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2011 books I NEED RIGHT NOW

22 Apr

In lieu of a QOTW today, I’m posting a few 2011 books I am *DYING* to read.

Here goes:

 

DEARLY, DEPARTED by Lia Habel

It’s not often I fall for a book based solely on the cover. But this one? It had me at hello.











 YOU AGAINST ME by Jenny Downham:

I LOOOOVED Before I die by Jenny Downham. I was *balling* by the end of it. This one is set up to be one of those romances in which is seems positively impossibly to find a happily ever after. Will they? Won’t they? I must know









   Audition by Stasia Kehoe.

It’s about a ballerina. Does it take anything else? no, it does not. oh, and it has romance. Yeah, that’s all it takes for me.












   Want to go Private? by Sarah Littman

  Basically? I want to get my hands on this NOW. It has *Exactly* the sort of issue-based concepts I go for.  Dark and scary but oh-so real. WANT.











So…. what are YOU dying to read??

~Mandy Hubbard is author of Prada & Prejudice, You Wish, and But I Love Him (written as Amanda Grace) She’s also a literary agent with D4EO literary. Visit her at www.mandyhubbard.com

Book Recommendation: I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

18 Apr

Markus Zusak rose to prominence with the success of his lyrical and intensely emotional novel The Book Thief, and obviously, when Zusak shot to fame I was thrilled that a writer I had loved since I was twelve was getting some much deserved attention – but sometimes I feel like his other novels get ignored, when they’re also absolutely stellar.

In particular, I Am the Messenger is amazing, and spoke to my heart. I went back and read this book again, recently, and like The Book Thief, I Am the Messenger has prose that stuns with its vibrancy, humour and emotional depth. In a pitch-perfect voice, Zusak expertly twists together phrases that sit so well in the mouth of his average, slightly lower class suburban protagonist, giving them a zinging beauty. Every single scene is memorable, and there’s a profundity behind the words despite how casual and effortless it all seems.

Here’s a summary of The Messenger, snatched from goodreads:

Meet Ed Kennedy—underage cabdriver, pathetic cardplayer, and useless at romance. He lives in a shack with his coffee-addicted dog, the Doorman, and he’s hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence, until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. That’s when the first Ace arrives. That’s when Ed becomes the messenger. . . .

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary), until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?

Winner of the 2003 Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Award in Australia, I Am the Messenger is a cryptic journey filled with laughter, fists, and love.

The plot of  I Am the Messenger is creatively structured, around a set of heroic missions, in which Ed has to deliver certain messages. The book plunges to the depths of human suffering and the heights of redemption, never sugar-coating and never sliding and never sliding into melodrama. Without spoiling too much, we see families cracked wide open by abuse, and the way random acts of kindness can be everything to those experiencing poverty. It’s dark, this book, but funny, too, and at times it slips into an almost surreal quirkiness and self-reflectivity.

I Am the Messenger has one of the best endings I’ve read in YA. It fits perfectly, pushing through the page with resonance, inspiring the reader on to greater heights in their everyday life. You’d never notice it while reading, because the story is so entrancing, so expertly crafted, but this book is social commentary at its finest. Witty, and refreshingly bittersweet, rather than unrelentingly dark and nihilistic.

And now that I’ve raved for a while, I’ll leave you with the first few lines:

The gunman is useless.
I know it.
He knows it.
The whole bank knows it.

How can you resist an opener like that?

~~~

Vahini Naidoo is  a YA author and University student from Sydney Australia. Her currently untitled debut novel, a YA psychological thriller, is scheduled for release from Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can visit Vahini over on her blog or twitter.

Ask Your Characters Some Tough Questions!

30 Mar

by Julie Eshbaugh

~~~

Where does a writer start when he or she sets out to create a character?  There are COUNTLESS character worksheets available, and most of them will serve as a fairly good starting point when it comes to building a character.  But no single “fill in the blank” worksheet will create a character for you.  You may be able to answer questions about what color eyes your character has or how many brothers she grew up with or what his favorite class in school is, but I can answer those questions about a lot of people, and yet I wouldn’t undertake the task of writing a book about them.

What I’m trying to say is that, to really put your reader in your character’s head, you need to go there yourself first.  You need to know what makes your character think and act the way he or she does.  And to do that, you need to ask your characters the TOUGH questions.

What are the tough questions?  They’re the questions you wouldn’t feel comfortable asking your best friend.  Questions you yourself wouldn’t want to have to answer.  You have to ask about things that are private, things that are personal, things that are embarrassing.

