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1. Guest Post: Defining Success in our Bookish World

Hello readers! Today, I bring you a guest post by the lovely Liza Wiemer, who last month brought us unspeakable pockets. She’s here again with tough questions about success, and the never-ending question as to whether we have achieved it.

We’re writers. We work long, hard hours, put our hearts and souls into our manuscripts. For many, writing comes after other jobs and definitely after other responsibilities. Most likely, there is no guarantee of publication. As writers, how do we define success?

  • Is it finishing our first draft?**
  • Editing until the manuscript shines? **
  • Writing and sending out query letters?**
  • Getting an agent?
  • A book deal?
  • A six-figure advance?
  • Being published by one of the Big Five?
  • A starred review in Publishers Weekly or School Library Journal or Kirkus or Booklist?
  • An endorsement from a bestselling author? Or 2 or 3 or 4?
  • Perhaps it’s the number of congratulations you receive to an announcement of a book deal?
  • Arranging book events? **
  • Putting together a publicity campaign? **
  • Or better yet, having your publisher create an incredible publicity campaign, including signings at Book Expo America, ALA, and a national or international book tour?
  • Writing blog tour posts? Or posts for wonderful writing/publishing sites like this one? **
  • Giving talks at bookstores, libraries, schools? **
  • Making YouTube videos to promote your work or share your passion for writing? **
  • Is it hitting the New York Times Best Seller’s list? Or USA Today Best Seller’s List?
  • For how many weeks? 1? Or 10? Or 52?
  • Is it receiving invitations to speak at prestigious book festivals?
  • Or selling 10,000 books? 50,000? 100,000? 1,000,000?
  • Perhaps success is having your book made into a movie?
  • Maybe it’s a high ranking on Amazon? Top 100? 1000? 5000?
  • Or having over 100 reviews on Amazon or Goodreads? Or is it 1000? 5000? 50,000?
  • Is it seeing your book in Barnes & Noble or an Indie or airport bookstore?
  • Making 10 Top Ten Favorite lists posted by bloggers and vloggers? 20? 30? 50?
  • Maybe it’s having your book in school libraries?
  • Or maybe success is the number of retweets or likes on a post on Instagram or Facebook about your novel?
  • Or the number of followers you have on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter? How many is a lot? 5000? 10,000? 100,000?
  • Perhaps it’s seeing your book #1 in a category on Amazon?
  • Or is success an email from a teen telling you your novel saved his life?
  • Could it be someone telling you how much your book impacted her?
  • Or how she recommended it to all her friends?
  • Or a large crowd at a book signing? How many is that? 50? 200? 1000?
  • Perhaps it’s winning book awards? Like the Newbery? Or National Book Award?

Every single one of these things is FANTASTIC! Every one of these things is worthy of a CELEBRATION or major CONGRATULATIONS! But if NONE of these things have happened or only some of these things have happened, does it mean we’re a failure? I sure hope not!

BECAUSE… as amazing as these moments are, other than the ones with the **stars**, not one of them is within an author’s control. NOT ONE. Do we want to place our self-worth in the hands of others? Do we want to value what we do based on things we have very little influence over? Ranking numbers change hourly on Amazon. We’re not a number. Your first manuscript might not sell. (Mine didn’t.) Or your second. (Not this one either.) Or third. (This one did. YAY! And no, it hasn’t hit the NYTBS list—yet, here’s to optimism—and my advance was very small.)

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Everything listed above would (most likely) be a dream come true. But if we define ourselves based on these things, things we can’t control, then we’re turning over our personal power to others, people we don’t even know! It could be so easy to fall into a pit of author despair. (Most likely rocking in a corner, clutching our book!)
  • Be awesome.
  • Write the book that speaks to you.
  • Be proud of your accomplishments.
  • Ask yourself: Did I work hard? Did I do the best I could? Am I kind and gracious to other authors? To readers? To reviewers?

Dictionary.com defines success as: the accomplishment of one’s goals. The word “one’s” makes it clear that the goals are the ones you set for yourself. I’ve learned to set my goals based on what I personally can do. I’ve learned to define my success by knowing I’ve persevered. I’ve work hard. I strive to be my best. I celebrate fellow writers’ milestones and do whatever I can to be supportive. Because I really believe this universe is INFINITE and there’s room for everyone to have lots of moments in the sun! Finally, don’t give up. DON’T give up. DON’T GIVE UP! Write your novel. Persevere!

I look forward to celebrating your bookish milestones with you.

Happy writing!

Liza WiemerLIZA WIEMER married the guy who literally swept her off her feet at a Spyro Gyra concert. Their love story can be found on her “About” page. Besides being a die-hard Green Bay Packers fan, she is a readaholic, a romantic, and a lover of nature, crazy socks, and rooftops.

Hello? is her debut YA novel. It was named a Goodreads YA Best Book of the Month, November 2015, and Paste Magazine called it “one of the most original YA novels of the year.” She also has had two adult non-fiction books published, as well as stories and articles in various publications. As an award-winning educator, Liza has conducted over 75 interactive seminars during the 2015/2016 school year, fueling her passion for working with young adults. A graduate of UW-Madison with a degree in Education, Liza is also the mother of two young adult sons.

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2. PubCrawl Podcast: Dissecting Star Wars

This week Kelly and JJ are back from a two-week hiatus, yay! Also they begin a new series, where they take a fictional property and examine it from a storytelling perspective: character, plot, pacing, structure. This week they will tackling one of the most famous: Star Wars.

Subscribe to us on iTunesStitcherSoundcloud, or use this feed to subscribe through your podcast service of choice! If you like us, please, please, please leave a rating or review, as it helps other listeners find the podcast. We cherish each and every one of you who have taken the time to leave us feedback; you’re the stars in our sky!

Show Notes

  • Kelly watching the movies for the first time at #padawankelly
  • Star Wars is a very typical Chosen One story, with very familiar tropes. What makes this property work is the strength of the characterization and dialogue.
  • There’s not much actually original about Star Wars, but it resonates with us on a visceral level. It’s archetypal enough to be familiar to us, and both specific and vague enough for us to fill in the edges. For example, the Force is something that connects all life forms together, but is essentially magic. The worldbuilding works because it’s simple.
  • Having different characters contrast and play off of each other makes them more interesting, e.g. Han’s cynicism contrasted against Luke’s idealism. Leia is somewhat in the middle, more of a pragmatist.
  • We’re shown a lot of things about these characters. Han shooting first, Leia coming up with escape plans, Luke’s desire to leave Tattooine in that scene when he’s watching the twin suns of the planet set.
  • The dialogue also illuminates a lot of about characterization. “I’m Luke Skywalker and I’m here to rescue you!” tells us that Luke is earnest and sincere, “Get in the chute, fly boy!” tells us that Leia suffers no nonsense, and “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid” underscores Han’s innate cynicism.
  • In terms of plot, pacing, and structure, Star Wars has clear goals in each act. Act I: Find Obi-Wan Kenobi and get information to Princess Leia. Act II: Rescue Princess Leia. Act III: Destroy the Death Star. Also any time our intrepid trio has a success, then a wrench is thrown into it: they get to Princess Leia, but they’re caught in a firefight, etc. Tension is maintained because stakes are clear: if they don’t destroy the Death Star in time, then the Death Star will destroy them.
  • Star Wars’s mythic quality works because of the simplicity of the narrative. Simple is not simplistic; Star Wars might be straightforward and uncomplicated, but that works in its favor.
  • A clear, direct plot and compelling characters make this movie a winner. The story doesn’t feel dated, despite the special effects of the period, because it is timeless.

What We’re Reading/Books Discussed

What We’re Working On

  • Earth Kingdom Radio, an Avatar: The Last Airbender podcast hosted by Kelly and JJ and their friend Mike!
  • JJ had a phone call with her editor and agent about the Wintersong companion with the caveat that EVERYTHING MIGHT CHANGE. #pantserproblems

Off Menu Recommendations

That’s all for this week! Next week we will be dissecting Episode V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Stay tuned!

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3. Memorable Fictional Teachers

With the end of the school year fast approaching in many places, it is also a time when students offer their thanks to the many amazing teachers who made a lasting impact, and are thankful to leave the awful ones behind. From Kindergartners to University Graduates, all have memories of great and not so great teachers, and in honour of these teachers we thought it would be fun to reflect on some of the most memorable fictional teachers.

1. Professor Minerva McGonagall from the Harry Potter Books. As fans of the books (or movies) will remember, she is the head of Gryffindor, and the Transfiguration professor. She is stern but fair, and has watched over Harry for most of his life. A formidable ally and a powerful enemy, it was definitely good for Harry and for Hogwarts that she was one of the good guys!

2. Miss Honey from Matilda. She is that rare kind of teacher that can make her students love her and turns even the slowest learners into brilliant students. She is nurturing and mother like, and eventually ends up adopting and rescuing Matilda from her horrible parents. If only there was a way to clone Miss Honey and have her teach every child who struggles in school!

3. Miss Stacy from Anne of Green Gables. Miss Stacy is the first female teacher in Avonlea, and even prior to school starting, she captures the imagination of Anne. She expands her students’ horizons, inspires them to learn, and was the primary reason that Anne decided to become a teacher. What better endorsement is there than that for a teacher?

4. Mrs. Frizzle from Magic School Bus. She is the eccentric 3rd grade teacher at Walkerville Elementary School, and she uses magical techniques to teach her students science concepts. She must have eyes in the back of her head as she always seems to know what her students are up to, and she always seems to know the answer to every question they ask. As a kid who hated science in school, I suspect having her for a teacher would have quickly changed my mind!

5. Mistress Miranda Pimm from Curse of the Blue Tattoo. The stern headmistress of the Lawson Peabody School for Young Girls, she initially dislikes Jacky, but eventually grows to like her. Despite her dislike, she deals fairly with Jackie, and is open minded enough to change her opinion of her. Of course being rescued from a fire by that same person will do that to you. 😉

6. Mrs. Baker from Wednesday Wars. Holling is convinced that Mrs. Baker hates him because as a Presbyterian, he’s the only pupil left in class on Wed. afternoons as the Catholic and Jewish students leave the school and she has to stay with him. She starts reading Shakespeare with him, and eventually he comes to realize that she is a caring teacher with her own set of problems. Thanks to her, he is able to start looking outside of himself and learn about tragedy and what is going on in the world. Being able to get a student to do that is the sign of a gifted teacher, and Mrs. Baker is a good reminder that not all assumptions we make about people are correct or fair.

7. Mr. Terupt in Because of Mr. Terupt. Mr. Terupt is the new 5th grade teacher in Snow Hill School in Connecticut. While the initial reactions to him are varied, eventually they warm up to him. He has a way of engaging the students and making them want to do better, and his influence over them is felt even when he’s unable to directly interact with them. Mr. Terupt is the kind of teacher you want to have for every grade, and he’s definitely an inspiring example of a great teacher.

