Friday, December 20, 2013

A Writer Walks Into A Marketing Meeting and Bangs Head on Desk

On Tuesday I posted a “Tuesday Topic” over on The Writer Diaries that was all about Marketing. This is a topic that has been on my mind a lot! When I was discussing this issue with my awesome agent, she said, “Think about how people in Nebraska are going to find out about your book.” Now, I should mention that I actually have family in Nebraska, so at least they will know, but beyond that, I see her point.

So the question remains: How does a Writer, with no marketing experience and a very limited budget, help their book make a splash in the enormous literary ocean?

Gone are the days of PR campaigns for debut authors. Oh, I’m sure some lucky blokes can wrangle some attention grabbing events from their publishers, but for most authors, we have to force our creativity off the page and into the business world of the industry. It’s just the way of the business.

Now, while I don’t have my marketing campaign figured out… or even thought about in complete sentences, I have come up with a list of directions I want to approach while drafting my plan of attack:

1. Grassroots. Many moons ago, I was a political campaign manager. Okay, that sounds really grand. What I actually did was run a state-wide campaign for the State Auditor position. Do you know how boring the State Auditor position is to voters? In a word: excruciating. But, when the votes were counted, our campaign had the closest margin of the other statewides. Never mind that we lost. More people voted for us (percentage wise) than any of the other “flashy” offices. Why? Grassroots. I live in a farming state and my candidate was a former watermelon farmer. So we hooked up a tractor, loaded a truck full of watermelon and took our message to the people.  We hit almost every county in the state. We didn’t win, but by the end of the campaign, people knew who we were and, generally, they liked us. Maybe not enough to actually cast a vote for us, but they liked the watermelon.
2. Working with the mainstream. I will do the press packet. I will submit as many articles as I can think of to write to a variety of publications. I will send press releases to all the alumni mags I can. I won’t like this part as much as the next, but I will do it because, if I can land an article in a regional or even national publication, more than just my family might start talking about this awesome book.

3. Looking for “outside of the box” places to promote my book. The other night, while I was cheering on our school team to a b-ball victory… Go Crusaders!!... I had a chance to catch up with a friend who happens to work at the local Wellness Center which has a full-service spa, rehabilitation center and state of the art workout facilities. When I mentioned the book was coming out in October, she was so excited. She's known me since I started penning my first book... in other words, a long time. She knew this was a big deal. And she also knew how we could help each other. She's starting a 2014 program that will focus on a the 6 aspects of health, including Intellectual (like reading a book) and Social (like being in a book club and talking about a book... with food, of course... probably healthy). So she's going to put the book in the gym AND use it as the book club book.  Every single person who walks in to that center will see my book on display. And you can bet I will have the QR code on the sign for people to buy the e-book. Out of the box thinking!

4. Getting to know the people who know books. I'm lucky. I live in a part of the country where there are ten major metropolitan cities within driving distance. It might not be NYC, but it's not bad. And everyone of those metros have booksellers... and not just any booksellers, but Independents. Normally owned by the same person manning the store. Even though I might feel a little like a snake-oil salesperson, you can bet that I am going to do everything I can to meet with those people who stock the shelves. How am I going to get people in Nebraska to find out about my book? Well, I'll probably visit my family and just happen to stop in to a bookstore and pick up a must-have novel. And that family vacation to Florida? We are so driving and stopping at shops along the way. Can you say ROAD TRIP?

There are more plans, but I don't want to give them all away right now. I have to keep you hanging on for the next installment! In the meantime, how are you going to spread the word about the things YOU'RE Passionate about?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Biggest News Ever!

Okay, perhaps the Camp David Peace Accords and the end to WWII were bigger news, but for me, the writer, this is the biggest news to date!

I have accepted a publishing offer!
Thank you! Thank you so much!
Now, please, wipe your eyes of joy and hear me out... The amazing publisher is Strange Chemistry and we're looking at a Fall 2014 release date.
 I can't tell you how excited I am! Of course, I owe a HUGE thanks to my agent, Liza Fleissig from Liza Royce Agency for all her words of encouragement, belief and also talking me down off the ledge a time or two... or three.

I'm sure over the next several months, there will be all sorts of observations from behind the publishing curtain, but for now, I'm just going to bask in the glow of years of hard work and rejection paying off!

Please, whatever you do, Be Passionate!


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Debut Author Interview: Alison Cherry

I am so excited to be able to introduce debut author Alison Cherry! Alison grew up in Evanston, IL, then went to Harvard and got a degree in photography. (Yes, that is possible. Although they like to call the visual arts "Visual and Environmental Studies," for some unknown reason.) Then she spent the next three years as a freelance lighting designer for various theaters throughout the Northeast. Eventually, Alsion got tired of hanging out on ladders and wrestling with faulty electrical equipment for 80 hours a week while getting paid almost nothing. I know—shocking. She spent the next four years working as a photographer for the Metropolitan Opera. Alison represented by the lovely and amazing Holly Root at Waxman Leavell.

Her book RED, which is available now, is about Felicity St. John who has it all—loyal best friends, a hot guy, and artistic talent. And she’s right on track to win the Miss Scarlet pageant. Her perfect life is possible because of just one thing: her long, wavy, coppery red hair.

Having red hair is all that matters in Scarletville. Redheads hold all the power—and everybody knows it. That’s why Felicity is scared down to her roots when she receives an anonymous note:

I know your secret.

Because Felicity is a big fake. Her hair color comes straight out of a bottle. And if anyone discovered the truth, she’d be a social outcast faster than she could say "strawberry blond." Her mother would disown her, her friends would shun her, and her boyfriend would dump her. And forget about winning that pageant crown and the prize money that comes with it—money that would allow her to fulfill her dream of going to art school.

Felicity isn’t about to let someone blackmail her life away. But just how far is she willing to go to protect her red cred?

