Friday, December 19, 2014

THE NIGHT HOUSE: Blog hop, guest post and giveaway!

To celebrate the release of THE NIGHT HOUSE, author Rachel Tafoya has graciously offered to guest blog here at ThinkingToInking and share her writing advice with us. Yay!  We are thrilled to have her.

Check out her post below, and be sure to scroll down to the bottom for a chance to win your very own copy of THE NIGHT HOUSE. 

Writing With Others by Rachel Tafoya, author of THE NIGHT HOUSE

I’ve been writing all my life, telling stories and telling other people about the books I’m reading. My writing was highly influenced by what I was reading at the time. It still is, but when I was younger, I borrowed characters and settings. And I had people who would write with me. Back in elementary and middle school, I had a writing partner and we would send chapters back and forth to each other. I can’t say the writing was good, but I had fun, and I wrote a ton. 

Having a friend to talk about writing with and to share stories with is paramount. When I got a little older, I joined a teen writing class, and that was when my writing really improved. I was able to get weekly new inspiration and hear other people’s work. I think the biggest inspiration was our teacher, Jonathan Maberry who wrote the Rot and Ruin series, which I love. He told us his wild tales of publishing and told us all the time that it IS possible to get published, anyone can do it, and we should try. 

I had thought to myself before this class that I wanted to be a writer. My dad is a writer, and his story inspired me too, but this class was when I really dedicated myself to it. So my advice to anyone trying to become a writer: find other writers! Nothing will inspire you more than talking to others about it, and sharing your writing with someone else. It’s scary for sure, but it’ll make you more comfortable with your own work, and it’ll allow you to learn how to critique others. Mostly, I think you’ll have fun! 

Publication date: December 9, 2014
Author: Rachel Tafoya

Bianca St. Germain works at a Night House, a place where vampires like the aristocratic Jeremiah Archer, pay to feed on humans, and she doesn’t much care what others think of her. Themoney is good, and at least there, she’s safe. Bianca also doesn’t care that the Night House is killing her. All she cares about is: nauth, the highly addictive poison in vampire bites that brings a euphoria like no drug ever could.

But when Bianca meets James, a reclusive empath who feels everything she does, for the first time, she considers a life outside of the Night House and a someone worth living for. But Jeremiah has decided to keep Bianca for himself; he won’t allow her to walk away.

As she allows her feelings for James to grow, she struggles to contain nauth’s strong hold on her life. If they are to have a future, James must make her see what she’s worth, what she means to him, before Jeremiah and nauth claim her for good.


Rachel Tafoya studied creative writing while at Solebury School and was published in their student run literary magazine, SLAM. She attended a writing program for teens at both Susquehanna University and Denison University, and the Experimental Writing for Teens class and Novels for Young Writers program, both run by NY Times bestselling author, Jonathan Maberry. Rachel is the daughter crime author Dennis Tafoya.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Keeping it Real Even During the Holidays

Hoiiday Revision

I think revising is like decorating for the holidays.  I spend hours scouring pinterest looking for ideas for home décor. I do the same with ideas on how to revise.  I don't know why, but it inspires me.  Or maybe it is just procrastination.  But eventually I do get motivated and take a look at my house or my writing.  I make a list and I check it twice to find out what will work or not.  Then it is time to spruce up the house or my WIP with some final touches.

I put away everyday items (or clichés, adjectives, and adverbs) and replace them with something unique or festive. Sometimes I set out all my decorations or throw in all kinds of extra writing ideas.  I then stand back and start to edit so that only the really good pieces shine.

Next, it is time to show off that hard work.  I'll throw a party (or handout my WIP) and wait for the feedback.  With any luck, I'll have a nice present to unwrap and I'm done.  If not, repeat the process and try again.  Valentine's Day is just around the corner after all.  Funny how life reflects so much on writing.  I guess that is why it is important to keep it real.  Happy Revision Days!!

12 easy ways to support your soon-to-be-published author friend

I've had a number of friends recently ask what they can do to help as I get ready to launch my book next year. So I thought I'd write a post about it. :-) That, and over the past year I've had several friends release books and several more that are coming in 2015, and I've realized that there are lots of little things you can do to show your support and help spread the word about their books both before and after publication.

Of course the operative word here is support - while publishing a book is exciting, it's also nerve wracking and scary. Your writer friend is putting something they likely spent years developing out into the world for others to critique, and that can sometimes leave them feeling naked and vulnerable. So if you only do one thing, be supportive and remember that publishing a book doesn't mean overnight success.  It's hard, stressful and often scary work.

How you can help before the book launches:

1. Add their book to your to-read shelf on Goodreads.

Whenever you add a new book to a bookshelf on Goodreads, an alert goes into all of your Goodreads friends' news feeds, making this a great, low-involvement way to help build awareness for your friend's soon-to-be released book.  It takes less than a second and won't cost you a thing, while giving them some much needed additional exposure.

