Tuesday, February 24, 2015

First Page Impressions - Feedback from a panel of Agents and Editors

Last week the three of us were lucky enough to attend a one day workshop led by the editorial genius of Writer’s Digest, Mr. Chuck Sambuchino. The day focused heavily on querying, getting published and creating your platform as a writer. All incredible sessions. In addition, a group of agents and editors were on hand to hear pitches throughout the day.

One of the options available to attendees was to bring copies of our first pages to be read aloud anonymously in front of the group to the panel of agents and editors. Knowing only the genre (and sometimes not even that) and the content of the first page, members of the panel were asked to raise their hands at the point where they would have stopped reading. After three hands raised, Chuck would stop reading and the panelists would give a short reason as to why they personally would have passed on that piece.

We reconvened later in the day, sitting in the overheated meeting room, collectively holding our breaths as one by one, our colleagues first pages were read aloud, and craning our necks to see the exact moment someone raised their hand. Heather, Monica and I all chose not to bring our first pages (*ahem* chickened out) and I both regretted and sighed a breath of relief at this. I KNOW it would have been invaluable feedback, but Oh Lord, I think I might have thrown up a little. It’s one thing to send a query or submission out into the universe. You hit send and then sit back anxiously awaiting a reply. Not knowing whether the person on the receiving end is kicked back with a cup of coffee and a smile when their inbox dings or if your query is lucky number 1000 for the day and they’ve just about had all they can take.

This wasn’t the case. Here you saw facial expressions, head scratching and those dreaded hands raise up, all happening right in front of you in real time. Friends, some of it wasn’t pretty. I’m talking like, after the first sentence or first paragraph or the first “he/she said...” those hands would shoot up.

It was a difficult, but realistic wake-up call. If going the traditional publishing route and hoping to snag an agent or editor, the amount of time you have to hook them is microscopic. Like the attention span of my three year old, but shorter. Now granted, this was going off ONLY the first page. No query, no pitch, no nothing. So some of their questions/concerns probably would have been addressed in that time, but that’s also assuming they made it past your query letter.

While brutal, most of their reasoning was absolutely helpful and has settled into the back of my mind to be a constant reminder as I continue working. Here are some of those reasons this particular group of agents/editors would have stopped reading your work:

  • SHOW DON’T TELL!!! Heard it a million times, right? Easier said than done!
  • Beware of Info/Bio dumps up front. Don’t need to know every character detail right away. 
  • Confusion about whether character introduced in the beginning was male/female. You don’t want your readers to be so distracted trying to figure out who’s who that they miss everything else.
  • Along with that, make your environment clear. Ground your reader in the setting/atmosphere as much as possible and as quickly as possible. 
  • Opened with the dreaded waking from a dream/morning routine/driving scene. (JUST. DON’T. DO. IT.)
  • Make dialogue ring true. Stilted dialogue turned off panelists fast.
  • Adverbs, adverbs, adverbs
  • The language was too mature/young for the actual genre.
  • Opened with action sequence and then paused to basically smell the flowers. Always be aware of pacing and keep action moving forward!

After your rounds of editing and polishing are complete, when you feel like hitting ‘Send’ on that query, take another look at your first page. Hell, take a good, hard look at that first sentence and make it the absolute best of the best it can be. It might mean the difference between turning someone off to your submission immediately and making them want more.

And if you have the chance to take part in an exercise like this at your next workshop or conference, do it! You’ll be thankful in the end. Even if you do feel like throwing up a little.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Book Review: ONLY EVERYTHING by Kieran Scott

I never have less than five books at any given time waiting to be read. Until the unthinkable happened…

Last week I found myself completely bookless!

Luckily Sarah had just gone to her local library and grabbed a gem right off the shelf and from the goodness of her heart lent it to me in my time of great need. 

Only Everything by Kieran Scott. I know I have said this before but for those of you who haven’t visited our blog: I do judge a book by its cover. And this cover did NOT disappoint!

I glanced at the jacket flap and the premise sucked me right in. (Not to mention it was Valentine’s week and this book was a perfect match!)

Here’s what Goodreads says:

Sometimes the gods can be so unreasonable.

Like Zeus, the king, who thinks the proper reaction to finding me kissing a mortal is to threaten my boyfriend Orion's life, banish me to Earth, and force me to inspire true love between three couples without my powers. I know! Elders! I'm Eros, a.k.a. Cupid. The Goddess of Love. Until this morning, anyway.

Now I'm stuck on Earth with no clue how to function as a human, and I can't even conjure up my magical bow and arrows to help me do my job. I've already met this amazing guy—Charlie, a new kid in school like me—but matching him up isn't as easy as I thought. Turns out opposites don't attract, nearly identicals don't attract, and giving a guy what he seems to want is just one big disaster. My sweet new friend Katrina might work, but she's got more complications than Medusa's hair, and a live-in boyfriend with a serious mean streak. Probably not the best idea to go there.

