Monthly Archives: December 2013

Exploring Middle Grade Fiction with Razorbill Editor Gillian Levinson

Posted by December 12th, 2013

Gillian LevinsonToday our guest is editor Gillian Levinson. Gillian edits books for young readers at the Razorbill imprint of the Penguin Young Readers Group. We wanted to talk to her because she’s an expert on Middle Grade Fiction, one of the Young Adult categories that is getting more and more popular within the Book Country workshop. Check out what she has to say about her work and its place within this fascinating genre.

LS: You are a passionate editor of Middle Grade Fiction at Razorbill, which to me says you are the perfect person to define for Book Country what “Middle Grade” really means. What’s your working definition?

GL: Well, technically, a middle-grade book is one for readers 8-12 years of age in which the protagonist of the story is also around that same age. One mistake that rookies often make is thinking that because children regularly read up, a novel’s protagonist can be quite a bit older than the target readership (say 14 or 15 years old). Unfortunately, however, that’s typically not how books are shelved in stores. If a particular novel’s protagonist is in high school, for instance, many stores will not stock that book in the Middle Grade section.

In terms of genre or subject matter, Middle Grade can really be anything, but all the best Middle Grade books give the reader a real sense of escape—it could be into a fantastical world or into a historical period or into the life of a child whose life experience feels somewhat removed from that of the reader—while integrating universal emotional experiences (e.g. wanting to belong, wanting others to heed one’s opinions, wanting to feel loved, etc.). Of course, the argument could be made that most great works of fiction, irrespective of target audience, offer that same combination of the personal and the unfamiliar, but in Middle Grade, it’s absolutely central.

Continue reading

Share Button

The Five Golden Rules of Social Media for Authors

Posted by December 11th, 2013

I am so pleased to welcome my friend Andrea Dunlop to the blog today! Andrea and I used to work in publicity together at Doubleday. Andrea is a writer of wonderful fiction (check out her novel THE SUMMER OF SMALL ACCIDENTS) and nonfiction, published on blogs around the web.

Now Andrea works as the Publicity and Social Media Coordinator for Girl Friday Productions, where she helps independent and traditionally published authors create marketing and publicity plans for their books. Andrea is also a brand-new member of the Book Country community!

Check out these awesome tips Andrea has put together for us about social media for authors. These are ways that authors can broaden their writing network, their audience of readers, and the public’s knowledge about their books, all via social media.

***

Andrea Dunlop portraitSocial media outlets like Twitter, Goodreads, and all of the myriad blogs devoted to books are a boon for authors (independent and otherwise) who want to promote their books. A robust social media presence has gone from being a bonus to a must-have, and it’s the ideal way to capitalize on that ever-elusive word-of-mouth marketing.

Whatever tools you use to build up your following, here are five golden rules for becoming a social media all-star.

Be realistic and be consistent

If you manage to do the hard work of getting readers to stumble across your blog or Twitter account, the last thing you want them to find is a space that has digital tumbleweeds rolling through it. Be realistic with yourself about how much time you have to spend on social media per day and design a strategy around it. Much like starting a new workout regimen, you need to give yourself realistic benchmarks and go from there or risk getting discouraged. Ever been to a gym in January? How many of the people in there promising themselves they’re going to work out every day are still there come February 1st? Give yourself something you can realistically work in each day—whether that’s a couple of tweets a day or two blog posts a week—and stick to it. Once you’ve been doing it for three weeks and it’s officially a habit, add on.

Continue reading

Share Button

Beyond NaNoWriMo: Afterglow or Aftershock?

Posted by December 10th, 2013

You’ve crossed the coveted NaNoWriMo finish line and celebrated it accordingly. But after a month of superhuman efforts to reach the desired word count, you might be feeling creatively depleted. Perhaps you’re so exhausted that completing your NaNoWriMo novel seems like an impossible chore. Or you’re finished, but are cringing at the thought of the revision process ahead.

We invited creativity coach and AROUND THE WRITER’S BLOCK: USING BRAIN SCIENCE TO SOLVE WRITER’S RESISTANCE author Rosanne Bane to get some tips on how to get out of the post-NaNoWriMo rut.

***

around the writers blockCongratulations! You completed a major writing project! Perhaps you completed NaNoWriMo – either with 50,000 words or with the knowledge that you showed up and put in a gallant effort toward your 50,000 words.

Maybe you completed a book proposal, a chapbook, your 500th blog post or your MFA. Maybe your editor approved the final draft of your book or you’re finally holding your just published baby.

The forms of writing accomplishment vary, but the exhilaration is the same. Relish how good completion feels. Take pride in your effort and the results. Exercise your bragging rights.

