Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Janet Ruth Heller On Querying Publishers

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Janet Ruth Heller. Janet is a poet, literary critic, college professor, essayist, playwright, and fiction writer. She is a past president of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature, and is currently president of the Michigan College English Association. She has a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago, and has published three books of poetry: Exodus (WordTech Communications, 2014), Folk Concert: Changing Times (Anaphora Literary Press, 2012), and Traffic Stop (Finishing Line Press, 2011).

She is the founding mother and former editor of Primavera, a literary magazine. Primavera has won awards from Chicago Women in Publishing and the Illinois Arts Council and grants from the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines and the National Endowment for the Arts. Primavera was among the first journals to publish work by writers like Louise Erdrich.

Are you a Planner or Pantser?

I usually think about an idea that I have for a story for a while, planning in my head, and then start writing. When I have a decent draft, I take the story to my writers’ group members to get their reactions. Usually, the group wants me to develop the characters and the situation and to add more dialogue. I also think about new aspects for the story. Then, I make revisions and eventually show the revised work to the writers’ group again. Often, the group wants further revisions, so I work on the story more. This process gets repeated many times. When my writers’ group and I are satisfied with the manuscript, I send it out to potential publishers.

How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?

If I count all of the revisions, it takes me at least a year to write a novel, sometimes up to seven years.

Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi-tasker?

I usually have more than one project that I’m working on. I’m usually working on a poetry book, a children’s story, a scholarly article, and my memoir. I also do writing for nonprofit organizations to help them with publicity for events.

Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?

I was lucky because my elementary school teachers gave creative writing assignments and recognized my writing talent. For example, my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Messias, dittoed a poem that I wrote and gave copies to all of the students in my class. I guess that was my first publication. And I have been publishing individual poems, stories, scholarly articles, and essays since the mid-1970s. So I am not fearful when I write.

However, some writing projects are more difficult than others. For my doctoral thesis at the University of Chicago, I wrote a history of the idea that tragic dramas should be read, rather than performed. I had never done a history of ideas project before, so I had to learn how to trace concepts across centuries.

How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?

I do not have an agent. I have found publishers for all of my books myself by doing research about various editors and publishing companies. I have eight children’s story manuscripts that I’m trying to find presses for right now.

Have you ever quit on a manuscript, and how did you know it was time?

I rarely quit writing a manuscript. But I have some unfinished stories that I may return to in the future. Often, I take very short poems and later combine them into a longer, more polished piece.

Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?

I do a lot of research before sending a query to an agent or a publisher. I make sure that the agent or editor is interested in the type of work that I want to send. I look at websites, essays that the person has published about his or her preferences, the list of books that the individual has agented or published, etc. I read newsletters for writers and magazines like The Writer’s Chronicle, The Writer, and Poets & Writers magazine. 

For example, I found out on the listserve for the Michigan chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators that Arbordale Publishing was looking for picture book manuscripts related to science. I sent Arbordale two science-related stories, and one got accepted two weeks later: How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Arbordale, 2006; 4th edition 2014).  

This book about bullying and about the solar system has won four national awards:  a Book Sense Pick in 2006, a Children’s Choices selection for 2007, a Benjamin Franklin Award for 2007, and a Gold Medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards for 2007. In 2009, How the Moon Regained Her Shape was one of five finalists for the Patricia Gallagher Picture Book Award given by the Oregon Reading Association.

How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?

I was very excited to see my revised doctoral thesis, Coleridge, Lamb, Hazlitt, and the Reader of Drama (University of Missouri Press) in print in 1990. However, my books for children have more readers and give me more opportunities to share my work with the public. When my picture book about bullying How the Moon Regained Her Shape came out in 2006, I went to many schools, libraries, bookstores, and conferences to talk about my book and about thwarting bullies. Because I had been badly bullied as a child in elementary school, I found it very healing to help other children understand bullying and to teach them how to stand up to abusive people. Also, I brought How the Moon Regained Her Shape to my family’s holiday gathering and listened as my nieces and nephews passed the book around, each reading a page or two. I love watching children read my books to themselves at my speaking and autographing events: they are reading my words!

