Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Teen Boy Readers: What They Like and What They Wish Writers Knew

Big thanks to everyone for your support with my latest release, The Summer of Crossing Lines! Also, my redesigned web site is live and looking fresh. If you want to check it out, click here.

I have twin 14-year-old sons who will be high school freshmen this year. *sigh* I honestly can't believe my little premie boys will be in 9th grade.

As a writer of YA novels, it's helpful to have teen sons in the house. As kids head back to school, I thought it would be fun to ask both of my boys and two of their friends some questions about what teen readers like and what they wish writers knew. It's good for writers to hear from their target readers, yes? So here's Nathan, Loker, Blake, and Garrett.

1) What are your favorite types of stories? Science Fiction? Fantasy? Dystopian? Real life/contemporary?

Nathan: "I don't care too much about the type of book as long as it is fun to read. But if I had to pick something that would immediately catch my attention, it would be Dystopian."

Loker: "As long as it catches my attention, I'll be glad to read just about anything. But I like Dystopian because it's a twisted version of our world. I like fantasy because it's a completely new world."

Blake: "Fantasy, because they let me get lost in a book and a new world."

Garrett: "Dystopian, because those plots are interesting and keep me in suspense. They show a messed up world that can possibly happen. I like fantasy because I like the thought of an imaginary world."

2) Do you like to read "older" books--books with main characters who are older than you?

Nathan: Yes is the simple answer, but they can also be my age. Once again, if it's well written, I'll read almost any book."

Loker: "If I can find a book with characters who are my age, I'm glad because I can picture myself as the character. If I had to choose between characters who are younger or older than me, I'd choose older."

Blake: "Sometimes. But the age of the character doesn't matter to me, as long as the story is good."

Garrett: "Yes, because those characters are more mature and they can think through problems."

3) What do you wish writers knew about teen readers?

Nathan: (Spoiler alert!) "Sometimes a happy ending isn't always exciting. It makes it predictable. I have read a series where the author throws many unpredictable twists. I like this as long as there was not so many that it made the story hard to follow. This author's name was Darren Shan, and I liked is work a lot because not only did he create an intriguing story, but throughout the series he created a future that had been laid on the main character that in the last book he changes in an unbelievable way that killed him. The ending of that book has made me a fan of all of his books."

Loker: "Sometimes when I'm reading a book and a hear about a new, imaginary religion, I'm curious to know more about that religion and their customs."

Blake: "I wish writers would write more action in the beginning. Some stories begin too slowly. Most stories have big battles at the end, but I wish there was more of that throughout the story."

Garrett: "I wish there were more books with extreme suspense that builds, like in The Maze Runner. I like it when there's action to keep me interested."

So there you have it! A small sampling of teen boys--what they like and what they wish writers knew about them. Did any of their answers surprise you? Were they on target with what you assumed? Any other questions you'd like me to ask them?

photo credit

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Release Day! The Summer of Crossing Lines

Guys, I'm soooo excited to share my next release with you! The Summer of Crossing Lines is available at all the regular places. Are you looking for a summer read before summertime ends?

When her protective older brother disappears, sixteen-year-old Melody loses control of her orderly life. Her stuttering flares up, her parents are shrouded in a grief-induced fog, and she clings to the last shreds of her confidence. 

The only lead to her brother’s disappearance is a 30-second call from his cell phone to Rex, the leader of a crime ring. Frustrated by a slow investigation with too many obstacles, and desperate to mend her broken family, Melody crosses the line from wallflower to amateur spy. She infiltrates Rex’s group and is partnered with Drew, a handsome pickpocket whose kindness doesn’t fit her perception of a criminal. He doesn’t need to steal her heart—she hands it to him.

With each law Melody breaks, details of her brother’s secret life emerge until she’s on the cusp of finding him. But at what point does truth justify the crime? 

Buy links:

Thanks so, so much for your support and encouragement!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What makes a great first page? Plus other helpful advice from author Marcy Hatch

Only six days until the release of The Summer of Crossing Lines! You can help celebrate by downloading my previous ebook release, The Boy Who Loved Fire, for only $.99 from any retailer. The Kindle version is here.

Today we have the kind and talented Marcy Hatch, author of West of Paradise, here to share a little about her own publishing journey.

