Saturday, February 4, 2017

Have No Fear. You're Safe Here

I was heartbroken last week to read several threads on Twitter in which teens and young women (all readers and bloggers) spoke up about their current discomfort in the YA book community. These threads were then discussed at length by many others who acknowledged feeling the same way. Most stated, in one form or another:

Diversity matters. Politics matter. The conduct of the publishing community matters . . . but the current climate in our YA community had made them feel like they didn't matter.

The worst part? Of the six threads I read, all were high school or college students, and:

- Four were written by young women of color.

- Two stated outright that they didn't feel comfortable even asking questions about books because of the way they'd seen friends, bloggers, and authors treated if they phrased a question "wrong", or the question implied they disagreed with leaders in the community.

- One had stopped blogging completely because she was afraid a wrongly worded review might make her a target.

As a YA author, this left me incredibly disturbed. All of us in the YA community (yes, even those who may intimidate you) got into this arena because we want to connect with young people. We want to be a support and encouragement to young adult readers. We all believe that books, and access to information, are a critical freedom, even for minors. Helping young people feel empowered, learn, and grow is why we're here.

So, if you've felt targeted, de-powered, or threatened in our community, I'm sorry. And I want you to know: You're safe here.

As a teen and anti-bullying advocate, a mother, and a citizen, I want you to know that you're allowed to make mistakes here. If you're under the age of 26, your brain hasn't even stopped developing, let alone your personality, heart, and opinions (I'm 40, and still changing my mind...)

You're allowed to disagree. You're allowed to be resolute in your choices -- even if your thoughts, feelings, and opinions don't match mine. In fact, we can be diametrically opposed, and I'll still welcome your questions and discussions. Because I know the only way to learn and grow is to be allowed to ask Why and How? The only way to influence or be influenced, is through calm discourse that analyzes the issue (not the individual). And the only way we can truly stand alongside each other is to accept that sometimes we won't see eye-to-eye. And neither our persons, nor our mutual relationship, is devalued by that.

If you know me, you know I'm not scared to disagree. I'm rarely cautious about sharing my opinion. But I can also tell you, unequivocally, that I'll always make my conversation about the issue, not the individual. And I genuinely believe there's no such thing as a bad question. Especially for someone who hasn't -- or has only barely -- reached legal adulthood. Not only are brains still developing so cognitive reasoning abilities may still be somewhat limited, but there's a lot of life left to learn through experience. None of us understood as much when we were 18 as we do now.  (Gosh, if you'd known me at 19 years old . . . *shudder* The mortifying stories I could tell about things that came out of my mouth, or decisions I made . . .)

So, I'm making a commitment to you: If you want to discuss a book (any book), you can ask your question here. I've placed moderation on the comments so no one will be able to answer your question rudely, or with insults. Every opinion that's worded respectfully--even those I disagree with--will be published. If no other readers can answer your question, and I'm not able to, I'll find someone in the know to do it with respect.

MY COMMITMENT: You will not be insulted, ridiculed, diminished, or marginalized by your conversation here, on any of my personal social media platforms, or in private correspondence with me.

If you have a question about any book or issue in the YA community that you don't feel comfortable asking publicly, either comment anonymously, or email me. My contact details are available in the header of this page.

If you find yourself in the middle of an online storm that you didn't see coming, tag me, tap me, or ask for my help. You don't have to weather that alone.

And if anyone is abusing you--verbally, emotionally, or physically--that's never okay. No matter what issue is at stake. Talk to me, or another adult you trust. You do not have to accept that. Period.

Have no fear. You're safe here. 

Author Confession - Day 3 - What's the best compliment you've had?

I'm a day behind, but I didn't want to skip this one!

#AuthorConfession Day 3 "What's the best compliment you've had?"

There's no doubt that most authors prize the letters, emails, comments from readers who've connected with their books above all other accolades. Knowing a real, live person has read your material and it's found a place in their heart or impacted their life is literally incredible. It's those moment's I've dreamed about since I was a teenager.