8. Mrs. Gorf, Mrs. Jewls, Miss Zarves from the Wayside School books. These contrasting teachers stand out in Louis Sachar’s zany books about a crazy, mixed-up school and the kids who are in the class on the 30th story. Mrs Gorf is a terrible teacher who turns misbehaving students into apples by sticking out her tongue and wiggling her ears. You don’t want to act out in her class! Eventually, she gets turned into an apple when one of her students holds up a mirror and turns the effect on herself. Mrs. Gorf is eaten by the yard teacher when he takes an apple from her desk. Mrs Jewls is the replacement teacher for Mrs. Gorf, and is the complete opposite. She is extremely nice, and initially believes the students are monkeys because they are too cute to be children. She has some unusual teaching methods (such as throwing a computer out the window to demonstrate gravity), but she was determined to teach the students three things every day, and unusual or not, they learned. I think we’ve all had a few teachers who are on the eccentric side. Honourable mention goes to Miss Zarves who never actually appears in the book but seems to be the stuff of legend in the school but nobody actually knows her. In chapter 19 of the original book, readers discover that the reason nobody has actually met her is that she doesn’t exist!

9. Mr. Freeman in Speak. After Melinda’s terrifying rape by a Senior at a party, she stops speaking and is unable to tell anyone what happened. Mr. Freeman gives her solace and a voice through art to come to terms with what happened and find a way to get past it. Mr. Freeman is perceptive and encouraging without pushing too hard. He’s the only one who is able to get through to Melinda, and without him, she likely wouldn’t have had the courage to speak up.

10. Mr. Keating in Dead Poets Society Technically, Mr. Keating is not a teacher from literature, but because he taught English and was so connected to literature and poetry, he deserves mention. The “Oh Captain My Captain” scene is unforgettable and inspiring, (if you don’t know what I’m talking about go watch the movie) and any teacher who can make a bunch of teenage boys appreciate Shakespeare and Whitman must be doing something right!

I’m sure there are hundreds more great literary teachers not mentioned here, and we’d love to hear who some of your memorable book teachers are!

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4. Guest post: From News to Novels: A Journalist Turns to Fiction

Hi all, Julie here! Today, my guest is R.J. Koreto. R.J.’s debut novel, Death on the Sapphire, releases tomorrow! Today, he’s here as our guest to talk about how he made the transition from journalism to fiction. Take it away, R.J.!

I spent a quarter-century as a journalist writing about SEC regulations, mutual funds, tax rules and Death on the Sapphire coverother glamorous topics before getting a contract for my first novel. The obvious assumption, among my friends and journalism colleagues, was that historical mysteries were a world apart from articles on active vs. passive investing. But now that I look backward, technical articles and novels aren’t so different after all. Some of my work as a financial journalist helped me write about Lady Frances, an aristocratic suffragist solving mysteries in Edwardian England.

Do It On Time

When you write for a magazine, you do it on time. My editor said, “Please submit this article by Friday.” Not when I was inspired. Not when I had time to mull over it. Friday. You had to figure out how to get it done on Friday, because that was your deadline. With a novel, of course, I didn’t have someone breathing down my neck every day, but I told myself I had to get it done. Would Agatha Christie form a tighter plot? Would George Simenon draw more beautiful scenes? Would Rex Stout write livelier dialogue? Don’t waste time worrying about measuring up. I set goals and continued to write, so I’d have a novel in a year, not just a few chapters after a decade. Each evening I just sat down and started typing, following Lady Frances as she traveled through London’s most elegant drawing rooms and lowest taverns. And often, she pleasantly surprised me.

Know Your Audience

I’ve written articles for the most sophisticated financial advisors, for serious investors, for people who barely knew what the stock market was, and everyone in between. If I assumed too much knowledge from my audience, the article wouldn’t be understandable.

It’s easy to say loftily: “My novel is for everyone.” But that’s not true. In Death on the Sapphire, Lady Frances investigates a tragedy whose roots are in the Boer War. I couldn’t assume that modern American readers would know about a war fought more than a century ago between British troops and the descendants of European immigrants in South Africa. And yet, the pain and suffering that came out of the Boer War was central to understanding my characters’ motivations. Without any knowledge of the war, readers would be lost, so I made sure the necessary information was subtly slipped in.

Get It Right

As a journalist, accuracy was the most important aspect of the job. Why should anyone read your publication if you don’t correctly explain a new tax reg? But fiction lets you do whatever you want, right? No, it doesn’t. Even when I write my novels, accuracy is key: What kind of guns were available in turn-of-the-century London? (Characters brandish revolvers, not semi-automatics.) Did they travel in carriages or automobiles back then? (Lady Frances enjoys riding in the first car Mr. Rolls and Mr. Royce produce together.)

Also, I had to look into what kind of education different characters in different classes would have. Lady Frances’ brother, an aristocrat who serves in government, would have gone to Eton and then Oxford. But an old soldier from a rural district, on the other hand, might be barely literate. It’s easy to say, “Oh, only historians would catch any errors,” but in fact, as inconsistencies and anachronisms pile up, the book becomes less cohesive, and the characters less believable.

So I was off to a good start. However, when I first put aside my articles to write my first novel, I found there were some things was a lot I had to learn.

Writing Dialogue

If only writing dialogue were as easy as listening to people talk. (If only jury duty were as interesting as an episode of Law & Order.) I had to make the dialogue streamlined and engaging, and pages of narration with little talking bogged down the action. There was no magic solution here. I had to alternate between rewriting my dialogue again and again, and reading books written by people who were good at dialogue.

Crafting a Effective Plot

Having a story in my head turned out to be very different from getting it on paper. Some parts of the story I wanted to tell just zipped along page after page. Others seemed to drag. The bottom line was that I had to keep readers interested. Did the action move along, and was it in tune with the characters I had created? An editor told me that clues in a mystery had to come from tension in the plot. So on my second draft, a scene that didn’t pass the “tension test” got redlined. But a scene where Frances extracted crucial information from a seriously ill – but still cunning – political powerbroker ratcheted up the tension. I polished it and left it in.

Staying Organized

Arthur Conan Doyle couldn’t remember where Watson was wounded. He once even got Watson’s first name wrong. I sympathized. Lady Frances’ shy suitor had green eyes when she met him, and blue eyes when he confessed his love in a chapter I wrote three months later. A telephone in a stately Elizabethan home migrated over several chapters from a closet off the entranceway to the morning room where the lady of the manor held sway. Problems like this are easily manageable in a 4,000-word story, but not an 85,000-word novel. Part of what I do is write little biographies for my characters upfront that I can refer to later, but you don’t catch every error without constant re-reading–which you should be doing anyway!

Thank you for being our guest here on PubCrawl today, R.J., and congrats on your debut! Readers, what do you think about the relationship between business writing and fiction writing? Do you have any thoughts to add? Please share them in the comments!

richard-koreto-author photoAbout R.J. Koreto:

R.J. Koreto is the author of DEATH ON THE SAPPHIRE (June 14, 2016) and DEATH AMONG RUBIES (October 11, 2016), both from Crooked Lane Books. Like his heroine, Frances Ffolkes, he is a graduate of Vassar College. He has spent most of his career as a financial journalist, holding senior editorial positions at the Journal of Accountancy and Financial Planning magazine, among others. Richard has also been a freelance writer and PR consultant. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, and his work has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Visit him at https://ladyfrancesffolkes.com


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5. Ask PubCrawl: Breaking into the Industry

We here at PubCrawl try our best to elucidate different aspects of the industry for you via our posts and podcast, but we are also available to answer questions (as best we can) if you email us or send us an ask through Tumblr. PubCrawl alumna Alex Bracken used to do a feature for us called Ask Alex where she would answer more industry-focused questions, and we’ve gotten a few about publishing programs.

From Bev:

Hi, I hope I’m directing this question to the right place—I’m a graduating senior English major and I’m potentially looking at two options in Professional Publishing programs for the summer, NYU SPI and the Columbia Publishing Course. Does anyone have any insight into what the differences are between the two? From what I can tell, Columbia seems more focused on book publishing: is this true, and can anyone testify to whether this helped you more as a writer? I know that Columbia doesn’t provide a professional certificate and that NYU does, but I’m not really sure what a professional certificate merits. Overall, I’d be extremely grateful for insight from anyone who employs students from these programs (or doesn’t) or anyone who’s attended or had experience with either. Thank you!

Hi Bev, I have not attended a professional publishing course, but I have known several people who have, including our very own Alex, who wrote about summer publishing programs here. In her post, she says that it appears that Columbia focuses more on book publishing while NYU focuses more on digital/magazine publishing.

As for whether or not this has helped anyone as a writer, I can confidently say probably not. Both of these professional programs are focused on the business of publishing, not the craft of writing. However, if you are looking for insight into how the industry works, they ‘re incredibly useful and enlightening. A few of my editor colleagues attended these programs before and after they began working in publishing, for various reasons, and they say the mileage they’ve gotten from them depends on the work they’ve put into it. Another one of my editor colleagues used to teach a seminar about editing at NYU.

As for who employs students from these programs, I do know that the Big 5 routinely recruits from these programs; one of my good friends went to CPC and she was hired based on her interview from their job fair. I would say both publishing programs are about equal in terms of post-course hiring; like any industry, the connections you make are just as important as what you learn about it. In addition to publishing courses, I would highly recommend internships. Each of the Big 5 and other midsize and small presses offer them, as well as literary agencies. I got my start in publishing via an internship at a literary agency; I did not attend a publishing course.

From Liv:

Hi Pub Crawl! I was recently accepted to Columbia’s Publishing Program at Exeter College and can’t wait to get started! It’s might hope to find a career in book marketing or publicity. However, I’m a little concerned and have a couple of questions I hope you’ll be able to answer… 1) I just graduated with a Bachelor’s of Business Administration, so I don’t exactly have an extensive education in literature studies. How essential is it to be familiar with the classics and/or things like common literary themes, narrative structures, critical theories, etc. when you work in publishing? 2) For the past couple of months, I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can about the industry (that’s how I found your amazing blog!), but I was wondering if you might have any recommendations for other sources? Thank you so much! Sorry that this is such a long message. Love you guys and your posts! Best, Liv

Hi Liv, many people who work in publishing did not major in literature in college. Some majored in communications, and others majored in the sciences. It is not essential to be familiar with the “canon” of literature to work in publishing; all you need is a genuine love and enthusiasm for books. I was an English major in undergrad and I can tell you that as an editor, I employed exactly zero percent of the knowledge I gained in class. Academic criticism has no place in publishing. And even some of literary terms you might have learned in school mean something different in the business, like genre. I would also argue that studying writing and not literature is far more useful in the industry, in terms of narrative structure and tropes. As an editor, some of this would be important, but to be honest, as an editor, I was more concerned with whether or not the book I was editing was a good story (if fiction) and/or written in a clear, engaging, and readable way (if nonfiction).

As for other sources on the industry, I would recommend you check out the archives of Kristin Nelson’s blog Pub Rants. She is a literary agent, so much of her advice is author-focused, but she also has incredibly useful information about contracts, royalties, and money. If you’re interested in an editorial perspective, I would recommend you check out Cheryl Klein‘s website, where she’s posted some of her speeches and talks, and will be coming out with a nonfiction book about editing and writing.

Hope this helps, y’all! If you have any more questions, let us know in the comments or via email and Tumblr!

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6. How To Be A Model Moderator

Hi all! Stacey here with my buddy and fellow PubCrawler Stephanie Garber. There may come a time in your life where you will be asked to moderate a panel or facilitate a discussion. Here are our ten hot tips for moderating success.

