Thursday, May 31, 2018

Dear OAbby: Help! My Publisher Went Under, But I Still Want to Write This Series

Dear OAbby is a new feature on Operation Awesome where we answer your questions! It's an advice column by writers, for writers, chock-full of information about writing, querying, the publication process, etc. If you have a question you'd like answered, just send it to All questions may be edited for clarity and/or space, and will be posted anonymously, with no identifying information.

Dear OAbby,

I've written the first two-and-a-half books of a YA fantasy series. The first book was published by a small press that went out of business under not so ideal circumstances. However, I really don’t want these books to go to waste, so I started a complete rewrite on the first.  My question is, should I continue and let it make the rounds?  Also, I wanted to know what’s your opinion on my submitting the second book first, like the Chronicles of Narnia?


Series of Frustrations

Dear Series of Frustrations,

This is a sticky wicket. Since the first book has already been published, I doubt an agent or publisher will want to pick up the rewrite, assuming it's got the same characters, plot, etc. as the original, published version. There may be some legal issues, too, since you'd be revising an already-published work, even though it's your own. At the very least, you need to reread your contract with the publisher to see what it says about reversion of rights, etc. Presumably, since they went out of business, the rights reverted to you, and the contract should speak to what you can and can't do with the book at that point. It's worth having a publishing attorney look over your contract and give you specific advice on this point.

Technically, you should be able to submit the second book, since it hasn't been published. Though, since it's based on the same plot and characters as the first book, you may run into some intellectual property rights issues here, too. Again, it comes down to how your contract was worded. I definitely recommend asking a publishing attorney to advise you on these questions, since they're specific to your particular situation. 

Yours truly,

Dear OAbby

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Meet Brian James in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6


Some interviews go from contact to publication in two weeks. Others, like this one, started way back in January. So welcome, at LONG LAST, Brian James! My fellow Urban Fantasy writer has a word of caution for all you planning-to-publish writers out there! 
Just a heads up to you Marvel fans... there will be no slap-fights at Operation Awesome... 

1- What five words represent your most notable characteristic or values? #In5Words

Relentlessly caffeinated stubborn extroverted hermit

2- What are the Kalamazoo Jaycees?

The Kalamazoo Jaycees is their junior chamber of commerce. I hate Ohio. Most of my disgust for that state is fueled by jealousy. Their Buckeyes are much better than my Wolverines and they have best collection of roller coasters on the planet. My petty side is entertained by the idea of the entire state burned to its bedrock by a group of profit-minded teenagers.

3- What ignited your passion for writing?

My passion for writing is the direct result of encouragement from my high school art history teacher. After a semester of reading my papers he believed there was a talent there that needed to be nurtured, so he encouraged me in much the same way that a football coach would cheer on and develop a promising quarterback.

4- How are the characters in your book similar to the pop-culture ones people currently know from the Marvel movies? How are they different?

My characters are not similar in the least to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s versions of Thor, Odin, and Loki. Marvel has taken the names of the Norse gods and then completely changed everything about them. It’s to the point where their Marvel’s versions should be considered a different set of characters that happen to share the same names as the Norse pantheon. They look different, behave differently, and are related to each other is completely different ways.

For example, Loki was never Thor’s adoptive brother in the myths. Loki was Odin’s best friend and blood brother. His relationship to Thor is more of a prankster/drinking buddy. Hela is not Odin’s first born, as she is in the films. She is the daughter of Loki. Another good example is Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. According to marvel, only someone worthy can lift it. In the myths, anyone can raise Mjolnir. In fact, there is a myth where a giant stole Thor’s hammer and Thor had to cross dress to get it back. When we come to Thor himself, the version we see on screen is a complete departure from the myth. The Chris Hemsworth version of Thor resembles the mythological version about as much as one of those creepy hairless cats resembles a snow leopard.

5- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

Confucius once said, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” My short-term goal is to grow my audience so that I can continue to make a living doing what I love. My long-term goal is to create lasting works that succeed in entertaining the audience and giving them a temporary vacation from the insanity of real life.

6- Do any of your "black plague era" characters sing "Ring around the Rosie" in modern times, and do they know what the song means?

My characters don’t sing Ring around the Rosie. If they did, it would probably sound a lot like a Manowar cover of the song. Whether they sung or not, my character would have definitely known that the song referred to the particular rash that came with the plague. Many of the Norse gods were complete jerks. They may have found the markings, and the song that went with it, funny. Those who died from the plague would have went to Hel (purgatory) instead of Valhalla (heaven) because they did not die fighting or in a heroic fashion. Hela, Loki’s daughter and master of Hel, would have seen a near endless stream of plague victims, with their rosy rashes, entering her realm.

7- What is your favorite book (by someone else), and what do you love most about that book?

My favorite book is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The late Douglas Adams created a cast of characters that I found immediately relatable. He then built an odd, smart, and unique story around them. His theories on how time travel really works and the long term effects of it is the sort of thing that would cause Sheldon Cooper to spontaneously combust with jealousy. The other books in the series are just as good, but without The Hitchhiker’s Guide, the others don’t exist. The only exception is the book And Another Thing. This was written following Adams death in an ill-fated attempt to squeeze one last dime from the franchise. This book and everything associated with it should be killed with fire.

8- What's the most interesting thing you learned while working with the World Poker Tour?

