An unselfish wish made on the horn of a unicorn will come true. Our wish? To support the writing community by giving constructive tips and criticism through submissions. Check out the submissions tab for more information. We can survive the crucible of fire together.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How I Got My Agent: Julie C. Dao

As writers, we may feel discouraged at times, especially if we are trying to get an agent and are stuck in the query trenches. But the key is to never give up! Today, we have another awesome "How I Got My Agent" story from the wonderful Julie Dao. Take it away, Julie!
****
There are lots of different paths to getting an agent.
Some are straight and narrow. Perfectly paved, maybe even made of yellow brick. There might be singing and dancing and lollipops right up to the main gates.
Other paths have bumps. Potholes. R.O.U.S.’s. Roundabouts and rotaries (whichever word you prefer) that only take you right back to where you started.
My path was definitely of the pothole/R.O.U.S./roundabout variety.
But you know what? I got there eventually. That’s the key word. Whether your fate is on Easy Street or in the Fire Swamp, the destination is the same and you will get there. It just might take a little bit longer.
The book I finally signed with in February of this year was my fifth one written, second one queried. It’s called ELEGY, and it’s a young adult Gothic suspense flavored with ghosts, music, and French chateaus. It was – and is – the book of my heart.
When I took it out into the world in 2013, there was a lot of fanfare.
My CPs swore up and down that this would be THE BOOK. I got accepted into every contest I entered: Pitch Wars, Cupid’s Literary Connection, and The Writer’s Voice. Suddenly, agents who were way out of my league sat up and took notice. For every three queries I sent, I would get 1-2 full requests. I had an 80% request rate at one point – crazy odds for a girl who’d queried one other book prior and gotten nothing but crickets.
But then I started racking up the rejections. I spent another year fixing and polishing and querying every so often. I asked my CPs to read a zillion versions of the story, and I fixed and polished it some more.
FINALLY, something happened. An agent emailed, asking: “Can we talk on the phone?” But all of my happy dancing was for naught, because it was just a revise-and-resubmit (R&R) call. Still, this was a door open! And when I got a call from a second agent, asking for similar fixes, I knew I HAD to try.
Six months later (yes, SIX), I finished the revision. I asked everyone who had my full whether they wanted the new draft, and they all said yes. I turned it in to the two R&R agents, and the first one responded within minutes, telling me how excited she was. But a week later, she emailed again to say she wanted more extensive revisions before she could even consider offering representation. Right after that email came in, I got five rejections from other people I’d been crossing my fingers for.
It was a crushing blow. I think the worst part was knowing how close I had come: close enough to expect an offer, close enough for busy agents to call and help me fix my book. Close, but STILL not there.

They say you need a thick skin in this business, but even a thick skin can wear down over time. So in January, after a dozen more rejections (and silence from the second R&R agent, who, as it turns out, had left the business), I threw in the towel, even though I still had fulls out.

I was unhappy and discouraged, and I felt more so every time I heard about someone else getting signed within hours/days/weeks. I had been trying for YEARS. I felt like a fraud, and I felt like I wasn’t talented or deserving enough. At last, everyone who had ever mocked my dream – including my own father – had been proven right.

It was a dark time, but I told myself I wasn’t *really* giving up. I was just taking time off to remember how much I loved this. So I joined Wattpad and happily started writing an awesome new story, hoping to build a readership to encourage myself.

That was when The Call came, on a bleak February afternoon when eight feet of snow coated the sidewalks. I returned from a meeting to find a voicemail from an AWESOME agent, one of those “way-out-of-my-league” agents. I had never even dared to query her, and she only had ELEGY because she’d requested it through #PitMad the year before.

I tried to protect myself and temper my expectations by saying, “It’s gonna be another R&R,” but that stupid, stubborn heart of mine insisted on hoping.

The agent put me at ease right away. We laughed and joked and it felt more like a conversation, not a Phone Call. She talked about her vision for the book and made excellent suggestions on what she thought could change. And then she asked me how I felt about her ideas. When I told her they lined up well with my own, she said the magic words.

"Sooooo... am I taking you on as a client?"

I screamed. (Inside. I didn't want to scare her!)

She suggested I take time to think. So I spent a week and a half nudging everyone else, and within days I got a second offer of representation from Writers House.

There was a lot of crying during this time – a lot of joy and heartache and relief. I was at my lowest point in January, convinced that I’d never even get close to seeing my book on a shelf. And in a few weeks’ time, I had somehow bagged two unbelievable offers.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t give up even if it seems hopeless right now. If things get to be too much, take a step back. Stop reading other people’s agent fairy tales, because we all have different timelines and there’s simply no rhyme or reason to it.

Just because it takes longer for us for some strange, cosmic reason, does NOT mean we are any less talented or deserving. It just means that when things DO happen for us, victory will taste all the sweeter for how hard we worked and how long we waited. Remember you are doing this for love – love for the words you put on the page, love for the worlds inside your head and the people you create whose hearts beat in pen-and-ink. Keep going and don’t stop. If I can do it, you can do it.

Oh, and I ended up signing with the awesome agent who offered first, Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency!



Julie C. Dao is a native New Englander who once studied to become a doctor – until she realized the only surgery she should be doing is revising her manuscripts. Though she is anything but a musical prodigy, she likes to write about them and relive her days as an orchestra geek. When she’s not working on her books, she enjoys reading, going for long runs, and beating everyone at Pictionary. She is represented by Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency. Visit her blog at juliedao.com.

Monday, September 28, 2015

How I Got My Agent : Summer Spence

The "How I Got My Agent" posts were pretty popular last time, so I've decided to bring them back because, let's face it, who doesn't love to read these stories? As I'm working on an R&R for an agent, I especially find them inspiring, and I hope you will too.

