Tag Archives: publication

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.

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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.

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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

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Member Spotlight: Meet Book Country Author Charles Dyer

Posted by November 4th, 2013

Charles Dyer Author PhotoBook Country member Charles Dyer is an incredibly prolific and varied writer—he has published 12 books with Book Country, in Fantasy, Romance, Historical Fiction, and Science Fiction. Hailing from South Africa, Charles has many interests and hobbies, including archery, gardening, computer programming and gaming, and visual art. We caught up with him to find out more about his creative process, as well as to hear his perspective on self-publishing and its challenges.

LS: What led you to join Book Country? Has it helped you?

CD: I can’t remember the details but I saw the site on the Web and it had more appeal than many others. Especially as I considered the possibility that it might expose my work to the editors at Penguin. My ultimate goal is to have best-selling paperback books out there in preference to eBooks. Book Country has helped insofar as exposure goes. My work is now distributed to a wider range of retailers than before.

LS: 12 is a lot of books! You must have some kind of brilliant time-management technique! Share with us how you are able to accomplish so much writing.

CD: Ha, ha, I wish that I did have some brilliant technique. Some of these books were written in the last century, starting in 1996. All of them have been polished several times.

I use spreadsheets to ensure that I don’t inadvertently change hair or eye color halfway through the story or any other little detail. Typically, a spreadsheet will have plot, synopsis, timeline, character details, world details, chapter details, etc. As I write, I update the spreadsheet and cross-reference it to ensure consistency.

One might say that it pays to be a methodical plodder– a plodder is a person who dogmatically knuckles down and works at whatever they are doing until it’s done.

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The Magic of Book Cover Design with Larry Rostant

Posted by October 23rd, 2013

When I saw the cover reveal for Book Country member Kerry Schafer‘s WAKEWORLD (which comes out from Ace in January), it literally took my breath away.

WAKEWORLD book cover design

The WAKEWORLD cover is just one of many iconic book jackets designed by UK cover designer Larry Rostant, whose work also includes the well-known covers for George R.R. Martin’s books, used by Martin’s publishers around the world. He’s designed covers for every kind of book, from Romance to Literary Fiction to Science Fiction. Larry says, “My job is to get the reader to choose that book and to lift it off the shelf.” Continue reading

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Writing Fearlessly with Author Patty Chang Anker

Posted by October 17th, 2013

Patty Chang Anker author photoHalloween season is officially here, and on Book Country we’re spending the last few weeks of October writing about things that scare us: Ghosts. Werewolves. Being chased. Evil. Realizing your reality is not quite like everyone else’s. Fear, in general, is a writer’s treasure trove: Who doesn’t love a scary story?

As soon as I picked up SOME NERVE by Patty Chang Anker, I started thinking about the other ways fear relates to writing. SOME NERVE is a hybrid between a Memoir and a smart self-help book about overcoming fears in everyday life. (Below Patty dubs the genre of her book an “immersion memoir.”) Patty shared her thoughts on the experience of writing a book about fear, and some fantastic tips for some of the fears writers face most: throwing out their work, reading in front of an audience, having the world read their innermost thoughts. Writing fearlessly–read on to find out how.SOME NERVE - Cover

In writing SOME NERVE, how did you work through the fear of baring so much to your readers?

The very first chapter I wrote was about my struggle with clutter which was hugely personal because your stuff tells the story of where you’ve been and what matters to you. The emotional fears of letting go were at the heart of why I was afraid to take new steps in my life.  When we cleared the clutter, we started with the hardest thing to part with – a box of my work triumphs from a decade earlier. That was excruciating! But once that was gone, everything else was easier to let go of, and it made room to envision a new future. It was the same with writing the book – by getting at something very personal first, the rest was easier to tell, I felt free to be myself. 

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How Did You Know You Were Ready to Self-Publish? Perspectives from Book Country Members

Posted by October 9th, 2013

ready to self publishIn traditional publishing, you know your book is ready to publish when your editor tells you it’s ready. “When is my book ready?” is a trickier question when you’re self-publishing. Today, we share how Book Country members knew when their books were ready to publish.

