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Viewing Blog: Funky Fruit Book & Movie Reviews, Most Recent at Top
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Welcome to Christy & Kristi's book reviews. What makes us qualified to do this? Well - we like books. We've been in a book club for over 10 years now, so we've read a LOT o' books. Also, we're very different, highly-opinionated women who disagree ALL the time. So you know if we agree on a movie or book that it must be GOOD!!! We welcome comments whether you agree or disagree with our picks - also feel free to suggest books/movies to review.
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1. New Blog

My blog has moved...I have a shiny new website and blog, so please go to www.kristihelvig.com. See you over there!

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2. My BURN OUT Cover Reveal and Publication Date

I'm beyond excited to announce that BURN OUT has a cover! A huge thanks to my fellow YA Valentine, Lynne Matson, for doing my formal cover reveal over at the YA Valentines. They are an amazing group of writer peeps, and there are links to more of them in that post. Also, check out the awesome Kelsey Ketch from Ketch's Book Nook and my fab critique partner, author Valerie Kemp, who helped to spread the cover love. I LOVE (yes, in all caps) this cover, because my cover designer, A. Castanheira, at EgmontUSA is uber talented and awesome. In celebration, I'm doing a giveaway. First, here is the cover that perfectly captures my main character Tora, and her world:

I seriously stared at this for like an hour, because 1) did I mention I love it? 2) it reminds me of Star Trek which I also love and 3) I finally feel like my book is A REAL THING. Also, I have a real publication date: April 8, 2014! That's less than a year away which is mere minutes in the publishing world.

To celebrate my cover happiness, I'm doing a giveaway. The winner will win the YA Book of their Choice PLUS a copy of DEFY THE DARK (a short story anthology by amazing YA authors, including Myra McEntire, Carrie Ryan, Saundra Mitchell, and the aforementioned Valerie Kemp). The contest runs through Tuesday July 9 and is open to US residents (sorry, but I'm doing another giveaway soon that will be global).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Last but not least, I'm so excited to announce that my book is available for pre-order on Amazon. I'm giving something special to every single person who pre-orders, so let me know at kristi (at) kristihelvig (dot) com.

6 Comments on My BURN OUT Cover Reveal and Publication Date, last added: 6/29/2013
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3. Release Day for DEFY THE DARK

I'm so excited for today! It's the release day for DEFY THE DARK, a collection of stories by awesome writers including Carrie Ryan, Malinda Lo, Rachel Hawkins, and one of my critique partners, the fabulous Valerie Kemp. I've read Valerie's story, STILLWATER, and it's incredible...I can't wait to read the whole book.Valerie is doing a giveaway of Defy the Dark and discusses what inspired her story. Hurry, because you only have until Friday the 21st to enter!

From Goodreads: It features 16 stories by critically-acclaimed and bestselling YA authors as they explore things that can only happen in the dark.

You can order the book here. Also, if you don't win Valerie's giveaway, you have another chance to win next week. I'm giving this book away too, because I have something big to share with everyone...so check back for details next Tuesday the 25th!

2 Comments on Release Day for DEFY THE DARK, last added: 6/18/2013
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4. Cover Reveal for DEFY by Sara B. Larson

One of my fellow 2014 Valentines, Sara Larson, is revealing her awesome book cover for DEFY (Scholastic). The official release date is....January 1, 2014. Happy New Year to Sara! I'm so excited for her and so in love with this gorgeous cover:

From Goodreads: 
The fiercest member of a prince's elite guard is actually a girl disguised as a boy, who gets embroiled in a deadly game of thrones while keeping her secret, and realizes she has far deeper feelings for the prince than she thought.

I can't wait to get my hands on this one, and in celebration of her cover reveal, Sara is giving away two books to a lucky winner! Enter below for your chance to win...good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

4 Comments on Cover Reveal for DEFY by Sara B. Larson, last added: 6/19/2013
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5. 3 Tips for Dealing with THE EDIT LETTER

Whether you are traditionally or self-published, at some point you will receive an edit letter from either your publisher or your hired freelance editor. If you've already received one, you know why I used capital letters. Just the idea of this letter can inspire fear, insecurity, and dread. I saw writers in social media comparing the length of their letters, "Wow, yours was only five pages long? Mine was twenty-six." After reading some of these disclosures, I actually emailed my editor and told him I just needed to hear that my letter was less than twenty-five pages long. He thought I was kidding. For me, it was mostly a fear of the unknown, e.g. what if they want me to re-write the entire book, replace all my characters with new ones, and change the genre from sci-fi to contemporary romance? So yes, the fear can be irrational, but it's still there.

Anyway, after getting the letter (which, thankfully, was WAY less than twenty-five pages), and later, after finishing all of the edits and having them accepted, I thought, "Huh, that wasn't so bad after all." More importantly, I couldn't believe how much stronger my book was afterward. So, here are three things you should do after you read your edit letter for the very first time:  

1) Nothing. Seriously. Don't open your manuscript. Don't bust out the highlighters and red pens. Don't think about how you're going to address the plot issue raised about chapter seventeen. So what should you do? Take a day and let it all sink again. Then, when you're ready, read the entire letter again before you do anything. The subconscious mind is a powerful thing and I'm a big advocate for "sleeping on it." By the time I re-read my edit letter, the answer to several issues had magically appeared in my head, and I hadn't even started on the edits yet. Next, read the comments by your editor within the manuscript itself. Let these sink it as well, even if your fingers are twitching on the keyboard.  

2) Talk to your editor. Schedule a phone call with your editor after you've done Step 1, not before. This way, you can ask for clarification on any issues that you are still unclear about. If you're going the traditional route, you can also discuss the expected time frame for edits. I had one month to do my edits, so I knew I'd have to work quickly. This phone call only lasted about 30 minutes for me, and I hung up feeling very confident about what I needed to do. Excitement had replaced the fear--well, mostly.  