The amazing Summer Spence is here today to share with us her story of how she hooked her agent. Take it away, Summer!

****
My "How I Got My Agent" story is a long, blood-and-tears tale of epic highs and lows, driven by two things: persistence and chocolate. Without those two essential ingredients, I would still be wishing for an agent, instead of sending the wonderful Heather Flaherty at The Bent Agency too many annoying emails.

When I started my book, OF NIGHT AND STONE, I had no idea it would even BE a book. I wrote on the train everyday on my way to work, to pass the time. I've always loved storytelling – I have a degree in Theatre – and the train ride was LONG. So I wrote. Usually whatever came to mind. Sometimes about the fantastically funny people on the train with me. But then, one gloomy fall day, I was in a creepy mood, and the beginning of a spooky story popped out. I didn't know what was going to happen next… but I had to find out. I chased that story every day on the train, writing until my fingers cramped and I groaned when I got to my stop.

In the end, I had a very messy manuscript. And I LOVED it. I wanted to share it, this little world that had burst from my fingertips. But I knew it needed work. So I started editing. That took a LOOOOOOONG time. Too long.

But listen – EDITING IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART – and the part that I screwed up. I got anxious. My concept was fresh. My setting was creeptastic. My characters were real people to me. I wanted this thing out there! So I started to query… before I even knew about beta readers or critique partners or character arcs or any of the thousands of craft things I had to learn still.

I got requests. A lot of them. I joined Twitter. I found a wonderful community of writers who all seemed light years ahead of me. They gushed about the revisions they were able to do with the help of their CPs. And it hit me – I had sent my baby into the world too soon. Sure, my mom loved my book. So did my best friend. But they didn't know anything about the craft of storytelling. Ooops.

The rejections came in. (This is where the chocolate was needed.) I developed a nervous tick whenever my email notification dinged. I dug through my book, trying to fix all of the things I suddenly knew were not great. And I got overwhelmed.

Luckily, I found out about Brenda Drake's Pitch Wars contest. (See http://www.brenda-drake.com/pitch-wars/ for details on the contest). I submitted, and I was lucky enough to get in. I gained a fabulous mentor and friend, Evelyn Skye, and her objective eye helped me whip my book into shape.

Sounds easy, right? Like this would be the fairy tale ending. All that hard work had to pay off soon! The Pitch Wars agent round came and I got great requests. I also started querying again in earnest.

And I got rejections. Wonderful, kind rejections. With no clues as to what I could fix. I thought if I heard "this is great, you are so talented, it's just not for me" one more time, I might pull every key off my computer and throw it into the ocean.

I'm not going to lie; at this point, I wanted to give up. But by this time, I had made some wonderful writer friends who wouldn't let me. (PSA – Get some of those!) They told me what every querying writer HATES to hear – "you just haven't found the right agent, yet!"

And they were right. Because then I queried Heather. And everything started going in fast-forward. She was enthusiastic, responsive, and something about this time just felt different.

When I got her email that she wanted to talk about my book (was it THE CALL? Was it NOT? OMGGGGGG), I thought I would explode. Little bits of Summer all over the ceiling. I managed to keep myself together though, and I'm so glad! Because she offered rep and said so many smart things about my book and what she thought we could make it into together, that I was smitten.

The moral of the story is one I'm sure you're sick of hearing. DON'T GIVE UP. Keep pushing. Meet other writers. Learn from them. Improve your craft. Be honest with yourself. If you've written a dystopian vampire romance, you may need to hold onto that one until the market isn’t so saturated. Use everything you write for your own profit and learning. I have rewritten SO MUCH of my book SO MANY TIMES. It has evolved. As have I. And I am so grateful.

And guess what? Now that I have an agent… I'm STILL revising. I'm going to make this book the absolute best thing I can and then send it out into the world again. And I really, really hope some of you will be able to read it someday!

Until then, I live on words and chocolate! <3



Summer Spence is a YA author living in scenic Utah (and always pining for California, her true home). She began her storytelling career on stage as an actor, where she fell in love with words and the beautiful challenge of creating human beings out of them. When she's not dreaming up imaginary worlds, she loves to be out exploring this one. While she has yet to convince her husband and kids that camping is just reading outdoors, or that the beach is only fun with a book, they all agree that chocolate is an absolute must for every adventure!

Summer is represented by Heather Flaherty at The Bent Agency.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

First Page Contest

Let's try this again but this time I'm giving you all plenty of time to enter. Here's how it will work. You send me your first page (marcy@tidewater.net) and I'll pit two to three (depending on how many entries I get) first pages against each other starting Monday November 16th (I'm pretty sure that's my next week here). Commenters will vote on which first page they would want to read more of and the winner moves on to the next round.

Prizes:


 


I wrote a book...









 I will remind everyone again of the contest the Sunday before and probably post something about it on my own blog (mainewords) as well. I would like to get at least ten submissions but no more than fifteen. I've got three as it stands so get your entries in!

See you all next time and have a fabulous weekend!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Would you buy this best-seller?

As previously mentioned, one of my favorite writing sites, Writer Unboxed has this fun feature that asks whether you the reader would shell out money to read more than the first page of some bestseller and if not, why not? I thought it might be fun to do something similar here this week since plan A & B fell through.

So, here's the beginning of a novel that popped up on amazon as "new for you." It isn't a best-seller, but I thought I'd mix things up:


"Prologue

The meeting of the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers was well under way, and the entrance hall was almost empty. Only the occasional tardy magician passed through, scarcely sparing a glance for the child waiting there.

