Tuesday, April 30, 2019

#AtoZChallenge Zhush it Up! and May 2019 #PassOrPages Details

#AtoZChallenge 2019 Tenth Anniversary blogging from A to Z challenge letter

Zhush it Up!

Well, friends, we did it - we made it to the end of April! We here at Operation Awesome hope you’ve learned something from our posts this month, something that’ll help you zhush your writing, your outlook, your mental health, whatever it may be. 

Okay for real it's a real word. 

Sometimes also spelled zhoosh, what we’re talking about here is incrementally making things better with little adjustments. It’s a hard word to pin down, but I’m pretty sure I first heard it on Queer Eye. It's these types of adjustments that we focused on with our A to Z theme of the Writing Journey. So, to recap, here's a categorized list of our posts from this month:

Zhush is an ongoing process, and we hope you'll be able to find some ways to zhush up your writing. If you feel you're ready to take that to the next level, you're in luck, because the next round of Pass or Pages is coming up! Enter the contest here on our blog for a chance to get a critique on your query letter and first 250 words from agents who will either pass on your work or request pages. Either way, you'll get valuable feedback to help you continue that zhush!

So, without further ado, the genre for May 2019 Pass or Pages is...

Adult Historical Fiction

Here are the important dates for this round:

May 7th: Agent panel announcement
May 13th-17th: Entry window (via a form here on our blog)
May 27th-31st: Feedback reveals!

For a recap of the rules and links to previous rounds, click here. Best of luck, and thank you for following along with us this April!

Interested in joining the Operation Awesome team? Click here!

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Monday, April 29, 2019

#AtoZchallenge Young Adult

The first thing to remember when talking about Young Adult in relation to books is that YA is not a genre, but an age-group. YA books are available across genres – fantasy, literary, mystery, sci-fi, contemporary – just the same as adult books.

What makes a book YA is the age of its protagonists and its appeal to readers of the same or similar age. While there are some arguments about exactly what age this is, personally I would say anywhere from around 14 –19 would sit comfortably within YA. Which is not to say that any book with a protagonist of this age is a YA book....

Confusing, huh?

YA books tend to have a coming-of-age theme, regardless of genre. Protagonists often experience first love, first sexual experience or come to terms with something about themselves they discover in the course of the book.

Historically, the YA category only really came into existence in the 1960s. At that time, YA tended to focus on contemporary stories dealing with the kind of social issues and problems young people were facing. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is widely considered the first YA book despite Salinger not intending it to be for young adults. Its popularity among the 12 –18 age-group urged other writers to explore writing for this age-group and a new category was born.

Over the years the category has grown and changed, and continues to do so. Which is important because the world we live in is constantly changing and the problems and concerns young people are facing today are complex and different to the ones they were facing in years gone by. Perhaps this finger on the pulse of modern society is the reason why so many adults are reading books aimed at teens.

But what really makes a book YA is its ‘voice’. YA books are often written in the first person to allow the reader to really get into the head of the protagonist, see the world through their eyes and feel what they are feeling. And those feelings are teen feelings, the perspective on the world one that a teenager would recognize.

I am a YA writer myself, and I always find myself falling back into that teen perspective, even when what I start out working on is supposed to be for adults. I believe strongly that the teen years are the most important, the time you become the person you will be for the rest of your life. It’s the period in which you try on personalities, develop tastes and discover the beliefs that will guide you through your adult years. It’s the time you develop significant relationships outside your own family.

It’s a confusing and messy time and any little event can invoke a massive emotional response.

As an author, this is dynamic material to work with. Teens are such a contradictory mixture of child and adult and there can be a huge range of maturity levels, even within a single group of friends, and those are compelling voices for an author to play with. And these days, with YA publishers willing to publish books on increasingly difficult subjects, it’s an opportunity to really make a difference, to share stories that teenagers can relate to and see themselves in.

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Saturday, April 27, 2019

#AtoZchallenge Xesturgy

Yes, I know the dictionary defines xesturgy as polishing, as with stones, but in this case we’re looking at polishing your writing. Think of each word in your story as a stone, diamonds maybe, or rubies or opals, and imagine polishing each one until it shines.

Polishing is the last step for your manuscript before it’s ready to go out into the world. It’s also a very important step.

By the time you get to polishing, you should have already done the hard work, fixing plot holes, finding continuity errors, character inconsistencies and fixing any tense or grammar issues. Now it’s time to tighten things up to make them sing.

When I’m polishing, I like to look for overused words and replace or remove them where possible. Common culprits are words like ‘just’, ‘think’, ‘really’, ‘very’, ‘quite’, ‘that’, ‘as’, and ‘then’, but everyone has their own crutch words. Do your characters nod or shrug far more often than regular people? Change it up. Give them other actions.

Removing unnecessary adverbs will also strengthen your prose. If your characters are talking loudly or moving slowly, why not find stronger verbs to describe these things, like shouting or meandering? Also look for things that are obvious within the context. A character doesn’t need to sit down on the floor, just sit on the floor - the down is implied.

If you have a lot of dialogue in your text, check your dialogue tags. Said is the best tag because it tends to be virtually invisible to readers while words like ‘declared’ or ‘trumpeted’ draw attention to themselves. But even ‘said’ becomes noticeable when it’s overused, so if you have a lot of dialogue, try to get rid of some tags by using action to indicate who is speaking.

Eg. “My mother’s coming this weekend.” Jade rolled her eyes.

Dale returned the gesture. “I feel your pain.”

The other thing to check when polishing is your punctuation. Do you overuse certain things like exclamation marks, ellipses or semi-colons? Do you sprinkle commas liberally, but miss their proper placement every time? Reading aloud will help you find misplaced commas and other wonky punctuation because the rhythm will be off.

Reading aloud will also help you figure out if all your sentences tend to be of similar length and construction. To keep writing dynamic, you need sentences of differing lengths and styles. If you find you have a whole lot of really long ones, try chopping them up and making several shorter ones. This is especially useful in action scenes where shorter, punchier sentences create the feeling of action.

