On Book Binges

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So it's the last day of August and last weekend I realized I was four books behind schedule in my reading challenge. I already mentioned last week why that was, but now I've sent off Into the Black to my CPs, so I'll have a little more time to read over the next two weeks than I did before. Which means, of course, trying to squeeze in a book binge.

In the past, when I've fallen behind on my reading, I'd take a day to do a reading binge by selecting the shortest books in my physical To Read bookshelf, sitting down, and reading it all in a sitting or two in the same day. That worked marvelously and was really fun to do—until I sort of ran out of short books I could do this with. Oops!

So this time I started doing something a little different. I read a lot of the book I'm in the middle of (Skandal by Lindsay Smith), but I also headed over to my library's website to see what Middle Grade books they have that I could pick up, because I've been wanting to read more Middle Grade anyway and they tend to be shorter than the YA books waiting for me on my To Read shelf. This was a great plan and everything, until I learned my library had just paired up with Hoopla, which is a service that provides digital comic books, e-books, music and movies to library patrons.

And I was delighted. Because I could dive into the graphic novels and comics I'd been wanting to read anyway without leaving the house (win!).

So that's what I'm doing now. I read two volumes of The Wicked + The Divine which was interesting, but after reading poor reviews for the third volume I decided to move on to Rat Queens which I am loving. I wanted to read Amulet and Ms. Marvel but it doesn't look like Hoopla has them right now, so I'll save those for another time. But pretty much all of my graphic novel reads on Hoopla were recommended by readers here on Writability because you guys rock, so thank you. I read three graphic novels in 36 hours and want to read another volume of Rat Queens today, so I'll definitely be back on target in no time.

But I'm curious how you guys book binge, if you've ever book binged, because I am happy to learn your book binging secrets and tips. So throw them at me!

What book binging tips do you have? 

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What strategies do you use for a book binge? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How to Write Without Filtering

Want to make your writing feel more authentic and immediate? Today I'm sharing some tips on writing without filtering.


Do you use these tips while revising? 

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Want to make your writing more authentic & immediate? Author @Ava_Jae vlogs about writing without filtering. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature #26

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We are, bizarrely, just days away from September, which is actually great because I am so ready for the cool down. But more importantly, it means the time is here again, to critique another first page here on Writability.

As per usual, I'll start by posting the full first 250 excerpt, after which I'll share my overall thoughts, then my redline critique. I encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques in the comments (because I'm one person with one opinion!), as long as it's polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be unceremoniously deleted.

Here we go!


Genre/Category: YA Mystery

First 250 words:
"I opened my eyes, sat up, and immediately winced. Somehow I had moved from the Underworld to underneath the light board backstage. Plus I now had yet another bruise to add to my quickly growing collection of bumps on my head. I got out from under the light board and stood up. I started to reach for my backpack to get an ice pack only to realize that it was gone. Whoever had moved me had also taken my backpack for some reason. I reached into my pocket to check my phone to see what time it was. To my horror the screen of my phone was completely shattered. It must have been crushed when I was knocked out by the staff. My dad was going to kill me when I got home now. I walked out onto the stage and realized that the production was not going on. There was no one anywhere and it was pouring rain. Everyone must have been hiding in the museum. I decided to make a beeline over there so I pulled my cardigan over my head and ran to the door. I was soaking wet by the time I got across the museum courtyard. I pushed open the doors and saw the astonished faces of Xenia and Thanos look up at me from what looked to be a shipment of more pieces for the exhibit. 
Xenia ran up to me, 'Nancy! Where have you been? Are you alright?'"

Okay! Interesting opener. The biggest thing I'm noticing right away is there's a lot of wordiness especially in the form of filter phrases, which is inflating that paragraph quite a bit and creating some distance between the reader and the protagonist. I'm curious about what's going on, but the writing could definitely use some condensing and refining.

Much of which I'll do next, so let's dive into those line edits.