1) Read the panelists’ books. The best panels in my opinion are the ones in which the moderator asks questions tailored to the author’s works. Obviously, this isn’t always possible, but at least be familiar with the book’s main ideas and stand out points. Don’t be afraid to ask your panelists’ publicists for books. It’s in the publishers’ interests for you to be informed about their author’s works. My secret weapon is to listen to the panelists’ audiobooks, when available. You can make your commute go by faster, and you can listen to them at 3x speed.

2) Send questions ahead of time. Some panelists can answer questions easily on the fly; others would rather visit the dentist than be unprepared. The more you can make your panelists comfortable, the easier time you will have facilitating a conversation.

3) Introduce your authors using the same tone and length. Often moderators will simply read an author’s bio for the introduction, but this invites problems. I recently participated in a panel where the moderator relied on our bios. My own is short and humorous, and doesn’t mention awards or distinctions, whereas the bio of the woman next to me mentioned every degree and award she had received. By contrast, I couldn’t help feeling like the village idiot. This might take a little work on your part to make your intros ‘match,’ but you’ll come across as more polished, and your authors will thank you.

(Note: I have encountered diva/divo panelists who want to be introduced a certain way. I tell them I will do my best, but make no promises. I firmly believe in treating every panelist with dignity and respect, and that means not putting one above the other).

I have spoken on panels where the moderator asks each author to introduce herself, which I find awkward and painful. Not everyone is comfortable talking about herself, and on the flip side, some authors can run at the mouth, viewing the intro as a way to self promote. You can avoid potential awkwardness by doing the honors.

4) Help your audience distinguish between panelists by presenting them as individuals. I have used labels such as, “a rising star,” “a thrilling new voice in contemporary fiction,” “a living legend,” “a NYT bestselling author.” Obviously, make sure your descriptions are complimentary.

5) Go with the flow. A recent panel I moderated featured two authors who were good friends and pros at public speaking. They had great chemistry, and meandered from topic to topic without much prompting from me. I had prepared questions in advance, but found myself needing to replace them with ones that were more natural to the conversation at hand. An additional challenge was to include the third panelist in the discussion as much as possible. This is where a good working knowledge of the authors and their books is essential, because sometimes you have to improvise, and the best way to improvise is to come prepared.

6) Resist letting authors read from their books. I personally find this a waste of time. The audience is there to learn something they can’t learn by merely picking up the book. Plus, not every author is good at, or comfortable with, reading out loud.

7) Remember, it’s not about you. As the moderator, your job is to guide conversations so that the panelists shine. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t bring yourself into the discussion by using examples from your own life to illustrate a particular question. And if you’re asking panelists individual questions, they love it when you’re able to sincerely mention how much something in their writing resonated with you.

8) The moderator sets the tone for the panel, so be personable and engaging. Think of yourself as the first sentence of a novel, the thing that pulls readers into the story. It’s the job of the moderator to engage the attention of every guest in the room.

9) Repeat questions asked by the audience. Just because you can hear a question doesn’t mean the entire room can hear it. Repeating the question also gives your panelists a little more time to think about their answers.

10) Try to have a little fun! Everyone appreciates humor, so if at all possible, weave some into your questions and your introductions—as long as your humor is respectful to the panelists.

Swati Avasthi does a brilliant job moderating a panel at the Multnomah Library that includes myself, Tess Sharpe and Isabel Quintero.

Swati Avasthi does a brilliant job moderating a panel at the Multnomah Library that includes myself, Tess Sharpe and Isabel Quintero.

In the comments, let us know if you’ve seen a good moderator recently. Why was s/he good? What things could the moderator have improved upon?



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7. Sending Out Your Book Baby

Hi All! As many of you know, I just finished a series on the building blocks of a novel, which dove deep into a metaphor comparing a novel to a city. We compared words to bricks, sentences to walls, paragraphs to buildings, scenes to streets, and chapters to neighborhoods.

Today, I want to acknowledge that sometimes a novel is not like a city at all.

I think most regular readers of this blog know that my debut novel, Ivory and Bone, releases Ivory and Bonetomorrow, June 7. These last few months leading up to the on-sale date have been a very exciting, sometimes terrifying, often exhausting time. Over the past few days—and especially today, on the eve of the launch—I’ve been forced to admit that there is another apt metaphor for a novel. In many ways—at least from my personal perspective—I’d have to admit that a novel is a lot like a child you’re sending out into the world.

We’ve all heard novels referred to as “book babies.” Here are three reasons I have to agree that writers’ books are like their children.

First, like a child, a novel has a mind of its own. If it doesn’t want to conform to your expectations of it, it simply won’t. You may want it to grow up to be a fast-paced thriller, when it might instead become a quiet psychological drama. Some things are within the author’s control, of course, (you can simply start over if things aren’t going well,) but just like with children, you  may find that letting them choose their own path can lead to amazing results. It can be maddening when things don’t go the way we intended them to with a manuscript, but just like kids, books tend to find the path they were meant to be on all along. (The author—like a parent—just needs to keep up!)

Second, when your book baby meets with rejection, it feels a little like someone has insulted your child. Every author receives a certain amount of rejection, but knowing that rejection is unavoidable and generally not personal doesn’t make it any easier to process. It hurts, even when you know it’s a part of publishing. When the book I wrote right before Ivory and Bone failed to find a publisher, I took it very hard. The characters in that book were incredibly real to me after I’d worked on the book for so long, and I felt like I’d let them down. Of course, the opposite holds true, too. Now that Ivory and Bone is almost here, I feel so happy and proud for my characters.

Third, when your book receives praise, it feels (at least to me,) like the praise is for this separate entity, rather than for you yourself. This is another way that a book is like a child. As a mother, I’m always proud and flattered when someone praises my child, and I feel like I can accept the praise graciously because it’s not really directed at me. In the same way, even though a good review of your book feels personal, it still feels separate and distinct from a direct compliment. You may have brought your book baby into the world, but it’s got a life of its own.

I’m extremely excited to be posting this on the eve of my book baby’s birth! Though I’ve said it here before, I can’t say it enough—thank you all so much for your support on my path to publication. I joined PubCrawl in early 2010, when it was still Let the Words Flow. This has been a long pregnancy—book babies take a long time to gestate—but it’s been amazing. Thank you all so much, and please check the acknowledgements at the back of Ivory and Bone for a special shout-out to all the readers of this blog!

What do you think? Are your books and manuscripts like your babies? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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8. June 2016 New Releases

Welcome back to Upcoming Titles, our monthly feature where we highlight books releasing this month. As always, this is by no means a comprehensive list of forthcoming releases, just a compilation of titles we think our readers (and our contributors!) would enjoy.

Summer is in full swing and two of our PubCrawl contributors have books coming out this month, including our very own Jodi Meadows and Julie Eshbaugh! Julie’s debut will be coming out this month and we are so, so, so excited for her book to finally be out in the world!

Without further ado:

June 7

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando
The Long Game by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Tumbling by Caela Carter
With Malice by Eileen Cook
My Brilliant Idea by Stuart David
Julia Vanishes by Catherine Egan
The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone
My Lady Jane
Being Jazz by Jazz Jennings
You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan
The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder
How It Ends by Catherine Lo
True Letters from a Fictional Life by Kenneth Logan
The Vanishing Throne by Elizabeth May
The Way to Game the Walk of Shame by Jenn P. Nguyen
Rocks Fall Everyone Dies by Lindsay Ribar
All the Feels by Danika Stone
American Girls by Alison Umminger

June 14

The King Slayer by Virginia Boecker
Look Both Ways by Alison Cherry
The Girls by Emma Cline
Sea Spell by Jennifer Donnelly
Ivory and Bone
Autofocus by Lauren Gibaldi
Cure for the Common Universe by Christian McKay Heidicker
How It Feels to Fly by Kathryn Holmes
Change Places with Me by Lois Metzger
The Geek's Guide to Unrequited Love by Sarvenaz Tash

June 21

Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana
The Marked Girl by Lindsey Klingele
Never Ever by Sara Saedi

June 28

The Distance to Home by Jenn Bishop
Winning by Lara Deloza
Empire of Dust by Eleanor Herman
Run by Kody Keplinger
United as One by Pittacus Lore
Never Missing Never Found by Amanda Panitch
The Bourbon Thief by Tiffany Reisz
The Darkest Magic by Morgan Rhodes
And I Darken by Kiersten White

* PubCrawl contributor

That’s all for this month! Tell us what you’re looking forward to reading and any titles we might have missed!

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9. PubCrawl Podcast: Genres – Romance

This week JJ and Kelly conclude their series on genres in publishing with ROMANCES. Also, we reveal the depth of our Harry Potter nerdery and our deep fandom past. TRIGGER WARNING: We discuss rape and consent in Old School romances.

Subscribe to us on iTunesStitcherSoundcloud, or use this feed to subscribe through your podcast service of choice! If you like us, please, please, please leave a rating or review, as it helps other listeners find the podcast. We cherish each and every one of you who have taken the time to leave us feedback; you’re the stars in our sky!

Show Notes

  • Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (and their podcast!)
  • Romance is the largest market of publishing in terms of sheer number of books being published, units being sold, as well as cash flow.
  • We discussed the hallmarks of other genres, but romance really only has the one: your main couple must end up in a relationship by the end of the book (the so-called HEA, or Happily Ever After, or the HFN, or Happily For Now).
  • Romance is a staple of publishing, and is a large part of what we now consider the literary “canon” but the modern romance novel as we knew it first came into existence in the 1970s. According to the Smart Bitches, the “first” modern romance novel is The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss.
  • Romance novels are divided into Old School and New School romance: Old School are the books published pre-1990s.
  • Old School romances may be partially responsible for the “trashy” reputation around romance novels because there were forceful, rapist male romantic leads, but for other reasons, not the least because the stories were centered around female leads and female pleasure.
  • Old School romances were also about awakening the female lead, sexually, emotionally, etc. so some hangups about “virginity” (actual or metaphorical) linger.
  • Romance publishing is divided into two segments: category and single-title.
  • Category romances are specific lines from a publisher focusing on specific tropes and storylines. As a romance writer, it may be easier to break into publishing by starting to write for categories.
  • Single-title romances are focused more on the author’s name than the tropes, e.g. Nora Roberts. The stories and tropes are created wholesale by the author and is more similar to other trade publishing genres.
  • In terms of content, romances can literally contain anything. Anything! That’s the greatest thing about romance; it’s like Mad Libs: put in what you want and you’ll pretty much guaranteed to find a romance novel that fits that criteria. Romances span every genre: mystery, thriller, science-fiction, fantasy, contemporary, et al. What constitutes a ROMANCE as opposed to another genre is the centrality of the love story.
  • Romances can have series, either where friends or different family members get their own romances in separate books, or else it’s one central couple throughout multiple books.

Books Discussed/What We’re Reading

What We’re Working On

  • Kelly is continuing to work on her WIP, not by writing words, but by journaling and thinking and creating.
  • The project JJ couldn’t talk about last week was a companion novel to Wintersong! Cue the panic.

Off Menu Recommendations

That’s all for this week! We will be on hiatus for the next two weeks as both JJ and Kelly will be on vacation (not together, alas!). When we return, we will be starting a new series, wherein we break down stories to see what makes them successful or not. As always, sound off in the comments if you have any questions and we’ll see you in two weeks!