   Boy children of his type were not an uncommon sight in the Society's rooms. The child was unusual less for his complexion than for his apparent idleness. Unlike the Society's splendidly liveried pages, he was
soberly dressed, and he was young for a page boy, having just attained his six summer.

   In fact, Zacharias held no particular employment, and he had never seen the Society before that morning, when he had been conducted there by the Sorcerer Royal himself. Sir Stephen had adjured him to wait, then vanished into the mysterious depths of the Great Hall."

***

I'd be surprised if you recognized this author, but perhaps you've heard of this debut book?



The red cover drew me in, and it occurred to me that it would be nice to feature an author who wasn't a best-seller. What did you think of the opening? Intrigued? Enough to buy?

I admit this is one extra tempting. It's fantasy/alternate history, which is right up my alley, and unless I miss my guess, we have our orphan in Zacharias, a bunch of wizards who are meeting (about what?), which means there's going to be some sort of adventure involving magic.


Out of the three books featured here this week did any appeal?

I'm torn between this one and The Good Neighbor...








Thursday, September 24, 2015

Would you buy this best-seller?

As I mentioned yesterday, one of my favorite writing sites, Writer Unboxed has this feature which asks whether you the reader would shell out money to read more than the first page of some bestseller and if not, why not? I thought it might be fun to do something similar here this week since plan A & B fell through.

So, here's the beginning of a best-selling novel:



Prologue

I'm drowning. The river's current is tearing me apart. I've kicked off my boots, but my heavy jeans cling to my legs. My chest burns with the need for air. Where is she? I've lost sight of her - no, there she is, too close to the falls. Her head bobs to the surface, her pale face upturned. Her lips are blue.

   I strike out after her, but the current yanks me under; I swallow mouthfuls of water. I fight my way upward, break the surface, spitting out mud and silt. The rumble of the waterfall rises to an earsplitting roar.

   "I'm coming," I shout. "Grab on to something!" Is she conscious? Is she even alive? I scream for help, my shrill cries lost in the storm. Right arm, left, reach, pull. My fingers are numb. I can't feel my feet. The sky flashes with lightning, then the crack of thunder, and a familiar voice calls from high on the cliff, a dark figure moving along the embankment.

   "Bon voyage," the voice yells in triumph. "Good riddance to both of you."

***

Do you recognize the author? Have you heard of this book?




Knowing the title makes the beginning a lot more intriguing, makes me wonder if the good neighbor has anything to do with the two people in the water...I admit, I'm tempted to buy this. I like a good psychological thriller. What about you? Was this beginning enough to make you consider buying? If not, why? 


ps I now have two entries to the contest mentioned on Monday, if I get eight more first pages I can hold the contest next time I'm up so send them to me (marcy@tidewater.net) if you've got them!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

How compelling is this beginning?

I was going to call this 'Flog a Pro' but that felt too much like stealing from one of my favorite writing sites: Writer Unboxed. Every so often they do this post called Flog a Pro which asks whether you the reader would shell out money to read more than the first page of some bestseller. Is that beginning compelling enough?

So, here is the beginning to one of kindles best-selling books:

"Moving a guy as big as Keever wasn't easy. It was like trying to wrestle a king-size mattress off a waterbed. So they buried him close to the house. Which made sense anyway. The harvest was still a month away, and a disturbance in a field would show up from the air. And they would use the air, for a guy like Keever. They would use search planes, and helicopters, and maybe even drones."

Do you recognize the author? Is this beginning compelling enough to warrant shelling out cash to read more?

I'm not sure if I'm compelled, but I'm definitely interested in finding out who killed Keever, why they killed Keever, and who's going to come looking for Keever?

What did you think? Did you recognize Lee Child and the beginning of Make Me, which came out this month?


 ps I only received one submission for the contest I mentioned yesterday which isn't enough to hold the contest, hence the postponement. I need at least six submissions, but preferably ten which means ten brave people need to throw their first page into the ring. I would love to do this contest next time my turn comes around as moderator so if you're interested let me know. I'm happy to contact you and remind you to submit for next time. Have an awesome hump day!

Monday, September 21, 2015

First Page Contest

Since no one sent me a first chapter to critique, perhaps we can do a first page contest here this week? I'll even offer a prize at the end of any one of our moderators' books:

 


I wrote a book...









 How to Play: Send me your first page (marcy@tidewater.net) and I will post it and one another which our readers will vote on. Winner moves on to the next round and the final winner will get their choice of any one of the above. A page is approximately 250 - 350 words.

So, who wants to play?

Friday, September 18, 2015

Continuity and Consistency

Continuity and Consistency


Say you have a group of eight characters.  Not all of them are major, but that isn’t important at the moment.  At the end of chapter three they have to escape a city and the only way to safely escape is to break into two groups and later meet up at a predetermined location.  Group one consists of characters A, B, and C, and they have to escape the city by a land route.  They’ll continue to travel by land to the predetermined location.  Group two consists of characters D, E, F, G, and H.  They have to escape through a waterway that flows through the city.  They’ll follow the river to a village where a few of this group’s members have allies that can get a ship for them.  Chapter four follows group one as they escape overland to draw their enemies from the trail of group two.  Of course, group one loses any pursuers, but through narration and dialogue, characters A, B, and C are all present and accounted for.  We get to chapter five and lo and behold, character A, last seen leading group one through the mountains at the end of chapter four, has magically appeared on the ship with group two.  This would be fine if there had been a time lapse, and in many ways there was one.  However, group two has not yet reached the predetermined place and they’re talking about how long they should wait for group one, since group two will almost certainly arrive first.  

Umm…no.