Two specific incidents stick out for me, but I'll only tell you this one:

A little over a year ago I was privileged enough to be invited to join a large conference in Portland, Oregon, where librarians, teachers, and youth workers converged to learn from and about YA authors and books. That was my first signing at a conference. I expected to show up and maybe get a handful of librarians who wanted to get my book for the students who'd been bullied. But I never expected this:

While I signed books and met readers, I noticed a young woman, probably in her early to mid twenties, standing off to the side, a few feet away from my table, staring.

At first I thought she was in line to meet the author next to me as she stood closer to that line. But her back was to the people lined up. Was she trying to read about my book? Or just distracted?

Then as my line dwindled, she stared right at me.

A minute later I reached a lull and turned to smile at her. Did she need help?

She gripped the straps of a tote bag with white-knuckled fists and seemed to shrink in on herself. But when I smiled at her, she walked hesitantly up to my table, no longer meeting my eyes, instead digging in her bag.

"I-I have your book already. Will you sign it for me?"

I was flattered. "Of course."

Her hands shook as she passed me the book and I realized she wasn't distracted, or uncertain. She was terrified. (Of me? Of the crowd? Who knows). Painfully shy, she'd been standing off to the side trying to drum up the courage to come to my table. She'd been waiting for there to be no one else in line.

I smiled again to put her at ease, took her name and asked her if she wanted me to write a specific message. She shook her head and glanced around, checked over her shoulder. But she was the only one in front of me--a fact for which I'm truly grateful, because I believe if she hadn't been, the best compliment I ever received would have stayed firmly stuck in her throat:

While I wrote a pithy dedication in her book and thanked her for bringing the book, she stepped close enough to lean slightly over my table. Her voice was barely above a whisper.

"I already read it. I w-wanted to thank you for writing it. It . . . it really helped me. I kn-know you were bullied." She wasn't the first reader to communicate this, but I'm always grateful to hear it. I met her eyes, smiled widely and thanked her, sincerely.

Then she said, "I came here to meet you because I wanted to tell you I think it's a really important book." 

She had tears in her eyes.

I was stunned. I'm pretty sure I stumbled over something very insufficient, like, "Wow. Thank you! Were you bullied too?"

She nodded, but didn't say anything because a handful of new readers chose that moment to arrive at my table. They respectfully gave her a few feet of space, but their movement and hubbub behind her caught her eye, then mine. I glanced at them over her shoulder, then turned back to speak to her again, still fairly dumbfounded. What was her story? Was there something specific that had resonated for her? But I never found out because she gave a shaky little wave, turned her back and walked away.

I still have moments where I wish I could find her and talk to her--not so she could tell me about me, or my book. But because I was so touched by how clearly difficult it was for her to be there, to be surrounded by people. Yet she'd urged herself to come to talk to me. 

It was easy to see the pain and fear in her eyes. I wish I knew her story. I wish I could encourage her, and befriend her, and support her through what is clearly a life that remains somewhat traumatic.

Instead, she gave me the best compliment I've received yet. And I'll always remember her.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Author Confession Day 2 - What's the WORST Thing You've Written?

For the month of February I'm taking the #AuthorConfession challenge. Day 2 is "What's the Worst thing you've written?"

This one has been kind of fun for me. I went back through my backup files to find the original version of my very first book. It isn't without potential, but some of my descriptors and internal narratives are cringe-worthy.

Here's just a couple examples:

"As I stepped up the center aisle I peeked out from under my bangs to see if I could identify the person I’d be spending a semester copying from and found myself frozen in the glorious gaze of Carl’s warm brown eyes. I swallowed again, this time to move my heart back down to its correct anatomical position. I tried not to walk faster, but the relief was overwhelming. Carl saw me coming and smiled, which required another severe swallow to keep my heart in place."

"Michelle couldn’t believe it when Carl took his shirt off. He was such a show-off! And she hated how her pulse raced and her stomach starting flipping around as she took in the perfection that was everything about him. She swallowed hard and glared to hide her attraction. He needed to get a grip!"

Lesson? Adverbs, exclamation marks, and purple-prose do not a compelling story make. My characters sound years younger than they are, and the descriptions of around around them often sound as if they fell out of a ridiculous SNL sketch (not the good ones). 

When it comes to descriptors and scene setting, less is more, Aimee. Less. Is. More.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Author Confessions, Day 1

I ran into this on Twitter and thought it would be a fun way to reconnect.


