your query
  • DON'T spell out the novel's themes
  • DON'T use rhetorical questions
  • DON'T use cliche phrases like:
    • "her life was normal until"
    • "that will change her life forever"
    • "must choose between love and [something important]"
    • "turns his life upside down"
    • "change his world forever"
    • "[character] never expected that"
    • "To make matters worse"
    • "Time is running out"
    • "She finds herself drawn to"
    • "an incredible journey"
    • "before [something] falls into the wrong hands"
    • "face her past"
    • "a group of unlikely heroes"
    • "a chain reaction"
In the "housekeeping" section --
  • DON'T mention "This is my first novel" or "I've been writing since I was..." or "I'm an avid reader"
  • DON'T mention how long it took you to write your book (this is irrelevant)
  • DON'T call your story a "fiction novel" -- this is redundant and looks amateur
  • DON'T toot your own horn by speculating about how you'll be "the next Stephen King" or "a surefire bestseller," or editorialize with comments like, "you'll laugh! you'll cry!"
  • DON'T try to pass your story off as a genre which is it is not (usually done to try to fit a trend or to avoid "dead" genres) -- this will only make it look as if you don't know what genre your book really is.
  • DON'T include reviews, blurbs, or comments from beta readers, family, friends, pets, or agents who have rejected you
  • DON'T include irrelevant biographical information (age, number of cats owned, etc)
  • DON'T include a photo
  • DON'T use classics or MAJOR bestsellers (Harry Potter, Twilight, LOTR, etc) as comp titles
  • DON'T claim that there "are no books like mine on the market"
In general --
  • DON'T bad-mouth other agents, writers, or others in the industry or their works
  • DON'T respond to rejections
  • DON'T complain about querying on social media
  • DON'T cherry-pick your sample pages from the middle of your novel (always use the opening pages)
  • DON'T include attachments (unless the agency specifies to do so)

Optional hints, tips, and advice

  • Send queries in small batches (5-10 at a time) in case you decide to change things up or revise your query later on.
  • Check agent blogs, Twitter feeds, and the #MSWL hashtag to find agents who are looking for something similar to what you write
  • Keep track of the queries you have sent and those that have been responded to using a spreadsheet or
  • Be careful using metaphors in your query, particularly if your book contains speculative elements--you'll have the agent wondering if your character really turned into a bear or if they just got a bit grouchy

Special thanks to @TECarter7, @micscotti, @RachelDRainey, @LabyrinthRat, @Aggy_C, @SH_Marr_Writes, @AnnaKaling and @sharischwarz for your contributions via Twitter!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Query-Writing 101: Writing a Basic Query

Writing a query is tough.

You've just spent months agonizing over a manuscript of 50, 75, or 100,000 words and now you're expected to reduce that down to a succinct, attention-grabbing pitch of just 250 words? No wonder writers stress out about it!

There are many blog posts and articles out there about how to write a good novel* query, including:

With so much information, it can be kind of overwhelming. Today, to ease some writer anxiety, I'm going to try to break it down as simply as possible.


Take the time to research the agents you're querying and open with "Dear [insert agent name here]:"

2. PERSONALIZATION [if applicable]

  • IF you have a referral from another industry professional whom this agent knows personally...
  • IF you met the agent at a conference or other event...
  • IF the agent has requested materials from you for a prior manuscript...
then put that information here. Otherwise skip this and dive right into telling them about your manuscript.**

3A. Your main character & their goal

The first paragraph should tell the agent who your main character is and what s/he wants at the beginning of the novel. I find it useful in the "pitch" section to write this information in the absolute simplest form first and then add more detail.
  • SIMPLE: Emma wants to be a matchmaker.
  • DETAILS: Twenty-year-old Emma Woodhouse doesn't mind a life of spinsterhood. She has a loving father, plentiful wealth, and finds great pleasure in bettering the lives of her neighbors and friends. After successfully finding a husband for her beloved governess, she sets her sights on helping the others in her life find their perfect marital happiness as well.

