11 December 2012

The United States of YA

I went to the library (the Hockessin Library) today to pick up a stack of verse novels I'd requested, as I am immersing myself in verse these days... and lookie look what I stumbled upon:

It's a glorious display of YA novels from all 50 states! Here, take a closer look:

Aren't they just beautiful? Don't you want to take one of each? I've read many of these books and own several... but I was tempted to bring them all home. What a treat to see YA novels written by authors from all over the country. 

And the books had come from libraries all over our state... my own local library, awesome as it is, did not have three copies of every title. But thanks to our Delaware Division of Libraries and statewide Delaware Library Catalog, it's easy to obtain books (and other resources) from any of our public library collections. 

I asked who had created the display, and was told it was the youth librarian. If I hadn't been running late to pick up my son from an after-school rehearsal, I would've chased him or her down to say thanks on behalf of YA readers and authors alike. I'll do so the next time I'm there, and maybe line up a Q&A. I've been wanting to feature a YA librarian on the blog. Stay tuned! 

Oh, and there was this, too... 

 An encyclopedia tree! 

04 December 2012

Sarah Tregay looks back on a year of LOVE AND LEFTOVERS, her debut novel in verse

Welcome to YA Q&A! Today's featured author is Sarah Tregay, whose debut novel, LOVE AND LEFTOVERS, was published by Katherine Tegen Books in December... of 2011. Yes, Sarah's book has been out there in the world for a whole year (hanging out on the YA shelves, cuddling up with readers, feelin' the love...). She's been kind enough to stop by and answer a few questions about her work, and share some insights into her past year. 

Q: Hey, Sarah! Tell us a little bit about your journey as a writer... how long have you been writing, what have you written, and how did you find your way to the wonderful world of YA? 

A: I was one of those teens who scribbled her heart out in spiral-bound notebooks, but I knew that writing fiction wasn’t a practical career. So I went to college and majored in graphic design. Many years later, I started dabbling with writing again. There was no doubt in my mind that I’d write YA—I never did make it to the adult section of the library because I stopped reading for fun when I started college. And when I started reading again? I felt at home in YA—right where I left off.

I wrote five manuscripts in four years and submitted them to agents without success, collecting a binder of rejection letters. In 2007, I got to a point where I either needed to change how I wrote or I needed to find a new hobby. I decided to try my next project in verse. That project turned into LOVE AND LEFTOVERS, which was sold in 2010 and published in December 2011.

Sarah Tregay
Q: I love novels in verse, and am curious about the writing process. How do you know when a story is best suited to be told in verse? What special challenges do you face in a verse novel, and what are some of the advantages?

A: Verse novels feel most natural when there is a reason for the format. For example, HOME OF THE BRAVE’s main character is learning English so the short-lined poems fit his knowledge of the language. In MAY B. and THE WILD BOOK, we have characters who struggle with dyslexia. Perhaps the most common connection is characters who are learning about poetry in English class, such as in LOVE THAT DOG and SHAKESPEARE BATS CLEANUP. In LOVE AND LEFTOVERS, Marcie writes poems in her blue notebook and the notebook becomes part of the plot. These connections between format and story make them inseparable.

Verse novels can be challenging because you can’t dwell on setting, transitions, and long passages of dialog, yet you don’t want the piece to feel too jumpy. You have to rely on small clues to keep your readers up-to-date. Sometimes passage of time was boiled down to a title of a poem, for example, “On Saturday.”

The advantages to writing a verse novel are in the editing phase. If your editor asks for more information about character A, you can add a poem. Less about character B, delete one. If your plot is too slow, delete a few poems and it speeds up. And best of all, you can re-arrange poems without much rewriting.

Q: Tell us about your experience over the past year - with the release, promotion, etc., and how you keep that all going while working on whatever comes next?

A: Prior to the release, my publisher did a great job of sending out advanced readers copies and getting reviews, but other than that they didn’t do a whole lot to promote my book. So to keep things one step shy of crazy, I worked on promotions and in-person events every other month instead of 24/7.

LOVE AND LEFTOVERS was my debut novel, so I joined up with the Apocalypsies and the Class of 2k12 for shared promotional opportunities. Some of us got together in New York City during Book Expo America and held events at the convention center and bookstores around the city.

