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Thursday, January 29, 2015

How to Get Free Books

by +Denise Drespling

Everyone loves free stuff. I mean, really, why wouldn't you?

I read a lot of books for free. Just for fun, I looked over the list of books that I read in 2012 (find them here), just to see how many I paid for (or borrowed from a friend) and how many were free. Of the 70 books I read, 39 were free.

And I don't just get to read old books for free. Nope. New ones. Popular ones. I read Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane right after it came out. Lots of new books are available. For free!

Want to know my secret?



What did you think I was going to say? I pirate it? Pffhh. I'm only a pirate on September 19.


It seems obvious, but you'd be amazed at how many people--readers, even--don't have a library card and have never stepped foot inside their local library. This, to me, seems plain ole crazy.

Or maybe, you just don't know what the library has to offer. Let me brag a little because I love my library. Actually, I frequent two. One near work, one near home. Because I can't get enough!

Here are 16 reasons to go to the library:

  1. Books! Books!
    More books over here! Look! There's more aisles there! I'll use as many exclamation points as I can to show you all the BOOKS!!! Oh, and they will let you take them home for a while. For free.
  2. Not only books
    Want to read the New York Times, without springing for a subscription? The library has you covered! They keep a bunch of magazines around, too.
  3. Audiobooks!!
    If you have not discovered audiobooks yet, you are missing out. Perfect for your morning commute, road trip, or even to keep you entertained while doing housework. I love audiobooks, and I listen to them all the time. But, they're pricey. Even with sites like Audible.com (You even get a book FREE when you sign up!) making them affordable, why buy it when you can get it for free at the library!
  4. eBooks!
    Oh, you didn't know that, did you? You can actually borrow an eBook from the library. Some libraries will lend you the eReader, too.
  5. Overdrive
    I don't know how widely available this program is, but oh. My. Goodness. It is awesome! If audiobooks and eBooks weren't enough, how about an app that puts them right on your phone and lets you download them to your computer? This is my most favorite thing right now. I can download a new book in a matter of minutes without even leaving home or work. If your library participates, you get access thousands of eBooks and audiobooks. For free.
  6. Geographical reach
    Besides the plethora of books available in the library, you can also have books sent to the library from other libraries. It's like going to a whole bunch of libraries at once. Plus, in PA, if you have a library card from an Access PA participant, you can get a library card at any other Access PA library. To get a library card in the first place, you only need to live or work in the area. And they're FREE. (Or you can pay a small fee if you're out of the area, but like I said, if you have a card from an Access PA library, you're good anywhere.)
  7. Book clubs
    What's better than sitting around with a bunch of people who share your love for books and who have just finished reading the same book you did? I look forward to my book club all month. I love my book club! We have some brilliant, engaging discussions about books. Plus, it exposes me to awesome books I might never have read otherwise. If you are a writer, join a book club IMMEDIATELY! You need to be able to talk about books and hear what others say about them. You will learn much and have a blast while doing it.
  8. DVDs and CDs
    When it's out of the theaters, not yet on Netflix, and left RedBox long ago, chances are, you can find that DVD at the library. Some libraries have a tiny fee, but some, like the Cranberry Library, let you borrow for free and keep it 3 nights! CDs are usually available, too. Seriously. Where else can you go to borrow a CD?
  9. Computers and the internet
    If you don't have a computer, they do! If you don't have internet access, they do! And while you can't watch porn there, you can do pretty much whatever you need to do online. For free. At the library. You can even connect your laptop or mobile device to the wi-fi. Oh, and you can print. Not for free. But cheap.
  10. Stuff for kids and families
    Everything from toddler story time to teen reading groups. Want your kid to read more? Sign them up for something at the library. It's not only about books, either. Sure, Dr. Seuss Day is an awesomely fun time, but there are also movie nights, art clubs, princess parties, etc.
  11. Other random, fun events!
    Halloween Pet Parade. Need I say more? It's a real thing. And the library has it. Every year. And other things like Dinosaur and Fossil Day or the Oscar Party. There is always something.
  12. Learn stuff
    If it's not an event, it's a class! Learn about Native Americans, the new healthcare act, what your handwriting says about you, learn about computers, knitting, photography, eReaders, and just about anything people can get together to do. Somewhere, there is a library teaching about it. You can even learn a new language.
  13. Author readings/signings
    I hope, if you are a writer, you know this. Libraries are great places for readings and to meet authors.
  14. Used books
    Most libraries have a section or, in New Castle, an ENTIRE BASEMENT, of used books for sale for very cheap. If that alone wasn't awesome enough, the money all goes to the library and helps them keep the lights on and new books coming in.
  15. Your ancestors
    No, not dead bodies. But the records of them! If you're a genealogy fan, you have likely spent time in the library's research section looking up things like death records and birth records. Hey. Guess what. They'll even help you do it!
  16. A place to go
    Got an hour to kill? Want a quiet, cozy place to sit and read? What not go to the library? Most even have a kid's spot with some toys and things to entertain. Let your kid play while you sit and read. What more could you ask for?

