About John Hansen

Hi! I'm sixteen. I’m a YA writer represented by Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Foreword Literary, and I’m an intern at the same agency. I like puns and being on time (some might even say I’m punctual.) (…I’ll stop.) but the latter never quite seems to happen because, you know, the internet exists.

7 Popular TV Shows If They Were Made for a Publishing Audience

(So after nearly a year of infrequent posting, TCWT is finally back–for real this time! I’ve missed this blog, and I’ve missed you guys, and I’m really excited to be returning.

To give a quick update: I’ve spent the last two weeks updating old posts in preparation for this blog re-launch, organizing them into archives, and although not all of the posts are updated yet (I have yet to go over the critique partner posts, for example), those that are should hopefully prove to be at least a little bit helpful. We also have a new, cleaner blog design; our list of books by teen authors has more than doubled after I added to it last week; we now have, in that vein, a page for upcoming books written by teen authors (two are releasing from Big Five publishers this month alone, and one of those two has already sold movie rights!); and finally, yes, the blog chain is returning as a monthly occurrence as well. I’ll announce the topic for May’s chain in mid-April!)

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So while watching most all of the writing/publishing/blogging community live-tweet the Game of Thrones premiere last night, I remembered Allegra Davis’s bookish reality TV show post from two years ago, and I thought, Well, what if Game of Thrones were remade for a writing/publishing audience? And from there, I starting imagining what it would be like if other popular TV shows were redone for book lovers… and then this post happened. I wish I could say it ended well. ;)

Breaking Books – After getting fired from his job and realizing he is broke, a high school librarian named Walter Write, desperate to make money to support him and his thirty cats, uses his knowledge of books to write and self-publish dinosaur erotica novels. He knows that what he’s doing is wrong, but he has no choice, and dinosaur erotica is a hot sell–pun intended. So hot, in fact, that the money quickly starts rolling in, and Write becomes famous in the underground dinorotica community for creating the finest dinosaur love stories out there (specifically, books involving his trademark blue pterodactyls). Soon, to increase his audience, Write begins working with a mysterious publisher named Gustavo who uses his small press as a front for dinorotica bookselling all across the world. And as the thousands of dollars turn to millions, Write tells himself that he’s merely trying to gather the funds to support his cats for the rest of their lives, but he soon realizes that, in fact, he isn’t: he’s doing it for him. Because, most shockingly of all, he likes writing dino love stories.

Game of Office Chairs – A drama following power-hungry editors from all across the publishing realm, who play an unending game of poaching each other’s authors, blackmailing publicists at other houses until they quit, and doing everything they can to propel their imprint to the top. Fans are still reeling from the shocking third season finale, which ended with the Red Merger, where two of the rival publishers attempted to merge–and their furious employees responded by drenching both buildings in red paint.

Sherlock: A BBC (Book Broadcasting Corporation) series about Sherlock Holmes, London’s best literary talent scout, who investigates books published throughout the web and, with the help of his partner Watson, analyzes the writing and decides whether those authors have what it takes to land a publishing contract. Unfortunately for Holmes, his rival, Moriarty, keeps finding undiscovered talent faster than he can.

Sleepy Hollow: This supernatural thriller takes place interchangeably between the Amazon-Big Five war of 2079 and two-hundred years after the fact when Bezos’ long-dead military commander Ichabod Crane comes back to life and mutant Kindles start terrorizing the town of Sleepy Hollow. The series revolves around Crane and a local small press owner as, through their attempts to save the town, they uncover one of the greatest conspiracies in all of publishing history

Mad Publicists: A group of corrupt publicists works to convince readers to buy books they know to be of poor quality. Famous for drinking and writing vicious reviews of competitors’ books while on the job, Don Draper, the show’s lead, is desperate to hide the numerous secrets from his own dark past–especially a lengthy vampire romance he self-published years back.

The Auth-Bachelor – A group of some of the most prolific literary agents in the industry, who have their own share of personal troubles and are in need of a new client to resolve them, compete to win the representation of an extremely talented, somehow-unpublished writer. As the writer’s initial queries lead to a partial-turned-full with each agent, the reality show teems with romantic one-on-ones. And even after the writer is forced to choose only one agent that he wants to be represented by, things happen fast; after all, one day the two meet, and the next they’re picking out a publishing house together!

The Walking Read - Set in a post-Amazocalyptic world hundreds of years after the fall of Amazon took the rest of the publishing industry with it, where authors everywhere have become so desperate to get their work published that they’ve resorted to attacking everyone they see until the people agree to read the tattered remains of those authors’ books (shameless self-promotion just got serious), a rag-tag team of former self-publishers has to fight their way through the desperate-author-riddled world and into New York City, the heart of the former publishing industry, in their attempts to save the writerly race.

TCWT January 2014 Blog Chain

Oh yes, it’s that time again. After an uber-fantastic December blog chain, it’s time to announce the topic for January!

(See here for more info on what this whole blog chain thing is about.)

This month’s prompt is:

“If you could co-write a book with one author–living or not–who would it be and what would the book be about?”

FYI: as far as the “what would the book be about?” part of the question is concerned,  you’re welcome to be as vague or as specific as you like. (You also don’t need to write out a blurb, but you’re welcome to if you prefer that.) Or if you’d rather not come up with a book idea at all, feel free to talk about why you’d choose that author instead. Really, go crazy with this! After all, in my experience, crazy always = more fun.

If you want to join in, comment below with a link to your blog and any dates you can’t post on!

Writing An Antagonist

There’s something about antagonists that, I think,  inherently fascinates us as readers. We all get at least a little curious about what leads someone to become “evil,” why it is they do what they do, and so on. And considering we live in a world where right and wrong is all about perspective, well-done antagonists can be especially exciting. I think this is where my love of Shadow & Bone by Leigh Bardugo comes in. The Darkling is one of the greatest villains I’ve ever read. He’s evil; he’s terrifying; he’s complex. And you know what, on top of that, makes him so great? The fact that he feels uniquely human. (Well, okay, this is a fantasy so technically he isn’t human, but you get the point.) Bardugo does this incredible thing where she gives him emotions and fears and goals and even a bit of romantic longing, and this helps the reader to understand and connect with him, because at the heart of it all, she shows that he is still a struggling guy. He is still a normal person, just one that is immeasurably angry and unpredictable. This fact, I’d argue, makes him all the more terrifying to a reader–I mean, how can you be afraid of someone if he doesn’t feel real?–thus adding lots of tension to the story. Plus, making the villain have his* human moments adds a layer of intrigue for the reader. After all, you don’t want to write a villain so pointlessly evil that the reader cringes whenever he enters the scene; you want to write a villain so intriguing and complex and wicked that he makes the reader’s heart pound instantly, but at the same time, they can’t look away.

Recently, I heard someone on Twitter give advice that went something like this (I’m paraphrasing): “you haven’t succeeded in writing an antagonist until the reader knows why he or she [the antagonist] is the hero in his or her own story.” I couldn’t agree with that more. Take it from me, because I’ve made this mistake before; you don’t want your villain to be all evil. You don’t want them to do the bad thing every time for no apparent reason, because that’s boring. Not only that, but unless you give your villain a real character and real motivations, the tension in your story will be significantly lacking. Think about it. If the reader doesn’t understand your antagonist, they won’t be afraid for your main character. They won’t have those moments where they’re reading at 1 a.m. with their heart pounding because the prospect of the main character meeting the villain terrifies and excites them all at once. And you want those moments. Those moments are key to making a good story become great. So you have to make sure your antagonist feels real and layered and exciting. Give him goals. Give him drive. Give him weaknesses. Give him a unique backstory and an interesting personality and possibly even romantic longing. Make sure his dialogue isn’t always centered around being pure evil. (Maybe he’s apologetic at times. Maybe he’s reminiscent. I don’t know. But even the bad guys say more than just endless threats.) Don’t get me wrong; your villain doesn’t have to be a nice guy. He doesn’t even have to have redeeming qualities. But he should feel real. He should feel unique and human. And to get this across, here are three key** aspects you need to make sure are clear, or become clear, in your story:

1) Motivation. What makes him do what he does? What is his endgame? What in his past brought this about, and why does he think doing [X thing] will help? What are the lengths he will go to achieve his goal? 

2) Justification. Why does the villain think what he’s doing is just? Why does he believe the main character deserves it? Why does the villain, like I mentioned above, see himself as the hero in his own story? After all, nobody is all evil. Sometimes people will do bad things because they feel it’s for the right reasons, and you have to convey that in your antagonist. 

3) Fear. Let’s face it: everyone is afraid of something. This means your villain has to be afraid of something, too. He has to have a weakness. He has to have a past he doesn’t want revealed, or a person he doesn’t want harmed, or a world he doesn’t want created, or something. Show what this fear is, or at least hint at it.