2. Vote for it on Goodreads lists.

Goodreads' Listopia has a list for just about everything - from "the best YA books" to "where for art thou grass," a list dedicated to covers featuring grass on the front (no joke).  Any Goodreads member can start a list, add a book to an existing list, or vote for an already added book to move it further up in the rankings.

To find out which lists their book is on, search for the title, click onto their page, and scroll about halfway down to the section "lists with this book."  For each list that includes your friend's book, click the "vote for this book" button next to the cover image. And viola!  You've just helped potential readers discover your friend's book.

3.  Post their cover to your social media sites.

When the cover for my debut was released in September, I was blown away by all the support I got from my friends.  I posted it to my Facebook and Twitter accounts, and within hours I had dozens of friends sharing it on their pages as well.  It was minimal work on their end, but it meant the world to me not only because of the extra exposure, but also because of the outpouring of support.

4. Retweet their promotional tweets.

A simple retweet goes a long way, and only takes a second.

5. Like the author's Facebook page.

Ditto to liking their author page - liking their page is an easy way to show support, and more likes also helps them establish legitimacy when potential readers stop by their fan pages.

How you can help after the book launches:

6. Buy their book (don't ask for a free copy.)

This one is always a little touchy, but here's the thing you may not know: your friend is only going to get about 10 copies of their book.  That's it. And every book they give away to a friend is a book they can't use for promotional purposes.

That free book they just gave you could have been used for a Goodreads contest that would have resulted in 50+ new readers.  She could have sent that copy to a local library to ensure her book gets added to the new release lists, or to a local independent bookstore to drum up interest in a book signing.

I get it. We all love to get free things. But it's important to remember that book publishing is a business, and publishing houses don't give authors very many copies for a reason. If your friend has any hope of making it as an author she's going to need to sell books, and every sale counts.

7. Review their Book on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.

When it comes to book sales, word of mouth is the name of the game.  And every positive review helps increase your friends book sales.  It's also not just the star rating that matters, but the number of ratings.  It helps legitimize the author and their book.  A review is a gift that keeps on giving, and the more places you leave it, the more exposure you'll give.

8.  Reserve a copy at your local library and/or ask your local library to carry it.

When a library starts to get a long list of reservation requests for a book, it can lead to them ordering
more copies of that book.  Or, in the case of new authors and/or smaller publishing houses, the library may not even carry it until they start to get requests for it.

9. Ask your local bookstore where it's located.

This drums up attention for the book, and could even lead to a staff member selecting it for their monthly staff recommendations section.  And if your friend is with a smaller press, the book store may not have a physical copy in the store. If enough people ask about it, it could lead to them ordering the book and even displaying it in a prominent area of the store.

10. Recommend it to a book club.

If you or a friend belong to a book club who reads within the genre your friend wrote, why not pick their book for your monthly meeting?  You could even invite the author to the discussion for a live or Skyped Q&A session.

11. Recommend it to your friends.

What's the number one way you've discovered a good book?  Probably through a friend's recommendation. If you read and liked your friend's book, there is no greater gift than encouraging others to give it a try. That, and #7.

12. Be a supportive shoulder to cry on.

Publishing a book is scary.  These days simply having a publishing deal does not guarantee success - far from it in fact. There are over one million books published each year, which can make the task of promotion and breaking through the clutter feel damn near impossible. Your writer friend will be inundated with examples of other, more successful writers. They will receive negative reviews. They may not outsell their advance. Their second book might not get picked up. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to simply be a supportive friend, and even if that doesn't feel like much, know that your friend will be eternally grateful.

If you liked this post, check out even more ideas from the blog Writers In The Storm here which was the inspiration for this post.

What are some other ways you've help your newly published friends promote their books?

Monday, December 15, 2014

YA Book Pick: Between Shades of Gray

Once a month, we choose an outstanding YA book to review. We want to spotlight books of interest to aspiring writers, as well as highlight some of our favorite books and authors!

This month's book pick is Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. While not a new book this season, it's so good I just had to write about it.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):  Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously--and at great risk--documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives.Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

Highlights:  When historical fiction is done well, I love it, but it's not my first choice when out hunting YA fiction. That said, I read this book over a year ago and loved it so much that I gave it out to all my colleagues at work last year  for Christmas. They may have initially been disappointed/surprised/confused when they heard the title (so close to another Shades of Gray, of course), but soon they were sold as well.

The most obvious highlight for me was that the historical story Sepetys tells here is one that is significant, but largely unwritten. We have many touching accounts of the horrors of the holocaust, but the Lithuanian purging of intellectuals hasn't had as much publicity, but is absolutely fascinating and heartbreakingly sad as well. 

I also love Sepetys depth of thematic inquiry. When I heard her speak at SCBWI after the book came out, she talked about her research, and about spending time in a gulag recreation to prepare. She said that it had scared her how close to the surface we all are to becoming savage.  Those questions about our humanity swirl around the characters, and keep bubbling up in even the setting descriptions they are so thoroughly engrained in the book as it keeps sweetly probing into what makes us human.