I could go on and on. The library is so much more than books. It's a community treasure.

Go to your library. Go there so often that the librarians know you by name. And while you're there, leave a few bucks behind to keep the library going. With so much FREE stuff, they need support from all of us who take full advantage of what the library offers.


You never know what you'll see when you're there. The Cranberry Library actually has a real, live Abe Lincoln impersonator who has been known to come in wearing full costume and sit and read the paper with his black hat popping out the top. The New Castle Library has a bone fide library cat, Stacks, who is great entertainment and quite lovable.

Rainy day? Go to the library. Bored at home? Go to the library. Kids driving you crazy? Take them to the library. Want to people watch for a while? Go to the library. Want to discover and learn and laugh? GO TO THE LIBRARY!

And if you do, tell me your best library moment in the comments.

Denise Drespling is the author of short story, “Reflections,” in the Tales of Mystery, Suspense & Terror anthology (October 2014) and “10 Items or Less,” in 10: Carlow’s MFA Anniversary Anthology (April 2014). You can also find her work in these anthologies: The Dragon's Rocketship Presents: The Scribe's Journal and Winter Wishes.

Hang out with Denise at her blog, The Land of What Ifs, her BookTube channel on YouTube, or on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, or Instagram.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Art of ARC-ing

by MarcyKate Connolly

Advanced review copies, or ARCs, seem to spark two distinct emotions in debut writers: elation (my book is a book!) and confusion (what the heck am I supposed to do with these?). To add to the confusion, depending on your publisher and your contract, you could get anywhere between one single ARC to 20 or more.

Once you’ve got the requisite joy out of your system and have spent some quality time getting to know your ARCs....
Sit back and relax with your ARCs....
And don't forget to show it off to your friends!
...you will likely be told to use them for publicity and outreach.

I know a lot of new authors cringe every time they hear the word publicity, so I thought I’d share some practical ways you can use ARCs for outreach that may or may not be on your radar already:

Getting to know your local librarian. If you’re an introvert (like me), the idea of cold calling/emailing/visiting your local librarian in the hopes they’ll buy your book can be terrifying. However, having something to actually give them (in this case one of your lovely ARCs!), can make that a whole lot easier. It provides an opening for discussion and there’s less pressure. And if you stop by your library and they’re not available, you can always leave the ARC with a staff member in the appropriate section along with a note, a bookmark, and your business card.

Getting to know your local bookseller. Depending on your publisher, your local bookstore may already have ARCs of your book, so this may not need to be high on your list if your publisher is one of the Big Five, for example. But even if they do have your ARC already, it can be a nice gesture, and again, an opening to discuss books in general, as well as the possibility of doing an event there when the book is out. Also, if you’re a young adult author, some indie bookstores have ARC buckets for teens to read and review, which is another opportunity to look into.

Send it on tour! If you’re a debut author (especially a children’s author) you might be part a debut group, most of which tour ARCs among their members. This is a great idea for a couple reasons: 1) If other authors on the tour are comfortable rating your book on Goodreads, then it can give you some good reviews early on 2) It’s an excellent way to begin word of mouth for your book and 3) when you get it back at the end of the tour, you’ll have all sorts of notes from the readers, making a great keepsake.

Give one to a local teacher. (More for YA/MG/Picture book authors, than adult) If you have children in school or know people who are teachers in your local area, consider asking if they’d be interested in reading your book. School visits can be a great way for children’s authors to connect directly with readers, and gifting an ARC could pave the way for one.

Give one to a book blogger. If you’ve made connections to book bloggers, you may want to consider one or two who are particularly excited about your book. Many book bloggers will passionately talk about books they love. This can be a great way to activate word of mouth for your book. 

Send one to your local paper. Always check with your publicist at your publisher before doing this (provided you have one). But if your local paper has a books section or highlights local people, the ARC along with a brief press release could get your book an article or review.

Goodreads giveaway. This is also something to check with your publisher about first, as many do this and you don’t want to duplicate efforts. If they’re not running one it can be a great way to connect with Goodreads users who may not yet have heard of your book.

Blog/social media giveaways. People LOVE to win stuff. You can setup a rafflecopter giveaway to make the entry requirements things like following you on twitter, facebook, tumblr, etc. The trick is to keep those new followers engaged after the giveaway is over!

Annotated ARC giveaways. Annotated ARCs are a fun thing to giveaway and readers love seeing the notes, fun facts, and behind-the-scenes info. However, they can be time-consuming because you’ll need to go through your entire book and handwrite those notes. If you have the time and inclination, an annotated ARC could set your blog/social media giveaway apart.

