Saturday, May 30, 2015

HAPPY DANCE! (I Have an Agent!!!)

My cyborg beekeeper story
has an agent!!!
You guys. I can't believe I'm sitting here, writing this post.

It's a post I've been longing to write since the beginning of this blog, four years ago -- way back before my FARLIGHT story when I had the beginnings of a novel idea and I scarcely knew what an agent was ...

   ** Cue exceedingly long post. I'll totally not judge
       if you skip to the end to see how this turns out : ) **

Novel Attempt #1: The Awakening of Minna Gray

I started writing my first novel back in January of 2011. I was working on my PhD at the time, and I'd just submitted my Prospectus to my committee. I didn't have many classes that semester (I think one??), and the previous fall, I'd gotten an itch to write the story forming in the back of my mind. So I took the month of February, and wrote and wrote and wrote until I had a bright and shiny (Read: incredibly messy and horrid) first draft. I probably edited it some after that, but not nearly enough before I inflicted it on my little sister, my husband, my mom, and .... oh lordy, probably some other people too ... and for that I apologize profusely. That *thing* was not ready to see the light of day.

But I knew there was something there, if I could just ... well ... rewrite the whole darn thing. Which is exactly what I did. And then edited it again, and then sent it out to beta readers, and edited more, and ... well you get the picture. In April 2012, I started querying (lightly) and later that year entered some contests, through which I met a TON of amazing fellow writers.

They love my story!!!
(**PSA: If you're a querying writer and haven't ever considered entering a pitch/query contest. DO IT. Or participate on the sidelines, cheering the entrants on. It is a wonderful way to meet a whole bunch of incredibly talented, supportive, and all-around amazing authors! I love the writing community! END PSA.**)

Early 2013 was truly a roller-coaster of a time for me, emotionally. I finally had a decent query and first page, and I started getting some    nibbles. I queried some more. But this was 2013, and my story was
a Young Adult Dystopian Fantasy.                                                     

They hate my story

Let me repeat that: It was a YA Dystopian

It had some other problems too. Namely there was an element to it that read too MG, but was too dear to me to cut from the novel. I'd suspected it would be a hard sell, and my time in the query trenches confirmed that more than just hard, dystopian was kind of like the kiss of death. Not surprisingly, the rejections started pouring in. While many of the agents were very enouraging, and I even got an R&R, they all said that it would just be too hard in the current market. I stopped querying my dear little MINNA after only getting about a third of the way through my agent list.
Don't stop writing. Or else.

Cue lots of crying and chocolate.

But I couldn't stop writing. I knew I couldn't.

Enter Manuscript #2: FARLIGHT

I began writing my second MS in August of 2012. This one was a YA sci-fi about a cyborg beekeeper enroute to New Earth (you can read more about it here if you want!). I only got a few chapters done before dissertation research and a subsequent move to Australia sort of sidelined everything for awhile. But I picked it up again in 2013, and by September, I had a nicer-shinier, twice self-edited MS #2. Again I put it through the gauntlet of betas and CPs (thanks Monica, Stephanie, Max, Ifeoma, Leigh, and Mara!!), then edited, followed by another round of betas and more editing in 2014. Somewhere in there I graduated with a PhD in Sustainability, moved house, and had a son.

Are you ready to query?
Yeah ... being a first-time mum hit me HARD. It was all kinds of great, but our little guy wasn't (and still isn't) a good sleeper. He's also fairly opinionated about *things* and usually wants these *things* right now Now NOW! Still, I somehow managed to whip my book into shape in the first half of 2014. FARLIGHT was ready.

I started querying lightly in September, put my letter through Query Letter Hell, started querying again, and participated in #pitmad, and later in the year, #SFFpit. I tried to do the blog contest circuit, but never got picked for the agent rounds.

so easy to doubt yourself
Not gonna lie: the fact that I hadn't made the cut in the October/November contests really got me down. MS #2 was supposed to be more marketable than the last. I knew more about writing/querying/editing/the works. I loved my story. My betas and CPs thought I had something. What was wrong? Maybe everyone was just being nice. Maybe I was misreading what people had said. Maybe my idea was actually total crap. Maybe I wasn't pitching it well. Maybe I was a horrible writer.

