Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Blast From the Past: Query Tips

I'm slowly making my way back to the land of the living and will return to a regular blog schedule soon. In the meantime, here's one of my past popular blog posts: Query Tips.

Okay, so after reading a bunch of queries for my huge query critique giveaway, a few common things stood out, and I thought I'd give some general query tips. NOTE: None of these examples are from actual queries sent to me--they are my own creations, but you get idea.

1) Avoid cliche terms. e.g. "When 'x' happens, his world turns upside down."  Anyone's world 'crumbling,' 'falling to pieces,' etc. is cliche. Be specific as to what happens.
Better: "When the space monkey lands in Evan's bedroom and injects him with a strange substance, Evan must find a cure within twenty-four hours or he will become a monkey himself." 
(Does Evan's world "turn upside down?" Hell, yes, but an agent is going to be way more interested in something specific like this--unless they hate space monkeys, in which case you don't want them as an agent anyway.)

2) Start with the hook. DON'T START with something like, "This book is about love and loss, family and betrayal, beginnings and endings." You've just described approximately 50 bazillion books, and the agent will already be moving on. Start with a one-sentence killer hook about what your book is about. See space monkey example above.

3) Avoid questions when possible. You don't want the agent to answer your questions in a way that doesn't benefit you. e.g. Will the heroine save the world in time from the onslaught of possessed elves? Potential agent response: I'm guessing so or you wouldn't have written the book. Granted, that might just be my response because I'm sarcastic by nature, but still. You want the agent to read the last line of the query and think, "Holy hell. I must get my hands on this book NOW!" The best way to end the query IMHO, is to finish with the highest stakes possible. What is the worst thing that will happen to the MC or to their world, if they do not overcome their obstacle?
Better: "She must defeat the army of possessed elves before they enslave all humanity and harvest their pets for food." 

4) Follow the agent's submission guidelines. I figured that people wouldn't be as formal sending their query to me as they would to an agent, but I was a little surprised by the number of people who didn't follow the guidelines (not attaching the query as requested, using a different format than requested, etc.) For me, it doesn't matter. I'm critiquing all of them because I'm nice like that, but if you're submitting queries to agents--FOLLOW THEIR GUIDELINES! It's not that agents aren't nice (in fact, most of them are quite lovely), it's that they're incredibly busy. Also, you don't want them to think that you can't (or won't) follow directions, because they are considering you for a long-term business relationship. Yes, many of them have different guidelines, so you will have to do your research, but it's worth it in the end.

UPDATE: I'm now offering professional Query Critiques for those who need help with their query. Simply click on the Query Services button to the right to get all the details.

So, those are my query tips thus far. Feel free to add your own tips in the comments below, and thanks again for participating!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Please Vote

I haven't posted in awhile because I've been by my mom's side in the ICU where she has been on a ventilator for 2 1/2 weeks ever since we had to call 911 while on our family beach vacation. It's been a heart-breaking few weeks and my only consolation is that all of her children and grandchildren were with her when this happened. How does this relate to the election? Well, every presidential election, my parents joke with my hubby and I about how they cancel out our votes--for some reason, they always vote for "the other guy." I wish to god my mom could cancel out my vote this year, but she can't.

Yes, our two-party system is dysfunctional, and yes, the voting process is rife with controversy from hanging chads to voter suppression (shame on you, Rick Scott). However, we are so fortunate to live in a country where everyone has the opportunity to vote, and there are plenty of options out there (seriously, Roseanne Barr was a candidate on my Colorado ballot). So no matter how busy you are, or how disenchanted you are with politics, please get out there and make your voice heard. Unless you are in a similar situation as my mom (in which case, my heart breaks for you), you have no excuse. Please vote!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Why Having a Rock Star Agent Matters

The Benefits of Having a Great Agent

I'm sure you've all heard the warning that a bad agent is worse than no agent at all. I've read horror stories (and even heard in person from a best-selling author) about what happens when an agent goes bad and they have to start over and find a new agent. I've also read a lot online saying you don't even need an agent these days, especially if you plan to self-publish. I respectfully disagree. In fact, I went to a talk by a best-selling self-published author, and guess what she had? A top agent from a great literary agency. Another top-earning self-publisher just blogged about recently obtaining an agent for her books. Why? I'll discuss that in a minute. Overall, I agree that having no agent is better than having a bad agent...but having a rock star agent is golden. I know a little bit about this because I have a rock star agent *waves at Jessica* from a great literary agency. So here is how a fabulous agent can benefit both traditional and self-published authors:

1) Editorial relationships. A great agent has a wealth of publishing knowledge and solid relationships with editors, so they know who is be looking for a specific project. For instance, they know if an editor has been dying for a book about killer space monkeys, or conversely, if an editor will stab themselves if they see one more monkey story. Though I try to stay abreast of publishing industry news, I don't have the years of relationships with publishers that my agent does, and I'm so glad she knew exactly where to send my book (which sadly, does not involve killer space monkeys). Some self-publishers are pursuing the hybrid model, which involves having some books published traditionally while they self-publish others, and for any author who wants a traditional publishing deal, a reputable agent has access to publishing houses that don't allow non-agented submissions. 