3B. The inciting incident & conflict

Your inciting incident (which should take place in the first chapter or two of your novel) should create some sort of conflict for your main character.
  • SIMPLE: Emma tries to set up Harriet with Mr. Elton, BUT Mr. Elton likes her.
  • DETAILS: When she meets Harriet Smith, a plain girl from unknown parentage, Emma decides that Harriet is the perfect match for the village rector and sets out to ensure that they fall in love. To do so, she must keep Harriet from the humble farmer who's already begun to win her affection and introduce her new friend into higher, more worthy society. It all seems to be falling into place, until Emma discovers that the rector whom she intended for Harriet has taken a liking to her instead.

3C. The stakes

The stakes are what the characters stand to lose, what they will miss out on or what will be destroyed if they do not achieve their goal.
  • SIMPLE: Emma must admit her mistake or they all will be unhappy.
  • DETAILS: As her attempts at matchmaking only cause more and more awkward misunderstandings between the pair of women and the men whose affection they've won, Emma must give up her matchmaking and admit her errors, or there will be no happy endings for anyone involved.


Here's where you want to put the "business details"
  • category (MG, YA, NA, Adult) 
  • genre
  • word count (rounded to the nearest thousand)
  • any relevant biographical information (membership in a national writers organization, participation in a major writers' workshop such as Clarion, education or experience relating to writing)


Include your contact information here
  • your legal name ("writing as [pen name]," if applicable)
  • your mailing address
  • your phone number
  • your website (if applicable)

Once you've got your basic structure, you're ready to add details, polish it up, and get some fellow writers to critique it. Check in tomorrow for my checklist of query dos and don'ts!

*queries/pitches for nonfiction and children's literature follows different formats
** Some agents prefer the "bookkeeping" info up front; others prefer it last. If they say one way or the other in their guidelines, then follow their guidelines. If not, then it can go either place. For the sake of this simple outline, I include it at the end.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Wednesday Debut Interview: TREASURE AT LURE LAKE by Shari Schwarz

For today's Wednesday Debut Interview, Shari Schwarz will be talking with us about her debut MG novel, TREASURE AT LURE LAKE

First off, tell us a bit about yourself!
Thank you for having me on Operation Awesome! I love visiting this blog and even was a winner of one of your Mystery Agent contests a while back, so I’m a huge fan!

I’m a wife and mom of four boys ages 16, 14, 11 and 4. We live in Ft. Collins, Colorado and love being so close to the mountains where we like to hike and camp. I grew up in Batavia, IL, a suburb of Chicago, but my family would often vacation in Colorado, so I had a love for rock-climbing, mountain biking and hiking early on. Before I started writing in earnest, I coached gymnastics for several years, and then I got my teaching degree and worked as an elementary librarian and started a garden at the school. Now I stay home with our youngest, write and freelance edit.

Tell us about your book. What's your elevator pitch for TREASURE AT LURE LAKE?
If I pitch to someone who I know is a reader or writer, I say it’s HATCHET + IF I STAY. Otherwise, I say it’s about two brothers who have never understood why they don’t get along. They go on a backpacking trip into the wilderness with their grandfather, and when disaster strikes, the boys have to learn to work together to survive.

Is Lure Lake a real place? Is it based on somewhere in particular?
No one has asked me this yet! Lure Lake is not a real lake, but it is based on one of my favorite hiking destinations in the Northern Colorado Rockies: American Lakes. The hike up the trail that the boys take in the book is based on the Big South trail, but I set it heading in the opposite direction and further into the wilderness, because the Big South is too well-traveled. I needed something a bit more remote for Jack and Bryce.

Why middle grade? Is there a reason you choose to write to this audience?
I had been an elementary librarian previous to writing Treasure at Lure Lake, so I was working with this genre all the time. Plus, my own boys were reading MG books at the time, and I was reading a lot of them. I was hoping to write something that was a quick, easy read, but exciting at the same time.

Let's talk a bit about your publishing journey. How long as this process taken for you, from the first draft until publication date?
In total, it took two years and four months. I started writing the first draft on December 10, 2013. I wrote it in two months and to be honest, I had NO clue what was ahead of me in terms of revising, critique partners, and least of all, querying. But I jumped in with both feet, made a lot of mistakes, had a lot of wonderful people help guide me, entered a ton of contests, and met some amazing writer friends along the way. I kept a detailed log of all my queries and responses. In just over a year, I tallied up 100 rejections before my YES came! At the end of May 2015, I received a contract for publication through Cedar Fort. After a lot of questions to some of their authors and looking into the legal side of the contract, I said yes to them. It took me until September of 2015 to finish the first round of major edits with my acquiring editor, Ashley Gephart, and then my book comes out on April 12th, 2016. I’m a bit on the fast track with writing my first book, but I don’t have an agent, so it will be back to square one soon!