You guys, ALL the doubts started creeping in.

I revamped my query. After some extremely helpful feedback on a full manuscript rejection (I will love that agent forever), I made some fine-tuning edits to that too. In January 2015, I started querying again. In February, I participated in the First Five Pages Workshop and met some lovely fellow YA writers that helped me tighten up those critical pages even more. (Thank you Abigail, Lisa, Meghan and Sheri!)
Lit Agent Detective Mode

I devoted myself to researching literary agents. I read about them on Lit Rambles, PM Member pagesQuery Tracker, Query Questions w/ Michelle. I scoured #MSWL lists, #MSWL paragraphs and their twitter feeds. I carefully tailored every letter I could. And it paid off. The full requests started coming in! I queried HARD.

And then ... *crickets*

I knew from prior experience that it often takes agents awhile to get to the partials and fulls on their desks. I kept querying. Kept wailing at the form rejections in my inbox and doing *happy dances* for the requests.

Still no word.

It'd been over three months since my first full request of my revamped MS. Not that long to wait, but *refreshitis* was hitting me big time. And then, while checking my email at 2am, [as one does], I got an email from one of the agents who had my full. My heart started beating faster ... and then I clicked on it ... and it took forever to load because the internet sucks here in Australia ... and it was ... a rejection.

I was really bummed. I tried not to be. Tried to tell myself I had plenty of other fulls out there. Tried to tell myself that, statistically speaking, rejection is part of the business. But we all know that sort of comforting only kinda works. Every rejection is still hard.

I kept querying.

Then on April 1st (I know, "April Fool's"  ... classic, right?), again on a 3am email-check, I got an email that went something like this:

Hi Carissa: One of my colleagues passed your manuscript on to me. I'm on page 100 and loving it. I just wanted to check with you that it is still available. (Sidenote: THANK YOU AMANDA!)

Please pick me!
Cue massive heart racing and complete and utter inability to go back to sleep. It was night in Australia, but back in the U.S. it was daytime, and somewhere over there, an agent was reading my book RIGHT NOW.

So of course I got up and typed out a blabbering email. Was it available? Heck yes, it is available. Please don't stop reading because you don't think it's available!!

The next day, I got another message that went something like:

 I've got 60 pages to go, and I really, really like this. 

Of course I'm available for a call!
Which of course made me do ALL THE HAPPY DANCES.

Then two days after that, I got an email asking: was I available for a call to discuss the manuscript? WELL OF COURSE I WAS.

... The only problem is I sort of wasn't. I was on vacation in Cairns at the time, visiting the Great Barrier Reef. After a bit of calendar-checking, we scheduled the talk for three days later.

Three whole days.

During which, I ...

(1) Quickly double-checked my list of all the important questions you're supposed to ask an agent during "The Call" and then

(2) Re-read his email, saw the word "edits" and promptly began second-guessing myself all over again: I'd been wrong. This wasn't "The Call" after all. This was simply "A Call" to discuss revisions ... perhaps a Revise & Resubmit request. Or maybe not even that. Maybe he just wanted to call and discuss what he thought needed work, but he didn't even want a R&R. 

All the voices of doubt settled in so quickly.

The Call

Because I was in Australia, and he was in the US, we ended up speaking via my laptop ... which was tethered to my OZ phone ... which was connected to the internet via 3G ... which made me sound like I was talking through snorkel while in the Great Barrier Reef, rather than just sitting in an apartment unit by the Great Barrier Reef.

Throughout the entire call, he was so great to talk to, you guys. I mean I felt like I'd known him forever. And he was incredibly enthusiastic and encouraging. Yet while he was telling me how much he liked my work, and my writing, and my action scenes, and the sustainability themes, my brain kept on trying to keep me in check, telling me "But this isn't the call." Yes, he likes this. Yes, he likes that. But there will be a but. Because this isn't The Call. 

Brains are such funny things, right?

There was a but. He ran some broad editorial suggestions by me (all of which I loved and made me super excited to re-visit the manuscript). And then, after some chatting about travelling, food, academic conferences, we got to the end of the "Not-The-Call" and I asked what the next steps were (referring to what I was 99.9% sure was an R & R) and he said:

Well I can send you the agency contract.