A little closer to home, I reached out to my local independent bookseller whose customer base included school librarians. Together we contacted them, offering a free lunchtime author visit if the school bought copies of LOVE AND LEFTOVERS. These visits worked fit into my 9 to 5 day job, and best of all, I didn’t have to prepare a big presentation for large groups of students.

I worked with Teen Book Scene to do a blog tour of author interviews and book reviews. Because I don’t blog (I can never think of a topic to write about) or tweet (ditto), this and interviews on other blogs were my focus for online promotions. I do have a Facebook page www.facebook.com/sarahtregaybooks and a website www.sarahtregay.com.

Q: Do you work with critique partners? If so, where did you find each other, how do you work together, and how important are they to your writing/revising process?

A: Yes, I love to work with critique partners. The two groups that I am in now meet face-to-face. They were both created by getting the word out in the local writing community.
We work together by submitting work before we meet, along with a note about what we are looking for critique-wise, such as big picture or character development. Then we get together at a restaurant and discuss the writing. The discussions often weigh the pros and cons of certain ideas, helping me navigate through my manuscript.

Before I had an agent, my critique partners were essential. Now that I’m working with an agent who edits and an editor, they aren’t as necessary—but they still add value to my writing process.

Q: What are you working on now/next? 

A: I have a YA novel under contract and I am working on revisions with my editor. The working title is FAN ART, and it is scheduled for 2014. It’s about a high school senior who hijacks his school’s literary magazine, and in the process, he ends up outing himself. Sadly, it isn’t in verse. The original short story was written in poems, but when HarperCollins expressed interest in seeing it as a novel they asked for it to be in prose. So I’m trying to sneak a little poetry and a graphic short story between the chapters—we’ll see if that flies.

Thank you, Sarah! And for those interested reading other verse novels, check out the great list Sarah has compiled of novels and short stories in verse for adults, teens and middle grade readers, right here!

24 November 2012

The perfect reading-by-the-fire sort of day...

It's cold and windy here today, the last of our leaves are falling. Perfect day for a fire in the wood stove and a good book. For me, it's DAYS OF BLOOD & STARLIGHT by Laini Taylor. My almost 9-year-old daughter is reading EIGHT KEYS by Suzanne LaFleur. And my 13-year-old son has Peter Salomon's HENRY FRANKS.

Couldn't ask for a better way to spend the day.

13 November 2012

Maureen McGowan on the long road to publishing and how contests can help

Maureen McGowan
Look who's here! It's Maureen McGowan, author of DEVIANTS (Amazon Children's Books, Oct. 30), the first book in a brand new post-apocalyptic trilogy called THE DUST CHRONICLES. Maureen also penned CINDERELLA: NINJA WARRIOR and SLEEPING BEAUTY: VAMPIRE SLAYER (both published by Silver Dolphin Books, April 2011). 

If you want to hang out with Maureen a bit more after this interview, you can visit her website here and her blog here. You'll also find her talking about books, movies and storytelling with some of her writer friends, over here

So, here goes!

Q: Hi Maureen, tell us about your path to publishing... when did you start writing YA, where did your writing journey take you, and how did you find your agent/publisher?

A: How long do we have?  My publication story is long and twisty and would take several pages to tell in full. Let’s just say I wrote seven or eight manuscripts in four genres, had two agents, and had a publisher close before releasing 2 contracted books for which they hadn’t paid me, all before I got my contract for DEVIANTS. 

But the short answer to your question is that I got my current agent the old fashioned way. I sent a query. Actually I sent four queries to my fantasy four agent list, and one of those was to Catherine Drayton of Inkwell Management. (Her clients include Markus Zuzak, Nathan Bransford and Becca Fitzpatrick.) After reading my query and sample pages, Catherine referred me to another agent at her agency, Charlie Olsen, who reps Andrea Cremer, among others. 

Charlie loved the manuscript and I signed with him less than a week after sending him the full and we started submitting to editors a week after that. The market for post-apocalyptic and dystopian set YA was tightening up at the time, but we got three book deal within a few months. The tough part was that I wasn’t allowed to talk about the deal for another 8-9 months after that! Mostly because the deal it was with Amazon Publishing, who were just starting up when they made the offer and their plans for YA were not yet firm. They actually first discussed publishing my book under their sci-fi imprint which also had not been announced at the time.