 "I opened my eyes, sat up, and immediately winced. Somehow I'd had moved from the Underworld to underneath the light board backstage. Plus I now had yet another bruise to add to my quickly growing collection of head bumps on my head. I got out moved away from under the light board and stood up. I started to reached for my backpack to get an ice pack only to realize that but it was gone. Whoever had moved me had also taken my backpack for some reason. A lot of these changes so far are condensing. Check out my "How to Condense Without Losing Anything Useful" post for reasons why these changes help. I reached into my pocket to check the time on my phone to see what time it was. To my horror  [Insert horrified description/reaction—what does this emotion feel like? How does she physically react? For more on this, take a look at "How to Write Emotion Effectively."] the my phone's screen of my phone was completely shattered. It must have been crushed when the staff I was knocked me out by the staff. Made adjustment to make the sentence more active. 
[Insert paragraph break—your intro paragraph was too long and visually weighed down the passage.]
My dad was going to kill me when I got home now. I walked out onto the stage but and realized that the production wasn't not going on anymore. Adjusted to remove filtering. There was no one anywhere and it was pouring outside rain. Added "outside" because at first I thought it was raining inside or the stage was outside. Everyone must have been hiding in the museum. I decided to make a beeline over there so I pulled my cardigan over my head and ran to the door. Removed the first half of that sentence to remove unnecessary filtering. I was soaking wet by the time I got across crossed the museum courtyard. I pushed open the doors and saw the astonished faces of Xenia and Thanos looked up at me, astonished, from what looked to be a shipment of more exhibit pieces for the exhibit. Bonus: instead of "astonished" describe what that astonishment looks like on Xenia and Thanos. 
Xenia ran up to me, 'Nancy! Where have you been? Are you alright?'"

So this is a really great start—I think plot and intrigue-wise, this opening is definitely on the right track. The main work it needs lies in the line edits, which is 100% doable. If I saw this in the slush, I'd probably pass because the line edits required are on the heavy side, but I'd certainly be interested if it went through more revision first.

I hope that helps! Thanks for sharing your first 250 with us, Emily!

Would you like to be featured in a Fixing the First Page Feature? Keep an eye out for the next giveaway in September!

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.@Ava_Jae talks condensing, removing filter phrases, & showing emotion in the 26th Fixing the First Page Feature. (Click to tweet

On Traditional Publishing If You Don't Live in the US

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So one question I get asked with surprising frequency is whether or not international authors can get published within the US. These questions often come from writers who live anywhere outside the US and worry that they can only be agented by the tiny pool of agents in their country, or published by publishers in their country, and thus won't really be able to get a fair shot at traditional publishing.

As this has been a frequently asked question, I figured I'd write a post about it.

The easy answer is this: agents and editors within the US work with people from all around the world all the time. It's absolutely not a requirement to live in the US to get traditionally published by a US publisher, or to be represented by an agent living in the US. Most of the work that gets done between authors, agents, and editors is all done either via e-mail (where contracts and manuscripts get sent back and forth) or on the phone to discuss all manner of things. A lot of American authors haven't even met their agent or editor in person—or don't for several years—because the truth is not much really needs to be done in person.

This also works the other way—there are agents who don't live in the US but work with US clients and publishers all the time. This probably happens less often than the other way around, but just off the top of my head I can think of several agents who do this, and again, it's not a problem.

So if you're a writer living outside of the US and you're worried about your location complicating your ability to get a US-based agent and publisher, don't be. It's a pretty common scenario and shouldn't be an issue at all. :)

Twitter-sized bite:
Live outside the US and worried you can't get a US-based agent or publisher? Author @Ava_Jae says don't be. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Winner #26!

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Yet another quick Thursday post to announce the winner of the twenty-sixth fixing the first page feature giveaway!


And the twenty-sixth winner is…


Yay! Congratulations, Emily!

Thank you again to all you fabulous entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway in September (September!!), so keep an eye out! :)

What I've Been Reading

So somewhat unsurprisingly, this month I've fallen behind on my yearly reading goal. I say somewhat unsurprisingly because I'm revising on deadline, and also have been sick more than usual, and also it was the Olympics (which ate up a bunch of my reading time) so I was kind of expecting it. But that said, I have still been reading and while I haven't had the chance to write up any formal reviews, I figured it'd be fun to talk about some of the books I've read recently a little about why I liked them.

So here we go!

Photo credit: Goodreads

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

I've been wanting to read this one since I first heard about it, and it was beautiful. The writing, the incredibly unique fantasy incorporating Indian mythology—gah there was so much about this book that I was just heart eyes over. I've heard some people say they found it a little hard to get into at first, and all I've got to say is keep reading if you can because I really loved this beautifully complicated world and the truly gorgeous imagery and writing that went along with it, even as I was initially incredibly frustrated with the protagonist. ;)

Photo credit: Goodreads

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys edited by April Geneviece Tucholke, with Stefan Bachmann, Leigh Bardugo, Kendare Blake, A.G. Howard, Jay Kristoff, Marie Lu, Jonathan Maberry, Danielle Page, Carrie Ryan, Megan Shepherd, Nova Ren Suma, McCormick Templeman and Cat Winters

I mentioned reading this anthology before, but I hadn't finished it last time I talked about it and now I have! I really enjoyed this anthology—and I can say a story scared me for the first time ever because while I was fine while reading it, as soon as I turned off the lights and glanced at my open closet...I had to get up and close the doors for reasons. I have maybe been closing those doors more than ever since I read a particular story in there. >.<

Anyway, these stories were disturbing, and unsettling, and creepy, and I definitely give it a thumbs up if you like scary stories.