Day 1 is pretty easy for me: I create playlists for every work in progress as soon as I'm sure it's a story I'll pursue to completion. Current protagonist and the tone of the book lean heavily towards Blink 182 and Green Day.

See you tomorrow for a rather more revealing post...

Friday, December 2, 2016

A New Resource Article - The Importance of Peer Review

I received a lovely email today from Renee Vickers and her talented students about how they'd used my For Writers resource link to research some of the issues they were having in writing and editing their papers.

(Shout out: Hi, Mrs. Vicker's Class!)



They also shared with me another link they'd found useful, about peer review of writing, and they're right, it's a great, introductory way to getting comfortable with the idea of letting others critique your work:



I want to applaud the Mrs. Vicker's class for being willing to take on peer-review (if you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll know I've been talking about the importance of critique since 2011). And I wanted to share the link with you in case you're looking for anything that's less fiction based, and more focused on the pure process of writing.

I hope you're all having a great and productive December (crazy time of year, right?) I'll see you closer to the big day, with a Christmas giveaway!

-Aimee

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Owning Rejection Like a Boss, A.K.A. The Gallery of Rejection

(Scroll halfway down to the heading if want to skip my musings and get to the GALLERY OF REJECTION)

I've been on Twitter a lot lately, and watching some new, aspiring authors come up through the Pitchwars feed, has been eye-opening. I'd forgotten what it was like to be pushing your first baby out into the world. The peculiar mix of awe, hope, and terror.

But the thing it's made me most grateful for, were the years I put into developing a thick skin around rejection. Because after two agents, two traditional contracts, and books out in the world for almost three years now, there's one glaring truth that I learned early:

Rejection is everywhere in this industry. Seriously. EVERYWHERE.


The thing that surprised me over the years was that it didn't stop. Early on I thought once I was established, I could expect relief. But it doesn't matter what stage of the game you're in, rejection is literally unavoidable. And when you've finally been published? That's a unique kind of torture.

I say unique, because once a book is out in the world there's nothing you can do to change it. At every previous step, be it negative feedback on critique, revision letters from your agent, or your precious words being skewered in editing, you've always had a chance to change (or defend) the identified flaws. It's all been behind closed doors, and you've had the freedom to do something.

But reviews? That story has left the building. There's nothing you can do to change it if you think they're right. And if they aren't, their words exist in perpetuity. Not only can you not address (or answer to) the flaw, you have to let other people be influenced by that individual's perspective. *Insert sensation of medieval torture here*

Look, here's a hard truth that you'll do well to accept before you get that far: No book makes everyone happy.

Literally, not a single one.

Now, I'm actually blessed because overall, my reviews are very good. I have almost 300 reviews on Amazon and books average out at 4.5 and 4.3 stars respectively. Trust me, that's a huge relief.

But no matter how your book comes together, it will generate reviews from people who didn't connect, or just plain didn't like it. Luckily for me, in a recent conversation with Author Rebecca Podos, I discovered a brilliant (and hilarious) way to deal with the unique rejection that comes from bad reviews:

Turn them into motivational posters.

That's right. From today forward, anytime a review slices and dices my insides, I'm removing its power to hurt me by owning that sucker. 

I've already started with a few from Amazon and Goodreads. If you run into any blogger reviews that are less than complimentary, let me know. Because this is turning out to be more fun than I thought . . .

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you...

Aimee L. Salter's 

Clearly I veered off course by choosing to use only one punctuation point per sentence........
*Bows*



That's a relief. I would have been horrified if they were only partly crap.



And I'm sorry to have put you through this.



So, you're 100% behind recommendations for Average-to-Middling?



In fairness, it was my sophomore book, so I'm counting that as a win.



I'd have to agree with you there.
I blame my editor.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Rule #1: Take the Reader With You

The last 3 weeks of reading have been a very interesting exercise for me. I have red one series which was incredible, bookended by two books which were not. All three taught me the same lesson: Take the reader with you.

There's an author whose books I read years ago, but who ended a series in a very unsatisfying way, so I stopped purchasing her books for a long time. I wish I hadn't done this. For years I left her to her devices, and only recently picked up the first in a new series. I was so blown away I devoured the entire series in days.