*I’m just using “his” because The Darkling is a guy, but you can obviously have villains of all genders.

**Please note that this is all my opinion. You may be able to write an incredible villain without any of this. I have yet to read one, but I’m sure it’s possible. These are mostly just guidelines that can always be broken, and if you disagree with any of it, feel free to bring it up in the comments! I love discussing antagonists, lol.

Good luck, guys! Let me know if you have any questions/you disagree with anything I said. And for those of you waiting for the blog chain–yes, there will be one in January! I’m going to announce it on the 26th. :-)

Why There Is No Such Thing as a Teen Writer

So let’s get right to the point: there’s no such thing as a teen writer.

Now, I know this sounds really weird coming from me–I run a teen writing blog, after all*–but it’s true. There is no such thing as a teen writer. We are the unicorns of publishing; we are more myth than we are reality. (Sorry, unicorn lovers.) Because really, we aren’t teen writers. We’re WRITERS. Period. End of story. Blog post over.

When you think about it, what makes teen writers so different from everyone else? Well, we just happen to be a different age than most (which in itself is sort of untrue since writers span all ages). So why is there this major divide between teen and adult writers? Why are we viewed so differently than other writers are? The internet is filled with “advice” geared toward teen novelists, but you don’t see similar blog posts for writers who are in their twenties, or writers in their thirties, or writers who are exactly forty-two and two months old. Why? Because when you’re a writer, your age doesn’t matter. 

So why, despite this, are teen writers often looked down upon compared to adult writers? I think, obviously, it’s because we’re young, and many people think that automatically equals Not Good. In fairness, yes, it’s 99% likely that you won’t be an excellent storyteller when you first start out as a teen. (That’s not to say this non-excellence will carry through for all of your teen years, of course. All I’m saying is that during your first few months or so of writing novels you may not produce the best books ever.) But you’re equally not-excellent when you start out at age 22 or 35 or 43 or 82. The whole point is that writing is something you can’t improve on without actually going out and writing. And yes, it’s true that some people won’t ever be ready to publish as teens, because we all need time to develop our craft. But by that same logic, some beginning thirty-year-olds won’t be ready to publish until they’re thirty-nine and some beginning seventy year olds won’t be ready to publish until they’re seventy-five, while some beginning forty year olds may be ready to publish at forty-one and some beginning sixteen year olds may be ready to publish at seventeen. It all depends on you, the individual, and how much time you put in, how much you get critiqued by trusted sources, how much you read and study books by your favorite authors to see what they’re doing right. It’s not about your age. It’s not about how many years of life experience you have. It’s about your drive, the effort you put in, and in a lot of cases, just pure luck.

And then there is the argument for the teen/adult writer separation that basically says teen writers aren’t mature enough to tell a real story with real life themes that asks all-important questions, which is just so untrue. Because I don’t know about you, but I’ve found my teen years to be the ones in which I have the most questions about this crazy life thing, in which I care about politics and people and love and religion, in which I feel myself gaining an opinion and a voice and ideas I want to share with the world. I’m not just a clueless kid any longer, and that’s the amazing thing about being a teenager. Because suddenly, we gain a voice. Because suddenly, we know all of the questions we’re supposed to be asking, plus some of our own. Being a teen is about exploring, just like a book is about exploring–whether it’s a story or a character or a theme or a question or all of the above–so why is it so odd that they can mesh together in an innovative and thought-provoking way? 

The answer is, it isn’t, just like it isn’t odd for an adult to do the same thing.

Thus, teen writers don’t exist. We’re just writers, and like every other one out there, all it takes is the right amount of effort, natural ability, and luck for us to create great books. It might be two years or ten years or thirty years from when you start to when you’re “ready” to publish (which is incredibly subjective as is), but one day, you will get there. The “when” of it just varies from person to person, not from age to age.

My point being: when you write, you’re a writer. There’s nothing more to it. You’re not an aspiring writer, you’re not a teen writer–you’re a writer. You have your own style and your own voice and your own ideas and processes and stories to tell, and one day, in some form, you’ll get a chance to share them.

Publishing is that awesome industry in which your age just does not play a part (aside from a possible marketing perspective). Because, think of it this way: when you query an agent or self-publish on Amazon or post a short story on Wattpad, the agents or the readers aren’t paying attention to your age.** They’re paying attention to your story. They’re paying attention to the characters you create and the themes you get across and whether or not your writing can suck them away from the rest of the world.

Because–like I said–whether you’re thirteen or twenty-five or forty-four or eighty-two, you’re a writer. And telling stories is just what writers do.

 

*The main reason I label this blog as a teen writing blog even though I don’t believe there is a such thing as a teen writer is because I really want to provide a genuine resource for writers-who-happen-to-be-teens that doesn’t treat us as lesser than every other writer out there, and to do that I have to add the teen writer label. (There are some really discouraging blog posts on the internet that supposedly give “advice” to teen writers, and the advice is basically that we suck and should quit now and wait until we’re forty. Which… yeah… not true.)

**Unless you make them pay attention to it by touting yourself as a young author, which is not something I recommend when you query an agent.**

Ten Things Never To Say To A Writer

In the spirit of… something… I’ve decided to compile a list of ten things you should never, ever say to a writer. I’m sure all of us can relate, largely because they’ve probably happened to most of us in real life, but also because there is a level of insanity that comes with being a writer that non-writers just don’t “get.” They don’t get the characters in your head. The constant need to write. The 2 a.m. mornings spent typing away at your computer. And they most certainly don’t get how to talk to a writer about his or her writing, which is where this list comes in.

WARNING: excessive GIF use.

1. “Anyone can write a book.”

Enough said.

2. “You said you want to write for a living? No, really, what do you want to do when you grow up?”

3. “Since you like writing so much, will you write this essay for me?”

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4. “You must have a lot of free time to write all those books.”

This one gets to me every time, hence. Yeah, of course I do my writing from midnight to 2 a.m. every night (morning?) because I just have buckets of free time.

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5. “Will you write me into your book?”

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6. “Have you ever considered publishing your book?” 

What a brilliant idea! That never crossed my mind until now.

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7. “I hate reading.”

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8. “So are you, like, a psycho soon-to-be serial killer to spend all that time at your computer?”

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9. “Are there vampires in your book?”

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And the kicker:

10. “Aww you’re writing a book? That’s cute.”

TCWT July 2013 Blog Chain

ETA: 3/31/14: *If you’re one of the awesome people who finds these past blog chain posts through search terms, you can go here to find more recent topics and to sign up for a current chain.*

I’ll get right to it: the topic for next month’s blog chain is:

“Take any character from one of your books and put them in a therapy session. Write a short scene about what happens.”

You guys are welcome to go crazy with this topic. You can stage it as you want, write it as you want, add in as many realistic (or unrealistic elements) as you want. (You can even include multiple characters to make it a group therapy session.) I think we all can agree that our characters need major professional help, so don’t hesitate to bring on the weird. ;)

Interview with LeighAnn Kopans, Author of One

 

Today, I’m so excited to introduce LeighAnn  Kopans, author of the fabulous YA sci-fi, One, which released this Tuesday. I love One because it takes a plot you don’t see very much in YA–superheroes–and turns it into something that is just plain fun, while also mixing in a little bit of romance. Plus, that cover? So awesome.

I love LeighAnn’s publication story because she didn’t self-publish as a means of giving up; to her, self-publishing was about beginning anew. After she landed an agent, her book received lots of positive feedback from the publishers they pitched it to, but ultimately, it just didn’t sell. However, after that, she didn’t just throw in the towel and decide to self-publish purely as a means of  getting the book out somehow. Instead, she weighed the pros and cons and decided that self-publishing was the right fit for her, and that she was going to work as hard as she possibly could to make her book look and read like any other traditionally-published book on the shelves.

And she did just that.

She started a street team, hired a great cover designer and copyeditor, packaged her book in a professional manner, sent out Advanced Reader Copies to bloggers–everything. I’m incredibly happy for her and all she has accomplished, so to celebrate One‘s release, I’m having her over for a quick interview and a giveaway.

Blog

Twitter

 

1. What inspired you to write One

I’ve had an intense love of superhero stories since I was a little girl – 8 years old camping out in front of the TV every Saturday morning to catch X-men cartoons. I loved everything about them, and since I have an obsessive personality (understatement) I obsessed over the pseudo-science of mutations. How exactly would superpowers WORK? It didn’t take me too long to realize that most superpowers featured more than one component.

That idea stuck with me for a long time, and once I’d cut my teeth on my first novel (in the drawer for now,) I decided to try my hand at using my half-superpowered idea on a Young Adult novel.

2. What was your favorite scene to write? 

It was the first scene I ever wrote, actually, and what later became Chapter 8 of the book  - when Merrin and Elias discover how their powers work together. The whole setting and discovery of the moment felt so magical to me that it just poured out, and I knew I had something special.