Notes for writers:  Sepetys does a great job of understating the atrocities she presents. While many writers might have succumbed to the temptation to be dramatic and maudlin about the horrific conditions and experiences, Sepetys fleshes out the ordinary bits of life that occur in the midst of tragedy so well that the reader is forced to see the people as more human and the situation more complex. She also includes very ordinary thoughts on love and being a teenager in the midst of darker and harder questions, a balance that's difficult to get right, and that she nails.

A good read for: Fans of historical fiction (of course), but also anyone who enjoys deep thematic issues and subtle poetic writing.

Happy reading!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Keeping it Real Even When Broken

The other day, I'm out enjoying a nice fall day and playing a little football with a friend.  I jump to catch a ball and BAM, I land on it wrong.  Oh snap, something inside snaps.  The pain spreads like wildfire.  Right away I know it is broken.  I've done this before.  I go to the doctors and yup, my ankle is fractured.  I'm in a cast for the next three weeks and then the boot for another month.  So much for my off-season football training.  I'm spending the next two months hobbling around on crutches.  Maybe I can  get some writing done.

Writing?!  I haven't done much of that lately with school, football, and all.  Now that I'm laid up awhile, I see that broken bones and writing go through much the same process.  BAM a story idea hits you.  It spreads like a wildfire inside you.  Consumes you.  You have to write, but you also have to contain it. Mold it even. Once the cast comes off and you're done, you need another pair of eyes to diagnose the writing's status.  Maybe some beta readers or an editor.  Usually you need some more time to fix the problem.  So revise, revise, revise.  Polish that writing.  Once again you go back to an expert for another round of probing and if you are lucky, then you pass. It sounds like a lot of work.  It is.  But you know that.  It sounds painful.  It is.  But you know that too. But in the end it is fun and it is worth it because you and your writing come out stronger.  Broken bones and writing - each have a story to tell, but for a good, healthy one - it takes time. Don't rush it. 

In the meantime, here's a list of some of my favorite "doctor" sites: -

Broken - pathway to a good story

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Be Mindful of Your Social Media

You may have seen the story last week about the bestselling author who threw a public fit on Twitter after she didn't make it onto an end-of-year "Best Of" list. (I recommend skipping the comments section on that article, by the way!)

After reading reactions to this author's behavior, both from authors and non-authors, I have some mixed feelings. First of all, I think those end-of-year lists can have much more impact on a book's popularity and sales than the article linked above says they do. But I also don't think this justifies the author's behavior. While she later backed down and said "For better or worse (and certainly worse today), I made the foolish mistake of venting in public about my disappointment," her rant is preserved on the internet for anyone to see.
No swearing

Only time will tell if the outburst loses this author readers, but either way it's a good reminder of the fact teachers and parents attempt to drill into the heads of young people: what you put on social media can stick around for a long, long time. Your Facebook status updates, tweets, and blog posts will likely be floating around in one form or another ten years from now. Personally, I'm taking this as a reminder to be mindful of the impression I want to project to my future readers.

Has an author's social media persona ever turned you off (or conversely, made you want to pick up their books)?

Monday, December 8, 2014

New Year Countdown

New Year's Countdown Clock

Now that NANOWRIMO is officially over and Black Friday, a distant memory, we may find ourselves slowing down to prepare for the onslaught of holiday parties, Christmas cheer and New Year's bubbly.  It's hard to dedicate oneself to writing when there's a tray full of reindeer cookies and spiked egg nog just screaming your name.

You may feel that familiar tingle of guilt creeping up the back of your neck.  You think to yourself "I really should be writing." Perhaps you should be, but sometimes, it may also help to take the time to reset and rest that crazy constantly working brain of yours.  Relax, rewind and prepare for a strong start to 2015.

Marc Chernoff, from the blog MARK AND ANGEL HACK LIFE has provided us with a great list of 30 things to let go of before the New Year.  It's a pretty extensive list and some are more relevant to me than others, but if I'm able to even let go of one or two of these, then that's a pretty big step in the right direction!

A great place to think about your list of things to let go would be in your "white space".  What's my white space? You might ask. Dan Blank describes it as "a place where we discuss the possibilities of what can be; where bad habits are negated; and where we honour the need for the space in between other things in our lives."  For him, naps are one way that he experiences White Space in his life.  For me, I'm going to be honest, I'm still trying to figure that out.

Time flies by fast though and I'm sure as soon as you've had a chance to unwind (in my case, I'm hoping for a massage and a glass of wine) and think about how you're going to tackle the new year, you'll be kissing your loved one(s) and wishing them a Happy New Year!  So to make sure you're well prepared for that fateful hour when your New Year's resolution begins, I'll leave you with Joel Friedlander's 20 ways to become a more production writer.  I know I'm going to be clicking back to this link sooner than later!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Don't Give Readers a Reason to Use Their Social Media Megaphones

A few months ago I had some jewelry stolen out of my hotel room.  I'm a big believer in that old saying "you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar," so despite being upset I did my best to act calmly and rationally. I spoke politely to the general manager, who apologized and led me to believe I would be compensated for my losses via their insurance company.  I walked away feeling that the situation had been handled justly, and awaited the reimbursement check I'd been promised so I could replace my missing items.

Imagine my surprise when I received an impersonal letter in the mail telling me that my claim was denied and there would be no reimbursement.

I was livid.  I work in marketing, so when faced with a situation where I'm treated poorly as a consumer, it really chaps my hide.  Customer service matters, and in this situation I felt that a brand I trusted behaved badly, so I crafted a letter to the GM outlining my plans to post my experience to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and my undergrad and graduate university alumni networks.

Yes, I thought it was important that my colleagues and friends here about my experience. But I was also pissed. Not just because of the missing jewelry, but because of the way I'd been treated.  This hotel chain had essentially poked a bear and prompted me to lash out by using my pretty sizable social media megaphone.

Do not give your readers a reason to use their social media megaphones about you in a negative way.

Many of you likely saw this article making it's way around the blogosphere in October, in which an author tracks down a woman who negatively reviewed her novel.

There's been a lot of debate about whether people agree with this author's actions or not. I'm not here to debate that, though my views on the matter will become apparent very quickly.  I want to share my thoughts on 1) why commenting on a negative review can do more harm than good and 2) why negative reviews can be good for business.

Don't poke the bear

Simply put, when you comment on negative reviews you risk poking the bear.  You are essentially telling that reviewer that they are wrong, and that their opinion is not valid and/or does not matter. If that person happens to be an avid reader and reviewer, that may be pretty upsetting. So upsetting that they lash out and do more than just write a negative review.

Take my jewelry story as an example.  If they had handled the situation like they'd initially promised, I wouldn't have done anything negative.  In fact, I might have felt more positive about the hotel chain because they handled the situation fairly and professionally. It wasn't until I felt like I had been unfairly treated that I wanted to retaliate.

Your negative reviewers are the same way. Leave them alone, and they will just be one negative review in a sea of other reviews.  Make them feel like they are being unjustly treated, and they will use their social media megaphones to make sure people hear about it.  You'll get added to Goodreads lists like "Writers Who Respond to Negative Reviews" that put not just your book in a negative light, but also your brand.

Don't do this.  Don't give them a megaphone that shines a negative light on you.  Especially if you plan to write other books in the future. That negative light has implications beyond the sales for the one book they reviewed.

Did you know that negative reviews can actually help sales?

Yes, you read that right. In the world of product marketing, negative reviews can actually help sales.  And I would argue the same is true for books.

First, people who leverage reviews to make purchase decisions read multiple reviews at various star levels. Which means that while potential readers might stumble upon that one-star soul-crushing rant about your baby, it's not the only review they'll read. And all those positive reviews you received become counter points in the potential buyer's decision making process.

Second, the why behind the negative review is more important than the star rating, and can actually lead to more sales.  Let's say Suzie Q hated that your book had a love triangle in it.  Maybe Jennie J LOVES love triangles, and when she reads Suzie's negative review, it triggers her to  buy your book even though Suzie only gave it one star.

I can personally tell you that I have purchased books based on negative reviews multiple times, because the exact thing the reviewer hated is what I love to read.

And here's another fun fact for you: there is data suggesting that negative reviews can actually make the glowing reviews more believable.  That's because consumers sometimes question a "perfect" score, because it's suspicious. What if the book was only reviewed by the writer's friends and that's why they're all so positive?  What if this is just the publishing house posting reviews for the author, or they're paying people to review?  While most reviews aren't fabricated, there is something suspicious about a perfect five star score.  Which means that the one star review you received may prompt someone to buy your book because it makes the good reviews more believable.

Nobody, not even the J.K. Rowlings of the world, is beloved by all.

So why don't you tell us the name of that hotel chain, Stacy?

Because they ultimately handled the situation properly, with a profuse apology for the way I'd been treated, proper compensation for my missing items, and a promise that they will be more vigilant with future customers to ensure they have a way to safeguard against theft in the future.

And in the end, that's all I really wanted. Even if it took the threat of negative PR to get there.

Monday, December 1, 2014

If you've ever done fundraisers, then you can promote your book.

Congratulations!  You're done!  NaNo is over and it is time to start editing, but before revision it might be a good idea to think about marketing.  That's right marketing.  It is never to early to start "selling" your book.

For some of us, writing is the easy part, but "selling" ourselves is a bit trickier. So what to do?

Well, if you've ever done fundraisers, then you already know how to promote your book. I found this out recently when I won a singing competition to Carnegie Hall.  Out of thousands of people, I won a tenor spot in an all High School Honors Choir performance at Carnegie Hall.  The catch? I have to pay my way.  Thus, the fundraising campaign. That's when it hit me.  Fundraising and promoting one's book are pretty similar.  Here's what I learned:

1. Start early - get the word out there to create interest in your project so that people have time to  
     think about it.

2. Establish goals and timelines

3. Try many methods - social media, online, cold calls, booths, etc.

4. Promote
    * Post signs, flyers, & posters
    * Write a press release to the local newspaper, television, and radio stations

5. Use friends as networks

6. Have a party or book launch

7. Be professional

8. Be friendly.  Smile.  Be ready to talk about yourself

9. Set up a table at a craft fair, library, grocery store, etc. and do the following:
    * Stand - so that you are easy to approach
    * Bring a blown up poster for your stand so that it can be seen from far away
    * Decorate table to attract interest
    * Have giveaways like bookmarks, pens, or candy

These are just a few examples.  What works for you?

Celebrate!  NaNo is over.

If you've ever done a fundraiser, then you can promote your book

Congratulation!  You've done it!  NaNo is over and it is time to start editing, but before revision, it might be a good idea to think about marketing.  That's right marketing.  It is never too early to start "selling" your book.

For some of us, writing is the easy part, but "selling" ourselves is a bit trickier.  So, what to do?

Well, if you've ever done fundraisers, then you already know how to promote products.  I found this out recently.  I won a signing competition allowing me to perform as a Tenor at Carnegie Hall.  The catch?  I have to pay my way.  That's when it hit me.  Fundraising and promoting books are pretty similar.  Here's what I learned:

1. Start early - get the word out there to create interest in your project so people have time to think
    about it.

2. Establish goals and timelines

3. Try many methods - social media, online, cold calls, etc.

4. Promote

    * Post signs, flyers, and posters
    * Write a press release to the local newspaper, radio station, and television station

5. Use friends as network

6. Have a party or book launch

7. Be professional

8. Be friendly.  Smile.  Be ready to talk about yourself.

9. Set up a table at a craft fair, library fair, grocery store, and the following:

     * Stand so that you are easy to see and approach
     * Bring a blown up poster that can be seen from far away
     * Decorate table to attract interest
     * Have giveaways like bookmarks, pens, or candy

These are jus a few examples.  What works for you?

Celebrate!  You've written a book.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What Writers Are Thankful For

What Writers are Thankful for

  • When your writing playlist perfectly synchs with the emotional swells of your plot
  • The 2am buzz when the characters won’t let you sleep and you have to hear what they’re going to say next.
  • Eating decadent chocolate bon bons instead of real food as a reward for that extra thousand words
  • Quiet
  • Finding answers to the questions in your life while you’re looking for that perfect simile
  • Writing conferences (one of the few places where the phrase “listening to the voices inside my head” won’t get people backing away from you slowly).
  • Messaging that friend you made at a writing conference on Twitter who will tell you to how to keep writing after rejection.
  • The end of a first draft
  • A cozy blanket and a fireplace
  • Coming across a perfect setting in a classic novel and understanding why it’s perfect
  • Having a way to jump in to the thousands-year-long conversation of how to best live on this planet
  • The perfect writing chair
  • A room of one’s own
  • That dude with the wild ear hair you met in line at the grocery store for sharing with you his processed lunch meats conspiracy theory because you were needing to hear the cadence of a good rant
  • Fresh pens, even though all of your writing probably happens on a laptop.
  • Independent bookstores and their carefully curated recommendations sections
  • Finally figuring out how to fix a wonky character arc after staring at the ocean for days
  • Michael Jackson dance parties in your socks when you’ve hit your word count goal for the day (oh wait. That one might just be me :)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I’m also thankful for our little crew of writers and readers around here. I wish you well & please add anything I've forgotten in the comments. I could always use more things to be grateful for. 



Monday, November 24, 2014

Don't Sweat the Social Media

I had a great time at the Western PA SCBWI conference a few weeks ago. I signed up for four different informative sessions with editors and agents. My favorite of the four ended up being the one I was least sure about signing up for beforehand: Social Media for Writers.
I'm fairly active on Twitter (@trionabmurphy if you want to say hi!), I contribute to this blog, and I use Facebook to stay connected to friends and family. I'm social-media savvy, right? But little things sometimes crop up that make me doubt myself. Should I be vlogging in addition to blogging? I don't have a Facebook author page—but I'm not published yet so I don't need one, right? Is it a bad thing that I'm ignoring all those "X added you to their circle on Google+" notifications that I keep getting? What about LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram?

The social media session (hosted by the very smart and funny Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency) calmed me down. Ms. Lawrence's advice was to pick social media platforms that are comfortable for you to use and focus on those. Don't worry about being everywhere, because that will only cause you to spread yourself too thin and leave you with no time for the one thing you should be doing—namely writing. You won't drive yourself crazy trying to do everything. You might even have fun.

While a social media presence definitely makes you more visible to potential readers, the truth is that there's very little evidence that a big social media following translates directly into sales. So if social media's not your thing at all, don't worry. If you write good books, readers will find them. You might want to dip your toe into a platform or two for other reasons, though. (See this Twitter for Writers post for a few of them.)

My takeaway from the session? I'm going to keep blogging and tweeting, and I'm not going to worry so much about the other social media platforms. I'll take the time I would have spent on those and use it for getting those words on the page.
Do you have a favorite social media platform? How do you use it?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Not Gone Girl

With the premiere of Mockingjay, Part 1 just days away, it's a great time to celebrate the female protagonist. Be they strong, sweet or somewhat controversial, we're witnessing a surge in stories that finally show the many faucets of women. 
Creating Strong Female CharactersFrom Katniss (Hunger Games) and Hazel (The Fault In Our Stars) to more adult fare like Amy (Gone Girl) and Cheryl (Wild), we're seeing more and more of these complex female characters translating into big bucks both from book sales and on the big screen.  