Sekret and Skandal by Lindsay Smith

I just recently finished Sekret and I've just started Skandal and they've been a fun read! I don't often read historical stuff, but this is historical fantasy, and this blend of fantasy—psychic spies—was just too awesome to pass up. I've never read about telepathic teens quite like this before and seeing Smith's unique blend of psychic writing plus the Cold War era has definitely been entertaining thus far. I'm curious to see how the duology ends!

So those are my most recent four books that I've read/been reading—what have you been reading over the last couple months?

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Vlog: 4 Non-Writing Writing Tips

On things you can do to improve your writing that don't involve writing.


What non-writing writing tips would you add to the list? 

Twitter-sized bite:
How can you improve your writing without actually writing? @Ava_Jae vlogs 4 non-writing writing tips. (Click to tweet)

Keeping Track of the Details

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Consistency errors are nefarious little demons. From randomly changing eye colors, to ages skipping around, to remembering this made up word over that one and whether or not you capitalized your novel-specific term, as they say, the devil is in the details.

This has become especially relevant as of late, as I've revised a sequel for the first time ever, and I have to say I'm glad I took careful notes the first time around because they will definitely be saving my hide in the months to come.

For Beyond the Red I primarily used two programs to keep track of the details, though I'll probably migrate to just one in the future. The programs I use are pretty different, though—WorkFlowy is a bulleted list type program that I wrote a post about ages ago, and Excel is, of course, the spreadsheet program Excel.

Initially, I used WorkFlowy more for brainstorming, but it became a place where I stored details mainly because I came up with a lot of details while brainstorming in the program. I like to keep it there, though, because the collapsable bulleted list layout that makes up WorkFlowy keeps things neat and easily accessible. That's where I keep track of world and culture details, everything from how long a day is on Safara to which monarchs are ruling where.

Meanwhile, I use Excel for the more nitty gritty details—all of my language notes are in there, as well as a record of what everyone looks like, how old they are, so on and so forth. Both lists have proved completely invaluable especially as I've been working to keep things consistent, and I can't imagine trying to tackle a series—or even a single complicated book—without them. It's far too easy to forget little details, and having to go through a manuscript to try to find the answer is way more time consuming if you don't have a list set aside with your answers already.

How do you keep track of details in your manuscript?

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How do you keep track of details in your manuscripts? @Ava_Jae shares her method. (Click to tweet)

Discussion: Favorite Writer Story

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Fun post today!

So once upon a time, not too long ago, I had to get a bunch of x-rays. Not because I was injured or anything, but part of having a disease where your body pretty literally eats its own joints is getting imaging done to track erosions of said joints from time to time. (This doesn't sound fun yet, but the story gets more fun, I promise.)

Anyway, so I was getting x-rays done on my hips, hands, and neck, which meant I had to wear one of those glorious hospital gowns. After I change, the imaging technician comes to get me and bring me to the x-ray room.

She's very chatty and peppy, and if you have ever met me in person, you will know I am not. I was feeling pretty awkward, both because of the gown and because I'm just naturally awkward in social settings, but I smiled and tried to answer her questions as she moved me around the room to take different x-rays.

After the technician asked me what grade I was in and I smiled and told her I'd graduated college months ago, and she apologized profusely while I turned red and laughed and said it was fine, she smartly changed the subject to something else. This something else was my employment.

"I'm an author and freelance editor," I said, and she immediately perked up.
"Oh! Cool, so what do you write?"
"Young Adult science fiction and fantasy—that kind of thing," I answered.

Usually, at this point in the conversation, people will nod and say, "cool" or something of the like and we'll talk about something else. That's not what happened this time, because this time it turned out the technician was a huge Young Adult and Science Fiction fan, so she basically had an excited freak out.

A really, really, really excited freak out.

What followed was her asking if I had my business cards on me (at which point I pointed to my hospital gown) and she was super excited and I pitched my book and she declared me her coolest patient and had me write down my author name so she could look me up and find my book. It was easily the most enthusiastic reception I'd ever had to revealing my author self, and remains my favorite writer story ever.

So now I want to hear from you: what's your favorite writer story?

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Have a fun writer story you'd like to share? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Looking Back at First Drafts

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So I've talked many many times about how first drafts tend to be terrible. I've mentioned the importance of getting the words down even when they're not great, and how you just need to get the story written and you can fix everything later, and, yes, it's okay if your first draft is awful because most first drafts are.

Last month I finished first drafting Into the Black, which was a really encouraging and exciting experience. First drafting that book was odd, because it was the first manuscript I'd ever written knowing with absolute certainty that it would be published. There wasn't any question about getting through submission, or writing it and revising it and possibly putting it away forever, because my publisher had already looked at the proposal and said, yes, we want to publish this.

