Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Word of Encouragement to Authors - Musings On Dreams Come True

There's a lot going on right now, and I have a bunch of blog posts planned for going over behind-the-scenes stuff in publishing, the differences between indie and traditional, the editing process, etc, etc, etc.
But I'm in a bit of a thoughtful mood today, so I wanted to share something with all of you who follow this blog and write and have your own dreams.
Here's the thing: Some really big stuff happened yesterday. Stuff I'll remember for the rest of my life. Stuff I always hoped would happen. Stuff I had dreamed about since... well, gosh knows how long. (My name and book were mentioned by the New York Times, for goodness sake!)
But two very stark truths are becoming clear to me in the aftermath, and I hope they will encourage you to keep going, whenever you're getting discouraged in your pursuit of whatever it is that you're aiming for.
Firstly, I am the very same writer I was a few days ago. The only thing that has changed is other people's perceptions of me.
So, I have the same flaws, limitations, and propensity to screw up that I did last Wednesday. Everyone is just a little more forgiving of it now. (We'll see how long that lasts!)
And that extends to my book, too. I can't tell you how many people I heard from yesterday, telling me they'd read and loved Breakable...yet they never told me that before. So were they lying? Or just motivated now? Who knows.
The point is, I am no more or no less than I was a few days ago - I am just viewed differently. It's pointless to get caught up in that. I might fall flat on my face. I have once before. So...?
So, nothing. Keep going. Keep living. See what God brings. It's that simple. No need to get full of myself. No need to get down on myself. Just a need to keep going.
Secondly, the book that got me this deal was good, but not quite good enough.
It's the book that got queried dozens of times and rejected (or ignored) just as many. It got an agent, then got requested -- and quickly rejected -- by 13 editors in major publishing houses. It got self-published, but didn't make enough money to make a living. It garnered great reviews, but no substantial (paid) sales.
It's the book that didn't "get there", until it did.
What I'm trying to say is, your stuff doesn't have to be perfect to catch the eye of someone who can do something about getting it out there. It just has to be good. And your marketing doesn't have to be expensive, and glossy. In fact, in my case, there was no marketing at all when my editor stumbled across Breakable.
I've got an amazing team at Alloy/Amazon, but I can't tell you how many times I've heard the word "dumb luck" or "happy accidents" out of their mouths when it comes to talking about book sales and popularity.
There are zero guarantees in this industry. (Unless you count the guarantee that someone will hate it/criticize you/reject you or your book at some point). So, if you haven't gotten where you want to be yet, that doesn't mean you're failing. It just aren't there yet. Keep working. Keep improving. Keep going.
Take it from me: I've been actively trying to get a publishing deal since 2009. In fact, my deal offer came just one month shy of the five year anniversary of me first trying to write for publication.
I can remember reading notes from authors back then about the time it might take, and not to give up. I always hoped I'd be the exception.
Turns out, I'm the rule.
Your Turn: What expectations do you put on yourself that you're struggling to live up to?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

ANNOUNCEMENT TIME! *Confetti* Wherein Breakable has been acquired by Alloy Entertainment - and the new version is out TODAY!!!

(Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post - win $25 Amazon Gift Voucher!)

You guys! It’s happening! It’s finally here! I can finally tell you EVERYTHING!!!!
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I’m hoping you’ll join me in the BIGGEST FLAIL-DANCE PARTY EVER because…
As of today, Breakable is now Every Ugly Word. Back in April it was acquired by Alloy Entertainment, who've helped me carve a diamond out of the rough. Check this out:
Every Ugly Word
Alloy Entertainment, July 29, 2014
When seventeen-year-old Ashley Watson walks through the halls of her high school, bullies taunt and shove her. She can’t go a day without fighting with her mother. And no matter how hard she tries, she can’t make her best friend, Matt, fall in love with her. But Ashley also has something no one else does: a literal glimpse into the future. When Ashley looks into the mirror, she can see her twenty-three-year-old self.
Her older self has been through it all already—she endured the bullying, survived the heartbreak, and heard every ugly word her classmates threw at her. But her older self is also keeping a dark secret: Something terrible is about to happen to Ashley. Something that will change her life forever. Something even her older self is powerless to stop.
Perfect for fans of Thirteen Reasons Why and The List, Every Ugly Word is a gripping and emotional story about the devastating consequences of bullying.
Buy it for your Kindle, here.
It's slimmer, richer and 100% better than the original, in my opinion. Same premise and basic plot, same characters - but a lot of new content and a completely new delivery of the ending.
I’m so excited because this story, which has always been so close to my heart, has finally found a home -- a home with people who are mind-blowingly talented, passionate about my characters and story, and so much fun to work with that I’m keep waking up and pinching myself to make sure it’s all real.
Here's a quote from Alloy's press release that just went out a few minutes ago:
“One of our strengths is working with talented authors to create and develop properties that have mass 
entertainment appeal,” said Leslie Morgenstein, President of Alloy Entertainment. “This program is an 
exciting extension of our business and will allow us to leverage Amazon’s ability to distribute to an 
incredibly diverse and broad readership.” 