At first, I thought character A was there in name only, a typo because his name had been accidentally inserted in place of another character’s.  Unfortunately, as the scene unfolded I realized that all of group two’s characters were also accounted for and all were interacting with character A.  Not only that, but character A had a major role throughout the chapter.  So guess what happened?

Yep, a major rewrite of the entire chapter.

Not all continuity and consistency issues are that major.  One author referred to a specific set of objects by certain names near the beginning of the manuscript.  They weren’t mentioned again for roughly one hundred pages, but the author called them something else at that point.  He seemed happily surprised I caught this, but readers have a tendency to see stuff like that.  I admit I had to go back to the first mention of these objects to verify that yes, the names were different, but continuity and consistency are very important.

This is true for sequels as well.  Make sure all your characters have the same eye color and hair color as in the previous book, unless there’s a plausible explanation for it to be different.  If you write a scene in the previous book from one character’s POV, and then write that same scene in the next book from the POV of a different character, you want to make sure the scenes echo each other.  If your character only says two or three word sentences a couple of times in the second book, but in the first book he spoke a total of five times—twice in one sentence consisting of three or four words, once in two sentences, and once in a paragraph consisting of six to ten sentences—then you’ve got a problem.  If a character had their hands tied behind their back in the scene in book one, and they’re tied in front of them in book two, you’ve got a problem.  The same can be said for the layout of buildings, a school mascot, the name of a significant other’s ex, basically anything that’s pretty much concrete in your story or in your series.  If you say it’s May on page ten, you can’t have your character tugging her jacket closer and kicking at the orange leaves littering the ground when your reader gets to page twelve, not without a significant time lapse.

So keep in mind you want to look out for the major continuity and consistency issues as well as the small ones that might only be mentioned twice, a hundred pages apart.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Stay True to Your Character's Voice

Stay True to Your Character’s Voice


The voice of your character includes many aspects.  Would your character use contractions, or are they more proper?  Would they say "ain't"?  What about "cain't" instead of "can't"?Do they drop the "g" at the end of "ing" words?  Would they use words like "superfluous" and "salubrious"?  Would they use "heck" and "darn" or "dang", instead of their more frowned upon cousins?  Or would they say things akin to what the symbols in the picture above are supposed to represent?  No matter what the case may be, you want your characters to talk like they would actually talk.  While you don’t want to run your readers off with rampant vulgarity, you also don’t want to lie to them in your fiction.  If a character would actually say, “Oh, poop.” that’s what you should write.  However, if your character would use a word that’s a little more, shall we say…colorful, that’s also what you should write.  (As a matter of fact, Stephen King says the same thing in On Writing.)  We all know people who rarely, if ever, use a vulgar word.  We all know people that have such foul mouths we cringe whenever they start to speak.  And we all know people who are somewhere in the middle.  Your characters are going to be the same way if you tell the truth in your fiction.

And let me say this.  Just because your character’s a little old lady, that does not mean she won’t swear like a sailor.  We’re talking about the character and what they would or would not say.  Not all little old ladies would say “Oh, poop.”  One evening, I was around a group of people.  My husband and I made up one couple, and we were probably in our mid- to late twenties.  One of the couples was of an older generation, around the ages of my grandparents, between the ages of sixty and seventy.  Another couple would have been roughly around the age of my own parents, between the ages of forty and fifty.  The six of us were standing around talking and out of the blue, the woman who was roughly the same age as my granny, maybe a little younger, started talking about personal things.  Things that I know made my face match my hair.  And it wasn’t just the fact that my own granny would have literally died before discussing those things in what she would have viewed as “mixed company”, meaning males and females.  It was the vulgarity of the language she was using.  I was shocked because most of the people I knew who were roughly the same age as my granny talked like my granny.  They did not talk like this woman.  She wasn’t a bad woman, just very frank and vulgar.  True story.  So, get to know your characters.  Don’t take all of your little old ladies at face value, because they might shock you with the things they will talk about and the language they will use.

Don’t water down your character’s language if that wouldn’t be in character for them.  Likewise, don’t ramp up their language if it would be out of character.  You don’t want your readers to say, “They wouldn’t say that!  That’s not how they talk.”  Get to know your characters and stay true to their voices.

And please, please don’t add unnecessary profanity for shock value.  Please.  Just…Don’t.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Repetition

Repetition


We’re not just talking about repetition of words, gender pronouns, dialogue tags (if it’s clear who’s speaking, dialogue tags should be deleted anyway), and names.  We’re talking about two or more sentences that say the same thing in different ways.  This usually happens because the author’s scared they won’t be understood and they’re trying to clarify their meaning.  I once saw an entire paragraph that was pure repetition.  The author was trying to clarify two things and it made a mess of the paragraph.  We were able to streamline it into three, or perhaps it was four, sentences.  Keep an eye open for things like this.

This issue also comes up with character description.  One author kept beating the readers over the head with their character’s eye color.  “Gray eyes”, “stormy gray eyes”, “slate gray eyes”.  This character’s eye color was mentioned at least once in every scene they appeared in (which was a lot.  They played a major role in the entire manuscript.  Not a secondary character at all.), and sometimes it was mentioned more than once in the same scene.  Another author wanted to make certain the readers knew their character possessed “flame-colored tresses”.  Although that one probably qualifies as a pet phrase as well, because almost every time the character’s hair was mentioned, “flame-colored tresses” was the
description.  “She tossed her flame-colored tresses back.”  “Her flame-colored tresses glinted in the sunlight.”  “She ran her hand through her flame-colored tresses.”  After the initial description of a character, mentioning eye color, hair color, etc., a few times over the entire course of the novel as a reminder would be fine.  And I do mean a few times.  Like maybe three times after the initial description, spread out over the entire manuscript.  But that’s it.  (See, I did my own little bit of repetition there, and even bolded it.)