First, a look at West of Paradise:

When Jack McCabe gets the opportunity to go back in time, he jumps; it's the adventure he's always dreamed of--until he meets a beautiful but deadly train robber. Katherine Kennedy can't believe an ignorant bounty hunter has mistaken her for a criminal--until she sees the picture, which looks exactly like her. Neither of them imagines how the past has a way of catching up with the present. Set in the old west, this is a tale of mistaken identity, romance, and murder.

Fun, right? And now some Q and A with author Marcy Hatch.

1) You’ve teamed up with Dianne Salerni to offer critiques of first pages for other writers. We all feel the pressure of getting that first page just right. Can you tell us what you’ve learned from these first impressions? What makes a great first page?

For me, a great first page has to have at least one character I can immediately connect with. Give me a reason to care about what happens and I’ll gladly turn the page.

2) Your debut novel, West of Paradise, was published with WiDo Publishing. Can you tell us a bit about how you connected with them, and what it was like working with a small publisher?

WiDo was one of the first small publishers I queried and the first to get back to me. I liked how excited the acquisition editor was about my story. She was also very up front about the changes I would need to make, which I appreciated. I also loved my editor, Amie McCracken (www.amiemccracken) and even though she made me cut my share of darlings; I know she made West of Paradise a hundred times better for it.

3) West of Paradise is a time-traveler western/romance. What inspired you to write such a story?

The book that comes to mind is A knight in Shining Armor by Jude Derveraux. I loved that book so bad I wanted to write something like it. I also wanted to have a famous event tie in to my story and Tombstone fit the bill. It was fun to research.

4) Any advice you can offer other writers about writing, submissions, publishing, and perseverance?

My number one piece of advice is to write as much as possible, even if it isn’t a story. Write about your day or a time you were stuck or in love or your first kiss. Every bit of writing is practice and all our experiences are grist for the mill.

Second piece of advice is to read as much as possible because only by reading do we discover what is good and who we want to emulate. 

As for submissions and publishing…ugh. Some people get lucky and it happens easily for them, but there are so many more of us who only succeed through sheer persistence. It can be a long road and I’ve only just begun what I hope to be a long career. 

Marcy, thanks so much for sharing advice about first pages, writing, and publishing.

Friends, how do you define a great first page? Have you read West of Paradise? What do you think about Marcy's advice for writing and publishing?

From Marcy: My grandfather was a storyteller, and I like to think I got the gene. I started telling stories as a kid when I shared a room with my little sister. At night I’d offer her three titles from which to choose, and then make up a story on the spot, using the chosen title as a guide. Later this progressed to written stories, then typed, and finally – an actual manuscript. Along the way I had the help of some great teachers (Mr. Wallace, Mr. Bouchard, and Mr. Elliott) and some fabulous writers, most of whom I met through blogging. I live in the lovely Midcoast area of Maine with my goofy lab, Jonah, and four cats. I currently blog at about a variety of subjects, including writing, zombies, Skyrim, books, birds, and history. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What to Remember While Building a Writing Career #IWSG

Welcome, Insecure Writers! If you haven't joined the Insecure Writer's Support Group yet, please, please do so here. You'll be glad you did. I can't imagine a more amazing group of people. Big thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for being an awesome leader and bringing us all together.

Today I want to highlight a blog post written by someone else. It was listed on Elizabeth Craig's weekly Twitteriffic post (if you don't yet follow Elizabeth's blog or Twitter feed, you MUST! She shares such valuable information).

Here's the link to the amazing post: 39 things to remember while struggling to build your writing career, by Kimberley Grabas on the Your Writer Platform blog.

Kimberley's post was such a breath of fresh air for this insecure writer. I don't know about you, but I'm struggling to keep up with all the information flying at me so fast. It's difficult to sort it out and decipher what will or won't work for me. I worry that I'm not pushing hard enough to reach more people, because the "marketing chip" that is naturally embedded in others is noticeably absent from me. I'm afraid of missing that "thing" that will guide me and help make sense of this rapidly changing publishing world.

This amazing list of 39 things helped me so much. I hope it'll help you, too. I was reminded to stay focused and determined. I was reminded to keep writing. I was reminded to be fearless, even in the midst of feeling so. much. fear.

Read the entire list.
You'll breathe a sigh of relief.
You'll be inspired.
I promise.

Did you read the list? What helped you the most? Do you have any advice to add to the list?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What to do Before You're Published

Friends, today I'm delighted to have C. Lee McKenzie here to give us advice about what we can do before we're published. Lee's latest book, Double Negative, is available now!

