Monday, June 30, 2014

To finish off our anniversary, I'm to share my favorite of the posts I've written. This was a little long-winded and a probably a little to religious for some, but it hits at the heart of why I am so passionate about teaching great literature to teenagers and why I want to write it. I believe that reading widely great literature is what makes a man empathetic (there are studies to back this up), and I think this planet could use a bit more empathy. :)

WARNING: This is the rant of ONE religious blog member who can’t resist giving her own slant on the need for a Banned Books Week on the blog. Enter at your own risk. I promise this is probably the only religious post I'll do.

As someone known for being book-obsessed, many of my religious friends often come to me regularly to ask what they should read/have their kids read. Most of the time, they’ll include a qualifier, though. They don’t want to read anything that isn’t “clean” and “uplifting” and then rattle off a list of offending titles that do not fit the bill.

Hmmmmm. That list of offending titles often reads an awful lot like the list of books I would’ve just recommended.

 And so the dilemma. What to say? While this isn’t usually what I do say, it’s what I always want to say: “Depends. If you want to be more Christian, I’d start with one of the ones on that list. I have an extra copy of Catcher in the Rye, if you'd like.” Smile.

The reasoning: Now, I’m definitely not saying that every book that isn’t “clean” is worth reading. Personally, I don’t see any value in wasting my time to read porn, bad-writing, and all shades of gray, and the like, but the classics? Works of tremendous literary merit that show the depth of the human experience? Works that in an attempt to show us humanity at its most honest may include things like rape, violence, sex, swearing, etc.? How is that not worth reading???

I think this point was driven home best for me one lazy summer afternoon at Book Passage bookshop. I’d just listened to the brilliant Isabelle Allende and had asked her to sign my copy of The House of the Spirits, a book I teach. She remarked that many schools had banned it and chuckled, and then went on to talk about (or at least this is how I remember it) how interesting she thought it was that so many parents fought so desperately to stop their children from seeing what it would’ve been like to have been born in other, less lucky, more violent circumstances.

I got to thinking. The book is a magical re-telling influenced by the stories of her family. Her cousin once-removed, Salvador Allende, was violently overthrown and she includes all of the fallout that brings as well as other family traumas that her own family may very well have experienced. And yet, her life, the one she may have experienced as an innocent child, was too dirty for the other kids to see. Wouldn’t want them sullied too. Wouldn’t dare to want the clean kids to do something terrible like learn to empathize at a time (teen years) when a brain is literally wired to develop empathy. Nope. Let those unlucky kids suffer alone. Poor suckers. Totally what Jesus embodied.

Or not.

While there are many aspects of the Christ-figure I love like the model for re-birth, strength-in-kindness, etc., the one I love most is that Christ is the perfect model of empathy. In the Bible He suffers everyone’s sins for redemption, and in doing so, it makes Him uniquely qualified to give comfort at man’s lowest moments, having literally experiencing the same pain. And one of the most unbearable aspects of suffering is the loneliness that often accompanies it. Isn’t it?

So I think that I would like to do a little of that, too, but unfortunately, I haven’t experienced everything. There are a lot of dark places my loved ones have spent time in that I can’t even fathom. Or at least not without the help of books. And sure, I don’t need to go there. I can stay peaceful and clean. But that’s not what Jesus did. Jesus chose to experience all of the pains this world can heap on man. And I think He wanted me to follow suit, and so he gave us books. Great and powerful sometimes un-clean books.

Books that even talk about rape (just ask David’s daughter Tamar) or violence (Abel might be able to comment on this one), sex (oh David!) and the like. BTW my examples aren’t even past 2 Samuel in one of the greatest banned books ever written.

And it gets even better because talented people keep writing books that honestly portray and grapple with these issues in modern ways that make them applicable to today's special ills. How awesome it that!

So, yeah. I’ll admit it. I'm going to keep reading/recommending banned books from The Bible to Catcher in the Rye to The House of the Spirits to To Kill a Mockingbird, to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, to Speak and more and more, and in each uncomfortable moment I’m hoping to develop more of one of Jesus's best traits: to be the kind of person who is prepared for the next time one of students or friends needs to feel just a little less alone.