2) They know books.  This might sound obvious, but it's true. Agents read a ton of queries (after doing my "query critiques for all" giveaway earlier this year, I have even more respect for the massive amount of work they do). They also read a lot of manuscripts and you know, actual books. The bottom line is that agents know books. They know what makes for a great story and can easily spot what works and what doesn't. Every suggestion my agent made for revising my book was spot-on. Her knowledge made my book better, and I'm not saying that just because the book sold to a great publisher...I'm truly satisfied that I created the best book I could.

3) Contract negotiations. Can you say "reversion of rights?" Yes, technically you don't "need" an agent to sign a publishing contract, but have you read one lately? I got a headache after seeing one paragraph. An agent knows their way around the technical language of the contract, and knows where to push for change (e.g. more money, reversion clauses, etc.) They will also likely be more successful in having those changes accepted than if the author negotiated themselves, because part of being a good agent involves killer negotiating skills. Could someone do this themselves if they spent enough time on it? Yes, but personally, I'd rather focus on writing. I have enough trouble negotiating bed time with my kiddos, and am happy to leave legal negotiations in my agent's capable hands.

I'm also including foreign rights in this category, and it's a big reason why some self-published authors either already have or desire an agent, even if they don't want a traditional publishing deal. I can't imagine the time and energy involved in navigating foreign rights contracts, nor do I want to. The agented self-published author I heard speak said that the foreign rights sales alone was the impetus for her to get an agent.

4) Trust. This one is more intangible but just as important (to me, anyway). The author-agent relationship is a business partnership, and if you don't have trust in your business partner, then you're screwed (and yes, that trust goes both ways). For the writer, it's important to feel like you have someone watching out for your best interests. Yes, an agent only makes money if your book sells, but I believe that most agents go into the business for the same reason that writers do--we are all passionate about books. Most agents only take on a book because they love it. They wouldn't devote hours of their time to something they didn't believe in. When you trust that your agent is competent and skilled, it frees you to focus on other things--you know, like writing (well, and marketing, but that's a whole other post).

What have I missed? Any other opinions out there from the agented or unagented?  

Friday, October 5, 2012

YA Book Recommendation-UNCONTROLLABLE by S.R. Johannes

My book recommendation this week is UNCONTROLLABLE by Shelli Johannes Wells. I had already planned to post this pick when someone chose this book as their prize for my 1000 Twitter Follower Giveaway, so it was good timing. Here is the cover for UNCONTROLLABLE:

From Goodreads:
As Grace recovers from tragedy, her science class is chosen by Agent Sweeney at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to help with research on the new "Red Wolf Reintroduction Program".

While she’s excited about helping with the conservation of the endangered wolves, Grace knows this means being outdoors in the worst winter recorded, in a place she no longer feels comfortable. It also means working closely with Wyn (her ex) and his annoying girlfriend (Skyler), a girl whose idea of getting close to nature is picking silk plants and growing fake plants.

After a couple of wolves show up dead, Grace almost quits. However, when a fellow project team member goes missing, Grace continues the assignment under a renewed suspicion that someone might be sabotaging the conservation program. She quietly begins to hunt for clues.

Little does she know, she is being hunted too. 

Why I Liked It: I'm a huge animal lover and live near the mountains, so the set-up of this book had a lot of appeal for me. The survival tips woven throughout the book are great, and confirmed that I have about zero chance of surviving in the snow overnight. Grace has determination and grit, and her grandmother, Birdee, was hands down my favorite character in the book. As far as the love triangle, I'll admit I wanted her to be with Wyn and am curious to see how it plays out in the next book. This book follows Untraceable, her first book in the series, and there is a great set-up at the end of the book for the next one. For those who are interested in self-publishing, Shelli recently posted some sales numbers for both books on her blog, and has great marketing and sales tips for writers, so check her out.  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Need An Agent?