By the time you have done all these things, your manuscript should be shining like a diamond necklace.

What are your favourite tips for the xesturgy stage of your project?

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Friday, April 26, 2019

#AtoZChallenge World Building

World Building

Hello friends! Our A-Z topic for today is world building. Rather than write another how-to guide (because let’s be honest, the internet is full of them…and I don’t want to write another how-to guide) I’m going to talk about the world building in one of my favorite fantasy series, the SEVEN REALMS series by Cinda Williams Chima.

The Demon King cover   The Exiled Queen cover   The Gray Wolf Throne cover   The Crimson Crown cover

SEVEN REALMS is a YA fantasy series of four books that take place in the Seven Realms (surprise), primarily the Queendom of the Fells. I often use this series as a reference for CPs who write fantasy because I think the world building is full, meaningful, and well-woven into the narrative. Also they’re awesome and I almost brought them to Europe with me but hardcover is heavy.


There are very clear differences between the lives the main characters experience. Raisa is a member of the royal family, and Han is a former gang member trying to straighten up. The river that runs through the city is highly polluted, a source of tension for Han and something Raisa doesn’t really need to worry about. Han struggles to get medicine for his family when they get sick, but Raisa has the best healers in the realm at her beck and call. Raisa is aloof to the issues her people face on a daily basis, things Han has to deal with or die. When she attempts to fix some of these issues, she’s met with real pushback from people who’d rather see the status quo stay the same.

Even with the obvious disparity between Raisa and Han, there are public works and efforts made to assist those in the lower parts of society. Basic education – reading, writing, history, etc. – is free and open to all. More focused studies can be undertaken at academies, although those require payment of tuition and may not be available to everyone. Ultimately these things act as beacons of hope for the characters at the lowest levels of society, which is something a ruler needs to prevent total breakdown of society. It sounds cynical, but it’s true – and it plays a major role in the plot. Keep in mind that, in a fantasy world, there are hundreds or thousands of civilians and only a dozen members of the royal family, conditions that are ripe for rebellion of the situation calls for it.


When I was fourteen, I went to a writing seminar Chima held and she gave me the best writing advice I've ever received: Every character should have a goal. This is clear in the way the various factions in SEVEN REALMS interact. Wizards, clans, military, royals, gang members, students, people who straddle the line between groups - there are so many factions, and they're all at odds. Balancing a great deal of goals is a difficult task. Sometimes, you can find a temporary common ground and forge an uneasy truce between warring groups. Those are the best opportunities for back-stabbery (muahaha). Make a clear outline or list of what each character wants, and what their faction wants. When those things are at odds, it creates excellent internal conflict.


The magic system in SEVEN REALMS is, in my opinion, exceptional. Magic is inborn, passed down through magical lines of heritage. All wizards have a magical “aura,” a sort of glow that can be seen and identified by other wizards, but not by non-wizards. This aura is the magic being exuded by the wizard; if the wizard does not store the magic in an amulet, it can overwhelm them. Amulets store a limited amount of magic and gradually fade in power over time, requiring the wizards to return to the clans for their amulets to be recharged.

Spells require study to master. The difficulty of a spell – whether it’s the distance at which it’s cast or the amount of work it does – determines how much magic it requires. A wizard who completely drains their amulet and the magic in their person can find themselves incredibly weakened, possibly to the point of being unable to stand. In addition to wizards’ magic, there’s also “green magic,” which is centered around the earth and living things. It’s not as powerful, but it can still accomplish many things. These limitations make the magic seem real.

Having a magic system with well-defined limitations sets the stage for conflict, whether it’s between characters or between characters and the magic system itself. There will always be those who want to test the limits of magic, like Voldemort or Morgoth, which can introduce a great source of tension and mystery. Defining your magic system also makes sure that your characters don’t become gods who can magic themselves out of any sticky situation, bring someone back from the dead, or change time. Without limits, magic becomes a game where anything goes.


I’m including this because it’s something I often forget about in my writing. In SEVEN REALMS, the characters have to contend with harsh weather like the snow and bitter cold of mountain passes, or rain that echoes so loudly on the roof you can’t hear yourself think. The first book even starts with a mountain fire. Not every day has to be that dramatic, but consider how much weather affects your daily life – it’s probably more than you’d think. How many times have you brought an umbrella, only to not need it? Weather and climate should carry the same weight for your characters.


The later books get into a mess of political dealings. Han and Raisa struggle to balance allegiances, debt, assassination attempts, and a lot more. I mention this because so often, I see characters who have stabbed one another in the back and then a few pages later turn around and become best friends again. Characters in these books take time to rebuild those relationships. They need proof of loyalty before trust can be given again, which for some characters takes the span of an entire book. Keep this in mind when characters break one another's trust. You can't just pick up the broken pieces and put the glass back together again.

Things are just…real

Same-sex relationships aren’t unusual. One of the characters is a teenage single mom. Characters deal with the difficulties of being biracial. There are characters with physical disabilities. I’m not saying all of these characters are represented perfectly – I certainly can’t speak for all of them – but the fact that they’re there speaks to the diversity of the world and the realness of the people, and ultimately that speaks to me.

Thank you for reading my fangirl thesis, I'll be here all week.

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Thursday, April 25, 2019

#AtoZchallenge Vacation from Your Writing

#AtoZChallenge 2019 Tenth Anniversary blogging from A to Z challenge letter V

Vacation from Your Writing

Is it a good idea or a bad one to take a vacation from your writing? Some experts say that you should write every day. Even if it's just one line! That's not exactly what I'm talking about here.

Sometimes you're working on a manuscript. It seems done. Maybe. Maybe that scene in chapter five needs to be redone. Maybe that one character should be a different gender. Why do none of the characters have green hair? Is there enough diversity? That scar on the cheek, is it a cliché? 