3. What advice would you give to those out there who are unsure of what publishing route is right for them? What made YOU choose self-publishing?

The advice I give to everyone is to sit down and think long and hard about your goals for THIS BOOK. Any goals are valid, honestly – Maybe you want your family members to be able to buy your book, or maybe you want other people to read it. Maybe you want to make a little money with your book on the side. Maybe you really, really want your book to be in a book store. Maybe you NEED to hold your book in paperback, but have no cash. There are different methods of publishing for each goal – everything from publishing on Wattpad to self-publishing to small press to the query-agent-sub-Big 6 sale route. Each publishing method has its major pros and major cons.

I chose self-publishing because my book went on submission in NYC but wouldn’t sell, for unclear reasons. I believed my book was good and would have some degree of mass appeal, and that it could have the greatest number of readers and maybe even make a little money if I self-published it. Really, in a nutshell, I believed that ONE deserved to be published, and I knew I could do it myself in a way that I was proud of.

4. What is one part of your marketing plan that you feel worked the best?

Hands down, my street team was the most effective method of marketing. I’m so grateful that John planted the seed of the idea, and that I had so many amazing friends and contacts and friends-of-friends to assemble what is truly the best street team around. There is nothing more effective than passionate word of mouth, and that’s what a street team is.

I also teamed up with my fellow author and friend Francesca Zappia to create the most unique teasers I’ve ever seen – comic-style installments that summarized the first eight chapters of the book. We saw a great response on Goodreads when the comics went live. I asked myself what would make me, as a reader, read teasers, and the answer was that I was sick of reading long text excerpts. I would want something to give me a glimpse of the story in a totally different way from most people.

5. For those interested in self-publishing, what advice would you give?  

Be methodical about your decision. Know what it takes time, resources, and dedication-wise BEFORE you decide to self-publish. It’s not an easy route, to be sure, but no publishing route is. After being in this game for almost seven months, I can say that I’m very happy with my decision, and all the angst and worry was definitely worth it.

Also, remember that when you self-publish, you are in charge – you can do anything you want! The sky is truly the limit. I was able to send out more ARCs than most traditionally published authors, dream up cool swag and promo, and have a HUGE street team – all things I would not have been able to do unless I was a top-billed traditionally published author. Think outside the box – self publishing does not have to mean making do with less. In fact, oftentimes, it can mean having more.

6. You have to do one dance move to celebrate your release. What would it be? (This is a serious question!)

Gotta be a Dougie, since all you need to do that move is music and style – and, dance-wise, those are the only two things I *do* have. We can’t all be superheroes at EVERYTHING.

Thank you so much for inviting me and for writing up this interview! Teen writers are amazing, and I’d love to come back or help out in any way I can. Happy writing!

Thank you so much for coming, LeighAnn!

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About One:

Sixteen-year-old Merrin Grey would love to be able to fly, or even drift along like a freaking ghost – too bad all she can do is float up and down. When almost everyone else is a Super, with at least two powers, or a Normal, with none, being a One is the worst kind of in-between.  

All Merrin has ever wanted is to land an internship at the Biotech Hub. She busts her butt in AP Chem and salivates over news of Hub President Fisk’s experiments, hoping she can get close enough to his research on the manifestations of superpowers to finally figure out how to fix herself.

Then she meets Elias VanDyne, another One, and all her carefully crafted plans fly out the window. Literally. When the two of them touch, their Ones combine to make them fly, and when they’re not soaring over the Nebraska cornfields, they’re busy falling for each other. Merrin’s over the moon – Elias is as good at kissing as he is at helping her fly. Better yet, her mad chemistry skills land her a spot on the Hub’s internship short list.

But when the Hub kidnaps Elias, Merrin discovers The Hub’s sick experiments could take away even their measly single powers – Fisk’s interest in Ones like them might even be lethal. If she stands up to Fisk, she not only risks Elias’s life, she’ll also destroy her chances of ever finding a way to fly solo – of ever being more than a One.  

Buy it on:

Kindle
Paperback
Special Edition Paperback with comics (from Amazon)
B&N
iBookstore
Signed (from her site)

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Also! I’m giving away an eBook copy of One. I don’t want to make you do anything fancy to enter, so just comment below and I’ll put you in the drawing.

(Or if you comment but don’t want to be entered, just say so.)

Thanks! Hope this helped, and be sure to pick up your copy of the book even if you don’t win. It’s available in print as well for those of you without ereaders.

Critique Partner Match Up Service – 2013

*Before you enter, please skim through this post to get an idea of what is going on.*

Have you done that? Good! Now it’s time to meet some critique partners! :-)

 

Rules:

- Anyone 13-20 may participate, whether you’re serious about writing or doing it just for fun. You may mention your exact age in your entry, or you may not. It’s up to you.

- You don’t have to contact anyone about being critique partners if you don’t see an entry that looks like a good match, but you have to participate to contact others. If you see someone who you want to talk more with about being critique partners, contact them in whichever way they say you should in the form below (more on that in a minute), and tell them briefly about yourself, why you think they’d be a good fit, maybe go over what your current manuscript is about, etc. and then ask them if they’d like to swap pages. Please keep it courteous, and respect that they may not want to swap. It isn’t anything personal if they say no. (Side note: Swapping pages–usually about the first five pages–is a good way to see how you work with the other person, whether you like their writing, their critiquing style, and vice versa. And if you both agree it will work, you have yourself a new critique partner!)

- Similarly, if you get contacted by a participant and don’t think they’re a good fit, please politely decline their offer. They will understand. But if you think they’re a good match, give them more details about yourself and your writing and send them an agreed-upon number of pages to critique, and they’ll send yours in return. Please try not to make them read your whole manuscript until you both agree you should be CPs. Tact is always appreciated.

- CPs don’t have to be purely for critiquing either, and you don’t need a finished manuscript to enter. CPs also make great writing buddies, especially with Camp NaNo coming up.

- (For what it’s worth, I don’t think you should limit your CPs only to teen writers, though, even if this contest is teen-only. Remember that adults have great opinions about YA too, no matter how old they are, and a range of input is always helpful!)

- Most importantly, have fun with this!

 

Entry Form:

If you’d like to participate, post brief answers to the form in the comments below. A few sentences each is good. (This is also the same form as last time, so if you want to reuse your responses, go for it!)

Name or pen name:

Genre:

Are you serious about getting an agent with your book, or is it just for fun?

Pitch your current book in under three sentences*:

Briefly talk about yourself and what you like to do/read/write:

What you’re looking for in a critique partner:

Links to blog or twitter (if applicable):

Contact**:

 

*This post may be of use, if you have no idea how to write a pitch.

**Note: I know many people don’t like their email addresses published publicly, so if you’d rather not include your email as a means of contact, just ask anyone interested in working with you to comment on your blog (and you can grab their email address from the comment and email them privately), or message you on twitter/facebook/whatever and work it out from there. If you’re fine with having your email in the comment, then please include it, but be sure to space out the “@” and “.com” to avoid spambots. [i.e. TeenRiter(at)gmail(dot)com]

Questions? Comments? Concerns? And just so you know:

All entries most be posted in the comments section below by 11:59 PM EST on June 16th! However, the actual reading entries and contacting participants can go as long as you like.

Thank you! I hope this helps!

(To clarify, you can start contacting right away, but you have until the 16th to put your entry in the comments below.)

Finding A Critique Partner

So, critique partners. Beta readers. I talk about their importance a lot on here and I’ve found a lot people struggling to find them, so I thought I should make a post on it. (A while back, I did a critique partner match up, and I’m going to do something similar right now. See below.) Basically, critique partners/beta readers are people who write books that are similar to yours and who you mesh with personality-wise; you tend to swap manuscripts and give each other feedback, work through plot problems, etc. A critique partner and beta reader can do as much or as little as you both agree to, but regardless they’re incredibly helpful and an invaluable resource–totally worth getting. (The main difference in definition between a critique partner and a beta reader is that a critique partner implies you swap manuscripts, while a beta may just be someone who reads for you but not you reading for them.) It’s good to have a go-to person to work with on your book, or just to talk with or rant with. Critique partners (CPs for short) or beta readers are great for that, and I strongly encourage anyone who thinks having one will be of help to them to get one, especially if you’re working toward publication. Here is a great post about the importance of critique partners by a published author herself. It’s definitely worth checking out.

But the question is, how do you find a critique partner? Well, this is the million dollar question, and so I asked the TCWT Facebook group (another great place to find critique partners!) how they got theirs. Here were the responses. (Last names are fuzzed out for privacy purposes.)