If so, then get your loglines and manuscripts polished for Miss Snark's First Victim 3rd Annual Baker's Dozen Agent Auction. Agents will bid against each other to compete on your manuscript. Check out all the details over on Authoress' blog, but you need to have a completed manuscript to enter. She is accepting submissions for both young adult/middle grade and adult fiction (all genres except erotica). Best of luck to all who enter!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Mega-Giveaway Winners

Thanks to everyone who entered the 1000 Twitter Follower Giveaway--and huge thanks for all the congrats on my book deal! The Giveaway Winners are as follows:

Query Critique: Anthony Reese
1st 5 Pages Critique: Becky Wallace
YA Book of Your Choice (#1): Sharon Johnson Mayhew
YA Book of Your Choice (#2): Jen Veldhuyzen
1st Chapter Critique: Nicole Zoltack

Congrats to all the winners! I will email you with instructions about how to claim your prize. Check back Friday when I'll post my YA recommendation of the week.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


In case you missed my squeals of joy yesterday, this is the official news about my debut YA book deal from Publisher's Marketplace:

September 25, 2012
Young Adult

Kristi Helvig's sci-fi series BURN OUT, after the sun has burned away the atmosphere, Tora Reynolds
survives, protected by lethal bio-energy guns that bounty hunters and governments are desperate
for, to Greg Ferguson at Egmont, in a pre-empt, for publication in fall 2014, by Jessica Regel at Jean
V. Naggar Literary Agency (world).

I am beyond to excited to be joining Egmont, and am super grateful to my rock star agent for believing in this book! The deluge of awesome emails, tweets, and FB messages yesterday was amazing, and I feel lucky to know so many wonderful people. Wow, I use a lot of adjectives when I'm excited.

Also, don't forget to enter the 1000 Twitter Follower Giveaway to win books and all kinds of critiques (including the Wednesday Query Critique)!  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

1000 Twitter Follower Extravaganza

If you've read this blog before, you know I'm a big believer in celebrating the baby steps. You also know that I love random reasons to do giveaways. Though there are plenty of people out there with a gazillion Twitter followers (I'm looking at you, Lady Gaga), I have recently reached the 1,000 mark despite my random tweets about bacon and tater tots. So, I'm combining the Wednesday Query Critique (usually held on the last Wed. of each month) with other great prizes. Enter below for you chance to win a query critique, a 1st 5 pages critique, a 1st chapter critique, or a YA book of your choice! Feel free to tell me other giveaway ideas for future contests in the comments, and if you follow me on Twitter, I'll try to tweet informative writing links (along with random bacon tweets). Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Perils of Being a Full-Time Writer

For the first time, my kiddos are both in school and I have oodles of time during the day to write. I'm not even a full-time writer yet as I work two days a week in my private practice, but that leaves THREE whole days of interrupted free time. Therein lies the problem. I wrote three novels in the past two years, and did it in the one to two hours of time I had in the evening after the kids went to bed. Those one to two hours involved nothing but fast, hard writing--because it was all the time I had to do it. I envisioned that once the kids were in school, I'd be able to multiply that output by ten, and could crank out a book every two months. The kids have been in school a grand total of 5 weeks now, which means I should have another book almost finished, right? 

Not quite. First, I discovered the joy of grocery shopping without little ones underfoot. If you haven't tried it, it's an amazing experience. Next, I thought I'd conquer my possessed laundry basket which never empties no matter how many loads I do. I've seen the bottom of my laundry basket several times in the past few weeks, a sight I haven't seen in years. My to-do list has been tackled, my dogs have have enjoyed walks with me in the morning after I take the kids to school, and I've caught up with friends for lunches and brunches and other food-related outings. The most productive writing time for me in the past few weeks...has been in the one to two hours after the kids go to bed at night.

What the hell? I mean, I'm still writing but not nearly the amount I thought I'd be. Part of it is probably the habit of night writing, and part of it is probably the fact that I have quiet time in the house by myself for the first time in over eight years. Part of me worries that even if I were a full-time writer, I wouldn't be writing more than I am right now--Stephen King would mock my current habits (if you haven't read On Writing, you should). I'm hoping the novelty of being home wears off quickly, and I just ordered a day planner and am going to set myself up on a much stricter writing schedule (NOTE: the day planner itself looks so fun and amazing that I'm sure I'll do an entire post on it once it arrives.)

Anyone else struggle with this issue? Any additional tips you'd like to share? Pretty please. Or just let me know if you're in the area and want to go to brunch. ;)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

NERVE Winner and New Contest

Thanks to everyone who entered to win a copy of the YA thriller NERVE by the awesome Jeanne Ryan. The winner of the contest is...VIVIEN! Congrats, Vivien, and I'll email you with more info. There will be a new post tomorrow and another contest next week so make sure to subscribe to the blog to receive updates.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Interview with NERVE author Jeanne Ryan and a Giveaway

Today, I am so excited to have author Jeanne Ryan on the blog (full confession: she’s also my critique partner). Her YA thriller, NERVE (Dial), releases tomorrow, 9/13/2012. When I read the first draft of this high-tech truth-or-dare game gone very, very wrong, I told her this was going to be her first published book. After getting my very own copy in the mail last week, I can tell you that the finished book is even scarier. Please check out Jeanne’s new website and make sure to follow her on Twitter.