What To Do Before You’re Published
by C. Lee McKenzie

When I started writing fiction, I didn’t know much of anything about the business. Let’s be honest. I didn’t know anything. So what I’ve set out here is all that I’ve learned since 2009 when my first book came out. I know it’s not complete, and if I write the same kind of article in the future, it will be different. One thing I’ve learned is publishing doesn’t stay the same. 

If I could start again, these are the things I’d do before I published a book.
  1. Have a professional website and/or blog designed. 
  • Be sure the navigation is easy and the pages easy to read.
  • Buy a domain name. Mine’s cleemckenziebooks. I wish it were simply cleemckenzie. The simpler the better. 
  • Don’t use music. People often browse in public places and music isn’t always appreciated.
  • Be sure people can pull up your site on all their mobile devices.
2. Become visible on Social Networking Media
  • Goodreads. Even if you don’t have a book, you’re probably a reader, so join in. In fact, this is where I interact more as a reader than a writer. 
  • Shelfari. You can add in a list of your characters and a brief description. You can write a short blurb, and a longer summary. You can list your chapter titles. And because Shelfari is owned by Amazon, any changes you make here show up on your Amazon book page.
  • Facebook. This can be a place to meet more writers who are struggling with the same issues you are. Join some groups. Contribute.
  • Twitter. This is a great tool to point the way to your other pages. Join Chats about writing and books. Tweet and don’t forget to ReTweet. I like Tweetdeck (sometimes :-) because I can schedule Tweets days in advance. Planning ahead will be very important after you’re published.
  • LinkedIn. This is a community that offers helpful Forums. You can ask a lot of questions and get some excellent answers. 
  • Amazon. Poke around Amazon and see how it works. 
*Be aware of Authors Central and what you can do there once you’re published.
*Understand the pros and cons of KDP Select, in which you give Amazon a 90-day exclusive to sell your book. It has advocates and those who dislike it. Here’s a great discussion by Jane Friedman.
*Find out how to use Tags to your benefit. They’re important and can be tricky. One way to find out about them is to check out the “Also-Boughts" section. Find books like yours and see how authors have tagged them.
*Find out how to get Likes. They add to your chances of being noticed. I don’t do a lot of this, but if someone invites me to like them I do, if their site is appropriate. And I invite them to like me back. It doesn’t take that much time. Sometimes people invite me to a “Like Party.” If I’m in the mood, I’ll jump in, but it isn’t my favorite promotional tool.
*Find out about Lists and how they work to your benefit.

3. Get to know who reviews what and start a list with their links for easy reference. You can find reviewers who have read and reviewed books similar to yours on Amazon.

4. Find sites that promote books. Be ready to offer promotions such as giveaways on their sites. Here are a couple I like and they’re free for a basic listing: Book Daily and Ask David.

5. Investigate email marketing. Begin to collect emails of people who know you, know your work, are readers as well as writers. 

6. Think budget. How much do you plan to spend on promo and where? Book trailer? Facebook ads? Goodread ads/giveaways? Amazon free days?  (if you go with KDP Select) 

7. Find bloggers with a following. Follow them, support them when their books come out. Make your site interesting and not all about you and your forthcoming book. Above all, be honest. Show people who you are and what you’re about. Also never snark, unless it’s in jest. Even then be careful. 

8. Last suggestions: Remove any inactive blog from your profile. Remove Word Verification and set your blog to Must Approve. That will flash, “Your comment will become available after approval.” That’s so much better than WV.

That’s about it from me, but there’s so much I still haven’t pulled together. Some things I just will never have time to do. Some things I don’t want to do. My goal is to keep everything current. When I say I’ll do something on my blog or in any forum, I do it, or I explain why I can’t. Life does have other things going on besides books, and other writers understand.

Also don’t be discouraged when you publish and your book doesn’t hit the bestseller list. Do your promo, and if you’ve created a book people want to read, it will sell. Sometimes it skyrockets, then plunges in sales. Sometimes it sells at a steady but slow pace. While any of this is happening, keep your promo on track and write that next book.

Easy? Nope.

Fellow writers, what do you think about Lee's list? Have you done all of these things? Most of them? Does the list intimidate you? Anything else you'd like to add to the pre-published to-do list? Please share!

About Double Negative: Sixteen-year-old Hutch McQueen is a smart kid who can barely read. He makes one bad choice after another, trying to find a way to escape his rotten life at home and at school. Each time he gets into more trouble.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cover Reveal! The Summer of Crossing Lines

Friends, today I'm so happy to reveal the cover for my next contemporary YA novel, The Summer of Crossing Lines.