Sarah: OMG, that is outstanding. First of all, as a redhead, I LOVE the idea of a place where the Ginger's rule the roost! Sign me up! So, where did you come up with the idea for RED?

Alison: In early 2010, I read a very alarmist article that said redheads were likely to go extinct in the next one hundred years. Since I'm a natural redhead, I found this very upsetting, and I wondered if I should archive my DNA for scientific purposes or something. Fortunately, it turned out the article was just a hoax perpetuated by a hair dye company—the genetic mutation that makes red hair happen is safe and sound. But the whole experience got me wondering what would happen if redheads really WERE an endangered species. Would people work to save them from extinction the same way biologists work to protect pandas and snow leopards? That led to the idea of a National Redhead Sanctuary called Scarletville. I essentially have a news ticker of ridiculous ideas scrolling through my head at all times, so I remember emailing my mom and asking, "Is this incredibly stupid, or could it actually turn into a story?" She thought it was funny, so I decided to give it a shot, and RED was born.

Alison: If you take Felicity at face value, she and I are pretty different. Having red hair is the only thing that matters in Scarletville, so Felicity is significantly more popular than I've ever been, in high school or after. And because she knows she'll lose everything if her secret comes out, she's willing to do some pretty reprehensible things to maintain her status. I like to tell myself I'd never sink so low, but it's unfair of me to berate her—Felicity wasn't lucky enough to grow up like I did, with loving, supportive parents and a diverse community where being different wasn't considered bad. Scarletville is all she's ever known, and if I'd been in her shoes, who's to say I wouldn't have acted the same way? If Felicity had gone to my high school and had been allowed to focus on the things she loved, we might actually have been friends. We have very similar interests; we both took dance classes all through our childhoods, and we're both passionate about visual art. I majored in photography in college, just as Felicity wants to do. I can totally picture us working side by side in the darkroom and commenting on each other's portfolios.

Sarah: I think characters who are hiding something are my favorite to read! I totally connect with them. So, let's talk about the process. How long did it take to complete the project starting with the idea and ending when you signed your book deal?

Alison: I started writing RED in April of 2010, and I got my book deal in October of 2011.

Sarah: Okay, now that all the readers and green with envy, what about your agent? How did you find her?

Alison: My agent is Holly Root at Waxman Leavell, and she is ridiculously awesome. I found her through AgentQuery, which is a fantastic resource for anyone looking for an agent. I actually queried her with an entirely different book in early 2010, and when she read it, she contacted me and said, "I really love this story, but I'm positive I won't be able to sell it." She asked me if I was working on anything else, and the first three chapters of RED were in pretty solid shape by that time, so I sent them her way. She told me she was smitten with them and that I should write the rest of the manuscript and send it to her right away, so I spent the next six months furiously drafting and revising. Four days after I finished, she offered to represent me. Moral of the story: when an agent rejects your manuscript but asks you to send her the next thing you write, DO IT. She's not trying to let you down gently—she sees something she likes in your writing, even if that first project wasn't the right fit for her.

Sarah: So, now that you're behind the gate and walking among the published, what surprised you most about the publishing process?

Alison: The WAITING. For some reason, I thought that after I sold a manuscript, things would zoom along and I'd have a finished book on the shelf in no time. NOT SO, my friends. RED's publication date is almost exactly two years after the date I sold it, and that's pretty standard. The word "soon" starts to mean anything from "next week" to "five months from now." This isn't anyone's fault—there's a ton of stuff I don't even understand that goes on behind the scenes in publishing. But it was definitely an adjustment.

Sarah: I've heard that before! So, any more advice for the "not yet published" writers out there?

Alison: In the words of the great Maureen Johnson, don't be afraid to suck. You're not going to write a perfect book on the first try. You probably won't do it on the second or third or fourth try, either, and that is TOTALLY FINE. That's what revisions are for. Even your very favorite books by your very favorite authors started out as totally crappy first drafts, I promise. None of us get it right the first time around.

Sarah: Words to remember! What's next for you? Any new projects coming up? Is there a sequel to RED in our future?

Alison: RED is a stand-alone, so there's no sequel in the works. However, I do have another unrelated contemporary YA coming out in late 2014. It's called FOR REAL, and it's about a pair of sisters who go on reality TV to take revenge on a cheating ex-boyfriend.

Sarah: Every author has that one line in their book that they love. Care to share one with us?

Alison: "All of the furniture was strangely undersized, as if it had been harvested before it was done growing."

Sarah: Love it! It conjures an image of a giant walking up and down the field picking off beds and couches and vanities. Alison, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me! I am so excited to read RED,in fact, I'm on my way out the door to pick it up now! Cancel all my plans, followers! I'm heading to Scarletville! And remember, always read what you are PASSIONATE about!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Debut Author Interview: Romily Bernard



DISCLAIMER: I published this earlier in the week over on The Writer Diaries blog, but I'm posting an encore presentation for those of you who may not follow us.

Today I’m highlighting an up-and-coming debut author who is as talented as she is funny! Romily Bernard, author of the novel FIND ME, which will be released on September 24, 2013 is definitely someone to read now... or in a week, actually. Here’s the jacket blurb:

“Find Me.”

These are the words written on Tessa Waye’s diary. The diary that ends up with Wick Tate. But Tessa’s just been found . . . dead.

Wick has the right computer-hacking skills for the job, but little interest in this perverse game of hide-and-seek. Until her sister Lily is the next target.

Then Griff, trailer-park boy next door and fellow hacker, shows up, intent on helping Wick. Is a happy ending possible with the threat of Wick’s deadbeat dad returning, the detective hunting him sniffing around Wick instead, and a killer taunting her at every step?

Foster child. Daughter of a felon. Loner hacker girl. Wick has a bad attitude and sarcasm to spare.

But she’s going to find this killer no matter what.

Because it just got personal.

