Fixing the First Page Giveaway #31!

Photo credit: handcoding on Flickr
It's that time again! For the first time in 2017, we're halfway through the month, and on Writability it's time for the thirty-first Fixing the First Page feature.

For those who’ve missed before, the Fixing the First Page features is a public first 250 word critique. Using the lovely rafflecopter widget, anyone interested in winning a public (as in, featured in a post on this blog) first page critique can enter.

For an example of what this critique will look like, here's the last Fixing the First Page post.


  • ONLY the first 250 words will be critiqued (up to finishing the sentence). If you win and send me more, I will crop it myself. No exceptions.

  • ONLY the first page. I don’t want 250 random words from your manuscript, or from chapter 3. If you win the critique and send me anything other than the first 250 words of your manuscript, I will choose someone else.

  • I will actually critique it. Here. On the blog. I will say things as nicely as I can, but I do tend to be a little blunt. If you’re not sure you can handle a public critique, then you may want to take some time to think about it before you enter.

  • Genre restrictions. I'm most experienced with YA & NA, but I will still accept MG and Adult. HOWEVER. If your first page has any erotic content on it, I ask that you don’t enter. I want to be able to post the critique and the first 250 in its entirety without making anyone uncomfortable, and if you win and you enter a page with erotic content, I will choose someone else.

  • You must have your first page ready. Should you win, you need to be able to submit your first page within 48 hours of my contacting you to let you know you won. If 48 hours pass and I haven’t heard from you, again, I will choose someone else.

  • You’ll get the most out of this if it isn’t a first draft. Obviously, I have no way of knowing if you’re handing me a first draft (though I will probably suspect because it’s usually not that difficult to tell). I won’t refuse your page if it’s a first draft, but you should know that this critique will likely be of more use if you’ve already had your betas/CPs look over it. Why? Because if you don’t, the critique I give you will probably contain a lot of notes that your betas & CPs could have/would have told you.

  • There will not be a round 2 (unless you win again in a future contest). I hate to have to say this, but if you win a critique, it’s NOT an invitation to send me a bunch of your revisions. I wish I had the time available to be able to look at revisions, but sadly, I don’t. If you try to break this rule, I will nicely say no, and also remember to choose someone else should you win a second contest. Which would make me sad. :(

So that’s it! If you’re okay with all of the above and would like to enter to be the thirty-first public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Sunday, January 22nd at 11:59 PM EST to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

On Clearing Out Your TBR List

Photo credit: Au Kirk on Flickr
I currently have 275 books on my TBR list. This is actually a pretty decent improvement—not too long ago I had over 320, and while scrolling through my list it occurred to me many of those books had been on that list for years.

For some of the books, that's okay—when I opened the summaries again I found I still wanted to read them, so I'll probably pick them up from my library sometime. Others, however, while looking at the summaries I realized I...probably wasn't going to get to them.

The truth was, my enormous TBR list was starting to feel a little overwhelming. So I went through my list and started removing books for these reasons:

  • Reviews of poor representation. While this isn't an automatic no for me, especially if there's multiple groups represented and only one has an issue, if I was already iffy about the book, this made it easy for me to remove. At this point, I've decided I honestly just have too much to read to make time for super problematic books. If an issue is small, and I'm still really interested in the book, then I may very well read with the criticism in mind—but if it was a huge problem, or an issue I'm sick of seeing, then this made it easy for me to pull a book off my TBR.

  • Sequels for books I haven't read yet. I suppose I originally added sequels for books I haven't read so I wouldn't forget about them—but it occurred to me that especially for a series longer than three books, it really didn't make sense for sequels to take up space on my shelf when I wasn't sure how much I'd like the previous books.

  • Books I'd added years ago that I'm not enthusiastic about anymore. I mean, this happens—and I had to remind myself it's okay that my tastes have changed over the years.

  • Books I own...but don't really want to read anymore. I'll admit I felt bad about this one—I have ARCs from a conference in 2014 that I'd 100% intended to read and review when I got them, but I ended up not getting around to. Some of them I still plan to read, but some of them I've lost interest, so I've decided to donate them so someone will still get some enjoyment out of them. 

Between the four I was able to trim down my TBR a pretty sizable amount. And while it likely won't last because I stumble on new books that sound amazing every day, it did provide a useful refresh to more accurately represent when I'm currently interested in reading. 

Have you cleared out your TBR list recently?

Twitter-sized bite:
Is your TBR list overwhelming? @Ava_Jae shares how she recently helped trim hers down. (Click to tweet)

Comics I've Enjoyed Available on Hoopla

So here's a post I never would have guessed in early 2016 that I'd write. I've mentioned in a few posts that last year I expanded my reading with graphic novels and comics—a decision I've been very happy with, both because it saved my yearly reading challenge and because it turns out I really enjoy comics. Which shouldn't surprise me given my love of art and nerdy things but you know. 