How much input do you have on cover art?

I had one bad experience when the publisher, without telling me, put artwork on the cover that I had designated for the middle of the book. The cover illustration looked good, but it did not fit the overall subject matter of the book. After that frustrating situation, I have insisted on approving the cover art for all of my works.

What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?

Because I began my career publishing poems, essays, scholarly books, and articles for adults, I had to learn from Donna German, the editor at Arbordale Publishing, that children’s books have to fit a small range of reading levels. For example, authors write picture books for children in first, second, or third grade. I had to revise some of my sentences in How the Moon Regained Her Shape to shorten them and to use fewer polysyllabic words. Similarly, my middle-grade chapter book The Passover Surprise (Fictive Press, 2015) is written for children in third grade through eighth grade.

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I do a lot of my own marketing. My website is here. I am also active on LinkedIn and Facebook. There are groups for writers and illustrators of books for children on LinkedIn and Facebook.  

I speak at many schools, book fairs, libraries, and bookstores every year.  I also attend many conferences to speak about my books and issues related to my books, such as bullying, multicultural literature, and creative writing.

When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?

I think that writers should build their platforms early in their careers so that people can find out information about each person’s work. Publishers like authors who have their own websites and are comfortable using the social media to publicize their writing. Most publishers expect writers to help with promoting books.

Do you think social media help build your readership?

Yes, I think that social media help to increase the number of people who read my books. Many individuals have seen my posts on LinkedIn, Facebook, or my website and then ask to connect to me. Some of these people are librarians and teachers who may choose to share my books with their libraries and schools. Other readers are parents or grandparents who may purchase my books for their children and grandchildren.

Some authors are already famous actors or artists before they write books, but most writers begin as unknowns. Arbordale Publishing’s Lee German told me that most people need to see information about a book seven times before they purchase that book. Therefore, we unknown authors need to use any legal tool at our disposal to increase our name recognition, explain the concepts in our books, and maximize publicity for our work. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Barbara Claypole White On Writing Through Personal Tragedy

Barbara Claypole White author of The Unfinished Garden, The In Between Hour, The Perfect Son and Echoes of Family joined me to talk about finding inspiration for her fiction in real life, writing through personal tragedy and how to write characters with mental illnesses.



If the blog or podcast have been of any assistance to you in your writing life, I would very much appreciate monetary support so that I can continue to produce them. The crowdfunding site provides award tiers for donors at each level, starting at $1 a month.

Want to support me but don't like the idea of a monthly charge? I understand. You can support me by buying me a coffee in exchange for my content through Ko-Fi or giving a one time donation to me through the PayPal button below.




New episodes will go up every week! Please follow the podcast to be notified of each new episode, or subscribe through iTunes!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: THE HOLLOW GIRL by Hillary Monahan

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

Bethan is meant to follow in the footsteps of her Gran, to be the healer for her band of Romany people. With half of her face covered in a wine scar, Bethan is happy to fulfill that role, knowing that a good marriage would be hard to make. Then she meets Martyn, the farmer's son who sells their wares at the local market while she's selling charm pouches. Martyn doesn't mind her mark, or her Romany blood. He finds Bethan fascinating - and she doesn't mind the attention.

But when Silas - the chieftain's son - sees their flirtation, he's angry. Accustomed to having whatever wants, Silas has decided he wants Bethan - mostly because she's not interested. Silas and his friends attack Bethan and Martyn, raping her and beating Martyn nearly to death. When her Gran finds her, she has Bethan pull Martyn's last breath from his body and hold it in her own, explaining that there is a way to save him - and revenge herself - but it will mean setting aside their green magic for something much darker.

Broken and bruised, Bethan agrees, and sets out on a journey to avenge herself, and save the boy she loves.

Want to help me with all the mailing costs? I do giveaways at least once week, sometimes more. It can add up. If you feel so inclined as to donate a little to defray my mailing costs, it would be much appreciated! Donating has no impact on your chances of winning.