And more:

So here is what I found. If you’re looking for a critique partner, some good places to start are:

- In this very blogging community. There are so many awesome writer bloggers out there, both teens and not, and if you are particularly fond of a certain blogger (and they aren’t, like, famous) and think you would be a good personality match, don’t hesitate to ask about swapping chapters. They worst they can do is say a polite no. An awesome way to find other teen bloggers like this is through our TCWT blog chain, where tons of teens participate  every month, and you can always look through the blog chain schedule and find other people similar to you through there.

- Forums. This is a big one. There are plenty of writing websites out there, like NaNoWriMo (<—this is perhaps the best place to find critique partners or beta readers), Protagonize, Figment, Wattpad, Absolute Write, etc. that are great for meeting other writers, reading and critiquing each other’s stories, and finding people who you connect with and whose critiques and own stories you enjoy. This = a potential CP.

- Critique partner matching sites. There are a few sites out there dedicated to critique partner matching, like CP Seek, which are definitely worth looking into. There are also writing websites that do critique partner match ups every so often. For example, Maggie Stiefvater does a yearly Critique Partner Love Connection on her blog (I think every March?)  and Authoress does a similar Critique Partner Dating Service every six months, the next of which should be this July!

- Pitch contests. If you’re in the writing community and have a finished manuscript, pitch contests are a great way to meet other writers. Brenda Drake runs some amazing contests every month, and they serve as the perfect way to meet other writers and read about their manuscripts. If you seem particularly interested in one person, don’t hesitate to ask about swapping! Tons of writers have found their critique partners (and agents!) through Brenda and others.

- Twitter. Yes, here I go again telling you all about how great Twitter is. But really, I love Twitter. Once you get the hang of it and follow a bunch of writers, it’s one of the best networking tools out there. You meet others like you, connect, learn about what’s happening in the industry and what other writers are working on manuscript-wise, and really, you make amazing friends. I met all of my critique partners through Twitter, and it was the same for all of them; we started talking, we both connected, we eventually asked about each other’s manuscripts, swapped chapters and were still a great match, and then BAM. Critique partner. Twitter is not all about getting critique partners, of course, but neither are any of these (except the CP websites). Still, like with the others, Twitter is the perfect gateway into finding someone to swap manuscripts with.

- The TCWT Facebook group. Of course I have to plug TCWT, right? But seriously, for those of you on Facebook, you should join the TCWT Facebook group. We currently have 75 awesome teen writers, some of whom have already connected and became critique partners, and it’s a really great place to be weird and meet people like you; to find a critique partner, it’s as simple as making a post introducing yourself and seeing if anyone would be interested in swapping chapters.

- Real life friends. Real life friends and family should not be your only critique partners–you should have other writers who you don’t know in real life as well, because real life friends are always biased–but they are a great place to get started for advice, encouragement, and critiques. If you know any writers or avid readers in real life, don’t count them out!

So let’s say you find someone similar to you both writing and personality-wise online. How do you ask them about potentially being CPs? Really, just be nice about it. Email them and introduce your book, yourself, what brought you to them, why you think you’re a good match, (or if you already are good friends, you can adjust how much to say accordingly) and just ask them a) if they are looking for a critique partner and b) if they would like to swap first chapters. (It’s always best to start with swapping a few chapters to assess how good a fit you are critique-wise. Then, if you like each other’s comments, you can move on to full manuscripts!) Similarly, if you’re either asking to beta read for someone or asking them to beta read for you, be polite, pitch yourself or your book, state why you chose them and why you (or your book) would be a good match.

I’ll be honest, it isn’t easy to ask these things, at least for me (it’s like asking someone out on a date, really, and I am AWKWARD), but taking the leap is almost always for the better. I mean, it can’t hurt to try. Worst case scenario, nothing happens. Best case, you have a shiny new critique partner or beta reader.

***

And now? Let’s do a critique partner match up. I made another post specifically for it; if you’re interested in finding a critique partner, please go HERE. Enjoy!

Why Communities Are Important To Writers… and Why The Teen Writer Community Rocks

Writing is a very solitary thing. It requires patience, quiet, and being alone for long periods of time. Of course, you can argue that you aren’t ever really alone because that ever-annoying voice in your head never stops talking to you, but the point remains that writing is a personal hobby geared toward the individual. However, oddly enough, a big part of the whole writing and publishing process is community. You can’t go it alone; you need a support system, people to laugh with, talk with, write with. You need someone to read over your drafts and give you honest feedback. You need someone to brainstorm plot ideas with (well, sometimes) and to encourage you when you feeling like your writing is crap. You need people like you. Whether you’re writing for fun and seriously toward publication, community makes all the difference.

This is a big reason why I love WordPress, and really all blog communities. It allows so many teen writers to connect and interact and write and share their work. It helps each of us grow and improve and enjoy ourselves. I swear, I would be nowhere if I hadn’t met all of you wonderful people as well as the amazingly talented people on Twitter. The support, the insight, and the sheer brilliance of others have made me a better writer and really, a smarter, more mature person.

But this is not about me. I hope, and I assume, that community has shaped all of you as writers, too. Feedback from people you trust is invaluable, and so is having a support system, and having people to go to when you’re feeling lost about what comes next in your book. Plus, community is fun. Writing gets stressful sometimes, and there’s nothing more refreshing than going into a Chatzy with a bunch of friends and embracing your own, weird self. It inspires you. It helps you write more, and write better.

So I guess that’s my number one tip for new teen writers with no idea what to do. It’s to get online. Join the community. Make friends. Other teen writers are your best outlet for improving your craft and building your writing and publishing knowledge, and I think that’s what makes the internet so amazing. It allows teen writer sites like TCWT and Go Teen Writers and all of the others to exist. It allows us, as young writers, to connect with each other and help one another in a way we were never able to before. I also think this is why you see more and more teens getting published nowadays. (I know of four who are debuting next year!) The internet, and the community behind it, is allowing teens, who would normally not know the first thing about writing a novel, to be as talented and as knowledgeable as any adult. NaNoWriMo and Figment and so many writing forums have been such a huge factor in getting writers, young and old, to meet one another and eventually, to achieve their publishing dreams, whatever that may be. This isn’t to say that if you join the writing community, you will magically become talented and everything you ever wished for will come true. That doesn’t happen. But getting involved in the community is the first big step to growing as a writer. You also have to be proactive. Read as many blog posts about writing and publishing as you can, both by industry pros and writers like you. Make friends. Beta read other writers’ manuscripts (seriously, nothing helps you improve your craft more than critically reading a friend’s book.) Build a support system. And most of all, have fun. Writing shouldn’t be work. It sometimes feels like work, yes, but you should be able to make it enjoyable, too. Other people can help you do that. I’ve never had more fun writing than when I’m word sprinting with friends and spending the in-between time talking and GIF warring and whatever. You need to find that place of enjoyment, whatever it may be, and community is the perfect way to do that.

Basically, if you’re new to writing and want to improve, my number one suggestion is to do one of three things:

1) Start a blog and interact with the teen writer blogging community.

2) Get on Twitter/Facebook (we have an awesome TCWT teen writer Facebook group!)/Tumblr/etc. and meet teen writers there.

3) Get on writing sites–Figment, NaNoWriMo, Protagonize, etc., share your work, and meet people!

These are great starter points for new writers, and they will help you break both into the publishing world and the writing community. You’ll meet amazing people, and I promise it won’t take long for you to feel improved as a writer. You also shouldn’t hesitate to ask questions when you have them, or volunteer to read someone’s manuscript, or ask people you know if they’d be willing to critique your first chapter. Take advantage of these resources. They’ll help you, I promise.

All of this boils down to: in this day and age, we have all of the tools we need to achieve of our writing dreams right in front of us on the internet. Don’t be afraid to use them.

So, out of curiosity, how has the writing community affected you?

 

TCWT June 2013 Blog Chain

ETA: 3/31/14: *If you’re one of the awesome people who finds these past blog chain posts through search terms, you can go here to find more recent topics and to sign up for a current chain.*

For this month’s chain, I wanted to try something a little more serious than some of the recent topics, as I’m really curious to see what everyone has to say. The prompt:

“How have both the people in your life and your own personal experiences impacted your writing? Do you ever base characters off of people you know?”

This is a question writers get asked all the time, but it’s one that is especially fascinating to me because of the wide variety of answers I typically get. And then when you consider that, as teens, we tend to write characters that are our own age, I always wonder how each of us applies our own lives to our books.

Thanks everyone! As always, comment below with a link to your blog and any dates you can’t do to sign up!

May 2013 Blog Chain

ETA: 3/31/14: *If you’re one of the awesome people who finds these past blog chain posts through search terms, you can go here to find more recent topics and to sign up for a current chain.*

This month’s chain is hosted by Lily Jenness, who emailed with a brilliant topic I can’t believe we haven’t done yet:

“What are some of the coolest/weirdest/funniest/most disturbing things you’ve researched for a story?”