Keep an eye on your descriptions.  Telling us a few times that her eyes are emerald, or that his voice is gravelly is fine.  Telling us at least once every time we see the character is not.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Pet Phrases/Pet Words/Pet Actions

Pet Phrases/Pet Words/Pet Actions




Authors have a tendency to develop pet phrases and/or pet words.  With pet words the author is usually able to space the word out so it’s not as noticeable.  Other authors seem incapable of this, so the readers will pick up on it.  If I start to notice a pet word, readers will probably notice it as well.  One author had a love affair with the word crystalline.  A person’s eyes were crystalline, the air had a crystalline quality, another person’s voice was crystalline.  Another author was fond of “just then”, which is really bad because both just and then are on the list of unnecessary words you want to cut whenever possible.  I’ve also seen authors who were infatuated with “in the nick of time”, “quick as a cat”, and “lightning quick” or “lightning fast”.  In a few manuscripts a ball of ice was always forming in the pit of some character’s stomach.  It’s easy to fall into this trap because sometimes that’s the perfect word or phrase for what you’re trying to convey, but you have to make yourself aware of it.  And yes, quite a few of the pet phrases have also been clichĂ©s.  If the pet word or phrase is used for effect, it can work.  (Like Gollum saying, “My precious” or “precious” in LOTR.  Oh, haven’t I told you?  Yes, I can be a geek.  Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly…Oh, my!)  You just have to be careful.  You don’t want to turn it into the word or phrase that gets made fun of because you overused it for effect.

Then you have what I call pet actions.  These are more along the lines of repetition.  You have characters who are constantly shrugging, pursing their lips, sighing, crossing their legs and/or arms.  Other characters are constantly glowering, smirking, glaring, huffing out a breath, or sucking in a breath.  It’s different than an affectation the character has as a habit.  I have a habit of playing with my hair, and when I sit, I often have to cross my legs or curl them under me because I’m short.  But I’m not always rolling my eyes…yeah, not always.  Frequently isn’t always.  *grin*  Your characters can play with their hair, bite their nails, pick at their cuticles, etc., if you establish it as a habit.  But when a lot of your characters are always doing these things that aren’t habits, there’s a problem.  Yep, been guilty of it and been called out on it.  My beta pointed out that both characters in a particular scene sure were shrugging a lot.  *headdesk*  While you don’t want whole chunks of dialogue with no movements at all, you also don’t want to overdo it.  And you do not want a lot of:

She shrugged.  “Yada yada yada.”

He smirked.  “Blah blah blah.

She rolled her eyes.  “Neener neener neener.”

Sentence. Variety.  You want it and you need it.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Mistakes in Submissions Continued -- Time Line

This week I'm going to continue discussing the most common mistakes I've seen in submissions.


Time Line



I’ve had to work with authors to fix time line issues numerous times.  If you describe a character doing something that takes place at midnight, and then you have them doing something that might take three hours at the most, you can’t have dawn breaking when they finish.  Especially if it’s in an unbroken scene where there’s no indication of a time lapse.  I once spent hours trying to untangle an author’s time line, because it started out with one, and then split into two sets of characters on different time lines.  At first you didn’t realize they were on different ones because when specific times were mentioned in one line, it wasn’t mentioned in the other one.  There were a few things that seemed a little off in each one, but they were easily corrected and weren’t that noticeable until you started breaking down the time line.  The problem really surfaced when two characters, one from each line, came together and were pretty much together for the rest of the book.  Even though it wasn’t the only big issue, one of the major problems was that dawn had broken for one character, but when she came together with the other character, they were running around in the dark and dawn broke a second time.  Either I had somehow missed an entire day during the reading, or the author didn’t keep track of their time line.  We discovered the issue was the latter.

I usually see this in books with more than one POV.  This is especially true if the author likes to mention specific times.  And yes, a book can follow this character or certain events on one line for a few chapters, and then the book starts following another character through the same time line or sequence of events.  That’s not a problem, and it’s done frequently.  The problem comes when you follow one character through a long stretch of time or sequence of events and then start following another character through that same stretch of time without indicating you’ve gone back to the beginning.  If you do go through a long period of time and then switch to another character, it’s helpful to indicate this at the beginning of the chapter.  Perhaps something like:

Monday

April 1st

8:45 a.m.

There are other formats an author might choose, but the above is one of the most common examples.  And by “long stretch of time”, I mean if you start with your first character, pretty much begin with the start of their day, and then follow them until suppertime or even bedtime.  If you don’t use some kind of time indicator at the beginning of the chapter, and you just start with your second character having breakfast, people are going to assume it’s the next day.  So when you get to the part that evening where your two characters are on the phone discussing the events of the day, and your readers realize they’re talking about the same day, there’s bound to be a moment of confusion.

However, I’ve also seen this happen in the same time line, which appeared to be pretty linear.  I’ve seen characters arrive at work at 9:00 a.m., do some things that might only keep them occupied until around 1:00 p.m. or 2:00 p.m. at the latest, including accounting for travel and the time spent at each location, and suddenly it’s 7:00 p.m.  Normally, this isn’t a problem when there’s an indicator that there’s been a time lapse and the characters did some stuff “off-screen”.  But this was presented in a linear fashion where we were with the characters every step of the way.  Nope.  That doesn’t work.