A recent NY Times article with Gone Girl and Wild authors Gillian Flynn and Cheryl Strayed discusses their similarities - creating bluntly authentic, deeply engaging stories through characters that defy stereotypes.

While those are more adult fare, here is a list of inspirational YA heroines - perfect gifts for the upcoming holidays.  

Joss Whedon QuoteBut strong females don't just come from books, they also come from real life.  This is no more evident than in a recent article I read about Emily Wright, a girl who went from living an affluent private school lifestyle to homeless on the streets. Hers is a real story of struggle and triumph.  

So let's take this week to celebrate the complex girls and women in our lives, because the last thing we want is more of this

Monday, November 17, 2014

YA BOOK PICK: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Once a month, we choose an outstanding YA book to review. We want to spotlight books of interest to aspiring writers, as well as highlight some of our favorite books and authors!

This month's book pick is Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater, though this is really an ode to the entire Raven Cycle series.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the third book in what (I think) will be a four book series called the Raven Cycle, which started with The Raven Boys followed by The Dream Thieves.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):  There is danger in dreaming. But there is even more danger in waking up.

Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs.

The trick with found things though, is how easily they can be lost.

Friends can betray.
Mothers can disappear.
Visions can mislead.
Certainties can unravel.

Highlights:  It's hard for me not to get all fan-girly when I talk about Maggie Stiefvater's writing. She is, without a doubt, one of my all time favorites, and the Raven Cycle series highlights the many reasons why.

In The Raven Boys, Stiefvater does a flawless job of setting the stage and the world for the books to come.  The story is set in Henrietta, Virginia, where Blue Sargent lives with her psychic mother and their associates. The Raven Boys is the nickname for the boys attending the wealthy and prestigious Aglionby Academy, and Blue has spent all of her youth avoiding them. That is, until she meets Gansey, Adam and Ronan.

Stiefvater is the perfect example of a confident writer. She expertly places readers into the southern town of Henrietta, never explicitly telling readers about the undercurrent of magic, the ley lines or Gansey's quest to find and wake the king that may be buried somewhere in the Henreitta hills. She shows us these things little by little, letting the world unravel for readers one page at a time, until you're completely immersed and accepting of the magical elements in the story. While concepts like psychics and magic are commonly used in YA, this story feels completely unique, and the elements of magic are used in ways I haven't experienced in other paranormal/magical realism books before.

Stiefvater is also an expert at character development. Every character in the book is layered and distinct, with clear motivations and unique voices.  Which is no easy feat given the number of characters she introduces us to.

With series, so often I find that the second and third books never quite live up to the expectations set by the first. Not so with The Raven Cycle series. Blue Lily, Lily Blue was as good, if not better, than The Dream Thieves which was better than The Raven Boys, which on its own was a phenomenal read. And each story, while building on the central plotline developed in the first book, has it's own distinct sub-plot, which I found to be a refreshing approach and made each book independently enjoyable.

My only criticism is that I still have to wait a year to find out how the series will end.

Notes for writers:  Pay attention to the way Stiefvater introduces us to the magical elements of the story. There's a lot to be learned from her effortless way of world building via showing.

A good read for: Fans of paranormal and magical realism looking for something new and different.  Writers looking to get a better grasp of world building, showing vs. telling, and confident writing.

Have I mentioned how much I love this series?  And while I'm gushing about Maggie Stiefvater, let me also recommend The Scorpio Races, The Wolves of Mercy Falls, Sinner, and pretty much anything else she has ever written.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Thankful for the Backstory?

November is a time to be thankful, so that concept has been on my mind most of this month.   Of course, like many people, I am thankful for my friends and family.  I think that their stories are important and that they themselves help shape me.  Even though I love my family and friends, in my real life, they are often the backstory of me - important, but not always in the moment - not always what people want to know about me.

Thus, while loved one are important to us, they may not be so essential to others.  The other day I found this out the hard way.  I came across a man's professional website while trying to research his credentials. All I wanted to know about this person was his qualifications.  However, I had to read, or at least skim, through five whole paragraphs before I found my answers.  Even worse, the opening paragraph was all about his family.  I might have enjoyed all this information on the man if I had been able to find my answers up front.  But no, for nearly five paragraphs, he gave me his backstory.  At first I was a bit irritated, but then it made me realize that I am also horribly guilty of giving way too much backstory.  Oops!!  I did it again didn't I?!

Okay, okay.  So what's the deal with the backstory?!  I'm not going to say that there is anything wrong with the backstory.  I love the backstory!!  It can create meaning and understanding, but . . . it can also slow the story's pace and well. . . irritate readers.  Thus, I've heard many in the writing community caution against it.  Ah shoot, what's a writer to do?