*********************************************************************************



a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

I'm a nerd. In fact, I'm such a big nerd that I tend to look up word origins in my spare time because I'm fascinated by our language. The odder the origin, the better. I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications.

In any case, I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of the new acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF! Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

Ever wonder where that yummy old pile of crumbly, the Snickerdoodle, got its whimsical name? As with most word origins, there are a few different answers, so pick the one you like best. I'm going with the German one, because the mother country still has its hooks in my heart, and because it makes the most sense.

The Joy of Cooking attributes the cookie to Germany, suggesting that the name is a corruption of the German word schneckennudeln, a type of cinnamon dusted sweet roll.

Because of the holiday connections involved with the snickerdoodle, some think that the name originated from the Dutch language contraction of "Saint Nicholas."

My thoughts?

They taste good.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Kate Watson On Handling An Austen Retelling

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today's guest for the WHAT is Kate Watson  is a young adult writer, wife, mother of two, and the tenth of thirteen children. Originally from Canada, she attended college in the States and holds a BA in Philosophy. Seeking Mansfield (Flux) is her first novel, with a companion to follow. She is also a contributor to Eric Smith’s WELCOME HOME adoption anthology (along with Mindy!) coming fall of 2017 from Flux.

You can find Kate on her site, Facebook & Twitter.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

I’m a Jane Austen fanatic, and a few years ago, I was rereading Mansfield Park and thinking about how it doesn’t translate to the modern era like Austen’s other works do. The main character, Fanny Price, doesn’t make a lot of sense to modern readers (not to mention the whole cousins in love thing, which is pretty tough to get over in any era, because ew). So as I was rereading the book, I kept wondering how it could be updated to resonate with a 21st Century audience. SEEKING MANSFIELD is my attempt to modernize this much-overlooked classic.

Also, full disclosure: Henry Crawford is one of my favorite Austen men. There’s a distinct possibility that I simply wanted to write (modern) Henry Crawford fan fiction.

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

Retelling anything is tricky, because you get one camp of readers wanting the story to follow the original, and you get another camp wanting something fresh. So before I wrote the plot, I knew I needed to understand my characters, independent of their Austen correlatives. I spent a lot of time researching them and getting to know them. After that, I figured out how my story needed to end, and I outlined some major plot points that I thought would get me there. I wrote the first draft of SEEKING MANFIELD with Mansfield Park right beside me for direction. But after that first draft was done, I closed the original and edited and made copious changes based on my characters and their individual arcs.

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

I can’t say I ever have a plot firmly in place. I’m a destination writer—I always know how the story will end (and I’ve yet to be surprised by an ending). But I rarely know how it will happen, even though I create decent outlines in advance of any project. I love doing research, and it’s often in the course of researching something that I realize the story needs to take a different direction than expected, because that research helps me uncover more about my characters. I’m incapable of forcing a plot on my characters. They really run the show. 

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

Ideas come to me pretty often, sometimes when I’m doing something productive, like reading, but frequently when I’m occupied with mundane tasks, like showering or doing dishes (it should be noted that I never get ideas while folding laundry, because folding laundry is evil and inherently uninspiring). Recently, I even had a dream that ended up being a surprisingly fleshed out, John Green-esque novel. My dreams are typically absolute nonsense, like Freddy Kruger living in my closet, but he’s like a nice Freddy Kruger and he cries when I tell him to leave me alone so I can sleep, and stuff (not kidding on that one, btw). But this idea was solid enough that I actually wrote it down. We’ll see if it makes it into the rotation someday.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

Anytime I get an idea, I jot everything down that comes to me about it, and then I return to whatever else I’m working on at the time. My mind ruminates on those ideas in the background until there’s sort of a survival-of-the-fittest/fight club moment and one wins out. It’s all very violent, and sometimes I feel bad for those poor ideas that got bludgeoned and left for ruin in my brain. But that’s evolution, you know?

Writing can be completely exhausting. Like riding in a car, there’s no reason why but it totally drains me physically. I usually take a nap if I’ve been writing for more than an hour. Do you have to recharge after a writing session? 

Writing is all about momentum for me. If I haven’t written for a while, it’s really hard to get back in the habit. But if I’m in author-mode, writing acts like a jolt of caffeine. When I’m on a roll, I’ll find that I start writing at 9 PM and can easily go till 1 AM without batting an eye. In those instances, I have a hard time shutting my brain off because I’m so eager to live in the story.

Monday, May 15, 2017

New Podcast Ep & Where I'll Be This Week! (Also $1.99 E-Book!)

Lots going on this week! First off, there is a new episode of the Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire podcast available. This week's guest is Alyssa Palombo, historical fiction author of The Violinist of Venice and The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence. Alyssa joined me to talk about querying a novel that wasn't ready yet, immersing herself in the time period of her characters, the shifting standards of beauty from age to age, and how to balance blogging and writing fiction.



I have two appearances this week. Tuesday, May 16th @ 6PM I will be at the Barberton Public Library to discuss Blood, Brains & Lobotomies. By that I mean I'll be discussing A Madness So Discreet. Learn about how doctors treated brain injuries in the 1890’s and the different aspects of care for the mentally ill – for better or for worse. Also included is a brief history of The Athens Lunatic Asylum, the setting for the novel.



I will also be at the Strongsville Branch of the Cuyahoga County Library on Wednesday May 17 @ 7 PM, where I'll be discussing the many different threads and inspirations that came together to become Given to the Sea, my first fantasy.

And - the e-book of A Madness So Discreet is still only $1.99!




Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.    

Warrior, wizard, slave: no matter how powerful Andre Hawthorne becomes, he knows only death can set him free. Not a bad hook, but the last part of the sentence feels like it's shading the first three words as ascending levels of power, but I feel like the last noun cancels that out? He is the property of Mara Tsaryov, the ruthless Witch of Shadowfall, named for the Lithuanian forest where she was born. Mara bought Andre as a child, bonded him to her with magic, trained him to guard and protect her—and now that he’s grown into a charismatic young man, Mara has fallen in love with him. So he's a slave in the sense that he's her servant and unable to unbond from her because of magic? Also, is Mara ageless or is she a cougar? But in 1790, an aristocrat of New Russia would never permit herself to fall in love with a black slave, a living piece of her property who doesn’t even desire her. Mara despises her feelings, and she longs to kill Andre to rid herself of her shame. Interesting. I think you can get these ideas across in less words though. Look for easy cuts, or different phrasing.

But this particular slave is too useful for Mara to kill, and her political schemes would be impossible without Andre’s skills. His magic protects her chateaux in the Carpathians, Mara’s favorite home and the seat of her power. Frustrated with Andre’s indifference, Mara decides to enhance her physical appearance, and dress to inspire his lust, in order to regain control of herself, and of him.

So when a gifted seamstress in Kiev loses her husband, and must sell herself into slavery to keep her family safe, Mara is only too happy to acquire this slave. A Mongolian witch raised by Cossacks, Sienna Katyev will never be as powerful as Mara—but Sienna has her own kind of indomitable strength. As she works alongside Andre inside Mara’s chateaux, the two become friends, and then lovers. If Mara knew how they felt, she would kill Sienna, so Andre begins using his magic to free her. The more secrets Andre must keep from Mara, the more perilous freeing Sienna becomes, as political intrigue and love bring Andre toward a violent confrontation he knows he can’t win.

The Shadowfall Witch (100,000 words) will appeal to fans of historical fantasy such as Juliet Marillier’s Heart’s Blood and Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.

This is actually quite good, just overly wordy. You also mention multiple times a political intrigue that sounds like it supplies a lot of the pacing (just guessing) but I have no idea what that might be. Right now it reads like a magical realism historical romance, which, while that's really cool, you need to hint more about what exactly that is, without lengthening the query by much. I made some slash throughs above as examples of where you can cut wording and still maintain your meaning. Look for similar places in the query, make the cuts, then get the political angle in there with a sentence or two.

Your word count raises questions about length. While your genre allows for such a hefty WC, the fact that there are multiple examples of unnecessary wording in your query, I have to wonder if the same is true of the manuscript. Read through it with this in mind to trim down that WC.