It was really cool, and a little scary, but also super exciting. And by and large I felt good while first drafting—I mean, it was a first draft, sure, and I knew it'd be nowhere near perfect and was already anticipating revisions when I finished, but I felt decently good about it while writing.

All of that said, however, writing it also felt, in many ways, like any other first draft. I threw down words that, even as I was writing, made me think eh, this could be better. I mentally catalogued things I'd have to change as I layered words on top of words—removing filter phrases, describing a lot more, expanding the world building, etc. I knew there were gaps I had to fill, and even as I wrote "The End" I'd already started mentally cataloging things I'd need to add or fix later.

So before I started my first read through on the draft last week, I braced myself. I knew after those initial chapters that were revised already for the proposal, the quality of the writing would drop. I knew it wasn't going to be as clean and polished as the manuscripts I'd been revising the year before. I reminded myself this is just the first draft; now I need to take note of what to fix.

And I started reading. And the more I read, the more I felt a sense of relief—and wonder. Because that terrible first draft I was expecting? Wasn't so terrible after all.

I'm not saying it's a perfect first draft because it's absolutely not (I don't believe perfect first drafts even exist, to be honest). But as I read, I couldn't deny that this first draft—my fifteenth—was undeniably better than my first drafts from a couple years ago. Which in retrospect makes sense—I've certainly learned a ton between now and 2014 or so—but seeing such a marked improvement from older first drafts to this new first draft was really encouraging.

Naturally I still have a lot of work to do. But this first draft may be my best one yet. :)

Have you had a similar experience from draft to draft? 

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Author @Ava_Jae talks seeing improvements from first draft to first draft. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: 4 Fast Drafting Tips

Want to try fast drafting but not sure where to start? Today I'm sharing my top four fast-drafting tips.


Have you ever tried fast-drafting? 

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Want to try fast drafting but not sure where to start? @Ava_Jae vlogs about her top 4 fast drafting tips. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway #26!

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So we are now halfway through August, which means layer season is on its way (yay!) and it's time for the twenty-sixth 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 twenty-second public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Monday, August 22 at 11:59 EST to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

A Day in the Life of Literary Agent Jennifer Johnson-Blalock

Today I've got a special treat for you guys! Lovely literary agent Jennifer Johnson-Blalock is here today talking about a day in the life of a literary agent. Enjoy!

One of the literary agent truths that I usually find delightful (but is occasionally maddening) is that there’s truly no typical day. We do so many different tasks that there’s constant variety. With that in mind, though, here’s what one version of my day might look like:

  • 9ish: I wake up, reluctantly. I’m really not a morning person nor an early riser. I glance at my phone to see if I got any emails overnight—one of my clients lives in England, so sometimes she writes to me during her morning/our middle of the night. There’s nothing urgent, so I get ready for the day. I go to our office once or twice a week to check in, but today is not that day. 

  • 10-10:30: I answer emails—confirm lunch, weigh in on a client’s ideas for her next book, respond to an invitation to participate in the agent’s round of a writing contest, and skim through the first round of a client’s copyedits. Meanwhile, I gchat with my colleague, Caitie Flum, about the manuscript I read last night. 

  • 10:30-11:30: I work on editing a new client’s manuscript. The macro changes I want her to make—amping up the sexual tension, quickening the pace at the beginning—aren’t too significant, so I go ahead and start a line edit. It’ll take me several uninterrupted hours to finish, so it’s best done on the weekend, but I can get into it now and have a better sense for how much work it needs. 

  • 11:30-12:15: The daily dose of news and deals from Publishers Marketplace comes out. There’s a deal that could be a good comp for another client’s book that’s almost ready to go on submission. I pull out that submission list and research possible editors. 

  • 12:30-2: I run down to the West Village to have lunch with an editor from Penguin (every house has their neighborhood spots)—she saw the deal announcement for my last book and wanted to meet to chat more about what we were both working on and looking for. I tell her about the book I started editing earlier. 

  • 2-5: An email came through while I was at lunch with a contract for the deal I closed last month. I push the edits aside to focus on this—I want to respond as quickly as possible so the author (and I) can get paid. I pull up the most recent contracts the agency has done with this publisher to compare. 

  • 5-6: I have a response drafted for the contract, but I want to look at it one more time in the morning with fresh eyes. I don’t have the energy left that edits require, so I turn to my query inbox and spend an hour reading and responding. 

  • 6-8:30: I go to a mixer for acquiring editors and agents working in adult fiction. Publishing mixers can be tiring—a room full of introverts being forced to people!—but it’s a great way to meet many editors you haven’t yet connected with. I leave with several business cards and a new submission possibility for one of my clients. 