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10. Buying Time to Make Good Art

© Disney, DuckTales

© Disney, DuckTales

Crowdfunding isn’t a new idea, but we haven’t spent much time discussing it here at Pub Crawl– and I think it’s becoming increasingly relevant to writers today who have more options than ever to publish their work.

Platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been around for more than seven years, and by far have become the best known way to finance projects and products by appealing directly to the consumers who want them. In comparison to the old standby of PayPal donations, and its many limitations and hassles, if enough people are interested in your Kickstarter project, you will raise enough money to hopefully deliver on your promises. But if you don’t have enough support, your proposed project usually goes away quietly.

Many authors have successfully used Kickstarter to self-publish books, using the funding to hire editors, proofreaders and artists; distribute them in print and electronic forms, and even market them. Considering one of the largest hurdles for self-published writers is spending the money to make their books as polished and professional as traditionally published books (or perhaps even more so), this is a fascinating and exciting way to get work out to readers, as well as promote books before they’re released.

Slightly newer to the scene is Patreon, which has quickly become “the world’s largest crowdfunding site for artists and creators” since it was established in 2013. In a nutshell, Patreon allows people to provide ongoing support to an individual–not necessarily for a particular project–through a monthly commitment of as little as $1. As implied by its name, it’s evoking the old patron model of enabling creative work, while offering supporters incentives like exclusive content, early access, and sometimes even a voice in what work gets produced.

(Another site that has recently appeared is called ko-fi, basically an online tip jar that lets fans buy you a cup of coffee with the click of a button, perhaps more as a sign of appreciation than a viable, continuous income stream.)

Essentially, what all these crowdfunding services offer is a way for fans to buy time for creators to make more of the thing they enjoy, and let them know their work is valued and in demand. As a writer with a job and a toddler, a sink full of dishes and piles of dirty laundry, I often must be picky about what projects I sign up for and prioritize the paying work — contracted books and stories — over the shiny ideas I want to play with, or the unpaid blogging I might want to do. So getting “paid” by patrons to write a fun short story that I may not be able to sell (or the novel I may not be able to sell, yikes)  has a certain appeal. My friend N.K. Jemisin recently launched a Patreon that will allow her to quit her day job, the dream of many a writer, so far attracting more than $3800 in less than a week as of this writing.

The simple fact is most writers can probably produce more if they only had more time, and 40+ hours a week is a lot of time.

As more writers I know create Patreons with a wide range of success, I’ve been thinking more about this phenomenon. (Interestingly, as far as I can tell, not many YA writers have embraced Patreon, but it seems to be gaining popularity in the science fiction and fantasy community, of which I am also a part.) The truth is, I personally have a difficult time separating the idea of crowdfunding from charity, even though intellectually I know that people are buying something they want or rewarding you for something only you can provide. Part of me also imagines this as creating yet another array of deadlines and expectations and obligation to your supporters, who are basically making an investment in you and your work. You have more time, but on some level you’re also more accountable, potentially to dozens if not hundreds of people. How much do you ultimately owe them for helping make it possible?

But I am also aware that one of my hangups is the fear that I won’t get much support, or that I’ll be “competing” with all the other Patreon creators out there for the same dollars. Who needs an additional metric for comparing their own success to that of others? And before you remind me that you shouldn’t compare yourself to others, and that writing and publishing isn’t really a competition, allow me to suggest that this isn’t an entirely irrational consideration. I think a solid fan base is essential to a successful Kickstarter and Patreon, so your newer writers, less published writers, and debut writers probably won’t benefit from them as much — or at all.

What do you think about crowdfunding creative efforts? Have you supported any Kickstarter or Patreon campaigns? What would get you to donate your money to support a writer beyond buying their published work?

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11. Ten Things That Taught Us To Be Better Writers

Hi, All! Stephanie here with my buddy, and fellow Pub-Crawler, Stacey Lee, with a post that we hope has a little something for everyone, regardless of which stage you’re at with your writing career.

  1. Watching Television Pilots. This is one of my favorite things to do in the fall.   Television pilots are similar to first chapters; they need to establish characters, tone, setting, time, and place, and most of all, they need to hook viewers. Analyzing how they do this is a great way to sharpen your craft. Favorite pilots include Alias, Lost, Chuck, Revenge, and the Blacklist (which has an amazing hook near the end).
  1. Saying Goodbye to Old Manuscripts. Writing a book is a huge accomplishment. It’s also a very time and soul-consuming task, so we understand how hard it is to trunk manuscripts, especially those that come close to landing agents, or getting sold. But sometimes old manuscripts can be like old relationships, it’s not always possible to make room for the ones unless you’ve let go of the old ones first.
  1. Judging Writing Contests. Not only is this a great way to give back to other writers, judging contests will sharpen your skills as a writer. It’s one thing to read blog posts by agents or other writers about what does or doesn’t work in manuscripts or query letters, but it’s a different thing to see it when going through contest slush piles. After reading hundreds of Pitch Wars entries as mentors, we saw first hand the importance of a strong first line, the danger of a weak first line, why it really is a bad idea to start with a character waking up, and just how powerful good comp titles can be. Not to mention contests are an excellent way to meet fellow writers (see number 9 for more on this one).
  2. Attending the Big Sur Children’s Writer’s Workshop. For California writers this workshop almost feels like a rite of passage. Held twice a year by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, the Big Sur Children’s Writer’s Workshop is known for not only its gorgeous location, but for its intense and honest workshops. If you’re a writer who has not yet found an agent, we highly suggest this workshop because it’s a great way to find out from professionals just where you’re going wrong with your writing—it’s also an excellent place to meet other writers.
  1. Attend Bookish Events. This can be conferences, book signing, panels, festivals, or other things we’ve never heard of, as long as they involve books and people. If you read our conference post  last month you probably you know why we think conferences are so valuable, but they are not the only events we recommend. For example, if you are a debut author, attend as many launch parties and book signings as you can—not only is this an excellent way to support authors, but once the time comes to launch your book, you’ll have lots of ideas for what makes a great launch. And there is always something to be learned by hearing other authors speak about their work.
  1. Entering Contests. There are a ton of free contests that not only can help you improve your writing, but can be useful when it comes to querying. Stacey submitted the manuscript for UNDER A PAINTED SKY for a critique at her regional SCBWI conference, and not only did the amazing editor Sara Sargent provide valuable feedback, Arthur Levine chose it to receive the conference award. She’s certain that my mentioning this award in her query letter helped it stand out.
  1. Finding a Critique Partner. We can say with 100% certainty that our critique partners have improved our writing and we’re not just saying that because we are critique partners. A good CP can help you identify and strengthen your writing weak spots, help you brainstorm, and take you out for pearl milk teas when you need them. And on the flip side, when you critique another’s work, it improves your own writing in much the same way that spotting spinach in someone’s teeth makes you check your own teeth.
  1. Join SCBWI. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is an invaluable source of support for the kid lit community. In addition to amazing conferences and classes, they offer grants, awards, mentorships, and they foster connections with industry professionals. We encourage you to become a member, and to become active with your local regional chapter.
  1. Make Friends with Other Writers. The more supported you feel as a writer, the happier writer you will be, and the more productive you will become. Engaging with other writers not only helps you keep abreast of what’s happening in the publishing industry, it can lead you to discover critique partners, writing contests, agents, and more.
  1. Good books inspire. A good read reminds us of why we do what we do, and pushes us to do better.

Now we’d love to hear from you! This list could go on and on and we’d love to know what items you would like to add to it.

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12. Public Speaking or Root Canal?

Hi all! Stacey here with my buddy and fellow PubCrawler Stephanie Garber. Today, we’re talking about a subject that makes me nervous to even write about. Public speaking.

I read somewhere that most people would rather get a root canal than speak in public. Having done both, I can verify that they produce equal amounts of panic, nausea, elevated blood pressure, sleep disturbance, and generalized anxiety. However, in my opinion, public speaking edges out root canals, for the basic reason that roots are important to a healthy smile, and who wants to give up smiling?

As someone who used to hide behind people to avoid being picked on in class (I spoke all of five sentences from K-3 grade), I am a living, breathing testament to the fact that public speaking does not kill you. Before my book was published, I spoke exactly once in public, as part of a law firm initiation ritual where every new lawyer was forced to make a speech about something on the spot. After that, I got violently ill and had to stay home for a week.

Since my book has been published, I have publicly spoken twenty-two times, to audiences of between 5 and 2000 people. Whenever I’m asked to speak somewhere, I still have to fight the urge to say, “Are you kidding me?” and flee. Even after 22 events, I still get so nervous to the point where I sometimes break out in a rash on my face (which is great when you’re about to speak in public). The good news is, public speaking is something at which you can improve with time and practice. It is also something at which you can excel, despite your inner scaredy-cat. I am frequently asked back to events where I’ve spoken, which is arguably the highest praise a speaker can receive.IMG_4976

I consulted my buddy Stephanie—who actually prefers speaking in public over going to the dentist—and together we came up with a list of ways to beat your fear of public speaking.

  1. Remember that your audience wants to hear you speak. They have not come bearing pocketfuls of tomatoes. Project confidence, even if you don’t feel it. In this way, you create a positive feedback loop. The audience responds better to someone who acts like they have it together, and in turn, they will bolster you.
  2. If you can, do some stress-busting exercises before you go on. I always wear flats and walk around as much as is practical. It gets out the jitters, and helps me loosen up. In addition, mentally visualize turning whatever stress you’re experiencing into excitement. Excitement is a great springboard for presenting. Everyone likes an enthusiastic speaker, and when you feel excited it’s much harder to feel scared.
  3. Invite a buddy along. Everything is more fun when you have a friend to do it with you it. So, if you’ve been asked to teach a class, or speak in front of a group about your book, see if you can invite another writer to speak with you. The audience benefits, too, since they’ll get to hear TWO authors.
  4. A little preparation can go along way. If you’re on a panel, ask for questions in advance and outline possible answers. To be honest, I don’t just outline, I write my answers word for word, an exercise that helps me organize my thoughts. Practice saying those answers in front of a mirror. Don’t memorize your answers, just the key points you want to make.
  5. If you’re giving a keynote only agree to speak on a subject you’re comfortable with. Keynotes can (and probably should be) intimidating, but they’re far less frightening when you feel as if you have a firm grasp on the subject you’re discussing.
  6. Be interested in your audience. Thank them for coming, and acknowledge in some way that you know who they are. Find a few friendly faces and let them bolster you. Last month Stephanie was speaking at a conference on a Friday night and the first thing her fellow speaker did was thank the audience for spending their Friday evening sitting in a lecture hall. Not only did this earn a nice chuckle, but it made everyone in the room feel appreciated, which meant suddenly there were a lot more smiling faces.
  7. Think of something only you can say. Some writing advice is universal, but no one has had the same experiences as you. So don’t be afraid to share your personal journey if it relates to your subject. Not only will this ensure your audience is hearing something fresh, it might help them connect to you on a more personal level.
  8. Consider handouts, when appropriate. We can’t tell you how many times people have thanked us for taking the time to make handouts. Handouts allow attendees to absorb what you’re saying rather than frantically take notes. In addition, preparing handouts helps you organize your talk, so that you can ensure all the information you’re compiling is presented in the best order and backed up with examples.