Blurbs. Again, depending on your publisher and agent, you may not need to request your own blurbs from established authors. But if you do, those ARCs will come in handy.

Friends and family. This may not have the biggest impact publicity-wise, but giving an ARC to your parents or best friend or whoever you dedicated your book to can be a lovely and much appreciated gesture.

This list is, of course, by no means comprehensive. Please share your suggestions and ideas in the comments! :)

MarcyKate Connolly writes middle grade and young adult fiction and becomes a superhero when sufficiently caffeinated. When earthbound, she blogs at her website and spends far too much time babbling on Twitter. Her debut upper middle grade fantasy novel, MONSTROUS, will be out from HarperCollins Children's Books on February 10, 2015!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A New Look at Editing: Your Novel In Eight Minutes

by Cat Woods

As a speech coach, I often help students "cut" pieces from novels for competition. In my neck of the woods, this amounts to summing up an entire novel into an eight minute spoken presentation--or roughly 1,300 words including an original introduction.

Truly, it's like editing on crack.

The process is easy enough: read; tease out the phrases, sentences or paragraphs that best portray the scope of the story; and tie them together with a nice little intro. For prose, this entails sifting through a lot of introspection and a little bit of action. For duo, it means cutting and pasting the story together through the written dialogue. Humor is usually a healthy combination of both.

Regardless, the outcome is the same. When my speechies have cut a novel for competition, they've somehow whittled down the story to a fraction of its size--all while packing an emotional punch and retaining its integrity. The only usable words are the ones the author penned. No changes can be made and the lines must be connected in the order in which they appear in the novel. No rearranging allowed.

The outcome is quite awesome, really. And, it's something we should strive for as writers. We should each be able to whittle down our writing to the very heart of the piece. We should be able to tease out eight minutes of cohesive dialogue that somehow show the scope and depth of our story. We shouldn't have a problem finding that unifying thread that connects the beginning, middle and oh-so-satisfying end. And if we do, we just might need to eliminate unnecessary character peeks or fill in some plot valleys.

This process is completely different from writing a synopsis, which is really a blow by blow of each chapter. It's also very different from a query letter summary. This is more fluid and evocative. It strikes an emotional chord and carries the reader...er, listener along for a quick, but thorough roller-coaster ride. It's like storytelling on crack.

After working on several speech scripts this season, I challenged myself to "cut" my own stories. I think you should do the same. Like me, you might be pleasantly surprised by the results or get a swift kick in the muse. But, if you're not quite ready to dice your own manuscript to bits and pieces, try cutting one of your favorite novels to get a feel for strong character dynamics, intriguing plot nuances and meaningful dialogue. It's a great way to learn how to ferret out the important parts of a story or to determine what is lacking.

Once you master those, you'll have this whole writing thing licked. Then maybe, a speechie may someday cut your novel for use during a competition. And that, my friends, is the best word of mouth advertising I've ever seen among avid readers, educators and parents.

How do you content-edit your writing to ensure cohesive story lines and consistent character growth? Have you ever dissected another writer's work to see what he/she does right? If so, what did you learn from the process?

Curious minds want to know.

Each spring, Cat Woods spends thirteen weeks straight judging speech competitions in Southwestern Minnesota. She loves the interpretation categories because they force her to analyze character relationships on multiple levels. And speaking of characters, some of hers have found their way into print and reside in a smattering of anthologies--the most recent one being Tales from the Bully Box, a middle grade anthology. If you're so inclined, you can follow Cat's exploits at www.catwoodsblog.com or www.catwoodskids.com. In the meantime, happy cutting.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Right Yes

by Charlee Vale

"You only need one yes."

I can't tell you how many times I've heard this. It's one of those platitudes that gets splattered all over querying writers, or writers thinking about querying, or anyone who has even even thought about trying to get published. In the face of the vast enormity of trying to find an agent, and then an editor, this phrase does us the favor of shrinking down something daunting to a manageable size.

Back in 2011, when I was querying for the very first time, this was my mantra. I did everything I was supposed to do--I compiled a list of agents, worked on my query, started querying in batches. I was waiting, I was ready. After all, I only needed one yes, right?

Through a quirky situation (and a miracle) I got a full request on my very first query. Naturally, I did what every brand new writer does on a full request an fantasized about getting and offer of representation. Which was when I discovered something troubling: I wasn't necessarily excited about the thought of accepting that offer. I was nervous, and frankly kind of queasy.

I spoke to an author friend about my imaginary offer, and she said something to me so simple that I felt stupid for not realizing it sooner. 'Why would you query someone you wouldn't want to work with?'