She says: “Let’s face it, as writers, our search history can be a bit bizarre. We look up everything from how memory works to how to make candles. For this month’s blog chain, talk about a few of the things you’ve researched for your stories, be they funny, fascinating, or disturbing.”

As always, to sign up just comment below with a link to your blog and any days you can’t make. Thanks!

It’s Not You, It’s Me

But can we at least still be friends? 

Okay. Sorry. I had to do that. I’m not actually breaking up with you, though; I’m just stating a publishing fact. “It’s not you, it’s me” is something you probably have heard and will hear in various forms all throughout your writing life. After all, writing is art, and by definition art is all about interpretation. Therefore, many different people can interpret your book in many different ways, which means almost everyone’s experience reading your book will be different.

Basically: some people will get your book. They’ll get what you’re trying to say, what themes you want to convey, what concepts you’re attempting to explore. They’ll get your characters, your plot, your writing style, your voice. They’ll just get it.

But then some people won’t.

By definition, like with all art, some people won’t like your book. Does that make them stupid? Not at all. Does that make it your fault? Definitely not. The crazy thing is, someone not liking your book means next to nothing about the quality of your work. It’s just that, for whatever reason, your characters or your writing or some part of your book didn’t click with one reader. That’s all there is to it. Because that not “getting” it reflects more on the reader’s personal tastes than it is does on the quality of your writing.

This kind of thing happens in less black-and-white ways, too. Maybe someone will ABSOLUTELYLOVELOVE the themes in your book, but will despire your main character, or think your plot is way too predictable, or some combination of things. Maybe they’ll fall in love with your main character, but think the love interest is a terrible match for him or her. Who knows! The point is, for every group who loves your book there will be a person who hates it, and for every group who hates it there will be a person who loves it–and it has almost nothing to do with the book itself.

This concept sends the perfectionists of the world reeling (*raises hand*), but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s true. And yeah, I’m sure we’ve all heard this before. “Subjectivity” and all that crap. We know on the surface that not everyone will like our books, just as not everyone will like us, but still… deep down, a part of all of us hopes we’ll be the exception to that rule. That we’ll be beloved by all. But the truth is, there are not exceptions. Not in the real world, not in the book world. For example, on Goodreads, The Fault In Our Stars by my pizza-loving idol, John Green, is the highest rated book-that-has-over-100,000-Goodreads-ratings, and yet even it has thousands of one-star reviews, has people who think it’s one of the worst books ever written.

But that’s just how art works.

That’s just how life works.

So:

If you’re querying, you will get rejections. If you send your book to all of friends, some will not love it. If you publish your book, you will get bad reviews. It’s just a fact. It happens, and sometimes, you just need to cry over it, and that’s okay. But then you need to learn to relinquish control, and accept that rejections are inevitable. Because the beautiful thing about art is that the reverse is also true:

If you’re querying, you will get full requests. If you’re sending your book to friends, you’ll get people who love every bit of it. If you publish your book, you’ll get glowing reviews from.

It’s that. obnoxiously. freaking. simple.

***

Or if that doesn’t help, and you’re in the midst of Rejection Suck, PUPPY GIFS ARE ALWAYS THE ANSWER. LIKE SO:

Being a Teen Is Not the End

Update: 3/30/14

So, quite obviously, this is a teen writing blog. And by definition, that means I’m all, “Rah! Rah! Teen writers rock!” “Teen writers can get published!” “Teens can write, too!” (See what I did there?) I talk a lot about how teen writers, just like all other writers out there, are completely capable of securing a book deal, and often, as is the case with our teen author bookshelf, I highlight all of those who do.

But, here’s one thing I don’t often talk about: what if you don’t get published as a teen?

What if you work your heart out, write a great book, fully deserve to secure that book deal… and it just doesn’t fall through? Or what if you realize that you just need more time to improve your craft before you can get published? Or… what if it just doesn’t happen while you’re a teenager?

And I know this may sound silly to any non-teens reading this, but I think a lot of us teen writers, myself included, fear this. In fact, we fear it not just a little bit, but a lot. There’s something in the back of our minds that says, “Okay, you need to get published before you turn twenty-one.” Or, “Okay, you need to get an agent before you turn twenty-one.” Or, “Okay, you need to write a full novel before you turn twenty-one.” There’s something telling you that you need to do X writing-related thing while you’re still young, because you know that you are talented, and you want to show it to the world. But more than that, there’s a certain level of personal pride in it, because you want to be able to look back on yourself in ten years and say, “Yeah, I did [insert thing here] when I was only eighteen.”

Whatever the case, this is something we all deal with on some level, and it’s 100%, totally normal. Everyone, knowingly or not, sets goals for themselves. Everyone. And it just so happens that many of us teen writers set goals revolving around our age, so the possibility of not doing X writing-related thing before we turn twenty instills fear in a lot of us. (In a weird way, it’s sort of like the “I need to get kissed/need to lose my virginity before I turn Y age” mentality that a lot of us, myself included, feel.)

I get this. I really do. Even now, I still feel a little tingle of fear whenever I remember that, chances are, I won’t get published before I turn twenty. But today, when this possibility popped up again, I found myself thinking, “Well, who cares?”

To help give you all some perspective, I’ve spent the last thirty minutes researching all of the things that happen if you don’t get published as a teen, and I’ve culminated my findings into this one picture. So what happens if you don’t get published as a teen? Well:

There is a legit picture here. You just can’t see it. #SneakyJohnIsSneaky

The answer is nothing.

Nothing happens. Absolutely nothing. The world does not implode. Dinosaurs don’t come back to life and take you hostage in your own basement. Your fingers do not, out of protest, refuse to ever form words again.

It just… passes.

Because here’s the thing: you’re a writer, and you know what writers do? We keep writing. We keep writing better and better books, until we finally write The One. Whether that’s the one that we first complete, or the one that gets us an agent, or the one that secures us a book deal, it doesn’t matter. But if you keep trying, it will happen, and the glory will be just as sweet as it would have been if you did it as a teenager.

You’ll get there.

Remember that, okay?

You. will. get there.

You’ll get there, and it doesn’t matter one bit when you do, because the beautiful thing about publishing is that age is a nonfactor. Writing is not like, say, gymnastics where you have to “make it” at a young age or else you’ll never make it at all. In writing, it’s all about your book–and if your book is good, that’s all people will see. So think of it this way: wouldn’t you rather wait to publish an incredible book that will garner you fans from all across the globe, than to rush to publish one you know isn’t so great, just because you want to secure a book deal while you’re still a teen?

Don’t get me wrong: I think positive peer (self?) pressure can be a good thing. But you have to remember that at the end of the day, even if you don’t hit your goal of accomplishing X thing before you turn twenty, or twenty-one, or whatever the age may be, nothing will change. The voice in your head is wrong, because you are not a failure. You started following your dreams at an age before most people even realize what their dreams are, and for that, you deserve nothing but applause.

Because, really? I’m confident that if you keep working at it, one day, each and every one of you will have your books on the shelves. Some of you will get published as teens; some of you won’t. It’s that simple. But you all, no matter how or when you get published, have something amazing to say through your stories, and you will get a chance to say it. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of time.

TCWT April 2013 Blog Chain

ETA: 3/31/14: *If you’re one of the awesome people who finds these past blog chain posts through search terms, you can go here to find more recent topics and to sign up for a current chain.*

So last month, for the first time ever, the TCWT blog chain almost ran for a full thirty days. All I can say to that is: whoa. And also, to all of you fabulous people who have been participating:

(Seriously. I’m beyond grateful to each and every one of you who follows this blog. None of this would be possible without you.)

In less awkwardly sentimental news, this month’s blog chain topic is a little bit more serious than the recent ones:

“What is your ultimate goal as a writer?”

I know that getting a book published is a pretty standard ultimate goal for us all, so if you can, try to go deeper than that. How do you picture yourself seeing your book on the shelves? What kind of book do you want published? What kinds of readers do you want to attract? What conferences do you want to go to? Stuff like that.

I’m excited to hear what you all come up with!

 

On Breaking The Fourth Wall

Updated: 3/25/14

Hey guys! So in the last few months, while reading through the slush, I’ve noticed a surprising number of writers who have built their books around breaking the fourth wall, and especially considering I personally don’t believe it worked especially well in those particular manuscripts, I wanted to talk a little bit about it today.

Honestly, breaking the fourth wall is one of those polarizing writing techniques that can either work REALLY well or REALLY horribly, and it often depends on the reader: some love it, some hate it. (Goddammit, subjectivity. WHY ARE YOU EVERYWHERE???)

But first, what exactly is “breaking the fourth wall”? In the simplest terms, it’s when, throughout the course of a book, either the author or the main character talks directly to the reader. For example, the protagonist might do something particularly evil, and then turn around and ask the reader, “I know you think I’m the worst person in the world right now. But ask yourself: if you were in my position, what would you do differently?”