Now to the interview! Romily, thank you so much for agreeing to talk with me! Where did you get the inspiration for FIND ME?

I had an idea for a scene where a girl hacker was inside her bedroom, watching a dirty cop circle her house. No idea why the cop was circling the house. Or why the girl was a hacker because I am beyond computer-inept. But I decided to sit down and figure out why.

And I, for one, am so glad you did! I love the idea of a female hacker! What, if any, characteristics do you and the protagonist, Wick, have in common? How are you different?

We’re both incredibly stubborn. By the time I wrote FIND ME, I had 246 agent/editor rejections and I was sitting down to write with a “I will do this if it KILLS ME” attitude. When I’m being nice, I say that I’m driven. When I’m being realistic, I acknowledge I’m pig-headed. Wick’s very similar. She runs her own hacking business on the sly, looks out for her sister, and, eventually, avenges a dead classmate.

Right… typical girl stuff. Ha. How long did it take to complete the project starting with the idea and ending when you signed your book deal?

I wrote FIND ME in about nine months then, after I was agented, we spent another four months re-writing it twice before Sarah pitched it at the Bologna Book Fair. It sold to Phoebe Yeh at HarperTeen about two weeks after…so, a little over a year?

I’m sure every writer reading this is green with envy. Speaking of your agent, how did you find her?

I’m rep’d by the amazing Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary. I found her online then cross-referenced her information with Publisher Weekly deals and supplemented all of that by researching her current authors. Sound a touch anal-retentive? It probably was, but I wanted a clear game plan of who I would approach once I completed my first YA. I created an Excel spreadsheet so I knew exactly who my top agent picks were and what materials I needed to send them.

I like to think it was an organized plan of attack…I’m sure to outsiders it looked like I was creating a hit list. Sarah was my first pick and, luckily, she wanted me as well. And what happened to that trusty spread? It’s up on my website if anyone wants to download it to create their own agent wish list.

The right agent is a must for a successful career! What surprised you most about the publishing process?

For an industry that trades in dreams, publishing is all about product. That sounds heartless, but it’s not. As a HarperTeen author, I’m lucky to have a team of talented publishing professionals all pulling for FIND ME to be the best it can be. Sometimes that means we have to make hard decisions about what’s right for the book, but also what’s right for the market. Scary? Yes. But you have to trust the people you surround yourself with. I researched publishers the same way I researched agents so, when I accepted Harper-Collins’ offer, I knew what caliber of professional I was getting. The trick? I have to get out of the way and let them do their job.

So, given everything you’ve gone through on your publishing journey, what advice would you give to all the "not yet published" writers out there?

Learn to separate constructive criticism from negative criticism. There are going to be people who are never going to like your writing. Repeat: never. You could do phone book entries and they’re still going to find a way to hate the way you did it. Ignore those people.

On the other hand, there are going to be some really scathing reviews where you’re going to say “You know that’s really harsh…but she/he has a point.” Learn to tell the difference. And, more importantly, learn to internalize those scathing constructive reviews in a way that you can access later without sending yourself into a shame spiral.

Then write another book about how you learned to do that. Sell it to other writers. Make millions. Retire to the south of France.

Sounds like a great plan, although I’m prone to retirement in Ireland, but I get what you’re saying! What's next for you? Any new projects coming up? Is there a sequel to FIND ME in our future?

Yes! FIND ME’s sequel, REMEMBER ME, is due September 2014.

Every writer has those lines that they just love. Care to share yours?

Hmmm. What about my favorite kiss scene?

Sure, let’s read it!
“We should probably get going,” I say.
“Sure thing.” Griff starts to ease closer and I freeze. “But we don’t have rush off. I have my bike. It’ll take less than twenty minutes to get to Joe’s.”

“I…I…” I don’t know what to say. We’re only inches apart now and my brain has stalled. Griff’s body slides lower along mine and I have to stifle a gasp. He still smells like grass and chlorine from last night and his hair has dried in messy spikes.

Griff smiles and, for a second, I think he’s going to kiss me again, but he turns his head so his whispers rush past my ear, making my skin leap like it’s electrified. “I like waking up to you, Wicked.”

I dig my fingers into the covers so I don’t dig them into him. “I thought you were awake because I kept kicking you.”

“Yeah, you were.” Griff’s hand drifts up, up, up my neck until it’s cupping my jaw. “But, mostly, I was up because I wanted to do this.”

His lips press against corner of my jaw…my cheek…my mouth. I roll into him and he pushes me down, pins me to the bed.

“Again,”  he breathes.

Wow! Very hot! Well, thanks again for talking with me and good luck as FIND ME hits the book stores on September 24th! Until then, stay PASSIONATE about the writers you love!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

I have a blog planner

No, it's not a person who shows up every day and tells me what my topic is and supports me while I work diligently (or consider dusting the floor boards for the first time in ever)... but that does sound nice, doesn't it?

What I have is a paper... yes paper... as in not digital... planner that I created (by stealing other ideas from pinterest). What does this mean?

In theory it means I will be more organized about what I'm posting and most importantly, when.

There are a few things I am horrible at. One is knowing where commas go. I know, I know... as a writer, I should be better about that. But it's like career kyrptonite. I just can't remember all the rules. And then there is painting... or sculpting... or drawing a straight line. If you require me to be artistic there better be a computer and printer around. Or a Cricut. (Shout out to the scrapbookers in the house.) Other than that, I am a mess! And finally, I'm really bad about following a schedule. (Ironically, I rarely miss deadlines... which is not to say I'm using my time wisely, but that's another story.)

So this blog planner, the holy grail of organizing my world is being put to the test as we speak. It's like a six million dollar man make over of the social media/platform building variety. (Except it didn't require six million dollars. Only ten to cover the year of site-hosting. And I am, in fact, NOT a man. But other than that, that's exactly what this is.)