Well, for starters, find out just how important the information is to your story.  If it isn't relevant, cut it.  I know, I know, that hurts, but your readers will probably thank you for it.  Next, make sure each scene has more current action than past action.  Give the readers what they want - action - and then sneak in some background history.  Weaving the past into the story from time to time will help create a balance between depth and pace.  Finally, putting the "meat" of the story up front will satisfy your readers making them curious to find out more.  Just don't make the readers work too hard for what they want; believe me they'll get irritated!

So, as you are busy writing and/or editing this month, remember to be thankful for all that is in your life, or even for that which is in your characters' lives, but don't get too bogged down in the backstory.  You have a story to tell and it is yours.  Now go out there and tell it!  And FYI, I really do love backstory so if you ever want to share it, I'd love to hear it! 
Nothing like a good backstory!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Announcement: New Team Members!!!

With great delight, I'd like to introduce you to a couple of fabulous writers who will be joining the Thinking to Inking team: Karen & Mitchell Clayton!

This dynamic mother/son writing duo is here to give us some tips from the inside of the teen world (Mitchell) and what it's like to write with a partner.

So, to get to know them a little better, here is a note from the wonderful Karen Clayton:

I am a stay-at-home-mom of three very active boys.  When I am not scraping cereal off the walls, planning classroom parties, or taxiing kids around town, I enjoy hiking, Tae Kwon Do, scrapbooking, quilting, and of course writing.  I have a BA in Anthropology from Baylor University and have either taught or subbed for grades K through 12, thus I am familiar with kids of all ages. 

Mitchell is a typical teenage boy.  He enjoys Tae Kwon Do, football, hiking, windsurfing, sailing, SUPing, shooting, longboarding, Theatre, and Choir.  Although he prefers sports over the arts, he has won awards for both Theatre and Choir.  He has even been invited to sing at Carnegie Hall.  When he isn’t out being a boy, he likes to apply his expertise into his writing to help bring his characters to life. 

As a family, we enjoy taking trips to National Parks and then writing about them.  Working together is both fun and challenging, but always interesting!  That’s our story.  What’s yours?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Writer's Conference Basics

scbwi logo

I'm off to the Western PA SCBWI conference in Pittsburgh this weekend (with my husband and four-month-old baby in tow—wish me luck!). This will be the fifth writer's conference I've attended. I feel like I'm finally starting to get the hang of them.

If you're a long-time reader of Thinking to Inking, you might remember the conference survival guide I posted last year. This time, rather than advice on nerves or particulars of etiquette, I want to focus on the basic three things that I think are needed for a successful conference.

1. Do some research.
I've seen this over and over again at each conference I've attended. Do at least enough research before you go to know how traditional publishing works, what an agent or editor does, and what type of book you're writing. I've actually heard people ask agents questions in seminars like, "What genre is my fiction novel about my life?" or "Why do I need an agent? Don't you just want to take a cut of my money?" Trust me, you don't want to be THAT guy/girl.

2. Don't be a jerk.
This one is similar to #1, but it gets its own number because it's just as important. Agents, editors, conference organizers, published writers—they're all people too. (A friend of mine wrote an excellent blog post about agents in particular.) They have good and bad days, times when they feel overwhelmed, and times when they really just need to go to the bathroom or go outside for some air. You'll get your chance to talk to them. Treat them politely.

This one gets all capital letters because it's really, really important. Follow the rules. If the pre-conference materials say to print out ten copies of your first five pages, DO IT. Supposed to be there at 10:30 am for registration? That's when you should arrive. Someone tells you that you have a certain time slot to pitch to an agent? Be there on time, ready to go. Conferences are set up to work as smoothly as possible, and it's people who don't follow directions that create snags and problems.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Writing for Reluctant Readers

Great new art installation at our school library done by student artists.
(Had to show it off somewhere)

I took on a new challenge teaching at my school this year, and am teaching a reading-intervention class. The kids are really bright and cool, but a lot of them hate reading. I mean HATE reading. It's been interesting watching them peruse the books and reject most of them. They may sound obvious, but here are some of the trends I've noticed about the books that get snatched up first:

1. Think Thin! Since it often takes them longer to finish a book, or they just hate the process of reading, they'll go for a thin more challenging book (higher reading level) over a longer less challenging (lower reading level book) almost every time.

2. Short Chapters. When they flip through the books, they want to get a quick sense of accomplishment by finishing a chapter. Help them get it.

3. Smart Writing. Just because they might not have strong reading skills yet, their thinking skills are often fantastic so engage their smartest selves. They can even handle tougher vocab or history if the rest is compelling enough, and they want to understand their surroundings as much as anyone.

4. Action. They usually want stuff to happen, and keep happening.

5. A Contemporary Cover. Sleek & edgy are always a win.

6. Pictures. My graphic novels are often nabbed first.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

MURDER OF MAGPIES Bloghop, Interview and Giveaway!