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Blogversary: On Realizing I Might Fail

Thinking to Inking is TWO and to celebrate we're taking a look back at some of our favorite posts and giving away lots of swag.  Make sure to check out the rafflecopter at the bottom of the post and enter to win!

Staying positive from the query trenches is one of the hardest things I've ever done. Which is why, when I had to choose a favorite of my past posts, this one came to mind. I was *this close* to giving up around the time this post was written. Luckily I had a friend who pulled me out of my funk. And if you happen to be in a funky spot, I hope that her advice helps pull you out of that negative space as well.

On Realizing I Might Fail

About a month ago I had a really bad day.

After months of polishing my query letter and putting the finishing touches on my manuscript, I was finally ready to put myself out there. I sent off my first batch of query letters and entered my first contest since wrapping revisions.

Then the day came for the contest participants to be announced. I opened blogger, heart pounding and hands sweating, sure that I would be among the chosen few selected to participate in the multi-agent event.

I wasn't. My entry didn't even get an honorable mention.

I opened my email in an attempt to distract myself. My first two form rejections were sitting in my inbox, smiling thier evil smiles.

I told myself that it was just a stupid contest and only a few measly rejections. There would be plenty of opportunities, the business is subjective, I was earning my stripes, it only takes one yes, etc. But something inside of me had shifted, because it was the first time I really considered the fact that I might fail.

Outside my window was a sea of grey - the fog had rolled in overnight, and San Francisco looked as bleak as I was starting to feel. It was July, but the temperature had dropped to the upper 50s. It was also Friday the 13th (no joke.)

Pity Party, table for one.

Several weeks later I went for a walk with a friend and lamented about my struggles. I looked her in the eye and said the words that had repeated in my head since that gloomy Friday afternoon: I might fail.

"Fail?" She said, eyebrows raising. "But you wrote a book. You. Wrote. A. Book. How is that failing?"

I'd never really thought about it that way.

I wrote a book. I actually finished an entire manuscript. In the process of doing that, I learned a ton about the publishing industry, met some new and wonderful people, improved my craft, started a blog, read and edited other writers' manuscripts, received positive reviews from beta readers (even had several stay up late reading because they couldn't put my story down). So why was I so obsessed with the idea of failure, when I had accomplished so much?

It's simple: I developed such a finite view of what success looked like that I lost sight of everything else. I couldn't see the trees for the forest, so to speak.

There are artists with paintings that will never make it past the refrigerator door, dancers who will never make it off the recital stage, and bands that will never make it out of their garage. But does that make them failures?

I would argue that the simple act of trying is a success in and of itself. How many people do you know that have actually attempted to make their dreams come true versus just talking and day dreaming about them? My guess is not many, because there is safety in not knowing.

For those of you who are on this crazy path to publication, don't forget to celebrate your small successes along the way. And don't lose sight of the biggest success of all - you wrote a book. You were brave enough to put yourself out there. You were brave enough to try. That alone deserves a little celebrating, no matter where your story ends up.

What have your recent successes been?
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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

BONESEEKER Blog Tour, Author Interview and Giveaway!

I'm taking a little break from our 2 year Blogversary celebrations to participate in Brynn Chapman's amazing BONESEEKER blog tour. Check out my interview with Brynn below, and make sure to scroll down to the rafflecopter and enter to win your own copy of BONESEEKER!

Interview with author Brynn Chapman:

How long did it take you to write BONESEEKER from start to finish?

BONESEEKER was written many times—but the first time, with my normal process—9 months.

What was the inspiration for BONESEEKER?

I saw traits in Sherlock Holmes that raised red flags for me—reminded me of people on the spectrum. I basically live the spectrum, work, home. I imagined it would be hard to be Holmes. How he needed Watson as his conduit to the outside world. How he ignored many societal norms. I wondered if that time period would be so forgiving to a woman. WAIT...a woman.