  • 8:30-10:30: Food. TV. Break. 

  • 10:30-11:30: I get in bed and read a couple partial manuscripts I requested. I make notes on my phone with thoughts for my responses. 

  • 11:30-12:30: I read a non-work book that’s still kind of a work book—a recently pubbed, prominent work of women’s fiction that I want to discuss with a client when I’m finished. 

  • 12:30: Nightnight. 

And that’s my day…or one version of it, at any rate. I obviously don’t go to a mixer or have a contract to review every day. Sometimes I have a call with a potential client or email back and forth with a client about a cover. Occasionally I won’t have a lunch, but I’ll have an afternoon coffee or evening drinks date with an editor. Very occasionally (and getting rarer every day), I won’t have anything pressing happening, and I can read submissions during the day. And of course, I’m on email and Twitter throughout; none of the tasks are quite that uninterrupted.

But I hope that gives you a glimpse into the many sorts of tasks that an agent performs. Keep in mind also that the balance of tasks shifts as an agent move throughout her career. Newer agents often have more time to devote to potential clients—but many of them are also juggling second jobs or assistant duties with their agent work. This job can be tough, particularly since I only get paid when my clients do (so much pressure), but I’m never, ever bored.

Jennifer Johnson-Blalock joined Liza Dawson Associates as an associate agent in 2015, having previously interned at LDA in 2013 before working as an agent's assistant at Trident Media Group. Jennifer graduated with honors from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in English and earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Before interning at LDA, she practiced entertainment law and taught high school English and debate. Follow her on Twitter @JJohnsonBlalock, and visit her website: www.jjohnsonblalock.com.

Twitter-sized bites: 
Curious about a day in the life of a literary agent? @JJohnsonBlalock shares what one day might look like. (Click to tweet

About Traditionally Publishing New Adult

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So back in 2014 there was a lot of talk about New Adult. The Not YA but Not Adult genre was fresh and new and gaining popularity, and while it had started in the Contemporary Romance sector, a lot of people hoped it would expand into other genres, as it had the potential to do so. It was an exciting time with a lot of speculation as people waited for the book that would be the big break for non-Contemporary Romance New Adult.

Except, unfortunately, that book never arrived. More New Adult books were published, and the traditional market shaped New Adult into the niche it is today: a romantic subgenre.

There's nothing wrong with that, of course—there are some great NA romance reads out there, like my favorite In Focus series. But as I've continued to see writers who want to traditionally publish ask about non-romance NA and pitch their Sci-Fi and Fantasy books as New Adult, I think it's important to talk about the realities of New Adult books in the traditional marketplace.

The truth is, if you want to traditionally publish a non-Contemporary Romance manuscript with New Adult aged characters and themes, you'll have to do one of two things:

  1. Age the manuscript down to Young Adult. 
  2. Age the manuscript up to Adult.

Both are perfectly fine options, and in the latter case you may not have to change too much, because twenty-something or (late) teen characters in Adult books are totally okay (just look at the Shades of Magic trilogy by V.E. Schwab).  Unless, of course, the voice and themes, pacing, etc. doesn't fit Adult, in which case with some adjustments you can make the switch down to YA, or revise so that it does fit Adult.

The simple truth is you're not doing yourself any favors by calling your non-Contemporary Romance manuscript New Adult—the market has shown those other genres don't sell as well as they needed to to survive, which means nowadays those other genres often don't get picked up to begin with. So if you find yourself in this position where you have a non-Contemporary Romance manuscript that would be New Adult if New Adult sold non-romantic genres, then you may want to start considering whether aging your manuscript up or down would better fit the manuscript and your career goals if you have your heart set on publishing traditionally. 

What do you think? 

Twitter-sized bite:
Have a non-Contemporary Romance MS you want to traditionally publish? @Ava_Jae says you may want to do this first. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: 4 Places to Find Critique Partners

Ready to work with critique partners but don't know where to find them? Today I'm talking four places where you can find critique partners.


Where did you find your critique partners?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Ready to work with CPs but don't know where to find some? @Ava_Jae vlogs about 4 places to find CPs. (Click to tweet)

Tip Round Up for New Writers

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Deciding you want to be a published author can be pretty overwhelming at first. There's so much information out there—tips on virtually every part of writing and storytelling, information about querying and submission, traditional publishing versus self-publishing, contests, conferences, agents, editors, etc. etc. etc.

So when someone asked if I could write "where to start" type post for new writers, I thought it was a great idea. So here we go.