Last year I also finally got myself a library card for my local library, which lead to my discovery of Hoopla, a service that provides digital comics, audiobooks, ebooks, television, music, and movies to library patrons whose libraries have paired up with the service. Hoopla lets you borrow up to eight titles a month, and while I haven't really perused the other categories yet, I can say the comics selection is actually pretty decent.

Because I've been enjoying so many comics of late, I thought I'd share some of the series I've especially enjoyed over the last couple months, all of which are available for free on Hoopla (so I recommend finding out if your local library partners with them!).

Without further ado, here are some really great reads:

Photo credit: Goodreads

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Goodreads summary:
"When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.

From bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan, Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults."
Technically I discovered Saga in print through a college assignment—and then I loved it so much I bought the first hardcover collection and am now eagerly waiting for the second hardcover version to publish before I keep reading. But Saga is available on Hoopla, even if I don't read it there.

Anyway, I love this series. It's super diverse, the art is gorgeous, it's incredibly imaginative, exciting, raw, and it touches on really important topics like racism, sex trafficking, the violence of war and more. Saga is one of my favorite discoveries of 2016 and I can't recommend it more. 

Photo credit: Goodreads

Morning Glories by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma

Goodreads summary:
"One of the most prestigious prep schools in the country...But behind it's hallowed doors something sinister and deadly lurks. When six brilliant but troubled new students arrive, they find themselves trapped and desperately seeking answers...and escape from a place where nothing is what it seems to be!"
Honestly that summary really doesn't do it justice. I'm in the middle of reading this series right now and I'm devouring it because it's super addictive. This is a creepy af series about this twisted school where students die or disappear on the reg and the staff is hosting this weird psychologically torturous experiment on the students for...reasons? It's somewhat confusing so far, but it involves time travel and murderous ghosts and while I still haven't really worked out what the hell is going on, the clues are starting to come together and I am fascinated. Also a couple volumes in there's some queer rep and I really like the art in this one too. 

Photo credit: Goodreads

Princeless by Jeremy Whitley, Mia Goodwin, Jung-Ha Kim and Dave Dwonch

Goodreads summary: 
"Princeless is the story of Princess Adrienne, one princess who's tired of waiting to be rescued. Join Adrienne, her guardian dragon, Sparky, and their plucky friend Bedelia as they begin their own quest in this one of a kind, action packed, all-ages adventure!"
Princeless has very quickly become one of my favorites. First of all, it's hilarious and ridiculously cute, and second it's about a princess who decides to leave her tower with her guardian dragon and become the knight rescuing other princesses from their towers, which is every bit of adorably awesome as it sounds. Also, it has panels like this, like when a knight says he's arrived to save the fair maiden and she calls him out on what he means by "fair": 

I loved seeing a black girl lead in a fantasy and if you're looking for something really fun that's also kid friendly (I'd rate this as Middle Grade), then you should definitely check the Princeless series out.

Photo credit: Goodreads

Giant Days by John Allison, Lissa Treiman, and Whitney Cogar

Goodreads summary:
"Susan, Esther, and Daisy started at university three weeks ago and became fast friends. Now, away from home for the first time, all three want to reinvent themselves. But in the face of handwringing boys, 'personal experimentation,' influenza, mystery-mold, nu-chauvinism, and the willful, unwanted intrusion of 'academia,' they may be lucky just to make it to spring alive. Going off to university is always a time of change and growth, but for Esther, Susan, and Daisy, things are about to get a little weird."

Giant Days is the comic I read when I want a pick-me-up. This is a contemporary series that takes place in England, focusing on three girls who've just started university. It's a cute series that never fails to make me smile, is also pretty funny, and has (a little) queer rep, though I forget what volume that starts in. Either way I've really enjoyed the series so far and can't wait for Hoopla to upload the next volume.

Photo credit: Goodreads

Rat Queens
 by Kurtis J. Wiebe, and John "Roc" Upchurch

Goodreads summary:
"Who are the Rat Queens? A pack of booze-guzzling, death-dealing battle maidens-for-hire, and they're in the business of killing all god's creatures for profit. It's also a darkly comedic sass-and-sorcery series starring Hannah the Rockabilly Elven Mage, Violet the Hipster Dwarven Fighter, Dee the Atheist Human Cleric and Betty the Hippy Smidgen Thief. "
Rat Queens is another really fun and nicely diverse series. I really enjoyed the trippy, dangerous, and dark, and funny adventures Dee, Hannah, Violet and Betty had throughout the series—it absolutely did not disappoint.

Photo credit: Goodreads

Kaptara by Chip Zdarsky, Kagan McLeod, Becka Kinzie, and Drew Gill

Goodreads summary:
"Keith Kanga crash lands on KAPTARA, a world filled with danger and weird danger and dangerous weirdos! And if he can't survive, then Earth, the place where you live, is doomed! 
Come check out this sci-fi comedy from Chip Zdarsky (Sex Criminals) and Kagan McLeod (Infinite Kung-Fu)."
This series is weird but in a good way. It's another funny one (I guess I'm just into humorous comics) with some really out-there characters, but I found the first volume really enjoyable. This one also has some great representation, including a queer, black lead, which was super great to see.

Photo credit: Goodreads

The Midas Flesh by Ryan North, Braden Lamb, Shelli Paroline, and Steve Wands

Goodreads summary:
"Dang, King Midas 
We've all heard of the Midas Touch. You know, the Greek myth about the man who did a number on himself by wishing everything he touched to turn to gold? Well, you haven't heard everything.

Joey and her space crew have decided to return to Earth--a planet completely sectioned off, abandoned, and covered in gold--to find out exactly what happened to this once thriving planet and see if they can use that knowledge against the evil empire that's tracking them down. As luck would have it, they just landed the most powerful weapon in the universe: some ancient dead guy's body."
This is a really interesting one. I really enjoyed the sci-fi/Midas mash-up, and it was also super great to see a hijabi girl in a major role. I've only read the first volume so far, but I'm definitely going to check out more because the premise is super interesting and I'm curious to see what happens.

Photo credit: Goodreads

Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters, and Brooke A. Allen

Goodreads summary:
At Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's camp for hard-core lady-types, things are not what they seem. Three-eyed foxes. Secret caves. Anagrams. Luckily, Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are five rad, butt-kicking best pals determined to have an awesome summer together... And they're not gonna let a magical quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! The mystery keeps getting bigger, and it all begins here."
Lumberjanes is another strange and funny one I enjoyed. It's super quirky, a lot of fun, and 100% girl-powered which is awesome. I'd heard a lot about this one and this band of friends battling monsters and creepy things while being endlessly fun and funny lived up to all the goods things everyone said about it.

Have you checked out any comics or graphic novels? What are your favorites? 

Twitter-sized bites:
Interested in a selection of diverse, fun comics to read? @Ava_Jae shares her favorites available on @HooplaDigital. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: On Plotting a Sequel/Series

In which I talk about an integral part of working on a series: plotting sequels and tips for series development.


Have you ever worked on a series?

Twitter-sized bite: 
From plotting sequels to development over a series, author @Ava_Jae vlogs series-writing tips. (Click to tweet)

On Balancing Work, Yourself, and Life

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks on Flickr
Though I've been doing the writing thing for a while, I'm still trying to learn how to best balance work, myself, and life.

Last month I was juggling a lot of jobs: freelancing, the online portion of being an author (for me, blogging and vlogging), and a seasonal part-time job that I adored. Between the three I spent most of my days working from the time I dragged myself out of bed until late in the day; and that was without writing because I was taking a month off after NaNoWriMo. It was exhausting, and there were many days where I didn't get to finish everything on my to do list because I simply didn't have the hours in the day, but it was also really rewarding. I loved every one of my jobs, and together they helped me get through a very expensive month without stressing about the bills.

It also reminded me just how important my day off is.

This month some things have changed—I didn't get to keep the seasonal job due to an underperforming holiday season at my workplace, but I've started (trying) to work on a writing project again. I'd sort of expected I'd have an easier time getting everything I need to done without the seasonal job, but that hasn't really been the case; there have still been times when I didn't get to work on my WIP because I ran out of time—or energy—before I could get to it. On most days, I still work from when I drag myself out of bed in the morning until twelve or so hours later when I'm too tired to do anything more. I still love my jobs, but it's been a little distressing how little I've been able to work on my WIP—which has told me I'll need to rearrange my day so I can get some time in every day. And probably use Twitter less while I'm working. ;)

Probably unsurprisingly to most of you, I am undoubtedly a workaholic. While this means I get a lot done every day and enjoy doing it, it also means that because I set my own hours, if I'm not careful I can easily burn myself out. This is why I've established a single day of the week where I don't permit myself to work; without it, I'm not sure I'd ever take a break at all.

It can be tough to balance work, self-care, and life. As my responsibilities have evolved over the years, I've learned that kind of balance isn't something you ever really master—it's an endless learning process that requires figuring out the way you work best, capitalizing on it, and adjusting your schedule as needed while you take note of what works, what doesn't, and what your needs are. For me, to do lists are my saving grace—they make sure I focus on tasks I need to get done that I'd risk forgetting about or pushing off otherwise.

In the end, I don't think there's a singular answer to how you achieve the balance; it just requires being aware that a balance has to exist in a way that works for you, and reevaluating what is and isn't working from time to time so you can make necessary adjustments along the way.

Striking the balance isn't easy, but when you manage it it's really rewarding to take note of all you've accomplished while still taking care of yourself in whatever ways you need.

How do you balance your work, yourself, and life? 

Twitter-sized bite:
How do you balance work and life? @Ava_Jae shares her experience as an author, freelancer, blogger and YouTuber. (Click to tweet)

Discussion: What are Your Favorite Sequels?

Photo credit: nedrichards on Flickr
There are a lot of sequels coming out this year, many of which I'm incredibly excited about. From Heidi Heilig's The Ship Beyond Time, to V.E. Schwab's A Conjuring of Light, to Emily Skrutskie's The Edge of the Abyss, to Roshani Chokshi's A Crown of Wishes and more, 2017 is jam-packed full of awesome-sounding sequels.

Between that and impending Into the Black revisions, I've been thinking a lot about sequels lately, specifically what makes a sequel successful. Part of it, I think, is every book should build on the previous book and continue to be better than the last—the author, after all, should be growing as they go along and should, in theory, be able to apply what they've learned from their last book into the next one.

Then of course every sequel should, for the most part at least, stand on its own with a full plot arc and character development and building on whatever the previous book established. Something I love about sequels—especially SFF sequels—is they allow the readers to learn more about the world the books have established, so there are more characters, more twists, more details and nuances to the initial setup. The world of the book can—and should—get bigger with every sequel, and it's something I never really tire of seeing when done well.

Some of my favorite sequels that have accomplished this include Beth Revis's A Million Suns, Sally Green's Half Wild, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Each of these books expanded on what readers knew from the previous books and gave us more—more powerful (and conflicted) characters, more problems built upon problems from prior books, more nuances to the world the author had established earlier in a way that doesn't feel contrived.

When done right, sequels can turn a book you liked into a series you love; they can make you question the way you felt about a particular character and have you cheer or cringe as they develop book to book. They can forge a connection that runs deeper and deeper with every sequel and leave you feeling like you know some of those characters better than you know yourself.

Sequels are pretty magical, and I look forward to enjoying many more this year.

What do you think makes a sequels successful? And what are some of your favorites?

Twitter-sized bite:
What makes a sequel successful? And what are some of your favorites? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet

How to Figure Out What Works For You

Photo credit: saschapohflepp on Flickr
The thing about dispensing writing advice is intentional or not, it's easy for people to think your tips are less tips and more rules. The "write every day" mantra, for example, is sometimes misunderstood as you must write every day or you're not a real writer—which is completely inaccurate and can even be damaging when people try to force themselves to do something that doesn't work for them and/or think they're failures when they can't.

This is why I try to make it clear whenever I share a new strategy or tool that while this particular thing works for me, your mileage may vary. But even with that, sometimes it can be difficult to look at a post with advice that sounds great and know whether or not it'll actually be a good fit for you.

So how do you know? Over the years, I've found the biggest key to growth is to be open to trying new things—and give yourself permission not to feel bad if it doesn't work out. My pre-draft synopsis method which I've found works well with my plotting process and as a bonus cuts out the dreaded post-draft condensing synopsis out came from experimenting with it after I heard another writer mention they use pre-drafts synopses online. Scrivener, which I now swear by as my favorite plotting and early draft tool, also came from online recommendations I decided to try out—twice, because the first time I didn't get it. Everything from my early morning habits, to my exercise routine, to so many of the writing strategies and methods I've picked up over the years came from a willingness to experiment with different methods to see what sticks.

Of course, there are also plenty of strategies I've tossed aside because they didn't work well for me. Writing everyday is a big one—the only time I write everyday is when I'm first drafting, and even then I take a day of the week off. Pre-writing—writing before you start your first draft work to "warm up" your writing muscles—was something I experimented with, then abandoned, because I didn't get enough benefits to merit the extra time it took to pre-write. Bullet journals are really popular right now, and while I like the idea, until there's a digital version it wouldn't be a good fit for me because handwriting and drawing is physically painful for me, at least right now.

The thing to remember is every writer is an individual. No matter how many people swear by a certain writing tip, or how influential or popular or successful the person giving the tip is, it might not work for you and that's okay. There are very few rules in the writing world that are entirely unbreakable (or unignorable), but the only way to really determine whether or not will jive with your writing style is to give it a shot.

So what are you waiting for?

What writing tips, strategies, or tools have you tried out that did and didn't work for you?

Twitter-sized bites:
No writing strategy is for everyone—but how do you know what'll work for you? @Ava_Jae shares some thoughts. (Click to tweet
What writing tips or tools have you tried out that did/didn't work for you? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)
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