The last book in that series, I am happy to report, was not only amazing, it was inspiring. They were none of the technical, or storytelling issues that I'd observed in her debut series. I kicked myself for not believing earlier reports that these books were crazy-good. The thing that made this series incredible was not the character development, or how I was completely absorbed by the story (though those things are masterfully done). The incredible thing was that the premise of this series was ridiculous. If I were to describe these stories the entire premise would sound not only weird, but literally impossible. To have this many plots, and all the insane details converge on a small handful of people in a small town would seem implausible. But this author observed rule 1:

Take the reader with you.

Her world-building was steeped in reality, despite the fantastic nature of the story. Her characters were deep and complex, realistic despite their relative youth and inexperience. And the story was compelling despite the completely improbable elements that came together to make it up.

In short, she achieved The Impossible. The good news is that means we can too. You and I. All we have to do is take the reader with us.

There's any number of academic exercises I could do to explain what that means. But honestly, I think this is a skill we develop with time (just like this author did). Instead I want to tell you about the other reading experiences I had over the past 3 weeks, and why they didn't achieve this:

In the first, I read a fantasy book that, while beautifully written, and of a fascinating premise, never pulled me into love with the hero. And because the entire story hinged on me falling in love, the entire story was boring. I did not finish it.

The other book I read, and did finish--barely--was a contemporary romance. It was very well written, with complex characters, and a family dynamic that in normal circumstances would have kept me flipping pages late into the night. However, there was one major flaw in the story, and it took me several chapters into the book to identify it: Why was I not connecting with the story in the way that I should? Why was I able to put the book down, and go to sleep.? Answer: There was no character intent. There was never, at any of the divergent points in the story--every action, transition, or internal narrative--a description of what the protagonist wanted.

So on one hand I was left wallowing. Where are we going, and when can I expect to arrive? And on the other hand, I was frustrated. Why are we here? What's the freaking point?

I have to say that this last was, in fact, the most frustrating even though the writing was probably the best I've read in a long time. Knowing that there was a talented author behind the story and these characters, who clearly needed to be putting words out there, but also knowing that the reason this book was not receiving the accolades it should, or the reviews, or the sales, was because of this one missing element, broke my heart.

I'm guessing most readers would not be able to identify this unless they've taken some kind of creative writing structure training or study. But the fact remains unless you take the reader with you it's an unsatisfying story. And in this case I never got on the train because I wasn't told where it was headed.

I've talked on this blog before about character intent. I've talked about motivating stimulus and reaction. I talked about those things years ago, before I was a published author. I stand by those words. Mainly because the more I learn through my own writing, through reading, through being edited by a very experienced editor, and just generally in my own study of the craft, the more I know this to be true: Unless you take the reader with you, your book is going to fail.

Do you want to know what a book looks like when it doesn't take the reader along for the ride? It looks like a mediocre reviews, readers left questioning why they read the book, lackluster sales, and lots of "Did not finish". Whether they're able to pinpoint it or not, there's something missing, a critical element that effectively ruins the read.

So, what's my point here? My point is that you can't skip an understanding of the craft of writing and expect readers to fall in love with what you do. You, the author, must first understand what you want the book to do, then you have to figure out what your protagonist needs to want in order to take the story there. And after you've communicated that through their voice, you need to surround them with such tangible detail and response to stimulus, that even the most ridiculous premise is gobbled down whole.

You can do this. So can I. But just as our character needs to strive for something, so do we. There's no short-cuts here, folks. Study the craft. Understand the rules. Then when you break them, it's because you know another, better way to achieve what they do within the parameters of your story.

Good luck! (And I'll take all prayers to that effect for my current books *wink*

Sunday, August 7, 2016

CRITICAL PLOT ELEMENTS - The Whole Picture

A while back I wrote a "Critical Plot Elements" series that hit the highlights of a story's structure and progression. After recent developments in my own WIPs, and discussions with aspiring author friends, I realized I still hang my hat on these plot-points as CRITICAL for a story that delivers. So here they are, linked in story-structure order. Does your book have all the critical elements? Perhaps more importantly, do mine?