Once things got moving, I love how quickly Amazon got DEVIANTS to the market and they did a beautiful job of the hardcover! The second book in the series, COMPLIANCE, comes out May 21, 2013, and—assuming I finish it soon!—the third book, GLORY, will come out in late 2013 or early 2014. 

Q: Your first two YA novels were fairytale adventures (with badass heroines who still get their handsome princes!). You've gone in an entirely different direction with DEVIANTS, a post-apocolyptic sci-fi thriller. Can you tell us how your writing has changed between the earlier project and the new one, and why you chose to move in this new direction? 

A: All of my published books have a lot of action and strong heroines. I also think all three have solid worldbuilding, fast pacing and all are packed with tons of conflict and tension. But the main difference with DEVIANTS is that the Twisted Tales books had to appeal to readers as young as nine! The original publisher for that series, hoped to straddle the middle grade and YA markets, and so those books are a tad more juvenile that I would have written them if I’d had free rein. (I had some awesomely dark ideas for Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer, but couldn’t really go there.)

I feel that with DEVIANTS I didn’t have to hold back at all. I just told the story I wanted to tell. In fact, other than the lack of swearing and sex, I’d say there’s not a huge difference between my voice/storytelling style in DEVIANTS versus the adult projects I’ve written. 

That’s what I love about YA these days. They may be about teens, but they’re not necessarily just for teen readers.

Q: You were a finalist in the Golden Heart® competition and the inaugural Amazon Breakout Novel Competition. Can you tell us about these competitions, your decision to participate, and how they helped launch your YA novels?

A: I think the Golden Heart is a great contest—if you final.  It’s the RWA’s main competition for unpublished work and gets about 1200 entries, of which only 70-80 final (across various categories—up to 9 finalists in each.) If you final, it certainly makes the RWA National conference experience fun. The awards night is like the Oscars—2000 people in the audience, fancy gowns and a big production. It’s during the same ceremony when they announce the RITAs, the awards for the top romance novels of the year. Unfortunately, they’ve changed the rules this year so that the YA titles need to have a central love story (versus the romance being only a sub plot) so unfortunately, a most YA titles won’t be eligible anymore.

The Amazon Breakout Novel Awards (ABNA) is a competition run by Amazon and the finals are judged by Penguin editors. (Or were the year that I entered.) The top prize the year I entered was a $25,000 advance from Penguin and there were several rounds of competition. Depending on how far you got in the competition, you got reviews from the general public and from Publishers Weekly. 

I personally would only advise someone to enter the ABNA with a project that had been thoroughly “shopped out” the traditional way, before the entry date, because the manuscript will be tied up for the months that the contest is ongoing. That is, you can’t submit it anywhere during that time. For me, entering was one last shot for one of my manuscripts, and I had the blessing of my former agent to enter.

I was part of the first year for that contest, and it’s changed a bit now, but for me, the biggest benefit was learning how to deal with reviews. Years before I had anything published, I’d dealt with reading negative (and positive) reviews from strangers.

That contest was also great because it gave a chance for published author acquaintances of mine to actually read some of my work. That helped me build connections that led to referrals to agents, great advice, etc. 

It was an encouraging experience for me. I had authors contact me saying they couldn’t believe I hadn’t been published yet. And that was early 2008. (It took another 2 ½ years after that to get my write for hire contract, and another 18 months after that to get a more traditional advance-paying contract.)

Q: I saw other authors tweeting about your release party for DEVIANTS, and I know you're active online with blogs and web presence, twitter, etc. How much time do you put into these and other networking and promotional efforts? 

A:  Lately, too much! And not enough at the same time... I feel like there are so many things I wanted to do before my release that I never got time to do. It’s so hard to get the word out about your novel. I’d like to find a balance where I spend no more than an hour or two on promotion and social networking each day, but would be lying if I said I stuck to that now.

Q: What is your writing process? How do you approach a new project (research, outlining, plotting, pantsing... what's your style?)?

A: New ideas usually percolate for a long time with me. At some point, I’ll discuss an idea with my critique partners and then start to develop it more. My ideas don’t always spark in the same way. Sometimes it will be a premise, sometimes a world, sometimes a character. And with DEVIANTS, I actually melded at least three different ideas together. It was magic to realize that I didn’t need to choose between 3 story ideas, but could combine bits of them. 

If I’m not forced to write a synopsis first, I usually only plan the bare bones. Not because I don’t find more detailed planning useful, more that I’m too impatient. I believe that to end up with a strong, tightly plotted and well-formed story with great motivations and character arcs, you need to put in the heavy planning or analysis work at some point... whether it’s up front, while you’re drafting, or while re-writing. I personally believe it’s most efficient to put that time in planning, but it doesn’t always work that way for me. Every project tends to be different. 

Q: What are you working on now/next?

A:  COMPLIANCE, Book 2 of The Dust Chronicles, comes out May 21, 2013. I’m working on my line edits at the moment. Then I need to finish the third book in the trilogy, tentatively called GLORY, as soon as possible!

After that, I’m not sure. I’m in the development stage with another YA series and I’m also hoping that my women’s fiction projects might see the light of day sometime soon... We’ll see.

Thank you, Maureen! 

And for those who are curious about THE DUST CHRONICLES, here's a little teaser on DEVIANTS: 

DEVIANTS by Maureen McGowan

In a post-apocalyptic world, where the earth is buried by asteroid dust that’s mutated the DNA of some humans, orphaned, sixteen-year-old Glory must hide and protect her younger brother. If their Deviant abilities are discovered, they’ll be expunged—kicked out of the dome to be tortured and killed by the Shredders. Glory would give anything to get rid of her unique ability to kill with her emotions, especially when Cal, the boy she’s always liked, becomes a spy for the authorities. But when her brother is discovered, and she learns their father, who was expunged for killing their mother, is still alive, she must escape the domed city that’s been her entire world.

Outside in the ruins, they’re pursued by the authorities and by sadistic, scab-covered Shredders who are addicted to the lethal-to-humans dust now covering the planet. Glory’s quests to transport herself and her brother to safety make up the thrilling and fascinating first volume of The Dust Chronicles.

 It's on sale now... herehere and here

06 November 2012

LOVELY, DARK AND DEEP Author Amy McNamara finds inspiration in words, motion and images

It's election day, and I considered holding this interview… but I can't wait to share it! I've been waiting since December 2010, believe it or not! That's when Amy first told me about her book and I put her on my "authors to be interviewed" list. At the time, Fall 2012 seemed sooooo far away. But here it is, and I could not be happier to see Amy's book out in the world. On bookshelves! 

Amy McNamara
Anyway, if you're like me, you'll be wanting a pleasant distraction from today's polling news. Right? (But first, GO VOTE!) So, here she is: Amy McNamara, author of LOVELY, DARK AND DEEP (Simon & Schuster books for Young Readers, Oct. 16, 2012). Amy holds a B.A. in French literature and an MFA in poetry. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her "honey" and two kids. You will often find her with camera in hand, documenting her city for pay and for pleasure. 

Though without heat and electricity for many days following Superstorm Sandy, Amy found time to answer a few questions. 

Q: Hi Amy! Every author I've interviewed has followed a unique path to publishing, and I'm curious to learn about yours! You studied French literature and poetry... how did that lead you to YA? 

A: I fell into it by accident. I wrote the novel during a period in which I wasn’t writing poems. Those are always hard, the fallow times of not writing. Then one morning I woke up with the opening scene in my head. I put it on the page.

Why is Wren a teenager? I think because that’s a time where life is full of transitions and decisions and moments that really begin to form who you become. You’re still mostly free to feel however you feel because you’re largely only responsible for yourself.

Q: What was the experience of writing your debut novel like? And can you also share the story of finding your agent/publisher?

A: I was lucky. Wren and her story kind of rushed through me. I never felt stuck or wondered what was next. I don’t recall dreaming it up, it was just there. I completed the first draft in a little under three months, and revised it another three months after that. At that point I was doing it for the joy of making something. Initially I had no intention of sending it into the world. I was telling myself a story. It needed a lot of work after the first pass. It’s not easy to sustain a narrative about someone who is trying to shut down. But feeling like that happens for some people and it seemed like a story worth telling.

My experience finding my agent (Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger) was also charmed. I spent about a month (felt like it at least) on my query letter, then sent it out into the world. Sara was a critical, passionate reader and gave me good advice. I am so lucky to be in her hands.

After I revised the novel with her, Sara went out with it. A few months later we had a deal with Alexandra Cooper at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. I was thrilled. I knew finding a home for a story about a deeply sad and stuck person who wasn’t supernatural in any way might be tough. I celebrated for a month, solid.

Q: The cover of LOVELY, DARK AND DEEP is lovely, indeed. Since you are a photographer as well as novelist and poet, were you able to give input into what image they would use? Did it capture the feeling of the novel as you'd hoped? 

A: I was incredibly fortunate to work with Lizzy Bromley. Lizzy is an artist (check out some of her other covers - Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains and Forge, or Nora Baskin’s Anything But Typical) and I owe the many compliments I’ve had on the cover design to her.

For a while I imagined trying to shoot a cover image myself, but I didn’t make that request partly because I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off—shoot something that felt right—but mostly because book designers know what they’re doing, and I don’t. My instinct would have been to make it dark, a blurred photo of a girl running in a woods or something else equally literal. As you can see, my cover’s neither dark nor blurry. Thank heavens. That would have been utterly unremarkable. The cover design process is really the book’s first step into the larger world. By that point, the author’s job is largely done.

Q: The title, LOVELY, DARK AND DEEP comes from the Robert Frost poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." How did poetry... of others as well as your own... affect the writing of this novel? 

A: Yes, that’s right. I memorized that poem in eighth grade and the marvelous dark quiet and rhythm of it have never left me. I wrote this book a few months after losing a friend. I read poems like I was begging them to make some kind of connection between us again. That meant reading and rereading the work of Philip Larkin, who was one of her favorites.

I suppose writing poems for so long has made me more attentive to the sound of language, to how words work in concert to influence larger meaning.

Q: You have two kids, a hubby, and many outlets for your creativity. I'm guessing there is no such thing as a typical day... but I'm curious what your writing process is like. How do you get your ideas and inspiration onto the page?

A: Before I wrote this novel, my process included going for a run in the morning without listening to anything. I find motion to be really fertile in terms of listening for language that I might follow. I also read everything. Poems, novels, art criticism, picture books, magazines, cook books, shampoo bottles, anything I can get my hands on. Then I try to fill a lot of pages with whatever shows up. You never know what’s going to turn into something. I’m a natural night owl, but family life means that I need to work in the earlier part of the day. When I don’t feel like reading or writing, I’ll walk around with my camera or make strange pieces of mail to send to friends. I am talentless for drawing or painting, but I love image, so I try to make things with images.

Q: What are you working on now? Will we see more YA fiction from you sometime soon?

A: That’s a good question. I hope so, but I don’t know, to be honest. I wrote a draft of another novel, but it’s not working. I’ve tucked it away for now. I’m in a period of not-writing at the moment which is always a little excruciating. I’ve been here many times before and at this point I know to just shut up and trust that something will come to me another day. I find every time I try to force anything in life, it fails. Better to let go a little and trust something will come again. I’m reading a lot and before Hurricane Sandy was going to look at a lot of art. I’m also doing corporate writing-for-hire jobs that fill my time and more importantly help pay the bills.

Thank you, Amy! I'm inspired by your approach to writing, and to stimulating your creativity in so many different ways. 


About Amy's Book:


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. Somehwere 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.

You can buy it here, here, and here! (And, of course, at your local bookstore. Here's mine. It's are tiny with a small YA section but they always order up whatever I request and have it there within a couple of days!)

22 October 2012

CONJURE author Lea Nolan combines adventure and romance in middle grade/young adult crossover

Lea Nolan
Today's featured author is Lea Nolan. Her debut YA novel, CONJURE (Entangled Teen, Oct. 16), is book one in The Hoodoo Apprentice Series. It's the story of Emma, her best friend/secret crush Cooper and brother Jack, and a "little" adventure involving a mysterious 18th-century message in a bottle, a hidden pirate bounty, an ancient flesh-eating soul-stealing curse, walking skeleton, demon dogs... you know, the usual (!!!!).

Lea writes the kinds of stories she sought as a teen—smart paranormals with bright heroines, crazy-hot heroes, diabolical plot twists, plus a dose of magic, a draft of romance, and a sprinkle of history. She has degrees in history and public policy, and spent 15 years as a health policy analyst and researcher. To learn more about Lea and her work, visit her websiteFacebookTwitter or Goodreads. (And leave a comment below to enter to win an e-copy of CONJURE!)

Q: Lea, I'm curious how your background in history and public policy led to writing YA! Can you tell us about your path to publishing––when you started writing, how CONJURE came into being, and how you found your agent and publisher? 

A: Ah it’s an interesting tale! The shortish answer is that I was once a totally gung ho DC health policy think tank wonk, but then I started having babies and my priorities shifted. It wasn’t possible (or desirable) to work 60 hour weeks anymore so I started cutting back, first to four days a week, then to three. I was also in a PhD program at the time and was seriously overwhelmed, and frankly, was beginning to get burned out on policy. You see policy is one thing–you can craft and recommend solutions to solve obvious problems—but then you come up against politics which often creates artificial obstacles to implementing all your brilliant proposals. So I’d say I was ripe for a career change.

And then I read Twilight. Like so many recent writers, I was inspired by the powerful emotional feelings Stephenie Meyers conveyed in that book. It reminded me of how earth-quaking first love can be and spurred my interest in YA fiction. When I was a teen there was no such “genre” and I ran out of books to read with teen characters by the time I was twelve. So after studying a few YA books, I figured I’d try my hand at writing.

It took me two years to write my first book. Let me explain, I didn’t take me that long to draft. Over those two years, I completely stripped it down, changed the tense, restructured scenes, etc. In total, it was reworked six times before it was good enough to query agents. Then I had to perfect my query letter which was even more difficult. I can’t tell you how many embarrassingly bad queries I sent out. But after taking a couple great query classes and running it by some fantastic betas, I finally had one that worked. I started getting responses from agents and request for partials and fulls. One of those agents asked to see what else I had. Luckily, I had the first 50 pages of what became CONJURE so I sent them off. Forty-five minutes later she offered representation, not for that first (still unpublished) book but for the partial. I still had to finish drafting the book and revising it which took several more months. About three years after I’d first started writing, we went on submission.

And that’s when things got interesting. CONJURE features a hidden 18th-century pirate treasure, demon dogs, soul snatching, and a wicked flesh-eating curse that can only be broken with Gullah hoodoo magic. There’s lots of action and adventure and there’s also a sweet romance. Several editors loved the voice and concept but they didn’t exactly know what to do with a story that had the fast-paced adventure usually found in a middle grade book, but also a sweet YA romance between a smart, brave heroine and a hunky hero. Thankfully Liz Pelletier of Entangled Publishing did. “This is a middle grade/YA cross over,” she declared, a book to fit the niche of tweens and younger teen readers who aren’t drawn to the darker/edgier/sexier upper YAs that are on the market. And even better, since the series will get progressively creepy and sinister as it goes on, it will grow with its readers. It was exactly the right way to go. So we aged the characters down a little bit, and tweaked their language a smidge but kept everything else exactly as it was and CONJURE was born.

You asked earlier how CONJURE came to be so I’ll tell you because it’s a funny story and it proves you can get inspiration from anywhere. As bizarre as it sounds, the idea for CONJURE came from a Chick Fil A kids meal bag. We’d just gone through the drive-through and my daughter was reading the little educational factoids they print on the bags. Her little voice floated up from the back seat. “Mommy, did you know pirates used to send messages in a bottle?” No, as a matter of fact, I’d never heard that. As I drove down the road I wondered, why would a pirate need to send a message in a bottle? An answer popped into my head: Maybe his ship and crew were cursed. But what could he have done to land in such trouble? The questions and answers snowballed and before I knew it, I had to set aside the novel I’d been planning to write this one instead.

Q: What has been most helpful to you as a writer, in terms of developing your craft? (writing workshops, books on writing, blogs/articles, critique partners... what has helped you?)

