goodbye 2012, hello 2013

I'm back from my blog vacation! It was nice to unhook myself from the computer for a few days and just enjoy everything the holiday season brings. We even have a decent amount of snow here (and the time between December 20-31 is the ONLY time I really enjoy snow. I like to think that if it's going to be cold, it might as well be snowy, but come January, it gets old pretty fast, and I just find myself yearning for Spring.)

2012 has been a life-changing year for me. I suppose that could easily be said about any year, but 2012 brought a lot of good things into my life. And it brought me much closer to realizing my dreams. I've had two primary goals since I was quite young: to be a mom and to be a published author.

I never questioned the being a mom part. I always told myself that I'd adopt if I had to, even if I was alone in it. I just knew that when I was ready to be a mother, I'd find a way to make it happen. Thankfully, I'm not alone (major props to the single moms out there) and in 2012, I've been relishing in my dream of being a mom. Okay, technically my daughter was born at the very end of 2011, but I didn't really get to know her until 2012. She spent most of 2011 sleeping. 2012 brought us her first smile, first words, first everything. She went from being a sleeping bundle in our arms to a little girl who discovers more and more about the world around her every day. She has, by far, been my greatest joy of 2012. And her arrival made my dream of being a mom a reality.

But she was far from the only good part of 2012. I finished writing my second young adult novel and as I was revising it, I found myself falling in love with it. When you can fall in love with your own writing, you know you have something special on your hands. And it turned out I did. Unnatural helped me to find my fantastic agent and brought my aspirations of being published to the next level. I'm closer to achieving that lifelong dream than I've ever been before and that's absolutely thrilling. Finding an agent was a 2012 goal of mine. Finding a good home for my book is definitely a goal for 2013.

Being on maternity leave has afforded me the opportunity to spend more time with family, spend more time writing, and spend more time enjoying the things in life that sometimes get lost in the shuffle. As I look back, I recognize that it's truly been an amazing year.

So if 2012 was so great, how will 2013 ever compete? I guess we'll see. That's the fun and mystery of a new year and a clean slate. Who knows what good things it might bring. As 2013 arrives, I'll be heading back to my day job, which will bring its own set of challenges. But change is what keeps us moving forward, and goals can't be achieved without momentum. January 1st isn't really any different than December 31st. It's just an arbitrary marker in time, but it's a great excuse to get excited about possibility, to be hopeful, and to embrace opportunities as they arrive. 
You know Father Time is cool--dude wears a cape! And check out those fresh kicks!

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season, my dear Bloggies. And I hope your 2013 is peaceful and full of joy. Thank you for stopping by Chez There's a Blog in my Soup over the past year. I hope you'll stick with me as I bring you more highlights in The Friday5, more writing advice in The Writer's Arsenal and more updates as the new year unfolds. I'm very hopeful that 2013 will bring many surprises that I'll be excited to share with you.

Happy New Year!   

friday5 for December 14, 2012

1.Let's kick things off with a little tech news. Because you may need to get on this stat. If you have an iPhone, and you've upgraded to the most recent OS, you may be experiencing some problems with their newly native maps app (I know I have!). But fret no more! Google maps has returned and can now be downloaded in the app store. I'm a huge Apple fan in general (this post is being written on my iMac), but the maps app has not been an enjoyable experience. I'm happy to give it a another go if Apple works out the considerable kinks, but until then, I'm switching back to Google.

2. There were several sets of award nominations announced this week, including the nominees for the Golden Globes. Every year I scan the list and think, "Not surprised...Seriously?...Why wasn't <insert amazing movie/TV show here> included?" This year, I sort of skimmed over everything else and honed in on the fact that a smaller movie that I very much enjoyed is nominated in the Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy category. It may be in the company of some stiff competition, but just seeing Moonrise Kingdom on there made me happy. What a fantastic film. If you haven't seen it, you really should. It's funny, poignant and beautifully shot. And the cast is spot on. I don't know if it'll win over some of the other knockout films it's against, but this is one case where I'm just happy to see it nominated.

3. Harry Potter news! Say what? I thought we were finished with that franchise! Of course not. Don't you know Harry Potter can't be killed? :) Rupert Grint (our dear Won Won) has reportedly been filming new Harry Potter content! This is super-exciting, even though it's almost certainly for use in the Wizarding World Park in Orlando, and not for some ultra secret ninth HP film. I haven't been to the Wizarding World (yet!) because of the distance, but I like just knowing that it exists. I like knowing that the world of Harry Potter has such staying power that I will very likely be able to take my daughter there one day, after I've read the books with her. As our girl JK Rowls would say, "Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home." Love it.

4. On the opposite end of the spectrum (the non-warm-and-fuzzy-end), it looks like the CW network has green-lit a Hunger Games-ish reality TV program. First off, did we learn nothing from the HG books? I don't know how to feel about this news. I get why they're doing it, and as someone who enjoys the occasional season of Survivor and Amazing Race (though beyond that, I'm fairly opposed to reality TV--not in a snooty way, there's just too much quality scripted stuff taking up my time!), I think I might actually enjoy watching this, but it still feels wrong, you know? What age are these contestants going to be? Are they really not going to provide them with any essentials or are they going to work in a bit of food and shelter as they do in Survivor? I guess time will tell. I'm intrigued, but I'm also a tad worried. 

5. Before I get to the YA book rec of the week, I should say that this will be my final Friday5 before the holidays. Everybody needs a little vacation, and being a stay at home mom for the duration of 2012 means I haven't really had a vacation all year. So a mini blog-vacation is in order.
And speaking of not-relaxing, the blog-vacation is necessary because I now have a daughter with a December birthday, plus two Christmases, plus etc etc. It's a busy time of year, yo!
Rather than rec a new release, I'm going to be all seasonal and recommend an older holiday read for you to cuddle up by the fire with--Let it Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle:

"Come take a bite of my forbidden apple, uh, I mean, present..."
The cover is a little Twilight-y for my taste, but hey, it was 2008. I get it. (Side note: apparently this happened.) Ideal YA holiday reads pretty much have to be contemporary romance, which, as I've said, I don't read a ton of, but it's the holidays, and if you want a feel-good read, you can't have zombies or shapeshifters gumming up the works. I don't think I need to tell you how superbly talented the above three writers are. Their other works speak for themselves. And if you like your sappy holiday cheer in small doses, a collection of shorter fiction is just what the Santa ordered:
Sparkling white snowdrifts, beautiful presents wrapped in ribbons, and multicolored lights glittering in the night through the falling snow. A Christmas Eve snowstorm transforms one small town into a romantic haven, the kind you see only in movies. Well, kinda. After all, a cold and wet hike from a stranded train through the middle of nowhere would not normally end with a delicious kiss from a charming stranger. And no one would think that a trip to the Waffle House through four feet of snow would lead to love with an old friend. Or that the way back to true love begins with a painfully early morning shift at Starbucks. Thanks to three of today’s bestselling teen authors—John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle—the magic of the holidays shines on these hilarious and charming interconnected tales of love, romance, and breathtaking kisses. (Summary from
Okay, that was cheesy. Ugh. Don't you secretly love it, though? ;) 

So that's it for now. I'll be back with a regular Monday post on December 31st and then the Friday5 will return in January. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season, filled with good food and loving company, regardless of what/how you celebrate. Until the (almost) near year! :)

the writer's arsenal: revision--because seeing it once isn't enough

There are a lot of blogs covering the topic of revisions at the moment. It makes sense given that December is usually when writers who completed a novel in November are either adding on (since 50k is a little shy of a proper novel, MG and some YA aside) or fixing up the ramble-fest they  created during the feverdream that is NaNoWriMo.

I'm not going to retread too much on what's already been said. In fact, there's an excellent rundown of revision tips over at the YA Highway with advice from several reputable agents. Oh, and they've got another great post here. And here.

But I do have a few thoughts on revisions that I'd like to share. These are from personal experience, both revising my own work and going through the editing process on the work of others. Take what you will from them.

It's time to get our revise-on!


The word itself is thrown around easily, like so many other writing terms. Plotting. Character Motivation. Conflict. But we rarely think of it in its basic sense. Re-vision. You had a vision (your story idea) and you ran with it. Now you're going to go back and take a second look, with a fresh set of eyes. At some point in your revision process, the fresh set of eyes will be an older and wiser version of yourself. At another point, they should be an actual fresh set of eyes (as in, not you; as in, somebody who can read your work critically and give you valuable feedback, which you'll take to heart---and we'll cover in a future post). Regardless of whose eyes are on the page, the experience needs to be an actual re-vision of your original idea. What's here that shouldn't be? What's missing? Well-crafted stories don't just arrive that way, straight out the gate. They need to be revisited, they need to be rethought. Sometimes you can't see the problems in what you've written until after it's all there, teetering unsteadily on a plot that needs to be tightened. To revise is to take a look at your story as a whole and figure out which parts should look differently than they do.

Never Marry an Idea on the First Date

Stories are living things. At least, stories that are still being written are. They grow, they change, and this is a good thing. Sometimes we become attached to our initial plot developments/characters/scene ideas and we cling to them desperately, even when we realize something's not working. There's a little voice in our head suddenly telling us things would make more sense if we headed in a different direction, one that wasn't part of our initial outline. That little voice is your inner-reader. That little voice shouldn't be ignored. It knows from experience what good stories should be. Sometimes it's heartbreaking to give up on a plot thread you deemed brilliant back when you first thought of it, but if that plot thread no longer fits now that your story has taken shape, it needs to go. You shouldn't hang onto something just because it was part of your initial plan. As people grow, their needs change. This is true of stories too. The first 10k of a story has very different needs than a finished first draft. The finished first draft needs you to let go of those early ideas that no longer have a place. Don't leave them in just because they're familiar. They're novel writing baggage. They need to be dumped.

The Voice, The Habits and The Ugly

I've written before about how characters will take on a voice--a life--of their own if you let them. The more you write, the more fully formed they become. They start telling you how they'd react to a given situation. Their voices become authentic, unique, and their dialogue flows because you know just what they'd say. It's a wonderful thing when this happens, both as a writer and a reader. It makes your characters real. When you're revising, it's important to remember that the character you eventually found a voice for, didn't necessarily have such a strong personality from the start. Think of the beginning of your book like it's the pilot episode of a TV series (you know, that initial episode you go back and re-watch and it feels awkward because none of the characters you've come to know and love are really acting like the characters you've come to know and love). The beginning of a story doesn't know what the end of the story knows. You have to go back and inform it. It's very important to revisit the start and work heavily on those first several chapters. That's where your writing will be its weakest. Back before you hit your stride. Put a lot of focus on them and help the voice to be consistent all the way through. Working extra hard on tightening up the first third of your book is all the practice you'll need to tidy up the rest :)

The downside of honing your voice as you write is that you can also fall into bad habits. This is where you start to see word repetition. All writers have favourite words and expressions that they use a lot. It's part of your voice and your style, but it's also a problem if it gets out of hand. Keep an eye out for frequently repeating words or overused phrases. Change them up, switch them out or just plain cut them. The writing will flow once these stumbling blocks are gone. Voice is good. Style is good. But variety needs to exist within these things.

A Few Good Tips

Every writer's revision habits are different. You need to find what works best for you. But here are a few extra pointers to get you started:

  • Keep an open mind. This is a process. As long as you keep a clear head and have a passion for your story, nothing you do to it will make it worse. Embrace change as you recognize the need for it. It's work, but it's worth it.
  • Computer screens can make you crazy. If you revise on screen, be sure to take plenty of breaks and rest your eyes. And use track changes. The last thing you want to do is delete chunks you later decide you need back. I make an effort to be as environmentally friendly as possible, but a lot of the time, I can't do a proper revision unless I do it on paper. I see things on a page that I don't see on a screen. This seems to work for a lot of writers. If you plan to revise on hard-copy, use recycled paper to print on and recycle it once more when you're finished (front and back).
  • Tackle it in waves. Your first read-through should be for big picture problems--plot holes, pacing issues, inconsistencies. Tidy up the soul of your book, then go for the body, the meat. The second read can be for typos, grammar, spelling and those sentences that suddenly don't sound so good when you read them out loud. Then do a third read to check your changes. At this point, it should seem much improved and it's probably time to have someone else take a look, to see what issues they can catch.
  • Question everything you've written. Are the characters consistent in their behavior? Do their motivations make sense? Does the timeline make sense? Does the plot flow well? Is there too much exposition? Are you telling instead of showing? Are there parts that drag? How soon into the story does the reader care about the protagonist/plot? (Hint: it should be the first page) Is there enough conflict to keep things interesting? If there's world building, have you kept to the specific rules of the world you've created? Are there any side characters who really don't need to be there? Does every scene drive the story forward? Does every side plot serve a purpose?
  • Save your drafts as different files. This will allow you to revisit that previously mentioned novel writing baggage should you miss it and it'll make it easier for you to move on, knowing it's still somewhere (sure, it's not part of the final draft, but who says you can't still keep it around, like that ex-boyfriend shoebox in your closet, full of letters and mementos). It will also save you a huge headache if you need to recall something you removed in a later draft. And hey, should your novel be published, you've potentially got deleted scenes to share!
  • Finally, take your time. This isn't a race. I know I'm always anxious to reach that finish line, but rushing through the revision process will only leave you with a manuscript that's weaker than it could be if you took the time to nail it down. Take some time away from your manuscript. Let it simmer. Let it breathe. Think about what you've written, your characters, and what they might do in situations outside your story (it will help you to get to know them better, and sometimes they might tell you if something is missing from your novel). 

As I've mentioned, I'm still not finished the first draft of my NaNo novel, in fact, I haven't even looked at it since the last week of November. I've had a very busy past week and the one coming up looks even busier. I know I'll get around to it, and I know I'll eventually be working on revisions. For now, it's kind of nice to be thinking about it without actively working on it. I'm letting everything that I wrote in November settle and I know when I return to it in a week or so, I'll be ready to see it in a different light. Hopefully, my vision for it will be stronger and I can take it places I never imagined back when I started.

What does your revision process look like? Do you have any specific revision habits that work for you?

friday5 for December 7, 2012

1. I almost fell out of my chair when I saw these pictures of a Freaks and Geeks reunion. Thank you Vanity Fair for making this happen! Freaks and Geeks is a series that is firmly on my list of shows that never should have been cancelled. Of course, most of the cast and crew has since gone on to do wonderful things (as we knew they would), which is probably part of the reason why VF thought a reunion would be worth their while, but it's so great to see them all back in their F&G personas. I have to say, the actors who played Cindy and Bill are the most surprising changes, but that may be because neither has been on my radar in a while, while Rogan, Segel, Franco and Daley all have. VF also has a bonus gallery of unseen photos from back when the show was being filmed and they are definitely also worth a look.  Ah, memories!

2. Okay, I know I just talked about Catching Fire filming in last week's Friday5, but they're currently filming in Hawaii and lots of great pics are coming out! This post over at Hypable has a good round up of the photos coming in (plus I'm pleased to see J.Hutch--isthatathing?--looking good without looking over-the-top beefy. He just looks like a normal guy, which I approve of!). I'm currently on the fence about Jena Malone's Johanna look. Not how I pictured her, but I am totally on board with Jena as Johanna so I can overlook her hair. I came to love Woody as Haymitch and Lenny as Cinna despite them not being how I pictured those characters. The photos can keep coming! They are only making me more excited for this film! And only partially because I miss Hawaii :)

3. The holiday season is upon us! (Though my brain is still in denial. Seriously. Part way into the Christmas episode of The Office last night, I thought, But why are they showing this sooooo early? Oh wait.. it's December....) I just have to give a nod to all those classic holiday shows/movies that are popping up, as they always do (and some new ones too--I think I've seen the Bubble Guppies Christmas episode about eight million times already). I personally make a point of always watching Rudolph, ideally with a side of holiday food and drink. It's my required holiday viewing. I mean really, who doesn't love Hermey? Dude is P.I.M.P. Plus, you know he's gonna be knee deep in ladies one day, being a singing dentist and all. Kidding aside, watching Rudolph has become a holiday tradition for me, as I'm sure it has for many others, and this year, I'm going to watch it with Emmeline, bringing her into the tradition as well. I feel like now is the time to start thinking about future traditions that I can start with her now. Have you got any holiday traditions on the go? Are you planning to create any new ones this year?

4. Are you excited for The Hobbit? Yeah, you are. Who wouldn't be? Hobbits are highly entertaining. Also highly entertaining: The Hobbit actors posing with the Lego versions of their characters! I get the impression this film is going to be a lot, uh, hairier, than the Lord of the Rings films. As it should be! I think Ian McKellen is my favourite photo of the lot. He looks a little like he can't figure out how he's holding a tiny version of himself. Cute.

5. I have a terrible confession to make. I love Pretty Little Liars (this is no secret). It's a guilty pleasure like whoa. But I haven't read a single one of the books. I know. It's bad. I plan to remedy that one of these days. I swear. If they're anywhere near as compulsive as the show is, I know I'll heart them, I just haven't gotten around to them yet. Honestly, the more books come out, the more daunting the whole thing seems, but I will get on it some day soon, and then I'll fly through them and cry when I finally find myself in waiting mode like everybody else. Anyway, if you've been a good little liar fan, and are all caught up, book #12 (yes, 12), titled Burned came out this week and while I haven't read #1-11, I have adored their covers from afar. The doll thing is just so eye-catching and fun:
pretty little swirly doll
I don't even know which liar is on the cover because one thing I do know about the books is that the girls look different from the way they were cast on the show. (But I'm guessing... Aria? Okay, that was totally based on what Lucy Hale looks like...)

Spoiler-alert for those who haven't read the books (like me) unless you don't mind a little spoiler here or there (like me):

It's spring break, and the pretty little liars are trading in Rosewood for a cruise vacation. They want nothing more than to sail into the tropical sunset and leave their troubles behind for one blissful week. But where Emily, Aria, Spencer, and Hanna go, A goes, too. From scuba diving to tanning on the upper deck, A is there, soaking up all their new secrets.
Emily is smooching a stowaway. Aria's treasure-hunting partner is a little too interested in her booty. Spencer's going overboard trying to land a new boy. And a blast—or rather, a crash—from Hanna's past could mean rough waters ahead for everyone.
The liars better tighten their life jackets. A perfect storm is brewing, and if they aren't careful, A will bury them at sea. . . (Summary from
Yeah, I need to read these books ASAP. Aria is treasure-hunting, people. Treasure-hunting! And there's a booty pun! I can't... I just can't....

It also occurs to me that January is just around the corner, which means the show will be back, and so will the Pretty Little Recap! Hooray! 

Side note: at first, I wrote "Aria is treasure hunting people" without the comma. Heh. Yet another example of how punctuation can completely change the meaning of a sentence.

Above and beyond the 5, I want to wrap things up with a shout out: a good friend of mine recently started a beauty blog, Beauty Junket, and she is seriously rocking it! Not only does the site look a-mazing, but the posts are fun, informative, and accessible. Beauty Junket is a beauty blog for those of us who want to read about lovely things and get actual useable tips without feeling like we're being talked down to. If you're still doing your holiday shopping, it's also a great place to stock up on great gift ideas :) Please take a moment and check it out, and then follow them on twitter @beautyjunket 

nanowrimo debrief

Since this is a debrief, I'll try to be brief (heh heh heh). NaNoWriMo was a lot of fun, even if I didn't win (and no, in case you've missed my NaNo posts throughout the month, as predicted, I did not hit that 50k mark before the month was through).

Here's what I did manage: 33, 415 words.

My goal was 30-32k, which is half of my ultimate word count goal for Skin Deep, the novel I've been working on. So first off, yay! I made my personal goal!

Here's how my month looks in chart form:

There are definitely some plateaus, especially at the end. I had a very busy November 29th and 30th and managed zero words as the clock counted down. But I'm okay with that. I hit my personal goal earlier in the week and everything I wrote after that was just icing on the word-cake.

I feel very accomplished, even though I didn't "win" NaNo. I know I wasn't giving it my all, so to have written half a book (that I'm thrilled with so far!) in a month, without pushing myself too much, feels pretty damn good. I'm very happy with what I've written and even happier with where it's going.

So then what happens now? While some people will spend December revising, I will spend it continuing to write, though I can tell you right now, I'll be putting even less effort into it. It's not that I'm not excited about the book or don't care to finish it. Quite the opposite is true. The issue is that I'm entering my last month of mat leave, which just happens to also be one of the busiest months of the year anyway. I have a big list of non-writing things I'd like to accomplish this month and those will be stealing the focus away for a while (bathroom reno, anyone??). That said, I will keep writing when I can, when I have those moments when I just have to write. I think I'll manage to carve out another good chunk (maybe even another 25%) of the book before the new year, but I'm not going to let it rule my time at this point. It just doesn't make sense with everything else that's going on. Come January, I'm sure I'll dive right back into those lunch-hour writing sessions I plowed through before I went on mat leave, when I was still working on Unnatural. And hopefully it won't be long before I'm revising. I'm not worried. In fact, NaNo pushed me to get going on a book I'm now rather excited about. Word count aside, I'm feeling pretty victorious :)

How did NaNoWriMo 2012 go for you? Did you make it to 50k? Are you going to keep writing? A post on the revision process is coming your way in the near future so stay tuned!

the next big thing blog tour

Friend and agent-mate Wende Dikec recently tagged me in her addition to the Next Big Thing blog series, where she answered ten questions about her current work-in-progress. Now I've been charged with the same task, though task isn't quite the right word as I'm quite excited to talk a bit more about Unnatural, the book that changed everything for me, and landed me my uber-fantastic agent, Marlene. I've also tagged a few more writer friends below to invite them to join the current project fun. So please visit their blogs in the following weeks to see what they're up to as well! If anyone else would like to join, please feel free to link to your blog in the comments. It's a share-a-palooza!

(I'm re-wording some of the sentence structure in these questions because it's driving me crazy, but the questions are the same ones making the rounds.)

What is the working title of your book?

The original working title was Unnatural Disaster, but we nixed the "Disaster" and now it's just called Unnatural. Who knows if it will change again, but I think Unnatural really captures the essence of what's happening in the book.

Where did the idea for your book come from?

I'd been wanting to write a "monster in the house" style book for a while, ie: one wherein the bulk of the story takes place in an isolated setting where the characters are forced to face their circumstances without escape or intervention. For a lot of people that means murder mystery or literal monster story, but for me that means outdoorsy survival tale.

The magic element came one day when I was thinking about the Filch character in the Harry Potter series. A lot of focus in the series was placed on muggle borns, (especially since our girl, Hermione, was one) and the ensuing persecution they had to suffer, but we didn't get nearly as much on the squibs--those born without powers in a magical world. Filch was the only squib we really got to see up close, and aside from providing the role of the crotchety old man with a well-hidden heart of gold, we never really got too deep into Filch. The question that I found myself asking was, what was it like for him growing up without powers? What would that look like? What would it be like to be a teenager without powers in a world where everyone else has them? And what if society wouldn't stand for it? The idea for Unnatural started to form from there.

What genre does your book fall under?

Young Adult Paranormal/Fantasy with some dystopian themes. 

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I never picture a movie actor playing my protagonist when I'm writing. Other characters, sure. But my protagonist is always just this amorphous person in my brain. Still, I'll give it a shot. Here are the main three (I may do a longer post one day where I dream-cast the others as well):

Let's start with Ren. Ren is attractive, but he's no pretty boy. It's hard to think of a young actor these days who isn't a pretty boy, but I think a lighter-haired Steven R. McQueen could pull it off, or Lachlan Buchanan, who I'm not that familiar with, but he definitely has the right look in his IMDB photo:
Ren probably wouldn't be wearing a suit...

For Caden, I always pictured a Taylor Kitsch type because he defines swoonworthy to me, but since Taylor is starting to look a little more mature (I say mature and not old because he's the same age as I am...), I would have to cast Tyler Blackburn, who I've thought of as mini-Kitsch or Kitsch-lite since his adorable Riggins-esque face first appeared on Pretty Little Liars--though it would have to be a rugged-looking Tyler, not the fresh-faced Tyler we often see in magazines:

Looking especially Kitsch-y

And finally, Ember, who I'm going to have to figure out right here on the spot because, as I said above, I never really picture her as anyone but this voice in my head. The easy answer is that I'd want an unknown actress to play her, and that would probably also be the truth, but since we're getting visual, I picture her as having a look similar to Melissa Benoist. The Glee-newcomer definitely has the deer-in-the-headlights meets girl-next-door look of Ember, but she also looks like she's capable of going somewhere darker, messier, which would also be required of the character. She's a women of many hats.
Not wearing any hats here

What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?

I don't do one sentence well :) But here goes: Unnatural is the story of a girl facing a harsh fate, having grown up powerless in a world where everyone must be able to do magic.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Unnatural is represented by The Stringer Literary Agency.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Much longer than it would have if I didn't have a baby in the middle of it. Writing time was about four months, but overall, drawn-out time was over a year. Being on mat leave has taught me that I can write much faster than that :)

What other books would you compare your story to within your genre?

In terms of the types of challenges the characters face, I'd compare it to something like Delirium or Divergent, where the protagonists find themselves singled out from the societal norm, only to discover that the societal norm has some severe flaws. But it's not a great comparison because Unnatural has magic (MAGIC!).
While querying, I had a few agents compare it to The Hunger Games, which is certainly flattering, though I don't think they're actually that similar. It's an easy comparison because the bulk of the action takes place in a outdoors setting and like all novels with dystopian themes, there's societal oppression to deal with. But here's how I replied to the comparison whenever I was asked about it:
-->Both novels can easily be categorized as “monster in the house” style narratives with the bulk of the action taking place in an isolated setting, but while The Hunger Games explores themes of extreme class systems, voyeuristic culture, reality television, the realities of war, etc, Unnatural Disaster deals with a group of teens who are working together to survive a trial by magic and certainly aren’t in opposition the way the tributes of The Hunger Games are. It’s about a girl who should have powers, coming into her own as she suffers the harsh standards her world is built upon.  Where Katniss is a champion, Ember is a fledgling, unwittingly forced to prove she deserves a place in the magical society she was born into.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

As I mentioned above, there was definitely a moment where I was inspired by the question, "What if Filch was a teenage girl?", but when I started in on Unnatural, I was querying my first book, Chameleon, and I was looking for something exciting and fresh to distract me from the process. It's strange to say, but as the mix of requests and rejections came in, I started to feel urgently accountable for my potential to succeed as a published author. Moreso than I ever had before. It sunk in that "if this doesn't work out, I NEED a next book" and that made me feel very inspired and excited to get going on Unnatural.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

One of my goals with Unnatural was to avoid a drawn-out intro. It hits the ground running and takes you on a roller coaster ride. Even when it's quiet, it's kicking and screaming inside. There's plenty of action and romance (this is not your typical torn love triangle) and enough twists to keep the roller coaster flying. It's a lot of fun, and yet, there are scenes that absolutely broke my heart to write. I'm immensely proud of it, and I hope I'll be in a position to share it with you all one day.

And now it's time for some tagging action! Check out these other awesome authors, who will soon be posting on what they've got on the go:
Sarah Schauerte
at SarahWillAlwaysWrite
Shari Maurer, author of Change of Heart

I'll be back tomorrow with a one-off Tuesday post about my NaNo results and where they leave me heading into December!

friday5 for November 30, 2012

1. Lots of Hunger Games-y news this week (which I'm always a fan of), including these incredible pics out of Hawaii where they're currently filming the quarter quell scenes for Catching Fire. The outfits aside (which fans won't recognize from the books as they're quite different, though spiffy nevertheless), things are looking EXACTLY as I'd pictured them when reading. I know that's not hard to do (water water everywhere, let's all have a drink), but I feel like I'm re-reading the book just looking at these pictures. I'm already beyond excited for this film! As an aside, have you checked out any of the promo for Silver Linings Playbook? Could Jennifer Lawrence be any funnier/more down to earth? LOVE that girl.

2. In related (sort of) news, Suzanne Collins' (author of the HG) next book has been announced and it's not likely to feature kids violently killing--unless they're "killing" illiteracy. Year of the Jungle is a picture book, aimed at children 4 years and older. I think HG fans will be a bit disappointed by this news, but hey, if J.K. could follow-up Potter with The Casual Vacancy, then why not a children's book for Collins? It doesn't mean she won't go on to write more awesome YA one day. Maybe her writer brain just needed a break after the heaviness of Mockingjay.

Hmmm...maybe this new protagonist also likes Mockingjay pins? Yes, my Photoshop skills are 2-legit-2-quit.

3. I don't know why exactly, but this totally made my week. The song is great. And no description I can give you would do the video justice. You just have to watch it.

4. You didn't think I'd write a post on the last day of NaNo without a single mention of NaNo, did you? I'll do more of a follow up sometime next week with my final stats, thoughts, etc, but for now, a important tip to reiterate for those of you who have managed to finish a 50k novel during this month we call Novemeber: No matter how happy you are with what you've written, it's not ready to be published (if that's your goal). Take December and revise. Take January and revise (because you know December is going to be waaaay to busy to revise properly) and maybe even take February to make it shiny. Then, and only then, should you consider sending it to an agent or publisher for their consideration. A 50k book (aside from being on the short side) written in a month, no matter how brilliant you are, is not ready to go.

5.  I know I usually reserve #5 for my YA book rec of the week, but this week I want to give a special shout-out to a new site that recently launched called The Secret Life of Writers. It's run by five awesome young authors, who will be posting their own "insider" stories over the next little while and will be hosting fantastic giveaways as well. It's a blog launch party extravaganza! Definitely check it out. It's shaping up to be a great site and should be a good resource for aspiring young writers and book enthusiasts alike!

One final note before I sign off for the weekend--a big Happy Birthday to my friend, Emily! Go find and follow her on twitter @storyphile. Her tweets will make you wiser, I promise :)

in the nano homestretch

Cyber Monday? How am I supposed to get any writing done with all these online deals? This is terrible. Just terrible. Clearly, some sort of reward system is in order. If I write 2k, I can shop online for a bit... something like that :)

So here we are in the homestretch for NaNoWriMo. How did that happen? In a year that has flown by at a shocking rate (I'm told maternity leave will do that to you), this month has disappeared right before my eyes. Weren't we just doing the costumes and candy thing?

I'm definitely not on track to hit 50k. Back on November 1st, I knew there was a 95% chance this would happen. I have a baby to care for after all, plus, I do almost all of the cooking and cleaning (and grocery shopping, etc) at my house. I have a pretty full schedule and it's the kind that you can't just ignore, as much as there are times that I'd like to. I also found myself under the weather this past week, which does not do much for the writerly brain :(

As things stand today, with only five days left, I'm sitting at a mere 27, 079 words--that's just over half of where I "should" be by the end of the week. I know I won't catch up. I'm not going to pretend that I might. If I didn't sleep and ignored a lot of things that I really shouldn't ignore, I probably could, but I know I won't...

Way behind, but my overall slope isn't too bad! I'm staying fairly consistently behind.
All of that said, I'm still quite pleased with what I've done so far this month. I'm not going to "win" NaNo, but I am carving out a good chunk of a book I'm pretty happy with. What matters to me as we wake on day 26, is that by the end of the week, I'll hopefully have managed to write over half (I'm aiming for 60-64k total so my goal is 30-32k) of a book I think has real potential. To me, that's more valuable than 50k words I feel unsure about. And I'll gladly sacrifice "winning"for what I've written already.

I know NaNo is an all or nothing thing in terms of the "official rules", but I'm definitely in the camp who sees NaNo as an opportunity to get a little extra support and feel the encouraging embrace that only comes with an entire community of authors writing at the same time. It's a time to do what you can with the time that you have, and shoot for your own personal goals, regardless of what those are. A time to forge ahead instead of hesitate, to write instead of plan. And I think there's plenty of value in that no matter where you find yourself on November 30th.

How is your NaNo project going as we head into the homestretch? Are you happy with what you've written? Was it harder/easier than you thought it would be?

(black) friday5 for November 23, 2012

Happy Day After Turkey Day, American friends! And thank you for making Black Friday such a force-of-shopping-nature that it's made its way up here to Canada, where we're having an otherwise very normal week.
"Just a normal week at my Canadian place of employment..."

"Ahhhh! Everything is suddenly crazy on sale for no reason!!!!"

I always thought of Black Friday as the US equivalent to our Boxing Day (December 26th), but it looks like we now get to double up and share in the insanity of pre-holiday season blowout deals.

So in honour of Black Friday (and if you like your bargain shopping to be online and trample-free like I do), here are some great places to track the deals today and throughout the weekend:

1. Up here in Canada, I've heard it referred to as Red Friday, Black Frid-eh! (my personal fav) and of course, Old Navy is referring to it as Cheermageddon (because happy...end of the world?). Regardless of what you call it, we are seeing our fair share of deals north of the border and if you need to kickstart your holiday shopping, there's no better place to scope out all the deals than Canadian Daily Deals. I have no way of knowing if they've captured absolutely everything, but there's way more than enough to get you started!

2. Of course, this isn't about us Canadians (not really). It's about our dear pals to the south, who are hopefully so full of delicious turkey that sitting in front of the computer shopping their hearts out is all they can manage. My search for an American Daily Deals turned up nothing (I guess there isn't a sister site), but I did find what looks to be a pretty comprehensive list at Deals of America. Have at it, my American friends! Tis the season and all that!

3. Now that we've covered all the self-indulgent shopping options, you're probably feeling the need to give back a bit (assuming your heart isn't as black as the day itself). Better hit up Free Rice and start clicking! Bonus: improve your vocab at the same time!

4. Better yet, during this time of glutenous overkill, why not make a charitible donation to one of the following charities that are fighting to make the world a better place for everyone:
5. You've shopped, you've alleviated the guilt with a little charity--now it's time for a little R&R, right? This week's YA book rec is Elemental by Antony John.

I don't have much to say about the cover. It's kind of ho-hum. And kind of familiar. I know it's a genre thing, and I'm sure it's backed by market research, but there's nothing to write home about.

What the book does have going for it, is its plot:
Sixteen-year-old Thomas has always been an outsider. The first child born without the power of an Element—earth, water, wind or fire—he has little to offer his tiny, remote Outer Banks colony. Or so the Guardians would have him believe.

In the wake of an unforeseen storm, desperate pirates kidnap the Guardians, intent on claiming the island as their own. Caught between the plague-ridden mainland and the advancing pirates, Thomas and his friends fight for survival in the battered remains of a mysterious abandoned settlement. But the secrets they unearth will turn Thomas’ world upside-down, and bring to light not only a treacherous past but also a future more dangerous than he can possibly imagine.
(Summary from
The idea of using elemental powers to drive your plot isn't a new concept, but we have a protagonist who's an outsider (which I can totally dig), forced into a dangerous situation that could determine the future of his world. And it's not just any dangerous situation, it's one that involves pirates! How can you say no to that? You simply can't, my friends. You simply can't.

Have a great weekend!

finding a good home for your creation

I recently received some heartwarmingly positive feedback on a short story I wrote for a contest. As happy as I was with the story I'd written, it hadn't won. So I'd sadly moved on. But after the feedback I unexpectedly received recently, I'm now putting some thought into what else I can do with this story. I know it seems shortsighted, but it hadn't occurred to me to submit it anywhere else. My focus has always been on writing novels. The odd short story I've submitted for a contest here or there was always in a separate space in my mind. But just because a story didn't serve its initial purpose, doesn't mean you can't still find it a good home.

For a lot of people, a book that didn't survive the querying trenches (or ensuing the submission stage) eventually gets shelved. It's viewed as a learning experience, having served its purpose as a book that needed to be written before an author could go on to write the book that gets them where they're going. For others, shelving a book they've slaved over is too heartbreaking, and self-publishing is an option.

Which route is better? Well, that depends. If you're still pursuing a traditional publishing career, self-publishing could potentially hurt you down the road, especially if the book you self-publish is vastly different in style and genre than the book you're eventually signed for. It's hard to develop a strong debut author brand when an old self-published novel is kicking around. The power of your debut is diminished, especially if the self-pubbed book really wasn't up to snuff.

But if you've decided the traditional publishing route isn't for you, isn't self-publishing better than letting your story collect dust in a drawer? Again, that depends. Personally, I'd never recommend that someone invest their savings into self-publishing a book (unless they're an established author who has a strong following and is making the jump from traditional publishing to self-publishing, but that's a whole separate issue). If you have the money to do it (without the spend having adverse effects on your family/life) then I'd say self-publishing is a good option if you'd really like to see your story in book form (or ebook form).

"I'm so glad I decided to self-publish my book about reading with your eyes closed..."
A story is more than just words on a page (yes, even the muddled NaNo story you may or may not be avoiding as you read this). It's something special. Even if you write as a hobby instead of in pursuit of publication, finishing a book is a huge accomplishment and beloved creations deserve good homes, whether that be through self-publishing, submission to contests, submission to magazines, or just a special spot on your bookshelf. If you're proud of something you've created, you should take it as far as you can. And if the route you dream of doesn't work out, find another good home for your creation. It never has to be an all or nothing thing.

Do you have prior works of art that didn't achieve their initial purpose? Did you go on to find them a good home elsewhere?

Anybody have good lead on where I should submit my YA sci-fi short story? :)

friday5 for November 16, 2012

Let's be honest here, I haven't spent a lot of time around the web this week. When I haven't been busy with life things, my attention has been squarely on all things NaNoWriMo.

I'm not "on target" according to the 50k standard, but I am keeping a good pace and more importantly, I'm happy with what I'm writing.  It feels like it's going somewhere (most of the time) and as I knew would happen eventually (even as I navigated those first, scary, very-loosely-outlined chapters), my characters are now telling me what's up. Their voices are distinct, their motivations are clear and I have a very good feeling about where things are headed.

...But I'm not where I "should be" in terms of word count. At first I started to feel stressed about that, but then I re-read some of the NaNo posts I've linked to recently, and I reminded myself that 30-35k of a book I can polish into something publishable is worth far more to me than 50k of a book that goes off in the wrong direction and has no substance. There is absolutely a place for NaNoers (or Wrimos as we're apparently called) who are primarily concerned with quantity over depth, but I'm just not one of them (I say depth rather than quality because sometimes the quality/potential is evident--it's the layers nobody has time for). And maybe that means I'll never be able to "win" NaNo (at least not while I have a baby). I can live with that. I have my own goals for the month--and while one of them is to get a lot of words on the page, a more pressing one is to spend quality time with my daughter as I find my maternity leave disappearing before my eyes.

That's all a long way of saying I don't have my usual variety of links for this week's friday5 so instead, here's a rapid-fire publishing/nano edition of the friday5!

1. It's that time again--best book of the year lists are popping up everywhere. Amazon's Best Teen Books list has pointed out just how little time I've had to read for pleasure this year. I don't know much (anything) about batting averages, but I'm only batting 4 out of 20 (convert that into whatever makes sense, sports fans!). Do I get bonus points for having read the #1 book? No? Because John Green is amazing and how could anyone not read his books? Okay, fine.

2. Another great post by Beth Revis as she live-blogs a day in the glamorous NaNo life. Doesn't it feel good to know you aren't the only one shopping online when you should be writing? Hey, at least I'm chipping away at my holiday gift list...

3. Okay, this is only semi-publishing related, but Deadline is reporting that they're narrowing in on an actor to play Four in the Divergent film franchise. Going purely off looks (because I have no clue who any of these guys are), Jack Reynor is my top pick. Luke Bracey is second. Brenton Thwaites is not how I picture Four at all (that guy looks like he should be on the Disney channel) and Lucas Till is even further from how I picture Four. So Jack Reynor for the win!!! (even though I'm basing this solely on thumbnail pictures of these guys...)

4. Scholastic is being awesome by donating one million books to schools and libraries that were affected by superstorm Sandy. Very cool of them. Yes, moves like this are good PR, but that doesn't mean they aren't also good deeds. This is about getting books to kids. They can have all the good PR they want.

5. Of course I can't leave out my YA book rec of the week! For those who've read the first two books in Allie Condie's dystopian Matched trilogy, book three, Reached, is out (and somehow managed to make it onto that Amazon Best Teen Books list I mentioned above, even though the book had only been out for one day when the list was posted...). I haven't read these books (yet!) so I'm not really in a position to talk about book three excitement (yet!). Instead, let's take a look at Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara. You're probably learning by now that I'm a sucker for a gorgeous cover and oooh! look what we have here:
I'm not ready for real snow, but this I can get behind.
A resonant debut novel about retreating from the world after losing everything—and the connections that force you to rejoin it. Since the night of the crash, Wren Wells has been running away. Though she lived through the accident that killed her boyfriend Patrick, the girl she used to be didn’t survive. Instead of heading off to college as planned, Wren retreats to her father’s studio in the far-north woods of Maine. Somewhere she can be alone.

Then she meets Cal Owen. Dealing with his own troubles, Cal’s hiding out too. When the chemistry between them threatens to pull Wren from her hard-won isolation, Wren has to choose: risk opening her broken heart to the world again, or join the ghosts who haunt her.
ummary from
Many of the reviews are calling it "lovely, dark and deep" so I guess the title did its job :) But seriously, I always think of myself as primarily a reader of paranormal/fantasy/sci-fi/dystopian YA, but then I find myself drawn to contemporaries. Especially literary ones like this. The plot doesn't sound revolutionary, but when a story is beautifully told, it's worth hearing again. Plus, it's a debut and debuts are always worth a read--not only are you in a good position to discover a new favourite author, you're giving new authors the much needed support they've worked extremely hard for. Win-win!

Was this post actually shorter than a normal friday5? I'm pretty sure it wasn't... Oh well! Happy weekend!

the writer's arsenal: query letter dos and don'ts

Over time, I plan to look at certain specific aspects of the query letter (and query process) in a little more detail. But you have to start somewhere, and I think the best place to start is with a top line list of dos and don'ts when it comes to querying. Query letters seem like they should be straightforward and there's certainly plenty of information on them around the web, but in my experience some of the info is conflicting and some of it amounts to few actual takeaway tips. I'm hoping to keep the tips in this post clear and concise. And then we'll get into more detail in future posts (let me know in the comments if there's an aspect of querying or anything publishing-related that you'd like to hear more about down the road). I'm going to stick to tips that mainly apply to querying fiction. I'll cover non-fiction in another post, as it's a whole different ball game.

I apologize ahead of time for typos--it's a long list and I'm doing the bad thing by posting before I proof. I'll fix it up as I notice the inevitable errors :)

  • DO finish your book before you query. This should be a no-brainer, but people often get excited and want to start the process as soon as possible. But please, don't do this. You should be focusing all of your efforts on finishing, then revising, then polishing your book. Then, and only then, should you start querying agents and publishers. 
  • DO ensure you're only reaching out to reputable agents/agencies/publishers. Check out the services offered at QueryTracker. Use Preditors and Editors, an online resource for writers to help them avoid being scammed. Also check out the Thumbs Down Agency List at SFWA and the forums at Absolute Write. These resources exist for education and support. You'll need a lot of both as you attempt to enter this crazy business.
  • DO your research. Know whether or not the person you're querying represents your genre. Querying someone who doesn't is only going to make your rejection/non-response rate go up. Keep to the people you might have a shot with. They're the ones who know their stuff when it comes to your genre. They're the ones you'd want representing you anyway.
  • DO also research the person you're querying beyond just which genres they represent. Do they have a website? Twitter? Blog? Do they have preferences when it comes to query letters? If they do, ALWAYS follow them. ALWAYS. They've provided those guidelines for a reason. Respecting them will get you started off on the right foot.
  • DO include sample pages ONLY IF the agent has asked for them in their guidelines. Otherwise, keep it to just the query letter itself. Most agents will say how many sample pages, chapters, etc they would like to see included, but if you come across a set of guidelines that simply say "sample pages are fine", keep it to the first 5-10 pages, or if your first chapter lands somewhere in that range, cut it off there. It's enough to get a taste, and it's certainly enough to help them decide whether or not they want to read more. 
  • DON'T select sample pages from what you believe to be "the best" part of your book. Sample pages should always be from the beginning of your book--not an exciting passage from chapter nine (even if it is awesome). The opening pages of your book should be attention-grabbing enough. If they aren't, you have more revising to do. 
  • DO send your query letter via email whenever possible. It's faster and more environmentally friendly. Very few agents/publishers still prefer submissions via snail mail, but if they do, adhere to that request. Include a SASE and remember to actually put a stamp on it. An envelope with your address on it is worthless without the stamp.
  • DON'T send your query letter on weird stationary (this goes for email and snail mail). For snail mail, don't include anything other than the query letter, SASE and sample pages (if they were asked for in the guidelines). No glitter, no spritzes of perfume, no sample marketing materials, and no sample covers you've designed yourself.
  • DO send email queries from a professional sounding email address that identifies who you are. will make you look ridiculous. If you don't have an email address that is some variation of your name, make one.
  • DO keep your content in the body of the email. No attachments unless the person has specifically said it's okay. That includes sample pages. Paste them into the body of the email, below the query letter.
  • DO format email queries as emails. Don't try and use the snail letter format in an email. It looks silly. The subject line should read, "Query: <title of book>" unless an agent specifically requests otherwise.
  • DO prepare your subject line and body of the email first and then add the recipient's email address last. This will prevent you from accidentally sending it off before it's ready to go. Hitting send won't get very far with a blank To: field.
  • DON'T send query letters out in big batches to multiple recipients, even if a bunch of agents have identical guidelines. Their names aren't identical and that's reason enough to separate them out. Nobody wants to be reduced to a name on your mass query mailing list.  
  • DO address your letter to the specific person you're querying. Dear Sir, Dear Agent, Dear Publisher, To Whom it May Concern, etc is not a good first impression (especially the Dear Sir--you're just going to offend somebody with that one). Since you've done your research on the people you're querying, there is no reason to not address each letter you send to the person it's indented for. If an agency asks that you send one query letter to the agency and they'll decide who it's right for and no name of contact is given, simply address it to the agency: "Dear Agents of <insert agency name>". Don't just leave out a salutation. You have one shot at a first impression. Make it count.
  • DO keep in mind that a query letter is a professional letter. Keep it that way. It certainly can be genial and polite, but don't let it slide into casual territory. Keep your language professional, clean, concise and on point.
  • DON'T lose sight of what the query letter is about--your book. It's not a platform for you to talk about yourself, your family, your pets, your dreams, where you grew up, where you traveled in your youth, any adversity you've overcome, etc. It's about the book you've written and your specific, non-emotional qualifications to write said book. The person you're querying isn't your pen pal. Don't tell them about your life. This isn't a personal correspondence. It's a business letter.
  • DO keep to this format: intro or hook (if you have one), brief but enticing plot summary, brief author bio/qualifications, thank you, sign off. The letter shouldn't be longer than 3-4 paragraphs. Some agents would also like to know how you found out about them and why your book would be a good fit for their list. If they mention this in their guidelines, then go for it, otherwise, keep it short and sweet.
  • DO make sure you include the following vital pieces of information in your letter: title, genre, word count and what the book is about. Those are the things agents/publishers need to know. 
  • DON'T mention future books in a series, or other books you've written (unless they were published). A query letter should be about one book. Even if your book is book one of a planned trilogy, don't mention this. If the agent is interested in the book, that's something you can discuss when you speak on the phone. 
  • DON'T write one huge book and talk about how it could be broken into shorter books. When you query, your book should be ready to stand alone as one cohesive unit. And the word count should be reasonable (90-100k for adult fiction; 60-80k for YA, 50-60k for MG. There are exceptions but don't stray too far).
  • DON'T even think about mentioning the word film. Or movie. Or merchandizing. Your query letter is about the manuscript you've written. That's it. The time to talk about anything beyond the book itself is not now. That may come  later, after you've actually sold your book to a publisher, and even then, let the conversation come to you. Publishing is not the film industry.
  • DON'T praise your own book in your letter. Just don't. It may seem harmless to refer to it as a hilarious tale of blah blah blah, but just don't. The book should speak for itself. The plot summary should hint at the themes and give a sample of the voice (I'll discuss the plot summary in more detail in a future post), but it should do these things without you having to spell them out.
  • DO include information about any relevant writing awards you've won, writers' groups you're a part of, and/or relevant education you've completed. If none of these apply, don't try and find things to force in their place. Just keep your letter simple.
  • DO mention it if you've been published before. If you have, always include details (title, pub date, publisher).
  • DO remind an agent of who you are if you've queried them in the past, especially if they've requested material from you.
  • DON'T feel the need to point out that this is your first book. Nobody needs to know that. Your lack of publishing credentials will speak to that.
  • DON'T feel the need to copyright or get a patent for your book. It's not necessary and it makes you look paranoid. As long as you are querying reputable agents and publishers, nobody is going to steal your book. 
  • DO mention comparable books if the agents asks for it in their guidelines, otherwise, don't feel the need to do it unless it's a fantastic comparison. Don't say it's the next Harry Potter or Twilight or whatever. Don't compare your book to bestsellers just because you want it to sound awesome. Only compare it to books if the comparison is pitch-perfect. Otherwise, you just look silly.
  • DO include your contact information at the bottom of your letter--email, phone number, address.
  • DO proof your query letter before you send it. Even if you've saved it as a template somewhere on your computer and you know it's been proofed. Check it again.
  • DO proof your query letter before you send it. Oh, I just said that? Well, do it again. The last thing you want to do is hit send and then realize you've made a silly typo. Most agents will be forgiving of an easily-missed typo, but more than one starts to get you in serious trouble.
  • DO send your query letters out in batches and wait to hear back from a few before sending more. Many people will recommend you don't query your top choices right away in case the first version of your query letter isn't your best (it's probably not). Query agents you are interested in, but maybe aren't your top choices and based on their feedback, revise your letter before sending it to your top picks. If the query letter seems to work and you receive some requests, feel free to stick with it and send it along to those top agents. But don't query 100 agents at once or you'll be sorry if you realize the query could be stronger. Again, you only get one first impression.
  • DO keep track of who you've queried and when. I like to create a spreadsheet in excel that also includes info on expected response time, whether or not sample pages were involved and any other relevant info on the agent or agency.
  • DON'T reply to rejections. Not even to say thank you. Just read them and move on. Agents don't expect or want replies to rejections, especially form rejections. If you receive a rejection on requested material, a simple "Thank you for your time" email is acceptable, but don't ever ask for more feedback. Don't ask if you can send a revision. If an agent would be open to seeing a revision, they will mention it in their reply.
  • DO respond to requests for more material in a timely manner, usually within 24 hours. Follow instructions carefully. If they only want to see a few chapters, don't send the whole thing. When you are ready to send along your materials, change the subject of your email to something along the lines of "Requested material: <title of book>" so that it stands out in the agent's flooded inbox.
  • DO be patient. Patience is HUGE in publishing. You're always waiting for something and the wait starts now. Agents/editors are busy. Very busy. Give them time to get to your query or submission. If they are a non-responder, they'll usually mention it in their guidelines (ie: if you don't hear back within six weeks, consider it a pass). Respect that. If they say it's okay to follow-up, then do so. If they don't specify a time, eight weeks is a good rule of thumb. I know that seems long, but trust me, it takes that long sometimes. Sometimes it takes even longer. After eight week, a polite, "Just wanted to follow up on my query from <date>" is acceptable. Include the original query in your email. If you still haven't heard back after another six-eight weeks, follow-up again, but after that, it might be time to start thinking about moving on.
  • DON'T re-query a book to the same agent after they've rejected you. They'll remember and they'll be mad at you for trying to trick them. Only send a revised manuscript if it's been requested, the only possible exception being if you've done a major overhaul and have received some positive reactions to it from other agents, then it's okay to see if a previously semi-interested agent would like a second look.

I'm certain I've missed a few things but I'll definitely add to this list as I think of more. If you have any questions about any of the above, or anything I didn't cover, please ask away in the comments!
I will cover the next step, a.k.a. what to do when an agent offers representation, in a future post.

For today, I will leave you with my query letter for Unnatural (titled Unnatural Disaster at the time), the book that snagged me my fabulous agent:
Dear <agent>,
November "Ember" Edwards is not a witch. She can't successfully perform a single spell, which would be a total non-issue except that everybody else can. Ember is what The Ravendale Finishing School for Young Sorcerers labels a "dud", a weak link in the gene pool, and it's sink or swim when she and a group of fellow non-graduating students are led into the woods for the post-academic culling, an annual event that pits the duds against a series of so-called natural disasters, forcing them to either summon their latent magical abilities or die trying.
Thankfully, Ember is not alone. Her boyfriend Ren Hargrove is also a dud, and Ember thinks they have a good shot at surviving if they stick together. But first, she'll have to find a way to get Caden Rowley, the mysterious stranger who turns up in the woods, out of her mind, a task that's much easier said than done when he causes her to feel the first sparks of magic she's ever known—something she's learning she can't live without.
I’m seeking representation for my young adult novel, Unnatural Disaster, which is complete at 63, 300 words. I graduated with an Honors Bachelor of Arts in Rhetoric and Professional Writing from the University of <redacted>. I'm currently on maternity leave from my position as an editorial assistant for <redacted>.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Warm regards,

Kate Pawson Studer

friday5 for November 9, 2012

I totally should be working on my NaNo book right now, but I'm taking a break to bring you the friday5--this is how dedicated I am to you, faithful blog readers! All ten of you! Okay, there's more than ten of you, but even if there was only one of you, I'd still do the friday5 because let's face it, there's news a brewin':

1. Let's kick things off with another fantastic post about NanoWrimo, this time from the immensely talented Beth Revis (whose Across the Universe series is fantastic in audiobook format! The husband and I listened to books one and two in the car while on long drives and both give it two thumbs up. That's four thumbs, people!). Anyway, Beth points out, much like Carrie Ryan did in her post, which I linked to on Sunday, that it isn't about winning NaNo. It's about enthusiasm, support, and most importantly, writing a book! Check out A Corollary to NaNoWriMo, or, Why I'm Prouder of 600 Words than 10,000.

2. I never got the whole zombie romance craze. I like my zombies all mindless, erratic and murder-y. I'm talking Carrie Ryan (girl's getting lots of play on this blog lately!), Sophie Littlefield (ZOMG soooo good!) and of course, The Walking Dead. When somebody (I won't pretend to know who) decided to make zombies the new vampire by turning them into sentient (?), desirable (??), swoon-inducing objects of teen girl affection (???!), I just couldn't get on board. There's the undead and then there's the undead, you know? But then I saw the trailer for Warm Bodies. And I have to admit, it looks fantastic. I missed out on the book the first time around, but now I'm thinking I might have to check it out. This doesn't change my stance on zombie romance, but I think the story in Warm Bodies might be something I could get behind, especially if it's as funny as it looks. I can't say no to funny. Have any of you read it? Reviews?

3. Let's talk news I'm waaaaay more excited about than I should be. As a card-carrying Veronica Mars fan (yes, I made the card myself, what of it?), I squeeeed at the top of my fangirl lungs when I read that Kristen Bell (who I'm pretty sure I'd love even if she wasn't our dear Veronica), and her fiance Dax Shepard (who I used to refer to as the poor man's Zach Braff until I saw the guy act--now he's just a super cool, funny guy who happens to resemble ZB)...where was I? Oh right--they're having a baby! Ahhhh! A Veronica Mars baby!!!! Is it wrong that I'm already hoping it's a girl and she grows up to star in some sort of awesome reboot of Veronica Mars? No? I didn't think so. But seriously, how cute is that baby going to be? Satyana Denisof may have some competition...

4. I'm not going to try and pass the results of the US Presidential Election off as some news story you may not have been aware of, but aside from Obama's victory, some very big things came about from Tuesday's vote. Those very big things have me feeling rather proud of my neighbours to the south. And I hope they're a sign of more good thing to come. Hope and optimism are alive! I can't help but think it has something to do with the awesomeness of young voters, demonstrating their desire for change. Hooray!

5. YA book rec of the week time! Days of Blood & Starlight by Liani Taylor. It's book two in a series (after 2011's Daughter of Smoke & Bone) and it's looking pretty damn amazing:

In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Karou must come to terms with who and what she is, and how far she’ll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, mysteries and secrets, new characters and old favorites, Days of Blood and Starlight brings the richness, color and intensity of the first book to a brand new canvas. (Summary from
Admittedly, the description doesn't say much about the book, but that's kinda how it often goes with sequels. So let me also share the description for book one since that's where you should start before motoring along to book two:
Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages—not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.

When one of the strangers—beautiful, haunted Akiva—fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?
(Summary from
Kick-ass titles, gorgeous covers and brilliant writing. What more do you want?  

Time to get back to the old NaNo WIP... I'm still convinced I won't make it to 50k, but I'm pretty thrilled with the progress I am making and I'm starting to feel really excited about the story itself. As far as I'm concerned, those things are what NaNo is all about!