That's when I suggest a vacation. Just back it up using two different methods and step away.

Go write a poem. Edit another project. Work on your social media following. Just go do something else for a month. Leave yourself post-it notes or .txt files if you must. But don't open that manuscript.

Once the 30 days have passed, then reread everything. Better yet, have someone read it to you. (Or use a text-to-speech like wordcounter.net.) You can take notes during the reading, but don't edit yet. Wait one more day. Get one more sleep cycle in. Let your brain process. Then make a copy of the manuscript and change the font to something drastically different. It is proven that you'll edit better with a different font.

Image Meme change font text for editing #writetip

Thanks to Addi Jones for finding this meme for me again.

Then resume working on it. It's the same with making big pieces of meat. Heat, rest, carve, then eat. You have to let them set before you cut into them. It's ruined otherwise. (For the vegetarians: it's as important as athletes taking a rest day between training sessions.)

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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

#AtoZChallenge Understanding #PassOrPages

#AtoZChallenge 2019 Tenth Anniversary blogging from A to Z challenge letter

Understanding #PassOrPages

#PassOrPages is Operation Awesome's query contest. The goal is to help writers get feedback on their query and first page, and possibly link them up with an agent who likes their work.

Three times a year, we choose a genre and age category and reach out to agents who might be interested in those manuscripts. Once we have our agent panel, we open up the contest to writers. Anyone can send in their query and first page, as long as they fit the genre and age category.

(Why only the first page? That could be as little as an agent reads, and we've even had agents stop after the first sentence. If they're not intrigued, they're not going to keep reading, so that first page is the most vital to the query package.)

Winners are randomly drawn and their work is sent to the agent panel. The participating agents give brief feedback on the entries and explain why they're passing on the work, or requesting pages. You can find our #PassOrPages archive with all our past contests here.

We began this contest because sometimes - okay, most of the time - the agenting process seems inscrutable. What do all those rejection letters mean when they say "I just didn't fall in love with it"? By asking agents specifically to critique the basic query package, we hope that all writers, not just those whose work is critiqued, will gain insight into what goes through an agent's mind when they read the query and first page. Here are some of the most common comments from the past three years of #PassOrPages, and how you can adjust your work accordingly:

  • Awkward phrasing. Read your query and first page aloud, or paste them into Google Translate and hit the "listen" button. Sometimes hearing things aloud sets off those problem spots that you don't catch when you're reading, especially when you've read that page a hundred times already. Keep in mind that the query should read like the inside of a book jacket.
  • Too many grammar/spelling mistakes. One grammar/spelling mistake is too many in your query package. Proofread, proofread, and proofread again. Have a friend, coworker, CP, beta, whoever, look at your pages before you send them.
  • Cut words/sentences. In your query and first page, keep prose tight and to the point. This isn't the time for flowery language, this is prime real estate! The first page is the time to show that your work is worth reading, not that you know how to write. Ask yourself, "Is this as concise as I can be?" Cut words like "just," "had," and instances of passive voice. If a sentence isn't advancing the plot, cut it.
  • Tone of the pages doesn't match tone of the query. This is a tough one. Try writing your query as if your main character wrote it - not necessarily as if they're telling their story, but write with their voice. 
  • Cut rhetorical question. Rhetorical questions are ALWAYS a bad idea. Whether it's a query, the opening line of your manuscript, or a Twitter pitch, rhetorical questions are not something agents want to see. They don't give you any new information or advance the plot in any way, and they're typically used as a crutch when writers don't know how to bring up the topic at hand. Just delete the question and dive straight in - you'll be surprised how well the story works without it.
  • Main character reads too old/too young for the age category. Maybe you've simply mis-categorized your work as MG when it should be YA. Maybe your character really doesn't act their age and you need to talk to some people that age to find out how they would act. I wish I had more advice to give about this one, but this is much more specific to a particular work. 
  • Keep similes and metaphor to a minimum. Most often, similes and metaphors aren't in the writer's own words (quiet as a mouse, all the world's a stage, etc.). One is enough for the first page, since you want to keep the agent's focus on your words.

The first #PassOrPages of 2019 is coming up next month. Keep an eye out for our genre reveal on April 30!

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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

#AtoZchallenge Kate Larkindale Author Spotlight #NewBook #20Questions at Operation Awesome

#AtoZChallenge 2019 Tenth Anniversary blogging from A to Z challenge letter T

T is for
The Sidewalk's Regrets by Kate Larkindale

1- The Sidewalk's Regrets just came out. Tell us about it!

It’s probably my most personal story and it’s based on things I’ve seen happen to far too many people and bands I’ve loved over the years. It’s about a seventeen-year-old girl who thinks she has her whole life and her career as a professional violinist figured out. But when she meets a rock musician and falls in love with him and his music, everything starts changing.

It’s kind of a dark and dirty love story about how overwhelming first love can be, how you can lose yourself in someone and how hard it can be to find your way back.
Operation Awesome Pass or Pages 2019 query contest dates

2- You entered Pass or Pages, back before getting on the team. Was it helpful and would you recommend it?

Terrifically helpful! I’ve actually entered a number of times over the years. The feedback you get from agents (or the OA team if you don’t get selected and are lucky enough to get a crit from them) is so valuable.

3- Would you please, in 160 characters or less, give a #WriteTip ?

Writing short stories helps focus on what’s important. Limiting how many words you can use, forces you to tighten your prose and make every word count.

4- What ignited your passion for writing?

That’s a good question. And one I can’t answer because I don’t know. I’ve always written. I had my first story published in the ‘Kids Stuff’ section of the newspaper when I was six, and I’ve never really stopped.

5- What's your Twitter handle, and do you have two or three writer friends on there to shout-out to for #WriterWednesday ?

I’m @vampyr14 on Twitter. And huge shout-outs to @BreannaTeintze who has a fabulous new fantasy book coming out this year, and my amazingly prolific friend @AllysonLindt who manages to release more books a year than I can even comprehend.