Because this afterglow will fade, and if you’re not prepared for what comes next, the aftershock can knock you off your feet.

After the Glow

To achieve a significant writing goal, you must exert a great deal of creative energy. Sometimes you complete a project and still have enough energy to circle back to the first stage in the creative process to start a new project. But creativity is not an unending assembly line, nor is it supposed to be.

Sometimes completing a project depletes your creative energy. You simply cannot start something new. Your mind is blank. Your creative juices have run dry. It seems like you’re trudging through a creative desert without a juicy idea in sight.

You’ve moved into the Hibernation stage. And if you don’t know what Hibernation is, it’s frighteningly easy to start to wonder what’s wrong with you and if you’ll ever write again.

Continue reading

Share Button

Member Spotlight: Meet NaNoWriMo Writer Caitlin Garzi

Posted by December 9th, 2013

Caitlin GarziPlease welcome writer Caitlin Garzi to the Member Spotlight this morning! Caitlin is a new member to the site, and found out about our Book Country community via her involvement in NaNoWriMo. Her NaNoWriMo project-a WIP called CORIANNE CASTLE–is available to read and review on Book Country.

LS: You participated in NaNoWriMo this year. Tell us everything about your experience–your project, how it felt to “do the Nano,” and what you learned about yourself as a writer.

CG: Last year, one of my fellow Kansas State English graduates participated in NaNoWriMo and I had the opportunity to read the novel that resulted from her effort. She was so excited every day about writing and managed to complete a herculean 50,000 words in November. She inspired me to try out Nano and see what I could do.

I had a whole list of potential YA novel ideas and so I selected my favorite, a novel about Corianne Castle, a 16 year old worker at Waverly Theme Park in the dilapidated town of South Keyes, Florida. Cori was abandoned by her father and is being raised by a mother who suffers from a slight shopping problem– she’s purchased practically every Mary Sue collectable item, from the Mary Sue Limited Edition New Year’s Baby right down to the Mary Sue official Movie Popcorn maker. When Corianne gets sucked into the universe of the occult, she sets off on a mission to rescue her mother’s sanity and end non-magical human torture, even if it means tearing down the thin barrier that separates wizards from the rest of the world.

I was excited about this idea because it allowed me to explore the social implications of many of the “wizard” books out there– from the real life “authentic collector” items that have proliferated to the hypothetical treatment of non-magical peoples of magical worlds. I knew anything I wrote would be “issue driven” young adult, and this idea fit the bill.

The first twenty pages were so easy to write! I breezed through the theme park descriptions, altercations Cori has with customers, and issues she has serving food to her snobby and unlikable classmates. I never knew I could write so much so quickly! Once Cori was ready to enter the world of magic, though, I hit some snags and needed to do some brainstorming. I’m sad to say I only made it 30,000 words into the Nano challenge, but it was still so rewarding and exciting!

Continue reading

Share Button

The Back Cover Synopsis: Writing Your “About the Book” with Copywriter Carly Hoogendyk

Posted by December 6th, 2013

Writing Your "About the Book:" on Book CountryWe are so pleased to have copywriter Carly Hoogendyk as our guest blogger this morning. Carly, a colleague of the Book Country team here at Penguin, is an expert in writing back cover copy for dozens of books in many genres. We all know how important that cover copy can be in selling a book, whether it is a physical book jacket you are reading or the “About the Book” entry on a eBook retail site. I asked Carly to apply some of her knowledge of book cover copy to what Book Country members are doing when they upload their books for peer review or to publish. Read her tips for writing your “About the Book” to attract and engage readers on Book Country.

Putting together a fantastic “About the Book” is a great next step for writers, whether you are just coming off a month of NaNoWriMo or preparing to self-publish.

***

Carly HoogendykI’m a Junior Copywriter at Berkley and New American Library. I read manuscripts for soon-to-be published novels across the full spectrum of genres—New Adult, Westerns, Cozy Mysteries, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Contemporary Romance, Erotica, and Thrillers. Once I have a sense of the story, characters, and “what sets this book apart from the rest,” I write the snappy, three-paragraph persuasive book report that we all know and love: The Back Cover Synopsis.*

*Grammatically speaking, you’ll observe throughout this post my copywriter’s love affair with my favorite persuasive punctuation: ellipses, colons, the Oxford Comma, and—perhaps my favorite—the EM DASH.

I got into copywriting via fundraising. I became extremely adept at the 15-second elevator pitch by cold calling strangers to ask them for money to support the arts. (If you think writing book synopsis is difficult, trying hectoring strangers for their hard-earned dough during dinnertime.)