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

I am reluctant to answer this, lol, but as I do not use any names in my novels—I would say Robert Pattinson (he clinched it with Water for Elephants for me) and Ellen Paige.

Where's your favorite place to write?

Outside, on my deck in summer. In winter, I typically hide at Panera, with a big, fattening cappuccino.

The cover is really cool (seriously, I love it!) 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? ;-)

Month 9 is totally responsible for the cover. I merely said, “I love it.” I actually love all their covers, so I wasn’t worried I would not like my own.

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

I don’t. My first was pubbed by small press. That said, it can be compared to child star’s—people watching you grow up. Our writing changes drastically with every book—so having manuscripts under the bed is not always a bad thing. (Not that I don’t love my books-they are all like your children)

You're a pretty prolific writer. Congrats on all your success! Do you find it hard to let go of one story and move onto the next?

The more you write, the easier that gets. I used to have difficulty shifting between the right and left brain—so storyteller brain and editor brain.

I do it easily now. Same with story—those characters you cannot let go of…series, anyone?

Any words of wisdom for authors trying to find the balance between writing new stories while editing and promoting already published or soon-to-be published books? (This is a selfishly motivated question. :-))

Use touchstones to get you where you need to be creatively. I create a playlist and pintrest page for each book. That often helps writers get in the correct zone for each book.

Here is BONESEEKERS page

What have you learned from your publication journey that surprised you?

It is never the same for anyone. The most important thing you can do, is remember you love to write. That is WHY you write. If you keep that foremost in your mind, success, failure, book sales, reviews etc, cant touch you. Because it’s about getting lost in those words on the page.

Congrats on the launch of your book, and thanks for the time! I can't wait to read BONESEEKER!


Publication date: June 17, 2014
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Brynn Chapman

Arabella Holmes was born different and raised different. After it became apparent she wouldn’t fit the role of a proper 1900′s lady, her father, Sherlock, called in some lingering favors, and landed her a position at the Mutter Museum. The museum was Arabella’s dream; she was to become a purveyor of abnormal science. What her father called a BoneSeeker.

Henry Watson arrives at the Mutter Museum with a double assignment–to become a finder of abnormal antiquities and to watch over and keep Arabella Holmes. An easy task, if he could only get her to speak to him instead of throwing knives in his general direction.

But this is no time for child’s play. The two teens are assigned to a most secret exploration, when the hand of a Nephilim is unearthed in upstate New York. Soon, Arabella and Henry are caught in a fight for their lives as scientific debate swirls around them. Are the bones from a Neanderthal … or are they living proof of fallen angels, who supposedly mated with humans according to ancient scrolls?

Sent to recover the skeleton, they discover they are the second team to have been deployed and the entire first team is dead. And now they must trust their instincts and rely on one another in order to survive and uncover the truth.

Add it to Goodreads here!    

Buy it today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Chapters Indigo


Born and raised in western Pennsylvania, Brynn Chapman is the daughter of two teachers. Her writing reflects her passions: science, history and love—not necessarily in that order. In real life, the geek gene runs strong in her family, as does the Asperger’s syndrome. Her writing reflects her experience as a pediatric therapist and her interactions with society’s downtrodden. In fiction, she’s a strong believer in underdogs and happily-ever-afters. She also writes non-fiction and lectures on the subjects of autism and sensory integration and is a medical contributor to online journal The Age of Autism.

Author Links:  Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Blogversary: YA Book Picks Through the Years plus PRIZES!

Thinking to Inking is TWO and to celebrate we're taking a look back at some of our favorite posts and giving away lots of swag.  Make sure to check out the rafflecopter at the bottom of the post and enter to win!

One of the original monthly posts we introduced is our YA book picks.  We started the series because we wanted to share some of our favorite reads with our fellow YA writers, but what surprised me is how many books I've discovered from the posts thanks to my fellow blogmates.  Below are just a few of my favorite books that Triona, Jenn and Lauren have introduced me to.  Click on the title to jump to the original review. Enjoy!