6- Would you share a picture with us of your new book and a furry friend?

Lola. cat with book. #AtoZchallenge Kate Larkindale Author Spotlight #NewBook #20Questions at Operation Awesome
This is my writing companion, Lola.

She likes jelly meat, chasing butterflies, sleeping in weird places and reading dark, gritty YA.

7- Do you play any instruments?

Not really. I used to play the flute when I was younger, but it’s been a few years since I picked it up. Writing is a time-consuming hobby, and somehow all my other hobbies seem to have fallen to the wayside as I got more serious about writing and publishing.

8- What most motivates you to read a new book?

Usually the description. Covers to a certain degree, but for me it’s more about the content. Or if someone I trust recommends it. But I’ve been burned a few times with that, so I usually like to choose books for myself.

9- What is your favorite book by someone else, what's the author's Twitter handle, and what do you love most about that book? #FridayReads book recommendation time!

Damn you ask some hard questions! How can I just pick one? I have so many books I’ve loved over the years, for so many different reasons. But here’s one I actually re-read recently and loved just as much as I did the first time.
Author name: @Hannahmosk
Title: Not Otherwise Specified
Love because: Voice! If you’re looking for what that means, read this book. Etta’s voice is so strong, right from the first page you can hear her in your head. I loved this story and its unconventional, struggling characters, its realistic, offbeat relationships and basically everything about it.

Kate Larkindale avatar

10- Your veggie profile pick, what's the story behind that?

Ha! That’s a funny story. We went to the A & P Show (like a county fair) in a little place called Takaka which is near my family’s beach house. One of the competitions was a vegetable art contest and that particular piece was one of the runners up. I thought it was kind of hilarious, so decided it would be my author picture since I really hate photos of myself.

11- There's a PitMad rumor you're working on a book in the woods. Can you tell us more?

I’ve been working on this one for a while. I love the story, but somehow I haven’t managed to quite get it right. I’ve re-written it from start to finish a couple of times from different POVs, and am hoping my last revision might be the one that works.

It’s about two strangers who meet on a bridge they are both about to jump off. When an earthquake hits, they find themselves trapped and alone with their secrets and a hostile wilderness. But are they really alone?

12- What are some of your favorite "T" things?

Album: Teenage Snuff Film (Rowland S Howard), Movie: Trainspotting, Spice: Tumeric, Word: Trollop.

13- What do you love about the IWSG?

The sense of community. Writing can be lonely, not to mention really hard and soul destroying at times. Being part of a group of writers who share the same frustrations and struggles really helps sometimes.

14- Top five favorite bands/ music artists?

Gah! Another of these questions? I hate having to list favourites. So much of it is about the mood I’m in on a given day. But okay, some of the artists I have a lot of in my music collection…. Einsturzende Neubauten, Throwing Muses/Kristen Hersh, Nick Cave (and all the different stuff he’s done, from The Boys Next Door to the Bad Seeds and beyond), Muse, Rowland S Howard and Swans.

15- https://diversebooks.org #WeNeedDiverseBooks What's your favorite book with a diverse main character?

To be honest, most of the books I read have diverse main characters, so it’s hard to pick one. The world is a diverse place and people don’t fit into just one little box. I choose books that reflect the world I live in, which is a world where people from different religions, sexual-orientations, cultures, genders and ethnic backgrounds live. Reading offers a glimpse into lives and experiences different to my own, and that’s why I read so much. Sorry… That’s not really an answer to your question, but there are too many great books with diverse protagonists for me to pick just one to mention here.

16- Who is your favorite book review blogger?

It has to be Dahlia Adler. She and I have such similar taste in books, I trust her judgement, and if she says something is worth reading, I’ll read it.

17- What's the best part of being on the Operation Awesome team?

It’s such a supportive group of writers. I was in a really tight critique group for a number of years and since that kind of fell apart, I’ve missed having a group of writers to just chat with about writerly things. I love having people to bounce ideas off and ask for advice.

18- Why do you think readers should write book reviews?

Writing book reviews helps distil how you feel about a book. Why you like it or why you don’t. I find writing book reviews helps my own writing because when I don’t like something, I’m forced to ask myself why and to figure out a way to articulate what I feel is wrong. That thing is then on my radar, so when reading my own stuff critically, I might notice something I wouldn’t have earlier.

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

Looking back, I think I’ve talked a lot about community and how supportive the various different writing communities I’m a part of are. So I guess I’d like people to reach out if they would like to connect and be part of my community. If I can help people feel less alone through any part of this journey, I’d like to be there.

20- Anything else you would care to share about your books and yourself?

Well since you asked! Here’s a little bit about each of my books. Any chance to plug them is a good one…

The Sidewalk’s Regrets

Seventeen-year-old Sacha McLeod isn’t looking for someone to rock her world. She just needs a new violin string to replace the one she broke while practicing her audition piece. But when she hears the boy in the music store play guitar, the energy, violence and unpredictability of the music thrills her and she falls hard for Dylan and his wild, inventive sound.

As their attraction heats up, Sacha finds herself spending less time with her violin and more time with this exciting guy who makes her feel things she’s never imagined. Her plans for her violin-virtuoso future - and her self-confidence – are shattered when she screws up the audition for a prestigious summer music program. Failure isn’t something she’s had to face before, so when Dylan asks her to spend her vacation with him in the city, she lies to her parents, pretends she won a place in the summer school, and secretly moves in with Dylan. She’s expecting romance, music and passion, but when she finds herself playing second fiddle to Dylan’s newly acquired drug habit, she realizes despite what the songs say, sometimes love isn’t all you need.

Desperate to understand what’s competing with her for Dylan’s affections, she joins his band and does drugs with him -- just once. But once become twice, three times, and more. As the band's popularity grows, so do the pressures and her drug use escalates. If Sacha can’t figure out how to leave the band, and Dylan, she’ll lose herself and her own music forever.