Every writer experiences some rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on?
Yes, there were some really hard times through the querying process and some rejections that stung much more than others. But the things that kept me sane were my critique partners who were amazing and kept cheering me on. Reading about other writers’ journeys here on OA and other blogs helped me realize that this isn’t easy for anyone. I also wrote two more books, several picture books and went for some long walks and hikes which helped clear my mind and gave me a new perspective.

What makes Cedar Fort Publishing and your editor(s) there a good fit for you and your book?
Everyone I have worked with at Cedar Fort has been exceptionally kind, responsive, skilled and helpful with each step along the way. They produce high quality books with gorgeous covers. My book is intended for national release which they are expanding into and not just for their LDS markets. The contract was great and they were willing to negotiate on a couple of points that I had questions on. I felt that they really had my best interest at heart. My editor, Ashley Gephart, is brilliant, kind and always got back to me with my hundreds of questions. I loved that my editor was so accessible.

Tell us about your cover. I love the rustic feel! How much say did you have in it? What do you want it to tell potential readers?
Thank you! I love it too! Before they ever created my cover, Cedar Fort gave me a questionnaire, wanting to know if I had thoughts, ideas, or opinions about how it should look. I love that I had some say in it, but it came out so much better than I could have imagined. I cried when I saw it. They sent me a few different versions to ask which my favorite was. There were also a couple of minor things that needed to be changed at that point. One was that the profile of the bear was a grizzly bear instead of a black bear. An easy mistake to make, but since there aren’t any grizzlies in Colorado, it had to be changed, which they were more than happy to do.

Was TREASURE AT LURE LAKE the original title you had in mind for this book?
No, it wasn’t. I had used the working title of THE LEDGE. I personally never intended for that to be the final title, but some people had become attached to it and reacted strongly when they saw the change. Cedar Fort wanted something more geared to the Middle Grade audience. But, I did work THE LEDGE into the book in the acknowledgments! I was happy about that.

Can you tell us about some of the things you’ve been working on between signing a contract for this novel and its release? What about the post-book-deal process been most surprising for you?
I have worked on another MG which I decided to shelve for now because my next big goal is to find an agent for my picture books. I’m pretty focused on wanting to go more in the PB world. I now agree with many writers that PBs are harder to write than anything. The most surprising thing about the post-book-deal process is how much work and how many people it takes to write a book! And book promotion…it is endless. Luckily, I have been able to team up with The Sweet 16s which is a debut MG/YA author group. I can’t imagine doing this alone! I thought that, because I am with a smaller publisher, I would have to do so much more work that the authors with large publishers have to do, but that’s not the case. We all have to promote our own books in many ways. Although Cedar Fort and the other publishers do some things to help, being in a debut group allows us to promote each other as well, which is wonderful!

How does it feel to finally have your book out in the hands of readers? Do you have any events planned you want people to know about?
It is, in equal parts, exciting, frightening, and surreal. I can’t believe that this is really happening at times. Other times, when my friends and family are celebrating with me, I’m thrilled that I’ve accomplished a life-long dream. And there are times when I am so nervous, because now my ‘baby’ is out in the world for people to read (yay!) and to judge (oh, no!). But my hope is that it will resonate with that one person who needs to read it. If that happens, it will all have been worth it!

Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication? Anything you would have done differently?
All the way through, I think it’s important to be kind and respectful and open to anyone who crosses your path. There are so many people who have helped me become the writer I am today…even that one guy who gave me a horribly mean critique on one of my first drafts. In the moment it was hard to accept, but I’ve learned to see what truth there was even in something like that. I’ve learned to be open to it all but not to let it all change who I am or the stories I want…no, need to tell. There are probably a thousand things I should have done differently, but when I think about redoing any of them, I think, no. Those mistakes are what got me to where I am today. They were all learning lessons, and hopefully, I can use them to help others in the future.

Excellent advice.
And, just for fun, which book in your own collection do you think your hero Bryce would most enjoy?

I’m going to answer this for both Bryce and Jack since the book is told in dual-POV. They both should read HATCHET by Gary Paulsen. Bryce would just plain-old enjoy it, the geek-survivalist that he is. Jack, on the other hand, really needs to read it to learn the survival skills from it.