I’m also giving a copy of NERVE to one lucky person. Enter by Tues. Sept 18th for your chance to win through the form below. Either tell us a dare you did (for the brave), or you can enter by less scary means.

Here is the cover for NERVE:

Hi Jeanne—thanks so much for joining us today, and huge congrats on NERVE! As I’ve told you before, I think the concept of a high-tech truth-or-dare game is awesome! Where did you get the idea for this book?

From watching my teenage niece and her phone. Seeing how fluidly she moved between her “real” life and her online life with her friends, with a lot of overlap between the two, got me to thinking about a story where a lot of the excitement and danger would be delivered via phones. I wondered how far a game of Truth or Dare could go if strangers could be brought together to perform and record the dares.

Yeah, this book was a far cry from the dares of my youth, like ringing someone’s doorbell and running. How long did it take you to go from writing it to publication?

I started writing it in May, 2010. It sold in April, 2011 and is being published September, 2012.  So two and a half years from start to finish.

Less than a year between starting the book and selling the book is pretty darn impressive. Was this your first book?

Nerve was my fifth manuscript. Although I decided to become a writer at age eleven, many other dreams got in the way between then and the time I started writing a manuscript that I’d actually finish. I got serious about writing in 2004, finished my first manuscript in 2006, signed with an agent in 2009 and got my first deal in 2011. That doesn’t count the years beforehand when I wrote many tortured poems, awful short stories and an unfinished novel (also awful).

It goes to show that persistence pays off, and you always need to be working on the next book. Speaking of which, can you tell us what you’re you working on now?

Two things. One is another YA thriller which is scheduled to come out with Dial in early 2014. It’s called CHARISMA and is about a terribly shy girl who turns to an experimental therapy that's supposed to make people more sociable. It does, but comes with some scary side effects.
The other thing I'm working on between revisions is an MG historical set in 1974 South Korea. It may never see the light of day in the publishing world but it’s a great way to cleanse my mental palate after working on the darker stuff.

Yay for another book deal! I love your MG historical, and definitely hope it sees the light of day…and what I’ve seen of Charisma is fantastic.  Writing several things at once seems daunting. Do you have a set writing routine or schedule?

During the school year, I try to get in about four hours a day, Mon-Fri, in the morning. During school breaks and summer vacation, I grab time whenever I can.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers out there?

Keep working on the craft. The writers I’ve seen who eventually landed agents and book deals are the ones who kept producing manuscript after manuscript until they wrote the story that everyone who reviewed it knew was “the one.” (Sometimes, the author is the last to know. J) Sure, there are those lucky few who sell their first attempt, but viewing that as the norm is a good way to set yourself up for misery. I speak from experience.

That’s great advice. So why don’t you finish by sharing something weird or random with us. (It doesn't have to be writing related)

Weird or random. Hmmmm. When I was a little girl living in Honolulu, our house was rumored to have a ghost, which everyone in the neighborhood called a Kahuna. My parents had a difficult time finding babysitters, because everyone was scared. (Their reluctance could also have been due to the fact that the number of kids in my family was already at six and growing.) Anyway, my parents finally solved the babysitter problem by hiring two at a time. And they approached the Kahuna problem the way a lot of things were solved in the hippie days--by throwing a large party that involved lots of chanting and alcohol. Whatever the grown-ups did worked, because we never had any weird bumps in the night after that. And the babysitters were eventually willing to work solo.

That’s a great story. Thanks so much for joining us today and Happy Release Day (a day early!)

Don’t forget to enter below for a chance to win NERVE by Jeanne Ryan.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Interview with Author Peter Salomon

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing one of my fellow MSFVSS’ers (that’s Miss Snark’s First Victim Secret Society), except we’re not so secret. ;) 

Please welcome the funny and fabulous Peter Salomon to the blog. His book, Henry Franks (Flux) will be released in a few days on Sept. 8th but you can pre-order it now. Here are a few links to Peter’s on-line shenanigans…
Twitter: @petersalomon

and here is the cover for Henry Franks:

Description from Goodreads:
Four thousand, three hundred and seventeen stitches, his father had told him once. All the King's horses and all the King's men had put Henry Franks back together again.

One year ago, a terrible accident robbed Henry Franks of his mother and his memories. The past sixteen years have vanished. All he has now are scars and a distant father—the only one who can tell Henry who he is.

If he could trust his father.