The first thing I learned was that poker is the only game in a casino where the player has an honest shake at winning because it is the only game where the player isn’t playing against the casino itself. The most interesting thing I learned came from a feature on a player named Jennifer “Jennicide” Leigh. She described how she was winning in online casinos by simply bullying other players out of the pot. The cards didn’t matter as much choosing the right room to push around. There is obviously more to it than that, but aggression was as powerful a weapon as a good hand.

9- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?

The editor I worked with on this seemed to be a very enthusiastic fan of my work. He loved how I could weave humor into some very dark places allowing the user to chuckle, and then feel badly about chuckling.

10- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?

I want my readers to feel a range of emotions. I want them to invest in characters to the point where they feel betrayed if the character does not turn out to be who they thought they were. By the time they get through the climactic chapters and to the end I want them to feel spent.

11- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?

Like anything else, repetition. When working for a poker website and then later for the World Poker Tour, during World Series of Poker time I had to knock out up to twelve short articles per day. The world of online content development with its tight deadlines and high customer demand put the writers in a sink or swim atmosphere. All that writing helped me develop a style that connected with an audience. The great thing about online content is that the click numbers tell you when you’ve hit and when you’ve missed. This near instant feedback allows the writer to shape their style.

12- I see that you once published a book called "Ragnarok" with America Star Books, formerly PublishAmerica. The first hit Google gives me is a link to ( Writer Beware, where the lawsuits against this allegedly fraudulent publisher can be found. I'm so sorry you and the hard work that is your book were caught up in this. Are there any tips or advice you could give to fellow authors so that they might avoid such a dilemma?

Like any other writer, the act of finding a publisher was a long and hard journey. With PublishAmerica, now AmericaStar, I made the blunder of mistaking any attention for good attention. Think of it as a desperate nerd who was 18 and not yet had their first kiss (I can speak from experience on that one). One day someone magically showed romantic interest in you. You ignore all the warning signs and ulterior motive red flags and go full speed ahead. This never leads to a good ending.

My advice would be when talking to a potential publisher, if they will not provide basic services (like editing) then they do not care about the quality of your book. If they don’t care about the quality of your book then they can’t expect it to sell. Obviously, this means they are not going to fill their pockets with the sales to consumers. If the publisher isn’t going after consumer’s money chances are pretty good they will be coming after yours.

There are so many good, small presses out there that the opportunities for talented writers are better today than at any other point in time. Keep submitting your manuscript until you find the right fit. When a publisher does show interest, find every review you can about the company. Don’t suspend disbelief in the face of negative information. If it walks like a skanky duck, swims like a skanky duck, quacks like a skanky duck, then it’s probably Ameristar Publishing.

13- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?

All of my characters share a common trait, beauty. That is very deliberate. They are gods, and they are all beautiful. That beauty masks how broken and screwed up they all are. Their physical appearances exist in contrast to all too human failings they all have.

14- #WeNeedDiverseBooks recognizes all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities. In what ways are the main characters in your book diverse? Or what's your favorite book with a diverse main character?

The early Norse were extremely xenophobic, and using them as the base characters doesn’t allow a lot of room for diversity. A great book with a very diverse cast of main characters is the novel Broken Monsters. This book, set in Detroit, has characters that reflect the rich diversity of the Southeast Lower Michigan area.

15- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

My favorite contradictory character is one named Dennis Syrdon. He is very affable, quirky, popular, a very good boss and unfortunately rotten to core.

16- Your Goodreads profile shows you've written no reviews. Do you feel that book reviews are valuable for authors?

I don’t like writing reviews because my review would only be relevant to someone who has my taste in books. Just because I didn’t like something doesn’t mean somebody else will see it the same way. I would hate to have something I wrote steer a reader away from a book they might adore. The Hunger Games books made me want to drink bleach until the pain stopped, but other people loved them.

17- Can you think of any small change in the world you could make to benefit hundreds of other authors or readers potentially?

Free coffee at Starbucks for all writers would probably be a change most of us could get behind. Outside of that I think a comprehensive online repository of predatory “publishers” and “agents” would be extremely helpful.

18- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

Suggestions from my friends carry a lot of weight. Someone in my social circle who knows what the term “Nat 20” means has a much better chance of nailing my taste in books then a someone with a soft, NPR, voice whose list of favorite books just parrots what’s on the NY Times Best Sellers list.

19- How will you measure your publishing performance?

In the end, sales will have to be the determining factor for performance. I have a sales number in my head for this book. When it hits that number, I can call it a success. The next book will need to beat that number, and so on and so on. With that said, it may not be the best way to determine success. Something tells me this is just the sort of thing that turned Rod Serling into a self-destructive chain smoker.

20- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?

I decided to go small press after discussing the whole thing with someone who was higher up the food chain then I am. A small press didn’t require having to secure the services of a literary agent. Anyone who’s ever tried to find an agent will soon discover they would rather clean their ears with a shotgun then go through that process. Not having to find an agent was a huge selling point. Also a small press also comes with the credibility and support that comes with having a publisher. Self-publishing offers a lot of freedom, and the author keeps all of the money generated by their book, but there still seems to be a stigma attached to it. Plus the self-publisher doesn’t get the support services offered by a good small press.

21- What's the best book marketing strategy you've come across?

I believe social media has changed the landscape of book marketing. The best book marketing campaigns I have seen make aggressive and skillful use of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

22- Would you share a picture with us of you playing Guitar Hero while wearing a top hat, and tell us if Slash inspired the fashion choice?

I don’t think there is a picture of me playing Guitar Hero. Getting pictures of Sasquatch has proved easier than getting shots of me, but Slash was definitely the inspiration for the top hat. Who doesn’t love Slash?

