Monday, February 29, 2016

Why You Need a Unique Book Title in an Increasingly Digital World

A few weeks ago a friend recommended a book to me. The title was easy to remember, but I couldn't recall the authors name. No big deal, though, right?  Wrong. When I went searching for the book on Amazon, about twenty different books with similar titles popped up. And because I couldn't remember the author's name, I couldn't figure out which one to buy.

Which got me thinking about titles and the importance of having a unique one.

Here's the thing: in an increasingly digital world, you have to think about book titles not just as something that grabs attention at shelf, but something that is uniquely searchable. And unless you are J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, you can't expect potential readers to remember your book title AND your author name. You need to make it as easy as possible for readers to find your book, which means ensuring that when they type the title into a search bar, be it Google or Amazon, your book rises to the top. Otherwise you may lose them, and a lost reader is a lost sale that likely won't come back.

So here's my public service announcement: before you fall too deeply in love with your title, type it into Amazon, Goodreads and Google and see what other titles rise to the top. If there is another book that has your title, consider changing it. If there are multiple books with your title or similar titles, then don't even pause to consider. Change it. Your future readers will thank you.

Here are a couple of resources to help you come up with that perfect, unforgettable title:

7 tips to nail the perfect title

Finding a great title for your book or story

The truth about picking book titles 

Coming up with a good book title

And just for fun:  Random book title generator

Happy writing!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Let Your Light Shine.

To our followers. 

Thank you, thank you, thank you for the following!!!

But wait - you are all stars too and I wait to hear all about your success stories (whether they are big or small) so we can celebrate together.


Okay, I'll start.  I'm almost finished with my third book!!!  So happy!

Okay, now you. 


Monday, February 22, 2016

Writing Resources for Young Writers

For young writers who are passionate about publishing their work someday, it can sometimes feel pretty overwhelming out there. Whether you're the one looking for guidance or you have a relative or friend who could use some help, here are some resources that might be useful.

One of the amazing things about modern writing is how connected we can all be. Finding other writers who think like you do is one of the best ways to keep yourself motivated, get valuable feedback, and provide encouragement throughout the entire publishing journey. Here are some communities specifically geared toward younger writers:

  • Young Writers Online: Although this forum might look pretty basic, it's a great place to post work and get feedback on short stories, novels, poems, and even reports and essays. Certain sections of the forum are only available to those who sign up for an account, which provides for a little more privacy.
  • Young Writers Society: If you're between the ages of 13 and 25, the Young Writers Society might be just the online home for you. Members post work for critique, questions about the craft, and valuable tips about writing and publication.
  • Absolute Write "Teens Writing for Teens": Fair warning—while the main Absolute Write forums are a fount of valuable information about writing and publishing, they can also be pretty harsh for those who don't have thick skin. Within the forums, however, there are dedicated threads specifically for teens writing YA fiction (the link above goes to the current one, and there are links to previous ones in the first post of the thread). If you're looking to connect with other teen writers who are serious about the craft, this is a great place to find them.
Writing Resources
  • Scholastic's Writing With Writers: Pick your favorite type of writing and read inspiring examples, prompts, and tips from real writers in that genre.
  • The Story Starter Jr.: Can't decide what to write about? Get a quick, randomly generated story idea here. Don't like the one you get? Just press the button again to generate a new one!
  • Grammar Girl: Not sure whether you should have used a semicolon or a dash between those clauses? Grammar Girl is here to help you. She has quick, easy-to-understand explanations for the most tricky grammar, punctuation, and usage questions.
  • Pacemaker: This is a great site if you need help staying motivated on your personal or school writing. Input your goal and then create a personalized strategy for getting it done on time.
Publishing Opportunities
  • Teen Ink: Between 13 and 19? You can submit your work to this teen website and magazine for publication consideration. They also run contests, host camps and summer programs, and have forums where you can share your work and get feedback and advice.
  • Young Adult Review Network (YARN): From their website: "YARN is an award-winning literary journal that publishes outstanding original short fiction, poetry, and essays for Young Adult readers, written by the writers you know and love, as well as fresh new voices...including teens." How cool would it be to have your work published alongside your favorite established YA writers?

Saturday, February 20, 2016

YA Book Pick: AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir

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 is AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir.

An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes, #1)
Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

Highlights:  I put off reading this book for a while, and I wish I could go back in time and slap myself.  My main hesitation was the amount of press the book was getting--I'd been similarly lured into reading another recently-released fantasy book that was garnering a lot of attention, only to be way waaaay waaaaaay let down. Thankfully, AN EMBER IN THE ASHES was nothing like that book that will remain unnamed, and deserves every ounce of attention it has received and then some.

The story is told in alternating perspectives: Laia and Elias.  After witnessing her grandparents slaying and her brother arrest, Laia seeks the help of rebels, hoping they will rescue him. As payment for their help, they send her to Blackcliff, the Empire's military training center, where she poses as the Commandant's slave.  Elias is a student at Blackcliff and the son of the Commandant, training to become one of the brutal soldier/assassins known as Masks. Except Elias doesn't want to be a Mask.

Things I loved:

1) The setting.  The Rome-like empire felt very different from many of the fantasies I've read as of late, and the world-building was stellar.  

2) The Commandant.  She is hands down one of the best villains I have read. She is brutal and yet totally believable. I also loved that the bad guy was not a guy at all.

3) Elias. While I loved both Elias and Laia's stories, I found Elias' the most intriguing.  The juxtaposition of his desire to escape Blackcliff while at the same time being one of the best and brightest soldiers makes for a very compelling read.  

4) The plot. This is not your classic slave-meets-royalty story as I'd originally thought when I read the description. This is a twisty, turny, you-won't-want-to-put-it-down read. 