Can his nightmares—a sweet little girl calling him Daddy, murderous urges, dead bodies—help him remember?

While a serial killer stalks their small Georgia town, Henry unearths the bitter truth behind his mother’s death—and the terrifying secrets of his own dark past.

Sometimes, the only thing worse than forgetting is remembering.
1) Thanks for joining us today! So that description sounds super creepy, and you had me at serial killers. Where did you get the idea for Henry Frank?

I like to tell people that I was trying to figure out the 'Next Big Thing' as I figured vampires and werewolves were a little overdone...the problem with that is I was trying to figure out the 'Next Big Thing' in 2007 (when I started writing HENRY FRANKS) and five years later we still have vampires and werewolves. So much for that whole 'Next Big Thing' thing.

This book actually started life with an adult protagonist, a father raising a son 'off the grid' so much that every single thing his son knew to be true was what he'd been taught and how the father 'programmed' his child. As the story progressed, with the son slowly beginning to doubt the history he'd grown up with, it morphed into a story about the son. So I ended up starting all over again. The example I use is if you are taught that the green stuff growing outside your house is called 'hair' and the furry stuff on top of your head is called 'grass' then you'd naturally speak of mowing your hair and styling your grass (assuming you've been correctly taught the terms for mowing and styling, of course).

At that point, it still wasn't really a horror story, the creepiness factor came naturally once I started constructing a back story for Henry that would explain why he'd lost his memory. And, to be honest, to me the book isn't as creepy as I'd like it to be. It's all so familiar to me that every time I'd read through it during the revision process I'd keep thinking 'this isn't creepy enough...add more creepy...' so I hope people do find it creepy!!

Besides, you can never go wrong with the mantra: "Add more creepy..."

2) So true. You can never have enough creepy…or cowbell. ;) How long have you been writing and is this your first published book?

My first brush with fame and fortune (well, maybe not so much on the 'fortune' part) was in sixth grade when the Principal of my elementary school read a poem I'd written over the loudspeaker to my entire school. Not so much on the 'fame' part either, I guess. I'd been writing poems for a while by then but they weren't all that good. For years I stuck to poetry and even some of those tended to the 'creepy.' It wasn't until an assignment my Senior year of high school that I tried writing a novel (also, not very good). Over the next twenty years I wrote a handful of novels (mostly Fantasy, all for an adult audience) but though the quality of them greatly improved I remained unpublished. As my own children started reading I decided to try writing something they could actually read. I was querying my first Young Adult novel (still a Fantasy) when I came up with the idea for HENRY FRANKS and started writing. Actually, I was still thinking of re-querying that Fantasy when I ended up querying HENRY instead.

 3) I love hearing about twenty-year “overnight success” stories—it shows how important persistence is. Speaking of persistence, do you have a specific writing routine or schedule?

Yes and no. I'm a lazy sort of writer as well as an obsessive one. When I'm in the midst of writing a first draft or of revising/editing, I can spend hours and hours working on it to the exclusion of everything else in my life. But that's only if I'm motivated to start. Motivation is big, as is privacy. I don't like to write if people are in the room with me (well, I don't like to write if people are in the house with me). That first YA I wrote I ended up writing about an hour a day on my laptop sitting in my car in a parking lot. Not a recommended process.

4) That’s refreshing to hear. I’m suspicious of the writers who say they get up at 3am every day and write 2K before breakfast (well, also jealous). Can you tell us what you are working on now?

During the waiting period while HENRY FRANKS was out on submission I ended up writing not one but two Young Adult manuscripts (one action, one dystopian action). Actually I started working on the Dystopian, got bogged down in the plot and then started writing the first draft of the Action novel before going back to the Dystopian to finish it. In the months since I've been heavily editing and revising both of them (concentrating mostly on the Action novel first though the Dystopian is next) with the Action manuscript hopefully almost ready to go out on submission (in one form or another). Also, I've had two picture books that have gone out on submission over the past year and am currently working on another one. The picture book I'm working on now is actually one that I've been working on for about 15 years now and is still a work in progress.

5) Good for you. I personally think picture books are harder to write than novels—one of my critique partners has had several published and I’m in awe of her. What is a recent book you've read that you loved?

FLYING THE DRAGON by Natalie Dias Lorenzi. It's an absolute marvel. I tend to prefer YA to MG but this MG is sheer brilliance, highly recommended. Also ONE FOR THE MURPHYS, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, which, I'm not kidding had me in tears for pretty much the entire second half of the book. Beautifully written, heartbreakingly sad while being truly uplifting. A difficult combination to pull off but this one's a winner!

6) Oh, they sound great, but I’ll need a box of tissues at hand for the second one. Okay, I’ll make the last question a fun one. Tell us something random about yourself so people can get to know you better.

