Friday, March 29, 2013

Nice Shot! Sometimes You Just Know When It's Good

by Mindy McGinnis

As basketball season comes to a close I wanted to say a little something about a different type of muse than the one we usually talk about here. One that follows you onto the court or out to the field, one the lets you know which millisecond is the right one to release the pressure of your fingertips on the ball.

I was at an intermediate school sporting event recently to watch some of my students play. One of my non-atheltic friends came along for the ride and was astounded at the accuracy of which I would say, "Nice shot," before the ball had even completed its arc toward the basket ... to inevitably go through the hoop.

"How do you know?" she asked me. "Every time, you say that way before it goes in, and they make it."

I didn't have a good answer. I guess part of it is math—just looking at the arc of the shot or the angle that it hits the backboard. But I've never been very good at math, so I'm not sure that completely addresses what I experience in those moments. And I'm not the only one. Often I see other people celebrating the shot early—a victorious fist pump or a proud clap from a parent before the ball goes through the net. Invariably, they're former athletes.

I think it's the ghost of the confidence of my younger self, the girl who knew exactly at what moment to take the shot, make a pre-emptive pass to where I knew my teammate was going to cut through the lane, or duck an elbow from the girl guarding me who didn't appreciate the fact that I was killing her stats.

That confidence has transferred to the laptop these days. I still play ball every now and then, but I don't always know it's going to be good the way I used to. And writing can be that way as well.

We all know the days when we approach the laptop or notebook with a feeling of dread, the fear that today the words just aren't going to come, that the cursor is going to blink at us curiously while we stare back, unable to make it move forward and leave words in its wake.

But there are other times too—times when I know what I've got to say is going to flow out of me, days when I've been playing a scene in my head all day at work and the only thing I want is to get it onto the screen before it evaporates. Those days there's hardly any effort involved at all, and the story falls out of me onto the page because it wants to be there, not hidden away inside my head.

Here's hoping we all get more of the good days than the bad ones, and that there's always someone in the stands anticipating that what we write is bound to be all net.

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, is a post-apocalyptic survival tale set in a world where freshwater is almost non-existent, available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins September 9, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs Book PregnantFriday the ThirteenersFrom the Write AngleThe Class of 2k13The Lucky 13s & The League of Extraordinary Writers. You can also find her on TwitterTumblr & Facebook.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Edit Like a Bully

by Riley Redgate

I've always thought that for writers, finding a strong circle of support is more than helpful—it's a necessity. There's so much negativity floating around the publishing world, from doubts about the industry as a whole to the odd rude critiquer one might encounter. Not to mention the inevitable self-doubt. We need people to remind us that dreams are possibilities, and that our goals are achievable.

Sometimes, though, we go too far. We find wonderful people; we find supportive and understanding writers and build a friend circle with them; we find beta readers who are tough and honest but never cruel or anything but constructive. And in the finding, we forget that there are cruel people out there.

Yep. It's obnoxious, but there are indeed those folks who roam the bookshelves looking for their next target of derision. People who are waiting to snort at your metaphors and scoff at your turn of phrase. People for whom the "benefit of the doubt" doesn't exist. (For some select books that have drawn the hatred of alarmingly large segments of the population, even normal friendly readers can turn into vitriolic book bullies. Example: the comments section of this video.)

Of course, this isn't meant to freak you out. It's just a friendly reminder that some people suck, and because writers who write for publication create work to be perused by all people—including those who suck—it's something we have to keep in mind. Turns out, too, that their lack of empathy can be helpful. At least, it's helped me, cynic realist that I am. Here are the rules I play by:

When you're editing, put yourself in the shoes of an absolute jerk. Read through slowly, line by line, and ask yourself, "If I were taking this not at all seriously, and reading it in an overly dramatic voice, could I laugh at this line? This phrase? This description?" Yep—pretend you're an absolute jerk who found a manuscript on the ground and has nothing better to do than joke about its contents with a few absolute jerk friends. It's a necessary step, because—while we all feel deeply about the stories we have to tell—when we're editing, we have to pretend there's no emotional context. We have to pretend we are those people who don't read respectfully, who don't even care enough to actually read rather than skimming. And then we have to tear our work to shreds so they don't do it for us later.