Thank you so much for your participation in this Wednesday Debut Interview!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

New Release: REAPING ANGEL by S. L. Saboviec

Welcome to the release day blitz for S. L. Saboviec's Reaping Angel!

Reaping Angel is the sequel to Guarding Angel, which received an honorable mention in the 23rd Annual Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Awards: "... A fascinating story of a particularly loving guardian angel. Overall, the writing is emotionally grounded, character-focused, and technically superior..."
Enael starts picking up the pieces of her decisions from the first book and comes face-to-face with her nemesis from centuries ago. If you enjoy fantasy or paranormal, this series is not to be missed!
After the battle at the Bastille, the Council of Seraphim offers reluctant demons Enael and Kaspen a chance to return to Heaven—but only after they’ve completed sufficient penance. Ready to move past the ugly chapter in their lives, they settle into their assignments.

Until Enael’s former lover, Voctic, a powerful demon, interferes.

Voctic seduces and demeans, taunts and entices Enael, stirring centuries-old longing in her while infuriating Kaspen. Caught up in the demands of their duties, Kaspen and Enael drift apart until she finds herself isolated.

Fed up with Voctic’s harassment, Enael prepares to fight back. When he targets the new human she’s responsible for protecting, she creates her own plan. His self-proclaimed “gala of the century” will be the perfect cover for her revenge. But will a hasty decision cost her Kaspen—or even her spot in Heaven?
99 cent Sale!

To celebrate release day, both Guarding Angel and Reaping Angel eBooks are on sale for 99 cents at all major retailers:

Guarding Angel:
Paperback (Regular price) | Kindle | Kobo | Google Play | Nook | Goodreads

Reaping Angel:
Paperback (Regular price) | Kindle | Kobo | Google Play | Nook | Goodreads

But wait! There's more!

Signed Paperback Giveaway

You have three ways to enter to win one of three signed sets of paperbacks. By Sunday, April 17, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern, retweet on Twitter, share on FaceBook, and enter the Rafflecopter giveaway.

  1. Retweet on Twitter and follow @Saboviec to enter for one set: Click to RT me!
  2. Share on FaceBook and Like S. L. Saboviec's author page to enter for another set: Click to Share me!
  3. Enter the Rafflecopter below: 


S. L. Saboviec grew up in a small town in Iowa but became an expat for her Canadian husband, whom she met in the Massive Multi-player Online Role-Playing Game Star Wars: Galaxies (before the NGE, of course). She holds a B.S. in Physics, which qualifies her to B.S. about physics and occasionally do some math for the sci-fi stories she concocts. Her dark, thought-provoking science fiction & fantasy contains flawed, relatable characters and themes that challenge the status quo.

Her short fiction ("I Am NOT Little Red Riding Hood") has appeared in the webzine Grievous Angel. You can call her Samantha.

website | twitter | facebook | pinterest | goodreads

Monday, April 11, 2016

Kara Analyzes Pixar Movies: WALL-E

I have never tried to write a book with more than one point of view, although I accidentally did once when I was a novice writer and didn't understand what the heck I was doing. There was a lot of head hopping. I don't recommend it.

As I've been doing query critiques for my Tuesday Museday feature, I've had the opportunity to critique queries with multiple POVs. We've seen some in our Pass Or Pages contests, both as hopeful entrants and finalists. What I've learned from these is that writing a query letter for a book with multiple POVs is quite a difficult beast. You have to show the reader who two people are, plus their goals, plus the stakes, plus how they intertwine. And it can still only be a page long!

Why do you have to be sure to show all that? Well, for an example, let's examine WALL-E.

Do you remember the trailers for WALL-E? We got an impression that the movie would be about a funny robot, and... that was it. That was all we knew. Pixar has a history of vague movie trailers, and WALL-E's was the nadir.

So you start watching the movie. Sure enough, there's the robot. He's adorable. There's funny references to Earth culture. If you're lucky, you don't get "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" stuck in your head.

Then there's another robot. Then the robots are traveling in space. And suddenly, there are hilariously fat humans and a rogue autopilot and a very important plant. The story is no longer about WALL-E and his quest to find love with the robot EVE. Now it's about the humans, and their quest to get back to Earth. WALL-E's love story, once the most important part of the movie, is thrust to the back burner.