What a great question! I have a degree in Theater and Film Studies (with a concentration in set design and construction for musical theater) and most of the music I listen to is either 80s new wave (which I grew up with) or Broadway. For pretty much the entire writing and editing process of HENRY FRANKS I was listening to Next To Normal and many of the themes of the musical echo the direction I took Henry. Plus the music is just glorious and I need music playing in order to write, I tend to 'feed' off of the emotion of the music, if that makes sense.

That makes total sense--my entire book was based on a song I heard on Pandora. Thanks so much for visiting with us today, Peter, and happy early book release day!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Writers and Money

I'll wait for you to stop laughing and saying "What money?" Even if you haven't gotten to the point of earning an advance, or even better, royalty checks, many writers earn some money through freelancing, self-publishing, editing services, short story sales, etc. But money earned as a writer will always be different than that earned by those who get a steady paycheck each week. Even in the scenario of royalty checks, it's never a guaranteed amount. So how do you budget or calculate living expenses on uneven income?

Though I've recently made some money through freelance work and by offering query services through the blog, I know a lot about this topic because I've been self-employed for a decade. I run my own private practice as a psychologist, and my income has always varied from month to month. I'm used to the uncertainty principle, and thought I'd pass along several tips that might help with budgeting. NOTE: This is my own personal experience and should not be construed as financial advice. That's what CPA's are for. :)

1. Keep good records. If you're earning money from various sources, such as selling several articles or short stories a year, keep careful track of all your income (and expenses.) Money spent on websites, marketing, editing, etc. will help offset the cost of your total income. You can track this through a program like Quicken or Excel, or you can use an old-school ledger and pencil. Just make it thorough. This will make step 2 easier.

2. Pay Estimated Taxes if needed. I've paid estimated taxes for years, but look at it as a positive thing, because it means my business is profitable. A good accountant, or a reliable tax program like the Business Edition of TurboTax, can help you figure out what you should pay. A good rule of thumb is to set aside at least a third of what you earn for taxes. 

3. Make your budget based on the lowest expected amount of income. After a few months of receiving writing related income, you can probably get away with taking an average of those months to determine your budget, but I use the lowest amount I make in a given month to set my budget. That way, I make sure I'm covering basic expenses, and if I make more than that, it can be added to an emergency fund for unforeseen crises. If no crisis occurs, the money can be used for other things, as mentioned in the next step. 

4. Use the bucket method for your income. I'm a huge fan of the bucket method, because it allows you to put a little money towards fun things, along with boring stuff like the aforementioned estimated taxes. I have a savings account labeled for each "bucket," so you could have designated accounts for things like taxes, mortgage, etc,. but make sure to include at least one bucket for something fun. Even if you can only put a few dollars in your fun bucket at a time, it will eventually add up. Then you can get that new laptop or go on a weekend getaway--and what writer doesn't need those things (BONUS: that new laptop may even qualify as a tax deduction depending on your situation!)

These are some basic tips, but I'm sure there are plenty more. Has anyone tried any of these, or have any other money tips to share?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How to Be An Olympic Writer

The Olympics are long gone, which is a very good thing for my writing. The nights of endless gymnastics, swimming, beach volleyball, diving, and track may or may not have affected my daily word count (okay, it totally did), but at least a few sports failed to suck me in (I'm looking at you, fencing and water polo). However, there was an upshot to the abnormal amount of time I spent in front of my television--I found tremendous inspiration in every athlete out there. I also noticed similarities between what it takes to be an Olympian and an Olympic writer:

1) Train. Those athletes didn't make it to the Olympics by saying, "I know I have it in me to be an Olympian," and then find excuses about how they didn't have enough time, money, etc. to put in the hours. Using Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours rule (if you haven't read Outliers, you should), these athletes have logged well over 10K hours in training. Michael Phelps should have gills from how much time he's spent underwater. How does an Olympic writer train? Certainly not by saying they know they "have a book in them...someday." They write. Then they write some more. Then what do they do? You get the idea.

2) Be persistent. Not every athlete qualifies for the Olympics on their first try. Those that make it to the Olympics don't always get gold--or medal at all--their first time there. I don't think that's a bad thing, as it can be a powerful motivator. Track star, Allyson Felix, took the silver in the 200m in Beijing. From 2008 until the 2012 Games in London, she trained her ass off and focused on being the very best she could be...and got her gold. Most athletes don't medal, but at least they knew they did the best they could do and were good enough to get to the Olympics. The lesson for writers? Never give up. Keep trying and get better. If your first book doesn't land you an agent or a book deal, keep trying. If you self-publish and the book doesn't sell well, keep trying. Go back to step 1) and push yourself to be the best writer you can be.