It was brilliant practice for what I do now: If I couldn’t engage their attention quickly and articulate my hook in an extremely short window of time, they’d hang up on me (and it happened… a lot). In the instances where I successfully got strangers to listen for long enough to actually fork over a buck or two (or a thousand), it was lively language, a confident tone, and fact-based persuasion that gave my argument the edge that won them over.

That being said, here are my basic tips for how to avoid a “hang up” when you’re writing descriptive copy for your book:

Know Your Hook(s)
In cover copy, the hook is anything that will make your story especially enticing to a potential reader. It can be the name recognition or awards won by the author, a clever turn of phrase which suggests the writing will be entertaining, or a cryptic suggestion that there’s something completely unexpected in store…*
*There’s something about the dot-dot-dot that reads like beckoning someone with a curled index finger…  Which, while creepy in real life, is fair game for effective book copy.
There’s something about your novel that makes it original and specific and intriguing to readers. That’s your hook. Working your hook into a tagline that opens your copy is a tried and true way to get a reader to continue on to the rest of your synopsis and, ideally, the first page of your book. Continue reading

Share Button

Family Histories: Writing Memoir with Marianne Szegedy-Maszak

Posted by December 5th, 2013

December is when writers are surrounded by rhetoric about family. For our Book Country Author Q&A this week, I wanted to talk to Spiegel & Grau author Marianne Szegedy-Maszak, whose book I KISS YOUR HANDS MANY TIMES is one of the best books I’ve read this year. A stunning blend of political intrigue, intimate romance, and drily funny commentary on the central European upper classes of a bygone era, Szegedy-Maszak’s book delves into her own family’s rich history. The author is a descendant of an important and wealthy Jewish aristocratic family who’d traded their lives for safe passage into neutral Portugal during World War II. Her father, who served in the Hungarian foreign ministry, was interned as a political prisoner at Dachau, where he very nearly died of typhus. With painstaking journalistic skill, Szegedy-Maszak pieces together an incredible true story of survival, ultimately revealing the truth of how her own quiet childhood in America, with Sunday mass and Girl Scout camping trips, was the result of extraordinary twists of fate.I KISS YOUR HANDS MANY TIMES

As an aspirational memoirist myself, I was blown away by the elegance of Szegedy-Maszak’s prose, as well as her ability to weave historical detail and idiosyncratic family lore into her narrative so smoothly. Below, I asked her to fill us in on how she brought this writing project to life.

LS: It seems like the amount of detail in this book would be difficult to pull off in such an engaging way, but you did it with effortless warmth. Do you have any tips for other writers contending with such a large amount of facts, dates, and names?

MSK: Of course my first response is one of gratitude for both noticing the historical heft and appreciating the way it was integrated into the more personal story. As compelling as I found my family’s story, I also realized that it couldn’t be really understood without the broader context of the world they inhabited and the history they took for granted, the history that shaped them. I suppose that this is where the journalist in me stepped in and took charge. I needed to report this story as I would any big magazine piece and marshal the history, the documents, newspaper clippings from the time, the interviews with others who were either experts or eyewitnesses, and of course the mass of secondary sources dealing with this period. I would like to say that I had a sophisticated computer system in which each bit of information was at my fingertips, but I am still stuck with the need to look at paper. So I had a very unsophisticated but extremely practical system of dividing everything chronologically, putting whatever I had in file folders labeled with each month. When I was ready to write, each file folder contained a great combination of the history and the letters my parents wrote, and the letters that were written to them. Somehow the integration of the personal and the historical had already happened within that file in a rudimentary way.

Continue reading

Share Button

Beyond NaNoWriMo: Literary Agent Sara Megibow on Top Publishing Trends

Posted by December 4th, 2013

NaNoWriMo has come to an end, and I’m sure many of you are itching to share your work: publish it or place it into the hand of a literary agent. Finishing a novel is incredibly exciting, but make sure it’s as ready as it can be, first, before sharing it with your readers! Do your research. Edit. Strategize. 

Today we have the third part of our interview with agent Sara Megibow–a special treat for those of you who are gearing up to query agents in the next months. Be sure to check out the first part of our interview, in which she shared specific query advice and the second part, where she talked about what’s behind a good author-agent relationship

Here, we discuss publishing trends, erotic romance, and sci/fi submissions. ~NG

NG: As an agent, you have a birds-eye view of the publishing industry. Are there any trends you see growing or contracting in terms of genre or writing style?

SM: That’s a great question and thanks again for having me here at Book Country! I’ve followed the Book Country website and Twitter feed for a long time now. Thanks for all the hard work your team does to support authors!