23- What is one question or discussion topic which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

A great topic of discussion has been mythological Thor vs. Marvel comics Thor. Bringing this up at comic and gamer conventions almost started fistfights amongst the geeks. Well…slap fights.

24- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

Excerpts of the book can be found at
FB profile:
Twitter handle: BrianJames1066
Instagram: BrianJames1066

Mjolnir is Available at the following outlets:
Barnes and Nobles:
Apple iTunes:

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Lessons from Query Kombat

I'm co-hosting Query Kombat this year, which is a lot of fun and a lot of work. So much work, in fact, that last week I completely forgot to post here on Operation Awesome!😯 I have a bit of a lull before the competition gets going on Friday, so I thought I'd write about some of the things I observed and learned while going through the entries and selecting my team.

We had about 430 entries, which meant I ended up with 143 entries in my pile. We divide all the entries as they come in, so it's completely random who ends up with what entries. I also read some of the entries in Michael and Michelle's piles. I was amazed at the fact that no two books were the same. Can you believe that? I was constantly blown away by all the interesting premises. Whether someone got into the contest or not, they came up with a unique story idea and turned it into a whole book. That's absolutely wonderful.

Out of the entries I read through, there were plenty that I felt "meh" about. The premise just didn't catch my fancy. I put those in my "Up for Grabs" folder. Michael and Michelle each poached an entry from that folder. They obviously didn't feel "meh" about those entries--they thought they were good enough for the contest! Taste is subjective, and writers just have to accept that not everyone is going to like their book. You can't do anything about that, so I say don't waste a second worrying about it.

What did I love about the entries I selected? First off, always, it's premise. I picked a YA time-travel entry because that's my kryptonite; an entry that could be described as a Middle Grade Groundhog Day because it's one of my favorite movies; a thriller about someone who creates near-death experiences and has to deal with the fallout from an all-death experience because it made me sit up and go YES I WOULD READ THAT RIGHT NOW. Every entry I chose had a premise I loved.

But there were other premises I loved in the entry pool. The ones that were chosen also had strong query letters. By strong I mean I got a good sense of who the main character was, what the main conflict of the book would be, and what was at stake. There's something about those three elements that makes people want to read a book, which is why people who give query advice regularly stress those elements. Do we sound like broken records? Maybe. But you never know who's hearing it for the first time, and so we repeat ourselves in case ours is the advice that gives someone the "A ha!" moment they need.

One of the entries I chose had received a query critique from me a few weeks before the contest. I held my breath as I read, hoping it had improved. It absolutely had. I was so proud of that writer! Incorporating feedback is not easy, but this writer obviously knows how to revise. I feel confident that person will get a lot of benefit out of the feedback aspect of Query Kombat.

For me, the first 250 words part of the entry submission is the hardest to judge. For all I know, there's an amazing sentence or twist around the corner at word 275. For a submission to an agent, that's great. For the purposes of the contest, it's not. So I try to keep an open mind while reading. That part counts the least for me. Others will feel differently. I'm sure the judges will have plenty of opinions to share on the entries' writing!

The last thing I want to say is that making connections in the writing world is so important. I hope the people who entered and weren't chosen take the opportunity to find critique partners on the Query Kombat forums. I got to know Laura Heffernan while working on pitches for PitchMadness over 4 years ago, and that's how we became CPs. Now she's one of my most trusted friends in the writing world. Making friends through contests works!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Dear OAbby: How Do I Get Past Writer's Block?

Dear OAbby is a new feature on Operation Awesome where we answer your questions! It's an advice column by writers, for writers, chock-full of information about writing, querying, the publication process, etc. If you have a question you'd like answered, just send it to All questions may be edited for clarity and/or space, and will be posted anonymously, with no identifying information.

Dear OAbby,

I am currently on submission with my first novel (yay!) and playing the waiting game is nerve-wracking (boo!). Everyone says I should be working on my next book to distract myself from being on sub, but I'm finding that impossible. Every time I sit down to write, all I can think about is my book on sub, whether it'll find a home, and what it'll mean if it doesn't. I stare at the blank page and wonder if I'm a 'one and done' author, since I can't seem to put words on the page anymore. Meanwhile, my agent wants to know what I'm working on, and I know if I'm lucky enough to get an editor call, he/she will want to know the same thing. Help!

Around the Block

Dear Around the Block,

Ah, writer's block. The bane of every writer's existence, at least from time to time. The first piece of advice I'll give you (in all caps, because it's an important one) is DON'T STRESS YOURSELF OUT FOR BEING BLOCKED! You're dealing with enough stress already, and adding this one is like having insomnia, then worrying so much about having insomnia that you keep yourself awake even longer. If you're blocked, accept it. Don't beat yourself up. Then, try some of these tactics to get past it.

Advice about writer's block is kind of like advice about getting rid of hiccups. Everyone has pointers, and virtually none of them work for anyone else. Still, they're worth a try. For example, Kara has blogged about #ahundredordie. I find that doing word sprints with other writers helps (I'm really competitive, so I can't fathom having others finish their words if I don't). Some people will set aside a short amount of time (maybe ten minutes) to free-write, even if those words are unrelated to your work-in-progress. It might be a good time to try outlining your project, if you're not feeling the drafting process at the moment.

And if none of that works, give yourself permission to NOT write for a while. Do a lot of reading instead. Critique manuscripts for other writers. Write in a totally different genre: if you're a novelist, try your hand at short stories or poetry.