3) Hope for a little luck. Yep, even in the Olympic, sometimes winning a medal involves a bit of luck and good timing. I watched a noted BMX racer (yes, I watched BMX too--I told you I watched a lot o' Olympics) go down because of a crash in front of him. One swimmer might hit the touch pad a bit harder than another and get the faster time. Everyone has times when they feel they are "in the groove" and other times when things don't go their way. With the Olympics, athletes have only that one moment, and they better hope they are in the groove. Though not as intense, there is timing and luck involved with publishing too. Even publishers can't always predict which books will be a hit. Sometimes it takes hitting the right publisher, or the right audience, with the right idea at the right time. You don't have control over this, but you do have control over steps 1), 2), and 4), which makes this step more likely to fall into place.

4) Be a good sport. Whether an athlete won gold, bronze, or even nothing at all, most of them carried themselves with grace, poise and humility. Oscar Pitorius, the double amputee track star from South Africa, didn't medal but stood out as an Olympic hero. McKayla Maroney demonstrated great humor over the attention she's received regarding her obvious disappointment at winning silver in the vault. If you haven't checked out the McKayla is Not Impressed page, it's cute (my fave pic is the one of her in the scene at the art museum in Ferris Bueller's Day Off). The lesson for writers? Whether you're a New York Times bestseller, or an aspiring writer trying to get out of the slushpile, treat others with respect and kindness. It doesn't cost anything to be a decent human being, plus I'm a big believer in karma, kismet, and various other k words.

Those are the things that jumped out at me, so I hope you can use those to go forth and become Olympic writers. Did you notice other similarities? Anyone else watch as much Olympics as I did? More importantly, did anyone out there watch water polo?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Book Recommendation-Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride

I haven't done a book recommendation in awhile, so here you go. My rec for this week is Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride. It was a William C. Morris Debut Award Finalist, but I didn't even know that until after I read it. I'm an unashamed title and cover whore, so I knew nothing about this book except that the cover grabbed me (and made me sing along in my head to the Elton John tune). I'll wait a minute while you sing it too. Done? Okay, so here's the great cover:

And the description from Goodreads:

Sam leads a pretty normal life. He may not have the most exciting job in the world, but he’s doing all right—until a fast food prank brings him to the attention of Douglas, a creepy guy with an intense violent streak.

Turns out Douglas is a necromancer who raises the dead for cash and sees potential in Sam. Then Sam discovers he’s a necromancer too, but with strangely latent powers. And his worst nightmare wants to join forces . . . or else.

With only a week to figure things out, Sam needs all the help he can get. Luckily he lives in Seattle, which has nearly as many paranormal types as it does coffee places. But even with newfound friends, will Sam be able to save his skin?

Why I liked it: This was such a fast and fun read--seriously, the chapter titles alone are worth it. I loved Sam and thought his character was well-developed and real (plus a lot of the genre YA I read tends to have female MC's, so Sam was a refreshing change of pace). Also, I love me some snark which is found aplenty in this book. There were a few plot issues I had to overlook, but I'm really nitpicky. Overall, if you're looking for fun genre fiction, this book is a definite win. I don't often get around to sequels but I would read a sequel to this in a heartbeat.Happy reading!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

MSFV Blog Hop--Interview and Book Giveaway by Leah Petersen

Welcome to what will hopefully be the first of the Annual Authoress’ Success Story blog tours! Those of us who have owed our publishing successes, at least in part, to the Miss Snark’s First Victim contests and blog have decided to come together and help cross promote each other’s work.  Every day in the first two weeks of August, a different author will be posting an interview of one of our fellow Success Stories, so make sure to tune in to everyone’s blogs (there’s a list below). Also, if you haven't checked out my interview on Amanda Sun's blog from yesterday, you still have time to enter to win a first chapter critique from moi.

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing the awesome Leah Petersen. Leah is giving away an ebook copy of her book Fighting Gravity to one lucky commenter! Just comment below for a chance to win this:

"When Jacob Dawes is selected for the Imperial Intellectual Complex as a child, he's catapulted from the poverty-stricken slums of his birth into a world where his status as an unclass is something no one can forget, or forgive. His growing scientific renown draws the attention of the emperor, a young man Jacob's own age, and they find themselves drawn to each other in an unlikely and ill-advised relationship. Jacob may have won the emperor's heart, but it's no protection when he's accused of treason. And fighting his own execution would mean betraying the man he loves."
Leah Petersen lives in North Carolina. She does the day-job, wife, and mother thing, much like everyone else. She prides herself on being able to hold a book with her feet so she can knit while reading. She’s still working on knitting while writing. Make sure to check out Leah's blog and follow her on Twitter.
Her first novel, Fighting Gravity, is available now from Dragon Moon Press.