Book Country Historical Romance writer Ellise Weaver said of her decision to self-publish her novel THE GOVERNESS: “After seeing some of my author friends’ success and tell of their earnings, I thought to myself, ‘Why wait?!’ I didn’t put it off any longer.”

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Author Interview with Barbara Rogan

Posted by August 8th, 2013

Barbara_RoganBarbara Rogan’s most recent offering, A DANGEROUS FICTION (Viking), is one of my favorite types of fiction–a coupling of literary and mysterious. The novel follows Jo Donovan, head of a prestigious New York literary agency and the widow of a renowned author. When a would-be client starts stalking Jo, she has to delve into the stories of real life that she’s carefully edited—or face the consequences.

Barbara Rogan and I sat down to talk more about the book.

 

I couldn’t stop thinking about how genre-bending A DANGEROUS FICTION is. Do you think genre taxonomy is important when it comes to publishing, and where does your book fit in that ecosystem?

“Genre” started out as publishing shorthand intended for the convenience of booksellers and reviewers, and I think its usefulness stops there. I don’t think of literary fiction as a category separate from other genres. My own books have been classified as literary fiction, women’s fiction, and mystery. Those deemed “literary fiction” are no better written than the others. I really don’t buy the whole dichotomy between literature and popular fiction. I see writing more as a continuum calibrated, not by genre, but by the quality of the writing.

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Romantic Suspense Author Stella Cameron’s Tips on Handling Rejection

Posted by August 7th, 2013

At this summer’s Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association Conference, I picked up some great advice about rejection from romantic suspense author Stella Cameron. At the Friday night dinner panel, Cameron told the audience to:

Always have something in the mail (or email). If you’re always submitting your work to editors and agents, you’ll always be waiting for good news. That way, if you do get some bad news, it won’t feel like the end of the world.

Write before you check your mail (or email). Get your creative work for the day done before you find out if something you’ve submitted has been rejected. Your day’s writing won’t be plagued by self-doubt if you’re blissfully ignorant of any possible rejections sitting in your in-box. By the time you go to write the next day, the original sting will have likely subsided. Instead, you’ll already be thinking of how you can use the rejection as feedback.

It was wonderful to hear Stella Cameron, the author of more than 60 novels, remind us that every writer has a long history of rejections underpinning their success.

How do you handle rejection?

 

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One Year Since Michael R. Underwood’s GEEKOMANCY

Posted by April 8th, 2013

Meet author & Book Country member Michael R. Underwood

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“Don’t always settle for the established trope.” –Mike Underwood

Michael R. Underwood is the author of Geekomancy, an urban fantasy novel in which geek knowledge is a superpower. A year ago Pocket/Gallery editor Adam Wilson came across a sample of the manuscript on Book Country, loved it, and offered Mike a book deal.

We got in touch with Mike to commemorate the acquisition, talk about his writing, and find out how becoming a published author changed his life.

Nevena: Thank you for joining us, Mike. Let’s start with Geekomancy. When did you start writing it? And how did you come up with the idea of Geekomancers, or “humans that derive their supernatural powers from pop culture”?

Mike
Geekomancy started as a distraction. I gave myself a break from writing another novel so I could noodle with this idea I had about geek magic. I set aside the novel I’d been working on and let myself explore this new idea over Thanksgiving weekend. The genesis of the magic of Geekomancycame from a confluence of many influences and inspirations, but largely from asking myself the question, “What would geek magic be?”—and then trying to figure out the answer.

Nevena: Geek magic is a unique concept. Do you see yourself reinventing genre conventions?

Mike: When I started Geekomancy, I set out to write the kind of urban fantasy that I’d want to read. I feel like there is a thread in urban fantasy that takes the same creature types (e.g., Vampires, Wereshifters, Demons, Witches, Fae, etc.) and just re-cycles them with minimal changes. I wanted to do something different. The world of Geekomancy has vampires, werewolves and demons, but I filtered each creature type through the whacky lens of the world. So I ended up with vampires nearly extinct because they’d been lashed to the popular consciousness dominated by Twilight, werewolves that are actually humans in rubber werewolf suits, and a demon called the Thrice-Retconned Duke of Pwn.