Here’s a suggestion.   Sit down at the keyboard and start with a blank Word document.  At the top of the page, type a difficult question and the name of the character you are asking this question.  Then type out the answer as a stream-of-consciousness response.  You may be surprised by what your character “dictates” in his or her answer.

Here are a few ideas for questions to get you started.  You don’t have to use any of these.  Then again, you may want to use several.  The right questions to ask will depend a great deal on your story and its setting.  But here are a few I’ve used:

  • When you were growing up, did you ever suspect that one of your parents cheated on the other?  Did you ever suspect that one of your parents hit the other?  Which would have been worse?  Why?
  • What single act are you most ashamed of?  How did you happen to commit this act?  Who knows about it?
  • If you knew you could do something forbidden and get away with it without anyone ever knowing, what would it be?
  • Everyone has secrets.  What secret thing about you would most shock your closest friend?
  • If you could change one thing about yourself, what would that thing be?  Why?  Would your friends be surprised by your answer?
  • If you could change one thing about your best friend, what would that thing be?  Why?  Would that person be surprised by your answer?
  • Have you ever purposefully caused suffering?  If so, why?  Would you do it again?
  • Everyone has disdain for something or someone.  Who or what do you consider yourself to be “above”?
  • What was your worst failure?  Do you ever think about it?  When do you think about it?  How do you feel about it now?
  • If you could achieve your greatest dream, but it would mean that your best friend would never achieve his or hers, would you take that deal?

Can you answer these questions about your characters?  Do you have others?  Please share your thoughts in the comments!

 

~~~

Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Bradford Literary Agency.  You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.

 

Word Choice

28 Mar

When you think about it, all writing comes down to word choice. Yes, there’s all of that big picture stuff like characterisation, plot, and setting – but what the reader is able to deduct about these things is a product of the cumulative knowledge that comes from reading several sentences, which are made up of many, many words.

So. If words are our building blocks, we have to ask ourselves: How do we use them to the greatest effect?

The primary aim of a novel is to elicit an emotion in the reader. One of the ways we can keep readers turning the pages, then, is to make the emotion as clear as possible. And one of the best ways to do that? Through the details and words we choose.

So,  let’s say, that we have a protagonist who is Angry in Scene A. This character is walking down a city street, maybe, after a fight with the most important person in their world (whoever that may be).  How does the character take notice of their surroundings?

The character’s angry, so everything they notice right now is probably going to irritate them. If this character were me, I’d be taking special note of annoying people yelling ridiculously inappropriate things into their phones (What?! Carrie has an STD. OMFG!). I might notice that barely anyone is giving money to the homeless guy on the corner of the street (us people, so generous, hey). Someone might accidentally stub their cigarette out on my arm. It’s so wonderful to feel as if you’re an ashtray.

All of these details/things that are happening will paint the world as an ugly, uninviting place at this particular moment (if a character was happy, in the same setting you could focus on the way the city is bursting with life, colour, perhaps some groovy – yes, I did just use that word — music).

But, how do you go beyond just picking the right details? How do you manipulate your actual word choice to reflect and accentuate the emotional lens of your character? If you’re writing in third person, it’s especially important to be able to use word choice to tell your reader about characters’ emotional states. After all, your narrator can’t just come out and say, “I’m so angry, right now” (although this would probably be lazy writing in first person, anyway).

One of the best ways to do it is to focus in on the verbs and adjectives that you’re using. In the scene I mentioned earlier, think about the way the character would view the people around them on the street. Would they be “walking” or “strolling” or “shoving” ? I vote for shoving. Would the people on the mobile phones be “speaking” “talking” “yammering” or “yapping”. I think the latter two are better choices.

Focusing on your adjectives can be really helpful as well. Let’s examine the possible ways we could describe, say, the music floating out of a store. We could use “bad” or we could use “average” or “typical” or “stupid” or “terrible”. Most of those options are okay – “bad” “average” and “typical” don’t have much emotional resonance, though – it just depends on the voice of the character. Still, you don’t want to be describing this music as “soft” or “delicate” or “beautiful”, because that would be counterproductive to trying to convey the character’s angriness.

These are fairly simple things, yet you’d be amazed the number of times I notice point of view characters using words that seem to imply they’re super happy in extremely sad scenes (both in my writing and in others’) and vice a versa. It’s such an easy thing to slip-up on. Looking over word choice, and strengthening where possible, can really notch up the emotional intensity of a manuscript. It can be the difference between flat emotion, and emotion that leaps off the page.

So, how do you guys choose your words?

