The hardest part of these weekly giveaways is not getting to enter ourselves to win these excellent books. But we're not jealous or anything... In fact, we're happy to announce the winners!
The winner of Melissa de la Cruz's MISGUIDED ANGEL is...
The winner of Frewin Jones' THE EMERALD FLAME is...
Thanks again to the authors who kindly offered interviews and giveaways. Thank you to our faithful followers for entering! We'll see you back next week to meet more awesome YA authors and hear about their new books!
Today's guest post is by Victoria Schwab, another of those talented young writers who seem to be setting the book world on fire. Which is exactly what she wants to talk about. She's the product of a British mother, a Beverly Hills father, and a southern upbringing. Because of this, she's been known to say "tom-ah-toes", "like", and "y'all." Her first book, THE NEAR WITCH, will be out next summer. You can catch her on her website or on her blog.
On Short Paths and Long Roads
by Victoria Schwab
People say I had a short path to publication. Others say I had a long road. I think it depends greatly on how you look at it, and how much you know.
I’m 23. My book sold when I was 22. I signed with an agent at 21. I wrote my first novel at 19. But I’d been writing in other forms since I was 16.
I signed with an agent 7 days after querying, on a book called The Shadow Mile. Now, THAT is in fact a short path. But The Shadow Mile went on submission for more than 9 months, and didn’t sell. It got close, again and again and again, but no sale. That is a pretty long road.
Toward the end of that time, I started writing The Near Witch. I wrote that book in under two months. That is a short path. It went on submission, and sold in under two months. That is a short path. But, revisions on that book took TEN MONTHS. That is a long road. The Near Witch’s window from sale to shelf: TWENTY-THREE MONTHS. That is a long road.
There’s a reason I’m saying all this. There is almost never a short path. Even when you THINK something is a short path, it’s most likely not. I know of an author who wrote a book, and the book sold within days, at auction, HUGE deal. Dream scenario. Everyone said, “That was so fast!!” and they didn’t say it in the kindest way. But what wasn’t publicized about this deal was that the author had written almost a dozen books before it.
We become preoccupied by the journeys of those around us. We see how easy it is for some (we think) but the fact is, we never, ever know the full road. Just as no two books and no two writers are the same, no two paths will ever be. It’s easiest for us to endow this industry with a sense of random chance, to attribute someone’s deal to luck, than to face the fact that we are never allowed the full picture.
It has always been on of my greatest weaknesses, comparison. The want to look around and gauge my own progress by that of others, to lay my path side by side with another’s. But it’s not worth it. We all have had long paths and short roads. Rather than concern ourselves with the journeys of others, we must try, for the sake of our productivity and sanity, to focus on our own, and not just to look down at the stretches of road ahead and behind, but to keep our eyes on the place we want to reach. If we are constantly looking down, preoccupied by how long the road is, we might lose ourselves there and never look up again.
I read a post yesterday about someone finally finding a beta reader after going it alone forever. And a while back, when I posted about the types of critiquers, there was a lot of interest. So, I'm going to try something a little different today. I'm pimping. Hopefully I will hook you up.
Here's how it's going to work. I'm going to define two of many types of critiquers: alpha readers and beta readers. Then I'm going to ask anyone who is interested in doing an alpha or a beta read in the near future to comment below this post. Anyone who needs an alpha or a beta read can check in with you, but once you have committed to enough reads, be sure to comment again to take yourself off the list. If you want readers yourself, you can use the list to contact them--after checking the whole list to make sure they aren't full up. Readers, please, please make sure there is contact information somewhere to reach you!
Alpha and beta readers are both crucial to the success of a book. Often, it can take multiple passes with a lot of rewrites and drafts in between to get your story right. It's possible we also need a post on the proper care and feeding of readers, including the fact that they should always be acknowledged in your book, but for now, I'll let you figure out how to show your appreciation properly. Meanwhile, on to explaining the difference.