I had made a list of every person I could possibly find that repped YA, and they were all on my list to query. Because in my mind, each of those agents was a potential yes. A potential chance at representation and the road to publication. However, I hadn't even considered that quantity in querying isn't necessarily the same as quality. It's true that you do only need one yes, but that's not the important part. You need the right yes.

So do your research. Find the agents you think you would want to work with, using whatever qualifications you're looking for, and make a list. Do you want an agent who is very editorial? Someone who is a newer agent trying to build their list? Someone who's a veteran and seen everything that can possible happen?

That final list may be twenty agents, five, or fifty. But every agent should be one you want to work with. After all, if they aren't, then why would you put yourself through that?

Keep trying to get that one yes, but just make sure it's the right one.

Charlee Vale is a Young Adult writer, bookseller, photographer, and tea lover living in New York City. You can also find her at her website, on Novel Thoughts, on Twitter, and doing research for her next round of queries.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Wit of the Staircase

by Matt Sinclair

There's a French term that appeals to me: L'esprit de l'escalier. Literally, it means "the wit of the staircase," and in practical language it means thinking of the perfect response too late. 

Let's face it, we've all done it, whether there was a staircase involved or not. In fact, the perfect response often hits me in the bathroom, which seems appropos.

I'm not sure, but such instances may in part be why I became a writer. I like having the perfect word to say, le mot juste to keep that little French thing going. But it doesn't always happen immediately.

As writers, we need to have an ear for what our characters are saying, even if they've already walked through the exit on a scene. The key: know your characters. Even when they don't know what to say, they're telling you something.

Good thing we can revise, huh?

Monday, January 12, 2015

When I Was Eight

by Riley Redgate

Like most strange adults, I was once a strange kid. Back in my elementary school days, I had a knack for sleepwalking: I'd end up downstairs a lot, managing our staircase with ease, and sometimes I'd have conversations with people while asleep. One night, my father found me in the hall outside my bedroom, staring at nothing. When he asked me what I was doing, I helpfully replied that I was "looking." Looking at what? I don't know. I didn't elaborate. We chatted for a minute or two about why I was still awake -- it was about 1 AM -- and then I went back into my room. I remember zero percent of this.

Nighttime is when I do my best work. Unfortunately, it is also when I am weirdest. This has always been true. Once, when I was eight, I walked downstairs in the middle of the night, sobbing. My parents asked me what was wrong. My response was, "I just don't want to die!" If I were my parents, I would've been terrified of me. (Note: I have not yet died.)

People wonder why old fairy tales were so bloodthirsty, what with all the violence, cannibalism, etc. I feel like the answer is pretty simple: children are obsessed with darknesses and terrors. I have spoken with innumerable people who tell me they went through a Holocaust fascination phase as a kid (so did I). When I was in elementary school, my fellow students loved this Jingle Bells parody, which is a blood-soaked piece of rewriting if I've ever seen one. And kids, Neil Gaiman says, read his notoriously horrifying book Coraline as an adventure, while adults get nightmares. Let's be honest, though: all you need to do is crack open one of those Scary Stories anthologies to find something traumatizing. Those were always popular at my school libraries.

When I was eight, the ideas of death and pain were everywhere in the media I consumed. Kids' books and movies have a high body count -- dead parents, dead kids, people getting injured all the time. Harry Potter is the poster child for fictional orphaned kids, who have been trendy in literature since Dickens. Kids get devoured by the handful in Roald Dahl's The BFG, and tortured by Ms. Trunchbull in his book Matilda. Part of this is the dichotomy kids' books often draw between good and evil: evil people hurt others, and good people stop that from happening. But there's more there.

I'm still scared of dying, like most people. But when I was eight, the fear of it crippled me. I had huge fears that swallowed me up every night as I lay there, staring at the ceiling. I have a body of experiences now that help me cope with fears based on how my life has gone this far. But when I was eight, fiction was the only way I could understand most fears. Stories make awful things comprehensible to kids. It's an incredibly important part of growing up, understanding what bad things are, why they happen, and how they operate.

Books taught me the best way to beat the monsters, too: keep going. Keep reading to the end of the story. Keep moving forward until something changes, or until you understand. That's why my favorite kids' books, from chapter books to YA, have heavy or dark elements -- these books help readers deal with hard truths, and persistence is always the way to tackle them.

It's understandable, wanting to shield kids from the worst parts of the world. Still, in my opinion, kids shouldn't be sheltered from scary topics. There's a time and a place for everything, obviously, and kids' literature has boundaries that adult categories don't. All the same, loss, pain, and death are part of being alive, from the youngest age, and in my life, books have been the weapons I've used to fight back the fear of them.

Riley Redgate, enthusiast of all things YA, is a bookstore-and-Starbucks-dweller from North Carolina attending college in Ohio. She is represented by Caryn Wiseman of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Sporadically and with occasional weirdness, she blogs here and speaks with considerably more brevity here.