~~~

Vahini Naidoo is  a YA author and University student from Sydney Australia. Her currently untitled debut novel, en edgy psychological thriller, is scheduled for release from Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can visit Vahini over on her blog.

Troubles with Voice

21 Mar

When I open something I’ve written I expect to know who I’m reading within a few sentences (‘who’ being the narrator or perspective character). If I can’t tell, if I’m struggling to remember, or piece things together, I feel something’s off and get distracted from the story by trying to figure out what’s wrong. Every narrative has a voice, some can be bland and detached, others quirky, but they should try to be unique. ‘Voice’ can be difficult to explain and sometimes hard to pinpoint, but it always makes a difference in what you’re reading.

Voice is one of those things agents always say they’re looking for when describing what they want in manuscripts. In first person narratives it is largely the personality of whoever is narrating the story. In books written in third person, it conveys the author’s attitude towards the work, or what they want the reader to think is their attitude, it could be sarcastic or understanding.

Here are two quotes which illustrate the distinctive voices of their respective works:

“This is a bad land for gods,” said Shadow. As an opening statement it wasn’t Friends, Romans, countrymen, but it would do. “You’ve probably all learned that.” -Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Vanity was the beginning and the end of Sir Walter Elliot’s character; vanity of person and of situation….He considered the blessing of beauty as inferior only to the blessing of a baronetcy; and the Sir Walter Elliott, who united these gifts, was the constant object of his warmest respect and devotion. – Jane Austen, Persuasion

American Gods is often detached and unemotional, and I often found it distancing. The voice was the reason I’m still not sure whether or not I liked the book, even though I liked the story. Jane Austen’s voice is satirical, it invites the reader to laugh along and you can almost imagine her winking.

Recently, I’ve started poking a new project with a stick to see if it might be alive, and it’s given some encouraging twitches. I have the world set up, the plot outlined, and the characters waiting with backstories in hand. I just have one big problem, the voice.

If only my main character didn’t sound like Background Teenager #2 from some unmemorable romcom.

‘Come on, Lily,’ I say to the character in my head, like that’ll do any good. ‘How about some more personality?’ And all I get back is a string of curse words, which is not quite how I want to distinguish my new character’s voice. That just feels lazy and like cheating. I should be able to give her something besides a sailor’s mouth to distinguish her narration and make it her own. I should be able to give her distinctive speech patterns, commonly used words, and phrases which mark her apart from other characters and standard ‘teen speak.’ So far it hasn’t really worked.

Mostly I think this is just something I need to work at. I need to write while keeping in mind what should be characteristics of her perspective and speech. Then, when I edit I need to go through line by line to make sure those characteristics are present throughout (not just when I remembered to include them) and the entire narrative has a coherent voice. Sometimes voice comes easyily and naturally and that is always the best. It’s not something that should be forced or it will probably read as inauthentic. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take work, though! You still have to find the right patterns and make sure to use them correctly.

Have you had trouble getting the voice right for your WIPs? What did you do to get it right? Let me know in the comments!

~~~

Jennifer Fitzgerald is the author of a middle grade fantasy novel, PRISCILLA THE EVIL, which she is currently revising. She is also is a Ph.D student in archaeology, focusing on East Asia. You can visit her blog here or follow her on Twitter.

Writing Tips for the Horrifically Over-Scheduled

16 Mar

by Julie Eshbaugh

~~~

In the last few weeks, things have gotten out of control as far as my personal schedule is concerned.  My “online presence” has really dwindled – I’m rarely on Twitter, the blogs, or even my own email – and it’s rare if I get a few quiet minutes in front of the computer.  Despite this epic time-crunch, I still consider myself to be “writing,” and I’m still making forward progress on my current story.  It’s definitely not easy to keep going when you find yourself having to choose between writing and sleeping, but there are other ways to keep up the momentum besides living like a sleep-deprived zombie.

Here are some tips for my fellow HOSWs (Horrifically Over-Scheduled Writers):

  • Remember that every month isn’t November.  Don’t live in the midst of a never-ending NaNoWriMo.  Don’t feel you have to add 50,000 words to your manuscript each month.  The key is to work on the manuscript.  One day you’ll add 2,000 words.  One day you’ll delete 1,000.  But even on the days when you edit out most of what you added the day before, you’re making progress!
  • Write in the shower.  Maybe you can’t take the laptop in with you, but you can brainstorm with (hopefully) minimal interruption.  Once you’ve dried off, take a minute or two to write down a few words that can act as memory triggers later.
  • Invest in a handheld digital recorder.  Hit the record button while you’re stuck in traffic and dictate your latest idea for a key plot twist or describe a character in depth. If you feel particularly frustrated with the traffic, describe how your characters deal with frustration.  Use the circumstances that threaten to prevent you from writing and turn them into writing prompts.
  • Don’t forget that handy-dandy notebook!  Carry a pocket notebook at all times and don’t preserve it for only your best, most notebook-worthy ideas.  Even a moleskine can handle your worst!  Give yourself permission to write down ideas that might embarrass you later.  Notebooks are also great places to sketch maps!
  • Keep in mind that writing is not a race!  Very little in life is improved by haste.  Write your book in the time it takes.  After the first one gets published, you’ll have plenty of publisher-imposed deadlines to meet.

Do you feel overwhelmed by an oppressive list of time-consuming obligations?  How do you make the most of the time you have?  Please share your ideas in the comments!

~~~

Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Bradford Literary Agency.  You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.

 

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3 Mar

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Revisiting Your Writing Resolutions

25 Jan

by Julie Eshbaugh

~~~

We are quickly approaching the end of the first month of 2011, and I thought today would be a good day to look back at our writing resolutions, assess our progress, and consider any new goals we should be setting.

At the start of the new year, we here at Let the Words Flow made the following resolutions:

My writing resolution is to be a more patient writer.  Right now I try to force my writing too much.  My goal is to let my writing flow more naturally.

-Julie

Gah, just one resolution? There’s a million things I want to do better. I just finished Bird by Bird and it’s really inspired me. Mostly though, I want to experience more. Whether that means reading more or just getting out of the house, I want to open myself up to more possibilities for inspiration.

-Savannah

After all the cookies I’ve been eating, I want to make use of the gym that’s included with my ridiculous tuition… but a more writerly resolution is to focus on one writing project at a time instead of jumping between several.

-Jenn

Oh, New Year’s resolutions….:] As far as writing goes (though I suppose this applies to all aspects of my life), I resolve to start practicing what I preach and develop my patience. Things will happen. Things will come. Just need to work at it, not fuss over it

-Kat

I have so many resolutions this year, but I think I’ll agree with Kat and say that I’d like for 2011 to be the year I learn to be patient. I’ve got a lot of waiting ahead of me this year (with QUEEN OF GLASS coming out in 2012), so learning to be patient will be a pretty useful skill! And I’d also like to stop eating so many double stuff oreos.

-Sarah

My resolution is to find a balance: between keeping up with my client’s needs, answering submissions, completing conference talks, meeting deadlines, and promoting current releases, there is always a lot to do. My Hope for 2011 is to continue the juggling act. And not drop any balls.

-Mandy

My resolutions this year are pretty simple for once! I want to complete the 2011 Debut Author Challenge, and finish up the manuscript I’m working on. Nothing too exciting from me this coming year!

-Sammy

As I read through these, I noticed that they could be broken down into three neat categories:

1.)    Patience (Julie, Kat, and Sarah)

2.)   Self-Discipline (Jenn and Mandy)

3.)   Reading more (Savannah and Sammy)

Since I think it’s probably safe to assume that other writers are struggling with similar goals, I’ve decided to look at each of these three and discuss tricks and tactics to help make these goals more easily attainable for all of us.

~~~

Patience…

I’ve yet to meet a patient writer, so if being more patient is one of your 2011 resolutions, you are in GOOD COMPANY!  Here are a few suggestions to make patience more attainable:

~ Keep busy!  Nothing makes the time pass more slowly than watching your inbox.  Start a new project.  Try turning off your internet/email access for a half an hour while you write.  You will not only feel more patient, you will stay more focused on your writing.

~Accept the things that are out of your control.  Agents need time to consider submissions.  So do editors.  Even once you have that long-awaited book deal, you cannot control your release date.  Instead, focus on the things you can control.  Take your time with your current project rather than submitting it prematurely.

~Find a good listener.  If you have a writing buddy, turn to that person when you feel like the waiting involved in writing is getting to you.  Avoid voicing your frustrations on your blog or through your twitter account!

~~~

Self-Discipline…

As a writer, you answer to yourself on everything from what you write to when you write it.  Here are some tips for holding yourself accountable and staying on course:

~If you feel like Jenn and want to focus on one project instead of starting three more, try concentrating on the end result – that completed manuscript!  There is definitely a long, dry hike between the thrill of starting something new and the satisfaction of seeing it finished.  If you are tempted to start a new project because you’ve gotten bored with the routine of your current task, mix it up a bit.  Try writing sprints; write as many words as you can in a set amount of time – say ten minutes.  You will need to go back and edit, but you will see your word count growing and feel inspired to stick with it.  Word sprints are even more fun if you can do them with a writing buddy.

~Budget your time.  If you’re like Mandy and wear several hats every day, it’s important to realize that you can’t do everything at once.  Decide which responsibility is going to get your full attention for a particular period of time, and commit yourself to that task.  Worrying about ten tasks at once only makes you less effective at all of them.

~Set small goals that you can keep, so that you don’t feel like a failure as soon as you start.  If your goal is to “write every day,” accept the fact that 15 minutes before you go to bed may be all that you can spare at times.  Allow yourself to “succeed” by keeping your goals realistic.

~~~

Reading…

We can’t be good writers if we don’t read, but how often have you heard a writer say that they don’t have time to read because they are too busy writing?  Here are some thoughts to help you get your reading done:

~Read what you like.  If EVERYONE is talking about a particular book but you just can’t get into it, don’t force it.  Granted, I do believe that you should be familiar with what people in your target audience are reading, but there will be books you prefer to others.  Read the ones you enjoy.

~Discover new authors.  Sammy has encouraged us all here at LTWF to join her in the 2011 Debut Author Challenge.  Reading newly published authors is a great way to stay inspired (and to keep your eyes off that inbox!)

~Read for research and inspiration.  If you have a strong curiosity about Machu Picchu, don’t feel guilty reading an article about it in a travel magazine.  Machu Picchu might turn out to be the setting of your next novel.  Or maybe you want to read about genealogy, or sailing, or asteroids.  Give yourself permission to read about things that seem unrelated to your writing.  You never know what might spark the idea for your next WIP.

Are you succeeding with your writing resolutions?  Have you already abandoned them?  Have you re-imagined them?  Please share your experiences in the comments!

~~~

Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer.  She is also a freelance editor. You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.

 

Taking Tips from the Movies and TV

24 Jan

by Susan Dennard

~~

One thing you’ve probably heard in your writing-career is that it’s important to read.  Perhaps people have told you how to “read like a writer” by analyzing characterization, scene, syntax, and all the other stuff that goes into a novel.

Well, reading can take time, and dissecting can take even more time.  But the same things you see in a book you can see in a movie.  The key is to watch a movie like a writer.  Seems obvious, right?

It occurred to me while I was watching The Walking Dead. You may or may not like the show (there is some definite Cheese Factor and plot unbelievability), but there are a few things I think the creators do really well that keep viewers coming back for more episodes.  And these things got me thinking…

There are a some common elements in all popular stories, and if you keep your eyes peeled, you can easily spot them and use them yourself!

**Sorta spoilers below for The Walking Dead and Pride & Prejudice…  I try to be vague, but some things might be revealing.  Sorry.**

1) Within the first 15 minutes of the first episode of The Walking Dead, I was invested in the story and attached to the hero, Rick.  Why?  Because Rick showed immediately that he was 1) brave (he’s a cop), 2) devoted to his family, and 3) in a really crappy position (um, waking up from a coma to find the whole world has turned into zombies and your family is missing?  SO NOT A GOOD DAY).

Give your readers a reason to care about and respect your protagonist as soon as your story starts. Show your protagonist as the underdog, show your protagonist helping others, or show your protagonist putting on a big smile even those his heart aches, and your readers will have something to instantly latch onto and appreciate.  (Note: don’t go overboard — make it appropriate to the story.  No on likes a Mary Sue or a Mary Jane.)

2) As The Walking Dead episodes progressed, I kept my eyes peeled for other aspects that kept me interested.  The most obvious thing this show has is conflict — but not the kind you’d expect.  Yeah, there are zombies everywhere trying to eat Rick’s brains, but most of the show’s drama revolves around relationships. For example, Rick’s wife thought Rick was dead, so she started having an affair with Rick’s police partner — OOPS.

Conflict isn’t just about external plot; it’s also about tough decisions, strained friendships, blossoming love, disagreeing goals, self-defeating guilt, etc. Harrowing external events aren’t usually enough to keep a plot interesting.  The tension stays high when characters have to deal with conflict within themselves and amongst themselves.  Above all, it’s conflict that matters because it’s conflict we can relate to.

3) In one of the first episodes, one of the characters makes a Really Bad Decision — he leaves someone behind as zombie food when he could have saved the person.  In later episodes, it’s revealed Mr. Zombie Food managed to survive and is now at large in Atlanta.  As a viewer, I know Mr. Zombie Food is going to come back and be a Really Big Problem for the guy who made the Really Bad Decision.

Every decision has a consequence — usually bad or at least not what the character expects. Stories are more than just cause and effect, they’re decision and consequence.  Good decisions can have bad consequences, bad decisions can have good.  But if the consequences are immediately good, you’ve got a very short story.  The best-laid tales show an ever escalating series of decisions and consequences until the final showdown where things are all wrapped up (for better or for worse).

4) And that escalation leads me to my final point.  Life for the characters is bad — like really really bad — and it’s only getting worse as each episode progresses.  Every step forward leads to two steps back, and that leads to me tuning in every week!

The stakes keep rising and rising until the end. What began as one man’s quest is now several families (oh no!  there are more lives a stake!).  What seemed like it might be a solution (a cure for the virus) proves to be a giant death trap (oh no!  There is no cure!).  Every safe haven the characters think they’ve found proves to be a zombie wasteland (oh no!  there is no escape!).  If you can keep escalating the consequences of decisions (a là element #3) and also escalate what stands to be lost, you’ll have a real page turner on your hands.

Looking at Other Kinds of Film

Action TV isn’t the only place these rules can be found.  Throw Pride & Prejudice in your DVD player (faster than reading the book, remember?  But the book is AMAZING — I definitely recommend it), and you’ll see the same things happening!

Element #1: Elizabeth Bennett is the most clever daughter in a household of ninnies (she is a witty and endearing heroine); her family is bordering on poverty (she is a heroine in underdog circumstances); and she wants nothing more than for her sisters to find good marriages and be happy (she is a selfless and loving heroine).

Element #2: While there is some external conflict (illness, unwanted suitors, cruel Bingley sisters) much of the conflict stems from Elizabeth’s interactions with others and her own inner turmoil.  She doesn’t hit it off too well with Mr. Darcy (lots of lovely tension in those scenes!).  She has to deal with her horribly embarrassing mother in public settings (ugh, so much awkward conflict).  And eventually, she has to deal with her guilt/regret over how she treated Mr. Darcy (inner conflict).

Element #3: Every decision Elizabeth makes leads the story in different directions and has resounding consequences.  She learns the truth about Mr. Wickham, but chooses not to reveal his shady history.  As a result, her sister Lydia runs off with him.  She dislikes Mr. Darcy because of his snobbishness, and as a result rejects a marriage proposal that would have elevated her family to prosperity.

Element #4: Elizabeth’s sisters need to make good marriages in order to provide for the rest of the family, but one by one, their options disappear.  Jane loses Mr. Bingley; Elizabeth rejects Mr. Collins; Elizabeth’s mother embarrasses the family at every turn and lowers any chance that the Bennett girls will attract good husbands; Elizabeth rejects Mr. Darcy; Lydia shames the family by running off like harlot.  You have to turn the page to find out how it will all work out for the Bennett sisters, and most importantly, to find out how it will work out for Elizabeth.

Applying it to Your Stories

When I set out to write The Spirit-Hunters, I laid out all my favorite novels, movies, and shows and I figured out what elements I liked best, why I liked those best, and how I could use them in my story.

Now it’s your turn to do the same!  Grab your favorite films and TV shows, and pay close attention!  I bet you’ll notice elements 1-4 in play, and what you need to look out for is how the elements are executed.  Maybe the hero is introduced right after he got fired from work (element #1), or maybe every episode shows the heroine dealing with dark secrets (element #2).  Whatever the use, is there some way you can infuse it into your own story?  And are there other things you see and want to use in your writing (maybe a spine-chilling ghost or a passionate love scene)?

Good story-telling is good story-telling, no matter if the medium is film or prose or smoke circles, so why not learn from the people who’ve already done and done it well?

~~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, The Spirit-Hunters, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her writing process, crazy life-thoughts, and crippling cookie-addiction on her blog or twitter.