Welcome Leah--I'm from North Carolina too! I think you need to post a pic of the knitting while reading thing, because that is amazing. So can you tell us how participating on the MSFV blog helped get you where you are now?
Leah: The short(ish) version is that I got into one of the monthly Secret Agent contests (back when it was simply the first 25 or 50 that got into the mailbox, purely a trigger finger rather than a merit thing.) The agent had some pointed criticism of my opening, and little about it that she thought worked. Ouch. Well, I took her critique and worked on making it better. The next month, Authoress announced the open submission period for Dragon Moon Press. They looked like a good fit for me so I queried with my revised draft and they asked for the full. The next day I got an email asking if we could have a phone conversation. And the rest is history.

I think the nice thing about my story is that it shows how many ways authors can benefit from Authoress's site and the community there. It's not just about winning the contests or auctions. There's value in what you can learn there, and the connections and network and community Authoress has built there.
That's a great story, and highlights how every path to publication is different. One of the things that struck me about your book was the LGBT aspect. As a writer who has a gay character in my current novel, I'm wondering if this was an obstacle for you in terms of publishing.

Leah: You know, I expected it to, but the opposite was true. In fact, my editor told me that someone she mentioned it to remarked that it was the LGBT angle that made it such a unique and interesting concept.

That's awesome. So can you tell us what you're working on right now, and why are you excited about it?
Right now I'm working on the sequel to Fighting Gravity, currently called Cascade Effect. I was actually less than excited about it a few weeks ago because the summer is such a busy time for me and it was just another thing that required my time. But a couple of weeks ago my dad read Fighting Gravity for the first time and he liked it so much that my aunt decided to read it and she raved about it so her assistant is now reading it and my coworker... (this is a family business, so we're all working in the same office.) 

Anyway, watching real people in my life get excited about my characters and want to know what happens next has helped my find my excitement again.
I can relate to summer being super busy, but how cool to have family that is so supportive of you!  What advice do you have for those who are still in the query trenches?

Learn from it. Don't just flog the query process with an exclusive focus on landing an agent. I learned A LOT about writing and the publishing industry from querying at a slow, measured pace and reading as much as I could about how to go about it in the meantime. 
That is so true--I felt like I had gained so much knowledge about writing and the publishing industry by the time I got an agent. What is your writing process like (e.g. are you a morning/evening writer?)

I'm a catch-it-when-you-can writer. I tend to devote chunks of time to writing one or two days a week rather than smaller, regular periods. Even I don't think it's ideal, but it's what works for me. My muse resents being told what to do. If I dictate time and place to her, she tends to get huffy and uncooperative.  
Your writing style sounds a lot like mine--your muse and my muse must be related. Can you tell us something about yourself we'd be surprised to know?

I celebrated the sale of Fighting Gravity by getting a new tattoo. It's a solar eclipse.   
That is very cool, and very brave. My tattoos are applied by my 5-yo and wash off easily. Last bonus question for you: What are you reading right now? Which authors inspire you?

I've been on a huge reading kick lately and I've probably read three books this week already. (It's Wednesday as I write this.) Today I'm on Kushiel's Avatar, by Jacqueline Carey.

If the characters are compelling enough that I hurt and bleed and jump for joy with them, then that's a good book. I'm inspired by any author who can do that. 

Oh, the Kushiel series have been read by several women in my book club (myself included), and are such a great guilty-pleasure read! Thanks so much for stopping by the blog today, Leah.  

Don't forget to leave a comment to be entered in Leah's book giveaway, and check out Leah's blog tomorrow when she interviews Monica Bustamante Wagner.   
Visit the whole crew:
Blog Twitter Posting   Date
David   Kazzie @davidkazzie 1-Aug
Leigh   Talbert Moore @leightmoore 2-Aug
J.Anderson   Coats @jandersoncoats 3-Aug
J.M.   Frey @scifrey 4-Aug
Elissa   Cruz @elissacruz 5-Aug
Amanda   Sun @Amanda_Sun 6-Aug
Kristi Helvig @KristiHelvig 7-Aug
Leah   Petersen @Leahpetersen 8-Aug
Monica   Bustamante Wagner @Monica_BW 9-Aug
Emily   Kokie @emkokie 10-Aug
Monica   Goulet @MonicaGoulet 11-Aug
Peter   Salomon @petersalomon 12-Aug
Sarah   Brand @sarahbbrand 13-Aug
Angela Ackerman @angelaackerman   & @writerthesaurus 14-Aug
Tara   Dairman @TaraDairman 15-Aug