LEGEND by Marie Lu

ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell

WHAT'S LEFT OF ME by Kat Zhang

FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell

IF YOU FIND ME by Emily Murdoch (okay, this one was mine. But it's so, so good that I have to throw it on this list in case you haven't read it yet.)

LETTERS TO THE DEAD by Ava Dellaira.  This one actually wasn't reviewed, but it's one of the books we're giving away compliments of Lauren.  After Lauren mentioned how much she loved it I had to check it out, and man was I glad I did.  Easily one of the best books I've read this year.

Huge thanks to Lauren, Jenn and Triona for keeping me well read. Hope you guys enjoy their picks as much as I have! You can check them all out here.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Thinking to Inking Blogversary: Secret Quirks of Teenagers

Thinking to Inking is two years old this month! To celebrate, we're highlighting some of our favorite posts and giving away all kinds of fun swag (scroll down for the Rafflecopter!)

One of my favorite regular blog features here at Thinking to Inking is "Curious Lives of Teenagers." Lauren (who is a high school English teacher) periodically asks her students questions of interest to writers and then posts their responses anonymously. The answers range from silly to morose to insightful, but they give an excellent glimpse into the teenage mind.

I thought this post from last year about her students' secret quirks was particularly useful to the YA writer. Who doesn't want to add more individuality to their characters?

Curious Lives of Teenagers: Our Secret Quirks?

When asked what they thought YA writers would want to hear from them, my high school students suggested that the writers should know the things teens do to make individual teens unique. The students thought a sampling of real-life quirks might help flesh out characters/ inspire new side characters for writers with writer's block. How considerate. These quirks are anonymous, and the kids have given permission for you to use with abandon. So here are their secret quirks/ a bit of silliness for a Wednesday afternoon:

  • I shower with my socks on
  • When I was little I used to "cook" things in my belly button
  • I eat Oreos with lemonade
  • I look in two different mirrors with two different lightings to see if I look okay
  • I will read for hours and try my best on tests, but I never do my homework
  • I secretly watch the science channel
  • I jump over every sidewalk crack so I don't break my mother's back
  • I eat lemons whole
  • I have to brush my hair 100 times before leaving the house every day
  • I set my alarm for 6:36 am, take out my retainer, and go back to sleep until 6:44
  • I put ketchup on my Mac & Cheese
  • I feel the automatic need to wink at people when I don't know what to say in passing
  • I hint at people to invite me places
  • When I go to restaurants, I ask waiters with mustaches for pickles
  • When I was little, I stuffed my American Girl dolls into a doll-sized tent to see how many would fit in
  • I'm waiting for my own Godot
  • I lose weight to get concert tickets
  • Things Rick Astley will never do: #1-Give you up #2-Let you down #3-Run around #4-Hurt you #5-Make you cry #6-Say goodbye #7-Tell a lie #8-Desert you (fyi you've just been Rick rolled)
  • I eat Doritos with peanut butter
  • I like turtles
  • I rub my fingers through my hair to think
  • When I eat apple strudel, I eat the filling first, then the pastry part
  • Eye contact makes me feel uncomfortable
  • I read Dictionaries in my free time
  • I can have fun with anything from a broken highlighter to an empty wrapping paper roll
  • I like to make people feel as uncomfortable as possible by saying really awkward things. If someone is talking about what they will eat for lunch I will then interrupt with a random statement such as "aborted fetuses are surprisingly interesting" and then I will walk away
  • I like rubbing people's earlobes
  • I have to drink one and a half glasses of milk before bed every night
  • Quirk?..I'm perfect.

And finally, a hint for writers from one precocious student: "To make any title better add a question mark at the end." (See title above. Did it work?)

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Thinking to Inking Blogversary: How Much Do Authors Make?

Thinking to Inking is two years old this month! To celebrate, we're highlighting some of our favorite posts and giving away all kinds of fun swag (scroll down for the Rafflecopter!)

When I considered which posts have been my favorites, I thought immediately of some of the nitty-gritty business posts that Stacy has done. Her willingness to share details is refreshing in an industry where many people play it close to the vest.