Of course, it’s important to remember that not all uses of “you” in books is actually breaking the fourth wall. Like, when a main character thinks, “You know you’re awesome when you spend your free time reading books,” the ‘you’ doesn’t break the fourth wall because it’s understood to be a general ‘you,’ not directed at anyone in particular (like the reader). The same goes for books written in the second person point of view, because the “you” there is often directed at a particular individual in the story–not a reader. However, on the flip side, when the main character says to us, “You are awesome for reading this book,” that ‘you’ is understand to be directed at the reader, so it is breaking the fourth wall.

Perhaps the most popular example of breaking the fourth wall in fiction is in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events series, which the narrator begins by saying simply, “If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.” (And then he goes on.) It’s also used extraordinary well in the beginning of The Lightning Thief, wherein Percy tells the reader to “close the book right now” so you can “believe whatever lie your mom or dad told you about birth, and try to lead a normal life.” Some other great books that break the fourth wall from time to time are The Book Thief and one of my personal favorite YA novels, Before I Fall, both of which are definitely worth reading if you’re interested in studying the subject.

Before I Fall quote – just because I love it

However, the thing about breaking the fourth wall in fiction is that, while it can occasionally be great, it can also backfire on the writer all too easily. (There’s a reason why very few published books for older audiences do break the fourth wall.) For the author or narrator to suddenly address the reader directly will almost certainly catch the reader off-guard, often in a not-so-great way. It is jarring, and when something is jarring, it can be either in a powerful, stop-and-think kind of way, or it can just yank the reader out of the story altogether, the latter of which which you never want.

In fact, this is why I’d argue that the only way for breaking the fourth wall to really work in literature is for there to be a real, genuine point to it. And that may sound like common sense, but I know from my own writing that part of the temptation behind so many writers breaking the fourth wall is because it is frankly fun to do. The problem with that is, if it serves little other purpose, then it probably is only going to hurt the story in the long run. For example, the reason I think breaking the fourth wall works well in Before I Fall and not other manuscripts I’ve read is first because it’s used very sparsely in the former, but more importantly, because it has a clear purpose: it draws attention to the not-so-positive actions of the protagonist, and with just a few words, by breaking the fourth wall she puts the reader right in her shoes, and it forces the reader to really think about her, this outwardly-awful mean girl character, and wonder whether she is all that different from us. Or, although I can’t think of a literature example of this, breaking the fourth wall can also be used to make the reader/viewer an accomplice in the crimes of the main character; for example, in the TV show “House of Cards,” the ruthless main character, who spends his time kissing up to those around him and pretending to care about them, tells only the viewer his true, disdainful feelings about each character. This very intentionally brings you, as a viewer, closer to the crimes he’s committing, and because you’re now the only one in the whole fictional world of the show who is “in on” his secret, it makes you invested in seeing his journey through.

House of Cards!

So in both of those two examples, breaking the fourth wall has a really strong purpose behind it–Before I Fall to relate the reader to the main character, House of Cards to make you an accomplice in the main character’s crimes–and that’s why they work so well: because even though it’s a bit jarring at first, the purpose behind breaking the fourth wall overshadows everything else. (Also, because it’s used relatively sparingly in both examples. That way, the few times it is used can hold more weight.)

It’s also important to note that in the case of The Lightning Thief and A Series of Unfortunate Events, both novels are intended toward a middle grade audience, and since younger readers tend to enjoy it when the author or main character talks directly to them much more than older readers do, breaking the fourth wall generally works much better in MG books than it does in upper YA, NA, or adult books.

However, that’s not to say breaking the fourth wall can never work in a non-MG book. It can be incredibly powerful when, like I mentioned above, it serves a strong purpose and is not overused; I just think that writers should be very conservative when breaking the fourth wall, and should make sure it absolutely works for the story. Because if you force it in just because it sounds nice, there’s a good chance it will do more harm than good.

Finding Literary Agents To Query: A Writer’s Guide To Agent Stalking

How to stalk an agent

Romancing The Agent: one moment you query him, and the next the two of you are picking out a house together! #BadumChhh (I’ll stop.) 

Anyway. With my pathetic attempt at humor aside, let’s do this. (Cue dramatic knuckle cracking.) I don’t mean to brag, but I do know a thing or two about stalking agents from my querying days, and because I was so exceptionally skilled at it, I did discover one particular theme I feel is worth mentioning: that you should query agents not just because they represent your genre, but because you have researched them well and you have discovered that a) they have solid prior experience in the publishing industry and b) that you think you’ll mesh well personality-wise.

Let’s break that down for a moment, because I really do believe it is important. 

a) Unfortunately, there are agents out there who, while they might mean well, are just so inexperienced in the industry that they’re likely to do you more harm than good. These agents are often referred to as “schmagents,” and they are luckily only a minuscule percentage of the agents out there, but it’s still worth being aware of. So, how do you make sure you aren’t querying a so-called schmagent? Check their bios, their Literary Rambles profiles (Just Google “[agent's name] + Literary Rambles]” and it’ll be the top hit if they have done a profile on that agent), their Publisher’s Marketplace sales, their Absolute Write Background Check pages. Ask yourself: have they worked at, or at least interned for, agencies or publishers in the past? Do they list any publish experience beyond just an English degree and/or a “passion for books”? Do they work at any agency that seems to have sold to Big Five publishers? If you answered no to any or all of these questions, I suggest maybe skipping the agent, or at least asking someone who knows a lot about traditional publishing what their thoughts are on that agent’s legitimacy. Because these agents can be incredibly kind and generous and well-meaning, but if they don’t have any experience or editor contacts, then what’s the point? If they don’t even know editors at major houses to pitch your book to, it’s worse for you than not having an agent at all.

b) An agent-author relationship is still a relationship above all else, and relationships only works effectively if you are a good fit for one another. So when you find an agent you’re interested in querying, take the extra step and check their twitter feed and blog (if they have those) as well as search for any online interviews they did, or even checking their favorite books to see if you have similar tastes. See if their personality seems to compliment yours, because while you don’t necessarily need to be good friends with your agent, it’s a lot easier if you have some sort of personal connection.

So with all that said, how exactly do you find agents to query? There are tons of strategies out there for this (and you can even come up with your own!), but here is what I personally found to be most effective to give you a place to start:

- Find agents who represent books similar to yours. So let’s say you’ve written a gritty Young Adult sci-fi. And one day, you walk into a bookstore, and you see a really hauntingly awesome cover. So you turn it over and you realize the book is… a gritty sci-fi! Although an agent can’t represent you if your manuscript is too similar to one of her client’s books, agents do tend to love books with similar atmospheres (i.e. a “gritty sci-fi”) so if you see that sort of loose connection between your book and a published one, look up the agent! There are multiple ways to do this: one is to go to Publisher’s Marketplace if you’re a subscriber and search the author’s name (if you’re not a subscriber, you can always email me – jhansenauthor(at)gmail(dot)com – and I’ll happily look it up for you.) Another is to check the author’s website (usually in the “contact me” section) and see if an agent is listed. Or if none of the above work, QueryTracker has a great list of authors and their agents here, and it’s likely that the author will be listed for you.

Then, once you find the agent, send a query and mention how you found him or her!

- AgentQuery. AgentQuery is without a doubt my favorite agent-finding resource. The site contains a nearly-complete online database of literary agents, complete with brief information on that agent, including some of the agent’s past sales, the genres she represents, and so on. You can search agents by genre, location, keyword, and a host of other things here. It’s an excellent starting point for those who are new to querying. 

- QueryTracker. QueryTracker, while not as easy as AgentQuery in my opinion, is great when you want to check out the response times of the agents you are querying, as writers comment on each agent’s profile with query results, the length of time it took until they heard back from the agent, and so on.

- Literary Rambles. Literary Rambles is the place to go, in my opinion, once you find an agent who you’re interested in querying but would like to know more about first. Essentially, the site is a cheat sheet. They do profiles on a large majority of the kidlit agents in the industry, wherein they provide snippets from the agent’s past interviews, that particular agent’s “Dos and Don’ts,” pet peeves, client lists, and so much more relevant info. If you go to their site, their whole left sidebar is a list of past agent profiles.

- Publisher’s Marketplace. Not all agents have Publisher’s Marketplace profiles available to non-subscribers, but many do. Publisher’s Marketplace is useful because it chronicles some of the agent’s past sales, giving you a sense of the kinds of publishers they frequently sell to and the kinds of books they frequently sell. For example, this PM profile for Jodi Reamer basically proves that she is a ninja, representing huge authors like Stephanie Meyer, John Green, Ally Condie, and so many more. (It’s worth noting that public PM pages aren’t usually updated.) (And once again, if you’d like me to look up some of the past sales by a certain agent on Publisher’s Marketplace, email me!)