Alloy are a subsidiary of Warner Brothers, they've published over 75 NYT bestsellers, and they're the company behind Gossip Girl, Vampire Diaries, and Pretty Little Liars (just to name a few!) In fact, my incredible editor edited the books behind all those shows.
(I’ve known that for months and it still makes me do this:)
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The people I’ve had a chance to work with are SO talented, it blows my mind pretty much every time they open their mouths.
This habit of picking up independently published books and re-vamping and re-releasing is a new venture for them, so it’s exciting on two levels because Alloy aren’t just re-releasing my book today, they’re also putting out two other formerly independently published YA books! (You should totally check out Heather Hildenbrand's Imitation, and Tracy Banghart's Rebel Wing).
The last few months have been a whirlwind. It’s still surreal to me. But don’t worry, I’m going to share.
I’ll spend the next few weeks taking you through the fun things that have happened, the things I’ve learned about the publishing industry, and all about the writing journey. But for today I just want to celebrate a dream come true.
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So even if you aren’t buying books today, please join me in a super-big dance party. Because I can attest to the fact that even in these days and times, real dreams – the ones you’ve worked really hard for – really do come true.
*Cries happy tears*
More from me when I’ve floated down off cloud nine. Until then, check out the new Amazon page, the Goodreads page, and all the lovely new friends I’ve been making as we go through this process of turning from indie to traditional together, here, and here.
Your Turn: Share the news via the rafflecopter below, and go into the draw to win a $25 Amazon Gift Voucher or a copy of Every Ugly Word!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Just 24 hours until the NEWS is out!!!

Okay, so I can’t actually TELL you what’s happening until tomorrow, but I can say this:  Prepare to dance with me, please. And have your finger primed for the 1-click button.
Also, “Gossip Girl”.
But that’s toeing the line, so I’m leaving now before I start vomiting information.
See you tomorrow!!!
Your Turn: Tell me a joke. Or link me to something. Or…something. Distract me! Please!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Critical Plot Elements - Beginnings #3 - The Plot Mirror

***Reposting to defy spam/click-bots
I’ll put my hand up and recognize the following is NOT a ‘necessity’ to any manuscript.  But I’ve spoken with and read articles from several authors who consider it so.

The recipe for this technique I’ve nicknamed The Plot Mirror is quite simple:
Create a scene in the first third of your book which reflects (to a lesser degree) the worst-case-scenario events of your climax. In that first scene, let the protagonist lose or fail.

It’s simple foreshadowing, giving the reader a taste of the fearful events at the end of the book with the added tension of seeing the protagonist fail.  Hence, when the be-all-end-all events of the climax are approaching the reader is frightened – we can see the worst-case-scenario possibilities.  Then, when those circumstances are upon us, we can’t help being scared spitless that the protagonist will lose again.
This technique creates symmetry, builds tension and is a great way to establish a plausible foundation for your ending.

If you aren’t sure what I mean, here are some skeletal examples:

In fantasy: The Princess tells her aged father she’s become aware of a plot to overthrow him.  The neighboring king – a vicious dictator – is trying to seduce the people with promises of wealth and power.  She asks for her father’s permission to take the crown and lead the people against the villain.  But her father says to prove her abilities, she has to fight his strongest Knight. She is quickly bested and the father laughs her out of the throne-room, declaring her mad and his eldest son to be the official heir.  At the end of the book, after her brother’s hedonistic and disastrous rule is brought to a  bloody end by the neighboring ruler, Princess leads her people to victory against his hordes - after using the Knight who bested her to train the people to fight.

In romance: Hero and Heroine are colleagues – she’s been in love with him for a year.  After a particularly bonding late-night strategy meeting, Hero pulls heroine aside to ‘talk about something’.  Heroine hopes he’s going to declare his undying love.  But it turns out he wants advice on how to get her friend to go out with him instead. At the end of the book, following 200 pages of excruciating tension building, he’ll pull her aside again – but this time he’ll actually declare his love for her.

In thriller: Protagonist Detective is called in on the murder of a fellow officer.  The dead man was investigating a particularly nasty serial killer. At the end of the book it will be revealed that the serial killer had to be an inside man.  He’s killed two officers already because they got too close and now he’s stalked Protagonist Detective home…

I’m sure you get the picture. 

The trick is to foreshadow (imply or hint at what could go terribly wrong) rather than project (tell the reader what you want them to see coming).