Here's the blurb:

When her protective older brother disappears, sixteen-year-old Melody loses control of her orderly life. Her stuttering flares up, her parents are shrouded in a grief-induced fog, and she clings to the last shreds of her confidence.

The only lead to her brother's disappearance is a 30-second call from his cell phone to Rex, the leader of a crime ring. Frustrated by a slow investigation with too many obstacles, and desperate to mend her broken family, Melody crosses the line from wallflower to amateur spy. She infiltrates Rex's group and is partnered with Drew, a handsome pickpocket whose kindness doesn't fit her perception of a criminal. He doesn't need to steal her heart--she hands it to him. 

With each law Melody breaks, details of her brother's secret life emerge until she's on the cusp of finding him. But at what point does truth justify the crime?

The Summer of Crossing Lines is coming soon! You can add it to your Goodreads list here. If you're willing to help me spread the word when the time comes, just holler! Guest posts, interviews, tap dancing while juggling name it. I'll appreciate any help I can get :D

Are you looking for a new summer read? Have you enjoyed your summer reading so far? Wanna share some good news? I'd love to hear it!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Advice for Writers from Author Sarah Skilton

Friends, we have a special treat today. My good buddy and amazing author, Sarah Skilton, is here to answer a few questions. Sarah is the author of HIGH AND DRY and BRUISED. If you'd like to read about my writing lessons learned from Sarah's books, click here for HIGH AND DRY and here for BRUISED.

And now, a Q and A session with Sarah Skilton:

1) What sparked the idea for HIGH AND DRY?

The idea for High and Dry came about because I love mysteries, and I love 1940s hardboiled movies such as Double Indemnity and In a Lonely Place. I also liked the show Veronica Mars (a mystery series set in high school that was recently revived by Kickstarter), and I wanted to try my hand at writing a boy narrator point of view. High and Dry is quite different from Bruised, my first novel, in that it takes place during a single week rather than over several months' time. It was great challenging myself to write a completely different style of book and I really enjoyed the process!

2) You used to be a script reader. How did that experience help you when it came to writing your own fiction?

I used to be a professional script reader for the company that puts out the casting Breakdowns. Basically that entailed reading scripts for TV shows and films that were casting, and writing up character descriptions so the talent agents and managers would know which of their actors to send out on auditions for which projects. I read hundreds of screenplays a year and it was fantastic for learning about pacing, dialogue, characterization, and tone. Another rule in screenwriting (besides "show, don't tell") is "enter the scene late and get out early," and I try to take that to heart when I'm writing my novels. 

3) Tell us a bit about your writing process. Plotter? Pantser? Somewhere in between?

As a complete cliche, I carry around a small notebook in my purse that I use to jot down ideas whenever I get them. I definitely like to have a sense for where the story's going before I begin. I know the ending very early on even if it changes in some specifics once I get there. I keep one document for notes/vague outline, and another document for the actual manuscript, and the two don't always end up matching. However, to sit down each morning and write, I have to know the direction of at least one chapter in advance or I'll panic. I call it the cushion.

4) What's the best writing advice you've ever received? Why did it resonate with you?

The best writing advice I ever received was to write the story you most wish to read. If you're writing something to please somebody else, or because you think it will be popular, but it's not something you're passionate about or excited to do, I think it will show in the writing.

5) Any additional advice you can offer writers who are seeking an agent or pursuing publication?

I would say don't beat yourself up if you have days where the writing doesn't come easily or you fear that everything you've written is junk. Give yourself a day or two off. Your brain will continue working on the story, and it'll come up with answers you didn't know you had.

As for seeking an agent or pursuing publication, follow all the directions posted on an agent's website to the letter. That'll already put you ahead of 85% of the other people who are sending queries! No joke :) Also, check out @SaraMegibow "10 queries in 10 tweets" series on Thursdays for more hints and help.

Sarah, thanks so much for the valuable information! And I love the advice about writing the book you most wish to read. Kristin Hannah, author of one of my favorite books--Firefly Lane--said something similar. She was frustrated by the lack of "friendship novels" for women. Her mom said, "Then write one."

Are you a fan of hardboiled movies? Are you a plotter or pantser? When submitting to an agent or publisher, do you study and follow their guidelines? Any tips you'd like to add?