If you, like me, were completely thrown for a loop by the appearance of the humans, then you should understand the importance of clearly communicating all the important POVs in a query letter. Pixar's query letter for WALL-E (the movie trailer) showed us a robot, and we requested pages (bought a movie ticket) expecting a story about a robot. By the middle of the manuscript (movie) our story about a lonely robot has shifted into a story about the human race reclaiming their planet.

I'm not saying WALL-E is not a good movie. I like it. My kids once watched it seven times in a row on a drive to Yellowstone. It won an Oscar. But the advertising for WALL-E was misleading because it only focused on one character. For people looking for a movie about robots, they might have felt betrayed when the humans showed up and took over the story. For people looking for a heartwarming story about the human race overcoming challenges, they would never have tuned in and missed a great story.

Don't do that with your query letter.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Flash Fiction Contest #12 Winner

It was a tough choice this week. Each entry was emotion-laden, but I had to go with the one that was most visceral.

Flash Fiction Contest #12 Prompt: Angel

Entry by J Lenni Dorner
**Trigger warning: Violence & homophobia**
(And some sexual innuendo thrown in)

The smell of burnt cedar and sweaty armpits wafts up my nose as Dixon grabs me from behind.

"Look who it is. How you doing, Shallow Throat?" His cronies all laugh. That's it, yuck it up, inhale his obnoxious odor. Six bottles of cologne but not one swipe of antiperspirant. I'm almost glad when he chokes me. Inhaling his scent is the worse assault. Getting lifted by my neck and pinned to the wall is practically salvation.

I shut my eyes as his taunts continue. Spit from him and his followers mixes with the beads of sweat on my forehead. Pretending to be deaf isn't enough to satisfy today. Dixon drops me, hard. He shoves me down while two of the other boys kick out my legs. I look up in anticipation of what horror will come next. I wonder how much he enjoyed pissing on me yesterday?

"You know, I bet I can guess what Shallow Throat would like." He sneers. His friends chuckle, eager for the joke. Dixon turns around. His friends hold me in place. "A tasty treat for you." He farts in my face.

There is a smell worse than his cologne and armpit stink. I'm not crying. I'm not. But my eyes are cracks in the dam. They celebrate the victory and play rock-paper-scissors to determine who will feed me a fart next.

"What's going on here?" I hear his voice. The tears turn from leaks to a stream. I don't want him to see me like this. For the first time in months, I struggle against the bullies' hold.

"Just feeding farts to Shallow Throat. Care to join?" Dixon smiles at him. A second later, Dixon's face explodes in agony.

Heath lifts the bully. There's no need for a wall. Rippling muscles that no fifteen-year-old should have easily hold Dixon in mid-air.

"You all right, Caleb?" He knows my name. I don't answer at first. I just want to hear him say it again. He offers me his other hand. My little mitt disappears in his great paw as he helps me to my feet. Heath runs his fingers through my hair, stopping my heart.

Dixon's friends whisper. Heath glares at them and snarls. Did I imagine that? He's showing his teeth. It's raw, it's uncivilized... it's breaking the zipper in my pants. He throws Dixon into them.

"You're gay!" Dixon shouts as he rubs his throat.

Heath's left cheek lifts, a sexy half smile forming. "Gay. And I stole two of your girlfriends. In fact, I was just on my way to pick Miranda up. I'll tell her you said hi."

No one knows what to say to this. It's nice to see the bullies silent.

I wish I knew what to say. Maybe if he hadn't seen me on my knees eating farts...

Dixon curses at Heath and threatens me.

"I'm Caleb's guardian angel now. Whatever you do to him, I'll do ten times worse to you."


This was tough to read, but that was the reason I picked it. I could feel the pain of the protagonist along with him and the relief that followed. It toed the line of my PG-13 rating, but the immediacy of the scene is the reason I had to pick it.

Thanks for reading, and I'll see you again in a couple weeks!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Flash Fiction Contest #12

Hi guys! The last round of our #OAFlash contest was pre-empted by the life stuff I mentioned in the #OABookClub post on Monday (Did you read Emma? Tell us about it!), but I'm back and ready for another round of flash fiction.

If this is your first time joining us, check out more about the contest here. Gimme anything: sci-fi, contemporary, horror, historical, fantasy, etc. and so forth.