What's projecting look like? Well, it's the moment when the soldier heroine first meets the villain and says to herself, "This looks like a man who would eat me alive. I hope I never have to face him one on one!"

Or it could be a conversation between hero and heroine at the beginning of a romance in which the hero admits "I have this terrible habit of falling in love with someone, then getting cold feet and backing out at the last minute..." (Hint: That's actually a great tension builder to imply - by having the hero recount a past relationship, or having the heroine observe the hero in a relationship doing that very thing...but him talking about it? Waaaaaaay too obvious). Essentially, projecting is leading the reader by the nose. It isn't necessary, and a savvy reader will roll their eyes and move onto something else.
I’ll say again: A writer could argue whether the plot mirror falls within the ‘critical’ elements of plot… but I know many bestselling writers believe it is so.  And many publishing professionals look for it when they’re reading. Whether you actually paint a plot-mirror-picture or not, make sure that your foreshadowing is subtle. It will serve you well in the end when your readers walk away satisfied.

Next Post: The Three Act Structure – and how to signal the end of your beginning.

Your Turn: Feel free to ask questions in the comments if any of this is unclear.  I’m happy to clarify.

Critical Plot Elements - MIDDLES #4 - The "Almost Lull"

There comes a time in your story where your end is in sight.  I don't mean the scene before your climactic events kick off - I mean drawing Act II to a close.  Zipping up your middle.

If you've followed this series so far, you know we've taken several steps towards this point.  But there's still another element to go before dragging the reader into the breathless events of the end: The Almost Lull.

The Almost Lull is not meant to be boring.  It is not meant to let the readers eyelids droop.  But it is a time of sanctuary or preparation.   A break in the tension that allows the protagonist (and the reader) to breathe.

It's a time of 'sequel' - when the protagonist gets to consider where they've been, where they have to go, and what they expect from it.

In order to do this right, I believe you need three things, two for the protagonist and one for the author:

Key Elements in the Almost Lull

PROTAG: Physical Safety

Physical safety is pretty self explanatory, but indulge me in a couple nuances.

Safety in this case doesn't mean 'completely untouchable'.  We're looking to reduce tension, not dissolve it altogether.  So, keep the overarching pressure on, but give the protagonist a scene or scenes in which their physical (or emotional) danger is at bay.  But make sure the reader knows this moment won't last.

The most likely tools here will be a time limit (either implied by the protagonist's plan to move ahead, or already in place), or the future plan (i.e. the protagonist's plan to achieve victory means things must move ahead soon).  But whatever mechanism you use, make sure the protagonist knows - or learns very quickly - that things will soon change.

EXAMPLE: If you're a fan of The Hunger Games, consider the moment when Katniss is hidden with Peta. She knows she's relatively 'safe' from the other players at that moment, but there are other problems - and she's got to reengage eventually.  Safety is tenuous and won't last forever, so the anticipation of danger is on a slow boil, rather than lukewarm.

PROTAG: Focus on Decision Making

During this time of safety or rest, the protagonist's focus should be on making a decision - one that forces them to weigh up what has come before - and what they anticipate will come in the third act.

This is the perfect time to remind the reader of anything important, to lead them through the logical reasoning that brings them to the end (and to throw in a dash of 'This Terrible Thing Might Happen').  But at all costs you (the author) must avoid the final element...

AUTHOR: Avoid Repetition

What?! You say? How do we remind the reader of what's happened without repeating?

It's a simple rule of thumb - and one you should use throughout your text, but most especially here:

Use a feather, not a mallet. 

Don't have your protagonist say (or think) "Remember when this happened, then this happened... well I guess I'll do this then..."

Instead, let your narrative assume the reader remembers all the events leading to that point.  Talk to them like someone who has all the same information.  Talk to them as if you'd talk to yourself... but with word pictures of course.  Let them see the protagonist's reasoning, rather than stepping them through events.

For example, DON'T:

Tori remembered that night when Dan admitted he'd cheated on her.  The feelings of betrayal and grief were overwhelming.  She felt like a favorite dress, thrown into the goodwill bag to make room for a new, glittering gown. 

How could she possibly raise a son whose father treated her like trash? But how could she give up a life that was half her?

For example, DO:

Tori's hands drifted to her swollen belly.  The baby kicked.  The tiny jab offered reassurance - and a bruising reminder of how he'd arrived in her life.

Would her son be better off in a home untainted by betrayal? Or would her love make up for his father's abandonment?

I'm being overly simple for clarity.  Hopefully you see the point. 

In the DON'T example, the narration simply repeats events - things the reader has already seen and heard.  It lowers tension in a bad way because the reader wants to skim, to get to something new.  (It's also a melodramatic metaphor).