Hold up. What are we talking about? Is this a revise and resubmit?

I think I actually said something about as eloquent as that, and subsequently almost fell out of my chair when he said:

No this is an offer of representation.

I may have squeal-scream-laughed a little. Pretty sure he could see my smile through the phone. After coming to my senses, I asked the questions I would have asked, had I thought that the call we were having was THE CALL. By the end of it, I knew 100% that this was the agent that I wanted to represent Farlight. He got my book. He wanted more of the elements in my book that I loved but had been scared to go overboard with.

The After-The-Call

I had a number of queries, partials, and fulls out at the time, I gave them a deadline to reply if they were still interested. After the crazy flurry of both step-asides and requests to see more settled out, I had 17 full manuscripts out. Now, knowing that I really wanted the agent I'd already talked to, I gave them only a week to respond (more on this in a subsequent post). At the end of the week, 9 agents had stepped aside, and 8 agents were unable to read the MS in the timeframe (so effectively, stepping aside).

One week after the offer, I accepted. A bit of time (okay, a lot of time -- both he and I had conflicting vacations, etc) and admin and emails later, everything's official and I can finally post this:

Today I am beyond thrilled to announce that:

 I am now represented by Jason Anthony                                         of Lippincott Massie McQuilkin!!

Not going to lie. Right now I feel a little like I could fly (a starship) :)

Stay tuned for a post on the query that worked!

Also, Ryan wanted to chime in:

Me too, Ryan. Me too.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Social Media for Writers: Which to Use

What Social Media Should Writers Choose?
There's a LOT of social media out there for authors to pick from.

    Twitter. Instagram. Facebook.     Pinterest. Snapchat. Google+.
Goodreads. LinkedIn. 
    Reddit. Quora. YouTube
    Blogging. WattPad.

It's overwhelming.

What are all these for? How can we, as writers, make the best use of these social media networks? Which social media are necessary for authors? Which can we go without?

**Sidenote: If anyone has any tips for me re: how to be better at Tumblr, or more social at Goodreads, I WOULD LOVE THOSE TIPS, thanks!**

Oh, and in case you are interested here are links to my social media ;)



(yes I am pretending that logo is for Goodreads)

And without further ado, here's my take on the Must-Haves, Maybes, and 'Mehs' of social media networks for writers:

Must-Have Social Media for Authors
Twitter Love
  • Twitter

    Why? It's THE place for writers to connect with other writers, exchange tricks of the trade, find instant accountability (via writing sprints), provide encouragement, keep up with literary agent and editor wishlists (via #MSWL), find calls for submission and participate in pitch contests.

  • Instagram

    Why? It's where young readers are hanging out. In case you hadn't heard, Facebook has, if not died exactly, certainly lost its 'cool factor' with young adults ... probably about the time everyone's moms joined. Meanwhile IG is still extremely popular. And while writing may not seem like a very photogenic endeavor, reading definitely is. Follow other writers and book bloggers and see how they're transforming their feeds into works of bookish, coffeeish art.

  • Tumblr

    Why? Okay, I'll admit. I've only been on Tumblr for a few months, and to be 100% honest, I still don't get the appeal, nor do I understand what I'm supposed to do on there beyond re-blog others' posts. However I do know that, like Instagram, it's one of THE places to connect with young adult readers. So I've taken the plunge. Any tips?

  • Pinterest
    Why? It's easy, fast, and fun. It's also where all the crafty/artsy/DIY-ery/geeky/bakery/fashion-forward/travel-bugged gals are hanging out. If any of them are your audience, you need to be on Pinterest. Set up some writing and writing inspiration boards, follow some people, and spend 2 minutes a day re-pinning things (and/or pinning your blog post if you have one). Super fast.

  • Blog or Website
    Why? It's important to have a permanent location on the web with info about you and your writing. How "social" you get with it is really up to you. Maybe you want to blog several times a week, do lots of bloghops, guests posts, giveaways, and discussions. Maybe you only want to post ocassionally. Maybe you just want a static website. Do whatever suits you. Just make sure you have some way that readers can find you. Blogger and WordPress make it really easy to set up. I know I'm on Blogger, but I think, to be honest if I had to do it all over again, I'd go with WordPress.

    Bonus: If you're really nerdy check out Social Media Demographics from the Pew Research Institute, and a Teenager's View on Social Media (and part 2)

Pretty Important (...but if you're not there yet, whatevs)

  • Facebook Page (or Author Profile)
    Why? It's how you'll connect to your Facebook Friends. If you're anything like me, your FB friends are mostly (with some exceptions), NOT your writing colleagues, fellow bloggers, or target audience. They are, however, your friends "in real life" and as such, they *just might* want to know that you're an author, and/or when your book comes out!

  • Google+
    Why? I don't use it. You don't use it. But someone out there might still use Google Plus, so maybe just chuck links to your other social media up there and set your blog to auto-copy there and forget about it. That's what I did. Easy peasy.

  • Goodreads
    Why? Well if you're a fiction writer, I'm going to hazard a guess that you also read a lot. And if you're trying to support your fellow authors, you're probably writing a lot of reviews (and posting them on Amazon, B&N, Kobo etc.... right??). Goodreads is a great place to keep track of your reading lists and wishlists, and to post ratings and reviews. I don't use it much in a "social" capacity, but I'd like to learn. Any tips?

  • Online Writing Forums and Groups

    • Absolute Write
      Why? The AW Water Cooler forums are a fantastic resource for aspiring novelists, particularly if you have lots of questions about the traditional/self-publishing process, need to find beta readers, or want your opening pages or query critiqued.

    • Reddit
      Why? I'm a  newbie to the YAWriters subreddit, but thus far it seems like a great place for authors to exchange ideas/tips with other authors. I have no idea if there are other subreddits that are equally as good for writers. Anyone recommend any?

    • Facebook Groups
      Why? Well, in contrast to other social media, this is where the old folks hang out. So if you have any of those in your audience, you may want to get on board here. There are a lot of facebook groups out there focusing on a wide array of topics (writing, reading genres, TV show fanclubs, hobbyist groups, blogging groups etc). There's also a wide array of content and quality of content in these groups. Join some, see if they seem like a good fit. If not, then don't bother.

      For me, the ones that have stuck so far are: YA Sci-Fi and Fantasy Readers, Sci-Fi Writers, and Aussie Bloggers.

      And of course I can't forget to plug my own group: Mums Who Write!
      While it was originally formed by Sydney dwellers, we certainly wouldn't turn away any writing mothers who'd like a little extra support and community!

Meh. Only If You Have Time ...

I wont talk about any of these in detail. Some of these I participate in, others I haven't gotten around to trying, and still others I've tried and went "nah, not for me." These can probably all be great resources, but might be tailored for specific purposes.

  • WriterPitch
    This is a new forum for novelists seeking representation. It's kinda cool and flashy! My pitch is here, but I haven't done much beyond posting it and commenting on others' pitches.

  • YouTube (for posting Vlogs)

  • LinkedIn
    Okay, realistically, like Facebook, we ALL need a LinkedIn, but beyond the basics ... meh

  • Quora
    Are you an expert in a particular field, or need one for research? Try Quora!

  • Snapchat
    Snapchat? For writers? I don't know, BUT 50% of Americans ages 12-24 use it. And some people are talking about how writers might tap in: here, and here, and how John Green tried and abanonded it here. Personally, I just have trouble snapping a decent photo without my toddler grabbing my phone, so ...

  • Flickr
    If you're a photographer, you're probably on here already. *Waves* I haven't posted anything in ages, but I'll probably get back to it when my YA sci-fi is released, as there's a photography related element to it that I want to play around with. If you're not a photographer, but you do blog, I hope you are taking full advantage of Flickr's awesome Creative Commons database. You can like sort by color of photo and everything!

  • DeviantArt
    Again, another great place for artist types to share their work, but other then ogling, I know nothing about the social/community side of things

  • WattPad
    I'm embarrassed to say that I have no idea what Wattpad is other than that some writers use it ... for like fanfiction and stuff? I don't know! Anyone?

  • Triberr
    This is a network to help make tweeting about others' blog posts easier. Basically, you join or create a "tribe" and every time someone from your tribe makes a blog post it will all go into one feed where you can schedule a pre-generated tweet about their post with one click. I'm new to it, but to be honest, it seems a little like a dying network. Maybe I'm wrong?

Add-Ons for Social Media Timesaving:

If you're starting to expand your forays into social media, you're probably looking for ways to streamline things. But remember, DON'T do things that take the "social" out of social media. That is to say, be careful not to over-automate. Consesus seems to indicate that automating retweets and/or link-shares/shout-outs is probably okay. But be sure you're ALSO posting conversation-starting, off-the-cuff stuff too, and be available to chat when you do that.
  • Tweetdeck or Hootsuite
    I use Tweetdeck, and it is GREAT and the only way I can handle looking at Twitter and the nearly 1,000 people I'm following. Why? Because I can divide up my feed into columns by "list" and also add columns for certain hashtag searches. I'd be lost without Tweetdeck. Honestly, without it, I'd probably never use Twitter.

  • Buffer
    If you have a set time of day where you sit and read blog posts/tweets etc, but don't want to spam your followers with a whole bunch of shout-out re-tweets or FB shares at once, use Buffer to schedule them in intervals.

    IFTTT (short for "If This, Then That") is like the Mothership of all automation. Bascially you can make your own recipes to automate ... anything. Set up instagram to auto-post to Twitter or Facebook, or Tumblr. Have tweets get saved in a spreadsheet in Google Drive, get Blog posts or Pinterest pins to auto-share on your Facebook Page or Tumblr. Seriously, the recipes are endless. Once you set a recipe, it will run in the background, whether or not you are there. Sign up for the daily emails for a while, as they are filled with good "recipes" you might like to try.
    Just don't go too crazy automating everything. Make sure it's content that makes sense to have on two social media platforms (i.e. the platforms reach different audiences, but both audiences would enjoy the content). For me, I've whittled it down to having my Blog posts auto-share to my Facebook Page and to Tumblr.
Well! After that once again insanely long blog post ...

What about you? Which do you think are the most important social media platforms for writers? Which are the least valuable? Why?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hook Readers from the First Sentence

What is it about first lines?

What Keeps You Reading?
Photo: Paul Bence
First Chapter. First Page. First Paragraph. First Sentence. We know that first impressions are important. But how do you pin down that perfect first line? How do you hook without reverting to gimmicks?

Well I wanted to know too, so being the nerd that I am, I made myself a nice big spreadsheet, plugged in the first lines from 40 YA sci-fi/fantasy books I love, and tried to divide them up into categories by type. You can check out the entire spreadsheet if you want :)

This is what I came up with:

Great First Lines: a Typology

As it turned out, these authors were quite diverse in their approach to "The First Line." Here's a quick peek at my typology of first lines, by the number of books (out of 40 total) which employed the technique:

     First lines in a sample of YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy:
  • Backstory (11)
  • Reflection (9)
  • Action (7)
  • Observation (6)
  • Dialogue (3)
  • Sensation [sound, touch, taste etc] (3)
  • Description of MC (1)

That in and of itself was interesting to me. And encouraging. Because to me, it reveals this:

There's no single "right way" to write a first line. 

But there are some tricks we can use.

Notice that the all-important Action we always hear we're supposed to jump into on the first page was only used by 18% of authors right up front. While getting to the action is important, throwing readers into the fray in the very first line isn't always the way to go.

In fact, most (almost half!) of the authors relied  primarily on backstory and/or the MC's reflections to open the story. But wait! Sounds too quiet right? Wrong.

What almost all these opening lines had in common was that they included a really good Hook, and they gave a taste of the Tone and Setting of the book, and (in some cases) a strong protagonist Voice.

(Writability has a great post related to this: what your first 250 words are telling the reader. Read it!)

Keep your Readers Curious with a Hook

Okay. But what makes a good "hook"? What is a hook anyway?
Sometimes I like to think of hooks as "Facts of Interest" or "Question-Generators"

Hooks are the things that make a reader curious about your Main Character (MC) or their world; they reveal tension and get readers asking questions about the MC, their relationships with others, the obstacles they are facing; they're the setup revealing that something bad has happened (recently or in your world's history), or the premonition that something bad is about to.

We need our readers hooked. As Writing Geekery puts it, "failing to intrigue or raise curiosity" is one of the five main failings of a first chapter. Hooks keep readers curious, which is important because a curious reader reads on.

So what you need to ask yourself is:

What Are your Story's Hooks?

You probably have a lot of great hooks. You just might not know how to work them into the first chapter and first line yet.  Or maybe you aren't sure what your hooks are. That's okay. I always like to start by making a list:

Think about what makes your story (and particularly the first chapter):

  • Startling / Unusual / Intriguing / Compelling
  • Shocking / Tragic / Horrific 
  • Magical / Fantastical / Futuristic / Breathtaking / Arresting
  • Tense / Ominous / Gripping
  • Vivid / Visceral 
  • Poignant / Endearing 
If you're still feeling stuck, try to run through the above list of adjectives for each of these aspects of your story: Main Character / Setting / Past Event / Current Conflict / Imminent Problem / Future Crisis 

Building a Hook
(with examples from actual first lines)

So, how do you build a great first line out of your potential hooks?

How did other authors do it?

Below are some ideas of things you might want to incorporate into your first line and/or first paragraph. For each approach, I've included first-line examples from actual, real, live, published novels :)

  • Reveal the MAIN CHARACTER

    • Does your MC have an unusual characteristic, personality quirk, hobby, or job/role in society? If yes, try an opening line or paragraph that highlights it.
      • Example:
        "In the dim hovel, the mother clenched her body into one final, straining push and the baby slithered out into Gaia's ready hands." - BIRTHMARKED by Caragh M. O'Brien

    • Does your MC have a strong voice? Use it!
      • Example:
        "The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit. Of course, Tally thought, you'd have to feed your cat only salmon-colored cat food for awhile, to get the pinks right." - UGLIES by Scott Westerfeld

  • Paint the SETTING
    • Micro scale: Is your MC physically located somewhere beautiful, fantastical, or
                           terrifying at the beginning of the story?
                           Is there a magical or unusual object or phenomenon within that setting?
      • Example:
        "Enders gave me the creeps. The doorman flashed a practiced smile as he let me into the body bank." - STARTERS by Lissa Price      
         *Note: This story could have opened anywhere, but Lissa chose
                 a dramatic place: a body bank. (Creepy!!)

    • Macro scale: What about the world/city/house/school/workplace where the story
                            takes place? What is intriguing or terrifying about it?
      • Example: "I wasn't reborn. I was five when I first realized how different that made me." - INCARNATE by Jodi Meadows *Note: In addition to the world, this also reveals something about the MC. Double duty!

  • Reflect on a dramatic PAST EVENT

    • What has led the MC to the situation they are in now? Is the history of the world tragic/dystopian? Has the MC experienced a personal loss? Have the MC reflect on that in the opener.
      • Example:
        "It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected a cure." - DELIRIUM by Lauren Oliver

  • Focus on a CURRENT CONFLICT, Anguish, or Choice

    • In the opening chapter, is your MC in a tough situation physically/emotionally/morally?
      (If not, you might want to rethink where your story begins.)
      • Example:
        "On the day of my mother's funeral, we all wore white." - STARGLASS by Phoebe North

    • Does your MC have a personal conflict with other characters in the book?
      ... if so, experiment with focusing on these conflicts in your opening paragraph/line!
      • Example:
        "Someone's attention shouldn't have physical weight, but it does." - ARCLIGHT by Josin McQuien

    • Hint at an Imminent GAME-CHANGER

      • Does your MC face a major crisis (an "inciting incident" if you will) that changes the course of her/his life? Showcase that in your opener.
        • Example:
          "Now that I've found the way to fly, which direction should I go into the night?" - MATCHED by Allie Condie
                 *Note: This is a bit vague, but it atually serves the dual purpose of hinting at a
                              major choice the MC is facing, and also gives us the sense that
                              she likes poetry (which she does).

    • Flash-forward (or foreshadow) a FUTURE CRISIS
      • Be careful with this one. It can be used effectively, but don't be too heavy-handed.
      • Also, this sort of thing is easier done in a prologue (as is in the example below ... I think Twilight did this as well??). But since agents/editors tend not to like prologues you could experiment with incorporating it into a normal chapter if it was simply heavily foreshadowed rather than an actual scene spelled out.
        • Example:
          "You don't want to kill me," I said. "Of course I don’t Clare. But I have to." If I wasn't already bleeding, with the room tilting and swaying, I would have slapped myself." - CLARITY by Kim Harrington *Note: This is a prologue to the novel that uses an exciting end-of-story moment to frame the entire book.

    In Summary

    Do focus on the shocking, the visceral, the intense, the breathtaking.
    Don't settle for the lukewarm, the commonplace, the trivial.

    Do leave the reader feeling the tension, feeling curious, and asking questions
    Don't leave them confused as to what's even happening or why they should care though

    Do feel free to use whatever aspect of your story is a great hook
          ... whether that be: the Main Character, the Setting, or a Past/Current/Future Event.
    Don't start your story with the ordinary.
              (Heard the "get your characters out of the kitchen and out of the car" mantra?
               Well, it's true. No one wants to read about the mundane or the everyday.

    Also: Don't start with the overdone.

              ** This is something you may not be aware of unless you're a Lit Agent, Editor, or Intern,
                   but here are some chapter openers that are so overused that
                   they make agents'/publishers' toes curl: 

                        - Waking up, eating breakfast, first day of school, doing housework,
                           sitting around thinking about life, observing the sky/weather,
                           a battle scene (without knowing the characters we don't care if they're dying!),
                          "My name is ...", a dream sequence, an action sequence that turns out to be a dream.

                       - Don't use those ^^^ you want your story to stand out from the rest!

    Additional Resources:

    Want to read more about how to craft the perfect first line? Here are some great webpages I've found with tips for writing fantastic first lines, first paragraphs, and first chapters!


    Great First Sentences (with examples)  || What Makes a Great First Sentence || Book Beginnings - Where to Start || Examples of First Sentences from YA Novels (my spreadsheet) || Inspired Openings - Advice from Agents ||  Writing the First Line of Your Novel || How to Write a Killer Opening || 6 Ways to Hook Your Reader from the Very First Line || First Line Contest Winner Analysis

    What Your First 250 Words are Telling the Reader (& related post) || How to Grab, Shock, or Delight Your Readers || Rock Your First Chapter, No Excuses || The First Five Frenzy (see what Agents themselves have to say about story openers!) || Grab Your Reader by the Throat ||

    15 of the Best Opening Lines in YA || 16 YA books that grab you from the very first line ||


    Openings Literary Agents Don't Like || Four ways NOT to start a Novel || Avoid Cliches and Weak Writing in your First Chapter || How NOT to Write a Fantastic Opening


    What do you think makes a great first sentence? What's your advice for writers trying to master their opening lines? What are some of your favorite first lines?

    Sunday, May 3, 2015

    SEO: Search Engine Optimization (aka Something Else to figure Out) -- Part I

    So in prepping for an upcoming Writer's Group, I realized that here's a topic I know next to nothing about: Search Engine Optimization! And since I know nothing about it, I thought: what the hey, let's make a blog post about  it, shall we?

    So we shall!

    And with that GREAT intro, please, keep reading to see what I have to say about SEO. It's going to be AWESOME. :o)

                            *Googles Madly*

    Okay. So what is SEO?

    SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Basically, the more "optimized" your website/blog is, the higher up your site will appear in search engine rankings. Meaning, it's easier for new people to find your blog.

    More on this here:  || SEO for Idiots || Google's SEO Starter Guide || Top 10 SEO Trends for 2015 ||

    How to Boost Your Search Engine Optimization 

    After scouring dozens of articles on the topic, I've realized that how to maximize SEO really boils down to this:


    Provide useful content.

    Okay, well, that's it for this week, thanks for reading!