Now, on to trends—you asked about genre and writing style. Let’s tackle genre first. I’ve worked in publishing for 8 years and have been a literary agent for 4 years and can honestly say (from an agent’s perspective) brilliant writing has been the “hot” thing all along. It’s easy to point to certain genres that have gone “boom” and been hot over the years—vampire romance, young adult dystopian, erotic romance, etc. but when I’m reading submissions for potential representation I put these biases aside and read solely for quality of writing. I want a book that grabs my attention and draws me in so much that when the cat meows, the kid screams and the doorbell rings, I miss it all because I’m so engrossed in the characters and their lives.

9780778313533_smp.inddAs an agent, I represent debut authors in science fiction, fantasy, romance, erotica, new adult, young adult and middle grade fiction. I do want submissions that match a certain formula based on genre (word count, happy-ever-after ending, etc), but I don’t reject submissions because of the genre itself. I’ve seen a lot of submissions recently set in the dream world or in Heaven or Hell and I’ve also seen a lot of submissions in which the hero or heroine is recovering from a coma or from amnesia. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t represent a book with these elements—it just means a book with these elements will have to display superior mastery of craft in order to stand out among the competition.

Here’s another example—I’ve heard whispered around the internets that historical romance is on a downswing. Well, I disagree. I agree that contemporary romance is trending up right now, but not at the expense of historical as people might say. I represent debut author Ashlyn Macnamara who has two Regency historicals out this year and they are selling like hotcakes. So, genre being what it is—we have to take these trends with a grain of salt.

Now, let’s talk about writing style for a moment. In terms of trends, writing style has a much more concrete answer than genre. For example, here are some quantifiable success stories from the past two years:

The eBook tie-in novella. Think about SUBMIT TO DESIRE by Tiffany Reisz—a novella-length story set in her ORIGINAL SINNERS world but sold at a lower price and as an ebook only. SUBMIT TO DESIRE sells well and readers seem to love the occasional quickie read, especially when they get to see some of their favorite heroes and heroines again. Also, the lower price point works well in convincing new readers to try an author she/he might not have read before. We recently inked an ebook novella tie-in deal for Michael Underwood’s GEEKOMANCY series too. The novella will be called ATTACK THE GEEK, will feature Ree Reyes in a new adventure and will be available as an ebook in early 2014. Will this trend continue? Yes, I think it will.

Continue reading

Share Button

The Magic of Small Town Romance with Author Maisey Yates

Posted by December 3rd, 2013

Untouched

Today we’re joined by romance writer Maisey Yates, whose Silver Creek Romance series will delight readers with its small town charm and unbuttoned cowboys. 

Here Maisey shares her secrets to creating the perfect setting for her small town series. ~NG

***

I came into the writing world with billionaires and glamorous locations. I love the escapism in those settings. Private islands, Manhattan penthouses, and glittering lodges up in the Alps. There’s something aspirational about a setting like that, and I always love the chance to research an exotic locale.

But while I started writing with such big city settings, my life is set somewhere much more humble. I’m a small town girl. I’ve lived at four addresses on the same street and can see my childhood home (that my parents still live in) from my office window.

When I started branching out into longer contemporaries, the small town setting just seemed to fit. After all, as much as I enjoy the more high-glamour settings, they remain a fantasy, even to me as the author.

But a small town setting is something I understand; it’s what I live. There are things that are wonderful, things that are frustrating, things that are limiting. And they’re all things I have emotions about. Being able to transfer that into a book almost makes the setting its own character, rather than simply a backdrop. I don’t just have Google images I’m drooling over. I have real thoughts and feelings about places that are like Silver Creek, Oregon, the fictional town that appears in my (aptly named) Silver Creek romances.

Continue reading

Share Button

Cyber Monday Deals at Book Country

Posted by December 2nd, 2013

We’re celebrating Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals with a special promotion for Book Country members who want to self-publish: Take 50% off Book Country’s Standard publishing package. Publish your book for under $30!Cyber Monday Deals from Book Country

Use the code CYBERMONDAY13.

.

Act quickly — this Cyber Monday deal ends tonight at midnight.

With the Standard publishing package, you can publish once and distribute everywhere. It’s easy to move the manuscript you’ve workshopped over to publish, just click “Publish” from your dashboard.Our tools will help you find any formatting problems so your eBook will display beautifully for your readers. You can use the cover you’ve already made for your manuscript or design a new one in the cover designer. Once you’re happy with your eBook, we’ll assign it an ISBN and then distribute it to the online retailers you choose. You can keep track of all of your sales in a single place that you can access any time.

Not a Book Country member? Join now (it’s free) to take advantage of our special promotion and discover our supportive online writing and publishing community.

Happy Cyber Monday!
Share Button