Alpha Readers: Alphas read the first draft or a portion of it at a time, a third or a half, etc., to tell you what is working and what isn't. They are looking ONLY for macro things including:
concept and marketability
plot making sense
structure working for the story
interest and variation in the setting
action rising and falling as appropriate
voice sounding authentic and credible
main character seeming likable and believable
tension to keep the reader turning pages
trends in language, diction, grammar, punctuation, etc. that need to be corrected or changed
Alpha readers should not be marking individual word choices or doing line editing. They aren't really even looking at things like action beats in dialogue that don't make sense. Truly, an alpha read is a BIG PICTURE read. It makes no sense to look at little things, because the little things may--and probably will--change. The whole scene could get thrown out, and all the work and effort of critiquing it would be wasted. If an alpha reader encounters a problem, she should make a comment in the margin about believability, or being taken out of the story, or being confused, or finding herself skimming etc. But that's as far as it goes until she writes an overall report on the individual issues and strengths of the piece.
Beta Readers: Betas are looking for the same things as your alphas, but in theory the plot and structure should already be in place, you should know your characters are likable and capable of getting your readers involved and connected. You should have read through, and hopefully had your critique partners read through, the manuscript several times to check for grammar. That should leave a beta reader able to read smoothly, the same way she would if she was reading a book. And the beta reader, ideally, should do things in two passes. On the first pass, she should look for everything but line edits to make sure there aren't whole sections that will need to be deleted or rewritten. But because that shouldn't be true at this point, and because typos and grammatical errors should be few and far between, she should mark them when she sees them. As she reads, a beta reader is looking for:
pacing and structure
a smooth beginning without info dump
a non-sagging middle with plenty of conflict
a taut, satisfying climax and ending
plot holes that need to be filled
resolution of all subplots
general structural problems
variation and detail in the setting
main character seeming likable and believable
places where the emotional connection is lost
scenes, paragraphs, or passages that don't seem credible or authentic
anywhere the voice or point of view seem to have been lost or violated
sections where she is skimming because the action or pacing is off
specific instances where language, diction, grammar, punctuation, need to be corrected or changed
These are tall orders. Most readers don't know what they are looking for. They simply read and mark line edits, or one or two issues that need to be repaired. They aren't seeing the big picture or articulating problems that left them less than satisfied when they reached the end. That kind of a reader makes a good critique partner. An alpha and beta reader, however, needs a different set of chops. Alphas and betas have to be good critical readers. Critical reading will also help you develop your writing skills. Truly, it's a win, win situation.
Are you ready to go? Think you have what it takes? Put yourself to the test. Leave a comment with your contact information, what you've been reading, and what you are reading now. Also be sure to say whether you want to alpha or to beta!
This week features several new books that are part of a series. YALit.com has helped us track down these terrific reads. We hope you discover something that will catch your reader's eye. Be sure and scroll all the way down to enter to win the giveaways!
From Goodreads: Branwen has accepted the role that the Shining Ones have bestowed upon her. She is now in the next stages of her journey—this time on a seemingly impossible mission to rescue the spirit of the wind. With her fearless friend Rhodri by her side, the spirits guiding her, and growing feelings for the dashing Iwan, Branwen must overcome terrifying odds if she is to succeed in her quest.
How long did you work on this book? My notes show that I put together my initial ideas for Warrior Princess: The Emerald Flame in October 2008 and that I had come up with a full storyline by January 2009. Because my books are written on commission – meaning I get an advance from a Publisher before I start writing, I had to get the synopsis agreed both in the UK and in the US. This obviously happened quickly, because I had finished the first draft of the book by the end of April 2009. I would imagine the actual writing took me nine or ten weeks. Then the book went off to be edited in the UK. I had finished the UK edit by end of May 2009, at which point the book went to Harper Collins in New York for the 2nd edit. I had responded to the American edits by August 2009, and the final version of the book was ready by September 2009.