- Twitter. Remember how I said it’s important to make sure you mesh with an agent before querying him or her? Twitter is a great way to figure that out. As an active Twitter user, I remember that I found a large number of the agents I eventually queried through following their tweets; in fact, most of agents who requested my manuscript I found through Twitter. Like Literary Rambles, Twitter is another agent cheat sheet, as many agents tweet query tips, types of manuscripts they’re currently looking to represent, and so on. (If you need a place to start, you can find a list of agents on Twitter here.) 

TCWT March 2013 Blog Chain

ETA: 3/31/14: *If you’re one of the awesome people who finds these past blog chain posts through search terms, you can go here to find more recent topics and to sign up for a current chain.*
GUYS. I am super excited about this month’s blog chain, brought to you by Jenny Li. The topic:
“Write a letter to an antagonist.”
In Jenny’s words:

We all have those characters that we have the feels for. It might be the warm, gooey feelings of first love—or maybe it’s the prickly feeling of disgust as we recall how they beheaded our favorite literary dog. This month, I’m challenging you all to choose one fictional being that you feel passionately about and write him/her/it a letter.

It could be a love confession or a challenge to war. It could be a request to hire them for a particularly demanding job, or a complaint regarding the work they did in Malaysia last summer. Whatever it’s about, address it in an epistolary format to a fictional character of your choice.

As always, to sign up just comment below with a link to your blog to sign up and I’ll assign you a date to post on!

Small Presses: An Editor’s Point of View

 

From the start, my goal with this blog has always been both to support and inform all writers, but specifically those of us of the teen variety, and when it comes to the latter, the one topic that has always eluded me is publishing with small presses. Being that I don’t have first-hand experience in that process, I’ve always been reluctant to talk about it, and that’s why I’m so thrilled to introduce Danielle Ellison, someone who, as both an author and an editor at a small press, definitely knows a thing or two about the process. Danielle is here to share some honest thoughts about what it’s like to work with small presses, for all of us who are either curious about this route or having been considering trying it for themselves. (For more on small presses, I also recently posted on the topic here [LINK].)

Danielle is Senior Editor at Spencer Hill Press and Spencer Hill Contemporary. She is also a YA author and her debut novel SALT released January 7th 2014 with Entangled Digi-Teen.

***

A few years ago, I was an (occasional) YA book blogger. I was a bookseller who was writing, and working my butt off to make something of my stories, and dreaming that maybe I could work in PR or something in publishing because that ‘involves books’ and ‘wouldn’t it be fun?’ I was a girl who sent an email, then got an internship, then became an editor. I wanted an opportunity, and I got one. I didn’t plan to work at a small press; it just happened.

That’s the beauty of small presses: people who want an opportunity, get them.

When John asked me to write this post, I was thinking about all the things I could say about Spencer Hill to convince you that the small press route is the best decision any writer can make. All of February on my own blog, I’m doing this feature about small presses that will present an unbiased look at five different publishers. Because, ultimately, writers need to be informed of their options, and as someone actively involved in various roles in the small press world, it means a lot to me that the info is out there.

But I can’t say that I think the small press route is the best route for every writer. It’s not.

If you want to buy your own private jet, for example, then maybe you should look at something different. (Perhaps even a whole different field. Publishing doesn’t provide a lot of private jets.)

However, if you are a writer who has a story that you want to share, a story that’s such a part of your heart and soul that you want other people to read it—then keep reading this post because that’s what small presses do.  (Or should do.)

I’m a senior editor at Spencer Hill Press, and like I alluded at the beginning of this post, it just sort of happened. I never set out to be an editor.

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When I emailed Kate about an internship position with their marketing department, and she emailed me back with a “welcome aboard,” I never dreamed I’d become an editor. I was a writer, and a girl who read books. I told stories and created worlds and got the fictional people who took over my brain into their own space. Small presses weren’t even really on my radar (it was a different time!) and editing wasn’t something I’d ever considered. But then I emailed Kate on a whim, and everything changed.

I never worked as a marketing intern; Kate had other plans for me. She took the facts that I was a writer and a reader and put them to use. She had me do a pass of a book. Then another, and another. Each one got more difficult, more in depth, and I soon started to love this editing thing. Kate never planned to put me in the marketing department, because she saw something in me that I didn’t even know existed.

This is what small presses do. They see someone seeking out an opportunity, pull that person in, equip them and let them fly. It sounds silly, but it’s true. Small presses, at least the good ones, operate on passion. Not on numbers. It’s passion that’s contagious – to readers and writers – not the rest of it. I can’t speak for every small press, but I can speak on behalf of Spencer Hill Press: you’ll never get that with us. (And I really do venture to say most well-known small presses.) Since we operate on a smaller scale, we only take on things that we love.

Spencer Hill has a policy. It’s based on a lesson that some editors have had to learn the hard way, and it’s something I continuously ram down the throats of our interns and editorial assistants. I’m mentioning it because SHP (and its imprints—the Contemporary line and SpenceCity) is a place of passion.  To directly quote an email I once sent to staff: “Don’t take on a project unless you can’t live without it. Readers love many books; editors take on the ones that become a part of them that they want to share with others…Love isn’t strong enough in this case. It’s got to be the loss of a project that propels you into action, vs. the love of it.”

I won’t say that every small press you encounter will pursue this model, but at Spencer Hill, we do. Each small press is different and they offer various roles in the publishing industry. If you’re a writer considering a small press, it’s really important to be open, to know your facts, to know the questions to ask, to ask them, and then make sure that you are where you want to be and what you want to accomplish aligns with your small press. If anything isn’t what you want it to be, then maybe it’s not a good fit. Especially the latter point.

As an editor, it’s really important that I only put out the best books I can. The more I work in this field, the more I meet aspiring writers who have the drive and the talent to succeed; they only need someone else to see it. Someone who supports them and gives them the step up they need. Someone who embraces potential. At the end of the day, I believe that this passion is unique to small presses. That passion, when paired with opportunity, is a powerful tool.

I’m lucky enough to wear two hats in the publishing world—editor is one of them—but even as Kate knew in that first email, I’m a writer. And now, thanks to a book deal from Spencer Hill and then another from Entangled, I’m an author.

It was hard to get there. I want everyone to know that. It had nothing to do with me working at SHP. I worked years and years before I got that first book deal. I queried and had the “almost-agent” and the “I love it but…” many times. More times than I can even count. I was always behind the market, despite a book that everyone loved, and it was discouraging. I won’t lie about that either.

Then one day a new opportunity arrived to publish with Spencer Hill, and Kate wanted revisions, which I made, before she bought the series. I get a lot of flack because people think it was just handed to me, but it wasn’t. Despite what other people may think, I know every day that it was a great choice. When Entangled came along wanting SALT, I knew they would be the perfect place for that book because my editors had a great vision for the book and everyone believed in it. At the end of the day, that’s what you want.

Everything starts with an opportunity; they come in various shapes and sizes, and usually, when you don’t expect them. I know it did for me.

I didn’t expect to be an editor at a small press, but I love it so much. Editing has taught me how to be a better writer. Working with amazing authors to help them mold their stories gives me so much joy. I’m constantly surprised by the support of the writing community and the wonderful writers (and readers) that make it up.

I know there are teen writers reading this and you’re all wondering what happens next. The truth? I don’t know. You have to take the initiative to get where you want to be. Very rarely are things ever handed to you. My advice: find something you want, be passionate about your pursuit of it, and when opportunity knocks, don’t close the door because it’s not the door you expected.

The greatest moments tend to come from places you don’t expect.

Getting A Remote Publishing Internship

Update: 3/29/14

So, let’s talk publishing internships.

At the original time of posting this, I’d just had the incredible good luck of landing an internship with a fantastic literary agent (an internship that is still ongoing, even today), and I’d gotten a couple questions about how exactly I did that. And, to put it simply, this is how:

Luck.

Lots and lots of luck. So before I say anything more, remember that. Luck, not ability, is the overriding huge factor in landing your first internship, because you have to be at least loosely “qualified” to work for an agent or editor, but without having interned before, you, like most others applying, don’t really have qualifications (besides little things here and there). It’s through that paradox that your fate is going to inevitably revolve around luck. However, there are some things you can do to become more experienced and therefore stand a better chance, which I’ll get to in a moment.

But first, like with all of my info posts, I’m going to quickly gloss over the basics.

So, there are two major kinds of publishing internships: remote internships and in-person internships (both of which are typically unpaid, but there are exceptions). Since landing an in-person internship requires that you to live close to the agency or publisher you are applying to (and since New York City is the hub of publishing, you all but have to live in that general area), I’m going to focus this post on remote internships, which is what I have, because I’m sure very few of us live within driving distance of an agency or publisher. Remote internships, for those who don’t know, are internships done online from your home, regardless of whether you live anywhere near the agency.