Stephanie: If you would like to actually hear Stacey speak in public, her book launch for OUTRUN THE MOON is next Thursday, May 26, 7 pm at Books, Inc. Palo Alto! We hope you can join us then!

We’d love to hear any tips you have in the comments!

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13. PubCrawl Podcast: Genre – Mystery & Thriller

This week Kelly and JJ continue with their series on genres in publishing, this time Mystery & Thriller. JJ has also apparently passed her reading rut on to Kelly, and our prognosticating powers apparently brought about the YA version of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code because we discussed reading it as teenagers in the episode.

Subscribe to us on iTunesStitcherSoundcloud, or use this feed to subscribe through your podcast service of choice! If you like us, please, please, please leave a rating or review, as it helps other listeners find the podcast. We cherish each and every one of you who have taken the time to leave us feedback; you’re the stars in our sky!

Show Notes

  • Mysteries are characterized by a central question that needs to be solved: whether a murder, a mystery, or even just an idea or concept.
  • Mysteries can run the gamut in terms of tone and content. From the tame (cozy) to the very gritty (thrillers).
  • The difference between a thriller/slasher and a mystery: thrillers are much more graphic in terms of violence (including sexual violence).
  • The level of danger the protagonist is in often distinguishes a thriller from a mystery as well. In a thriller, the protagonist may be personally in danger, whereas in a mystery, they may be investigating or tangentially in danger.
  • Hardboiled mysteries are character-focused and follow a protagonist, like a gumshoe or amateur detective.
  • Cozy mysteries often include other genres. They are lighter and often humorous in tone.
  • Suspense falls into mystery/thriller as well, but they don’t necessarily have mysteries at their heart. There’s usually an overarching sense of tension related to a central question.
  • Most of the books in this genre hinge on twists.
  • There are also whodunnits, where the reader is the one trying to figure out the mystery.
  • Legal thrillers are more about the case than the mystery element, and military thrillers are about the army process.

Books Discussed/What We’re Reading

What We’re Working On

  • JJ is working on a horror short story and something else she can’t talk about yet. 🙃
  • Kelly is working on her WIP and journaling and thinking about her story.

Off Menu Recommendations

That’s all for this week! Next week we will conclude our series on genre with ROMANCE. As always, if you have any questions, sound off in the comments!

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14. Culling Your Collection

Last week I spent a day in two separate school libraries weeding old, outdated collections. There were novels on the shelf that had copyright dates from the 70s, and had clearly been there for that length of time as well. There were classic books with horribly out of date covers, (editions that I remember from my own childhood) obscure and likely long out of print books, and some highly inappropriate titles for an elementary school. (I don’t think 6th graders need Game of Thrones on the shelf!) The principal had already committed funds to begin restocking the library, and yet, the librarian was having a great deal of trouble letting go of the books we suggested pulling off of the shelf. Books, as most of us would agree, are highly collectible. Whether it’s a beautiful picture book, a special interest title, or an autographed novel, letting go of a book is an incredibly hard thing to do. As Book Lovers, we form an attachment to books, finding infinite reasons not to get rid of them.

20160517_124534In case you think I’m throwing stones, as this picture of just one of my bookshelves at work will show, I’m equally guilty of book hoarding. If an author has been kind enough to personalize an autograph (especially those who are talent artists and draw a doodle) to me, I don’t give it away. To me, they are markers of special moments where I was given the privilege of meeting the creator of something that I enjoyed. Whether I ever plan to read the book again or not doesn’t matter- it’s the experience associated with receiving the book that does. I’m also a sucker for really beautifully produced books. I love fancy end papers, embossed covers, glossy paper, etc… it makes the book an even more special treasure, and I certainly can’t give those up. The list goes on. I keep them because I loved it. I keep it because it’s beautiful. I keep it out of guilt, because someone thoughtfully sent it to me to read and I simply haven’t had the time. I have volumes of series I’ve long since abandoned, ARCS I managed to get digitally and read long ago, and stuff that I fully intended to read, and just missed.

I look at weeding as a process in stages. First is denial that I need to weed. Surely I can find room on one of my shelves to add a few new books. Then comes acceptance. I truly have no more room. The shelves are double lined, stacked and sagging, and it’s not going to get any better. I have to get rid of something. Then comes the first pass. This is the stuff that I can immediately dismiss. Stuff I don’t need to look at to know that I’m not going to ever read it and don’t really remember why I wanted to. Usually this process gives me the illusion of doing something more than anything else. I mean, come on- who are we kidding here? How many of those easy tosses do I really think I have? (Here’s a hint- not nearly as many as I think I will!) Then comes my attempt at sorting into likely to read and unlikely to read. And I say attempt, because once I start re-reading the back, I start thinking all over again that I might read it, and put it back in the pile.

Now I take another look at my piles and realize that I’ve gotten rid of all of two books and it’s time to get down to business. As sad as it makes me to give them up, I finally have to admit that if I haven’t read it yet, and I’ve held onto it for years, it has to go. There are thousands of books published a season- more than I will ever be able to read in a lifetime, and as much as it pains me to admit, I’m bound to miss something now and then that I really wanted to read. I also have to acknowledge that as much as I think I will miss them, once they are gone, I won’t even remember what I gave away. (Only occasionally have I ended up hunting for something months later that I culled) Finally, I take into consideration who I know that might appreciate the discarded books. I don’t have kids, and neither does my brother, but I have neighbours with kids, co-workers with kids and customers to whom I can always pass on a special read, etc….Knowing that they are going somewhere where they are appreciated and needed makes giving books away a lot easier.

At the end of the day, I can look with satisfaction upon the newly empty shelves, knowing that it won’t be long before that space is filled up again with all of the new books that I collect with every intention of reading…someday.

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15. Building Blocks of a Novel: Chapters

Hi All! We’ve come to the final installment in my series on the building blocks of a novel. This is part five of a series built around a metaphor comparing a novel to a city. So far, we’ve imagined words as bricks, sentences as walls, paragraphs as buildings, and scenes as streets. Today, we’ll look at the final building block—chapters.

If a novel were a city, the chapters would be the neighborhoods. When you travel through a city from one neighborhood to the next, you notice the distinct and unifying qualities of each—maybe the architecture, the number of people on the sidewalks, or the types of restaurants. Often you can feel the transitions flow in a very natural way. In a well-structured novel, the same thing happens with chapters. Each chapter is distinct, but each one flows seamlessly into the next.

Here are some tips that will help you build strong chapters:

Create compelling openings.

If you want to keep your reader turning pages, enter a new chapter with a hook—a striking image, a compelling need, or a great line of dialogue. Some writers will plant a question in the reader’s mind at the opening of a new chapter, throwing off their sense of comfort and pulling them forward into the new situation. Whatever you choose, the chapter opening should draw the reader in and demand that they keep reading.

Here’s an example from Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton. This is the opening of Chapter Seven:

“Tell me you drink.”

I woke to rough cloth against my face and the smell of gunpowder in my nose. I’d dozed off with my head against Jin’s back as we rode. His words vibrated through his shoulder blades and into my skull, jangling loosely until I put them together.

What works about this chapter opening is the way it creates an immediate question in the mind of the reader with that line of dialogue, and then draws you in even more with a multi-sensory image of our MC waking up after a long ride on the back of a horse. Things are interesting, and we want to know where it’s all leading.

Build your chapters around conflict.

A chapter can contain one scene or several scenes, but a central problem or conflict will hold a chapter together. Though it doesn’t need to be elaborate, each chapter should have a beginning, middle, and end, with at least one turning point where things shift into a new direction or the focus switches to a new conflict. That shift will help the story flow into the next chapter.

For example, in Reign of Shadows by Sophie Jordan, Chapter Three starts with one of a trio of characters becoming injured and unable to travel. When these three characters are attacked, the conflict escalates as danger increases, but a stranger shows up—a girl—and she helps them defend themselves. Although they know nothing about this girl, she offers to help them and tells them to follow her. With this new development the chapter ends, but we want to read on because the conflict has changed and new questions are being asked.

Create compelling chapter endings.

Just as your chapter openings need to grab the reader, your endings need to propel them forward. Whatever conflict you’ve built since that hooky chapter opening, you need to switch gears as the chapter ends and keep the reader wondering what will happen next. It’s alright to wrap up conflict as long as the reader feels a new source of tension. If a mystery is solved, a bigger question should be asked to keep the story moving.

When considering where to put your chapter breaks, look for those shifts and don’t be afraid to end a chapter and open the next even in the midst of a scene, as long as the conflict has shifted or a new goal has been formed. If a scene opens with the characters searching for a key, for instance, and part way through the search they find a hidden bomb, the focus has changed. A writer could put a chapter break in the midst of this search scene, since now the emphasis is on this new problem.

Like a neighborhood in a city, a chapter should feel like a natural unit, but it doesn’t have to be stiffly structured or homogeneous. As long as your chapter has these three things—a strong opening, conflict to hold things together, and an ending that transitions into the next chapter—you have a lot of freedom to craft your chapters.

So there’s our city—bricks of words creating walls of sentences. Buildings of paragraphs connected by streets of scenes. The reader travels from neighborhood to neighborhood—chapter by chapter—until they’ve experienced our city of a novel from cover to cover.

How do you feel about chapters? Do you have any great tips to share? How about our metaphor of a novel as a city in general? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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16. PubCrawl Podcast: Genre – Science-Fiction & Fantasy

This week JJ and Kelly continue with their series on genre in publishing, this week focusing on Science-Fiction and Fantasy. It was a close shave as JJ spilled water on her laptop last week, but her computer pulled through! Also, more about reading ruts and Beyoncé’s LEMONADE.

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Show Notes

  • Science-fiction and fantasy is generally the genre of What If? Fantasy is the genre of What Could Have Been and science-fiction is the genre of What Could Be.
  • Broadly speaking, science-fiction is science-based, fantasy is magic, but these distinctions really lie on a spectrum.
  • When it comes to publishing, your book will either be shelved in Science-Fiction/Fantasy or it could be shelved in General Fiction. This comes down to a number of factors, including who the publisher is. Tor, Baen, Ace/Roc, and Del Rey are science-fiction/fantasy publishers, and imprints like Other Press, Grand Central, Putnam, etc. do more general fiction.
  • If the focus is more on the fantastic elements (as in, the fantastic elements are the point), then it would likely be pubbed SFF; if the focus is less on the fantastic elements (as in, the fantastic elements are in service of another point), then it would likely be pubbed general fiction.
  • Sub-categories of fantasy include:
    • Epic fantasy
    • High fantasy
    • Sword and sorcery
    • Portal fantasy
    • Urban fantasy
    • Paranormal
  • Sub-categories of science-fiction include:
    • Space opera
    • Hard sci-fi
    • Dystopian/post-apocalyptic
    • Speculative near-future
  • Note on magical realism: JJ considers magical realism a subset of literary fiction, not fantasy. Magical realism takes a fantastic element and uses it as an extended metaphor for emotions, the human condition, etc. A lot of novels called “magical realism” is what JJ considers “light fantasy.”
  • Alternate history, parallel universe, time-travel also fall under the science-fiction/fantasy umbrella.
  • Horror is perhaps more of a category (like YA) than a true genre, as it can encompass all genres: psychological, ghost stories, monsters, etc.