3) Develop a strategy. Some writers I know like to go through the edit letter and address each point in turn, so they can check it off as they go. This works great for some people. For me, after talking to my editor and reading his first few comments within my manuscript, something clicked and I went through the entire manuscript without even looking at the edit letter. When I finally went back to the edit letter at the end, I found that I'd addressed almost everything, and only had to tweak a few more minor things. I tend to be less detail-oriented and more big picture oriented, so this system worked better for me. Everyone is different, so listen to what other people have tried, but do what works best for you.

I'd say you can relax after this hurdle, but I'd be lying. I only had one week of downtime after turning my edits in before I received my copyedits to do. That's another post, but I'm finished with those now as well...hence, why I have time to do my first blog post in forever. The bottom line is that having a great editor is priceless, and the end product is totally worth all the blood, sweat, tears, and Haagen Daaz ice cream.  NOTE: If you haven't tried the Caramel Creme de Leche variety, you don't know what heaven tastes like.

In other fun news, I saw my book cover and can't wait to share it, because it's SO FREAKIN' COOL! Also, I have a shiny, new website coming soon, and I'm posting a book rave today over at the YA Valentines.

Any other editing tips you'd add to the list? Any favorite editing snacks, like ice cream?

8 Comments on 3 Tips for Dealing with THE EDIT LETTER, last added: 6/11/2013
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6. Goodreads and Public Humiliation

These are actually two separate things. First, I've finally emerged from my editing cave *throws confetti* and found my publisher had posted my book on Goodreads *throws more confetti*. If you're into sci-fi and want to check it out, or add it to your shelf, you can find it here: BURN OUT on Goodreads. The cover is coming soon! Second (and this one is much more embarrassing), it was my turn this week to subject myself to public humiliation via YouTube. As part of the YA Valentines, a group of authors whose novels debut in 2014, I had to profess my love for chocolate via poetry. I'm sure you can tell how much I hate being filmed, but sometimes you have to suck it up in this business. If you have 90 seconds to spare, check out A Writer's Ode to Chocolate: YA Valentines.

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7. The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

I'm so excited to be asked to participate in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop. I've been tagged by the awesome Phil Siegel to answer a few questions about my debut novel coming in 2014. Here goes:

1)      What is the working title of your book? BURN OUT

2)      Where did the idea come from?A song I heard on Pandora (right after watching a space documentary) led to an intense dream that became the basis of this book. Strange but true. Tora’s character was pretty fully formed upon waking and she was screaming at me to write the book already.

3)      What genre does your book fall under?YA sci-fi.

4)      What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Emily Browning looks almost exactly how I pictured Tora and would be incredible in the role. Cam Gigandet is probably the closest match to James, and definitely Alexander Skarsgard as Kale because he’d be perfect. Oh, and Joss Whedon would be the screenwriter—because hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?

5)      What is the one sentence synopsis of your book? During Earth's final years, a teenage girl struggles to escape the planet after the sun turns “red giant,” but discovers her fellow survivors are even deadlier than the hostile environment.

6)      Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency? My book will be published by Egmont in Spring 2014, and I am represented by the amazing Jessica Regel from the Jean V. Naggar Agency in NYC.

7)      How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? About 6 weeks for the first draft, but it took about a year total before I felt it was ready to send to agents. 

8)      What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? Well, it’s strange but the book that I’d most compare it to is Graceling by Kristin Cashore, which is a YA fantasy. They both feature a strong female character facing terrible situations, albeit in very different settings. In terms of sci-fi comparisons, I’ve been told my character is the female Han Solo, which is hands down my favorite compliment so far about the book. 

9)      Who or what inspired you to write this book? Aside from Question #2 above, I have a fascination with a concept captured beautifully in the movie, Kung Fu Panda (no, I’m not kidding). The quote is something like “One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoidit.” Without giving too much away about my book, mankind tries to avoid its destiny--with catastrophic consequences.

10)   What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? Hmm, an astrophysicist helped me with some of the technical science behind the story because I wanted it as real as possible. The “science” in sci-fi is so interesting to me, because several of the things I imagined in the book have already come about in the year since I submitted the book to my agency, and last month, astronomers discovered a planet remarkably similar to the one in BURN OUT.

Also, it's a great book to read if you want to feel better about your own life. No matter how much your job or situation might suck, you’ll glimpse Tora’s world and think, “Hey, things aren’t so bad after all.” How’s that for an ad?

As the final part of the bloghop, I'm tagging two other fabulous writers with books releasing in 2014: Paula Stokes and  Jaye Robin Brown. Check out their posts next Wednesday!

10 Comments on The Next Big Thing Blog Hop, last added: 3/9/2013
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8. My Author Interview on One Four Kid Lit

I was interviewed today on the wonderful OneFourKidLit blog, for authors whose books debut in 2014. Click here to hop on over and read my thoughts about my book, writing inspiration, and chickens. Okay, the chickens aren't related to the book, but I still talk about them. Happy Friday!

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9. My Awesome Agent is Seeking Clients

My agent of awesome, Jessica Regel, stopped by Writer's Digest to talk with Chuck Sambuchino and discuss what she's looking for in submissions. She also mentioned my book (BURN OUT)! Swing by and see if you might be a good fit for her, because in case I haven't mentioned it...she's awesome!

2 Comments on My Awesome Agent is Seeking Clients, last added: 1/21/2013
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10. 5 Tips for Your Author Photo Shoot

Let me start by saying that I don't love having my picture taken, but sometimes we have to suck it up and do things we dislike (have I mentioned laundry here before?). Also, I was embarrassed that the photo my publisher had to send to the Frankfurt book festival a few months back was a quick pic taken in my dining room. I knew I'd have to get an acceptable photo taken sooner or later, so here is my new author photo...