If I don't make a match, I may never see Orion again. I have so much to lose, and only everything to gain.

Only Everything is told in three different perspectives. I must admit I am usually hesitant to read books with more than one or two because it’s sometimes difficult to give each character the time they deserve to develop their story. That is absolutely not the case in this book! 

The three main characters are so unique and fully realized that there was never a time when I had to stop and try to figure out who was narrating. I loved each and every one of them!

True: The daughter of Aphrodite and Ares. Most people know her as Eros, or the name she truly despises: Cupid. Falls in love with Orion, a human – a big mistake. He fell from the stars on Valentine’s Day and only Eros knows because she did it. Although, she doesn’t know exactly how. Eros hides him away on a lonely island in Maine, where she visits him frequently and begins to teach him about human life in the 21st century. And because she has fallen in love with him. When Zeus and Ares find out they threaten to kill him, but Eros strikes a deal with Zeus. She will live on Earth without her powers and help three couples fall in love. If she succeeds Orion gets to live and they can be together, if she fails… well, you can imagine it won't be pretty.

Charlie: the first friend Eros makes on Earth. He is new to school and for most of his life he has been bounce around from school to school because of his dad’s job, knows what being the new kid in school is like. His dad and brothers are football kings and Charlie would rather be hammering away on a set of drums than brawling on a field. 

Katrina: Her dad was killed in a horrible car accident the year before, and because of this her once-perfect academic record is ruined. Instead of being in AP classes, she finds herself lumped in with the main-stream students who are more about making fun of the “smart” kids than doing any learning of their own. Her boyfriend, Ty, is an A-hole that is basically using her to make himself feel better and her mom hasn’t been mother of the year since her dad passed. 

Over the course of the book we learn that Charlie just wants his dad’s approval and Katrina really wants love. 

I loved how Eros (True) was just clueless when it came to dressing/sharing/personal hygiene! She spent her time with Orion - in the beginning of the book - trying to teach him the “ways” of this century when, in reality she didn’t know a dang thing about how to act around humans! When I think of her and her idea of "sharing" I just have to laugh. 

This book was such a fun fresh read that I (of course) gave it back to Sarah who has now read it as well and thoroughly enjoyed every page! Just like me!

I can’t wait to pick up book two (Bonous book three just came out!) in this series and see what shenanigans True gets into next! 

If you haven’t read this book I suggest you put it on your Kindle/Nook/go to your local book store/library, you won’t regret it!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Why We Need Editors

If you are a writer, you know that writing can be great fun—a creative outlet like no other. But if you want that story to be read by someone other than your best friend and your Great Aunt Mildred, you will have an editor go through it and tell you all the things you did wrong. Going over your editor’s notes and comments can be a very humbling experience. After all, long before any publisher laid eyes on that manuscript you had rewritten, and edited, and polished it to the point where you never wanted to see it again! But someone is now telling you what you screwed up.

My alter ego, the romance writer, recently received edits from her editor for the book that will be coming out this spring. Fortunately there were no pacing or story structure issues that needed to be dealt with. Phew. But she found plenty of words and phrases I (switching to new POV here—dropping the pretense and going to first person!!) needed to address/fix/change/rethink. She is an excellent editor, and many of her fixes made perfect sense to me and improved my prose. I happily hit ACCEPT on the track changes for 99% of her suggestions, and made what I hope are logical arguments for the few things I disagreed with.

BUT, and here’s the crux of the matter, I had a word I overused throughout the manuscript. This happened with my first book too. Despite multiple rewrites and hours of editing and reading it aloud I missed the fact that in this book I overuse every possible conjugation of ‘to look.’ In my first book it was the word ‘minute’ as in length of time. How does this happen?? As I moved through the edited document I got more and more embarrassed by my sloppiness with this word. It got so that I was afraid to scroll to the next page for fear of seeing her blue marks on the page! Look. Looks. Looked. Looking. Arrggghh!

After the first book and the ‘minute’ problem I thought I was being very careful in this book to avoid word overuse. I THOUGHT I was attuned to listening for repetitive word usage as I read it aloud. But it just slips in there, and before you know it everyone is looking at something or someone all the time! They rarely thought to peer at someone, or glance, or gaze, or stare. No, most of the time they looked. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. Arrggh.

As I finish up these edits, it’s time to go back to the first draft of my YA novel and start the rewrites and edits and polishing. You can bet I’ll be on the look out for repetitive word use, and you can also bet there will be at least one word I’ll completely miss and it will be way overused.