(However, if you do live really close to an agency or publisher and are interested in applying for an in-person internship, summer internships are generally the way to go. Just go to that agency’s or publisher’s website sometime during the late winter/early spring, search a bit, and you should find information on how to apply for the summer session. If not, send them a quick email, and they’ll give you the details. Here is a good starting post with information on in-person internships.)

Unfortunately, finding remote internships is not quite as easy as the above, because remote internships rarely follow the intern-for- three-months-then-the-agency-gets-new-interns pattern that in-person internships tend to. Therefore, since remote internships tend to last longer, a) there are fewer spaces available and b) those spaces often pop up at random times, so you have to be on the lookout.

But before we get into all of the how to “be on the lookout” stuff, you’re probably wondering: “John, WTH, what is the point of a publishing internship? Why should I want one, anyway?”

Internships are by no means required, or something I’d suggest to writers en mass. After all, from a writing standpoint, they aren’t essential to your path to publication, and they definitely aren’t something you should force yourself to do just because you think it will help. Instead, simply, internships are for those who are interested in learning more about the inner workings of the publishing industry. Some people who look for internships want to actually work in publishing as agents, editors, publicists, or something along those lines one day, but others merely want to know more, and have a strong interest in getting a glimpse at publishing from the other side of the desk.

If only this were true (from jesshaines.com)

What you actually do for your internship depends on the agency or publisher, but it will usually range anywhere from reading requested material for agents or editors and sending in a reader’s report which details your thoughts on the manuscript and any pros/cons you noticed, to reading and responding to queries, to managing social media accounts, to reading a client’s manuscript and coming up with either potential marketing tactics (if it’s at a publisher) or pitch lists (if it’s at an agency (a pitch list is a list of imprints that you feel an agent should pitch a book to, based off of that imprint’s interests, recent acquires, etc.)). And there is plenty more that you might do, but that gives you the gist of. Publishing internships are a good amount of busy work, yes, but they are also incredibly rewarding, and they teach you a lot about the industry, book publishing, and your own writing. (After all, seeing what works and what doesn’t in other people’s work gives you an eye for improving your own. However, it doesn’t help your own writing enough that I’d suggest someone pursue an internship unless he or she is genuinely interested in learning about the publishing industry.) Not only that, but they are the first step for your resume if you’re interested in going into publishing one day.

Internships can also vary in time commitment. Some require a certain amount of time put in a week; others, like mine, are much more open-ended, but you are still expected to do as much as you can each week. Usually it will specify which of the two in the internship description, but if not, I think it’s safe to assume the latter.

Okay, but how do you find remote internships in the first place?

This. This is the question. Honestly, it’s a lot of looking in the right place at the right time (luck), and like the rest of publishing, a lot of waiting. As I mentioned above, remote publishing internships pop up randomly and intermittently and tend to only take applications for short periods of time, so you really have to be on the lookout.

Agents and smaller publishers are the ones who typically offer remote internships (the larger, NYC-based publishers tend to require you to work there in person), and a growing number of them post their calls for interns on Twitter, so I suggest you start there. Pretty much, follow as many agents or small-press editors as you can find (here is a great list of agents to follow), and skim through their feeds every so often to see if they post a call for interns. However, keep in mind that these calls don’t happen often, so you’ll usually have to be at least semi-active on Twitter to see one (either by yourself or have it retweeted onto your feed). (Or, if you’re feeling especially daring, you can search “publishing intern” or “intern + [your genre]” on Twitter and see if any legit agents or small presses have a call out for interns.) I found my internship through Twitter, but I fit into that category of tending to be pretty active on the site.

If you aren’t a Twitter person, I suggest regularly checking sites like bookjobs.com to see if they’ve posted about a remote internship opening, possibly setting up Google alerts for calls for remote interns, and so on. Also, and perhaps most easily, regularly check the social media/blogs of agents and small presses that put out calls for interns semi-often (I suggest Entangled Publishing, Spencer Hill Press, possibly Musa Publishing, and their editors to start, as well as  The Bent Agency and Folio Literary, the latter of whom actually lets you apply at almost any time throughout the year), and hopefully it won’t take long before you see an opening. I’ll also try my best to post about remote internship opportunities I find in a sidebar on this blog, or on my social media (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr), but you definitely should not rely just on me.

So I found an opening. How do I apply? 

Remember how I mentioned the having experience/needing experience paradox above? This is where that, and the luck factor, sort of plays in. Because, yeah, you do have to prove to the agent or editor that you have at least some sort of idea of what you’re getting into when you apply (they aren’t going to let people completely unfamiliar with books and publishing respond to their requested manuscripts, after all), and to do that I have a few suggestions:

- Publisher’s Lunch. Publisher’s Lunch is completely free, and is the perfect thing to read and learn from if you’re interested in getting a publishing internship. PL sends you a daily email with (brief) news about the industry, some recent acquisitions, and so on, and it’s the perfect way to keep you updated on everything.

- Publisher’s Weekly. In that same vein, Publisher’s Weekly posts tons of free content about what’s going on in the industry, opinion pieces on various recent happenings, book reviews, roundups of acquisitions, and so on. Both it and PL are great for keeping you updated, and for building up a foundation of publishing knowledge that will be ready to be built upon in an internship. (But hopefully, it will be interesting and relevant to you too. Don’t just subscribe because you think it’ll help!) Then mention to the agent or editor that you frequently read both.

Goodreads. If you follow a lot of Goodreads reviewers in the category/genre you’re interested in and make a habit of clicking on all of the books they’re talking about, it will help a ton with your knowledge of what’s selling in the publishing world. It will also expand your repertoire of the books that are currently out there, and if you pay attention to what publisher/imprint publishes what, it’ll help a lot if you have to write a pitch list (mentioned above). Plus, it’ll find you some awesome books to read.

Goodreeeeeeeads!

Know your genre/category. This is building on stalking Goodreads books, but it’s still completely essential. You have to make sure you have a good handle on your genre, what’s selling (Amazon rankings and total number of Goodreads adds can be a good indicator), but also, you should have an opinion on a wide array of books in that genre. So if you’re applying to an agent who specializes in YA and MG, consider mentioning that you love X or Z YA books and (briefly) why, because it helps the agent get an idea of whether or not your tastes line up. And also, the “why” part can give them a slight insight into how you dissect a book, and whether it matches up with their methods. Because even if this won’t always work in your favor, it’s important that you have similar tastes to the person you intern for.

Possibly writing/book-related credentials. Have you volunteered at your library? Mention it. Do you review books on your blog? Mention it. Do you have a short story published in an online magazine? Mention it. No, it’s not a huge deal if you don’t have any of these looser “credentials,” but if you do, it definitely can’t hurt to mention, either.

But beyond just knowing what you’re doing, you also want to show the agent that publishing is something you’re passionate about, and that you will work hard for them, and that you are very professional (your email is the first test–so no “Yo [first name],” unfortunately), because all of that matters to them. But in the end, yes, it’s a lot of luck. I hate to say that, but it’s true. You just have to keep applying and eventually you’ll get your break.

Now, I’m not an expert on formal resumes, so if the agent or editor specifically requests one, I suggest utilizing Google to find out more (this looks like a good start). The places I applied to only wanted a less-formal outline of credentials in an email, so I’m not going to be very helpful. :)

Other things to keep in mind:

1. Not all internships are open to high school students. As I know most of you reading this are teens, please keep this in mind. A fairly large number of internships require that you be at least two years into a college education to even apply, which makes it especially difficult for us high school students. However, there are also many places that allow interns of all ages (Spencer Hill Press, Entangled Publishing, etc.) If the call for interns doesn’t specify, it’s safe to just apply and see. (Do mention your age somewhere for this reason; I just don’t suggest flaunting it.)

2. Be wary of unhelpful internships. There are tons of small presses and agencies out there. TONS. And, unfortunately, not all of them will help you grow as much as you’d like. After all, the whole point of an internship is not to say, “oh, look, I’m an intern!” but to learn, to gain experience, to work for an industry professional who knows what he or she is doing. (And also, an internship at a publisher or agency no one has ever heard of won’t help your resume.) Therefore, you should background check every agent or editor you apply to. If it’s an agent, ask yourself: do they work for an agency with a track record? Have they sold any books to well-respected publishers in the past? Have they worked at other agencies or publishers, or is this their first time in the industry? (If it’s the latter, which usually is the case when they don’t list experience besides an English degree, I’d suggest staying away.) If it’s an editor, what’s the quality of the books they put out? Do they have professional book covers, strong editing, etc.? Also, what kinds of agents have sold to them? How long has the editor worked in the industry, and what credentials do they have? Those questions will help you weed out the well-meaning-but-inexperienced agents and editors offering internships.

And, of course: