The one thing that helped me sell my book is…
I am a big believer in critique partners and beta buddies. I keep them close and love them lots. I think the biggest help I have in getting any manuscript sold is my network of behind the scenes readers. I’m blessed with a fellow Honey Creek writer, Jennifer Anderson, who reads my pages on a daily basis. She adds insight and a reader’s perspective. Our system works like this: I write a chapter. I reread the chapter and clean it up. Then, I send the chapter to Jenni. By the end of the day or sometimes the next afternoon, I get the chapter back from her with suggestions, trouble spots highlighted, general input, reader thoughts etc. She adds anything she thinks will help improve the story. I make the changes and move on. This keeps me writing. My goal is to write one chapter every day based on my very thorough outlines. (I’m an obsessive planner of details). By the time the manuscript is finished, I’ve read it three times and Jenni has read it once. Then, I send the finished work to my friend who is also a dedicated book blogger and another writing friend. I also have two reader friends who read for me. By the time the manuscript gets to my agent, it’s the best manuscript I can create. Then, my agent reads it and gives it back – again- with revision requests. Before my works go on submissions, I hate them completely because I’ve read them so many times.
In the case of my upcoming release, DECEIVED, I really hit the jackpot. I had all the usual help in place, but hadn’t submitted it to my agent yet. I was talking about YA on twitter (I’m also obsessed with twitter. Tweet me! @JulieALindsey) and an editor from a children’s book publisher invited me to send pages her way anytime. Right? *jaw drop*I sent the manuscript. In a few days, the editor returned my manuscript with an editorial letter detailing what she loved and hated, what she’d like to see changed, where I could deepen the impact, thicken the plot, and heighten the suspense. I took every word to heart and made extensive changes, adding more than 10,000 words before sending it on to my agent for submissions. I have no doubt this editor played the biggest role in the sale of my manuscript. She’s since gone from the children’s publisher to a big 6 publisher where she buys MG novels. I adore her forever.
I should add one thing to this. I don’t always agree with feedback I get, but I try to see it their way. Sometimes I’m too close to the story to see the problem, so I choose to trust these ladies. Still, there are times I ignore the input completely because I know reading is very personal. Now, if more than one person is hung up on the same thing…I need to ask myself if they both are blind or if, perhaps, it’s me. LOL. I never take feedback too hard. I don’t get upset. I get thankful. I know these readers are in place to help me succeed. They give their precious time to read my pages when they could easily read something from their TBR piles instead. And when I feel like they’re picking on me, I remember that they pick on me now so fewer readers will pick on me later, hopefully. Sometimes it’s difficult to separate from the characters we create. This is one more reason critique partners and beta readers are a gold mine, especially ones who love you and know the business. Those are the people who help me sell my story.
I don’t love my cover. LOL. I don’t. I know. I’m a big jerk. No. Really, I’m very carefree. The cover-art-maker made this for my story. The cover-approvers approved it. So, I say “Huzzah!” It must be me. It must be just right. But, if I’m honest, I still think it’s weird. I’ve never seen anything like this cover, so there’s that. That’s good, right? Yep. Let’s roll with that. Let me start over. *clears throat*
Cover Love: Take 2
My cover is really unique. I’ve never seen anything like it. There are no people or images on the cover to give you an idea about what’s inside, but maybe that’s the beauty of this cover. I don’t know. I’m not an artist. Quite possibly, this is a brilliantly executed, understatement. I like the light blue on black. I’m not sure if those lines are supposed to be tree branches, lightning or brain synapses, but perhaps that’s another intriguing feature of the design. A mystery to unravel. A menacing edge.I guess my cover is open to interpretation. I wonder what Stephenie Meyer thought when she saw Twilight
’s original cover. Two hands and an apple. I bet she thought… “This is an apple. I didn’t write about an apple. What’s happening right now?” That’s kind of what I thought when I saw the cover for that title. See. Covers and I have a history of misunderstandings.
Personally, I might’ve found a picture of a girl running for her life, or standing casually while an ominous shadow rose behind her, but I do words, not art. I probably would’ve used typewriter font or letters ripped from magazines one at a time to hint at the danger, but this font works too. I call it the Scooby Doo font.
What do you guys think? DECEIVED is a suspense. It’s a mystery. It’s dangerous. Would you pick this book up from the shelf?