Her post on how much authors can realistically expect to make is a great example. Read it below, or check out the original post here!

How Much Does an Author Really Make?

A week ago a blog post was forwarded to me, answering just the question I pose in my post: how much does an author really make? The author was incredibly generous with the information she shared, including the advance amount she received from her Big 6 publisher, the % she earns per book (print vs. digital), and where she's netted so far from an income standpoint.

Unfortunately her post was removed after it went viral because it included proprietary contract information. I won't share the numbers she posted for that reason, but I will share the broader message and open it up for discussion: don't write just for the money.

Here are a few things to take into consideration when doing the math and planning for your writing future.

1) You have to pay back your advance before you start receiving royalties.

An advance is NOT a bonus. It is exactly as the name states: an advance on future earnings. Many authors will not sell past their advances, meaning they will never receive royalties for their books. And for those who do sell past their advances, it can be a long time before they start to see those royalties hit their bank because it takes time for books to gain momentum. Net: what you receive upfront may be the only money you see for a while, or ever.

2) Advances are becoming smaller and rarer.

Publisher's Marketplace announces advances using the following terminology:

"nice deal" = $1 - $49,000
"very nice deal" = $50,000 - $99,000
"good deal" = $100,000 - $250, 000
"Significant deal" = $251,000 - $499,000
"Major deal" = $500,000 and up

Skim through the announcements, and you'll see that most debut authors fall into the "nice deal" range. But you'll notice that some don't have anything next to them, because the author didn't receive an advance. And if you do some Googling, you'll start to see that $4,000 - $15,000 is a realistic range for a debut author signing with a larger house. For smaller houses, advances are typically smaller, if they exist at all.

Yes, some authors get nice sums of money up front when a publishing house wants to make a bet that a book will be a big hit (especially if they're bidding against other houses). But most of the large deals are not tied to debut authors. And there seems to be a consistent message from the publishing industry as a whole that the industry is moving away from them, at least to some degree.

3) Royalties rates range, but don't expect a high take home percentage.

This is where things get sticky and proprietary to publishers, so truth be told I'm intentionally not posting the figures. If you quickly Google, you can get a decent sense of the averages.

Royalty percentages vary depending on whether your book is sold in print, ebook, or hardback. You will earn a smaller percent on physical book forms because the publisher is absorbing higher costs (and thus higher risks). Ebooks, therefore, typically pay higher royalty rates, although note that because something like a hardcover book has a higher retail price tag, your absolute earning per book may be similar because the percent is taken from a larger base.

In short, only a small portion of each book sale will go into your pocket. This means you need to sell a lot of books to really start raking in the dough. And in an increasingly fragmented market, selling a million books is no easy feat.

4) Don't forget that agents share 15%.

Agents work hard to get you a great deal, and their average reward is 15% of your advance and all subsequent royalties. Most people would argue they earn it in spades by getting you that great deal, but it's an important piece of the earning puzzle that should be accounted for - whatever you bring in automatically gets a 15% haircut if you're repped.

5) So how much does a "successful" author make?

According to my research, an average mid-list author will make an income in the mid-five digits ($50,000-65,000). But it will take time to get there, because success doesn't happen overnight. And the reality is that many of us won't actually get to that place (see point #1.)

There are other factors that can influence your overall earning potential as well, like your proliferation as an author. If you're releasing a book a year and are reasonably successful, then your earning potential increases. If you release a new book every two years, you'll likely see the number go down.

Yes, some authors rake in the money. They get huge advances, sell millions of books, and close movie deals. But they are the exceptions, not the rule. I'd go so far as to say they represent < 1% of the writing community. It's a fact that we all should recognize when making choices about our writing careers.

So maybe I won't quit my day job anytime soon, but I still consider myself a success.