That’s why we need those wonderful editors!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Book Review: SPLIT SECOND by Kasie West

It’s hard to write a review for a sequel to a book when you aren’t sure your readers have read the first one, so I was considering writing this in code. But that presented some fairly insurmountable problems. So I will try to say things without saying things. Follow along.

Let’s start with the synopsis from Goodreads:
No, wait. Let’s not. WAY too many spoilers from the first book. So I’m going to break with form and give you the synopsis from the first book, Pivot Point. Bear with me, this will work. Also, from Goodreads:

Addison Coleman’s life is one big “What if?” As a Searcher, whenever Addie is faced with a choice, she can look into the future and see both outcomes. It’s the ultimate insurance plan against disaster. Or so she thought. When Addie’s parents ambush her with the news of their divorce, she has to pick who she wants to live with—her father, who is leaving the paranormal compound to live among the “Norms,” or her mother, who is staying in the life Addie has always known. Addie loves her life just as it is, so her answer should be easy. One Search six weeks into the future proves it’s not.

In one potential future, Addie is adjusting to life outside the Compound as the new girl in a Norm high school where she meets Trevor, a cute, sensitive artist who understands her. In the other path, Addie is being pursued by the hottest guy in school—but she never wanted to be a quarterback’s girlfriend. When Addie’s father is asked to consult on a murder in the Compound, she’s unwittingly drawn into a dangerous game that threatens everything she holds dear. With love and loss in both lives, it all comes down to which reality she’s willing to live through . . . and who she can’t live without.

So now you have the important stuff. Addison, Addie, is a Paranormal like all who live in the top-secret Compound. Everyone there has a special ability from seeing the future to affecting moods, to reading minds, to erasing memories. ‘Normals’ who live on the outside (think Muggles) have no idea the Compound exists, (think Hogwarts and the special charms on it that make it look like something entirely different.) In both books Addie’s two worlds collide with some high stakes complications. When the second book begins there are some giant problems from the first book that need to be taken care of, not the least of which is Addie’s broken heart. I don’t think it will hurt to tell you that she’s in love with a Normal, and that alone poses dilemmas of its own. This storyline is at the center of Split Second.

Addison Coleman is an immensely likeable character and readers will cheer for her right from the start. What Kasie West does so well in these two books, though, is make it difficult for the reader to know who else they should be rooting for. Not all characters may be who or what you think they are. I love these twists and turns, and it definitely will keep you turning those pages.

Regular readers of this blog will know this paranormal reader has been on a fairly straight contemporary diet lately and when I needed something with a little paranormal in it Sarah and Heather recommended these books because they really read as contemporaries but with a nice paranormal twist. I highly recommend both—they are fun, exciting reads. Oh, and there are some pretty hot, loveable/hateable guys in them too!!! How did I almost forget to tell you that?!

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

That's What She Said...

In the life of this writer, I’m going to let you in on a little secret…I really love to write dialogue. Like, so much that I sometimes wish I could only write the dialogue portions of our books and leave all the rest to Heather.

*Heather throws a pen at my head from across the room*

Alright, it’s not the only thing I like to write, but it’s close. That’s not to say that I am an expert at creating complex, realistic dialogue, but I see it as one of the most challenging and exciting aspects of writing a strong piece of fiction. Especially in YA Lit.

And here are a few reasons why:

1.      Getting to know your characters – You may have a list of traits for your characters. You may know their backgrounds and motivations inside and out. But when you start giving them a real voice – one that successfully translates from your brain to paper – you actually start to know them. Are they whiny, sarcastic, passionate, funny, intelligent? Are they complex enough to offer more than the trite, cliché response? Is the chemistry between love interests there? On a deeper level than just physical attraction.

2.      It’s freeing – I don’t have to overthink it in the beginning. I can just let the conversations come out and worry about cleaning it up after. Especially at the beginning of a new WIP when I just want to know my characters, I let the conversations flow and see where they take me. I don’t spend a lot of time beforehand blocking it out. When I’m ready for second draft edits is when I can go back and ask, “Is this something my character would actually say? Does it have the emotional punch I’m looking for?”

3.      You know that thing that you wish you said in the moment - That’s me on most days. I will come home and tell a story to my husband, embellishing with strong zingers and he’ll stop me to ask, “Did you actually say that or you just wish you did?” And my response is always, “duh…I didn’t say that!” Well, now is your chance!! Let your characters be bold, confident, and well spoken! That comeback you wish you’d thought of in the moment? Now you get to put it to use. *High fives all around*
So much of your story is told using dialogue… character development, relationships, foreshadowing, conflict. Are your characters saying enough? Are they saying too much? Does it sound realistic? Spend extra time on revisions looking at what is being said and how.

And have fun with it, push the limits of predictability. Especially in the beginning of a new story, let your characters do the talking and watch them come to life.

Happy conversating!