So stay tuned for a few changes and surprises.  Now get to being PASSIONATE about your latest WIP or I will be forced to stalk you using this GIF.

This is exactly what I look like when I'm on a roll!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

How Librarians Can Help Writers with Marketing and Platform

When you hear the term “Librarian”, what comes to mind? A stogy, bun-wearing matronly lady? I heaving buxom of a beauty hidden behind bad clothes and pointy glasses? (There may be a few guys who read this blog.)

Think again. A Librarian wields some serious literary power. Sure, publishing houses can pay big money to get prime placement in a brick and mortar book stores and writers can pay for ads on Facebook. But book placement in a library is entirely up to those who work there. A little time can mean the difference between getting lost in the stacks and getting “pimped” out.

So what can you do to earn some love from the librarians of the world? And what can you get out of it? Here’s one idea: if you are a debut author, or even a midlist author with a second or third novel coming out, do free Skype visits. We’re not talking forever, just 20 or 30 minutes of your time can mean a ton of free publicity. For example, Gina Damico, author of the CROAK trilogy, is going to Skype in to our teen writing club in October. So for the month of September, we will be promoting her books with professionally designed posters and flyers and press releases, etc. All the teens in the club will be encouraged to read her novels prior to the meeting. And having met her before, I’m pretty sure Gina is going to capture more than a few fans. So if an opportunity arises, don’t be afraid to say yes. And all it’s costing her is 20 minutes of free advice to her target demographic.

Another idea: If you have postcards or bookmarks, sign a few and send them to teen/children’s librarians. We’re always looking for inexpensive (read free) give always to entice teens to attend programs. Plus, if I were to receive a package from an author, I would make sure to move their book to the top of my TBR pile. And, if I love the book, you can bet I would have it on display. And, if word of mouth means anything, Librarians book lovers with a podium. Two of my favorite historical fiction novels are Scarlett by A.C. Gaughen, who happens to be another author Skyping in with our teens, and Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. Whenever a teen comes in looking for something different, these are my go to books. Every Librarian has one. Play your cards right and you could be that one!

Remember, writers aren’t the only ones who are PASSIONATE about books!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Psst... I've got a secret!


Brain Filler: 50 Freakout GIFs - Image 1

More to Come!

Guest Blog Post: Writing and Rule Breaking

By Josh David Bellin

The best writing breaks rules.

Name a great book. Rule-breakers all.

Slaughterhouse-Five. Moby-Dick. Ulysses. To the Lighthouse. Beloved. On the Road. All of them, rule-breakers.

But okay, maybe I’m talking about classics of literary fiction, and I should be talking about popular fiction. Most of us aspire to write the latter, not the former. Isn’t popular fiction more rule-bound than literary fiction?

Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean it’s so rule-bound as to be rule-hobbled.

There are thousands of writing “rules” floating around out there, and there are just as many aspiring writers being, I fear, misled by them. Whenever I encounter one of those rules on some agent or other authority’s blog--whether the rule be, “never start your novel with a character waking up” or “never have a character describe herself in a mirror” or “never delay the inciting incident to chapter two” or “never insert a scene with a dancing pink hippo into your novel”--I find hosts of grateful comments from aspiring writers: “Thank you so much, Divine Agent! You have shown me the error of my ways and likely saved me from a lifetime of public humiliation! I will certainly never insert a scene with a dancing pink hippo into my novel ever again!”

But you know, maybe your novel needs a scene with a dancing pink hippo. Maybe your novel needs to begin with a dancing pink hippo waking up, looking at itself in a mirror, and then having a philosophical conversation with the ghost of Albert Einstein, thereby delaying the inciting incident until the second chapter. Maybe those are the particular rules your novel needs to break.

There is no rule in writing so ironclad that it can’t be broken for the right reasons. Just as it’s ridiculous to insist that all novels begin with dancing pink hippos, so is it ridiculous to insist that no novel can begin that way.

What’s the test? How do you know which rules to break?

The test is the story itself. Each story creates its own needs, its own form, its own rules. It’s the writer’s job to know her or his story well enough to know which rules to obey, which to bend, which to ignore. If you don’t know that, then really, what do you know?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to return to writing my big dancing-pink-hippo scene. Trust me. It’s killer.

Josh has been writing novels since he was eight years old (though admittedly, the first few were very, very short). He taught college for twenty years, wrote a bunch of books for college students, then decided to return to writing fiction. SURVIVAL COLONY NINE is his first book, but the sequel's already in the works!

He loves to read (mostly YA fantasy and science fiction), watch movies (again, mostly fantasy and sci-fi), and spend time in Nature (mostly catching frogs and toads). He claims to be the world's worst singer, but plays a pretty mean air guitar.  He also like to draw, and will be putting up some of his artwork on his website as soon as he can. 

Oh, yeah, and he like monsters.  Really scary monsters.

You can find out more about Josh David Bellin and SURVIVAL COLONY NINE at

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

How an Agent Changed My Life

Last week, I had the pleasure to cross something off my bucket list. Did I broker world peace? Cure cancer? Figure out the value to humanity of the slug? No, but any of those would be cool. Alas, all I did was SIGN WITH A LITERARY AGENT!!!

Yes, it’s true, and trust me, there is a blog post in the works describing how I got my agent. But this post isn’t about that. It’s about how finding my agent, Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency, has already changed my life.

1. Free time is now a precious commodity. In order to enjoy more of it, I am decluttering the house and hiring a cleaning service. Let’s be honest, I don’t like cleaning in the first place, but having someone come in every week will certainly give me reason to do the small pick-ups in between!

2. I have realized that it is possible to be so tired from late nights of revision that food becomes an option.

3. I have been weaned off Facebook games. Good-bye Candy Crush.

4. I really don’t have much interest in watching TV, well, except for The Foster’s on ABCFamily. (Shameless plug for Dan Richter.)  I’ve even stopped watching Big Brother. The true test will come in the Fall when the new season starts.