                                               (Photo by MaryLynn Gillaspie Photography)

...and here are a few lessons I learned from the experience.

  1. Have it done by a professional. I know this costs money, but this will part of your "brand" that you present to the world via social media, book jackets, etc. If you have a photographer friend who will do it for free or at a discount, all the better.
  2. Do your research. Get referrals from friends or other writer's whose pictures you admire. Check out the photographer's website and look at their portfolio. Do you like their style and does it match what you're looking for?
  3. It takes a village. Okay, it did for me anyway. I'd never had my make-up done before, even on my wedding day, arguing that I wanted to "look like me." As my make-up person pointed out the day of my shoot, he did make me look like me, just "a more polished version." I also had my hair done because my idea of doing my hair is brushing it, and I'm hopeless with a flat iron. Plus, I can deduct the shoot, make-up application, and hair styling on my taxes. (NOTE: Please contact your own tax person before taking deductions, because telling the IRS you heard it from me won't fly with them.)
  4. Make sure the photo reflects YOUR personality. Wear clothing you are comfortable in and that shows your style. Sure, follow all the photographer guidelines as far as sticking with solid colors, etc. but this is not the time to try out a new "look." Also, have your expression match your personality. For instance, I'm considered a pretty upbeat person and am usually smiling. A Victoria Beckham-type pout would look ridiculous on me. I've seen serious looking author photos, which is fine if you are a serious person (or have written a book about scurvy), but just make sure you are being you.
  5. Have fun. Stressing about what to wear or how to pose for your official author photo is a pretty lucky problem to have. I'd actually choose it over doing laundry any day.
What were your experiences with your author photo? Any other tips to share?

7 Comments on 5 Tips for Your Author Photo Shoot, last added: 1/21/2013
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11. 2012 Revisited and 2013 Writing Goals

HAPPY 2013!! Is it just me or does each year seem to fly by a little faster? I hope everyone had a wonderful and relaxing holiday, and is ready for great things to happen in the new year.

So, this time last year, I was basking in the happiness of finding the perfect agent for me. As you can see in the post, I'd written my big goal of finding my dream agent in ALL CAPS (you know, so the universe would know I was serious). You can also see in that next sentence that my goal for 2012 was to HAVE THE PERFECT PUBLISHER BUY MY BOOK (again, in ALL CAPS). In 2012, I had the perfect publisher buy not one, but two of my books, which clearly means that ALL CAPS possesses a strange magic--use it wisely.

Anyway, since my first book doesn't come out until next year (Fall 2014), I've struggled to come up with an all-caps goal for this year. Instead, my goals will be more task-oriented, so here are my main goals for 2013:
  1. Finish revising Book 1 of BURN OUT series (this is easy because I'm under contract and I do really well with external deadlines) 
  2. Write Book 2 of BURN OUT series (again, the contract thing, so no problem).
  3. Finish writing and revising new urban fantasy YA and send to agent. (I am on track to finish this in the next month or so)
  4. Start writing final BURN OUT book. 
  5. Get my a$$ back online, as I've sorely neglected  Twitter, FB, etc. for the past few months. 
  6. Read more books!!!!
I'm keeping my goals short and sweet for this year, because I work best that way. What about you? What are your writing or reading goals for 2013? Has anyone else found ALL CAPS magical?

4 Comments on 2012 Revisited and 2013 Writing Goals, last added: 1/21/2013
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12. Blast From the Past: Query Tips

I'm slowly making my way back to the land of the living and will return to a regular blog schedule soon. In the meantime, here's one of my past popular blog posts: Query Tips.

Okay, so after reading a bunch of queries for my huge query critique giveaway, a few common things stood out, and I thought I'd give some general query tips. NOTE: None of these examples are from actual queries sent to me--they are my own creations, but you get idea.

1) Avoid cliche terms. e.g. "When 'x' happens, his world turns upside down."  Anyone's world 'crumbling,' 'falling to pieces,' etc. is cliche. Be specific as to what happens.
Better: "When the space monkey lands in Evan's bedroom and injects him with a strange substance, Evan must find a cure within twenty-four hours or he will become a monkey himself." 
(Does Evan's world "turn upside down?" Hell, yes, but an agent is going to be way more interested in something specific like this--unless they hate space monkeys, in which case you don't want them as an agent anyway.)

2) Start with the hook. DON'T START with something like, "This book is about love and loss, family and betrayal, beginnings and endings." You've just described approximately 50 bazillion books, and the agent will already be moving on. Start with a one-sentence killer hook about what your book is about. See space monkey example above.

3) Avoid questions when possible. You don't want the agent to answer your questions in a way that doesn't benefit you. e.g. Will the heroine save the world in time from the onslaught of possessed elves? Potential agent response: I'm guessing so or you wouldn't have written the book. Granted, that might just be my response because I'm sarcastic by nature, but still. You want the agent to read the last line of the query and think, "Holy hell. I must get my hands on this book NOW!" The best way to end the query IMHO, is to finish with the highest stakes possible. What is the worst thing that will happen to the MC or to their world, if they do not overcome their obstacle?
Better: "She must defeat the army of possessed elves before they enslave all humanity and harvest their pets for food." 

4) Follow the agent's submission guidelines. I figured that people wouldn't be as formal sending their query to me as they would to an agent, but I was a little surprised by the number of people who didn't follow the guidelines (not attaching the query as requested, using a different format than requested, etc.) For me, it doesn't matter. I'm critiquing all of them because I'm nice like that, but if you're submitting queries to agents--FOLLOW THEIR GUIDELINES! It's not that agents aren't nice (in fact, most of them are quite lovely), it's that they're incredibly busy. Also, you don't want them to think that you can't (or won't) follow directions, because they are considering you for a long-term business relationship. Yes, many of them have different guidelines, so you will have to do your research, but it's worth it in the end.

UPDATE: I'm now offering professional Query Critiques for those who need help with their query. Simply click on the Query Services button to the right to get all the details.

So, those are my query tips thus far. Feel free to add your own tips in the comments below, and thanks again for participating!

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13. Please Vote

I haven't posted in awhile because I've been by my mom's side in the ICU where she has been on a ventilator for 2 1/2 weeks ever since we had to call 911 while on our family beach vacation. It's been a heart-breaking few weeks and my only consolation is that all of her children and grandchildren were with her when this happened. How does this relate to the election? Well, every presidential election, my parents joke with my hubby and I about how they cancel out our votes--for some reason, they always vote for "the other guy." I wish to god my mom could cancel out my vote this year, but she can't.

Yes, our two-party system is dysfunctional, and yes, the voting process is rife with controversy from hanging chads to voter suppression (shame on you, Rick Scott). However, we are so fortunate to live in a country where everyone has the opportunity to vote, and there are plenty of options out there (seriously, Roseanne Barr was a candidate on my Colorado ballot). So no matter how busy you are, or how disenchanted you are with politics, please get out there and make your voice heard. Unless you are in a similar situation as my mom (in which case, my heart breaks for you), you have no excuse. Please vote!

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14. Why Having a Rock Star Agent Matters

The Benefits of Having a Great Agent

I'm sure you've all heard the warning that a bad agent is worse than no agent at all. I've read horror stories (and even heard in person from a best-selling author) about what happens when an agent goes bad and they have to start over and find a new agent. I've also read a lot online saying you don't even need an agent these days, especially if you plan to self-publish. I respectfully disagree. In fact, I went to a talk by a best-selling self-published author, and guess what she had? A top agent from a great literary agency. Another top-earning self-publisher just blogged about recently obtaining an agent for her books. Why? I'll discuss that in a minute. Overall, I agree that having no agent is better than having a bad agent...but having a rock star agent is golden. I know a little bit about this because I have a rock star agent *waves at Jessica* from a great literary agency. So here is how a fabulous agent can benefit both traditional and self-published authors:

1) Editorial relationships. A great agent has a wealth of publishing knowledge and solid relationships with editors, so they know who is be looking for a specific project. For instance, they know if an editor has been dying for a book about killer space monkeys, or conversely, if an editor will stab themselves if they see one more monkey story. Though I try to stay abreast of publishing industry news, I don't have the years of relationships with publishers that my agent does, and I'm so glad she knew exactly where to send my book (which sadly, does not involve killer space monkeys). Some self-publishers are pursuing the hybrid model, which involves having some books published traditionally while they self-publish others, and for any author who wants a traditional publishing deal, a reputable agent has access to publishing houses that don't allow non-agented submissions. 

2) They know books.  This might sound obvious, but it's true. Agents read a ton of queries (after doing my "query critiques for all" giveaway earlier this year, I have even more respect for the massive amount of work they do). They also read a lot of manuscripts and you know, actual books. The bottom line is that agents know books. They know what makes for a great story and can easily spot what works and what doesn't. Every suggestion my agent made for revising my book was spot-on. Her knowledge made my book better, and I'm not saying that just because the book sold to a great publisher...I'm truly satisfied that I created the best book I could.

3) Contract negotiations. Can you say "reversion of rights?" Yes, technically you don't "need" an agent to sign a publishing contract, but have you read one lately? I got a headache after seeing one paragraph. An agent knows their way around the technical language of the contract, and knows where to push for change (e.g. more money, reversion clauses, etc.) They will also likely be more successful in having those changes accepted than if the author negotiated themselves, because part of being a good agent involves killer negotiating skills. Could someone do this themselves if they spent enough time on it? Yes, but personally, I'd rather focus on writing. I have enough trouble negotiating bed time with my kiddos, and am happy to leave legal negotiations in my agent's capable hands.

I'm also including foreign rights in this category, and it's a big reason why some self-published authors either already have or desire an agent, even if they don't want a traditional publishing deal. I can't imagine the time and energy involved in navigating foreign rights contracts, nor do I want to. The agented self-published author I heard speak said that the foreign rights sales alone was the impetus for her to get an agent.

4) Trust. This one is more intangible but just as important (to me, anyway). The author-agent relationship is a business partnership, and if you don't have trust in your business partner, then you're screwed (and yes, that trust goes both ways). For the writer, it's important to feel like you have someone watching out for your best interests. Yes, an agent only makes money if your book sells, but I believe that most agents go into the business for the same reason that writers do--we are all passionate about books. Most agents only take on a book because they love it. They wouldn't devote hours of their time to something they didn't believe in. When you trust that your agent is competent and skilled, it frees you to focus on other things--you know, like writing (well, and marketing, but that's a whole other post).

What have I missed? Any other opinions out there from the agented or unagented?  

26 Comments on Why Having a Rock Star Agent Matters, last added: 10/11/2012
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15. YA Book Recommendation-UNCONTROLLABLE by S.R. Johannes

My book recommendation this week is UNCONTROLLABLE by Shelli Johannes Wells. I had already planned to post this pick when someone chose this book as their prize for my 1000 Twitter Follower Giveaway, so it was good timing. Here is the cover for UNCONTROLLABLE:

From Goodreads:
As Grace recovers from tragedy, her science class is chosen by Agent Sweeney at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to help with research on the new "Red Wolf Reintroduction Program".

While she’s excited about helping with the conservation of the endangered wolves, Grace knows this means being outdoors in the worst winter recorded, in a place she no longer feels comfortable. It also means working closely with Wyn (her ex) and his annoying girlfriend (Skyler), a girl whose idea of getting close to nature is picking silk plants and growing fake plants.

After a couple of wolves show up dead, Grace almost quits. However, when a fellow project team member goes missing, Grace continues the assignment under a renewed suspicion that someone might be sabotaging the conservation program. She quietly begins to hunt for clues.

Little does she know, she is being hunted too. 

Why I Liked It: I'm a huge animal lover and live near the mountains, so the set-up of this book had a lot of appeal for me. The survival tips woven throughout the book are great, and confirmed that I have about zero chance of surviving in the snow overnight. Grace has determination and grit, and her grandmother, Birdee, was hands down my favorite character in the book. As far as the love triangle, I'll admit I wanted her to be with Wyn and am curious to see how it plays out in the next book. This book follows Untraceable, her first book in the series, and there is a great set-up at the end of the book for the next one. For those who are interested in self-publishing, Shelli recently posted some sales numbers for both books on her blog, and has great marketing and sales tips for writers, so check her out.  

6 Comments on YA Book Recommendation-UNCONTROLLABLE by S.R. Johannes, last added: 10/6/2012
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16. Need An Agent?

If so, then get your loglines and manuscripts polished for Miss Snark's First Victim 3rd Annual Baker's Dozen Agent Auction. Agents will bid against each other to compete on your manuscript. Check out all the details over on Authoress' blog, but you need to have a completed manuscript to enter. She is accepting submissions for both young adult/middle grade and adult fiction (all genres except erotica). Best of luck to all who enter!

5 Comments on Need An Agent?, last added: 10/8/2012
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17. Mega-Giveaway Winners

Thanks to everyone who entered the 1000 Twitter Follower Giveaway--and huge thanks for all the congrats on my book deal! The Giveaway Winners are as follows:

Query Critique: Anthony Reese
1st 5 Pages Critique: Becky Wallace
YA Book of Your Choice (#1): Sharon Johnson Mayhew
YA Book of Your Choice (#2): Jen Veldhuyzen
1st Chapter Critique: Nicole Zoltack

Congrats to all the winners! I will email you with instructions about how to claim your prize. Check back Friday when I'll post my YA recommendation of the week.

2 Comments on Mega-Giveaway Winners, last added: 10/2/2012
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In case you missed my squeals of joy yesterday, this is the official news about my debut YA book deal from Publisher's Marketplace:

September 25, 2012
Young Adult

Kristi Helvig's sci-fi series BURN OUT, after the sun has burned away the atmosphere, Tora Reynolds
survives, protected by lethal bio-energy guns that bounty hunters and governments are desperate
for, to Greg Ferguson at Egmont, in a pre-empt, for publication in fall 2014, by Jessica Regel at Jean
V. Naggar Literary Agency (world).

I am beyond to excited to be joining Egmont, and am super grateful to my rock star agent for believing in this book! The deluge of awesome emails, tweets, and FB messages yesterday was amazing, and I feel lucky to know so many wonderful people. Wow, I use a lot of adjectives when I'm excited.

Also, don't forget to enter the 1000 Twitter Follower Giveaway to win books and all kinds of critiques (including the Wednesday Query Critique)!  

22 Comments on MY SHINY NEW BOOK DEAL, last added: 9/27/2012
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19. How to Be An Olympic Writer

The Olympics are long gone, which is a very good thing for my writing. The nights of endless gymnastics, swimming, beach volleyball, diving, and track may or may not have affected my daily word count (okay, it totally did), but at least a few sports failed to suck me in (I'm looking at you, fencing and water polo). However, there was an upshot to the abnormal amount of time I spent in front of my television--I found tremendous inspiration in every athlete out there. I also noticed similarities between what it takes to be an Olympian and an Olympic writer:

1) Train. Those athletes didn't make it to the Olympics by saying, "I know I have it in me to be an Olympian," and then find excuses about how they didn't have enough time, money, etc. to put in the hours. Using Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours rule (if you haven't read Outliers, you should), these athletes have logged well over 10K hours in training. Michael Phelps should have gills from how much time he's spent underwater. How does an Olympic writer train? Certainly not by saying they know they "have a book in them...someday." They write. Then they write some more. Then what do they do? You get the idea.

2) Be persistent. Not every athlete qualifies for the Olympics on their first try. Those that make it to the Olympics don't always get gold--or medal at all--their first time there. I don't think that's a bad thing, as it can be a powerful motivator. Track star, Allyson Felix, took the silver in the 200m in Beijing. From 2008 until the 2012 Games in London, she trained her ass off and focused on being the very best she could be...and got her gold. Most athletes don't medal, but at least they knew they did the best they could do and were good enough to get to the Olympics. The lesson for writers? Never give up. Keep trying and get better. If your first book doesn't land you an agent or a book deal, keep trying. If you self-publish and the book doesn't sell well, keep trying. Go back to step 1) and push yourself to be the best writer you can be.

3) Hope for a little luck. Yep, even in the Olympic, sometimes winning a medal involves a bit of luck and good timing. I watched a noted BMX racer (yes, I watched BMX too--I told you I watched a lot o' Olympics) go down because of a crash in front of him. One swimmer might hit the touch pad a bit harder than another and get the faster time. Everyone has times when they feel they are "in the groove" and other times when things don't go their way. With the Olympics, athletes have only that one moment, and they better hope they are in the groove. Though not as intense, there is timing and luck involved with publishing too. Even publishers can't always predict which books will be a hit. Sometimes it takes hitting the right publisher, or the right audience, with the right idea at the right time. You don't have control over this, but you do have control over steps 1), 2), and 4), which makes this step more likely to fall into place.

4) Be a good sport. Whether an athlete won gold, bronze, or even nothing at all, most of them carried themselves with grace, poise and humility. Oscar Pitorius, the double amputee track star from South Africa, didn't medal but stood out as an Olympic hero. McKayla Maroney demonstrated great humor over the attention she's received regarding her obvious disappointment at winning silver in the vault. If you haven't checked out the McKayla is Not Impressed page, it's cute (my fave pic is the one of her in the scene at the art museum in Ferris Bueller's Day Off). The lesson for writers? Whether you're a New York Times bestseller, or an aspiring writer trying to get out of the slushpile, treat others with respect and kindness. It doesn't cost anything to be a decent human being, plus I'm a big believer in karma, kismet, and various other k words.

Those are the things that jumped out at me, so I hope you can use those to go forth and become Olympic writers. Did you notice other similarities? Anyone else watch as much Olympics as I did? More importantly, did anyone out there watch water polo?

9 Comments on How to Be An Olympic Writer, last added: 9/8/2012
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20. Writers and Money

I'll wait for you to stop laughing and saying "What money?" Even if you haven't gotten to the point of earning an advance, or even better, royalty checks, many writers earn some money through freelancing, self-publishing, editing services, short story sales, etc. But money earned as a writer will always be different than that earned by those who get a steady paycheck each week. Even in the scenario of royalty checks, it's never a guaranteed amount. So how do you budget or calculate living expenses on uneven income?

Though I've recently made some money through freelance work and by offering query services through the blog, I know a lot about this topic because I've been self-employed for a decade. I run my own private practice as a psychologist, and my income has always varied from month to month. I'm used to the uncertainty principle, and thought I'd pass along several tips that might help with budgeting. NOTE: This is my own personal experience and should not be construed as financial advice. That's what CPA's are for. :)

1. Keep good records. If you're earning money from various sources, such as selling several articles or short stories a year, keep careful track of all your income (and expenses.) Money spent on websites, marketing, editing, etc. will help offset the cost of your total income. You can track this through a program like Quicken or Excel, or you can use an old-school ledger and pencil. Just make it thorough. This will make step 2 easier.

2. Pay Estimated Taxes if needed. I've paid estimated taxes for years, but look at it as a positive thing, because it means my business is profitable. A good accountant, or a reliable tax program like the Business Edition of TurboTax, can help you figure out what you should pay. A good rule of thumb is to set aside at least a third of what you earn for taxes. 

3. Make your budget based on the lowest expected amount of income. After a few months of receiving writing related income, you can probably get away with taking an average of those months to determine your budget, but I use the lowest amount I make in a given month to set my budget. That way, I make sure I'm covering basic expenses, and if I make more than that, it can be added to an emergency fund for unforeseen crises. If no crisis occurs, the money can be used for other things, as mentioned in the next step. 

4. Use the bucket method for your income. I'm a huge fan of the bucket method, because it allows you to put a little money towards fun things, along with boring stuff like the aforementioned estimated taxes. I have a savings account labeled for each "bucket," so you could have designated accounts for things like taxes, mortgage, etc,. but make sure to include at least one bucket for something fun. Even if you can only put a few dollars in your fun bucket at a time, it will eventually add up. Then you can get that new laptop or go on a weekend getaway--and what writer doesn't need those things (BONUS: that new laptop may even qualify as a tax deduction depending on your situation!)

These are some basic tips, but I'm sure there are plenty more. Has anyone tried any of these, or have any other money tips to share?

3 Comments on Writers and Money, last added: 9/8/2012
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21. Interview with Author Peter Salomon

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing one of my fellow MSFVSS’ers (that’s Miss Snark’s First Victim Secret Society), except we’re not so secret. ;) 

Please welcome the funny and fabulous Peter Salomon to the blog. His book, Henry Franks (Flux) will be released in a few days on Sept. 8th but you can pre-order it now. Here are a few links to Peter’s on-line shenanigans…
Twitter: @petersalomon

and here is the cover for Henry Franks:

Description from Goodreads:
Four thousand, three hundred and seventeen stitches, his father had told him once. All the King's horses and all the King's men had put Henry Franks back together again.

One year ago, a terrible accident robbed Henry Franks of his mother and his memories. The past sixteen years have vanished. All he has now are scars and a distant father—the only one who can tell Henry who he is.

If he could trust his father.

Can his nightmares—a sweet little girl calling him Daddy, murderous urges, dead bodies—help him remember?

While a serial killer stalks their small Georgia town, Henry unearths the bitter truth behind his mother’s death—and the terrifying secrets of his own dark past.

Sometimes, the only thing worse than forgetting is remembering.
1) Thanks for joining us today! So that description sounds super creepy, and you had me at serial killers. Where did you get the idea for Henry Frank?

I like to tell people that I was trying to figure out the 'Next Big Thing' as I figured vampires and werewolves were a little overdone...the problem with that is I was trying to figure out the 'Next Big Thing' in 2007 (when I started writing HENRY FRANKS) and five years later we still have vampires and werewolves. So much for that whole 'Next Big Thing' thing.

This book actually started life with an adult protagonist, a father raising a son 'off the grid' so much that every single thing his son knew to be true was what he'd been taught and how the father 'programmed' his child. As the story progressed, with the son slowly beginning to doubt the history he'd grown up with, it morphed into a story about the son. So I ended up starting all over again. The example I use is if you are taught that the green stuff growing outside your house is called 'hair' and the furry stuff on top of your head is called 'grass' then you'd naturally speak of mowing your hair and styling your grass (assuming you've been correctly taught the terms for mowing and styling, of course).

At that point, it still wasn't really a horror story, the creepiness factor came naturally once I started constructing a back story for Henry that would explain why he'd lost his memory. And, to be honest, to me the book isn't as creepy as I'd like it to be. It's all so familiar to me that every time I'd read through it during the revision process I'd keep thinking 'this isn't creepy enough...add more creepy...' so I hope people do find it creepy!!

Besides, you can never go wrong with the mantra: "Add more creepy..."

2) So true. You can never have enough creepy…or cowbell. ;) How long have you been writing and is this your first published book?

My first brush with fame and fortune (well, maybe not so much on the 'fortune' part) was in sixth grade when the Principal of my elementary school read a poem I'd written over the loudspeaker to my entire school. Not so much on the 'fame' part either, I guess. I'd been writing poems for a while by then but they weren't all that good. For years I stuck to poetry and even some of those tended to the 'creepy.' It wasn't until an assignment my Senior year of high school that I tried writing a novel (also, not very good). Over the next twenty years I wrote a handful of novels (mostly Fantasy, all for an adult audience) but though the quality of them greatly improved I remained unpublished. As my own children started reading I decided to try writing something they could actually read. I was querying my first Young Adult novel (still a Fantasy) when I came up with the idea for HENRY FRANKS and started writing. Actually, I was still thinking of re-querying that Fantasy when I ended up querying HENRY instead.

 3) I love hearing about twenty-year “overnight success” stories—it shows how important persistence is. Speaking of persistence, do you have a specific writing routine or schedule?

Yes and no. I'm a lazy sort of writer as well as an obsessive one. When I'm in the midst of writing a first draft or of revising/editing, I can spend hours and hours working on it to the exclusion of everything else in my life. But that's only if I'm motivated to start. Motivation is big, as is privacy. I don't like to write if people are in the room with me (well, I don't like to write if people are in the house with me). That first YA I wrote I ended up writing about an hour a day on my laptop sitting in my car in a parking lot. Not a recommended process.

4) That’s refreshing to hear. I’m suspicious of the writers who say they get up at 3am every day and write 2K before breakfast (well, also jealous). Can you tell us what you are working on now?

During the waiting period while HENRY FRANKS was out on submission I ended up writing not one but two Young Adult manuscripts (one action, one dystopian action). Actually I started working on the Dystopian, got bogged down in the plot and then started writing the first draft of the Action novel before going back to the Dystopian to finish it. In the months since I've been heavily editing and revising both of them (concentrating mostly on the Action novel first though the Dystopian is next) with the Action manuscript hopefully almost ready to go out on submission (in one form or another). Also, I've had two picture books that have gone out on submission over the past year and am currently working on another one. The picture book I'm working on now is actually one that I've been working on for about 15 years now and is still a work in progress.

5) Good for you. I personally think picture books are harder to write than novels—one of my critique partners has had several published and I’m in awe of her. What is a recent book you've read that you loved?

FLYING THE DRAGON by Natalie Dias Lorenzi. It's an absolute marvel. I tend to prefer YA to MG but this MG is sheer brilliance, highly recommended. Also ONE FOR THE MURPHYS, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, which, I'm not kidding had me in tears for pretty much the entire second half of the book. Beautifully written, heartbreakingly sad while being truly uplifting. A difficult combination to pull off but this one's a winner!

6) Oh, they sound great, but I’ll need a box of tissues at hand for the second one. Okay, I’ll make the last question a fun one. Tell us something random about yourself so people can get to know you better.

What a great question! I have a degree in Theater and Film Studies (with a concentration in set design and construction for musical theater) and most of the music I listen to is either 80s new wave (which I grew up with) or Broadway. For pretty much the entire writing and editing process of HENRY FRANKS I was listening to Next To Normal and many of the themes of the musical echo the direction I took Henry. Plus the music is just glorious and I need music playing in order to write, I tend to 'feed' off of the emotion of the music, if that makes sense.

That makes total sense--my entire book was based on a song I heard on Pandora. Thanks so much for visiting with us today, Peter, and happy early book release day!

4 Comments on Interview with Author Peter Salomon, last added: 9/5/2012
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22. Interview with NERVE author Jeanne Ryan and a Giveaway

Today, I am so excited to have author Jeanne Ryan on the blog (full confession: she’s also my critique partner). Her YA thriller, NERVE(Dial), releases tomorrow, 9/13/2012. When I read the first draft of this high-tech truth-or-dare game gone very, very wrong, I told her this was going to be her first published book. After getting my very own copy in the mail last week, I can tell you that the finished book is even scarier. Please check out Jeanne’s new website and make sure to follow her on Twitter.

I’m also giving a copy of NERVE to one lucky person. Enter by Tues. Sept 18th for your chance to win through the form below. Either tell us a dare you did (for the brave), or you can enter by less scary means.

Here is the cover for NERVE:

Hi Jeanne—thanks so much for joining us today, and huge congrats on NERVE! As I’ve told you before, I think the concept of a high-tech truth-or-dare game is awesome! Where did you get the idea for this book?

From watching my teenage niece and her phone. Seeing how fluidly she moved between her “real” life and her online life with her friends, with a lot of overlap between the two, got me to thinking about a story where a lot of the excitement and danger would be delivered via phones. I wondered how far a game of Truth or Dare could go if strangers could be brought together to perform and record the dares.

Yeah, this book was a far cry from the dares of my youth, like ringing someone’s doorbell and running. How long did it take you to go from writing it to publication?

I started writing it in May, 2010. It sold in April, 2011 and is being published September, 2012.  So two and a half years from start to finish.

Less than a year between starting the book and selling the book is pretty darn impressive. Was this your first book?

Nerve was my fifth manuscript. Although I decided to become a writer at age eleven, many other dreams got in the way between then and the time I started writing a manuscript that I’d actually finish. I got serious about writing in 2004, finished my first manuscript in 2006, signed with an agent in 2009 and got my first deal in 2011. That doesn’t count the years beforehand when I wrote many tortured poems, awful short stories and an unfinished novel (also awful).

It goes to show that persistence pays off, and you always need to be working on the next book. Speaking of which, can you tell us what you’re you working on now?

Two things. One is another YA thriller which is scheduled to come out with Dial in early 2014. It’s called CHARISMA and is about a terribly shy girl who turns to an experimental therapy that's supposed to make people more sociable. It does, but comes with some scary side effects.
The other thing I'm working on between revisions is an MG historical set in 1974 South Korea. It may never see the light of day in the publishing world but it’s a great way to cleanse my mental palate after working on the darker stuff.

Yay for another book deal! I love your MG historical, and definitely hope it sees the light of day…and what I’ve seen of Charisma is fantastic.  Writing several things at once seems daunting. Do you have a set writing routine or schedule?

During the school year, I try to get in about four hours a day, Mon-Fri, in the morning. During school breaks and summer vacation, I grab time whenever I can.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers out there?

Keep working on the craft. The writers I’ve seen who eventually landed agents and book deals are the ones who kept producing manuscript after manuscript until they wrote the story that everyone who reviewed it knew was “the one.” (Sometimes, the author is the last to know. J) Sure, there are those lucky few who sell their first attempt, but viewing that as the norm is a good way to set yourself up for misery. I speak from experience.

That’s great advice. So why don’t you finish by sharing something weird or random with us. (It doesn't have to be writing related)

Weird or random. Hmmmm. When I was a little girl living in Honolulu, our house was rumored to have a ghost, which everyone in the neighborhood called a Kahuna. My parents had a difficult time finding babysitters, because everyone was scared. (Their reluctance could also have been due to the fact that the number of kids in my family was already at six and growing.) Anyway, my parents finally solved the babysitter problem by hiring two at a time. And they approached the Kahuna problem the way a lot of things were solved in the hippie days--by throwing a large party that involved lots of chanting and alcohol. Whatever the grown-ups did worked, because we never had any weird bumps in the night after that. And the babysitters were eventually willing to work solo.

That’s a great story. Thanks so much for joining us today and Happy Release Day (a day early!)

Don’t forget to enter below for a chance to win NERVE by Jeanne Ryan.

2 Comments on Interview with NERVE author Jeanne Ryan and a Giveaway, last added: 9/14/2012
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23. NERVE Winner and New Contest

Thanks to everyone who entered to win a copy of the YA thriller NERVE by the awesome Jeanne Ryan. The winner of the contest is...VIVIEN! Congrats, Vivien, and I'll email you with more info. There will be a new post tomorrow and another contest next week so make sure to subscribe to the blog to receive updates.

2 Comments on NERVE Winner and New Contest, last added: 9/19/2012
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24. The Perils of Being a Full-Time Writer

For the first time, my kiddos are both in school and I have oodles of time during the day to write. I'm not even a full-time writer yet as I work two days a week in my private practice, but that leaves THREE whole days of interrupted free time. Therein lies the problem. I wrote three novels in the past two years, and did it in the one to two hours of time I had in the evening after the kids went to bed. Those one to two hours involved nothing but fast, hard writing--because it was all the time I had to do it. I envisioned that once the kids were in school, I'd be able to multiply that output by ten, and could crank out a book every two months. The kids have been in school a grand total of 5 weeks now, which means I should have another book almost finished, right? 

Not quite. First, I discovered the joy of grocery shopping without little ones underfoot. If you haven't tried it, it's an amazing experience. Next, I thought I'd conquer my possessed laundry basket which never empties no matter how many loads I do. I've seen the bottom of my laundry basket several times in the past few weeks, a sight I haven't seen in years. My to-do list has been tackled, my dogs have have enjoyed walks with me in the morning after I take the kids to school, and I've caught up with friends for lunches and brunches and other food-related outings. The most productive writing time for me in the past few weeks...has been in the one to two hours after the kids go to bed at night.

What the hell? I mean, I'm still writing but not nearly the amount I thought I'd be. Part of it is probably the habit of night writing, and part of it is probably the fact that I have quiet time in the house by myself for the first time in over eight years. Part of me worries that even if I were a full-time writer, I wouldn't be writing more than I am right now--Stephen King would mock my current habits (if you haven't read On Writing, you should). I'm hoping the novelty of being home wears off quickly, and I just ordered a day planner and am going to set myself up on a much stricter writing schedule (NOTE: the day planner itself looks so fun and amazing that I'm sure I'll do an entire post on it once it arrives.)

Anyone else struggle with this issue? Any additional tips you'd like to share? Pretty please. Or just let me know if you're in the area and want to go to brunch. ;)

20 Comments on The Perils of Being a Full-Time Writer, last added: 9/26/2012
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25. 1000 Twitter Follower Extravaganza

If you've read this blog before, you know I'm a big believer in celebrating the baby steps. You also know that I love random reasons to do giveaways. Though there are plenty of people out there with a gazillion Twitter followers (I'm looking at you, Lady Gaga), I have recently reached the 1,000 mark despite my random tweets about bacon and tater tots. So, I'm combining the Wednesday Query Critique (usually held on the last Wed. of each month) with other great prizes. Enter below for you chance to win a query critique, a 1st 5 pages critique, a 1st chapter critique, or a YA book of your choice! Feel free to tell me other giveaway ideas for future contests in the comments, and if you follow me on Twitter, I'll try to tweet informative writing links (along with random bacon tweets). Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

18 Comments on 1000 Twitter Follower Extravaganza, last added: 10/1/2012
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