After all, if there's an opening, something in a sentence that could serve as a chink in the armor, someone out there could jump on it. Case in point: the video referenced above, and the entire series of videos that follows. (For those who don't want to click through, it's basically a YouTube celebrity reading through Twilight, picking out lines he finds particularly insipid, and mocking them.) Watching that footage reminds me of the terrifying possibility that—were my stuff ever to get published—that could happen to my work, too. Yeesh.

People always talk about "killing darlings" as if it's a horrifying prospect, but to me, what's far more horrifying is the absolute willingness of the reading public to go all-out psycho-killer-screech-screech on a book once it becomes "cool" to dislike that book. Once we distance ourselves, remember who we're writing for, and take everything we write with a healthy grain of salt, "killing darlings" stops being painful and becomes just another stepping stone to that seamless suit of literary armor.

And once you've done that, you'll have done all you can. Which means if someone does decide to take a jab at your writing, you can chalk it up to preference and not worry a bit.

Of course, this ferocious inner editor has to be shut down when you're drafting, otherwise it'll be an impediment to getting words down on the paper. In short, my tactic is this: Draft like your best friend is cheering you on. Edit like a bully.

Riley Redgate, enthusiast of all things YA, is a bookstore-and-Starbucks-dweller from North Carolina attending college in Ohio. She blogs here and speaks with considerably more brevity here.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Spring Cleaning

by Matt Sinclair

Call me crazy, but I’m thinking about tossing away story ideas.

Sure, I’ve been asked the same questions you probably have heard: Where do you get your ideas? What made you think of that? Did that really happen to you?

Those are not exactly the ideas I’m talking about. Most of those are the snippets of life that spill from your muse while you’re writing. They’re subconsciously woven into your nervous system and accessed by the magic of creativity, when a word or smell or that je ne sais quoi causes them to be transformed from brain zit to written word.

I’m talking about story ideas. I keep a folder of story and book ideas—fiction and nonfiction—and every once in a while when I’m unable to think of something, I look into it. But when I rap my knuckles against them, they usually sound hollow. So why hold onto them? Not that they take up a lot of space in my hard drive, but maybe it’s time for a little spring cleaning.

To tell you the truth, it’s the ideas I don’t even need to look for, the ones that are always within easy reach, that cause my synapses to fire up with energy. My brain starts to say, “Is it finally time? Can we get moving on that one? Cool!”

You might ask why I’d put those perfectly good ideas aside. Lord knows I’ve asked myself that question often enough. But sometimes I can just tell that I’m not the writer I need to be yet to pursue them. There’s one, for example, that’s an end-of-life, final-act story. And while I learned a lot when my father passed away a few years ago, I don’t see myself being able to write that particular novel yet. There could be any number of legitimate reasons (and probably three times as many illegitimate reasons) to not start a project yet. If you're honest about it, you'll know.

What I’m getting at is that it’s ok to let some of those glittery ideas you once liked go away. The ones that keep coming back, those are the real keepers.

What do you think? Do you try to write all your ideas down? Do you fear losing good ideas?

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which recently published its latest anthology, The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse, which is available via Amazon and Smashwords. Earlier in 2012, EBP published its initial anthology, Spring Fevers, which also is available through Smashwords, and Amazon. Both anthologies include stories by fellow FTWA writers, including Cat Woods, J. Lea Lopez, Mindy McGinnis, and R.S. Mellette; R.C. Lewis and Jean Oram also have stories in The Fall. EBP is still accepting submissions for its next anthology, which will be published in the summer of 2013. Matt blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68

Friday, March 22, 2013

Five Tips For Finding Your Pirated Novel Online

By Jean Oram
Champagne and Lemon Drops: A Chick Lit Contemporary Romance Ebook Novel FREE! Two weeks ago I self-published my chick lit novel (a FREE romance ebook!! YAY!) Champagne and Lemon Drops. Within 48 hours there was a pirated version competing against my own on And they were virtually indistinguishable. (You can read the full tale of digital piracy here.) At first I thought it was a glitch, but after more snooping and chatting with others I discovered digital plagiarism was afoot.