First of all, you may want to look at the first fifteen steps you'll be facing as a writer about to write a novel. Once you've figured out what you'd like to write about, it's time to decide if you're a plotter, pantser, or hybrid. Assuming you're the first or last, you'll want to think about your plot essentials and start turning your idea into a plot (and even if you aren't, you may want to try plotting without plotting). From there, you may want to try something similar to how I plot, or try combining two plotting methods.

Then it's time to first draft! Before you dive in, know it's fine if your first draft sucks, because first drafts are usually awful and that's okay. Some days you'll find you'll struggle to find the words (which is normal and okay), so remember ultimately first drafts are for you, and no, you don't have to know everything while first drafting. Also, while you're working, don't forget to take self-care days.

Once you've written your manuscript, worked with critique partners, and revised it several times, your manuscript is now query-ready. If you want to traditionally published it's now time to look for an agent. So where do you start?

Firstly, here are five things you should know before you get an agent.  With that in mind, you'll want to research (for real, don't skip this step—do your research before you start querying) and pay attention to these red flags. Once you've researched, it's time to actually write the query letter.

To start with, here's a quick how to covering the basics, but don't forget to include manuscript-specific details and makes the stakes in your pitch personal. Remember you don't need these five things in your query, and as a bonus, here are some tips for choosing book comps. And for an example of a query that worked, here's the query I used that lead to my signing with an agent, and also my top ten querying tips.

Then time will come to do your best to survive the query wars. You'll inevitably have to deal with rejection, so remember hope is a great emotional remedy. And for some encouraging statistics along the way, remember it's okay if you don't debut with your first manuscript, because most writers don't. Eventually, however, you may get The Call, which is every level of exciting.

Once you get an agent you'll soon be on submission and hopefully, if things go well, you'll have to start thinking about launching your book. But even if you don't reach those stages for many more years, don't worry, because when you're a writer, time is on your side.

What other tips would you recommend for new writers? 

Twitter-sized bite:
Want to write a book & get pub'd but not sure how to start? Author @Ava_Jae rounds up tips from idea to querying. (Click to tweet)

How to Launch a Book (Part II)

Photo credit: gabia party on Flickr
So on Monday I started my two-part How to Launch a Book series, and today finishes off with the final three months. Hope you guys enjoy!


  • Start seriously thinking about launch parties (if you want one). So I mentioned in the last post that you don't necessarily have to have a physical launch party (or any launch party at all). But if you do decide you want one, now is when you'll want to start getting the details in order. Where do you want to have it? What will it be like? Who will you invite? Start talking to your local bookstores (or whatever other venue) to get the details handled.

  • Giveaways! About now is when you want to really start cranking up the promo machine, and giveaways are a great way to generate buzz. ARCs, pre-orders, swag, something else—make sure you get the word out there and send out some free stuff to excited readers. Twitter and Goodreads giveaways are both pretty effective around this time and can help get the word out.

  • Make sure that blog tour is booked! Similar to launch parties, you don't necessarily need to have a blog tour, but if you decide you want one, you'll definitely want to have this in the works already. Talk to bloggers who have done blog tours in the past and find out what you'll need to get yours booked.


  • (It's okay if you) freak out. The month before your book releases is notoriously known amongst writers as a...shall we say, tremulous time? It's an emotional period for writers and often full of a lot of nerves, so make sure you take care of yourself this month.

  • Cry over final author copies. Or don't cry, but this is a common happy tears moment and it can be a fun thing. I recommend recording you opening up your first author copy, because it can be really fun promo to share and also just nice to have for yourself.

  • Answer so many interview questions/write all the blog posts. Assuming you're doing a blog tour (or at least working with bloggers) you'll probably have SO MANY interviews to fill out this month. Hopefully you've planned ahead. Either way good luck and try to have fun!

  • Make sure your launch party plans are finalized. Get those details set in stone! Your party is a month away and it'll be here before you know it.

  • More giveaways! If you have any ARCs left, now's a good time to give them away!


  • Know some people will probably get your book early (and it's okay). For all the build up there is to launch day, it's not something that's actually set in stone. Amazon often ships pre-orders early (Beyond the Red started shipping out over a week early!), and Barnes & Noble and other stores often put the books out a few days early or something even more. While it's not a bad idea to ask readers to hold off buying your book until your launch day (because sales that happen pre-launch day, for whatever reason, don't count toward bestseller list sales), it's not something you need to stress about. Just enjoy the pictures as they come in and know your book is heading out into the world.

  • Self-care. For real, this is an intense week. Make sure you pay attention to yourself, give yourself a reward, and focus on self-care.


  • Know you probably aren't going to get much work done. Launch day is a really exciting and fun day. Social media is often totally excited for you, you get to see your book in stores (probably), and you know today is the day. But also know all the excitement is very distracting so you likely won't get much done today.