Above all, DON'T STRESS YOURSELF OUT FOR BEING BLOCKED. The block will lift, eventually. And when it does, you can look back on this time not as The Writer's Block Era, but The Time I Spent Reading/Writing Poetry/Critiquing/Word Sprinting/etc. Change writer's block into something you enjoy, and it'll probably go away on its own!

Yours truly,
Dear OAbby

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Synopsis Critique #21: YA Contemporary

And now, it's time for this week's synopsis critique! The author of COMPLEX SOLUTIONS, a YA Contemporary novel, submitted this synopsis. My in-line comments are [blue and in brackets], and I'll include a summary at the end. Feel free to comment below!

If you'd like a primer on how to write a synopsis, see my posts here and here. And if you want your synopsis critiqued on this website, fill out the form here, or email your 1-2 page synopsis to me at (NOTE: I'll email my critique to the author as soon as I'm done, so the author won't have to wait to see his/her synopsis on the site). Thanks for participating!


After the car accident that should have killed her too [1], sixteen-year-old LEXI THOMPSON lives with her grandmother. She wants to be accepted, to feel she’s not a freak. [2] Her response to cruel taunts and bullying from classmates is to cut herself, providing temporary relief from her emotional pain.

While she dreads the school scene, she loves math. She loves it the way her parents did. [3] The bonus is JOE BIONDI, a fellow math whiz, is in her AP Calculus class. He’s drawn to her shy, quiet nature, love of math and dedication to running. Running is the one thing—outside of cutting—that makes Lexi feel good. [4] Her relationship with Joe deepens, but her past secrets and continuing self-harm prevent her from getting too close. [5]

Lexi receives a letter from The Clay Mathematics Institute, a prestigious non-profit foundation, regarding a secret her parents kept while alive. Lexi discovers they likely proved the legendary Riemann Hypothesis, which she learns is a 150-year-old theorem regarding the behavior of prime numbers. The Clay Institute is offering one million dollars to the person who proves it. [6] With her parents gone, the whereabouts of their proof is unknown. Lexi is her parents [7] only hope of finding and submitting their proof, of saving their legacy and, in her mind, finally doing something that would make them proud. [8] It would also relieve some of the guilt she feels for surviving the accident. But she’s not the only one who knows their secret. DAVE EDISON, her father’s college buddy and later, his legal advisor, seeks the proof for his own glory. [9]

Lexi tells Joe about the lost proof and about Dave stalking her. [10] His [11] support helps her confess her self-harm and her past suicide attempt as well. Instead of pushing him away, Joe draws closer to her [12] and encourages her to seek help. She promises to do that once the research has been found and delivered to the Clay Institute.

Lexi and Joe finally find the proof on a USB stick, hidden in a photo album, but Dave Edison learns of their discovery and chases Lexi a few nights later on the beach. She outruns him, but afterward, is so rattled, she cuts herself too deep and Joe rushes her to get stitches at the local clinic. Without her knowledge, Joe gives the doctor at the clinic her grandmother’s number to call and consent to treatment. When Lexi is confronted by her grandmother afterward, she’s furious with Joe [13] and sneaks out the next morning to catch the bus to the Clay Institute to deliver the proof by herself.

Lexi runs into first, Joe, then Dave Edison [14] on the streets of Cambridge and ultimately, with the help of the local police, delivers the proof to the researchers at the Clay Institute [15] and Dave Edison is arrested.

All that remains is confirmation the theorem has been proven by Lexi’s parents and for Lexi to get the help for the underlying issues which cause her to self-harm. [16]


[1]: Should have killed Lexi in addition to who? Who actually died?
[2]: Why do people think she’s a freak? Because she was in a car crash (seems like she’d get sympathy for that, not bullying)? Or another reason?
[3]: Did her parents die in the car crash?
[4]: I thought math also made her feel good?
[5]: This paragraph is a list of things Lexi likes. Work this into a few sentences that advance the plot. Describe how she and Joe grow closer. Describe how that impacts her character development. If running, is a part of that, then weave it in to the plot details.
[6]: Did the Clay Institute know that Lexi’s parents proved the theorem? Why are they writing to Lexi now? Do they want her to bring them the proof? It sounds like they’re still looking for someone to solve it, so this confused me. Clarify this a bit.
[7]: Parents’
[8]: How would submitting her parents’ proof make them proud? It doesn’t seem like Lexi is actively doing anything here: she’s not solving the theorem herself. She’s just finding their proof and sending it in. I get the part about preserving their legacy, but it doesn’t seem like it would make them proud of her, because they’ve already done the work.
[9]: If he’s not also a mathematician, how would he derive glory from the proof?
[10]: When did Dave start stalking Lexi? Describe how this happens. Physically stalking her, stalking her online, etc.
[11]: Joe’s
[12]: This is confusing as written. Reword to something like, ‘Instead of pushing him away, Lexi allows herself to grow closer to Joe, who encourages her to seek help.’
[13]: Why would she be furious with Joe? It seems like he wouldn’t have had a choice in the matter, since Lexi’s a minor.
[14]: Reword to something like, ‘On her way to the Clay Institute, Lexi runs into Joe’ and then describe what happens during that encounter. Then, pick up with ‘They see Dave…’ and describe what happens with him. Detailing what happens is the most important element of a synopsis.
[15]: Make ‘Dave is arrested’ a separate sentence.
[16]: This sentence is a bit confusing. Also, it makes it sounds like these things don’t actually happen in the book, and you’re setting them up for a sequel. If they do happen in the book, then say something like, ‘Lexi helps the Clay Institute confirm her parents’ proof by [describe how she does this].’ Then, ‘Finally, Lexi goes to her first therapy appointment to get help for the underlying issues causing her to self-harm.’ Also, I want a resolution to her relationship with Joe.