A: All of the above! Really, I’ve learned so much from the many online writing courses I’ve taken from RWA-affiliated chapters and Savvy Authors, and from Q&A sessions like this one on Teen Lit Authors. I especially found the query/log line/synopsis classes to be invaluable as well as classes on specific topics like the Herbal Lore and Historic Medicinal Uses of Herbs course I took with Beth Trissel, and a Steampunk course I took from Savvy Authors taught by Beth Henderson. No matter what you’re interested in you can find a course that’ll help you and you’ll get great hands-on critiques from the instructors and helpful suggestions from your fellow students. I’ve also had the great fortune of working with some absolutely fabulous critique partners. There’s nothing better than a crit partner who’s not afraid to tell you, in a smart, constructive way that your hero is too stupid to live or that your heroine just violated your world building rules. Several books have also been invaluable to learning craft including about The Artful Edit by Susan Bell and Save the Cat by BlakeSnyder. I also can’t say enough about joining writer’s organizations and online discussion groups like this one, RWA and it’s local and affiliated special interest chapters.

Q: What do you have planned for THE HOODOO APPRENTICE series? 

A: There will be a total of three books in this series. The second book is called ALLURE and the third is ILLUSION. As I said earlier, the plot thickens over the next two installments, getting darker and even more creepy with sinister plot turns. Bwahahaha! I love that these books will grow with their readers and hopefully will carry them along to the final series climax.

Q: Tell us about promotional efforts for your book, including your blog tour and the new Entangled Teen blog. 

A: It started two months before release with a fantastic cover reveal event in which 130 bloggers and authors with blogs participated. CONJURE’s beautiful cover and blurb were everywhere for a couple days and really helped it get some nice visibility. About a month before release we began distributing digital ARCs to interested bloggers in exchange for their honest reviews. In addition, my publicists at Entangled have worked hard to put together an absolutely great blog tour with 40 sites over three weeks. Most of these are interviews with giveways but we’ve also got reviews scheduled and a few feature posts along the way.

I’ve also created a street team called The Apprentices which is open to anyone who’s interested in helping to spread the word about CONJURE and the rest of the books in The Hoodoo Apprentice Series. It’s a great way to get to know enthusiastic readers better. I thought hard about how I’d want to set up a street team. Some street teams award points for various tasks but that was too much for me to manage. Instead I created a Facebook group that anybody can join. I post links to blog posts and giveaways and people can tweet or Facebook about them. Also, if people want to distribute bookmarks or other book swag to libraries, local schools or book clubs, I’ll send out materials for them to distribute. In return, street team members will get access to deleted scenes from Conjure, special sneak peeks at the other books in the series and other perks. Also, they’ll be entered to win a special monthly giveaway just for street team members.

I’ve also invested in a bunch of book swag like bookmarks, posters, temporary tattoos, stickers, magnets, personalized silicone bracelets and other stuff to send to my street team members and to give away at signings, library events, and schools.

Group blogs are also an excellent marketing tool. I belong to three: Honestly YA, The Naked Hero and The Entangled Teen blog. These are a great way to reach out to readers and let them get to know a little bit about your personally. For example, the Honestly YA blogs allow us to riff on our personal experience as teens. I’ve shared my Monday Morning Walk of Shame experience there, my Summer Camp Loves and lots of other embarrassing teen moments. The Entangled Teen blog is so much fun because we chat about stuff we love (mine was fancy handbags), writing craft, fun stuff from the web, publishing experiences, etc.

Of course I’m also on Twitter, Goodreads and have a Facebook Author page and a dedicated Facebook Page for The Hoodoo Apprentice Series. Whew!

Q: What is your writing process? What is a typical day like? 

A: Since I’m a mom with youngish, school aged kids, I do most of my writing during the hours they’re at school. That’s a little tough though because my brain doesn’t really start popping until about 10:00 am at the earliest. But it’s a job and I’ve got to make it work so there’s a bit of mind over matter involved. 

As for rituals, I do most of my writing in a Panera Bread CafĂ© across the table from my best friend and fellow writer, Laura Kaye. I don’t usually write with music, unless there’s a particularly loud fellow patron nearby chomping away with their mouth open. That totally grosses me out, so when faced with such an obnoxious mouth-offender, I toss on some ear buds and listen to classical music to drown him or her out. I can’t listen to anything with lyrics otherwise I’ll lose my concentration.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: ALLURE! The book tour has required a little hiatus but I’m itching to get back to it.

Thank you, Lea! Your story of hard work paying off is inspiring, and I can't wait to see how the Hoodoo Apprentice series evolves into even more creepy and sinister territory!