Unraveling a convoluted time line takes a lot of time and work.  In some cases, the author can fix it easily with a scene break to indicate the time lapse, giving a chapter a time indicator, eliminating specific time references, etc.  Other times it can cause entire scenes to be rewritten, moved, or eliminated.  So for the sanity of your editor and yourself (Yes, fixing a time line can cause Fried Brain Syndrome.  Consider yourself warned.), please try to keep track of your time line.  You can use a style sheet or create a file to help keep you straight on which events occur when, and where each character is during those events, during specific times, or on specific days.  Just use a format that makes the most sense to you, whether it's a spreadsheet, writing it out on notebook paper, using note cards, using a calendar...the available options and formats are endless.  The only thing that matters is that it works for you.  In some stories, it’s pretty easy to keep track of.  In others…well, it’s easy to create a mess if you aren’t careful.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Fourth Contender

I have been lucky to read a lot of great indie books this year.

The fourth contender's position is going to a young adult steampunk novel. I will provide you with the review for the first book, though it's a series and I will be reviewing books 2.5, 3, and 4 later this year. I have already reviewed book 2. I'm looking forward to continuing this grand adventure with Mr. Adam Dreece.

I bring you the first of the Yellow Hoods series: Along Came a Wolf by Adam Dreece.

Tee is a happy and exuberant 12 year old. She is surrounded by those who love her, and foremost is her Grandpapa, Nikolas Klaus. He is a renowned inventor who belonged to a secret society, and someone comes after him believing he has invented a steam engine. Along with her friends, Elly and Richy, Tee mush shed her childhood naivete to help save her Grandpapa while staying out of the reaches of those trying to harm them. Dressed in matching yellow hooded cloaks, they become known as the Yellow Hoods.

My Opinion:
 

My opinion is easy enough. This book definitely falls into the category of “must read” in the YA genre. With a steampunk vibe, mixed with a real-life fairy tale, this book packed a punch. Though it was short at 128 pages, it was perfectly paced. There was just enough world building that you could picture what the area looked like without the author spoon-feeding it to you. The action keeps you happily turning pages until you reach the end with a satisfied sigh. The final conflict was resolved perfectly, with just the right amount of intrigue inserted at the end to set up for its sequel. All of the characters were wonderful and you got handed just enough back story to make it interesting without once dragging the book down.

Adam Dreece did an incredible job on this book and I will happily be reading the second book in this series. I have already started recommending the book to others and will continue to do so. It’s definitely for the young and the young at heart. I love YA fiction and this series is destined to land in my favorites list, along the Ranger’s Apprentice series and the Harry Potter books. It definitely earns that spot and I’m happy to place it there. Adam Dreece is definitely an author to keep an eye on as I believe he will go far.

While this is the end of my time this week on Unicorn Bell, it's definitely not the end of those who are on the list to win the 2015 A Drop of Ink Reviews Book of the Year Award. I'm positive there are more books ahead who deserve to be added to the contender's list. Until next time!

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Third Contender

This book is a fascinating blend of the past with the present. It's a unique look at death and it fascinated me. Here is a good look at what independent authors are capable of doing.

I bring you Failed Moments by A. Robert Allen.

Patrick Walsh kept making all of the wrong choices. However, he gets the chance at redemption in an odd way. He’s given the opportunity to go back in time and fix two other men’s lives in the attempt to correct his own.

French Caribbean in 1790 ~ Patrice Beaumont is considered the “kindest” of slave owners. While talking about the need to abolish slavery, he never does anything about it. Is being “the best of the worst” his only legacy?

New York City in 1863 ~ Patrick Allen is a large Irish immigrant who learns to make a living in the boxing ring. When out of the ring, he doesn’t pick fights or pick sides. However, during the Draft Riots, he sees a lynch mob about to beat up two black men. Is Patrick willing to choose sides this time and stand up for what’s right? Or will he walk away like he always does?

My Opinion:

This book was different and unique. I honestly couldn’t put it down until I’d reached the last page. Patrick Walsh is a man many of us could relate to. It’s always easier to walk away and stay uninvolved than it is to step in and do what is right. Watching as he goes through each of these lives is amazing. The amount of research that had to have gone into this book is mind-blowing. You get an accurate picture of these major points in history and feel like you’re right there with the character. I felt each life could have been its own book because each part was so rich and well-developed. When each time period ended, it was sad in a way. I wanted the story to continue because I got so involved with the way the tale was spun.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. It was absolutely terrific.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Book Awards and a Review

When I started A Drop of Ink Reviews, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. So when it took off on me, I was surprised. When more and more requests for my reviews came in, I finally had to shut down the submissions because I’m currently sitting at 57 books awaiting review. I’m not even sure I can review that many in what’s remaining of this year, but I’m sure going to try!

However, with all of that happening, I decided to have an award made. I actually have several, but two of them are reserved specifically for people who pay to be moved to the head of the list. To date, I’ve handed out ONE of them. Turns out I’m getting stricter as I go along and I’m exposed to more and more books. The BIG award is what I want to talk about today.

I do not have this listed anywhere on my site, so the readers of Unicornbell are the first to know. There is an award I will hand out in January 2016 for the book I liked the best out of the entire 2015 year. So, for the rest of my time this week, sorry it’s so short, I’ll be sharing the reviews of the books that are currently in contention for that award.

The main criteria I decided on was it had to receive a 5-star rating, of course. That only makes sense. But I’ve handed out several of those. So which one will win? Well, I have recently decided that the books that stick out the most in my mind and are either indie published or small house published, will win the award. I already shared a review of one of the books with you previously. It’s Grave Beginnings by R.R. Virdi. If you’d like a refresher, you can view it here.

For the next book, I present you with The Vanishing of Katherine Sullivan by Christina Weaver.


Matt Sullivan received a shock when his Uncle Lucas was placed in a hospital with heart problems. At the same time, Matt was handed a letter stating his uncle’s property had to be cleaned up in two weeks or else. As a by-product of the Great Depression, Uncle Lucas horded everything. Matt faced down his uncle and got clearance to begin cleaning up the home under one condition. He was not to touch the dining room or den. Matt agreed and with the help of his brother Samuel and nephew Stephen, they began to tackle the disaster.