This is well-written, but it feels more like a long query than a synopsis. Take a step back and map out your main plot in terms of ‘who does what’ and ‘how does it advance the plot.’ Make sure you’re tracing all the significant events through the beginning, middle, and end of the story, and if you want to keep the synopsis at one page, delete the details that aren’t important (such as Lexi’s love of running). Also, make sure you keep your eye on your antagonist and track what he’s doing throughout the course of the story.

Best of luck with this!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Meet April Snellings in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

Ghoulish: The Art of Gary Pullin

Welcome, April!

I want to thank you for the questions. I’ve followed this site for a while, especially the Debut Author interviews. It’s really exciting to be one of those writers.

You're very welcome. Glad to have you here. On with the interview! 😊

1- How did you get a book about Gary Pullin to come to life?

For Ghoulish, we were lucky enough to have a terrific publisher onboard before the first word was written. I’ve known Gary for years now—we met when I was writing for a magazine called Rue Morgue and Gary was its art director. Another member of the team back then was Dave Alexander, who was Rue Morgue’s editor-in-chief during my tenure there. All of us have since moved on, but we’ve maintained those friendships and we find our paths crossing pretty frequently. When Gary and Dave started talking to 1984 Publishing about a coffee table book of Gary’s art (Dave is Ghoulish’s editor), they asked me to come onboard to write it. I said yes immediately—I’m a poster collector and Gary is one of the foremost artists of the illustrated movie poster art revival, and I loved the idea of telling not only Gary’s story, but also the story of that art movement. So the project had a “getting the band back together” feel to it, and it was a delight to work with Gary and Dave again, and to find a great new partner in 1984 Publishing.

2- What five words represent your most notable characteristic or values? #In5Words

Curious, loyal, dedicated, perfectionist, hopeful

3- What ignited your passion for writing?

I was a pretty introverted kid (which makes sense, because I’m a pretty introverted adult), and I generally preferred to hang out by myself and read when other kids were doing sports or whatever kids do. I’ve always loved stories any way I could get them—books, movies, comics, TV, whatever—so I think this ‘writer’ thing was pretty much inevitable. I write full-time now, but there’ve been many jobs along the way—I’ve done everything from selling timeshares (don’t hate me) to building alternators on an assembly line. My first byline was a book review in a tiny newspaper in 2008, and one small thing has led to another slightly less-small thing ever since.

4- Who is your favorite character from The Facts of Life?

I have to go with Mrs. Garrett. She can solve everyone’s problems, bake a strudel, and rock a bouffant, so she’s pretty much perfect. We all need an Edna Garrett in our lives.

5- Would you share a picture with us of the book with your seven-foot animatronic werewolf named C. Thomas Howl?

seven-foot animatronic werewolf named C. Thomas Howl - Meet April Snellings in this Debut Author Spotlight - Ghoulish: The Art of Gary Pullin #book

6- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

My short-term goal is to finish the YA novel I’m working on now, which is sort of a queer, feminist riff on Frankenstein—there’s mad science, monsters, and LGBT romance, so it’s a fun world to play in. Which leads me to my long-term goal, which is to focus more on my fiction. Right now nonfiction is my bread and butter, and it’s wonderful! But ultimately I’d like to spend more time telling my own stories.

7- What is your favorite book (by someone else), and what do you love most about that book?

I flirt with other favorites, but I always come back to Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. I love that it’s both creepy as hell (the Dust Witch still gives me chills) and a sweet, moving story about friendship and growing up. Also, no one has ever put October on the page as evocatively as Bradbury.

8- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most about your debut non-fiction book?

It’s a tossup between my mom and my wife, but when it comes to Ghoulish, I think my mom wins. She’s a big fan of classic horror cinema, and she loves that the book features art for films like Psycho, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, and Frankenstein.

9- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?

Working with great editors. I don’t have any formal writing training/education beyond studying screenwriting in film school, so working with experienced, talented newspaper and magazine editors is what taught me the craft of writing and the business of publishing. It’s been invaluable.
Meet April Snellings in this Debut Author Spotlight  - Ghoulish: The Art of Gary Pullin #book

10- Could you give a tip to someone who wants to get in to selling ghoulish art, crafts, and stories?

Become an active part of the genre fan community, and get your work in front of people as often as you can. Engaging with creators and fans on social media is a great place to start, and if you can, go to a convention and talk to creators—most of them will be eager to talk about what they’re doing. Some of my coolest gigs came about that way.

11- #WeNeedDiverseBooks What's your favorite book with a diverse main character?

A few come to mind by authors who aren’t with us anymore, but I love promoting writers who can still benefit from being discovered by new readers. So may I cheat and name mention a few recent favorites?
  1. Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country, which centers on a black family tackling cosmic horrors and racism during the Jim Crow era. I love that it doesn’t simply ignore or redact the racism inherent in Lovecraft’s work—it tackles it head-on.
  2. Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids, which is a really fun, completely bonkers twist on Scooby-Doo and other teen detective stories, with a queer MC and a really lovely queer romance at its center.
  3. Dawn Ius’s Lizzie, a contemporary, queer retelling of the Lizzie Borden story. It’s creepy, affecting, and heartbreaking.