5. I can no longer say I’m bored. There is always something to do and most of the time, I want to do it. (I’m talking about revisions. What’s that? No. I’m not insane.)

6. I was forced to seek out alternative sources of carry-out. The natives threatened to revolt. Apparently there is a such thing as too much pizza.

7. I’m earning Starbuck’s Rewards faster than even before.

So that’s it. Seven ways that signing with an agent has changed my life. Okay, it’s only been five days, so I can only hope that my life changes in other ways. Until then, BE PASSIONATE about what you love. Someday it might change your life!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Query Letter Available for Shredding

Here it is... the query letter for my latest manuscript. I've been sitting on it for a week, made some changes and am ready to open it up to hacking my my beloved writing community. Any and all comments welcome. (Especially the ones that say, "Perfect. Wouldn't change a thing!"... yeah, I don't think I'll get those, either!

Here you go:

REPLAY, a 76,000 word YA ghost story is Mean Girls meets A Christmas Carole. It can stand alone but also has trilogy potential.

Seventeen year old RJ always gets what she wants. So when her soul is accidentally collected by a distracted Grim Reaper, somebody in the afterlife better figure out a way to send her back or heads will roll. But in her quest for mortality she becomes a pawn in a power struggle between an over-zealous arch angel, who has grown tired of the white wings and harps and the Hawaiian-shirt wearing Death Himself, who isn’t about to give up his control over the newly departed without a fight.

While she waits the decision of the Tribunal, a three-angel panel charged with determining whether her life is worth rewinding the history of the world, RJ wanders through the afterlife where she meets the Cornhole-playing St. Peter, Al, the handler for the 3-headed Hound of Hell, and her Guardian Angel who doesn’t seem to like her very much. Finally, the Angels present her with two options: She can remain in the Lobby, where souls wait to be processed, until her original lifeline expires or she can replay three moments in her life, aided by three departed souls, in an effort to make different choices that will produce a future deemed worthy of being saved. It sounds like a no brainer. She’ll take the walk down memory lane. How hard can it be?

But with each moment, RJ begins to change her life until the self-proclaimed Queen Bee is a social pariah and she begins to wonder if walking among the living is worth it if she has to spend the next sixty years as an outcast. 

Monday, June 10, 2013


I don’t know about the rest of you, but it seems that every time I think life is about to settle down, an unpredictable event occurs, sending my world into a tail spin with a new adventure. And while I like adventure as much as the next gal, there is the sad realization that with new chapters in our life, we must let go of old customs. Time is never our friend. In this case, for me, it’s not the metaphorical time, but the actual 24-hours-in-a-day kind.

Recently, I went back to work out of the home for the first time in eight years. I love my jobs. I’m the Elementary Librarian for my children’s school and a Youth Services Professional at our public library. (I do the programming for the teens and I love it!) Add that to raising my amazing kidlets and continuing to pursue my career as a writer, and there’s not much time left for anything else.

Which is why I am regretfully going to discontinue my Kidletville Blog. As much as I enjoy writing about my adventures in parenting, the truth is, I can’t keep dividing my time or my life. This leaves me in a quandary. Do I blend this blog or keep it writer focused?

After much contemplation, I’m going to keep this blog mostly writing, but with a smattering of parental observations from time to time. Don’t get me wrong, but I love sharing the insanity that is my life with the world, but the world is hardly giving me time to be a mom, let alone blog about it. 

So now it’s time to start planning blog posts! I’m looking forward to taking this blog to a whole other level… hope you’re ready to come along. In the meantime, BE PASSIONATE about the time you have and how you spend it!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Guest Blogger: Putting Your Writing Life on the Shelf

Putting Your Writing Life on the Shelf
Okay, this blog title is a bit deceiving. As a fellow author, I’d never encourage you to give up the craft entirely to pursue knitting or table tennis or chess boxing (yes, it’s a thing). Rather, I challenge every budding author out there to walk over and look at your bookshelf. Go ahead, look. How many books do you have about the craft of writing? None? Keep reading. A lot? Good for you. How many of them have you actually read?
If you’re serious about not just writing more, but writing better, your bookshelf should reflect it. Below you’ll find ten books from my personal collection that are must-reads for every aspiring author, no matter which genre or at what level you write.
Word to the Wise: You can find most of these books used on and save yourself a pretty penny. Plus, don’t forget to save your receipts and use them for tax deductions (as long as you’re pursuing publishing for profit versus writing as a hobby).
Here they are, in no particular order:

Stein On Writing – Sol Stein
If you purchase nothing else on this list for your bookshelf, buy this one. Seriously, go buy it right now. I’ll wait. Whether you’re crawling through your first manuscript of pounding out your twentieth best seller, Stein will quite simply Blow Your Mind. As he says in the opening pages, “This is not a book of theory. It is a book of usable solutions--how to fix writing that is flawed, how to improve writing that is good, how to create interesting writing in the first place.”

The Emotion Thesaurus – Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
I literally clapped my hands in delight when I found this book. Conveying character emotions in unique, compelling ways is ridiculously hard. Or, it used to be, before I bought this book. Reference 75 common emotions to get a list of body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses that will help actually figure out how to “show” not “tell.”

On Writing – Stephen King
Part memoir, part master class by a writing GENIUS, this book provides a “practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have.” Changed. My. Life.

How to Grow a Novel  – Sol Stein
Dive into details and examples from Stein's editorial work with a #1 bestselling novelist as well as talented newcomers. Learn how to develop memorable characters and gripping plots. Create realistic dialogue. Most importantly, find out how to avoid common mistakes before submitting your manuscript.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – Renni Browne and Dave King
From dialogue, exposition, and point of view to interior monologue and more, you’ll walk through the same processes an expert editor would to polish your manuscript.