It may not count as breaking a convention, but Geekomancy was always intended to be a comedy as much as an urban fantasy. There are other great comedic urban fantasy series (e.g.,The Dresden Files, InCryptid, The Iron Druid Chronicles), but I don’t see it as the dominant thread in urban fantasy. Many have comedy in them, but far fewer are as much comedy as they are urban fantasy.

Nevena: Are there any clichés or genre conventions in fantasy you’d like to see disappear?

Mike: No, because I keep seeing writers take something familiar and make it fresh again. I would like to challenge fantasy writers (myself included!): don’t always settle for the established trope as is. It can be tricky to find that balance—in drawing enough on what’s come before to invite audiences in through the familiar, but then delivering something that’s distinct and new enough to be worth the reader’s time. I used familiar cultural properties inGeekomancy, but I tried to put them together in a different way.

Nevena: I can see that, especially with how you’ve woven your unique sense of humor throughout the book. What’s your secret to crafting a great voice?

Mike: Thanks! I access voice through the same way I step into a character when I’m playing RPGs or acting. I learn enough about the character that I can build a worldview filter that lets me see and analyze the world through that character’s perspective. When I’ve got a clear sense of a character’s voice, it’s much easier for me to tear through the word count. For me, a well-realized voice makes for a well-realized character, and then the character can drive the story.

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Nevena: Now walk us through the book’s path to publication. What was the most challenging part about writing and publishing it?

Mike: I started writing Geekomancy in November 2010, and continued through the summer of 2011. I took a break in the summer to do a revise-and-resubmit for an agent on a previous project, then went back toGeekomancy and wrote until I finished the rough draft in late 2011. I submitted the barely-revised rough draft to a novel contest in an online writers’ group I’m in (Codex Writers), and decided to throw a sample up on Book Country as well, as a way to share my revision process online and get some extra feedback.

In January 2012, I got an email from Adam Wilson at Pocket/Gallery, who had read the partial on Book Country and asked for the full manuscript. After a good bout of Kermit flailing, I wrote back and sent the manuscript, and about a week later, I had an offer.

The most challenging part was the first draft itself. I was having a huge amount of fun writing the novel, but along the way, I had doubts—what if I was writing too obscure, too insular? Was I writing a novel only I and fifty of my friends would enjoy? I made some edits to make the book more accessible, but I think it remains a book that will best connect with particular types of readers.

I think all books have “ideal readers” who are positioned to best connect with a work. Books can connect with many other people, but the ideal readers are probably the people who will most love the work. I inadvertently gave myself the advantage of knowing quite specifically who the ideal readers for Geekomancy were—they were the people who had grown up loving many of the same things I did, who could see themselves in Ree Reyes and her friends. What started as a fear has turned out to be the work’s great strength for the ideal readers.

Nevena: I bet the concept of an ideal reader helps a lot during the writing process. What was the process of working with your editor?

MikeGeekomancy is largely the same novel it was as of the first draft. Adam helped me take the things I was trying to do and do them better, more evocatively. He also helped me foreground the magic so that it could connect with readers better and invoke the fannish joy that is intrinsic (for me) to geekdom.

I love having an editor. I’ve been a collaborative storyteller for most of my life, playing tabletop and live-action role-playing games. It’s great to have a partner who is both a skilled reader who helps me focus and clarify my work as well as a champion for the book in the industry. Adam coordinated the publishing machine that took Geekomancy from a word document on my hard drive to a completed commercial novel ready to connect with readers.

Nevena: Sounds like Adam is awesome! 🙂 How has your life changed since Geekomancy?

Mike: Life since selling the novel has been a whirlwind. Mostly, the difference has been one of intensity. Before, I was working hard on writing, but knowing that there are readers waiting for more did a great job of helping me put that extra bit of effort in every day.

Another huge change is that I now have novels out in the world, and with that come readers, reviews, and life in the public eye. Every time I see a tweet or a review, it reminds me that the writing career that I’ve wanted for so long is happening, right now. The dream has come true, but it’s a work in progress. The first deal isn’t happily ever after, not by a long shot. But I’m in the game.