12- Which of Gary's works is your favorite?
Scream Poster - Meet April Snellings in this Debut Author Spotlight  - Ghoulish: The Art of Gary Pullin #book

Probably the Scream poster he did for Mondo a couple of years ago. It’s a truly gorgeous piece of art, and it’s so clever—by referencing Roy Lichtenstein in such a fun way, it gives pop art the same meta treatment that Scream gave slasher movies.

13- Did you ever figure out what this is? (

I’m told it’s a spiral slicer and that it’s used for garnishing things, but I remain skeptical. Don’t you just put some parsley on something and hello, it is garnished?

14- Does your book about Gary hold a mirror up to society, and in what way?

Maybe in a roundabout way. Horror is a social barometer—you can tell a lot about a culture’s anxieties by looking at the horror movies or books it’s producing. Ghoulish features art inspired by a wide range of horror films, from classic Universal monster movies to recent fare like The Babadook. I think it’s fascinating to see how horror has evolved over the decades and to consider what that tells us about ourselves.

15- Can you think of any small change in the world you could make to benefit hundreds of other authors or readers potentially?

Taking every opportunity to amplify the voices of other writers. Every month I volunteer my services to a writers’ organization that helps authors promote their new releases. Hopefully I’m helping writers get their work in front of people, and helping readers find new authors to support.

16- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

I always pay attention to recommendations from trusted sources, whether it’s a friend or a reviewer, and I’m a sucker for a great cover. Once a title is on my radar I read the first couple of pages, either in the bookstore or via an online sample. I’m also a very loyal reader; once a writer has my heart, it’s hers forever.

17- How will you measure your publishing performance?

Wow, I need a better answer for this. At the moment I’m mostly thinking in terms of whether the publisher wants to work with me again. (They do, so yay!)

18- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?

I’m not sure I have it in me to self-publish—I do my best work as part of a team, and I thrive on collaboration and feedback from editors, artists, publishers, and other writers. As for this project landing at 1984 Publishing, there couldn’t have been a better fit. 1984’s founder, Matthew Chojnacki, is a writer, pop culture historian, and a collector, so he understands this stuff on a molecular level. He was always committed to making sure Ghoulish was something special.

19- What's the best book marketing strategy you've come across?
Meet April Snellings in this Debut Author Spotlight  - Ghoulish: The Art of Gary Pullin #book

We’ve had a lot of success by engaging directly with fans, either on social media or at conventions and other events. Also, our publisher, 1984 Publishing, specializes in beautifully produced art books, and they turned Ghoulish into an event. For instance, they released two special 3D editions that came with branded 3D glasses and a limited edition 3D art print. (Both of those editions sold out!)

20- What is one question or discussion topic which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

I’d love to talk about book covers! One of the topics that comes up in Ghoulish is the idea that a book cover or movie poster can become as iconic as the story it represents. An example is Jaws; most of us can’t hear that title without thinking of Roger Kastel’s terrifying cover illustration, which was also used on the movie poster. I’d love to hear readers’ thoughts on a book cover that made an indelible impression, whether it was 20 years ago or last week.

That's a great topic! I keep a Pinterest board for just such a reason.

21- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?
Meet April Snellings in this Debut Author Spotlight  - Ghoulish: The Art of Gary Pullin #book

We have a fun blurb from Guillermo del Toro, writer/director of The Shape of Water and Pan’s Labyrinth, so I pretty much have to share it: “Like a modern Frankenstein, Gary reanimates nostalgia and unleashes it to bite your ass!” I’d also like to mention that the book has a beautiful introduction by filmmaker/Glass Eye Pix founder Larry Fessenden and a lovely foreword by Grammy-winning designer and Mondo co-founder Rob Jones. There’s even a very limited edition that comes with a 12-inch vinyl single by legendary soundtrack artists Goblin, who created the scores for Dawn of the Dead and Suspiria.

Finally, I love to connect with readers and other writers, so please get in touch via any of my social media things, or contact me anytime through my website.


Meet April Snellings in this Debut Author Spotlight  - Ghoulish: The Art of Gary Pullin #book

Thanks for reading, and thanks again for the interview, J!
Meet April Snellings in this Debut Author Spotlight  - Ghoulish: The Art of Gary Pullin #book

Ghoulish: The Art of Gary Pullin

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

A Note on Critique Partner Relations

I believe that good critique partners are absolutely vital to the writing process. A good critique partner gives valuable insights into improving your manuscript, and will also cheer you on as you go on your writing journey.

When I figured out that I needed critique partners to improve my writing (side note: sometimes I look at 2013 Kara and slowly shake my head at her nonsense), I was delighted to find that two women I already knew were writers, and they were interested in forming a critique group! We were all kind of newbs at the offering feedback part of writing, but we dove into it anyway.

At the beginning of that summer, I let my new CPs know that I was going to pursue publication, and I wanted their help getting my book into shape. They both agreed to read for me, so I sent the book on.

And then I waited. For almost three months. One of the women suggested that we add new people to our critique group and move it online. I said I would be okay with that, but if we were going to invite new people, we should be clear on when we expected people to get back to us so that no one got upset, because my feelings were hurt that neither of them had said anything about my book the whole summer.

Now, they both had a lot going on that summer. They were scheduled things that we all knew were going to happen. But they had agreed to read in spite of that, and it bothered me that neither of them had even said so much as "Hey, sorry I haven't gotten to this yet."

One CP apologized, read the book within a week, and returned notes that were very helpful (including pointing out that I wasn't doing my em dashes correctly, which was great because I had no idea that em dashes and hyphens were different!). We're still friends to this day, and I still value her input on my work.