How was your journey to publication? Long, short, how many rejections? Pretty long, I’d say! If I remember correctly, I wrote my first full-length story when I was about 14 or 15. I wrote a couple more over the next few years then wrote a Sword and Sorcery book-length story and sent it off to a publisher. It was rejected politely. I carried on writing, mostly fantasy stuff, but I didn’t bother sending anything else off for some time, largely because fantasy wasn’t very popular with publishers around that time – I just wrote because I enjoyed it. About ten or so unpublished books down the line, I decided to try for publication again – mostly to prove to family and friends that all the hours spent locked away in my bedroom were not a total waste of time!
A few more years and books passed, but I was now paying attention to what publishers were telling me and adapting my writing to fit with their criticisms and comments. I was about 30 when I found a Literary Agent who liked my stuff. It took a couple of years to get my first book published – that was in 1987, and 6 publishers had turned it down when the 7th came along and liked it. More published books followed. I carried on writing in the evening and working during the day till 1992, when I went full time as a writer – which I have been ever since.
What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers? Write first of all for your own pleasure – don’t start off by writing to be published – that can come later. Read a lot – writing is a craft and it has to be learned, and the best way to learn is to read books by good writers – a lot of different good writers.
If you do want to be published, then you must listen to and try to take the advice given to you by publishers and literary agents. You are entering a very difficult marketplace, and you will need all the help you can get.
If you love to write, then don’t stop – don’t give up. Accept that rejections are all part of the game – just keep working and working and learning and learning. There will never be a moment when you can say: “Now I know how to write!” It is a constant learning curve.
A good idea badly written will be of more interest to publishers than a bad idea written brilliantly. For a publisher, the writing can always be improved in the edit, but a bad idea stays a bad idea whatever you do to it. Work on having good ideas!
What has surprised you most about becoming a published author? I’m not sure anything has really surprised me, except for that nagging feeling that many of us have that it’s all been a big mistake and we’ll be FOUND OUT!
That being said, it is in a way a little surprising that I have managed to make a living from doing something I love for the past 20 years! How many people can say that? I was also pleasantly surprised when Fantasy came back into favour a few years ago – largely thanks to Harry Potter, I think. That opened the door for a lot of us to get our Fantasy ideas out there.
It is also a constant delightful surprise to me when I get mail from people telling me how much my books mean to them and that I’m their favourite writer. Me? Your favourite writer? Really? Wow!
From Goodreads: How many lives do you need to live before you find someone worth dying for? In the aftermath of what happened at Sword & Cross, Luce has been hidden away by her cursed angelic boyfriend, Daniel, in a new school filled with Nephilim, the offspring of fallen angels and humans. Daniel promises she will be safe here, protected from those who would kill her. At the school Luce discovers what the Shadows that have followed her all her life mean - and how to manipulate them to see into her other lives. Yet the more Luce learns about herself, the more she realizes that the past is her only key to unlocking her future...and that Daniel hasn't told her everything. What if his version of the past isn't actually the way things happened...what if Luce was really meant to be with someone else?
How long do the books take you to write? Because Luce’s story is so emotional and so intense, I like to “go there” with her and stay inside her head without coming up for too much air. I write fast and furious every day for about two months to get out a first draft. Then I take a break and usually go back for another month or two of heavy revision.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? I've been writing stories since I was in middle school, so I love talking to people who are interesting in writing. One question I get often has to do with what to do when you get stuck, and the clearest advice I can give about that would be to look at the scene from a different angle and write through it. Say I'm trying to write a scene about two people having an argument at sunset and can't figure out how to make it interesting or fresh. Sometimes, when it takes me a while to get warmed up, I'll imagine how someone else--my husband, my best friend, someone I recently argued with--might see the same sunset. What would they notice about it that I wouldn't, or vice versa? Write a whole paragraph about the sunset instead of just a sentence. Then go back and look at what is strongest image you came up with. Which image reflects something new about your characters? Save that image, cut the rest. Eventually, those strong images will pop out first in your mind.