Curious, Matt went into the dining room to find out what was so important to his Uncle Lucas. In there, he found old newspapers with names underlined and circled. He also came across a box of old letters from his grandmother and grandfather. After making a point to his nephew and sister about their hoarding tendencies, Matt decided to venture into the attic of his home, which used to belong to his parents, now deceased. Up there, he found all of his father’s treasures. In looking around, he found a notebook with the same names his uncle had been so interested in. He also came across an old family Bible that smelled of smoke. Inside, he found the names of his grandparents and their children. His grandfather, Samuel, had the year of his death recorded, but nothing for his grandmother. Realizing he knew nothing about his family, Matt decided to dig into his family’s past and find out what happened to his grandmother Katherine. With absolutely no help or encouragement from his Uncle Lucas or Uncle Henry, who was running for President of the United States, he set out to find the truth.

Following clues, he ended up in a small town in West Virginia, where he found nothing but hostility and closed mouths. His only help was the feisty librarian and school teacher, Selma Greeley. Only a death bed confession gave him any insight into the plight of his grandmother. Determined to follow it through to the end, Matt faces terrible trials and dead ends to bring closure for his uncles and himself.

Christina wrote a truly touching story about a young woman who lived in the hills of West Virginia and married a city man to escape her family. Matt’s search for her is long and intense and shows great devotion to family and a history he had no idea even existed. This story is heartbreaking and heartwarming all at once. I’m not even sure I can begin to convey how much this book touched me. She shared a beautiful picture of the life of this amazing woman and a small town who did nothing but belittle her and her family. She did an amazing job weaving the search Matt was doing in present times with glimpses of the past.

While there were a few errors in the editing, that shouldn’t be a hindrance. Her story is a powerful one and definitely worth a read.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Review of West of Paradise

This one is Marcy's book. This is a good example of a review that doesn't say a whole lot, but hopefully it said enough. Originally written 3/21/14.

From Goodreads:
Katherine Kennedy has it all—she’s beautiful, wealthy, and engaged to a man who, at one time, seemed perfect for her. Only she can’t marry him, and she can’t say why. All she knows is there is suddenly nothing she wants. Not her fiancĂ© Antonio. Not any of the hundred thousand things her money can buy.

Jack McCabe comes home from the war with a pretty medal and a lot of ugly pictures in his head. He has nowhere to go, nor anyone to go with. All he has is a vague sense of discontent, a restlessness that will not abate.

Separately, Katherine and Jack are drawn to Paradise Tours on the privately owned Cristobel Island, a resort promising life-altering adventure. Just choose the time and place. Suddenly they find themselves over 125 years in the past, 1881 to be exact. Neither of them knows the other is a fellow time-traveler.

For Jack McCabe it’s the life he craves, and he’s at the top of his game—until his run-in with Alanna McCleod, the beautiful but deadly train robber. Katherine no sooner lands back in time than she is mistaken for Alanna McCleod and can’t understand why—until she sees the wanted poster.

Set in the Old West, this high-spirited tale of mistaken identity, romance, and murder is part historical fiction, part time travel fantasy, and completely captivating.

My Take:
Marcy is also with the same publisher I am--WiDo Publishing. This is her debut novel and holy cow does she come out swinging. I read her book in one day. It's been almost a week and I've put off this review for one reason.

I'm not sure what to say.  I've been trying to think of real "review-type" things, but I can only think of a few and I'm afraid you'll think I'm just being nice to a friend. But that's not it at all. The fact is I got lost in the story and didn't pay any attention to the writing. I felt fear for Katie, angry at Jack for being such a jerk in the beginning, but grew to like him as much as Katie did.

Marcy floored me by making me feel like I really was back in 1881. The style is different, but the details were as good as the Louis L'Amour books I read as a teen. Didn't see that one coming did you? Yes, it was awesome. And when our characters were in the "near future" of their actual time, Marcy had nice little details that made it feel real and totally possible. Nothing way out there crazy, but just little things that still gave it the flavor of "not now".

The best way I can sum it up is--Back to the Future III meets Somewhere In Time.
















I give West of Paradise by Marcy Hatch a solid 5 because I couldn't put it down, and I've already asked her if there is going to be a sequel. She said she'll think about it.

1-5 scale and what it means:
1: I couldn’t even finish it / just plain bad
2: I hope I didn’t pay for this / disappointing
3: I didn’t hate it, but it was still missing something / forgettable but inoffensive
3.5: On the line between good and ok / like, not love
4: Solid mind candy / worth reading
4.5: So very close to perfection! / must read
5: I could not put it down and I’m still thinking about it! / a true treasure

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Importance of Reviews

After yesterday's post, I button downed the hatches and started searching for appropriate book reviewers to email. The truth is reviews on Amazon go a long way toward boosting your books viewability and sales. I sent a few requests and realized I needed to sit and review several books that I've read recently.

I'll work on that this week. In the meantime, I want to brag on some of our UB moderators whose books I've read. Today I'll share my review of Carol's first novel, and tomorrow one for Marcy's novel.

After reading, go write a review on Amazon for a book you've read and loved in the last few weeks.
This review was originally written 9/20/13.

From Goodreads:
Justus Aubre is a wilder. A mage unbound to the Imperium, and therefore a dangerous wild card in their eyes. The Imperium wants him, wants his power, but Justus has hidden for many years and now has some semblance of a normal life. All that’s about to change when Sable Rounds walks through the door of his antique shop, looking for work. Justus instantly knows what Sable is, he just doesn't know the danger he’s in.