Fairy tales are more than true—not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.

—Neil Gaiman, paraphrasing G. K. Chesterton

Pro-tip: If you spill water on your laptop keyboard, immediately unplug your computer, turn it off, take out your battery, mop up as much of the water as quickly as you can, then put your computer with the motherboard and innards showing in front of a fan and let it completely dry for a few days. This worked for JJ’s computer, anyway!

What We’re Reading/Books Discussed

What We’re Working On

  • Kelly is working on her YA, and is apparently inspired and excited to delve into it after JJ laid down some tough love.
  • JJ wrote a personal essay for an anthology open submission call about doughnuts, Korean school, and shame.
  • JJ is also trying to write a horror short story, also for an open submission call.
  • JJ is also working on hand-lettering part titles for Wintersong! Her publisher using her artwork in the interior of the book.

Off Menu Recommendations

That’s all for this week! Next week we’ll be continuing our genre series with MYSTERY/THRILLER. Thanks for listening!

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17. Other Girls: A Discussion With Author Jessica Cluess

A Shadow Bright and BurningYou’ve read about Other Girls in books and heard your favorite characters talk about them on TV. You know that anytime a protagonist says or is told they’re “Not like other girls”, that Other Girls are a kind of girl you don’t want to be.

But why is that? And what does it really mean when to be Not Like Other Girls?
It’s a trope that has angered me time and time again, but putting the reasons why into words was difficult. So Jessica Cluess, author of the upcoming A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING (Random House, Fall 2016), agreed to help me figure out why through a great discussion, which I’m sharing now with all of you!

Hannah: To begin, I think we need to define the Not Like Other Girls trope – what does it mean to you when you read it or hear it said?

Jessica: First of all, I should start by saying that it’s okay if your main female protagonist does not like another girl. It’s even okay if she hates ‘those other girls’ at the start of the story. What I’m talking about is the way the trope fits into the world.

So here are three things that, to me, make something fit the Those Other Girls trope:

  1. We have a female protagonist who hates those Other Girls because they are blond, peppy, have big boobs, like boys, boys like them, etc. So the problems don’t stem from legitimate issues. It’s all mainly superficial dislike.
  2. Her love interest will be amazed that she is NOT like those Other Girls with their hotness and flirtation. He definitely doesn’t want a girl who hasn’t read Chaucer for fun. Clearly that’s too easy a conquest.
  3. The world never calls out our intrepid female protagonist. She is never told to stop being sexist. She is, in fact, reinforced and rewarded in her thinking that Other Girls, aka girls whose values and personalities do not align with hers, are inherently shallow and lesser.

A good question to ask: Is our heroine never challenged in her opinions, does she never grow, and does the society around her (usually the attractive men) reward her in her prejudice?

H: So she may never be the one comparing herself to Other Girls; the comparing may be done completely on the side of the love interest, classmates, etc. But she doesn’t deny it, and she’s in fact praised for not being like them.

J: Exactly! She may either be bemused by the Other Girls and their ‘desperation’ for male attention, or she may be benevolently snarky in a ‘oh you poor dears’ sense.

H: Yes! I think it’s also interesting that, if you really think about it and how they’re presented, pretty much all YA heroines are Not Like Other Girls, which ends up feeling like Other Girls are in the minority instead of the majority. We are constantly creating stories around people who are Not Like Other People, not realizing that if everyone is Not Like Other People then that trope, technically, goes away.

J: We all want to be seen as extraordinary. And every one of us has unique, fantastic, extraordinary assets. It’s not a problem to want to know that being different is great! I remember being a shy, bookish teen, and being told my gifts were valuable was so important. It’s good to know that a unique point of view is valued. The problem is when that very normal, very good desire in a story is entwined with a misogynistic streak.

H: You can only be special if other people are not as special?

J: Exactly. The ideal thought process would be something like, “Hey, I’m very good at what I do, and the right person will appreciate that. Just as the girl who is very good at social things, or sports, will also find a great path through life.”

But instead it turns into ‘I can only be special when other people are my inferiors,’ and that’s nonsense.

H: So, for example, your main character is not great at flirting, but for some reason we think the only way to make her inability to flirt a positive quality is if the act of flirting is slutty/shameful/ordinary. So perhaps the Other Girl is actually a way to make those things about us that would normally be perceived as a negative or, at the very least, boring and normal, extraordinary.

J: I think it’s great and truthful to tell a teen girl who doesn’t know how to join in the high school social games that it’s okay, her time will come, and she can be true to herself. But if the only way to do that is to demonize the girls who have an easier time with the social games, boyfriends, etc. then that’s just wrong.

H: Everyone has a strength, and to encourage one strength and scoff at another means de-legitimizing the humanity of actual, real girls. And if I’m not anything like the heroine, suddenly I’m an Other Girl too.

J: Right. And I want to restate, because it’s important, we can definitely have books where teen girls don’t like each other. Books where they’re outright catty to each other, or slut shame each other. Because that’s life. The problem is when that slut shaming or cattiness is seen as being the right course of action. Because it’s not. It leads to bad things.

It leads to situations where, when a girl comes forward and says she’s been assaulted, we just brush her off as one of those Other Girls.

And if we have this thing where we tell girls:

  1. You are special because of your naiveté or innocence and
  2. Other Girls are sluts who lack both, you’re setting up a MAJOR Madonna/whore complex

In my opinion, one of the beauties of fiction is that it lets us look at the human side of people we know nothing about. So you don’t like that Other Girl? Look closer. What’s her story?

H: Do you think that the Cool Girl trope can tie into the Other Girls trope? Like, the girl who can only be friends with guys, who isn’t like Other Girls, and is therefore fun to be around and interesting and, well, cool.

J: Oh definitely. And we sometimes praise heroines in YA for only having male friendships. It proves that she’s Tough, and Responsible, and can Hunt and Fish and be Intelligent. Would you mind if I plug my own book for a second?

H: Please do! I feel like this is something you do well in the book. Henrietta Howel is a female training to be a sorcerer among only men. It could so easily have gone the way of the Cool Girl, but you were obviously very careful about that.

J: I very deliberately made it so that in book 1 of my trilogy my protagonist was surrounded by men. She’s sort of the classic ‘girl who only has dudes around’ in YA person. She has a couple of female confidantes, but no one at her level of power.

But in book 2, which I am now writing, she finally meets her equal. And it’s another girl. And it was very, very important to me to establish that one of the most central relationships in the series will be between these two women. So the standard ‘only a man can be her equal’ set-up was very intentional, and in book 2, it gets flipped. I may totally end up screwing this up, but that’s the hope!

H: I can’t wait!  Are there any other books you like that you feel manage to avoid the Other Girl trope in a big way?

J: First thing I’ll say is there are undoubtedly many books, both fantasy and contemporary, with great, complex female friendships. I’m always on the lookout, so if anyone has a suggestion, please let me know!

I liked the Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare, because it had multiple women, multiple women POVs, and ladies who were strong in different ways.

Also, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard has a very solid female friendship at the center, which she portrays as more important than any romantic story.

H: I love that you’ve mentioned books with powerful female friendships as the cores of the stories. It’s very hard to get female friendships right because we look down on them so much. Not that hot guys aren’t important. But so is autonomy, and having friends who love you for you and not who you aren’t (ahem ,Like Other Girls). Portraying that is hard because girls get ridiculed for how they behave with friends.

J: It’s not ‘hanging out’ or accomplishing things. It’s ‘gossiping.’ It’s sometimes seen as inherently frivolous.

H: Girls *squeal* together instead of laugh.

Do you think that portraying a diverse array of female friendships is a good way to stamp out the Other Girls trope? How else would you like to see it addressed?

J: I like the idea of the Daria-like bookish nerd and the stereotypical blond cheerleader having to kick ass and save the world and realizing they both have dimension and depth and were too hard on each other.

H: Manuscript Wishlist!

J: I think it’s fine to have a female protag who has the Other Girls thing going on and who comes to realize that, yes, she was being prejudiced. You don’t even have to make a big honking deal about it. Just show it in her attitude.

H: It’s a constant learning experience, for all of us.

J: I do stupid things all the time.

H: I’m sure I’m still perpetuating tropes that I’ll read in three years and be horrified I wrote it, but that’s part of overcoming these things.

J: Me too. And then I will write oblique posts on the topic, and you’ll wonder if I’m talking about you.

H: Ha!

J: I guess I’m just like those Other Girls.

Jess CluessJESSICA CLUESS is a writer, a graduate of Northwestern University, and an unapologetic nerd. After college, she moved to Los Angeles, where she served coffee to the rich and famous while working on her first novel. When she’s not writing books, she’s an instructor at Writopia Lab, helping kids and teens tell their own stories.

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18. Guest Post: Forget Perfection: Embrace Your Sh*t Pocket

Hello dear readers! Today, I bring you a guest post by the lovely Liza Wiemer! It is a harrowing tale of perseverance, unspeakable pockets, and—Well, I’ll just let her tell you about it. Carry on!

I am a reformed perfectionist. And it’s because of a shit pocket.

When I emailed my second YA manuscript to my former agent, I was obsessed with perfection, a personality trait I expected within myself, but not with others. I read the manuscript out loud, nitpicked over lines, rearranged sentences, and debated over adjectives. Sometimes I spent hours on a paragraph to get it just right.

After I hit Send, doubt seeped into my mind, drenching the euphoria that came with such a huge accomplishment. A year of hard work, numerous revisions, reassurance from author friends, and yet all I could think about was “What if it’s not good enough, perfect enough to sell?”

I gave into the temptation to read through the manuscript one more time. I needed to reassure myself that I had indeed created a novel I could be proud of. Within the first chapter, I found small typos. A missing comma and quotation mark. How was this possible? I’d read it a thousand times!

Taking deep breaths, I told myself these errors didn’t matter. There would be a chance to fix them. But finding a missing word here and a grammatical error there, I became more and more distressed. And then I came across SHIT POCKETS! I left out the “r.”

Tears burned the back of my throat. Once again, I wondered how I missed that. My error led to a flurry of text messages to my best friend, another author who had read an early draft. She promptly told me to forget about it. “It’s one word, Liza. It doesn’t matter,” she said. “You’ve written an amazing novel and one missing “r” is not going to matter.”

But my perfectionist self couldn’t let it go. I even sent my agent an email telling him about the mistake. “I hope this makes you laugh,” I wrote.

He never responded. Because it wasn’t a big deal. Not at all!

But I didn’t see it. Not until the shit hit the page and I wallowed in it.

Shit pocket taught me a valuable lesson about perfectionism. As mere human beings, perfection is IMPOSSIBLE to achieve. Looking back, I realize my goal for perfection not only made me miserable, but it became an obstacle to creativity and the writing process. I came to the conclusion that my best was and is good enough. Doing my best is a goal I can achieve every single day. Some days, that means writing crap. But who cares? It can be revised.