Seventeen-year-old Ozzy has a super-hot girlfriend who’s ready to take their relationship to the next level. Tonight. At the lake.

But a missing condom scuttles his plans for seduction. Furious, Ozzy takes his girlfriend home and drives off -- into the path of an oncoming truck. He wakes up in the hospital with both legs amputated above the knees.

When his girlfriend runs out of his hospital room gagging after a single look at him, Ozzy knows he’s a hideous freak. He becomes convinced he’s blown any chance of finding love, a girlfriend or ever having sex.

Determined to prove he can still be a man, Ozzy throws himself into dumping the burden of his virginity, but finds there’s a limited number of people willing to touch legless dudes in wheelchairs. His obsession takes him into the seedy underworld of brothels and escort services where he discovers the difference between sex and intimacy, and that sometimes the price you pay for getting what you want is much higher than a sex worker’s fee.

An Unstill Life

When your whole world is falling apart, what are the chances you’ll find love in the most unexpected of places?

Livvie feels like she’s losing everything: her two best friends have abandoned her for their boyfriends, her mother continues to ignore her, while her sister, Jules, is sick again and getting worse by the day. Add in the request Jules has made of her and Livvie feels like she’s losing her mind, too.

Her only escape is in the art room, where she discovers not only a refuge from her life, but also a kindred soul in Bianca, the school “freak”. Livvie’s always felt invisible, at school and at home, but with Bianca, she finally feels like someone sees the real Livvie. As the relationship deepens and it comes time to take the romance public, will Livvie be able to take that step?

Livvie’s about to find out if she has what it takes to make the tough decisions and stand up for herself—for the first time in her life.

T is for The Sidewalk's Regrets by Kate Larkindale

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Monday, April 22, 2019

#AtoZChallenge S: Sensitivity Readers

Sensitivity Reading is a relatively new field that is not well understood yet. It’s essentially a new form of editing, even though no actual editing is being done. A sensitivity reader’s first job is to share a marginalized identity with at least one of the characters of a client’s manuscript. (LGBTQ+, POC, neurodivergent, etc.) They will then read that manuscript to make comments throughout the document. Comments mainly focus on any microaggressions, stereotypes and harmful material that the sensitivity reader has found, though I personally like to point out areas that the author did well on in terms of proper representation of their character. A sensitivity reader does not edit the manuscript at all—rather, they make comments about what they think needs to be changed based on their experiences as a marginalized person.

Below, you will find an example of what I do as a sensitivity reader:

As you can see, a sensitivity reader is responsible for pointing out harmful material, but also explaining why it is harmful. As a living person who shares the identity of the client’s character, a sensitivity reader is able to give valuable information on how the character can be improved based on personal experience.

Now, the burning question: Where do we find sensitivity readers?

The Writing Diversely directory is a great place to start: https://www.writingdiversely.com/directory

Author Twitter is also a great place to meet people. Typing "sensitivity reader" into Google will point you to a handful of people as well.

Do you really need a sensitivity reader? That's up to you and your manuscript. (Keep in mind that it is significantly more important for YA, MG and Children's fiction.) I always tell my students that if you don't hire a sensitivity reader, all you have is a search engine and your own common sense. If you don't think a sensitivity reader is worth it, I highly suggest having a friend who shares your character's marginalized identity to read your work.

I am a professional sensitivity reader and I am always open to new clients. If you are in need of a sensitivity reader, feel free to comment below and I would love to get in touch with you. If you have a marginalized character of an identity that I do not share, I can certainly point you to someone who does.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

#AtoZChallenge R: (How to Cope with Negative) Reviews

Hello, friend. I’m Dr. Glanzman, your therapist for the day. I’m here to help you get through the devastating experience of receiving a negative review on your novel. I’m a doctor—you can trust me.

Before we begin, try to do these three things:
  1. Take a deep breath and pay attention to how you are feeling. Try to name the emotions and pinpoint why you feel them.
  2. Acknowledge that your emotions are valid. You are allowed to feel angry and hurt after receiving a negative review on your work, which may have taken years of love and dedication to produce.
  3. Remind yourself that ALL books get negative reviews.
  4. Participate in self-care or talk to a friend to express your point of view about the negative comment(s).

After you have processed everything, let’s get into some tips on how to move forward after one negative review or a slew of them:

  1. Firstly, DO NOT RESPOND TO NEGATIVE REVIEWS. EVER. This is the most important thing I can tell you. I know it’s tempting to correct any misconceptions in negative reviews or defend your side, but the reality is that any response is always going to make you look bad. Unless your response would be to genuinely thank the person for helping you understand something that you can apply to your future work, you’re just going to look like a defensive person who cannot take criticism.
  2. Find out if it is mentally unhealthy for you to read your negative reviews at all. A lot of authors don’t read their one and two-star reviews because they ruminate on them, which affects their work. Know yourself well enough to know how you respond to a large amount of criticism.
  3. Try to see if there is a common thread between what people are saying in their negative comments. Did you get a handful of comments saying that they didn’t like your main character? Go through them and see if you can pinpoint the reason why. Did a lot of people say that the plot was a mess? Find out if that’s a pattern of yours so that you can pay special attention to it in a future project. Try to understand other peoples’ points of view even if you don’t agree with them.
  4. Think of your all-time favorite book that you recommend to everybody and would follow to the ends of the Earth if it could walk…and then look at that book’s negative reviews. It may comfort you to know that even your favorite book can garner negative attention and that no book in existence is universally loved.
  5. Always remind yourself that you are not a bad writer if someone does not like your work. It will only hurt you to attach your identity and self-worth to your art. You are not your book.

You can’t control what people say about your book, but you can control what to do with that information. Writers can choose to apply their criticism to future works, or not. The choice is 100% yours. There could be a lot of useful information in negative reviews, (Particularly if a large number of people say the same thing) but only you have the power to decide whether or not applying it to future works will make them better. The other option is to ignore them entirely, which is just as valid.