The other got snippy, unfriended me on Facebook, and hasn't spoken to me since even though we live in the same small town.

I hope you take away a number of things from this story. One: if you are unhappy with something in your CP relationship, speak up promptly. Don't let it fester for months. You'll know which CPs are worth keeping based on how they respond. Two: if you find that you've screwed up? Apologize and make it right. If your CP forgives you and can still take your critique without getting defensive, then you guys are a good match. And finally, clear communication and honesty are crucial to a good CP relationship.

Friday, May 11, 2018


Friday is here again, and that means you have the opportunity to win a query critique! Comment on this post--along with one other blog post from this week-- in order to be eligible to win. You have until noon EST on 05/13 to enter by, with the winner announced in the comments section later that afternoon/evening. Also, please note, that if you do not leave your email address in your comment, do not have it listed on your Blogger profile (or somewhere that I can find it easily on your own blog), I will then pick someone else as the winner. The rest of the rules can be found here.

Good luck, and have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Synopsis Critique #20: YA Fantasy

And now, it's time for this week's synopsis critique! The author of WINGS OF DAWN, a YA Fantasy novel, submitted this synopsis. My in-line comments are [blue and in brackets], and I'll include a summary at the end. Feel free to comment below!

If you'd like a primer on how to write a synopsis, see my posts here and here. And if you want your synopsis critiqued on this website, fill out the form here, or email your 1-2 page synopsis to me at (NOTE: I'll email my critique to the author as soon as I'm done, so the author won't have to wait to see his/her synopsis on the site). Thanks for participating!


In the kingdom of Albyn, men who can shapeshift into dragons rule the land. Princess Kianna, the witty, ambitious, sometimes socially awkward heir to the throne, has always wished that she too could be a dragon but, since women lack the ability, she must marry one instead. [1]

During the final banquet of a festival, Kianna’s beloved father is poisoned. He falls into a temporary coma and, despite her grief and worry, Kianna is forced to begin searching for a husband sooner than she planned. [2] She enters into a careful courtship with Alun, a dragon from a family of scholars, whose love of books and humor intrigue her.

When Kianna’s father wakes, he lacks his previous strength. He encourages her to agree [3] to marry Alun and he [4] soon proposes to Kianna in the castle’s library. Even though she [5] never expected to fall for him, Alun’s expressed desire for her to rule as his equal ignites a growing affection within her.

As the soon-to-be Queen, Kianna is assigned two siblings as bodyguards [6]; one, a secret sorceress, befriends Kianna and offers to teach her forbidden magic, while the other, a stubbornly loyal dragon who doesn’t just guard but lurks, makes Kianna question her feelings for Alun. With this odd pair in tow, Kianna embarks on a visit to Alun’s family estate to get to know his relatives.

While there, Kianna spends time with Alun’s younger sister, intimidating older brother and his brother’s equally vicious wife, Raena. One night, the two older couples [7] spontaneously decide to go out for a clandestine flight and come upon the younger sister’s body washed up on shore. It appears to be an accident but at the sister’s funeral pyre, Kianna uses her budding magical abilities to determine that the sister’s life force has been drained from her body. Kianna knows that only someone well-versed in dark magic could do such a thing, and soon she starts seeing disturbing connections between Alun’s family and a dangerous cult that has been linked with disappearances across the kingdom.

Worried for Kianna’s safety, Alun insists that she return home immediately. Kianna and her sorceress bodyguard set out with a small group of dragons but when they stop for the night at an inn it catches fire and Kianna is kidnapped [8] and left to die in the remote canyons. She fights for a way out, pushing through the dangers of exposure and using magic against the even more dangerous creatures that live there. Just when Kianna has won herself a brief reprieve in battle with a monster, her second bodyguard swoops in and flies her safely back to the castle.

They arrive to the news that Kianna’s kidnapping was planned to lure her father into danger and he was killed while searching for her. Alun’s older brother, who was present when the king died, gives a testimony that casts the family of Kianna’s bodyguards as the main suspects. After her father’s funeral, Kianna is forced to preside over a sham trial that convicts her closest allies [9] of treason and sends them into exile. Before they leave, she secretly meets with her bodyguards to arrange magical means to keep in contact. Kianna’s grieving mother moves up the date of her wedding to Alun, and Kianna must swallow her pain to step up as the leader of her country.

Alun and Kianna marry and are crowned in the same day. When they retire for their first night as a married couple, Alun slips a drug into Kianna’s drink. She wakes up to find not Alun, but his sister-in-law Raena, waiting for her. Raena explains that she is a powerful priestess serving one of the old gods of Albyn who has been imprisoned for a millenia. Alun was supposed to kill Kianna, not drug her, but he bargained for her life and now Kianna has a choice [10]. She is taken to a secret lair where the old god offers her a deal: he will grant her deepest desire, to be a dragon, in return for control of the kingdom so he can re-establish a tyrannical reign over Albyn’s people.

Though the word, “yes”, [11] longs to trip from her tongue, Kianna refuses the offer and the priestess [12] attacks her, trying to spill her blood as the last necessary sacrifice to free the old god. Kianna is injured but combats the priestess with magic, escaping as the old god bursts free. Kianna’s bodyguards are waiting for her [13], having tracked her location, and they ferry her out. Kianna looks back just in time to see the priestess [14] emerge, transformed into the first female dragon.