Alone, also on the run from the Imperium, Sable longs for a normal life. For somewhere to belong. She finds this when Justus hires her, but she knows it’s temporary and fragile, an illusion. Though she hates to think about it, she knows that one day she will have to move on.

The Imperium is always behind her, waiting. When they finally find Sable, they find Justus. And all hell’s about to break loose.


My Take:
First, you probably know CD Coffelt as Huntress and our fearless leader here at Unicorn Bell. She is also my first real critique partner and I love her dearly. With our swapping of stories, I had the privilege of reading this book before it was contracted. The second read through was just as enjoyable and rewarding as the first time. Huntress crafts a wonderful story of courage and love set in a chilling reality where one crazed woman controls all those who can work magic. Well, almost all.

Justus is the one who got away. He's a strong hero, even in his sullen moods you can't help but like him. He lives by his convictions and is doing quite well for himself until the unexpected happens. He falls in love. And with the most dangerous woman possible. No not the crazy one, but someone that can actually be used against him.

Sable is running from the Imperium, but she's never free of their watchful eye. She is the prize worth waiting for, and once crazy Tiarra gets her she'll be the weapon to bring down all who resist the Imperium's control. Even Justus.

I love all the characters in this story. Bert the impertinent teen who has to learn the hard way, the sweet couple who take care of everyone, even the two hunters struggling to break free of Tiarra's grasp. There are also some great magic slinging duels as well as lots of tamping down hot emotions. Of many kinds. ;)

Without giving any spoilers, I have to say that I loved the subtle difference between the original ending and the published ending. The clues have all been dropped and I'm just waiting for Huntress to write the next book. I love how Justus' inner struggle is more of the focal point at the end as well. I can't wait for the next in the series!

I give Wilder Mage by CD Coffelt a 5! And not just because I love Carol. The book really is that good.

1-5 scale and what it means:
1: I couldn’t even finish it / just plain bad
2: I hope I didn’t pay for this / disappointing
3: I didn’t hate it, but it was still missing something / forgettable but inoffensive
3.5: On the line between good and ok / like, not love
4: Solid mind candy / worth reading
4.5: So very close to perfection! / must read
5: I could not put it down and I’m still thinking about it! / a true treasure

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Marketing Ups and Downs

While I'm waiting to hear what you'd like to see on UB, I thought I'd post a few questions.

Marketing is a big deal for writers no matter how you publish. Some people seem to just GET this. Most of us struggle. Here's what slows down my marketing:

  • No money or very little to allocate to marketing
  • No time--I need to be writing, not marketing
  • The things I know how to do don't provide an increase of sales anymore (tweeting, blog tours, facebook messaging)
  • I don't know where to start
  • I don't know where to find my audience--or I can't afford to travel to them at comicons
  • I haven't the slightest idea how to get on the radio, or in the paper (at least not legally and without spending some time in jail)
  • Thinking about marketing sucks all the life out of me
  • There are too many other demands on my time
  • Craft fairs and farmer's markets aren't the best place to sell books--at least its a hit and miss kind of thing
  • It's time consuming searching for blog reviewers to beg them to read and review honestly
  • I gave away 1000 e-copies and didn't get a single review so what's the freakin' point anyway??
What slows or prevents you from marketing?


Okay, now that my heart rate is up and I'm feeling super anxious. Let's calm down and talk about things that have worked in regards to marketing.


  • In the past, I had success with guest posting on blogs and twitter blasts. However, I think the internet is so saturated with book tours that they are no longer noticeable. Perhaps that's why it's better to go the interview/character interview or simply blogging on a topic or theme from your story. It allows the reader to get a deeper insight into the author and book than a simple BUY MY BOOK because it's OUT kind of thing.
  • I love setting up a booth at some fair and interacting with people. There aren't a lot of bookstores here so it's my only option. Talking with people about your book lets them see your excitement. Passion about anything is contagious. 
See, my marketing experience is woefully small. I've created a mailing list, but I'm not sure how to build the list. 

What has worked for you in the marketing department?

Do you have a newsletter? How do you find/convince people to sign up for it?


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Uh-oh! The balls are dropping.

D'oh! I guess this was my week to post some amazing stuff for you hear on UB. My apologies for being late remembering that important fact.

So, let's start this week talking about overloading ourselves. Then you can tell me what you'd like to know this week and I'll get back on track tomorrow.

Have you ever taken on more than you can successfully accomplish? Up to this point I've always managed to squeak by, keeping all the balls in the air, pulling off each task to the best of my ability. This week, everything got the best of me.


In fact, I spent most of today snuggled up in my bed with my three dogs. My excuse was a headache and upset stomach. The truth is I was plain worn out.

All of us have many things going at once. We have jobs, we want to write, we have families that need us all the time, friends that get antsy if we ignore them too long. Those of us with books out know we have to put in the time marketing. Some of us blog and have other projects where we try and reach out socially to give back or simply stay in touch with the writing community. We have houses to clean, cars that break down, dinners to prepare, let's NOT talk about laundry.

How do you deal with it?

Do you take a day where you just check things off your list?
Do you quit and binge watch Netflix?
Do you learn to say no to some things?
What do YOU do? 

I'd like to know. I need to re-prioritize because the balls are falling to the ground and nothing is getting even a 50% effort. This really bothers me. (I even missed a lunch invitation out on the lake because I FORGOT about it and took a substitute teaching job instead. What?!)

So, please share what you do to prioritize what you take on in the comments.

Also let me know what you need to see more of on UB. More reviews, more interviews, more writing and editing posts? Would you like to get to know all of us better? What? What? What?