The reality is that reviews are not personal attacks. They are simply opinions written by people who consumed your content, and everyone has the right to make them. It’s easy to get defensive when we receive a negative review, particularly if it is a harsh one. It’s understandable to feel that your work—and, in extreme cases, your work ethic—is being challenged. But please remind yourself that negative reviews do not define you or your work, and you are only going to improve from here.

Looks like we’re out of time today, but I’ll see you next week.

Friday, April 19, 2019

#AtoZChallenge Q: (How to Write a) Query Letter

As the host of Query Friday here on OA, allow me to share my query letter for the YA novel that I ended up pulling from the query trenches so that we can rip it apart together! :) As a side note, this is the query that was refined in Query Kombat 2018, made it to the quarterfinals and ended up snagging two full manuscript requests and one partial:

Dear [Name of Agent],

Fourteen-year-old Sai is one of the highest-ranked gamers on the Shadows of Shinobi circuit…but he can't go out in public without having a meltdown. [I wanted to do two main things with this hook: Establish the main character and get the reader to sympathize with whatever he’s struggling with. I also revealed that this novel has something to do with video games.] 

As a teenager with Autism, Sai battles overwhelming anxiety and underdeveloped social skills. [This gives us context for why he’s having such a hard time, as mentioned in the hook. This strengthens what was laid out beforehand.] But when Team Komodo asks him to become the reserve player on their semi-professional eSports team, those social skills are put to the test as he turns online acquaintances into real-life friends. [Now, we’ve got out inciting incident: A semi-pro eSports team recruits him.]

Thankfully, each member of Team Komodo is just as much of a fringe-dweller as Sai. It is comprised of a transgender jack-of-all-trades, a dating sim addict, a hyperactive community college dropout, a fake psychic and a thorny military reject. [Introducing the members of the team serves a few purposes: They are no longer a nebulous entity, but now a cast of quirky misfits who give the novel a distinct slice-of-life tone. It would be reasonable to assume that a cast like this would be up to some comedic shenanigans.] To earn his keep, Sai begins analyzing the team’s competition to increase their chances of winning. But as the team climbs to higher divisions, they’ll have to face stronger opponents. [Now, we’ve got the introduction of our stakes. Just like with any tournament, the competition gets harder the farther you climb.]

As Team Komodo enters a grueling series of tournaments, every member of the team knows that they can't afford to let their internal struggles get in the way of victory. There’s no time to think about the world they don’t fit into or why they became obsessed with videogames in the first place. If they win, Sai and his teammates inch closer to breaking into the pro scene. If they lose, it’s back to social isolation and working dead end jobs. [The “If X, this will happen, but if Y, that will happen,” Formula is standard for query letters. It’s a simple way of making your stakes even more serious for the characters.] The six members of Team Komodo have two hurdles to jump: their opponents and their own neuroses. They’ll have to beat both if they have a chance at becoming what every nerd in the world aspires to be: pros. [At the end of the plot summary, the reader will know who the characters are, what their ultimate goal is, why it means a lot to them and what will happen if they don’t get it. All of this is essential to writing queries.]

EXP is a Contemporary YA novel complete at 52,000 words. This “found family story in an eSports setting” features neurodiverse characters, LGBTQ+ characters, as well as characters of color and is #OwnVoices for all three categories. [Metadata for all queries has to include your novel’s title, category, genre and word count. Some extras that I included here is that the novel is #OwnVoices, which would have only helped me in the YA category in the current market.]

I am an Autistic transgender person of color wishing to cultivate accurate representation of my neurotype in fiction. I have experience as a high school English teacher and I have worked closely with my target audience. I am also a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. [I disclosed my identities to reassure the agent that I know what I’m talking about when writing characters who fall into these categories. I also mentioned that I had close contact with my target audience and that I was a member of a reputable literary organization. Had I written this query after Query Kombat, I would have also mentioned my involvement and how far I got in the competition.]

I believe this project may interest you because… [Here, I list reasons relevant to each agent’s personal experience and interests.]

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely yours,

Nathaniel Glanzman

This is not a perfect query letter by any means, and I’m open to feedback in the comments below if you have any suggestions for improvement. I just hope that this post provided you with some ideas of where to begin writing your query letter. Starting this May, be on the lookout for new Query Friday posts so that you can enter your letter for a critique! :)

Thursday, April 18, 2019

#AtoZchallenge Publishing Contracts

A publishing contract is a legal contract between a writer and a publisher regarding a piece of the writer’s original work. It will outline the rights the publisher is licensing, the period of time, the share of revenue the writer can expect and many other things relating to the work and its publication.

But not all publishing contracts are alike. Before signing anything, it’s really important that you get someone who understands contracts – particularly publishing contracts – to look over it for you. If you have an agent, she will be familiar with contracts and will negotiate the best deal on your behalf. If you don’t have an agent, you really need to get a lawyer to look over any contract before signing it.

I’m not a lawyer, or an agent, but I do have some experience with contracts, so here are a few things to check for in any contract.

Make sure you retain the rights to your work. A publishing contract should only last for a stated period, and at the end of that period, you may wish to get the rights back so you can sell them to another publisher or publish the work yourself. A publisher should only ever be licensing publishing rights, not requiring you to sign over intellectual property rights.

What your share of the revenue made from publishing the work should always be based on gross receipts, not net profit. If you sign a deal based on net profit, you will never see any money because the publisher gets to recoup costs before any revenue is shared with the writer. And editing, marketing, distribution, printing and numerous other costs can eat up any chance of there being profit to share. If you have to sign a contract offering a net profit share, there will need to be a pretty substantial up-front fee paid to the writer to make it worthwhile.