In the second example, the reader gets a taste of Tori's simultaneous joy of motherhood right alongside the painful reminder of betrayal.  They see her dilemma and are drawn into her consideration of adoption.  They stay firmly in the story - reminded of the past, but not forced to rehash it.

Use this technique everywhere in your writing, but use it intentionally here because this is the point in your story where we transition from What Happened to What We've Been Waiting For.

Next Post: The Black Moment - Staring at the Bottom of the Barrel

Your Turn: Can you think of an 'Almost Lull' moment from your favorite book?

From the Archives: "Telling" is Another Word for "Let Me Explain"

I've been having trouble with spam-robot-clicker-commenters on my blog, so am deleting and reposting some of the older, popular content they seem to have connected to.

As you were.

I do a lot of critiquing for unpublished writers. I also do a lot of critiquing for published and repped writers. There's one crucial difference I see almost every time:

Unpublished writers often haven't learned to trust the reader's ability to gather what's going on. Even the very good ones often show the plot, character development, emotion, etc, then proceed to tell the reader how to interpret it.

What do I mean by that?  Example:

"Come with me," Carl said, so quietly I wondered if I'd imagined it. He leaned closer, lips at my ear. "Come with me." His fingers closed on my arm, as if he could force me. Drag me along.

"I can't." It came out broken, betraying my desire to follow. I never wanted to let him go.

"You can-"

"No, Carl, you don't understand!" I stepped back, out of his hands, away from his lips. "They killed my mother. If they find out we're together, they'll kill you too." My voice shook, but I couldn't make it stronger. I was too afraid. Too desperate for him to find another answer that would let us stay together.

Carl eye's narrowed. "I can take care of myself. And you," he said, seemingly willing to dismiss my mother's death.

Now, read that again without the bolded, "telling" sentences:

"Come with me," Carl said, so quietly I wondered if I'd imagined it. He leaned closer, lips at my ear. "Come with me." His fingers closed on my arm.

"I can't." It came out broken.
"You can-"
"No, Carl, you don't understand!" I stepped back, out of his hands, away from his lips. "They killed my mother. If they find out we're together, they'll kill you too." My voice shook, but I couldn't make it stronger.
Carl eye's narrowed. "I can take care of myself. And you," he said.

It's the kind of writing tip you have to practice, but here some clues:

1. Using the words "as if".
2. Use the word(s) "seemed / seemingly / seems to".
3. Using the name of an emotion.

If you're using any of these in the process of describing the POV character's interpretation of another character, you might be telling the reader what to see. Now, obviously there are several situations in which these phrases or words can be used legitimately, but keep the above examples in mind. Train your eye to look for explanation, then delete it wherever possible.

And here's more food for thought: If you remove statements like those bolded above and the reader can't interpret what's going on, the problem is in your showing. Don't fall into the trap of explaining. Figure out how to make it clear in the action or dialogue, not author narration.

Your Turn: Are there any other words or phrases you think writers could search their manuscripts for to identify "telling"?

4 Days and Counting… and a CLUE!

So, part of the reason I’ve been silent on the blog for so long is because sitting on my hands (locking my lips?) is uber-hard for me. In light of that, I’m starting to slip… Here’s your first big clue:
The 29th is a Tuesday. And if you’ve been listening to some of the publishing bigwigs online for a while, you’ll know that there’s something that often – some would say “usually” – happens on a Tuesday.
Your Turn: What often/usually happens on the Tuesday in the publishing world?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

6 Days and Counting--AKA Why Aimee Went AWOL

Okay, guys, I know I’ve been completely letting the team down in terms of blogging this year. I promise, in a few days you’ll understand why, AND you’ll see that there’s going to be lots of new, fun, and chock-full-of- info posts coming over the next few weeks and months.

Here’s the deal: Some stuff is happening and has been happening, and I have news. BIG news. But it’s news I’m not at liberty to share until the 29th. (Cue Aimee groaning “This is KILLING me!”)
So, until then, keep an eye on my Twitter and Facebook feeds for clues. And please accept my apologies for disappearing. It won’t happen again.
I hope…
Your Turn: What have I missed in YOUR life since April? Or, tell me what you think I’m going to say next week?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Read My Dear-Teen-Me Letter

That's right, I've being hosted as the author over at Dear Teen Me. This is such a special moment for me because that was the website that inspired Breakable. But also, I just plain love what they do over there.

If you're interested, head on over and see what I would say to my sixteen-year-old self!


Apologies - It's Overhaul Time!

Hi guys, I know I have been seriously AWOL this year, and I owe you lots of new content. But fear not! It cometh!
Before I can get to that part, though, I need to do some work on the website. You may see copies of old posts coming up in your feed, and so forth. If so, please accept my apologies in advance. In order to more efficiently streamline content, I'm combining two sites back into one...
See you on the other side - a lot more often! Ha!