SHOW ME THE MONEY

20 Jan

There’s a lot of confusion (even amongst published authors) on the money side of publishing—particularly when it comes to earning out an advance. It seems no one really knows until the royalty statement arrives how they are doing, and whether they have any hope of earning out.

But let me back up—what is an advance? It’s the payments made by your publisher for the purchase of your book. Yes, payments, as in plural, because you don’t see it all at once.  Your publisher pays an advance, roughly based on how well they think the book will do. When the book comes out, you begin earning royalties, which are first credited towards earning back that advance–or as it is more commonly known: earn out.  If a book has “earned out,” than it means enough copies have sold to pay the publisher back for the advance.

First, let’s make sure you understand the basics about GETTING your advance:

Let’s use some numbers here. A very average first time advance is about $10,000. This would be divided into either two payments or three, but it’s becoming increasingly more common to be divided in three, so let’s go with that. We’ll also assume it is a single book deal.

The publisher calls you (or your agent) and makes an offer. You pop champagne, you negotiate basic contract points, and you agree to the deal. It will take your publisher anywhere from a few weeks to several months to send you the contract.

Once you have signed the contract and mailed it back, they will process your first check. In this case, $3,333. Assuming you have an agent, it is routed through your agency, they take their 15% (about $500) and send you a check for $2,833. Don’t go blow it all, though, remember you have to pay taxes on that money. Also, you might need a professional website.

Anyway, your next payment would come when your book has been delivered and accepted. This means all major revisions are done and the book has been sent to copyedits. Then along comes your $2833.

The last payment comes, most commonly, on publication. And yes—that is 12-24 months after they make that offer. So you’re clearly not getting rich here.

Next, let’s look at royalties:

Royalty rates vary widely, especially when you consider that some publishers pay on retail price and some pay on net received. We’re going to go with some very average numbers here, all based on retail.

One point of confusion—even for published authors—is that your retail price may be $16.99 but Amazon is selling it for $12.99. It doesn’t matter, though—your royalty is calculated on the full retail price. It’s amazon who is taking the hit here.

If your book comes out in trade paperback, chances are your royalty rate is between 6 and 8%. For hardbacks, it can vary between 8% and 12%. Generally your contract will also have escalation clauses—like, If you sell 25,000 copies, your royalty goes from 10% to 12%. So you can imagine that it gets complicated.

So, to keep it simple, let’s say your book comes out in trade paperback original, with an 8% royalty rate. If the list price is $9.99, you’re getting about eighty cents a book. You need to sell 12,500 copies in order to earn out.

What happens if you don’t earn out? Is your career done for?

If your book fails to earn out its advance, it doesn’t mean your career is over- not necessarily. Your original publisher is the one with all the information and they may or may not want to publish your next book. If they do, you have a whole new chance to break out. Also, remember that just because YOU didn’t earn out, doesn’t mean your publisher hasn’t made a profit.

If they don’t buy your next book, it means you’ll be submitting it more widely.

Here’s what to remember—other publishers can look up your bookscan data (which is a paid service that provides sales data that covers about 70% of sales to consumers, but isn’t always accurate) but they DO NOT know what your advance was. They DO NOT know what your print run was, what your royalty statements say, etc.

Lately, we’ve seen A LOT of mega deals in the YA world. Some mid-six figure deals, even. And that’s a lot of pressure to earn out, and it’s easy to fail at such a mighty task. But that doesn’t mean you’re sunk. If you needed to sell 200,000 copies to earn out that gigantic advance, and you sold 75,000, you’re not even close. But to an outsider, if they do not know what your advance is, 75,000 is a pretty solid number.

A mention on world rights:

The last thing to keep in mind is subrights—audio, foreign, etc. Many of those mega deals are for world rights, which means your publisher submits and negotiates translation/foreign deals. You split that money with them—anything from 50/50 to 90/10. A real average is 70/30. (70 to the author, 30 to the pub). SOME of those mega deals have earned out before they are ever published, based on foreign deals alone.

Earning out based on foreign rights and not on sales doesn’t mean you’re a raging success, but it alleviates much of the risk for your publisher, and it, too, may play a part in whether they buy another book from you.

Ultimately, it’s good to understand the numbers, but authors have little to know control over whether a book does well. Focus on writing your next amazing book instead.

Mandy

Agent, D4EO LITERARY

Author

www.mandyhubbard.com

@mandyhubbard