ACT 1

Beginnings #1 - World Building

Beginnings #2 - The Inciting Incident

Beginnings #3 - The Plot Mirror

Beginnings #4 - The End of the Beginning


ACT 2

Middles #1 - Schematics

Middles #2 - Raising the Stakes

Middles #3 - Catastrophe and the Missing Link

Middles #4 - The "Almost Lull"


INTERLUDE

The Black Moment


ACT 3

Endings #1 - Crisis

Endings #2 - CLIMAX

Endings #3 - Ribbons & Bows


THE PLOT ROUND-UP 

Putting it all together


If you have questions, or would like me to add more beef to any of these bones (I wrote these a long time ago, before I was published), comment on the individual post and let me know. I'll help as much as I can!


Monday, April 18, 2016

Advice on Pitching at Conventions/Conference

So, I was stoked when I was invited to Panel at RT Booklovers Convention 2016. It wasn't until I'd gotten all the "work" details sorted that I realized I would be attending it post-release, agentless, and with a new project to shop. I immediately became terrified. After all, what better place to meet and chat with agents and editors? But that would mean, you know, pitching.


After several weeks of ensuring my projects would be polished enough, I made a vow to myself:

I will wear my Big Girl Panties. I will take opportunities that present themselves. I will not back out for fear of annoying someone. I will not wallflower out of fear of failing. I will try.

And after taking the opportunity to pitch three editors and seven agents, and receiving nine requests for my material, I have the following to say:

All the advice I've read from agents and editors in the past is true.

So I won't reheat the tasty morsels as if I was the chef. I will just regurgitate the meal for you:

1. Publishing professionals really do expect to be pitched while at these events. Except in the bathroom. (Google it. It's a thing. And not a good one). Don't hesitate. Do ask if they have time, unless the event you're at is specifically for pitching (then see point 3.)

2. Editors and Agents really do want to see if your project is a good one. So they will listen when you talk. As long as your talking is polite and professional. And within the parameters of point 3.

3. They really do want you to be brief. So you better know how to boil your book down to 20-30 seconds of words. Maximum. If they want more information, they'll ask. If they don't ask... Well, you have your answer.

4. Be prepared to pitch at any moment. Literally. (One of my friends ended up being introduced to two agents in a bar at two in the morning. Opportunity? If you're sober enough....)

5. No one has time for pulling you out of your shell. Either you want this, or you don't. When an editor turns to you and says "What are you working on?" they aren't being nice. They don't want you to apologize, or qualify, or prevaricate. They want you to pitch your project. (See point 3.)

6. The only way you can achieve point 4 is to prepare ahead. Seriously. At the advice of an agent blog I carried with me at all times:
- One sheets for the two projects I was shopping that included contact details, pitch, blurb, and author bio.
- My business card
- My pitch notes (Bullet list of what I needed to cover regarding my experience/background).
- A notebook/wallet. (Because when one agent gives you their card and says "Send me the first three chapters + summary, and another says "send me the full ms" you better send the right material to the right person!)

7. Professionalism goes a long way. In the end this is a business. No matter that we're selling creative work, the professionals you deal with to help you reach your goals are business people. They dress like business people. They keep business hours. They relate, at least initially, on a professional, slightly formal level. Don't show up in jeans and a wrinkled t-shirt. But you also don't have to wear a suit. Look polished, in whatever style is yours. Make eye contact. Shake hands. Don't apologize for yourself. In short: Own it. Own your project, own your experience (or lack thereof). Own your goals.

In the end, there will be falls and failures. But you can't get good at this stuff until you've tried it, figured out what didn't work, and tried again.

This is not an industry for the faint-hearted. Yes, it's scary. Yes, there are lots of opportunities to fall on your face. But there is also potential to see doors open.

You can't walk through unless you knocked first.

Your Turn: Have you ever pitched professionals face-to-face? Any advice? Or any questions for what that looked like for me?

Saturday, April 9, 2016

VEGAS BABY! Are you coming?

Join me for two events in Las Vegas on Thursday, April 14th:

I'm appearing at the RT Booklovers Convention for the You're Never Too Old for YA panel at 11:15am. Come and join my table, we'll have a blast!



And that evening, from 7:00-8:00pm, I'm part of this awesome romantic author reading and signing event at The Writer's Block, 1020 Fremont Street, Las Vegas, 89101


Be there, or miss out on being photobombed by me. Your loss...