Cover for Murder of MagpiesHappy belated Halloween, everyone! What better way to celebrate Halloween than by sharing an exciting new release with a murderous theme? I'm excited to introduce you all to Sarah Bromley's debut novel A MURDER OF MAGPIES. I had the opportunity to ask Sarah a few questions about her writing process, her debut, and her words of wisdom for those of us still in the trenches. Hope you enjoy the interview, and don't forget to scroll to the bottom for a chance to win a copy!

How long did it take you to write A MURDER OF MAGPIES from start to finish?

It was roughly five or six months from start to finish, but I’ve revised it a number of times over the years to make it the story I always wanted it to be.

What was the inspiration for your story?

I have Romani on my mother’s side of the family, so certainly some of the superstitions I grew up with were part of the inspiration, and I’m fascinated by psychic abilities. All the women in my family have a kind of weird intuition about things and are very empathic, we tend to be able to feel things and know things we shouldn’t. It’s very odd, and that certainly played into developing Vayda and Jonah’s Mind Games.

If you had your pick, what movie star(s) would you pick to play the main character(s)?

It’s hard to pinpoint because there’s no one who looks exactly like what’s in my head, and what’s in my head won’t be what’s in a reader’s head. But when I have to pick, Ariel Winter from “Modern Family” is very Vayda-like and Landon Liboiron from “Hemlock Grove” is close to what I had in my mind for Ward.

Where's your favorite place to write?

I have two places: one is the screened-in porch behind my house where I can be outside, shaded, and stare at the woods, and the other is the antique desk I’ve rehabbed in my office. It’s covered with oddities like Victorian spectacles and poison bottles. I share my office with my daughter’s guinea pig, Annabel Lee, and there’s almost always one of my three dogs with me.

The cover is fantastic. How much input did you get to put into the design? And tell the truth - how many times a day do you stare at it? ;-)

Thank you! I love the cover and stare at it way more than I should! Early on, I was able to give input in some of the key themes of the book, and the designer came up with something that captures the overall atmosphere in the story. I ultimately picked the font from the ones we were kicking around. It’s rare to have some input, and I’d actually been an art student in college during my first semester, so I was thrilled.

Do you have any trunked manuscripts? If so, how did you know it was time to move on?

Oh, Lord, yes. I put aside projects when I think I’ve learned what I was supposed to from them. Sometimes a story just doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s not the right time or market. Sometimes you don’t have the skill yet to tackle such a big idea … and the awesome thing about writing is that you can keep working at it and improving, maybe even come back to a project. I’m a very gut-based writer, so if it doesn’t “feel” right or the rhythm is somehow off, I can sense it.

I see you're represented by Miriam Kriss of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. How long did you query, and how did you know she was "the one?"

I queried one book for roughly nine months before setting it aside after a disastrous revise and resubmit that I felt hurt the book’s integrity. Then I wrote a new book and queried it for about three months before my agent requested the full manuscript. Eleven days later, she emailed me to offer representation. It’s been four years, and I can’t imagine trusting my word gremlins to anyone else. Miriam is incredibly savvy, and she’s her authors’ biggest advocate. There’s such a level of trust and respect that needs to be present in an agent-author relationship, and we just clicked better than I did with any of the other agents.

Any words of wisdom you can share with writers still working their way through the query trenches?

You must have persistence and faith that your work is good and keep trying for it. Be open to criticism but incorporate only changes that truly resonate with you.

What did you learn from the publication process that surprised you?
How important it is to have author friends who have gone through this already because they are a steadying source of calm when you feel nervous. And you will be nervous. And elated. And grateful for the chance to have a dream made reality.

Congrats on the launch of your book, and thanks for the time!

Thank you for having me!

Title: A Murder of Magpies
Publication date: October 28, 2014
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Sarah Bromley

Winter in Black Orchard, Wisconsin, is long and dark, and sixteen-year-old Vayda Silver prays the snow will keep the truth and secrecy of the last two years buried. Hiding from the past with her father and twin brother, Vayda knows the rules: never return to the town of her mother’s murder, and never work a Mind Game where someone might see.

No one can know the toll emotions take on Vayda, how emotion becomes energy in her hands, or how she can’t control the destruction she causes. But it’s not long before her powers can no longer be contained. The truth is dangerously close to being exposed, placing Vayda and her family at risk.

Until someone quiets the chaos inside her.

Unwanted. That’s all Ward Ravenscroft has ever been. To cope, he numbs the pain of rejection by denying himself emotions of any kind. Yet Vayda stirs something in him. He can’t explain the hold she has on him–inspiring him with both hope and fear. He claims not to scare easily, except he doesn’t know what her powers can do. Yet.

Just as Vadya and Ward draw closer, she finds the past isn’t so easily buried. And when it follows the Silvers to Black Orchard, it has murder in mind.


Displaying Sarah Bromley.jpgSarah Bromley lives near St. Louis with her husband, three children, and two dogs. She likes the quiet hours of morning when she can drink coffee in peace, stare into the woods behind her house, and wonder what monsters live there. When she’s not writing or wrangling small children, she can be found volunteering at a stable for disabled riders.

Link to raffle copter here