Here are a few things I learned about perfection:

  1. For me, it was a means of being in control. It was also a crutch, something to blame and a way of explaining why I didn’t see myself as being good enough.
  2. I was never truly happy with my accomplishments. I saw the flaws, instead of the incredible work I had done.
  3. Even though I embraced the concept of living in the moment, I was always striving to achieve more. I wasn’t enjoying the journey. Writing is a journey from blank page to published novel. But I didn’t appreciate it. The end goal was most important to me.
  4. My need for perfection stemmed from childhood. My mother compared me to others, especially to my sister. I could never measure up to my straight A, more athletic older sister. I didn’t see my talents or what I had to contribute. One of the nicknames my mother bestowed upon me was “Miss Malaprop.” A malaprop is someone who misuses words. It was cruel and scarring.

How did I change?

  1. I examined the reasons why perfection was important. Understanding how my childhood created this need, recognizing how being compared to others and how that horrible nickname influenced my perception, allowed me to let it go. Self-awareness and appreciating my qualities, flaws and all, made a huge difference.
  2. My best is good enough. I can’t do better than that. Ever. So, every day, I strive to be my best. It’s something I’m able to achieve. I’m a much happier person because of it.
  3. I no longer care about typos and grammatical errors. They can be fixed. The characters, plot, setting, overall story comes first.
  4. Research is an important step in my writing process. Gathering information, mining the details that make the story sparkle is critical. I’ve learned to be more patient and to appreciate this part of the journey.
  5. Revision is my best friend. I embrace it, relish in it. I’ve learned to celebrate cutting a paragraph, finding a better word. I celebrate improvement. Sometimes, I raise my arms and shout, “Yes! That’s awesome!”
  6. I allow my characters to speak, to tell their story. One of my biggest barriers with being a perfectionist was the belief that I controlled the story. Yes, of course I’m the author. But sometimes what I thought should happen, inhibited the writing process. My dear author friend Laura Harrington, an MIT professor and an award-winning playwright, helped me resolve this problem. Asking my characters open-ended questions, digging deeper and deeper and deeper, allowed them to reveal things I could never have imagined myself. For me, it’s a way of letting go of control and allowing the creative process to flow. Interviewing my characters has become one of the most crucial parts of my writing process. I get to know my characters intimately—they breathe, live, become real.
  7. I constantly ask why. Why am I writing this story? Why would my characters do this? Understanding the why breaks down barriers, allows me to dig deeper, revealing the secrets and underpinnings of what motivates my characters. Why allows for imperfection. It allows for growth and improvement. It also reveals what can be cut and what is necessary to the story.

Looking back to that shit pocket moment I can’t believe how much energy I spent obsessing over it. I’m deeply relieved perfection is no longer my benchmark for success. And that novel? As my previous agent said, “It came very, very, very close to selling.”

My third novel, Hello?, did. Perseverance is a key to success. Not perfection. I did it, as the imperfectly perfect Liza Wiemer.

Liza WiemerLIZA WIEMER married the guy who literally swept her off her feet at a Spyro Gyra concert. Their love story can be found on her “About” page. Besides being a die-hard Green Bay Packers fan, she is a readaholic, a romantic, and a lover of nature, crazy socks, and rooftops.

Hello? is her debut YA novel. It was named a Goodreads YA Best Book of the Month, November 2015, and Paste Magazine called it “one of the most original YA novels of the year.” She also has had two adult non-fiction books published, as well as stories and articles in various publications. As an award-winning educator, Liza has conducted over 75 interactive seminars during the 2015/2016 school year, fueling her passion for working with young adults. A graduate of UW-Madison with a degree in Education, Liza is also the mother of two young adult sons.

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19. A Few Tax Tips

Ahhhh! Tax day is coming! Yes, once again April 15 is almost upon us. Hopefully you’ve already filed your taxes for 2015 by now, or you’re about to. And if you’re a writer (or are otherwise self-employed), hopefully you’re also deducting your writing expenses.

OK, so I’m no tax expert, but I have been filing my own taxes for my entire working life. And I only started using TurboTax when things got a little more complicated — namely, when I started treating writing like a business.

What does that mean? How do you distinguish writing as a hobby from writing as a business? Look deep within yourself for the answer: Are you trying to make a go of a full-time professional writing career? Or are you writing for fun and an occasional story sale?

If you want to write for a living, writing is your business, even if you have a day job that helps pay the bills. If you are starting to sell stories or novels and getting paid for your work, it is definitely a business. In either of these situations, you should consider keeping track of all your writing-related expenses and claiming them as deductions on your tax form, typically using Schedule C (Form 1040) Profit or Loss from Business. In the early years, possibly longer, this is probably going to be more losses than profits, but that’s okay, as long as its not from lack of trying to earn money and you can demonstrate your intentions.

What writing-related expenses can you deduct? You’d be surprised. If you’re attending workshops, conferences, or conventions, you can deduct some or all of your travel and meal expenses. If you’re a writer, you’d better be a reader, so deduct those books, especially the ones you buy for research. (Warning: This may lead to an increase in the number of books you own, because once you know you can claim that purchase as a deduction…) Meals and drinks with other writers can also be deducted, as well as entertainment expenses! Did you buy a new laptop that is exclusively (or mainly) used for writing? Go ahead and deduct all or part of that purchase.

Look, don’t be shady about it. Only you know if these are legitimate writing-related purchases, and you should hold onto receipts and documentation to justify it, should you ever be unfortunate enough to face an audit. But don’t be nervous about it either; you’re entitled to these credits for the considerable time, work, and money you’re investing in your career. Because once you start selling stories and books, the IRS will most certainly be happy to shave off a significant portion of your earnings in income tax. Filing your self-employment taxes can seem intimidating, but Writer’s Digest has a good overview, and you can find lots of information online or consult with a tax professional.

But here’s my one big tip if you’re deducting your writing expenses regularly, which I wish I had thought of years ago: If you can, dedicate one of your credit cards to only writing-related purchases and activities. My wife suggested it to me last year, and this is the first full year in which I’ve implemented it, and wow, it made tracking my expenses so much easier! Everything is in one place and nearly itemized and organized by categories, such as travel, meals, purchases, etc. in the yearly report.

Having this system cut my tax preparation time by more than half, because I wasn’t digging around multiple credit card statements, receipts, and e-mails to account for everything. I typically also maintain an Excel spreadsheet throughout the year, which I forget to update until tax time, and the credit card statement more or less replaced that because I made a habit of charging everything. No fuss, no muss.

Do you have any tax “hacks” like this that work for you? Other tips or suggestions? Drop them in the comments below. And I wish you many happy returns!

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20. PubCrawl Podcast: Characterization – Villains

This week Kelly and JJ continue with their characterization series with VILLAINS. Apologies for the audio quality this week, folks; this topic is apparently cursed as Kelly and JJ tried to record it TWICE and FAILED. Also, spoilers ahoy for Star Wars, Harry Potter, LOST, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, et al.

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Show Notes

  • The difference between a protagonist and a villain is standing on opposite sides of a moral divide.
  • There are two types of villains: the idealogical villain (e.g. Sauron, Voldemort, Evil) and the personal villain (characters with a personal motive that sets them against the protagonist).
  • Villains often lack empathy, in that they often don’t have empathy for others, don’t care about collateral damage, etc.
  • Antagonists differ from villains in that they are not necessarily on the opposite side of the moral divide, but are in opposition to the protagonist nonetheless. Antagonists are in opposition to the protagonist, but are not necessarily Evil themselves.
  • Stories do not necessarily need villains. Obstacles can be in the form of societal conduct, circumstance, or some external conflict that has nothing to do with a singular villain, or even villains.

Books Discussed/What We’re Reading

What We’re Working On

  • JJ finished what she hopes are the last round of additional edits/copyedits of Wintersong.
  • Kelly is working on ALL THE PODCASTS! In addition to an Avatar: The Last Airbender podcast (with JJ and another friend), she has a parenting podcast called World’s Okayest Moms. Follow them on Twitter!

Off Menu Recommendations

We have revitalized our Instagram and Facebook accounts! Check them out and follow us!

That’s all for this week! Hopefully next week we’ll have better audio quality and come back with another series on characterization with LOVE INTERESTS AND ANCILLARY CHARACTERS.

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21. How and When to Catch the Elusive Publicity Department — Part 2 of 2

Hi all! Stacey here with Lizzy Mason, Director of Publicity at Bloomsbury Children’s Books. This is the second of our two-part series on How and When to Catch The Elusive Publicity Department. Last month, Lizzy provided a typical publicist’s timeline. Today, she gives us her thoughts on everything from swag to freelance publicists. Lizzy, take it away.
  • Swag—Fact #1: people like free stuff. Fact #2: it doesn’t really help to give people free stuff that they won’t use and that people won’t see. So even if your book is about, say, bird watching, are you really going to get sales of your book by handing out expensive swag like binoculars with your book’s title on it? (Hint: no.) The best swag is simple. Bookmarks, pins/buttons, postcards, tote bags, and posters. If you want to make a few more expensive items for giveaways closer to on-sale, that’s cool too, but make sure it’s something people will use. I have a dozen sticky note pads, lanyards, and bracelets (even suntan lotion and a manicure kit) that will never see the light outside my cubicle walls.
  • Blogger Requests—Do not forward blogger requests piecemeal to your publicist. Yes, we’re known for being organized, but we’re also dealing with massive amounts of email. (Currently, I have more than 24,000 emails in my inbox. Not including the ones I’ve filed.) Keep an excel spreadsheet of requests (include name, blog name, address, email, and stats) and send them all at once about 5 months before on-sale. If someone requests an ARC after that, start a new list or refer them to your publicist (check with them first to be sure that’s okay). Also, please don’t put your publicist’s email address on your website. There should be a general email you can use for the publicity department or publisher.
  • Events—I don’t recommend doing events before on-sale unless you have backlist you can promote. In that case, bring your fancy swag for the new book! But if you don’t have a book to sell, it’s really just not worth it. People have short memories, even if they take your bookmark with them to “pre-order when they get home.” Save your time, money, and energy for when you have a book you can sell.

If you want to do events locally, check with your publicist for help arranging them. It’s best if we know what you’re doing. For several reasons, but mostly because if we know about an event, we can be sure the store orders books and gets them on time. Local bookstore events can be a great way to support the book, but don’t expect that the bookstore will bring a crowd for you. They’ll do their part with promotion, but you should be inviting your friends and family.

Are you traveling anywhere within the US around your publication date? Let your publicist know and they may be able to arrange an event. Especially if you’re going somewhere where you know a lot of people who may come out to see you.

Regional trade shows are another great way to meet the booksellers at bookstores in your general region. There are eight indie bookseller fall trade shows: NAIBA, NEIBA, SIBA, MPIBA, Heartland Fall Forum (for MIBA and GLIBA), SCIBA, NCIBA, and PNBA. (Google those acronyms!) Ask your publicist if you could be pitched for a signing, especially if it’s within driving distance. Your publisher may be willing to cover travel costs if it’s further away, but don’t expect that they will.

  • Announcements—Don’t announce anything without telling your publicist and marketing team. Sign a new deal? Going to a festival? Got a blurb? We can help with these announcements and determine the best time to make them. And, even just from a bandwidth perspective, it’s worth combining efforts.
  • Balance—Yes, the squeaky wheel gets grease. It’s true. But it’s all about balance. You want to walk the fine line between being a squeaky wheel and being overly persistent. So don’t email your publicist every time you have an idea. Gather your thoughts and put them into one email, then give him/her at least a few days to get back to you. Sometimes we have to research something or get an answer from another department. Silence does not mean we aren’t thinking about you. Also, anything you can do on your own, especially research, do it!
  • Freelance publicists—There are some amazing freelance publicists, but some are better than others, and some are better at working with your publisher than others. If you want to see what else a freelance can do to supplement your publisher’s plans, by all means, check into it. Some agents work with freelancers regularly and can suggest a few, some of your author friends might have recommendations (or warnings), and your publicist might even have some thoughts. I don’t always think it’s necessary, but it depends on what the publisher is doing. Definitely talk to your publicist, your agent, and your editor before hiring a freelancer.