Nevena: I’m really happy for you, Mike.

Geekomancy is now an audio book. Listen to a sample here. Follow Michael R. Underwood on Twitter at @MikeRUnderwood and visit his blog. He’s represented by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency.

Tune in tomorrow for Part Two of our interview with Mike, in which he talks about his new book, Celebromancy, coming out on July 15th, and being part of Book Country.

* Cover art by Trish Cramblet, Design by Min Choi

 

 

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Book Packaging: Another Way to Get Published

Posted by March 22nd, 2012

Book Country Twitter Chat (March 15, 2012)

Learn about the ins and outs of book packaging from experts of Stonesong agency, Ellen Scordato, Alison Fargis, and Judith Linden.

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What is book packaging?! It has nothing to do with literally packaging a physical book. It is an alternative way to get published, also known as book development. Book packagers may be enigmatic figures to laymen, but any industry insider will tell you that they play a fundamental role in the book world!

As one of our guests Alison Fargis told us, the book packager is like an independent film producer, in charge of doing everything that has to do with putting a book together — working with writers and publishers on a project management level, offering comprehensive editorial, design, and production work, as well as marketing and PR. Book packagers help publishers execute difficult or crash projects. Or they come up with their own idea for a book and hire writers who bring the concept to life.

How does this pertain to YOU? Well, the book packaging industry employs a ton of freelance writers and publishing professionals. It is a great way to break into the biz and get writing credits. Our special guests to tell us more are the ladies of Stonesong, a NYC-based literary, publishing, and book development agency — Ellen Scordato (@EScordato), Alison Fargis ( @AlisonFargis), and Judith Linden ( @JudyLinden1) — mostly package non-fiction.

Ellen Scordato is a book packager who handles production, design and custom publishing, and has a quarter century of in-depth publishing experience. She used to be a managing editor who loved production and midwifing great ideas, and it is the passion for project management that got her into book packaging.

Alison Fargishas 17 years of packaging and book development experience. She often puts on a literary agent hat, representing clients such as bestselling author of The Sisters Grimm, Michael Buckley. In 2002, Alison and Ellen co-founded Stonesong.

Judith Linden joined Ellen and Alison at Stonesong in 2004 as Executive VP, Literary Agent, and Director of Digital and Print Media. Prior to joining Stonesong, Judith spent nearly 20 years as an executive editor and book developer at two major publishing houses.

Together, they have produced many bestselling titles, including The Daring Book for GirlsDating the Undead, and Smart Words. With 75 years of combined editorial and packaging experience, they are a treasure trove of pub insight! Here’s a taste:

@JudyLinden1: Basically we [book packagers] are agents plus. We follow a project from inception to final form. For PETFINDER [a book about adopting shelter dogs], we found the org, wrote proposal, sold it, edited every word, managed photos, delivered ms to pub.

@EScordato: We don’t have writers on staff. We compose teams specifically for each project, depending on the expertise needed.Suppose we a book on culinary history or a craft book. We might look for writers who have blogs on the subject, or teach on it.

@AlisonFargis: We also look for writers for the crash projects publishers send our way.

@JudyLinden1: [Biggest subjects in non-fiction book packaging right now] cooking, design, lifestyle, diet, relationships, pop psychology, pop culture, fashion, parenting among others.

@EScordato: Yes! We certainly are [considering every delivery medium]. Very active in developing ebooks.

@AlisonFargis: I keep resumes for years. I may not have a gig for u right now but if the right project comes along I will call.

If you missed the chat or want to refresh your memory, we’ve posted the entire transcript as a PDF document HERE. The PDF will open in your browser and you’ll be able to save it to your computer if you like. You can also get to know your fellow genre fiction lovers by clicking directly on their Twitter handles.

Please note that the chat appears from newest to oldest tweets, so start at the bottom and work your way up.

Thanks to all of our chat participants!

REMEMBER: Book Country Twitter chats are taking a short hiatus, but typically occur every other Thursday. Just use the hashtag #bookcountry to participate or follow along. Dates, topics, and special guests are announced in advance in the Book Country Discussion forums, so be sure to take a look! And follow us on Twitter @Book_Country.

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