The priestess, the old god, and Alun set up a false government in Albyn, with Kianna’s mother as their prisoner. Meanwhile, Kianna takes refuge in a neighboring country where she can build new alliances and raise a rebel army. Alun sends Kianna a message begging her to forgive him and come back to be his queen, but his betrayal destroyed any love or trust she had with him. She responds with a declaration of war, and vows to take her kingdom back by force.


[1]: Why must Kianna marry a dragon? Is this ordained by her country’s tradition, her parents’ wishes, or is this something she wants for herself so she can get as close as possible to being a dragon?
[2]: Why does her father’s coma force her to search for a husband? Is this a partiarchal society where women can’t rule in their own right?
[3]: Delete ‘to agree’
[4]: Substitute ‘Alun’ for ‘he’
[5]: Substitute ‘Kiana’ for ‘she’
[6]: This reads a little confusing: at first, I thought you meant that two of Kianna’s siblings were assigned as her bodyguards. Instead, unless it’s significant that they’re siblings, just say ‘two bodyguards’
[7]: Who are the two older couples? If it’s Alun, Kianna, and Alun’s brother and sister-in-law, I’d just say that
[8]: Kidnapped by who? For what purpose?
[9]: Who are her closest allies?
[10]: In the next sentence, you introduce the choice, so you don’t need to refer to it in this sentence also
[11]: Delete the commas around the word ‘yes’
[12]: Since you’ve already named Raena, use her name here, too
[13]: I thought they were exiled?
[14]: Raena


Overall, this is a very strong synopsis. I was able to follow the main plot throughout, and it’s clear how Kianna changes over the course of the story. This is a rare instance where you may want to name a few more characters – maybe Kianna’s two bodyguards, since they appear to be very important characters and they’re present throughout the synopsis. Most of my comments were small questions and quibbles; you’re very close. Best of luck with this!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Writing Conference Reflections

Last week I gave a list of all the things I was excited to do while in Utah for the Storymakers Conference. It was a blast! I had a great time and learned so much. I'm home now, and have been reflecting on the conference for a couple days. It was my third time attending the conference, and my experience at each one has been so different.

In 2014, I was in the middle of querying my first ever novel, and had received nothing but rejections. I had a pitch session with an editor, and was looking forward to hearing Orson Scott Card speak at the keynote dinner. Having never been to a writing conference before, I literally thought those two things would be the only benefits I got out of the conference. (shakes head in shame at past Kara)

The pitch session was great, not because I was invited to send material to the editor (I wasn't), but because it was what I finally needed to let go of that first terrible manuscript and move forward with my writing. I got to meet OSC, which was cool, but even better was meeting the person in front of me in line to talk to him: Amy Wilson, who became my friend and someone who I swap work with!

Last year, I went to the conference as a freshly agented writer with a highly polished manuscript. Most of the classes I gravitated towards dealt with plotting a new book. And I have to say, not having a pitch session took away ALL the stress I felt at the first conference!

I used the plotting techniques I learned last year to plot a new book, and finished my first draft a month before this year's conference. The classes I chose this year were all tools that I could use while working on the second draft. In fact, during almost every class, I found myself scribbling notes in the margins of my notebook with specific ideas of what I could do to improve this draft. It was awesome.

Whether you're a newb or a seasoned writer, a good writing conference will have something for you. I highly recommend Storymakers. If you go in 2019, I'll see you there!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Dear OAbby: How Do I Address an Agent in a Query Letter?

Dear OAbby is a new feature on Operation Awesome where we answer your questions! It's an advice column by writers, for writers, chock-full of information about writing, querying, the publication process, etc. If you have a question you'd like answered, just send it to All questions may be edited for clarity and/or space, and will be posted anonymously, with no identifying information.

Dear OAbby,

When submitting a new book to an agent from whom we got feedback in the past, should we address them with Ms./Mr. or first name?

Address Unknown

Dear Address Unknown,

When querying an agent for the first time, the general rule is to use Mr. or Ms. with the agent's last name. If you're not sure of the agent's gender, it's fine to use their first name. I'd advise against anything like 'Dear Agent' or 'To Whom it May Concern,' because those greetings make it look like you haven't done your research.

As to your question, you've already gotten feedback from this agent, so I'd look at the earlier email to see how the agent identified themselves. Most likely, they signed the email with their first name. If that's the case, then it's fine to open your next email by addressing them with their first name (since they opened the door to that relative informality). If they didn't sign the email, or if they signed it using something other than their first name, then I'd stick with Mr./Ms. [Agent Last Name] to be on the safe side. Either way, as long as you use either their first name or Mr./Ms. [Agent Last Name], and not something generic like 'Dear Agent,' you should be fine!

Happy Querying!

Yours truly,
Dear OAbby

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

I'm going to a writing conference!

I'm headed out to Utah on Thursday to attend Storymakers '18. This will be my third time attending this conference, and I am stoked for SO MANY REASONS:

(in no particular order)

-time off from my 24/7 job as MOM
-no cooking!
-meet Twitter friends and make them IRL friends
-meet three! agents who have participated in Pass Or Pages and thank them in person for helping us
-learn new writing craft tools
-feel like I'm not alone in this publishing game
-listen to SHANNON HALE give the keynote address
-treat ma self to some new books from the conference bookstore
-hang out with the members of my writing group who are local
-visit my non-writing friends in the area
-spend time with my sister (who of course moved to Utah AFTER we moved away)

For the comments: What is your favorite part of attending writing conferences? And if YOU'LL be at Storymakers '18, too, hit me up on Twitter so we can sit together at lunch!