By Kim Askew and Amy Helmes
The heroines of our first two Twisted Lit novels, Exposure: A Modern-Day Spin on Shakespeare’s Macbeth
and Tempestuous: A Modern-Day Spin on Shakespeare’s The Tempest
couldn’t be more different.Exposure
’s Skye Kingston is a wallflower who prefers hiding behind her camera lens to interacting with her classmates, whileTempestuous
’ Miranda Prospero is the opposite of demure–even a bit bossy and manipulative, though she (mostly) means well. Given their striking polarity, we can’t help but wonder how they might interact if they ever crossed paths. To that end, we asked them to interview each other for this post. Miranda volunteered to go first, naturally.Miranda
: So, Skye, even though I’ve had some (undeservedly IMHO) rough times, your high school experience seems a bit, well, darker than mine. I know you’re essentially a private person, and I can respect that, but without giving away too much, can you tell us anything about what really
happened your senior year?
Skye: Sure. I guess you could say my life was pretty mundane until one fateful night when, trying as usual to avoid an uncomfortable social experience, I accidentally overheard my secret crush, Craig, and his bitchy girlfriend, Beth, arguing about a terrible secret. As an aside, they also happened to be the most popular couple at school, which you’d know something about, right, Miranda?
Miranda: (Don’t think I didn’t notice that you just diverted the attention back to me — and I will gladly bask in it!) My own story is a bit of a reverse Cinderella, wherein I fell from the heights of popularity to a lowly job in the local mall food court after my former boyfriend and best friends made me both a scapegoat and a pariah (for something that wasn’t even my fault!). Luckily–thanks to an epic blizzard–we all got trapped in the mall for one memorable night, which finally gave me the opportunity to set things right. Admittedly, things didn’t turn out exactly as I planned…
Skye: Nothing ever does, I’ve found. But it’s the unexpected that really pushes you to grow as a person, don’t you think? I learned so much about myself over the course of that harrowing year, including how to connect with people on a deeper level. I digress…. Let’s get back to your story, which I’ve heard is a take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Is that so?Miranda
: I’ve heard that rumor, and can definitely see how people would connect the two. I was cruelly (and unfairly!) banished, just like Prospero and his daughter, Miranda. Beyond our shared name and the fact that Miranda and I were both raised by our fathers, I don’t see much of a similarity there, but I do tend to be a charmer
like Prospero. (Get it? He’s a magician.) On the other hand, he’s also a manipulative narcissist. Come to think of it, my new bff, Ariel, has
accused me of being a bit controlling and self-involved… Maybe I’m just too close to it to see all the similarities.Skye:
I hear you. It’s really difficult to get the right perspective when you’re so involved. My story, as you probably know, is a twist on Macbeth
. Craig would obviously be Macbeth, and though I know exactly who represents the evil Lady Macbeth, I’m not going to name any names. She’s suffered enough. Since I was with Craig when he received his prophecy, I guess that makes me a female Banquo–which is a pretty cool twist on the original tale, if you think about it! Now, since talking about myself makes me more than a little uncomfortable, I think this is the perfect time to wrap things up.
MIranda: But not before I get the last word in. And, okay, I just did.
Kim Askew and Amy Helmes are the authors of Tempestuous: A Modern-Day Spin on Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Exposure: A Modern-Day Spin on Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Find out more about their series at twistedlitbooks.com.
by Christine Kohler
The premise of NO SURRENDER SOLDIER (Merit Press/Adams Media/F+W Media, January 18, 2014) is that a 15-year-old Chamorro boy, Kiko, discovers that his mother had been raped by a Japanese soldier during the WWII Japanese occupation of Guam. The teen’s emotional arc, which parallels the plot arc, is that of a secondary victim of rape. Concurrently, there is a WWII Japanese soldier, Isamu Seto, who has been hiding in the jungle for 28 years behind Kiko’s house. Seto, a survivalist, has a bad case of post traumatic stress syndrome.
Let me start out by saying that I never intended to write about rape, and certainly not about the rape of a boy’s mother. But as my editor,Jacqueline Mitchard is fond of saying, “It is what it is.”
Way before ever writing novels—with the exception of one practice MG novel which shall forever stay buried deep within my files—I was a journalist. My husband was a USAF officer. As a result, we lived in Hawaii, Japan, and Guam, and visited and worked in the Philippines, Korea, and many other Pacific Islands. I worked as a foreign correspondent and political reporter for the Pacific Daily News, owned by Gannett. (Most people know Gannett for its wire service and USA Today.) Like my dad, I’m a self-taught student of history.
When I learned of the atrocities—rape, forced labor, torture and death—that Japanese soldiers inflicted on people in the countries they conquered, I couldn’t understand why it took so long for the United States to send troops to liberate these people, especially Guam, the Marianas and the Philippines since they had been under the U.S. protectorate before Japanese occupations. (Guam and Hawaii were both US territories at that time. As a reporter I cover political status issues, such as Commonwealth hearings for Guam.) After all, General MacArthur had promised the Filipinos when he left, “I shall return.”
If you’re over a certain age, you’re probably shaking your head and wondering how I could be so dense. But keep in mind that I grew up in the rocket age of moonwalks and space shuttles and supersonic jets and stealth fighters. I’ve seen jets take off and land on the deck of aircraft carriers. It took me some digging into research to realize that airplanes during WWII could not fly that far in distance. I learned about China Clippers and why the U.S. soldiers were spending so much time building runways on little Pacific islands instead of sailing straight to the Japanese occupied islands and rescuing the people being abused.
At the same time I learned about the Japanese soldiers who hid and never came home after WWII. Their survival stories are blow-you-away unbelievable what they endured. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t either commit suicide, or come out of hiding and go home after Japan had surrendered. One case in particular that puzzled me was that of Shoichi Yokoi. He not only hid for 28 years in the jungles of Guam, but he dug an underground tunnel with a cannon shell and lived underground for the last eight years. (You can read Yokoi’s story and see pictures at www.christinekohlerbooks.com/disc.htm )
So, after meeting all of these wonderfully kind people throughout the Pacific-Asian rim, and learning all of these fascinating tales, and doing more research after I returned to the U.S. mainland, in 2001 a story began to pour out of me onto paper. But even though at the core, the premise, was this issue of the boy’s mother having been raped, I still committed a journalist’s worst sin—I buried the lead. Maybe it was my own puritanical upbringing that told me nice girls don’t discuss such topics as sex, and certainly not rape. Or maybe I danced around the topic of rape because I thought it would never sell in the children’s book market.
Several years after I had revised NO SURRENDER SOLDIER as far as I thought I could take it on my own, I attended an SCBWI workshop in Arkansas. I had gone the previous year and this was a great group of writers, all very serious about learning advanced craft. This particular year Michael Green, publisher of Philomel, was the guest retreat leader. I’ll never forget when it was my turn to report to his cabin to discuss his critique of my novel. Michael said very directly, “The boy’s mother had been raped. Just come out and say it.” I went back to my cabin and rewrote the first chapter and never danced around the topic again.
However, I still faced the problem of selling a novel in the children’s market in which a teen boy discovers his mother was raped. Even with a rise in the amount of YA novels being published in the 21st century, historical novels dwindled on those publishing lists. (NO SURRENDER SOLDIER takes place in 1972 during the end of the Vietnam War since it deals with the lasting effect of war on people.) So I talked to my friend Jane Yolen at a retreat she was leading. Since NO SURRENDER SOLDIER is a YA-crossover, I asked Jane if I should abandon trying to sell it in the YA market, and start submitting to the adult market. Jane said that her husband used to say, “The best stories are the hardest to sell,” and she urged me to keep it in the children’s lit market. So I stayed the course.
I still had my doubts, though, until 2010 when I read THE LAST SUMMER OF THE DEATH WARRIOR by Francisco X Stork (pub, date). The premise of this contemporary novel is similar to mine in that a teen boy schemes to kill the man who raped and murdered his mentally disabled sister. I loved Stork’s book, and knew then that my book would be accepted in the YA market now. [As a sidenote, neither Stork’s nor my book are graphic or gratuitous concerning the rapes. In both stories it is handled off-page/stage before the story begins in Chapter 1, and is never dwelt on by the main characters in graphic details.]
I’m pleased that Merit Press is publishing NO SURRENDER SOLDIER because from the very first query, Jackie never balked at the topics of rape or war. Instead, after reading my story, she said this book has the potential to be a classic. When I talked to my editor, Jackie, on the phone about this difficult topic of rape, and how Michael Green had told me to come right out and say it, Jackie agreed wholeheartedly.
If you are a teacher and you’re wondering how to discuss this book in a classroom, let me encourage you, as a former English and journalism teacher, that teens today are more open, direct, and knowledgeable about topics such as war and rape then we were at their age. They have grown up with tv shows such asLaw & Order: Special Victims Unit and read international news daily on the internet. Also, the advantages of putting a story in history and a foreign culture is that it removes the circumstances two steps from contemporary readers. They can identify with the main character, but not so much as to feel that they are living his life. It’s like the difference between having empathy for someone and having a total meltdown because it’s your life that’s messed up.
In NO SURRENDER SOLDIER Kiko can’t bring himself to talk to anyone about what happened to his mother during the war. As a result, it bottles up inside of him until he reaches a stage of rage. He wants to take revenge on the Japanese soldier he discovers in the jungle, even though this straggler was not the one who raped his mother. I’ll stop here before I give away any spoilers. I just want to end by saying that the reason I talk about really tough topics is because evil things do happen to innocent people, and talking about it begins the processes of allowing for emotional and spiritual healing to occur.
Today, YA Writer Wednesday interviews Lizzie Friend, author of POOR LITTLE DEAD GIRLS
Find Lizzie online, here:
Welcome to YA Writer Wednesdays, Lizzie! What’s your book about?
POOR LITTLE DEAD GIRLS is about a girl who transfers from public school in Portland to her late mother’s alma mater, a ritzy prep school in DC, on a once-in-a-lifetime, couldn’t-possibly-turn-it-down scholarship. She falls in with a group of old money blue bloods and starts to realize that their wealth and power may not have been entirely accidental. There are creepy rituals, long-standing conspiracies, steamy trysts, and lots of designer gowns.
What inspired you to write it?
I’ve wanted to write a novel for about as long as I can remember, but I remember the exact moment when I decided to give it an actual shot. After that, of course, I waited at least two more years, spending hours on Sunday mornings starting and restarting outlines, or thinking romantically about how I was going to write without actually doing any actual writing.
After a solid year or so more of my dad pestering me constantly every time we talked on the phone (I swear I still hear, “Did you start your book yet?” whenever the phone rings), I finally just…started. I told myself to write worrying about what book I should write, or what book might sell, and just wrote whatever sounded like the most fun. I wrote a book I’d want to read on a beach somewhere, or on the couch with an Irish coffee when it’s -10 outside and the streets have been white for months. I took at all of my favorite plot elements–insulated, atmospheric environments; gothic villains, melodramatic conspiracies, indulgent love stories, and snarky bitches–and combined them together in a way that was as fun to write as I hope it is to read. About six months later I had the first draft ofPoor Little Dead Girls.
When is your book coming out?
The book launches in November, 2013.
Pre-order POOR LITTLE DEAD GIRLS, here:
Do you write from an outline or are you a “pantser”?
I’m an obsessive outliner. The first thing I do after getting an idea is start outlining, and I keep it going throughout the writing process. I’m constantly updating it, though, and the final outline looks nothing like the original. I didn’t really believe other authors when they told me this early on because it sounds so conveniently romantic and writer-y, but the plot does have a way of taking on a mind of its own. Once you’re in full swing with a manuscript, the act of writing feels a lot like reading. The scenes play out in your head the same way, and you have more control over what’s happening, but not by much.
Who’s your favorite author? What is it about his or her writing that has made you a fan?
Favorite author is such an impossible question, but the author I’m most excited about right now is Gillian Flynn. She writes such intelligent, truly surprising mysteries with unbelievably nasty female characters, which is much more of a compliment than it sounds. She’s an author that high-brow types like to criticize because she got so much hype for Gone Girl, but I don’t think she gets enough credit for her craft. She’s the only author I’ve ever read that can evoke truly visceral reactions from me on a regular bases, and she’s incredibly good at letting a plot unfold while keeping a reader guessing. For anyone who hasn’t read it, I recommend taking a look at the “For Readers” essay on her site, as it articulates what’s so great about her more than I ever could.
Are you a full-time writer or do you have a “day job”? What do you do in your “day job”?
I do have a day job that I love, though it’s definitely in a whole different world from YA fiction. I’m an analyst at a market research and consulting firm, and I cover the global restaurant industry for companies like fast food and coffee shop chains. I track trends in the industry, break down financial filings and publish insights and recommendations on everything from street food in Thailand to cafe culture in the UAE. I’m also a part-time grad student working my way towards a masters in analytics at Northwestern.
Why YA as opposed to some other genre?
I wasn’t a big reader of YA before I started researching it for my book, but I think it’s an incredibly worthwhile category and the resurgence that has happened in the post-Twilight years is really exciting. As one Grantland writer put it here, young adult novels strip away some of the noise that’s so common in adult novels and focuses on the core tenets of what storytelling is really about. Because of this, people like to think of YA as easier to write, but that’s not the case at all. Sure some things are streamlined, because you don’t have to deal with the banal details of adult life (jobs, bills, mortgages) but you also don’t have room for error. YA novels are shorter and tighter, and you don’t have time to mess around. I also feel like I’m at a point in my life where I can look back on the teenage experience with a certain level of clarity, but I need a bit more life experience and distance before I’ll be able to do the same for the adult years.
Who’s your agent? Take this opportunity to brag on him/her if you’d like!
My agent is the wonderful and talented Lauren MacLeod of the Strothman Agency. Couldn’t be happier, couldn’t recommend her more. Find out more about her submission guidelines and preferences here and here.
Thanks for joining us for YA Writer Wednesdays, Lizzie! Best of luck with POOR LITTLE DEAD GIRLS!