  • Prepare for your launch party (if you have one). If you're having a launch party, physical or virtual, it is now imminent! Get yourself prepared and get ready to have fun!

Twitter-sized bite:

Curious about what goes into launching a trad pub'd book? @Ava_Jae finishes her 2-part How to Launch a Book series. (Click to tweet)

The Benefits of Story Structure by Janice Hardy

Hey guys! I've got a very special guest post today from award-winning author of The Healing Wars trilogy, Janice Hardy! Today she's talking about story structure, so hope you guys enjoy!

I've never been a "wing it" kind of gal, so story structure has always appealed to me. I find it comforting, and it lets me worry about the story itself and not whether or not I'm missing anything important. Even better, I can quickly drape any idea I have over my favorite structure to see if there's actually enough there to write an entire book.

If there is, then understanding basic story structure makes both the plotting and the writing of that book a lot easier. Story structure offers plot turning points to aim for and provide a framework for the plot. Even if you're a pantser, structure can help during revisions when you have a first draft done and want to make sure all your plot points are working.

Some writers worry that structure will create a formulaic novel. If you follow them exactly and take them literally, then yes, that could happen, but the strength of story structure is to let it guide you and remind you of the important plot elements of a novel. The turning points are more conceptual and suggest types of situations to aim for. And even when a novel does follow them exactly, if done well, readers don't even notice. The novel feels tightly plotted, not predictable.

How Story Structures Work

Structure is like the line drawings in a coloring book. How you create your story (color in the line drawings) is up to you, but the structure provides guides and boundaries to help keep you focused. Turning points such as, "leave the ordinary world" are just a way of saying, "the protagonist does something new that starts the plot." This can be a literal "enter a magic wardrobe and discover Narnia," or "decide to wear a dress to school for the first time ever to catch the eye of the boy you like."

Each turning point represents a major shift in what the protagonist is experiencing, and the choices she has to make to move forward.

Why You Want to Use a Story Structure

What makes any structure so valuable as a tool is that the details of each turning point can be anything you want them to be. The structure is just a frame to hang the story on, and having solid, proven turning points can help you decide what events need to happen to get the most out of your own plot.

They also help you find holes in your plot and places where the stakes might need to be raised. If you notice the protagonist never fails, that's a red flag that you might not have enough at stake or enough conflict driving the plot. Or you might not have a solid character arc that allows your protagonist to grow. Structure is a guide, and the scenes and problems encountered are all up to you.

My Favorite Choice: The Three Act Structure

Although there are many common structure, my favorite is the Three-Act Structure. Not only is it the most common story structure out there, it's an easy to use structure for both beginning and experienced writers.

People have broken the Three-Act Structure down in a myriad of ways, but it unfolds basically like this:

Act One: The Beginning (The Setup and Discovery of the Problem)

Act one is roughly the first 25% of the novel and focuses on the protagonist living in her world and being introduced to the problems she needs to resolve. Something about her life is making her unhappy, but she’s not yet ready to do anything about it. She might not even be aware of the problem, but feels unsatisfied in some way. She's presented with an opportunity to change her life, and she either accepts the challenge or tries to avoid it and gets dragged into it anyway. By the end of the first act, she's on the plot path that leads to the climax of the novel.

Act one is all about showing the protagonist's world (her life, dreams, issues, etc, as well as the literal setting) and letting readers see the problems and flaws she'll need to overcome to get what she ultimately wants. In essence, it's where you say "See how messed up this gal's life is? This is what she has to fix before she can win."

Act Two: The Middle (Figuring Things Out)

Middles make up roughly 50% of a novel. The protagonist leaves what’s familiar to her and undergoes a series of challenges that will allow her to get what she wants and solve the Act One problem. She struggles and fails repeatedly, learning the valuable lessons she’ll need in Act Three to defeat the antagonist.

Good middles show this struggle and growth, and braids together the plot and subplots, crashing the conflicts against each other. Each clue, discovery, and action brings the protagonist closer to the Act Two disaster that sends her hurtling toward the climax and resolution of the novel. She’ll start off with some level of confidence, sure of her plans, but as things spiral out of control she’ll become more and more uncertain and filled with self-doubt until she’s forced to consider giving up entirely.

Act Three: The End (Facing the Antagonist and Resolving the Problem)

The ending is the last 25% of the novel. The protagonist decides to take the problem to the antagonist. She’ll use all the things she’s learned over the course of the novel to outwit and defeat that antagonist. They battle it out, and she’ll win (usually), then the plot wraps up and readers see the new world the protagonist lives in, and the new person she’s become after undergoing these experiences.

The final battle with the antagonist doesn’t have to be an actual battle, just two conflicted sides trying to win. The protagonist gathers herself and any allies and challenges the antagonist. There is often a journey involved, either metaphorical or literal, as a final test.