In honor of my book releasing next Tuesday, April 12, I decided to go with this particular prompt.

Flash Fiction Prompt For Friday, April 8, 2016

When posting, remember to include your name and your Twitter handle.

Come back on Sunday night to find out who the winner is!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Lessons from Pass Or Pages

Another round of Pass Or Pages in the bag! We here at Operation Awesome are so grateful to the agents who give their time to help writers improve their queries and first pages. We would also like to give a shout-out to the people that entered in March. You are dedicated to your craft, and willing to do what it takes to succeed in publishing. Bravo! Once again, I'm here to share with you what I learned from Pass Or Pages as an organizer and observer.

  • Sometimes, figuring out if your book meets an agent's (or contest's!) wishlist can be tricky. But at least there's no harm in trying.

  • Gimmicky queries are not impressive. Just because you've never seen it done before doesn't mean an agent hasn't! They get hundreds of queries a month. 

  • Some agents are willing to overlook a query's flaws in favor of the strength of the sample pages. Others are not. Evaluate which agents are requesting from you: Are they the ones that ask for sample pages with the query? Or the ones who ask for query only? This can help you narrow down if there is a problem with your querying materials.

  • It can be hard to stand out in a crowded market, such as YA contemporary. It is important to include your story's unique elements in the query letter, but to do so naturally will require that those unique elements affect the plot! That's why it is useful to write your query letter after your first draft, but before your final edit. It helps you see places where you can improve.

  • Dual POV can be hard to show in a query, even if it is well done in the book. Remember to show the conflict and stakes for each character, as well as how their stories come together.

  • "Beautiful writing" (or "purple prose," depending on your feelings toward it) can definitely add to your narration, but be selective about when you use it to maximize its effectiveness. Too much right up front can make your book seem overwritten. 
We hope to see you again for Pass Or Pages in May, when we'll feature a new category and genre. Check back later this month for the details!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Wednesday Debut Interview: WITHOUT BORDERS by Amanda Heger

Today's Wednesday Debut Interview features Amanda Heger, who's talking to us about her debut YA novel, WITHOUT BORDERS!

First off, tell us a bit about yourself!
Hey, Operation Awesome! I’m a book-loving, dog-owning, Sour Patch-eating author from the Midwest. I have a massive girl crush on Amy Poehler, and one of my life goals is to adopt a pig and name it Ron Swineson.
That is a fabulous name for a pig! So, tell us about your book. What's your elevator pitch for WITHOUT BORDERS?
In a last-ditch attempt to pad her medical school resume, Annie London travels to rural Nicaragua to volunteer with a medical brigade. But over the course of her four-week stay, she gets a lot more than she bargained for—including a blossoming romance with the doctor in charge of the trip.
Have you ever been to Central America? How much of your own experiences are echoed in Annie's?
I have! Without Borders is set in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua, a place that’s very near to my heart. In college, I spent a summer there as a volunteer with a public health organization. I taught sex ed in local schools, organized classes on domestic violence, and traveled with a medical brigade. It was an experience that changed my life in a few big ways and a hundred little ones. A lot of the day-to-day experiences I had there are echoed in Annie’s journey, but the romance is very much a fictional one. There were no butterfly-inducing kisses with sexy doctors in the real life version of this story. (Sadly.)
I’ve also traveled to other parts of Latin America, including Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru, and Brazil. But those trips didn’t really influence my story beyond a general love of travel.
Let's talk a bit about your publishing journey. How long as this process taken for you, from the first draft until publication date?
Oh, the waiting. And the waiting. And the waiting. It never ends. I wrote the first words of Without Borders in February of 2013. The book comes out in April of 2016. If you’re bad at math (like me) that’s more than three years of writing and editing and finger-crossing and crazy-making.
Every writer experiences some rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on?
Kind of.
The real answer is that I’m still learning to deal with it. I’d be a lying-liar-who-lies if I said rejections and setbacks don’t bother me anymore. But having good author friends in my corner—people who have been through this mess we call publishing and understand the frustrations—has helped so much. They cheer me on when things go well and talk me down from the ledge when I feel like publishing is conspiring to ruin my life.
What makes Diversion Publishing and your editor(s) there a good fit for you and your book?
Diversion was willing to take a chance on me and my out-of-the-box stories. When other publishers said they didn’t think readers would buy a book set in Nicaragua, Diversion said they’d find a way. When I said “Oh, and by the way book two is going to be about a fake late night talk show because I’m obsessed with Craig Ferguson,” my editor said “works for me.”  And when I completely changed course on book three and decided to write a same-sex romance, no one batted an eye. They give me the freedom to write the stories I want to write, which is basically an author’s dream.
Tell us about your cover. How much say did you have in it? What do you want it to tell potential readers?
My cover came about in a really cool way. I was browsing a stock photo website for something unrelated and came across a photo that really captured the tone and mood of Without Borders. I sent a link to the art director with a note that said something like “I may be way overstepping here, but what do you think about using this on the cover?” A few months later, the cover showed up in my inbox using the photo I’d suggested. (But made better with magic and Photoshop.)
Covers can say so much about what a book is or isn’t. I hope this one says tells readers Without Borders is a romance with a strong sense of setting. I also hope its gorgeousness hypnotizes them into buying the book. (You are getting sleepy. Really sleepy. You want to buy Without Borders. Is it working?)
Totally works. It makes me want to buy this book and go read it on some picaresque hike somewhere. Was WITHOUT BORDERS the original title you had in mind for this book?
Hahahaha. No.
For a long time, I called the manuscript “that thing” because I couldn’t come up with a title. One day, a friend jokingly called it Playing Doctor and that stuck for a little while. When I started to query, I knew I needed a different name, because the book isn’t nearly as hot as Playing Doctor implies. I eventually settled on Thirty Días because the book took place over Annie’s 30 days in Nicaragua, with each day as a separate chapter. Once I signed with my agent, we went back to the drawing board because neither of us were crazy about the title. We were brainstorming one night and she said “We need something that calls up images of Doctors Without Borders.” And I said, “How about just Without Borders?”
Boom. Teamwork, guys. Teamwork.
Can you tell us about some of the things you been working on between signing a contract for this novel and its release? What about the post-book-deal process been most surprising for you?
We sold Without Borders as the first of three books, but I’d never planned on spinning it into a series. So as soon as we sold the book, I started working on book two. It’s been written and edited, so now it’s just waiting to become a “real book.” (Insert Pinocchio voice here.) Book two is a standalone, starring a secondary character from Without Borders. It’s called Semi-Scripted and will be out in the fall. Now I’m working on the final book in the series, which is tentatively scheduled for release in the first half of 2017.
Something that’s really surprised me is how different everyone’s publishing process is. Some publishers give their authors a ton of input on the covers, some get none. Some editors do two or three or four rounds of edits, some do one. Some publishers do first pass pages, some send the book to print directly after copy edits. There is no one accepted process to get a book on the shelf.
How does it feel to finally have your book out in the hands of readers? Do you have any events planned you want people to know about?
It’s surreal. Completely and freakishly surreal. The first time I saw a copy of it on someone else’s Kindle, I cried. When strangers started leaving thoughtful reviews on Goodreads, I cried. Basically, there’s been a lot of crying going on here.
As I write this, events are still being planned and finalized. But as they come together, I’ll be sure to update my website and Facebook pages.
Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication? Anything you would have done differently?
Find your people. The critique partners and beta readers who get your stories. The friends who will listen to you whine about getting shot down at acquisitions. The ones who will send you random gifs of Zach Morris when you’re having a crappy day. They’ll make this journey a hundred times more bearable. Sometimes they’ll even make it fun.
If I had a time machine, I’d go back to 1992 and tell my fifth-grade self to rethink that whole pink polka-dotted overalls look. Then I’d fast forward to 2013 and 2014 and tell my Without Borders-writing self to trust my gut. When I first started writing, I tried to take every bit of advice and incorporate every suggestion. Yeah, maybe that version of the story had no passive voice or adverbs or whatever. But it also had no voice. Since then I’ve learned to trust myself and let my voice shine through—even if that means it’s flawed and has more “to be” verbs than some prefer. My stories are better for it.
And, just for fun, which other YA hero/heroine from a different book/series would your main character Annie most like to go on vacation with?
Cath from Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. I think they’d bond over what it means to leave an ill parent behind to pursue their own dreams. And Cath is just a kickass character all around.

Thank you so much for your participation in this Wednesday Debut Interview!