To those of you who are working on a novel or have finished one and are sending out your work: stick with it! I don’t think you can ever be too young (or too old!) to start sending out your work. In addition to Fallen, I have another novel I have been working on for eight years now and I know that someday I’m going to finish it! I couldn’t even begin to count how many rejection letters I’ve received over the years from agents, publishers, editors, and contest judges. What kept me writing was the support of other friends who are writers—and a dogged determination to someday get my writing published. There were times when I never thought it would happen, but now I’m so glad I kept writing. Find a writing-buddy, share your work, revise it over and over again, read it aloud, stay true to yourself and your voice, and don’t give up. An English or a Writing program are great ways to read widely and meet other writers. You can get a lot of great practice writing and revising in an academic program but I wouldn’t say the degrees you earn are necessary. If you’re looking for an agent, Writers Marketplace (the book) is a great place to start. There are also tons of publishing blogs out there with suggestions for agents. It’s mostly about finding someone whose tastes and sensibilities match yours.
From Goodreads: After inheriting the dark Van Alen Legacy, Schuyler fled to Florence with her forbidden love, Jack. Now the two of them must embark on the mission Schuyler was destined to complete: to find and protect the five remaining gates that guard the earth from Lucifer, lord of the Silver Bloods. Back in New York, Mimi has been elected Regent of a crumbling coven. Struggling with her heartache over the loss of Kingsley and with her overwhelming desire to destroy Jack, she must focus all of her energy on a perilous new threat. Vampires are being abducted and their captors are planning to burn them alive online…for all the world to see. Help arrives in the form of Deming Chen, a Venator from Shanghai, who must untangle the web of deceptions before the killers strike again. As the young vampires struggle for the survival of the coven, they uncover a deadly secret, a truth first discovered by Schuyler’s mother during the Renaissance but kept buried for centuries. And as the Blue Blood enclave weakens yet further, fate leads Schuyler to a terrible choice that will ultimately map the destiny of her heart.
From Goodreads: The year is 1929. New York is ruled by the Bright Young Things: flappers and socialites seeking thrills and chasing dreams in the anything-goes era of the Roaring Twenties. Letty Larkspur and Cordelia Grey escaped their small Midwestern town for New York's glittering metropolis. All Letty wants is to see her name in lights, but she quickly discovers Manhattan is filled with pretty girls who will do anything to be a star... Cordelia is searching for the father she's never known, a man as infamous for his wild parties as he is for his shadowy schemes. Overnight, she enters a world more thrilling and glamorous than she ever could have imagined—and more dangerous. It's a life anyone would kill for...and someone will. The only person Cordelia can trust is Astrid Donal, a flapper who seems to have it all: money, looks, and the love of Cordelia's brother, Charlie. But Astrid's perfect veneer hides a score of family secrets. Across the vast lawns of Long Island, in the illicit speakeasies of Manhattan, and on the blindingly lit stages of Broadway, the three girls' fortunes will rise and fall—together and apart.
From Goodreads: The fragile peace between humans and vampires in Morganville is in trouble, and when Claire takes drastic action, she's put under serious pressure to re-establish the barriers that keep the town residents inside, and wipe the memories of those who leave. But working with her half-crazy vampire boss Myrnin means that things don't always turn out as planned ... and as the people of Morganville begin acting strangely, Claire and her friends must solve the mystery and try to put things right. But one by one, her allies are turning on her ... even the ones she trusts most.
We've got two juicy giveaways this week. Enter to win MISGUIDED ANGEL by Melissa de la Cruz and THE EMERALD FLAME by Frewin Jones. You must leave a comment and be a follower of our blog to enter. Be sure to fill out the form below. The contest is open to US residents only and will close at midnight EST on October 27, 2010. Winners will be announced on Thursday!