Having a general sense of how these three acts unfold in your novel can be enough information for you to write it. Structure doesn't have to be a detailed outline of every scene and what happens. It's just a frame in the shape of the story you want to tell.

Do you use a story structure? If so, which one?

Win a 10-Page Critique From Janice Hardy

Three Books. Three Months. Three Chances to Win.

To celebrate the release of my newest writing books, I'm going on a three-month blog tour—and each month, one lucky winner will receive a 10-page critique from me.

It's easy to enter. Simply visit leave a comment and enter the drawing via Rafflecopter. One entry per blog, but you can enter on every stop on the tour. At the end of each month, I'll randomly choose a winner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Looking for tips on writing your novel? Check out my book Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel, and the just-released companion guide, the Planning Your Novel Workbook.

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of The Healing Wars trilogy and the Foundations of Fiction series, including Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, and the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook. She's also the founder of the writing site, Fiction University. For more advice and helpful writing tips, visit her at www.fiction-university.com or @Janice_Hardy.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound

Twitter-sized bite:
Author @Janice_Hardy talks the benefits of story structure on @Ava_Jae's blog + a giveaway! (Click to tweet)

Vlog: On Character Motivations and Goals

On the importance of character goals and motivations for all of your major characters.


How and when do you figure out your character goals and motivations? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Author @Ava_Jae vlogs about the importance of character goals & motivations for all of your major characters. (Click to tweet)

How to Launch a Book (Part I)

Photo credit: gabia party on Flickr
So, on Saturday when I asked Twitter for some blog post ideas, someone asked if I could do a post on what's involved in launching a book. While I can only talk about my personal experience along with some educated guesses/generalizations based off my friends' experiences, it's something I haven't yet talked about. As I wrote the post, however, I realized this was going to be insanely long, so I've split it into two parts. So here we go.

How to launch a book, part one.


  • Cover reveal. So timings actually vary, but my cover reveal was roughly eight months before publication, and that seems to be a relatively common-ish reveal time. But do note timing will vary publisher to publisher.

    That said, one of the first parts of launching a book is indeed the cover reveal. This is when excitement for a book will really start, because you'll be (hopefully) sharing your reveal with an audience who doesn't already know about your book. Most sites that do cover reveals have guidelines to follow, and they generally make it pretty easy for authors to contact them and inquire about a cover reveal (and yes, the job of finding a site to host your cover reveal often (but not always) falls on the author).

  • Buy swag. Technically, you should have started this as soon as *you*, the author, have your finalized cover, but once the cover is out in the world, you'll definitely want to invest in some swag. I went with postcards and bookmarks, personally—I found the bookmarks were much more popular than the post cards, but post cards are good for mailing, so it's a trade off. (Here's a great post on self-promo and marketing materials that work by Erin Bowman.) Book plates also tend to be popular, something I need to look into getting...

    But anyway, swag is super useful both for giveaways and for leaving behind at events and local bookstores and libraries, if they take them. (And in my experience, they often do.)


  • Talk about your book a ton. I mean, you probably were doing this already, but if you haven't started, make sure you talk your book up! Pre-order links also start to go up somewhere around this time, so once those have gone live, make sure you pin them to your Twitter and put them on a prominent place on your website.

  • Think about launch parties. Do you want a launch party? If so, where? This is a good time to start asking yourself what you want to do in terms of the day. I personally decided a launch party was going to stress me out more than it'd be worth it, as I had just recently moved to the area and didn't really know enough people to even merit a party. I ended up doing an online launch party instead, which was fantastic, and lots of fun, and generated way more buzz than a local party would have for me.

    That said! You may very well want a physical launch party, so this is around the time you'll want to start brainstorming the logistics.

  • Look into future local events. Or not local events, if you can afford them. Conferences, book fairs, library events—take a look at what's going on in the upcoming year and decide what you'd like to attend so you can promote yourself and your book.

  • ARC tour/giveaways. Somewhere around this time you will probably get your ARCs if you haven't already! This is a super exciting time, and also when you can prepare to send your ARC out to readers through giveaways and tours. I did two different ARC tours—one for an upcoming blog tour and one for the Sweet Sixteens debut group I was a part of, which helped generate some early reviews. Yay!

  • Look into blog tours. These are optional, of course—some authors do them, some don't. I did two blog tours, and I found them both helpful in terms of getting early reviews and generating a little buzz. So this is something you may want to start looking into at this point.

What do you do to get excited about a book before launch? 

Twitter-sized bite:
Curious about what goes into launching a trad pub'd book? @Ava_Jae kicks off a 2-part How to Launch a Book series. (Click to tweet)
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