Win an e-copy of CONJURE! Post a comment or question below today (or on the Teen Lit Authors Yahoo list) and you'll be entered to win!

17 October 2012

Revisiting a "Hidden" Interview with Sophie Jordan, author of the FIRELIGHT series

For nearly four years, I've been interviewing published authors for a Q&A series on the Teen Lit Authors list serve on Yahoo (which has 800+ members!). In that time, I've featured more than 40 authors, all of whom have shared wonderful insights into their journeys as authors, their writing process, promotional efforts, their ups, downs, joys, frustrations… you name it.

When I started this blog a month ago, I posted the past year's worth of interviews in the archives. But that left three more years of great interviews hidden away on the loop. I've decided to post some of my favorites (with updates) here as well, and will try to do one of these per week (or so) until I run through them all! I'm so excited to share these interviews with you.

Sophie Jordan
First up is Sophie Jordan

This interview took place in February 2011. Sophie's debut YA novel, FIRELIGHT (Sept. 2010, Harper Collins) had introduced readers to Jacinda, a fire-breathing "draki" girl (descended from dragons who could shift between human and dragon form). Since then, Jacinda and her draki friends (and not-so-friendly draki, and draki-hunters) have returned in VANISH (Sept. 2011) and HIDDEN (Sept. 2012). 

Sophie is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Avon historical romances, and also writes paranormal romances under the name Sharie Kohler. Visit her website to learn more.

Q: FIRELIGHT was your first YA, but you are multi-published in other genres. Can you tell us a little bit about the path you took and how your writing career has led you to YA?

A: Basically, I began to read YA just to get a break from what I was writing. I love writing romance, but wanted to stay fresh - wanted to keep myself from tiring of it, so I started reading outside the genre. I loved how different YA could be. I could write in first person - or not! My book could be sexy - or not. I could go in so many different directions. It was only natural for me to start coming up with ideas for my own YA. My agent was as excited as I was, so before I knew it I had a proposal ready to shop. 

Q: By my count, you've had 13 books (now 19?) published since 2006. That's a lot of writing! Could you describe your writing process, and how you handle various projects that might be in the works simultaneously?

A: I average about three books a year ... so yes, things tend to overlap. I just tackle it a day at a time, focusing on the closest deadline first. If I know I have a book due in three months, I calculate what I need to do, page-wise, every day to get it done. I build in some extra time because things always happen - revisions can come in or copyedits or ... who know? That thing called life can happen.

One thing I do now that I didn't do when I first started writing is outlining. If I'm writing a book in 2-3 months, I can't afford to wing it. I have to know where I'm going. The writing comes faster that way.

Q: I never tire of hearing authors' stories about how they found their agent or first publisher. Can you tell us yours?

A: I queried agents like mad - and entered contests focusing on getting to the agents offered as judges to the finalists. It took me close to two years to find an agent, and then she sold my first book in two weeks! Still surprises me that it took me so long to get an agent, but then she turned around and "sold" me so quickly.

Q: Author book tours are somewhat rare these days, but you did have one (in fall 2010) to kick off the release of Firelight. Can you tell us about the tour?

A: The Firelight tour was scheduled and organized by my publisher, Harper Teen. It involved several bookstore signings, as well as school visits and attendance/speaking at local teen book conferences. We even popped in for some stock signings. There were days where we may have had as many as three events. It was a busy three weeks of on/off again traveling, but a great opportunity Harper provided.

I also toured with another author, Kiersten White. In certain cities, we were joined by other bestselling YA authors to make the event even more noteworthy. I think author tours in children's books are worthwhile because you can visit schools and "kid" conferences alongside the bookstores. As a YA author you want to be on librarians' radar as much as possible, and a tour like this really helped accomplish that. It definitely helped get awareness of me and my book out there in the world.

Q: What has been the most surprising thing you've discovered about the world of publishing? What has been most challenging?

A: Wow. That's tough to encapsulate. I feel like I'm constantly learning and evolving as a writer. I'm surprised all the time.

This business is a roller coaster. Some days it's all euphoria and other days you struggle with self-doubt and disappointment. I guess I just learned to be grateful for all my blessings. I remind myself how lucky I am that I've found success doing something I love for a living - this helps keep me grounded. I think you need to guard against negativity - in yourself and in those around you.

Thank you, Sophie!