Description & Setting – Ron Rozelle
Subtitled, “Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Believable World of People, Places, and Events,” this book helps you learn how to create powerful settings, tie them into your plot, and use just the right kind of description to help your readers paint a clear picture of where and when your story takes place.

Visible Thought – Geoffery Beattie
Are your characters too “mechanical” or “mundane?” Do they pace, wink, grin, and shrug like their lives depend on it? An author must learn to use more than the default elements of body language, and that’s 
just what this book will help you do. 

Writing Mysteries – Edited by Sue Grafton
You don’t have to be writing a mystery to benefit from this book. Every author can improve their pace, characterization, suspense, and other elements by studying mystery fiction. A compilation of advice by more than a dozen mystery masters, this book shows you “how to tighten the screws of suspense.”

Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript – Chuck Sambuchino
If you’re writing in hopes of publishing your work in the future, this book is a MUST. Chuck helps you avoid rookie mistakes that will land your manuscript in the slush pile. Dig into more than 100 sample letters and manuscript pages, instructions for electronic submissions, formatting and submitting guidelines, and tips from agents and editors.

2013 Guide to Literary Agents – Chuck Sambuchino
Again, for writers looking to publish, this book needs to be on your bookshelf within easy reach. Regardless of what genre you’re writing, you’ll need a literary agent to secure a book deal (unless you self-publish). This guide helps you find the perfect agent by providing updated contact and submission information for more than 1,000 literary agents seeking new clients.

Happy  reading, happy writing and GOOD LUCK!

About Nicole: Nicole Ross is a corporate marketer, blogger, and freelance writer. She is a chronic, unconventional hobbyist, equally at home on the back of a horse, inside the boxing ring, pounding away at her keyboard, and perched in downward dog atop her yoga mat. She’s an active member of the Writers’ Center of Indiana and contributor to Punchnel’s online magazine. She lives in Plainfield, IN with her roommates, an olfactory-obsessed Beagle named Penny and a blood-red Beta fish named O-Negative. Learn more at

A note from Sarah: I have known Nicole for almost ten years and you will never find a writer more dedicated to studying the craft than her! I'm honored to have her share some of her "go to" books on writing with us! If you're looking for a way to usher in the Spring season of your writing, check out the links above! I know I have room on my shelf for one or two more!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Guest Blogger: Stay out of the hot tub!

5 lessons from a half-baked writer
By: J.R. Roper

Not all hot tubs are problematic, so hear me out.

Time is a great teacher, and what I have to share with you about the writing process is a cumulative product of years spent attending conferences, working with critique partners, reading — and gluing my butt to the chair and writing. There is a lot of contradictory advice out there and some is simply the same-old-same-old. Here are a few bits of advice to help you hold onto a thread of sanity (and some of your hair).

Always finish your work and do not submit until it is ready.
Habits are important and this is definitely true for writing. If you make it a habit to complete even the worst drivel that ekes from your fingertips into your word processor, you will find a healthy level of mental success. A story that starts out terrible — but finished — can be fixed. And, when it’s fixed, it might be a well-written story. But when is this well-written story ready for the world to read?

The short answer — when you KNOW it is ready. I wrote a short story in 2009 while on vacation in northern Wisconsin. It was the only short story I had ever written and I never liked it because I didn’t know how it should end. Then in the winter of 2012, I brought the story out of my dreadful writing file and solicited help from my writing group (more on them and the hot tub later). Their prompts about possible endings helped, and in the end, an offspring of their ideas worked brilliantly. This short story, titled “Of The Lake,” became my first piece of writing accepted for publication! Had I sent it out before fixing the ending it might’ve never been accepted, and with short stories, the market for specific themes is limited.

Write every day? Seriously?
This advice is probably the best writing advice ever, but also the worst advice for anyone with a day job, spouse, children, dog, house to keep up with, need for sleep to remain sane, and smallish reading addiction. Writing and rejection are inseparable, like Star Wars and popcorn. The problem with this best-advice-ever is it leads to feeling like a failure if you do not or cannot follow it, and that’s the last thing you need. My advice is to scrap everyone’s advice and figure out what works for you. If aiming for a daily word count leads to constant failing, why not aim for a weekly word count to hold yourself accountable? That way, when the juices are flowing, you can write, write, write. And if you need a night to drink beer and watch The Bachelor, you’ve got it!

Try a different genre.
I have always thought of myself as a fantasy novelist for middle grade and YA readers. And for many years, this was all I worked on. I wrote and rewrote the first two novels in my middle grade trilogy until the characters’ souls were pressed from the page. Then, one day, I heard a friend tell a real life story that absolutely frightened me. So I sat down and tried to communicate that terror in a story of my own. In the process I realized that I love writing horror! Since then I have had five horror stories accepted for themed anthologies. I certainly will not get rich writing short stories. But it has pushed me to keep writing something even when I’m stuck in the novel doldrums. It has provided connections to several editors I’d love to submit more work to in the future. And hopefully, these little bits of success I find by having my name in print will help relieve the near-constant sting of rejection that inevitably comes with writing.

The stream of ideas will not dry up.
If you are alive and listening, if you read often, and if you jot down the occasional compelling dream, you will continue to develop good ideas for stories. In fact, you might not have enough life to write them all. Your best idea for a story is probably your next one. So when you finish your current project, don’t wait. Get started again right away. Common worries for new writers stem from fears like this is the only publishable idea I will ever come up with and if I don’t write this now, someone will steal my idea. There really is nothing new under the sun. Your story idea has already been done in some way, shape, or form. But no one can tell your story like you, so as Dori says, “just keep swimming.”

Stay out of the hot tub!
Writer friends and critique partners that feel like family (but aren’t actually family) are your most important allies in the quest to write great stories and have them published. Some of your friends (see Kelly Stanley from the January guest blog post) will experience success before you do. Some of your best writing friends whom you met at writing conferences might already be successful authors (see D.E. Johnson, Kelsey Timmerman, and Julie Hyzy). Other writing friends are on the cusp of being published (that’s you, Sarah Schmitt!). The point is these are the people who care about your long-term success because they love you as a person. I workshop with two writing groups, one made up strictly of fantasy novelists, and the other a rich mixture of fiction writers and poets. The people who attend are some of my best friends who aren’t afraid to tell me when my writing stinks to high heaven.

So what’s with the hot tub? At a writing conference in 2011, a hot tub full of literary agents invited me to join them! A writer’s dream, you say? Maybe, but I did not get in the hot tub. All of the agents still requested full or partial manuscripts at the conference and a few gave awesome feedback, but ultimately they all passed on my story. And had I gone into the hot tub, the story would have still been rejected, and my wife might have murdered me. Instead, on that fateful hot-tub-bubbling night, I went out and had a drink with my writing buddies. And guess what? They are all still with me — my writing family.  

J.R. Roper is a speculative fiction writer and teacher living in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is working on his third novel, a YA fantasy and several short horror stories. For more strange tidings and publication updates visit

As a side note from Sarah, he's also one of the coolest kids around and can rock a bald head like nobody else I know, except maybe D.E. Johnson.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Have you ever wanted to be an agent for five minutes? Well I'm looking for any willing souls who would do me the honor of shredding my query to pieces. Any and all feedback will be appreciated! Happy hacking!

When a basilisk sinks its teeth into her windshield, college sophomore Hannah Slaughtery thinks she's losing her mind. Too bad her new reality makes her nightmares look like a day at the beach. Catapulted into a world where witches and monsters maintain a secret underground society deep beneath the Colorado Rockies, Hannah must accept the truth about her future even as the lies of her past unravel around her.

Hannah is a witch. But not just any ordinary witch. She's the only living Partizan witch who, along with four other classmates, is charged with the task of leading the forces of good against their evil counterparts, the Formorians. Unfortunately, her classmates can't stand to be in the same room with each other.

In order to compete her transition and tap unleash her full potential, Hannah embarks on a journey to master the five elements. The process, full of danger and pain, has her struggling to survive and wishing for death. But making it through her trials doesn't mean she's safe. Hannah must also face off with the Formorians who have been waiting to finish the job they started the night she was born.

The Partizans, a 79,000 word New Adult paranormal is Breakfast Club meets The Three Musketeers with a supernatural twist. It can stand alone but also has series potential.

When not writing, I am a K-5 school librarian and a member of ALA and SCBWI. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Guest Blogger: Kelly Stanley

I have been so blessed to meet amazing writers from around the country, many of whom are bloggers as well. The other day I was thinking how incredibly unfair it is to keep these awesome people and their writing to myself! Then it hit me: I should ask them to guest blog. Much to my surprise and relief, they have accepted! 

So without further ado, let me introduce Kelly Stanley, an incredibly talented Christian writer and one of the most amazing women I've ever met. (I was just beaten out as Vice-President of her fan club, much to my dismay!) I should also mention she's a fellow ginger, so you know she's fierce! Enjoy!

As I read something the other day, I was reminded just how powerful words can be. Even when they’re pedantic or common or not particularly eloquent. Sometimes there is power in the way words are strung together, sometimes there’s poetry in a well-turned phrase, and sometimes it’s the stark simplicity of a sentiment that reaches down into your core to tug on your emotions in a way deeper, more primal than language. But in this case, the words were average. Sentences were grammatically correct, for the most part, but nothing remarkable in and of themselves. The language wasn’t flowery or colorful. If anything, it could be described as raw. Unpolished. Unpretentious. And you know what? Those words changed my life. That may sound a bit dramatic — especially when I tell you that I wrote them. Here’s the thing, though: I’m not professing to be an amazing writer. The impact of those words on my soul had little or nothing to do with my ability as a writer, and everything to do with the simple fact that the words were mine.

For the past few years, I’ve struggled with my faith, starting around the time my mom was diagnosed with extensive stage small-cell lung cancer. I’ve seen God heal people. He didn’t heal her, although even at my most cynical I will say that she wouldn’t have survived those three years without some kind of divine intervention. But still, she died. And, no matter how irrational, I’ve found that it’s hard for me to let go and trust Him the way I once did. In order to try to protect my heart from pain and disillusionment, I’ve kept God at a distance.

But then, in preparation for a conversation with a potential agent, I re-read the book proposal I wrote this summer. And I found myself blown away. Again, not by my talent, but by the truth contained within the stories. Real-life experiences of faith. Healing, emotional and physical. Prayer answered in surprising, unexpected ways. Compassion. Intimacy. All the things I needed to know — to remember — about Him. And instead of rolling my eyes, as I find myself doing when I hear exuberant testimonies that seem too good to be true, I found myself wiping away tears because, finally, I had found some words I could not dispute. These were my own stories, told in my own words, written in my own hand. I discovered I wasn’t able to argue with that. As the memories of my personal experiences resurfaced, God’s truth imprinted itself on my soul.

There are lots of reasons for writers to write. Some of us are born storytellers. Some are world-builders, debaters, scholars or expository journalists. I can’t imagine a world in which I couldn’t write my own words or read those of others. But I’m here to encourage you not to neglect a very important audience. Keep some pages to yourself. Spend time recording, examining, searching, and exploring, and do it all without having a specific audience/agent/publisher/editor in mind.

A very wise friend told me, as I was beginning what would become my big spiritual awakening, to record my experiences and watch for coincidences. Those journals have become one of my greatest treasures. When I read the emotions and insights and experiences I had, I remember it all over again. No one will ever be able to convince me it’s not true, that it wasn’t real, because even if my mind gets fuzzy and the details are eclipsed by my everyday mental clutter, I have my own private record of the truth. Since I wasn’t writing for anyone else, my observations were honest. They were also often clumsy and convoluted and wondrous and confused and emotional and awe-inspiring. Sometimes stilted and awkward, sometimes flowery and exuberant. In other words, they accurately represent that time of my life.

