WriteOnCon 2012 recap

Hello gentle reader,

you may have noticed that I have been very quiet on this blog since Monday: the reason for this is that I was attending an online writing conference called WriteOnCon.

According to its website, WriteOnCon “is a totally free, interactive online Writer’s Conference held annually during the summer. The first Conference, held August 10-12, 2010, had over 11,000 attendees. (…) WriteOnCon is not exclusive to kidlit writers. In order to stay organized, the curriculum is focused on Picture Book, Middle Grade, and Young Adult writers. However, much of the information provided applies to all writers, and many of the publishing professionals who participate cross over.”

This was my first year attending the conference and I have found it to be incredibly useful. The 2012 conference offered live professional panels, vlogs, blog posts, forum events, competitions, critiques and book prizes.

In case you missed it, it is not too late to access some of the most interesting content. I strongly recommend you check out:

– the Live Panel of Professionals (Tuesday) and Live Panel of Professionals (Wednesday): everything you need to know about the publishing world.

– the writing and revision tips: Tips for Starting a New Project, Hooks and Killer First Lines, What is Voice, and How do I Get it?, The Importance of Craft, Plotting with 3×5 cards,  Building Characters into Real People,  Elements of Writing, The Revision Checklist and “Back to Basic” Writing Tips.

– the tips on the querying process: Knowing When Your MS is Ready to Query and The Inside Scoop: Get Your Query Noticed.

– the discussions on genres: Differences between YA and MG, Middle Grade Rules, Picture Book Query Critiques.

– there are also many tips on social media: How to Get Started With Social Media: DON’T Do All The Things! and Blogging Basics

What I liked about the conference was that there were posts for beginners (like Reading like a Book Blogger which discussed the book bloggers’ pet peeves) and other posts for more experienced writers (like Choosing the Right Critique Partners).

My favourite post was World-building in Science Fiction and Fantasy by author Mindee Arnett, mostly because I write Epic Fantasy.

The last aspect of the conference that I loved was getting feedback on my query and some of my writing in the forum. My query is still up if you want to comment on it!

Did you take part in WriteOnCon? Did you find it useful? What did you enjoy most about it? Do comment and share your experience! I’d love to hear your thoughts…

ROW80 Check-In 6 : Sarah J. Maas’ success story

Hello gentle reader,

Today I want to share with you the writing journey of Sarah J. Maas. She is 26 years old and a YA Fantasy author. Her debut novel, THRONE OF GLASS, was released last Tuesday by Bloomsbury. Already her novel has received hundreds of five-star reviews on Goodreads, it has been quoted in the LA Times and the Wall Street Journal published a whole article about it.

So I haven’t read Sarah’s book yet, and I won’t go into details about it here. The reason I mention Sarah and her book is that she started writing Throne of Glass TEN YEARS AGO. It took her ten years to write and rewrite her book, to find an agent, to sell the book and have it published. TEN. YEARS.

On Tuesday she published a guest post on The Story Siren’s book blog explaining her ten-year journey. It’s a great read, so I have included it below.

Revision, Revision, Revision.
by Sarah J. Maas

“Getting to August 7th has been a journey over ten years in the making. I began writing THRONE OF GLASS back in March of 2002. I was sixteen years old, had a vague idea of where I wanted the story to go, and absolutely no clue how much this book would wind up shaping and changing my life.

My FictionPress origins have been discussed a fair amount in various places around the internet, so I’ll just give you the quick and dirty account of those first six years. A month into writing TOG (then titled QUEEN OF GLASS), I decided to throw up the first few chapters on FictionPress. I got such an enthusiastic response that I kept writing—and kept sharing. And in the six years that the story was on the site (the very, very rough drafts of the first three books of the series wound up being shared), it became the most-reviewed story on FictionPress. It was my FP readers that encouraged me to get published. And one day in Fall of 2008 (a few weeks after the final chapter of QOG/TOG had been posted), their support gave me the courage to remove TOG from FP in order to pursue publication.

By that time, I’d already started a secret, massive overhaul of the series, word for word, scene for scene, adding in new plotlines, expanding the world… In the six years since starting the series, I’d graduated from high school and college, and learned a hell of a lot about writing and books and storytelling. Of course, none of that taught me anything about the realities of publishing. Like…what the average book length should be.

So, it’s with a bit of horror and shame that I admit I sent out three very preliminary queries…

With a 240k-word manuscript (for Book 1).

I got the three rejections that I deserved.

It wasn’t until the amazing Mandy Hubbard (YA author and agent…and an FP fan of mine) offered to read the ms and give feedback that I understood was NEVER going to get an agent with a 240k-word fantasy novel. And it was Mandy who found places for me to cut and trim and condense…until we had a 150k-word manuscript. A few months and some more revisions later, (in December 2008), I sent out a round of queries…and landed my amazing agent from that batch.

We actually spent several months revising the manuscript—paring it down even more (I think it was around 140-145k words by the time we went on submission). My agent went on maternity leave for several months after that, and we did one FINAL round of revision when she came back.

Then, in summer 2009, we went on submission to editors. I know the internet is full of overnight YA mega-deal stories, but mine was not one of them. It took until December of 2009 for us to hear that an editor at Bloomsbury was VERY interested.



They wanted Book 1 to be more self-contained (it originally had a very open and unresolved ending). And they WERE super-interested…but only if I could present a detailed outline for the mega-revision I’d do if they offered.

So, after brainstorming with my agent, we came up with a solution: I’d split Book 1 in half. Not chronologically, but rather just PULL one of the major plotlines (there were two) and set it aside to make a brand-new Book 2 (thus pushing back other books in the series). And then I’d completely revamp the remaining plotline to contain a new, resolved ending.

What’s somewhat ironic is that in my initial rewrite of TOG (back before I began querying, and before Mandy even came along), I’d removed one of the original elements of Book 1, which was this competition to find the new personal assassin for the King. BUT, when it came time to come up with this outline for Bloomsbury, that competition was the FIRST thing I thought of—so I wound up bringing that plot back into the story.

So, we submitted that proposed outline. And waited.

And waited. And waited. And in March of 2010, we got our offer, based on that outline.

Once the celebrating had worn off, I realized that I now actually had to rewrite Book 1 from the ground up. It took me several months, but I eventually turned it in. Only to get an edit letter six months later (…yep.) that involved HEAVY amounts of revision. Nearly another rewrite. But I got through it (we’re into 2011 now), and I got through her second, super-intense revision letter, and then her smaller, surface-level third letter, and then…we were done (in late summer 2011). Of course, then there were copyedits and first pass pages and all of that fun stuff afterward, but by comparison, that stuff felt like a walk in the park.

As I’ve been writing all of this out, I’ve been realizing that this looks sort of bad. THAT many rewrites and revisions? You’re probably thinking that this was the most broken and un-publishable book of all time (…I certainly like to think that is NOT the case.). But honestly? It was hell. It was exhausting, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

But each of those revisions and rewrites brought me closer to my true vision for the book, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. Each edit letter gave me the opportunity to make the story better, to spend MORE time figuring out the world and the characters and the plot. It allowed me to learn SO much as a writer—but also as a person. I learned about my own strength—about just how far I was willing to go to make this book a reality. I learned that I CAN do anything I set my mind to, and that it might take years, but it is worth it.

And I wouldn’t change a single moment of it. Not a single one.

So when I walk into a bookstore today and see that book on a shelf, I’m not just seeing my book, and the story that is in my very soul. I’m also seeing over ten years of work—I’m seeing PROOF that “impossible” is nothing but a word. I’m seeing my dream, at long last, become a reality.”

So this is Sarah’s story. I hope it can give hope to all of you, fellow ROWers and would-be-published writers out there.

Now on to my ROW80 goals:

I’m still off work, which means that my daily schedule changes from one day to another. I haven’t been writing as regularly as I want to, but

1-       Write everyday: 3/7 days.

2-       Self-edit The Last Queen: a little bit done this week.

3-       Continue writing the first draft of The Cursed King: not done this week.

Here is the Linky for the other check-in posts. How are you other ROW80 writers doing?

ROW80 Check-In 5: Susan Dennard’s Advice on Writing a Saleable Book

Welcome gentle reader,

today again I thought I would share with you some writing advice from a published author.

Susan Dennard is a YA author repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit. Her debut novel, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, is available now from Harper Teen. Susan has an AWESOME blog where you can find invaluable advice on the craft of writing, on the art of storytelling and revising, on the querying process, on the value of critique partners, on grammar and style and on genres. She regularly writes for the Publishing Crawl blog and you can also find her on Twitter, Goodreads and Facebook.

I really recommend you check out her blog and if you need convincing, I have posted below one of her blog posts entitled Writing a Saleable Book. It was first posted by Susan on the Let The Words Flow website on August 10th 2011. You can read the initial post here.

“Recently, someone asked me:

What is required to make a book saleable?

That is a rather large-in-scope question, and as such, I’m afraid my answer will be kinda vague. All the same, I thought it was worth taking the time to answer for everyone.

My super broad response is the:

The most important thing in writing a saleable book is writing a good book.

I am 100% convinced that if you have a well-written, compelling story, your novel will eventually find an agent/editor. Period.

That said, there are a few critical things that define a “good book”. Again, these answers are vague, and I’d be more than happy to get specific for anyone with questions (ask in the comments, please!).

Parts of a Good Book

1. First and foremost, the story absolutely most flow. Stilted dialogue, poor pacing, or unreadable grammar/syntax will kill a manuscript. A reader can put up with slow scenes if it all flows beautifully, and a reader can put up with a less-than-compelling plot if it’s smooth.

The way to ensure your novel flows is to revise-revise-revise. Learning to master the written word is absolutely critical. Few people write stunning first drafts, but give them a red pen, and they can line-edit their words into perfect prose.

2. Secondly, a book needs a compelling plot with tension on every page. The story builds, the tension builds, and everything ends in an explosive climax (and this applies to any genre—by explosive I simply mean all aspects of the story finally come together).

This is something you can learn by reading about writing, taking workshops, or simply reading heavily in the genre you write. There are structure to stories (three-act is the most common), and your job is to practice until these are second nature when you write/revise.

Again, my first drafts are rarely good examples of compelling plot, but I can revise them until they shine and all the subplots weave into the main plot.

3. Third, a book needs a cast of characters that readers care about. The best way to achieve this is to ensure the MC has a desperate need—secondary characters too. This is also something you have to learn by doing/practicing.

4. Fourth, the book must have high stakes. “High stakes” simply means we are invested in whether or not the MC achieves his/her goal. What will she lose if she fails to reach her goal? And why does that matter? A common reason a book fails to compel readers is low stakes—if we don’t care about the MC’s failure, we don’t care about reading the book.

Finding Problems

My biggest suggestion in terms of how to address these 4 components is to start critiquing and getting your work critiqued. Either find a critique partner, join a critique group, or stay active in a critiquing community. This is no doubt something everyone here already knows, but it’s so important (in my opinion) that I just have to emphasize it!

When you see others make mistakes, you learn to spot them in your own writing. Additionally, we, the writers, are often too close to our novels to see them “as a whole”. CPs and betas have the needed distance to spot problems

When I got an agent, Something Strange and Deadly had been through 4 crit partners and 2 betas. Did I always listen to my CPs’/betas’ comments? No—you must decide and filter feedback—but it was thanks to my CPs/betas that I caught some of my biggest mistakes (character inconsistencies, flat climax, plot holes, etc.).”

I hope this post by Susan helped!

Now for my ROW80 goals:

After 10 days off (I was travelling) I have been somewhat back on track for the past three days.

1-          Write everyday: 3/7 days.

2-          Self-edit The Last Queen: done.

3-          Continue writing the first draft of The Cursed King: done.

Here is the Linky for the other check-in posts. How are you other ROW80 writers doing?

Michelle Hodkin’s Secret to Getting Published

Michelle Hodkin is the author of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, a YA paranormal novel and one of my favourite books. The second book in the Mara Dyer series, entitled The Evolution of Mara Dyer, is scheduled to be released on October 23d, 2012. Michelle Hodkin has an amazing blog, that I strongly recommend you check out.

Back in November 2010, Michelle published a post on her blog entitled My secret to getting published. It is an AWESOME and inspirational post, and I have decided to share it with you, would-be-published writers out there.

If you like it, do comment on Michelle’s blog and let her know on Twitter. She’s amazingly nice, so don’t be afraid. And buy The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, while you’re at it.

So, without further ado, here is Michelle’s secret to getting published:

“So! This past weekend, I got an email from a lovely woman the other day asking me to tell her my “secrets” to getting Simon & Schuster to publish my novel. I was SUPER surprised to get the email and super, super flattered! So I dove into my response with enthusiasm—I started writing back to her, and kept writing, and my response became very, very long. And I thought—well, I never expected anyone to email me asking this question, but maybe, since one person did, more people want to know? About my super magic secret to getting my beloved Simon & Schuster to publish THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER?
Well, do ya?
Okay, here it is: I worked hard. 
You thought I was going to tell you that I had no secrets, right? Well, gotcha! Because that’s my secret. Let me explain. When people talk to me about my book or the book deal or I’m confronted with the (very few) people I don’t know who have read it (no ARCs yet, so this number is small), I am very quick to brush off the compliments with a response about how lucky I was and am. You see, I am not the best taker of compliments, even though it makes me GLOW to hear good things. Like, there’s nothing that puts a smile on my face faster than hearing something nice about my book, or the fact that people care enough to want to read it. But when it’s time for me to respond? I’ll say it was the right place, right time, right agent, right editor, right book. And those things are all true to an extent; there are a bunch of folks who also work super hard on their novels and haven’t been published. Yet.
But I have a lot of faith, a lot of faith, that they will be.
Because you dedicated, aspiring authors are writing when your infants are napping and the dishes are done and the pets are fed and when the husband isn’t bothering you, in snatches of 5, 10, or however many minutes you get. You are writing on your thirty minute lunch break from the mentally exhausting day job. You are reading hundreds of industry blogs every day (my count was 115 industry, book, author, and writing blogs before publication, now I am nearing 200) to learn the difference between a problem query and a problem novel. You are reading dozens of novels, both in your genre and out of your genre, and you are reading with a critical eye to find out why these books work, not why they don’t. You are attending writers conferences, in person or online. You are on Twitter, not just chatting (which is valuable) but observing; watching what agents and editors say and following query and #kidlitchat and #yalitchat discussions, whether you agree with the tenor of those discussions or not.
And like me, you revise until your grey matter aches. You expose your words to public critique. You send your book out to beta readers you’ve found (through Twitter or Absolute Write or Verla Kay or maybe just your friends and family, who can be just as helpful) and discover that more important than getting critiques is knowing what crits to take and which to leave, and you have no idea, you really don’t, because you’re flying blind just like I was. But you do it and you do it again and eventually you find a rhythm; you figure out which of your readers excel at patching plot holes and which excel at consistency and which ones to go to when you just need to hear “OMFG THAT SCENE IS SO HOT,” which is just as important.
And all of this writing and reading about writing and revising and observing may mean that your number of watchable television shows dwindles from a meager eight to three to one, like it did for me. It may mean that after three or five or thirty rounds of revisions, you’ve only been able to tear yourself away from your laptop to watch seven movies in a year, like me. It may mean that the mountain of laundry has eaten your laundry room and is threatening to spill into the kitchen (guilty) or that your children are becoming jealous of your “imaginary friends.” You are working hard, and for no guaranteed payoff.  But that dedication, if you keep at it, will pay off. Maybe your first novel isn’t THE novel. Maybe it will be your eleventh novel that takes the publishing world by storm. Or maybe it will be your first—maybe you will have a dream that so consumes you that you have to write about it and the passion you feel for your story is so strong that readers can feel it, too. But either way? You will have worked hard. Because writing for publication isn’t easy. Not for me or for any of the writers I know and not even for the superstar writers out there. If you have been writing for 10 years you will face challenges and if you’ve been writing for ten months? You will face others.
So the only secret to getting published?
Keep at it.”

ROW80 Check-In 4: Rebecca Maizel’s Top Ten Tips for Budding Writers

Welcome gentle reader,

For this fourth ROW80 Check-In, I want to share with you a post first published by Rosanna MKB Digital on the My Kinda Book website on July 17, 2012. It gives YA bestselling author Rebecca Maizel’s top 10 tips for writers and I find it highly inspirational. Feel free to check out the original post here and to visit Rebecca’s blog here.


“10. Read aloud. What sounds good in your head has a different rhythm when read aloud. Dialogue especially. Read aloud before you give your manuscript to your trusted readers.

9. When you are revising your manuscript, pick out the metaphors, similes, and personification. Make sure they are original and that they add to the theme of your story.

8. If you want to write, you must read. Read! Read! Read! Read stories that you don’t think will interest you. Be surprised. Be inspired by other people’s genius.

7. Don’t give your work to your friends unless these friends are writers or he or she loves to read. They love you so they will lie to you. Give your work to friends who want to see you write incredible stories and will give you the hard critique so your work improves.

6. Read what’s in the market. “I don’t read” is a phrase I hear a lot from young people. How can you write a story if you don’t study story?

5. Do a read of your manuscript and circle the amount of times you wrote, “I felt.” Then revise as many of those sentences as you can without that phrase. Show the feeling, don’t tell the feeling. We want to experience it with the character.

4. Avoid laundry lists of description. Example: Rebecca Maizel wore black pants, a black shirt, and black heels. Her hair was styled up and it was dark brown. BOOOOOOOOORING.

3. Please give your villains motivation! A villain who is evil for no reason isn’t believable. Even Darth Vader had a good side. Everyone, even those who challenge us are three-dimensional. It’s even scarier if you can bring them to life in fiction.

2. Every main character must have a want – a desire. If you can’t answer this statement: My character wants _________, then you don’t have a story. If nothing is at stake, your readers will stop reading.

1. Write what you love. Because you have to. Because without this story you won’t be living a fulfilled life.”

Now for my ROW80 goals:

1-     Write everyday: 5/7 days. This week AGAIN I wrote every day except for Tuesday and Wednesday. Getting to 7/7 is hard.

2-      Self-edit The Last Queen: done. A little bit.

3-      Continue writing the first draft of The Cursed King: not done this week.

Also, this week on my blog, you could:

–     read the first and last lines of my current WIP. Comments are welcome!

–     read an exclusive interview with YA author Lisa M. Stasse about her writing process.

Here is the Linky for the other check-in posts. How are you other ROW80 writers doing?

A Writer in the Spotlight – Lisa M. Stasse

This week again I was lucky enough to have a YA author give me an exclusive interview! The idea behind the “Writer in the Spotlight” feature is that published (and bestselling) authors are the best source of advice for us, would-be-published writers. Today’s interview is with debut author Lisa M. Stasse. Her Dystopian novel,  The Forsaken, is already available in the US and it will be out in the UK on August 2d, 2012.


Author : Lisa M. Stasse

Genre : Young Adult, Dystopian

Website: www.lisamstasse.com

Official Book Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtIwks26SZU

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12987192-the-forsaken

Twitter: www.twitter.com/lisamstasse

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lisamstasse

Books : The Forsaken (2012)

My interview (22/07/2012):

On writing:

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

Yep, ever since I was in high school. Either a writer or a photographer.

When and where do you write?

I usually write on my laptop in the early hours of the morning (or late at night, depending on how one looks at it!)

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

It hasn’t hit me yet. I hope it never does! I figure it might one day, but hopefully that will be many years and many books from now. 🙂

What do you say to people who want to be writers?

I tell them to read as many books as possible (which is some good advice I got from writers I admired when I asked them) and to write a little bit every single day. I read 3-5 books/week–a mix of YA and adult fiction, with a little bit of nonfiction in there too (I love travel books).

Is it better to outline and plot your novel or “go with the flow”?

I plot everything out because I’m crazy obsessive, but at the same time, I leave some wiggle room to come up with cool scenes and surprises along the way. If everything is too well-planned, then writing scenes can get boring and then the story can lose some energy.

Do you set goals for yourself as you write?

Definitely! I usually try to write a certain number of pages per day (depending on the day and the project) and I often reward myself with coffee or chocolate if I reach my goal. Of course, I often drink coffee and eat chocolate even when I don’t reach my goal, so I’m not sure how well my incentive plan is working out for me! 🙂


On “The Forsaken”:

To write this book, where did you get your inspiration from? Were you aware of the coming dystopian trend when you wrote it?

When I was writing The Forsaken, a few dystopian books were a big deal (The Hunger Games, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, The Maze Runner) but there wasn’t a huge onslaught like there is now. I pretty much wrapped up most of my book in 2010/early 2011. Books just take a while to come out. Having said that, I kind of love the giant wave of dystopian lit. It means people have a lot of choice in what they decide to read.

How did you come up with your characters? What made you choose teenagers as main characters?

Maybe I’m still a teenager at heart! And I think that that age is so great for writing complex characters–I remember when I was 16, I was a total conflicted mixture of extreme optimism and extreme pessimism. I also think teens make great characters as protagonists in a dystopian novel. Dystopians can deal with really serious and intense issues.

What type of music did you listen to when you wrote this book?

My musical tastes are all over the map, from indie rock (The Dirty Projectors, Ryan Adams, Cornershop, Long Winters) to dubstep (Deadmau5, Skrillex) and dance (La Roux), to old school classic rock (Beatles, Neil Young) and to really weird stuff as well (Salem). I also love Florence and the Machine, as well as a lot of singer-songwriters (Cat Power and Feist).

What are you working on now?

I’m finishing up copyedits on Book 2 of THE FORSAKEN trilogy.


Reading advice:

Which authors inspire you now?

Margaret Atwood, Suzanne Collins, James Dashner, JK Rowling, Orson Scott Card, Stephen King, Carrie Ryan, Tahereh Mafi, Jeanette Winterson, Leigh Bardugo, Veronica Rossi, and Veronica Roth.

Any YA books you would recommend?

Divergent, Looking for Alaska, Shadow and Bone, The Hunger Games (obviously!), Paper Towns, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Shatter Me, Ender’s Game, The Maze Runner (and there’s probably a hundred more but those are the one off the top of my head!).

Thanks for the interview Lisa!

THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME!!! I really appreciate it–it was fun!!! 🙂

The Forsaken will be out in the UK on August 2d, 2012. Buy it on Amazon here.

Hookers and Hangers Blogfest (updated)

Hosted by Falling For Fiction, the Hookers and Hangers Blogfest aims at getting writers to post the first lines (hooks) and last lines (hangers) of their chapters from their current WIP. We can post as many as we like, and the judges (the Falling For Fiction ladies) will be judging everyone’s first three hookers and first three hangers. They will each pick two winners (MOST ENTICING HOOKER and MOST IMPOSSIBLE HANGER) making a total of ten winners… Winners will receive a 10 page (double spaced) critique and a Friday Spotlight on Falling For Fiction.

So, without further ado (especially since I’m late to this party), here are my first lines from the first 3 chapters of my WIP THE LAST QUEEN (YA High Fantasy):


In the Darklands, a power struggle between Vampires, Wolfmen and Humans is igniting, shattering the lives of a young princess, a warrior and a slave boy whose destinies seem meant to intertwine.

First lines:

“The door slammed open behind Araminta and she felt a hand press against her mouth.”

“Theron shook off his fear and tried to gather his thoughts.”

“Elian felt a splash of cold water against his face and a hard slap.”

*Wednesday update: here are the hangers from the last four chapters of THE LAST QUEEN…*

Last lines:

“Theron had granted him his freedom because he had known from the start that he would die in the City of Light.”

“But before he had time to realise what he was doing, he collapsed on the muddy ground and felt everything disappear.”

“Come on, Araminta,” Rowan urged her in a murmur. “Bring him back with you.”

“It was a perfect day, and he was in love with a queen.”


This is a blog hop, so make sure to visit the other writers’ blogs here. And feel free to comment!

ROW80 Check-In 3 On the importance of feedback and beta readers

Welcome gentle reader,

Week 2 of ROW80 (Round 3) has ended and today I wanted to mention the importance of getting feedback on your WIP.

Because writing your novels in a vacuum can only take you so far, there is always a time when you need beta readers in order to make some progress.

“What are beta readers?” you may ask.

According to Wikipedia, “the author or writer, who can be referred to as the alpha reader, may use several beta readers prior to publication. A beta reader (…) can serve as proof-reader of spelling and grammar errors or (…) work on the “flow” of prose. In fiction, the beta reader might highlight plot holes or problems with continuity, characterisation or believability.”

So, I’ll admit it, sending off your Precious Manuscript to beta readers can be scary. No one wants to hear their writing is dreadful and their WIP should be revised from start to finish.

But you need to take that plunge in order to know what your WIP is really worth and to make the appropriate corrections BEFORE you send your Masterpiece to a dozen agents.

Indeed, it is essential to query agents with a manuscript that is in the best possible form in order to maximize your chances of success. If you follow US literary agent Sara Megibow’s #10queriesin10tweets on Twitter, you’ll notice that she receives 200 submissions A DAY. And out of those, she often comments that the writing is “poor” or “weak” or “unclear”. You don’t want to be one of those writers, do you?

So to avoid such rejection, you need to find beta readers who will critique your query/novel/short story. They will find writing issues and they will tell you about it so you can fix them.

Now, how to choose your beta readers?

Even if I’m going against the flow here, I’ll say start with your family and friends. Often, you’re told not to do this because you need critique, not praise, and your relatives tend to just tell you that you are the next big thing. Or they laugh at you. However I have found that getting some of my friends and family members to read my WIP is worth it. Firstly they are all non-writers and they are readers of published YA novels, so it is interesting for me to get their reactions on my own YA novels. One of the earliest comments I got from one of these beta readers was that my WIP was “like a real book.” It was very encouraging for me to hear that my novel could be compared to published YA books. These non-writer beta readers will tell you if your WIP is boring or impossible to understand, if they liked your characters and if they enjoyed reading your story. That’s the first step.

Then you need to find beta readers who are writers themselves. These beta readers are valuable because they will spot writing issues more easily. They will tell you about spelling and grammar errors, about plot issues etc. You can find these beta readers through a writing group, an online community or via your social media platform.

This feedback may or may not be what you want to hear? But if you listen to what your beta readers have to say, you’ll improve your chances of getting published.

Some interesting articles on beta reading:

Susan Dennard http://susandennard.com/2010/05/18/975/

Diary of a Random Fangirl http://therandomfangirl.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/writing-wednesdays-the-importance-of-beta-readers/

Bryan Thomas Schmidt http://bryanthomasschmidt.net/2011/05/21/6-tips-for-being-a-good-beta-reader/

To wrap up this post, my ROW80 progress this week:

1-     Write everyday: 5/7 days. This week I wrote every day except for Tuesday and Saturday. A special thanks to Lauren Garafalo for leading ROW80  sprints on Twitter, they really help!

2-      Self-edit The Last Queen: done. A little bit.

3-      Continue writing the first draft of The Cursed King: not done. Instead I wrote a short story.

Also, this week on my blog, you could:

–       find out how NOT to start your novel or how hook your reader from the first paragraph.

–     read an exclusive interview with YA author Kendare Blake about her writing and how she got her best-selling ghost story Anna Dressed In Blood published.

Here is the Linky for the other check-in posts. How are you other ROW80 writers doing?

A Writer in the Spotlight – Kendare Blake

This week again I was lucky enough to have a YA author give me an exclusive interview! The idea behind the “Writer in the Spotlight” feature is that published (and bestselling) authors are the best source of advice for us, would-be-published writers. Today’s interview is with the ever awesome Kendare Blake, whose YA ghost story Anna Dressed In Blood is one of my favourite books.


Author : Kendare Blake

Genre : Young Adult, Paranormal, Ghost story, Horror

Website : http://kendareblake.com/

Blog: http://kendare-blake.livejournal.com/

Twitter: http://twitter.com/KendareBlake

Books : The Anna series: Anna Dressed In Blood (2011), Girl of Nightmares (released August 7th, 2012)

                  Sleepwalk Society (2010)

                   Antigoddess (released 2013)

My interview (13/07/2012):

On writing:

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

Yes. Though I didn’t think of it as a practical option after I graduated from high school. I still didn’t think it was a practical option when I decided to do it after grad school. But by then I’d come to terms with the idea of being a starving artist.

When and where do you write?

I write when I have spare time. And after I’ve done everything else that could possibly need doing. (Master procrastinator!) My office is in my apartment and consists of a kitchen table, a printer, my laptop, stacks of books and sheafs of paper.

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

No! And now I must go find wood and knock on it, and pet my black cat backwards.

What do you say to people who want to be writers?

Excellent! Books books and more books. The world needs ’em.

Can you tell us a little bit about your publishing journey? (the different steps and how long it took you to be published)

I’ll tell you Anna’s story. Which was not the first book I wrote, or the first book I sold. The first book I wrote (seriously wrote, not wrote during childhood) was the first book I sold, but it took forever.

I wrote Anna in about eight months. Queried agents for about two months. Got a few requests for fulls, and some rejections. Ended up with two offers of representation, both from amazing agents. One a smaller more boutique agent, and another with the backing of a big agency. Talked with both of them. Ended up going with the smaller agency. Anna went out on submission and was out for about three months. I think. We started getting nibbles around the month and a half mark. Some rejections. Went to a few editorial boards. Wound up with two offers, so I guess you’d call that a mini-auction. I went with Mel Frain, at Tor Teen, and she’s excellent and bodacious. Anna sold in April, 2010 and pubbed in August 2011.


On “Anna Dressed In Blood”:

What made you choose to write a ghost/horror story?

I wanted to play Silent Hill but was too scared. And I missed reading Stephen King and Anne Rice. When I was in London, I’d rekindled my love of the fantastic, with Joe Hill and Angela Carter.

What is striking about your book is its voice. Did you work a lot on that or did it come to you naturally when you started writing the book?

Cas’ voice came naturally. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been if it hadn’t. He was real from the moment he hit the page. If he hadn’t been, I probably would’ve stopped.

To write this book, where did you get your inspiration from?

No idea. Anna’s name came to me first. Anna Dressed in Blood. And I thought, who’s that? Oh of course. She’s a dead girl who kills people. Hmm. Someone ought to kill her.

Cas is awesome. Anna is amazing. How did you come up with those characters?!

They sort of came up with themselves. I knew what Anna was, but not exactly who. She was a murderous ghost. A real badass. That side was easy. Her human part didn’t reveal until later. I knew Cas was a ghost hunter, with a knife. I knew he’d go after her, and that he was a loner. That’s about it.

What type of music did you listen to when you wrote this book?

I didn’t! I can’t write and listen to music that often. I usually end up just jamming, and nothing gets done.

What are you working on now?

Right now is that wonderful phase of juggle city! I’m halfway through the second book in my new series and the first one comes back ready for edits. So I’m putting aside the second this week to polish up the first.

The new series kicks off with ANTIGODDESS next August. It’s Greek gods in the modern world. Athena and Hermes and Odysseus and Cassandra. Dying gods at war and the teens who get caught in their mess. Very, Terminator. Or Terminator 2. Maybe just very Sarah Connor.


Reading advice:

Which authors inspire you now? Any YA books you would recommend?

Right now I’m halfway through WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE by Shirley Jackson. Not YA exactly but holy shit. How have I not read this before? It’s a flipping masterpiece. Ominous and so beautiful. On the YA side I’m consistently inspired by the short stories of Holly Black, and by loads of others. I’d recommend reading her collection THE POISON EATERS and also…well, it depends what you’re in the mood for. Suzanne Young’s A NEED SO BEAUTIFUL is amazing. The sequel, A WANT SO WICKED is out now. Kristen Simmons’ ARTICLE 5 is harrowing. Deb Caletti’s STAY from last year…so many more!

Thanks for the interview Kendare!

Thank you for having me by the blog! And for the fun interview questions 🙂

Girl of Nightmares will be out on August 7th, 2012. Buy it on Amazon here.

Openings : how not to start your novel

A few tips I picked up along the way on how not to mess up your novel from the start… or on how to hook your reader with your first paragraph.

What you shouldn’t start your novel with:

–          The weather report: “It was warm and cloudy with a chance of scattered showers on the day Harry and Sally met.” Just start with Harry meeting Sally and include the weather later.

–          A dream: “… And then Sally woke up.” Let us start with something actually happening, shall we?

–          Your main character waking up and proceeding to having a normal day: “It was a day like any other day and Sally woke up, got out of bed, hopped in the shower and got dressed like she did every day. Little did she know that it was the day her life was going to change…” Just fast forward to the actual life-changing event.

–          A description of your novel’s setting: “Once upon a time, in a land where there were deep forests, green pastures and mirror-like lakes…” Action must come first, THEN the setting and world-building.

–          A page-long dialogue: “You’re joking”, Sally said. “No, I’m not,” Harry replied. “It is true, I swear. Just ask Marny.” “I don’t believe you,” Sally retorted. “I wish you did,” Harry insisted.” Meanwhile, the reader has no clue what’s going on and doesn’t really care.

–          Your main character running: “Sally was running through the woods and she could hear the beast not far behind her.” Sure, it is an in medias res situation. But it has been done so many times before and you can be much more original.

–          A sex scene: “Sally screamed with pleasure and collapsed on Harry’s muscular body.” Unless you’re writing erotica or romance, this is to be avoided on your first page.

–          A prologue that gives away the ending: “Sally was running through the woods, knowing she had no way of escaping Harry’s murderous intent. Yet when they had met six months before, she would have never guessed their relationship would end like this.” The fact that Twilight has such a prologue doesn’t mean you have to do it too.

What you should start your novel with:

–          A catchy first sentence : “Most people would probably call me a ghost. I am, after all, dead. But it wasn’t so long ago I was alive, you see. I was just 18. I had my whole life in front of me.” Remember Me by Christopher Pike.

–          An In Medias Res (“in the middle of things”) situation: “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

What you could start your novel with:

–          Your main character waking up and everything is different: “When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.”  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

–          A meaningful prologue: “A mile above Oz, the Witch balanced on the wind’s foreward edge, as if she were a green fleck of the land itself, flung up and sent wheeling away by the turbulent air.” Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

–          One sentence from a dialogue followed by some narration: “I SEE …” said the vampire thoughtfully, and slowly he walked across the room towards the window.” Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice.

So how does your novel start? Have you avoided all the above pitfalls ? Do you think these ‘rules’ for opening are worth following? Leave me a comment, I’d love to hear your thoughts!