I started writing because I had a story to tell. Whether or not I sell a million books or a hundred books shouldn't cloud my view of accomplishment. I said I'd write a novel, and I did. I said I wanted a publishing deal, and I got one. I said I wanted to see my book in print, and it will hit store shelves next January. For those reasons, I'm calling my writing journey a success, and I will do my best to keep that in focus regardless of the size of my royalty checks. I'll also keep writing because it's something I love to do.

And here's the honest thing: even though I've done the math, am very aware of the financial realities and consider myself a pragmatic person, there is still a little part of me that thinks I could possibly maybe someday be one of the exceptions. It's the same part of me that buys the occasional lottery ticket, won't walk under a ladder, and eats black eyed peas on New Years Day.

Because there's always a chance.

Happy writing, and may you all sell a million books!

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Walk Down Memory Lane

The word "writing" in Scrabble blocks

It's day four of Thinking to Inking's birthday month and the celebrations keep coming. Thanks to everyone for posting and tweeting about our anniversary and giveaways!  

June is all about throwbacks where we highlight some of our favourite blog posts from the past two years.  On Monday, I wrote about blogmate Stacy's publishing adventure. Every Wednesday, each contributor will talk about their favourite blog post from their own blog adventures.  

Over the years, I've learned a lot from my work as a blogger for Thinking to Inking.  Tips of the trade, what's new in the industry and growing with my blog-sisters.  But at the beginning, it was a bit nerve wracking.  How to you make yourself known in the blogsphere?  Who's going to read it? Will people like it? 

With my background in film and television, I had an idea to interview authors for a segment called "From Book to Screen (and back again)".  I would reach out to authors that have either had experience in script writing or who had recently had their novels optioned for film and television projects and ask them questions about their experience.  I had no idea where to start or if anyone would say yes.  

D.J. MacHale's Pendragon Series Book CoversAs luck would have it, I was at the 2012 LA Festival of Books when I stumbled upon the "YA to be Continued" Panel.  There, D.J. MacHale happened to be speaking.  Not only was he the author of the New York Times #1 bestselling Pendragon book series, he was also a writer, director, executive producer and creator of several popular television series and movies including Flight 29 Down and Are You Afraid of the Dark.

After his panel, I sheepishly approached him and asked if I could interview him for our new up and coming blog.  I totally expected him to blow me off, but he smiled, looked at his watch and said "I'm done shortly here, why don't we meet in a few hours."

I was flabbergasted.  The interview was informative, fun and so easy going.  Most importantly, it set the stage for our little blog that could.  Since then, I've had the privilege of interviewing great writers including Jay Asher, Holly Goldberg Sloan and Lauren Kate to name a few.  But it all started with D.J. MacHale and that's why I've chosen my interview with him as my favourite post. 

Click here to check out the original From Book to Screen (and back again) interview with D.J.. 

If you haven't already checked out our giveaway below, definitely take a look.  Lots of great prizes to be won!

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Monday, June 2, 2014

Two Years and Counting!


Stacy wrote it perfectly last week - what an incredible two years it's been for this little blog that could.  To think, it all started with four wide-eyed writers who met at the Big Sur Writing Workshop back in Spring 2012.  I'm so proud of all these talented ladies and want to thank all our dedicated readers whose support and comments are what keep us posting along. 

Today marks the first day of Thinking To Inking's Birthday month and we're counting down some of our favourite posts from blog days past.  I thought what better way to start than to recount one of my favourite posts from fellow blog mate Stacy.  I remember the day she emailed all of us to let us know that there was something major brewing.  Only a year out from our weekend in Big Sur and she was the first of our crew to land a publishing deal for WHERE THE STAIRCASE ENDS with Month9Books.  We laughed, we cried, and since we are all in different cities, we virtually hugged and jumped for joy while sharing glasses of emoticon champagne.  

Click here to check out Stacy's post on "How She Got Her Publishing Deal".  Always humble and honest, Stacy does a great job of mapping the perilous and exciting road on her journey to publication. 

Also, don't forget to check out our rafflecopter below. It's live which means you've got a great chance to win great prizes!  Come back every Monday and Wednesday this June for more trips down blog lane and chances to win. 

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