It is important that any publishing contract includes a rights reversion clause – something I know about from personal experience! If a publisher closes, you want to make sure your rights return to you. Without this clause, getting the rights to your work back can be tricky, time-consuming and costly. Rights reversion is also important if your book goes out of print and in an era of digital publishing and printo on demand, what this means needs to be defined. For example, if a book sells less than (insert number) of copies over a period of time, it should be considered out of print.

There are various different rights associated with publishing, so it’s important that your contract outlines exactly what your publisher can and can’t do with your work, from publishing excerpts in magazines to assigning the rights to another company. It’s important to understand what rights your publisher holds, and to hold onto the right to approve any licensing of these additional rights.

Money is, naturally, one of the biggest concerns in any publishing contract. Make sure you understand what your share is, and how frequently the publisher reports and pays royalties. If your contract says you will get reports and payments quarterly, and six months goes by with no word from said publisher, that could be a sign the publisher is in trouble.

This is by no means a comprehensive list – just a few things I’ve learned over the years. So please, please do your own due diligence before entering into any contract. It’s amazing what you can discover just by Googling a publisher and the word ‘complaints’...

#AtoZChallenge 2019 Tenth Anniversary badge

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Open our Jewel Box of #WriteTips for the #atozchallenge and #wep

#AtoZChallenge 2019 Tenth Anniversary blogging from A to Z challenge letter O

The Operation Awesome Team presents a different kind of jewel box for you to OPEN.
https://www.dictionary.com/browse/jewel : "thing that is treasured, esteemed, or indispensable."

Writing knowledge is the jewels in our box at OA. So here's a #WriteTip from each of us!

J: #WriteTip When publishing on Amazon, be sure to link your ebook and print book.
https://www.amazon.com/dp/1090907575 That's my print version. It ends with my ISBN-10 number.
https://www.amazon.com/Writing-Book-Reviews-Author-Inspiration-ebook/dp/B07MYDYDZX That's my ebook version. It ends with my ASIN number. 
Amazon will send an email saying: "links to its Kindle eBook version may take up to 48 hours." But if two days have passed and it hasn't automatically linked, here's what to do: 
https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G200652220 Go there and CONTACT AMAZON. Not only does having them linked look more professional, it also increases sales. People who prefer one or the other will not go looking elsewhere for your other version. They expect it to be linked because that's how it is for all the other books. 
Jewel Box of #WriteTips for the #atozchallenge and #wep Amazon double listing problem . Jewel Box of #WriteTips for the #atozchallenge and #wep Amazon double listing problem

Karis: #WriteTip Here's what I all but screamed at my roommate recently, when she told me she didn't tell people she was a writer and struggled to think of herself as one because she hadn't been writing a lot lately. And what I told her, what I have been trying to remind myself, what I want to remind every writer out there who struggles with self-doubt and sometimes feels like they're not working hard enough, not working enough in general, is that you are always a writer. You are a writer because you write. You are a writer because storytelling through the written word lives in your veins, powers you forward, keeps you going when you don't know otherwise how you'll move on.
You are a writer because it's who you are, what you are. Whether you write daily or take a 10-year (or longer) gap. You. Are. A. Writer. 

Nathaniel: #WriteTip This isn't exactly practical advice on craft, but please remember to keep your writing life psychologically healthy. Treat writing as a mini-vacation as opposed to stressing yourself out about word count or grammar. Write something that you're truly passionate about and run with it for as far as the rough draft takes you. Listen to your characters and build the universe they live in to make yourself happy, setting a time for this each day if you can. 

But there's a catch to this. 

Recently, there has been a lot of tension in the online writing community as of late, particularly in the YA sphere. The most important part of keeping yourself mentally well when writing is accepting the fact that your work is not going to be loved by all. There has not been a book in the history of the world that has been universally loved. My favorite book is "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky, and the Goodreads reviews are mixed to say the least. I suggest that you look up your favorite book on Goodreads and read the one and two star reviews just to solidify the idea that even a work that you deem the magnum opus of a genius can be disliked by others. 

Write what you love, do your research, take constructive feedback into consideration...but make sure you don't forget to accept that you can't please everyone. That is the best advice I can give you.

Kate: #WriteTip The best piece of writing advice I ever got was to always break the story down into three questions.  Who is the character?  What do they want?  Why can't they have it?  If you can answer those three, you probably have a story.  If you can do it for every character in your book, you might have a novel.

Amren: #WriteTip I'm going to tell you the best piece of writing advice I ever got: "Every character should have a goal." Freaking changed my life. Every character, no matter how small their role, shouldn't just be in your manuscript to fill a void. Think about it: everyone breezing in and out of your life has their own individual goals; why shouldn't the characters that fade in and out of your main character's bubble? You don't have to outright say what that goal is, but it should inform the way that character interacts with others. Make sure that your characters feel real!

Thanks for stopping by! Please tell us if you liked the tips.

#AtoZChallenge 2019 Tenth Anniversary badge

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Nathaniel

Nathaniel Glanzmann is one of our very own Operation Awesome bloggers. Thanks for sitting down and answering so thoroughly!

Why do you write?

I’ve always been better at writing than speaking. In the beginning, I used writing as purely an escape. Something that I did to not think about certain things or express myself in ways that I didn’t know how to yet. Now, it’s to make myself happy and meet new friends.

What is your genre/age category of preference?

I tend to write Upper YA to Lower NA, although I have dabbled in MG. As for genre, I either write quirky slice-of-life stories or psychological thrillers. It’s pretty much exclusively those two things.

Are there any themes or tropes you find yourself returning to story after story? 

In almost everything I write, you will be able to find:

    1. -Deep-seated family issues
    2. -”Chosen family” or friends who act like family
    3. -Trauma of some kind
    4. -References to psychology and/or neuroscience
    5. -An older sibling/younger sibling-type friendship featuring two people who are typically not related
    6. -Mentally ill/disabled/LGBTQ+/POC characters
    7. -An almost complete lack of romance
    8. -A loving, albeit eccentric father-figure
    9. -Gruesome deaths
    10. -Wholesome jokes'

Can you talk a little about what Query Kombat is as well as what your experience during Query Kombat 2018 was like?

Query Kombat is a competition in which you submit your query letter and first 250 words of your completed manuscript for a chance to be entered into a 64-person tournament bracket. If you get selected to compete, the judges will give thoughts and constructive feedback to both people in the round and will vote on which one they think is stronger. You’ll advance if you get more votes than your opponent. It’s cool because you have the opportunity to interact with other writers and showcase your work to agents if you get far enough to make the agent round.

Would you recommend the writing contest to other authors looking for agents and/or feedback?

Absolutely! I met a lot of friends during QK, some of whom I became critique partners with. One of them is a fellow sensitivity reader who hooks me up with potential clients who are seeking sensitivity reading for characters who share my identities, and I do the same for her. I also got two full manuscript requests as a result of the agent round. And it’s crazy to think that, when I first submitted my work, I didn’t think I’d even be considered, let alone make the quarterfinals.

Do you write about mental health matters? Why do you believe it’s important, if you do?

I do, but with the exception of one Medium article that I wrote, I don’t do so directly because I don’t particularly enjoy writing about myself and feel that a minor in psychology is not enough education to diagnose other people. Instead, I tend to write about characters who share mental illnesses/disabilities with me, have experienced things that I have or display traits of disorders that I don’t share but have thoroughly researched. I have what we Autistics call a “special interest” in psychology and it’s fun for me to write about it. It’s also a healthy way of expressing things that I usually keep to myself.

How did you get your start in sensitivity reading?

I saw that it was a new and emerging field and that I felt I met the criteria for a successful one. I’ve done freelance editing in the past, I have a Bachelor’s in English and fall under many different marginalized categories--all of this made me, in my opinion, knowledgeable and versatile. I thought that I could help people while making enough money to pay for therapy and medication.

Can you give a brief overview, for those who may not know, of what sensitivity reading services you offer?

I mainly provide full manuscript reads, in which I will make comments all  throughout the word document and write a full report at the end about any stereotypes/microaggressions/offensive elements that I spot as well as what I think the client does well to represent their marginalized character(s). I also offer partial manuscript reads and sensitivity consulting, which is an option for people who are in the planning stages of creating a marginalized character, but need assistance on developing them. My website can go into further detail with that, as well as list all of the identities I am qualified to read for. :)

Everyone’s writing is informed by their identity; how does your identity as an Autistic Filipino transgender man inform your writing, from the stories you choose to tell to the way you tell them? 

It definitely influences the kinds of characters I create. I admittedly have to think harder when creating a White cishet abled character. Because of my experience as a child of an immigrant,  (My mother is from the Philippines) I tend to include themes of immigration, “otherness” and familial pressure to perform. While we’re on the subject of race, I’m actually half-Filipino--my father is mostly Ashkenazi Jewish. I remember being a little brown Asian kid walking around in public with my older White father and having the cops called on us because people thought I was kidnapped. I also have the experience of knowing just how alienating it is to be biracial “not belonging” to one group or the other, which is what I meant by “otherness” earlier. 

I include a fair amount of trans people in my work, and strive to make their transness relevant to who they are (As in, their identity influencing some of their thoughts and experiences) but not to the point where they are The Trans Character (™). I don’t write “issue books” is what I mean. I simply include people with my identities and make those identities relevant to who they are without having that identity define them.

I also include a good handful of Autistic characters, as well. In fact, it was through writing the novel that got me into Query Kombat that made me realize I was Autistic and should get tested. Most of the characters that I write are characters that non-marginalized people get wrong all the time and I want to show the general public how people like me actually are. (Although, I do believe that non-marginalized people can write marginalized characters--including the specific experiences of those characters--as long as they do the research, but that’s a rant for another day.)

At any rate, I am fully convinced that I am incapable of writing characters who are devoid completely of some kind of neurodivergence. I legitimately would have to do research on how to write a NON-mentally ill/disabled character. That’s how f’d up I am.

You've mentioned your high school English teaching career; why was that a career you were drawn to?

I wanted to help people. I wanted to teach people that their words are powerful, and to help them develop as critical readers and writers. I wanted to support and protect people like I was not supported and protected. There was just one problem: Nobody, including myself, thought that I could do it. From birth to the end of high school, I was told--with some exceptions--that I would amount to nothing. I was labeled stupid and lazy because I had undiagnosed developmental/learning disabilities that I wasn’t getting help for and floundered in school as a result. I was told that I’d be lucky if I could make it in food service. (Not that I think there’s anything wrong with food service--culinary arts are a thing. But I don’t think that’s what they meant.) I was conveniently in the mental hospital for the third time my senior year for more than a month during the time that college applications were due. As a result, I couldn’t send any in and ended up going to the local community college. This was the best decision of my life. Because once the shock wore off that I had received an almost-perfect GPA my first semester...I thought, “Oh, my god...I can actually do this.” And I worked my ass off until I graduated magna cum laude from a state university and gained international teaching experience through doing one of my student teaching placements in Australia. I wanted to help people believe in themselves because I learned how powerful it is when you finally do.

What happened with that career?

I’m not teaching currently, but I resigned by choice. I had been brought into the psychiatric hospital two times that school year, and I stepped down because I did not feel that I was what was best for the students. They deserved someone more stable who would be equipped to not have a breakdown once a semester. The good thing is that, when I signed the resignation paperwork at HR, they told me that because my administration was strongly considering hiring me for next year and that I left for medical reasons, I could reapply to the district when I was ready. I’ll be back in the classroom eventually--I just know that I need to get my mental health sorted out to the point where I’m no longer a danger to myself. But hey, all of this makes for good writing material. My dad always said, “Turn pain into art,” after all.

Thanks so much for answering these questions, Nathaniel!