As writers, we draw from life, whether we write fiction or non, essays or poetry. There’s truth to be found everywhere. Just like you wouldn’t (I hope) share every intimate detail of your marriage with the whole world, you should keep some of your own writing for yourself. We all long, secretly or openly, I think, to be known. To be read, to be seen, to be published. But the private pages we hold back? These are so much more than the tiny white leather diary you kept in fourth grade. These words record. Inspire. Observe. Amuse. Question. And reveal. In your exploration for the uncensored truth, you will be reminded of all that you know. The book I’m writing, called Praying Upside Down, talks about opening your eyes to see God in a new way. Trust me, you’ll be amazed at all you will see, if you’re willing to look. Just be sure to look away every once in a while and write it all down

Kelly Stanley spent her life on the periphery of the art world, first as the daughter of a professional watercolorist, then as an architecture major and then graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in graphic design. For over two decades, she's built her career in marketing and advertising, working as a graphic designer, art director, creative director, copywriter, and consultant. If it has to do with creativity and communication, she's probably done it.

When she's not writing, Kelly can be found delivering her 16-year-old daughter to swim practice and her 12-year-old son to basketball practice, or listening to her 19-year-old daughter debate the pros and cons of various majors and colleges. She's loved having lunch with friends, coffee with her iPad, and spends any otherwise-unscheduled evenings on the couch with her husband of 22 years. She's always frazzled, always reading, always watching, always waiting to see what she can discover of our mighty God in this magnificent, confusing, contradictory world.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

2013 Debut Author Interview: Megan Shepherd

Today marks a first for me. I am introducing a reappearing blog segment highlighting some of the hottest debut YA authors of 2013. This month, I’m interviewing Megan Shepherd, the author of the upcoming Gothic thriller, THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER.

Here's what GoodReads has to say about it:
Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father's gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.
Accompanied by her father's handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father's madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island's inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father's dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it's too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father's genius—and madness—in her own blood.
Inspired by H. G. Wells's classic THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MONREAU, THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER is a dark and breathless Gothic thriller about the secrets we'll do anything to know and the truths we'll go to any lengths to protect.

Sounds amazing, right? I KNOW!

SJS: So, Megan, where did you get the inspiration for THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER?

MS: THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER is a reimagining of HG Wells’ classic novel THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU, but it actually started as inspiration from the TV show LOST. I was a huge fan of the mysterious island setting on that show, and when it ended I was thinking a lot about islands, and I happened to be re-reading Bram Stoker’s DRACULA for fun, and the idea just hit me to do a retelling of a classic!

SJS: What, if any, characteristics do you and the protagonist, Juliet, have in common? How are you different?

MS: Juliet is a very tough girl. She came from wealth, but she’s had to survive on her own in a world where women, especially young poor women, have a very hard time. I would say we’re more different than we are alike. She’s inherited a little of her father’s madness, and that comes with tendencies toward violence and a skill with science…neither of which I share in the least! However, when I was Juliet’s age (16), I also traveled to an exotic, tropical locale for my own adventure. I was an exchange student to Costa Rica, and a lot of the jungle setting came from my memories of that location.

SJS: How long did it take to complete the project starting with the idea and ending when you signed your book deal?

MS: It took nine months from idea to book deal. I had a fulltime job at the time, so I was writing evenings and weekends and hardly saw my friends and family.

SJS: That’s incredible! Tell me about how you found your agent?

MS: I made a careful list of agents I wanted to query (maybe about 80) and decided to send the queries off in batches of 10. That way, if I got all form rejections, I would know my query letter just wasn’t working and I could fix it before burning my bridges with all those agents. Luckily, though, I got great response from that first batch. Quinlan Lee at Adams Literary requested my full manuscript the day after I sent the query, and the next day, Josh Adams had offered representation.

SJS: Great advice! What surprised you most about the publishing process?

MS: I guess as an aspiring writer I was so focused on getting The Book Deal that I didn’t think much about what would happen after. It’s just as stressful to try to get a second deal, and struggle with professional jealousies and disappointments and rejections, and to try to turn one deal into a career. But just as there are some “lows” I hadn’t thought much about, the “highs” of publishing are pretty darn great too.

SJS: What other advice would you give to all the "not yet published" writers out there?

MS: The most common trait I see in other published writers is that they work incredibly hard. They work hours and hours and hours a day, until the work is as good as they can possibly make it. I don’t know any published writers who sit around hoping for another book deal but not actually slaving away at their keyboards. In aspiring writers, I sometimes see a desire to be published, but a reluctance to actually do the work it takes.

SJS: What's next for you? Any new projects coming up? And can you give us any hints at what to expect in Book 2 of the Madman's Daughter trilogy?

MS: Well, THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER is inspired by Wells’ THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU, and I can say that the second book in the series follows the same characters and plotline, but some of the themes and ideas were inspired by THE STRANGE CASE OF DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE. In addition to The Madman’s Daughter series, I’m also working on a YA scifi series called THE CAGE, about six teenagers put in an elaborate “human zoo” by a super intelligent alien race.

SJS: That sounds awesome! What are you doing talking to me? Get back to work. I have a space reserved for all of those on my TBR shelf! Seriously, Megan, thank you so much for letting me pick you brain! It's been inspiring to hear about THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER and your path to publication! I know those of us still trudging through the slush pile will take your advice to heart! Best of luck with your launch and I look forward to reading THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER when it comes out on January 29, 2013. 

MS: Thanks for having me on the blog, Sarah!