    ... just kidding :)

    But not really. Honestly, the best way -- the only real way people are going to find your blog/website is if you are posting things and creating content that is useful or interesting to other people ... it needs to be so compelling, in fact, that other people are sharing it on social media, that other people are talking about you / your brand / your work on other platforms.

    Other people, like not just 'my mom,' 'my lit-hero alter-ego's twitter,' and 'my cat's instagram feed'
                           ... though that could be a good start.

    Everything I've been reading about SEO for 2015 is that old ways of thinking about SEO are not what you want to focus on.  It's Content Marketing. So there's another search term we get to look up!

        { or just check out how Creative Penn explains Content Marketing for Writers here,
           or dive into Quick Sprout's Advanced Content Marketing Guide }

    Basically? It means you'll need to dedicate a fair amount of time to generating quality content. Which means you'll have to want to generate it. Really WANT it. This applies to everything you write. Not only your blog. If I could give only one tip to a new writer it would be:

                         Write What You Love.

                         (because this business takes a lot of time and energy and
                          if you don't love doing it, one day, you're going to quit.)

    In terms of my writing, this has meant I write YA and MG fiction, mostly sci-fi-ey and fantastical. Wheee!!! The same "Write What You Love" mantra also applies to blogging - with a small twist:

                        Blog What You Love [to Read on the Web.]

    When you get on the web, what do you do? What do you read/watch? What don't you?

    Do you love to geek out over fan-fic, flash fiction, or weekly serials? Then write those.
    Do you pour over how-to articles? Compile your own lists of tips and tricks.
    Do you lose yourself in podcasts or vlogs? Make your own!
    Do you like giggling over animated gifs and cat pictures while reading a High Fantasy novel inspired recipe? Guess what? You're probably not the only one!

    My point is, the interwebs are their own crazy thing. There's so much out there. Don't force yourself to write certain things just because you think it's what you're supposed to do. Don't slap together 15 posts a month on topics you don't really care about, just for the sake of generating content. Find the intersection between your goals as a writer/reader and what you love to read about on the web. And write THAT. You'll be so much happier, and it will show!

    Me personally? I'm not a big web surfer. When I get on the web, it's largely task-driven, not entertainment-driven. I don't write short fiction. I don't spend tons of time on YouTube or sites that that are about sharing funny pictures. So it wouldn't make sense for me to have a blog with daily flash-fic and eye-catchy animated gifs. It's not "me" and I don't know anything about that audience. I also don't have a lot of free time, which leads me to another point:

                        Blog When Inspired

    You may have noticed: I don't bother writing multiple blog posts a week anymore. I used to, and I think it's a good practice for a certain period of time, and for certain people it could be a lifelong thing. But for me, there came a point  when *cough* kids *cough* it started to feel like this horrible chore that was taking away from my creative writing. So I stopped. Just stopped. Now I only blog when I feel pulled to. When I feel especially compelled, I pour a lot of energy into a particular post. And guess what? Those are the posts that get traffic and keep getting traffic.

    An Inside Look at this Blog, such as it is:

    Right now, I get about 100-200 page views a day (that's not a ton, but given that I only blog about once a month, I'm super satisfied with that), and 75% of those hits are to these five pages:

    Literary Agents that Rep YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy || Pitch Contest Calendar || Sept 2014 #PitMad Successful Pitches  || Pitch Factory Logline Generator || Does Your Paranormal Romance Have Enough Cliches? 

    Two of those pages (the Calendar and the Lit Agent List) I update fairly regularly. The other ones I spent a lot (and by that I mean a lot-a lot) of time on up front, because I wanted to provide something extra useful for people! In terms of page visits, it definitely shows.

    Plus? It gives me *warm fuzzies* knowing that you guys out there like ... Read my stuff ... and come back to those key pages ... and that those pages might help you out from time to time.  :)

    And now, I'd love to hear from you ...

    What about you? What do you see as the focus and heart of your blog? What do you do to to keep yourself interested in blogging? What is your niche audience? How have you grown your following? 

    What are best-practices and worst-mistakes you've seen people making when it comes to SEO and Content Marketing? How have you used content to drive your SEO? 

    [SEO image credit Paloma Gomez]


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