Also, one last thing to know: I hate saying no. I hate it in my personal life, I hate in my professional life. I have trouble even saying no to my cat. Seriously, that’s why she’s so fat. So please respect the “No.” When I say we can’t cover your travel costs or pitch you for something, there is a reason. And I hated saying “No” just as much as you hated hearing it. Please don’t make me say it twice.

Congratulations on being published and good luck! I hope to see you at an event, conference, trade show, or festival one of these days!

Lizzy picLIZZY MASON is the Director of Publicity at Bloomsbury Children’s Books. She previously worked in publicity at Disney, Macmillan Children’s, and Simon & Schuster, and graduated from Manhattan College (which is in the Bronx) with a degree in Journalism and a minor in English. Lizzy dedicates whatever spare time she can to reading and writing YA fiction. She lives with her husband (and his comic collection) and their cat Moxie (who was named after a cat in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials) in Queens, NY. Follow her @LizzyMason21.


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22. Confessions of a Re-Reader

My name is Kelly and I’m a re-reader. I read the same books over and over again–some books I read once every year–and I love it.

My husband doesn’t understand this. He is always reading something new. Sometimes he sees me re-reading a book and rolls his eyes a bit. He has so many questions and protests.

But there are so many new books and so little time!

True. And I read plenty of new books, too. I love tumbling head-first into a brand new book. But I believe there’s also a deep magic in reading a book again for the second, or third, or tenth time. Sometimes re-reading is medicinal; it can help heal things in my heart. I reach for old, beloved books that are tried-and-true at those times, and turn to new, unread books when I’m ready to be swept away. And finite time on Earth doesn’t factor into my decision. I already know it is impossible for me to read every book in the world before I die, and I don’t want to try. I want to read books that challenge me, that comfort me, that surprise me, that make me laugh, or cry, that touch some inner part of me. Sometimes I want to read those books twice.

But you already know what’s going to happen!

Yes. But knowing exactly what’s going to happen only amplifies the tension for me. Knowing that Jo is going to refuse Laurie doesn’t make it any less painful when it happens. (Damn you, Louisa!) In a strange way, I sometimes find myself so invested in the story that despite knowing better I’ll begin to believe that something could turn out differently this time. The emotional resonance of a story well-told is sustaining.

I don’t have the patience for that!

Then you’re missing out. Here’s the thing: the book is always the same. The words on the page are the same words, and in some books they are as familiar as my own heartbeat. I call these my comfort books. I reach for them again and again and they fill up all my hollow spots. The books are always the same, and the characters make the same choices, and the stories have the same endings, but I am the one who has changed. The best way to describe it is to quote a passage from Catcher in the Rye in which Holden describes going to the Museum of Natural History over and over:

The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and they’re pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving that same blanket. Nobody’s be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you’d be so much older or anything. It wouldn’t be that, exactly. You’d just be different, that’s all. You’d have an overcoat this time. Or the kid that was your partner in line the last time had got scarlet fever and you’d have a new partner. Or you’d have a substitute taking the class, instead of Miss Aigletinger. Or you’d heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom. Or you’d just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them. I mean you’d be different in some way—I can’t explain what I mean. And even if I could, I’m not sure I’d feel like it.

—J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye

Do you like to re-read books too, or do you always pursue new books? If you like to re-read, which books and why?

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23. Fixing Fictional Mothers

Mother’s Day is this Sunday in the United States, and my original plan for this post was to write a list of the Top Ten Moms in Fiction, which is something Pub Crawl alumnus Adam did a few years ago. But when I sat down to compile my list, I realized I couldn’t make it to ten.

I’ll admit that I didn’t start to notice mothers in fiction until I became one myself in 2014. But once I started looking for them I was struck by two things: there were few mothers to be found, and most of the ones I could scrounge up were terrible. 

I understand the reason for non-existent mothers. In children’s fiction we need to remove the parents or guardians of children so that they can go off and have adventures. Parents, by design, want to know where there children are, and that they’re safe, and there is no room for safety or staying put in your average adventure. The simplest way around this logistical hurdle is to ditch the parents. Kill ’em off! Boarding School is also a tried-and-true option if you’re a bit of a softie.

But even when mothers are kept on the page they’re often villainized. Wicked step-mothers have been wicked since the dawn of time. Mothers are often a cruel source of conflict, especially in YA. At best, they’re sometimes portrayed as well-intentioned but still obliviously hurtful.

As a writer, I’m guilty of this. The two novels I’ve worked on (one Adult, one YA) both feature dead mothers. And those mothers were terrible even when they were alive. Now I look at these stories (which includes my current WIP) and I struggle with these mothers. Since becoming a mother myself this trope–one I view as problematic–of the poorly or underrepresented mother has become glaringly obvious to me, and I’m constantly on the lookout for great moms in fiction.

But they’re hard to come by. When trying to put together a top ten list for this post I came up woefully short. I even took to twitter, but people quickly confirmed my suspicions: putting together a list of positive mothers in fiction is a difficult task.

I think it’s time to change the tide. I am now on the hunt for great moms in fiction. They can be complicated and flawed, but they should be present, and ultimately positive. And I’m going to reexamine the way I write mothers in my own work.

Here’s the list I was able to come up with for Best Mothers In Fiction. I look forward to adding to it in years to come!

Marmee from Little Women. Marmee is the iconic fictional mother. She’s supportive of her four daughters, and has a unique bond with each of them. She gives them the space to learn some lessons on their own, and is right there ready to talk when the girls need advice or a bit of tough love.

Molly Weasley from Harry Potter. Molly is the fictional matriarch of our time. Molly is a flawed character; she can be meddlesome and overprotective and her instinct to shelter all children (her own as well as those she has taken under her wing) can be frustrating for both Harry and the reader. But she is a woman raising seven (SEVEN!) children in an extraordinarily dangerous time. While her actions may sometimes be misguided it is always obvious they come from the deepest place of love.

Connie Nicolson from the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson. Connie is a fantastic example of how to write a realistic mother in YA. Most of the time, Connie is grating on her daughter Georgia’s last nerve. She is both dismissive of and  exasperated by Georgia’s melodrama (and often amused by it, too). But she and Georgia also share a few wonderful, touching moments throughout the series. Even when Georgia is annoyed with her mom, the reader is able to read between the diary lines and see that both characters love each other very much.

Ilane of Mindelan from the Protector of the Small series. Kel’s mom doesn’t get as much page time as the other moms in this list, but what little we get of her leaves a big impression. Ilane is completely supportive of her daughter’s career choice, even though it carries with it a great stigma. She talks to Kel frankly and positively about sex! I only wish we could wrest more stories about her from Tamora Pierce.

Who are your favorite fictional mothers? Let us know in the comments; I’ll be adding those books to my To Be Read pile!

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24. PubCrawl Podcast: Introduction to Genre

This week Kelly and JJ begin their series on GENRE. This episode will serve as a general overview of “genre” as the publishing industry defines it.

Subscribe to us on iTunesStitcherSoundcloud, or use this feed to subscribe through your podcast service of choice! If you like us, please, please, please leave a rating or review, as it helps other listeners find the podcast. We cherish each and every one of you who have taken the time to leave us feedback; you’re the stars in our sky!

Show Notes

  • There is a difference between “genre” and “category.” YA and children’s fiction are categories because it contains all genres.
  • The place where your book is shelved is dictated by the publisher, and is determined by something called a BISAC code.
  • Our episode about voice and JJ’s post about the difference between literary and commercial fiction.
  • Juvenile is everything that is not “adult”: picture books, early reader, chapter books, middle grade, and young adult. The biggest divide in the publishing industry is actually between children’s publishing and adult publishing. Very few imprints/houses do BOTH children’s and adult books.

What We’re Reading/Books Discussed

What We’re Working On

  • JJ is focusing on artwork and drawing as she waits for first pass pages and ARCs for Wintersong.
  • Kelly is looking for more editorial work!

Off Menu Recommendations

  • Murder She Wrote
  • Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
  • Kingdom Hearts Unchained
  • Season 2 of Daredevil
  • Season 2 of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

That’s all for this week! Next week we will get more in depth with genre, starting with SCIENCE-FICTION AND FANTASY. 

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25. Show Don’t Tell

If you listen to the PubCrawl podcast with me and Kelly, we often talk about the concept of “showing, not telling.” It’s one of those pieces of advice that’s constantly thrown out, but how is not often discussed. PubCrawl alumna Sooz wrote a great post about Show vs. Tell on the macro and micro levels, and current contributor Kat Zhang also wrote a post about When Show, When to Tell.

The general consensus is that a mix of showing and telling is necessary to get us through a story, and I agree, although I would venture to say that showing reinforces telling. What do I mean by that? Well, I mean that if “telling” is your thesis about a character or a situation, then “showing” is your evidence.

To put it another way, an example Kelly and I have brought up is the what we call The Problem of Ginny Weasley. We are told a lot of things about Ginny, but those qualities that we are told she has aren’t necessarily supported by the actual text itself. In fact, for much of the books, Ginny is sidelined from the action (most notably in Deathly Hallows, when Ginny is never shown battling, and the one instance we’re about to see her face Bellatrix, her mother steps in and does the job for her). We don’t see enough of Ginny for us to connect who we’re told she is to who we believe she is.

The best way to show anything about a character is through action and reaction. The way a character reacts to situations and people is just as important as the choices they make. The more a character does—speaks, moves, acts—the more we see.

Dialogue is often the easiest way to “show” in writing. By pairing what a character says with a character movement, you can convey very quickly what sort of person this character is (especially if the character movement is in contrast or at odds with what the character is saying). A fantastic example of this is actually the scene in Goblet of Fire where Rita Skeeter interviews Harry in a broom cupboard:

“Testing…my name is Rita Skeeter, Daily Prophet reporter.”

Harry looked down quickly at the [Quick-Quotes] quill. The moment Rita Skeeter had spoken, the green quill had started to scribble, skidding across the parchment:

Attractive blonde Rita Skeeter, forty-three, whose savage quill has punctured many inflated reputations—

Rowling is actually a master of the “show, don’t tell” (which is why Ginny Weasley remains such a problem) because she litters her books with carefully chosen details about every character, even the tertiary ones. These are all “telling” details, and yet together, they show us a complete picture of the person about whom she’s writing. It’s the difference between being told that Rita Skeeter is an unscrupulous reporter always on the lookout for a scoop, and understand that this woman with three gold teeth, two-inch scarlet nails, elaborate and curiously rigid curls, and a crocodile purse can unabashedly trash a great wizard to his face with no qualms.

Over and over again, I always come back to specificity being the key to great writing. That’s really what “show, don’t tell” means. Be specific.

That’s all from me! What do y’all think about “Show Don’t Tell?” Sound off in the comments!

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