In short, Tahir is a genius, and I really hope we hear more from her in the very, very near future. So go read it, K?

A good read for: fans of fantasy who are looking for something unique and different.  Writers looking for world-building inspiration. And well, everyone. Everyone should read this book.

Happy reading!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Is Swag Really Worth It? #authorproblems

One of my favorite pieces of author swag: I Read YA tote and button

Yesterday I was walking on the beach with a friend whose debut novel is coming out this summer and we were brainstorming how to help market her book. While chatting, I thought about so many friends who had also pondered the question of swag, and whether or not it's worth it.

In a nutshell, after talking to tons of authors, reading blogs, etc. here are the most common comments I've found on the question:
The beach that inspired this discussion

* Swag doesn't sell books, and it is rarely worth the cost
* Making swag can be a therapeutic way to feel like you're in control of your career when everything feels out of your hands in the very stressful season after last-edits and pub date
* Most authors cut WAYYY back on swag after a debut novel when they realize the cost/benefit ratio is not in its favor
* Bookmarks are the most popular swag item, and many people actually do keep/use them. 
* Bookmarks, bookplates, and postcards are nice to have on hand for school visits because kids who don't have money to buy a book that day can meet you, get it signed, and many do go buy the book later or Instagram a picture with you.
* Many authors feel far more comfortable having swag when they visit places because it's nice to be able to hand a bookseller, school, etc. something
* The second most popular swag item is the button--especially for YA. There are several book people who collect them at conferences, and they're easy to throw out to an audience. is a popular place to have them made.
* Popular buttons generally have a fun/funny short slogan or picture
* Stick to one image because people will want one of each & it gets expensive
* Buttons or any swag that does not have your name or your book's name fails the primary purpose of swag which is to have target audience keep it & REMEMBER YOU.
* Character trading cards, etc. that have no real-life use are quickly thrown out.
* Candy is popular, but gets eaten quickly so you are forgotten quickly
* T-shirts are expensive and often don't fit well
*  Themed-swag can be fun as long as it is cheap, something a person will actually keep/use, and has your name or book title on it.
* My personal favorite swag item I received was a recipe that came with a cookie baked by the author from a cooking-themed novel. She told the story behind the cookie in her panel discussion, and I ended up buying several of her books later because I felt like she connected to me personally.
* Everyone loves a good tote bag at conferences like ALA/BEA, but they are expensive.
* Pens seem to be popular as well, but unsharpened pencils get tossed out easily
* Sometimes you can talk a local indie bookstore into putting your swag into all of their pre-orders when it ships so you don't have to worry about shipping
* Swag is cool for hype/giveaways, but you have to be careful because shipping costs add up really really quickly.
* Bookmarks, stickers, and temporary tattoos ship the most easily. 
* Many teens think temporary tattoos are a little young for them, and they get used up/thrown out so some avoid them as swag.

Some additional reading:

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

For the Love of Libraries

Personal libraries are the things writers' dreams are made of. They're filled with books you love, books you need and books you're just in awe of. With a recent move, mine is made up of a storage room of boxes and I can't wait to finally build the bookshelf I've always wanted (someday...). 

Thanks to bloggers like Kyle Cassidy and author Leah Price, we can now enjoy rare glimpses into the personal libraries of our favorite writers. 
Neil Gaiman's Personal Library
Neil Gaiman - Kyle Cassidy

Here's just a few of the most fascinating private libraries that we all wish we had in our homes. What does your library look like? Let us know!

Toni Morrison Library
Toni Morrison
Junot Diaz - Leah Price
Jennifer Pun (Pre-Unpacking)
Mark Twain's Personal Library
Mark Twain

Monday, February 1, 2016

2016 Craft-Focused Writing Retreats and Workshops

Hello out there! After a short hiatus in January, we're back with our regular twice-a-week posting schedule. Check back regularly for tips, interviews, resources, and other tidbits we hope will be of interest to YA writers.

If you've been following this blog for a while, you know I'm a big proponent of writing conferences (in fact, that's where I met co-bloggers Stacy, Jenn, and Lauren!). Most of the conferences I've attended are a pretty even mix of writing advice and publishing information, including agent/editor pitch sessions, query writing seminars, etc.

But what if you want to attend a workshop, retreat, or conference primarily to focus on your craft? Here are some popular craft-focused conferences happening in 2016.

Wordsmith Retreat
March 30—April 3, 2016
Warrenton, VA

This YA-focused workshop includes critique sessions, plenty of quiet writing time, and craft seminars. YA writers Beth Revis, Cristin Terrill, and Jennifer Armentrout lead sessions and provide expert feedback. You'll stay in a fully-equipped farmhouse and enjoy meals made by a private chef.

Highlights Whole Novel Workshop
August 7—13, 2016
near Honesdale, PA

Do you have a whole YA or MG novel that needs polishing? Many people swear by the Highlights Foundation's Whole Novel Workshops. You get the chance to get feedback on your whole novel (a nice change if you've only ever had your first few chapters critiqued) and to attend craft seminars and group discussions. You'll submit your novel far in advance to give the professional writers on the faculty time to read and critique it before the workshop begins.

Out of Excuses Writing Workshop
September 17—24, 2016
Oasis of the Seas, sailing from Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Want to really get away from it all? You can't get much farther than a writing workshop on a cruise ship. Authors Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells (who also host the brilliant Writing Excuses podcast) offer workshops and one-on-one critique sessions. There's also an impressive list of guest hosts this year (check out the full list at the link above).

Do you have a favorite craft-focused writing retreat or workshop? Let us know in the comments!