Therefore, today's tips are about how to go about finding your pirated writing online. This is not a discussion about digital piracy or DRM or whether publishing traditionally will somehow save you (it won't). This is about how to find your pirated works, because if you are lucky, illegal copies are going to surface. (Lucky because it means you aren't completely obscure and other people feel you have something profitable on your hands.) Why these tips? Because at the end of the day if you can't find your pirated novel online, how are you going to request its removal?

~ ~

The bad news: Book plagiarism and piracy is common.

The good news: It is actually difficult for pirates to make money from your pirated novel.

How to Find Your Pirated Works Online:

1. Don't Use Google Alerts

You didn't expect that one, did you? Truth is, Google Alerts generally culls the 'best' of the net even if you choose for it to report "everything." If you take away one thing from this post, take away this: DO NOT rely on Google Alerts to email you notices as an effective way to watch for piracy.

Why? I've had Google Alerts on my name for years and 99 times out of a 100 it alerts me that my name has appeared… on my blog. Thanks. Helpful. Really. Not. Has Google Alerts found a mention for my novel's title yet? No.

2. Use Google Search Tools

While the answer might not be Google Alerts, it is still in the Google family: Google (the search engine). Cozy up with it.

The only problem with Googling is that you end up sifting through the same stuff every day--and if you are getting your name and book title out there, you have more to look through each day. This is where Google's search tools come in. (See the screenshot below.) You'll notice when you click on "Search Tools" you can search by timeframe. (P.S. Yes, you can use other search engines--just be sure they have a timeframe search feature so you don't waste your time.)

Google Search Tools in Action.
Google Search Tools. Choose Your Timeframe.

Note: If you find your book listed on a file sharing site or a free ebook site, be careful! Make sure your firewall and virus software is up to date before you visit that site. In fact, in some cases you might not even want to go there. Why? Because some of these sites use ebooks as bait in order to get your email address, credit card info, or to place malware (eg. keyloggers) on your computer. If your browser warns you the site is nefarious, don't. go. there. You might consider the free add-on WOT (Web of Trust) for your browser--it's a smart idea. It will tell you if a site is safe or not with a green, yellow, or red circle. See screenshot below:

The Red Circle on the Right Means Evil Site: Do Not Enter! (WOT in Action.)

3. What to Search For: Three Things That Help Find Pirated Content

Google your name (in quotes), your book title (in quotes) and a unique sentence from your book (in quotes). You can't trust that the pirate is going to use your name on your title and on your content. Smart pirates mix it up.

Why quotes? Because you receive more accurate results. No point sifting through recipes for lemon drop champagne punch, right? Although it really does sound yummy!

4. Search Regularly

I recommend doing this daily. Yes. Daily. If not daily, every other day. The faster you are able to report piracy, the faster your content is removed. And if you can't do it daily, definitely do during in the weeks following some wonky stats (good or bad), you release a new book, or one of your books gets a new shot in the arm with some extra attention whether it is a blog tour, review from a fairly well-known reviewer, or hitting a bestseller/breakout list.

5. Search Book Sale Sites

Even if you are vigilant about searching for your title, name, and a sentence from your novel, you aren't going to discover whether there is a pirated copy on Amazon or your other ebook vendors sites. (At least my pirated version on Amazon didn't show up in my Google searches.) You will want to also keep an eye on your downloads--if they suddenly drop off or make a leap you may have a pirated copy working with/against you.

Note: You are going to want to search for both your name and your title on as well as a foreign Amazon site (trust me on this--Amazon is very good at dealing with piracy and sometimes you can't see pirated copies on the regular .com site). Yes, it is extra work, but it is also worth it. This advice applies to other bookselling sites.

Tip: If in doubt, don't shrug it off, contact the site owner and provide as much information as possible to find out if it is a pirate at work or just a glitch.

If you are interested in reading more about piracy, check out FTWA blogger Charlee Vale's post about her tussle with piracy as a photographer--a must read if you are considering getting professional author photos. As well, if you think your book has been pirated or you want to read more about piracy as well as learn how to get your pirated book off of Amazon, read this post on The Helpful Writer which includes more helpful tips as well as my full piracy story.

P.S. If you've dealt with piracy or have comments on this subject leave us a comment below. 

Jean Oram is a contemporary romance author who provides a helpful tip a week on her writing blog, She also has a website for her chick lit books at You can find Jean on Twitter as @jeanoram and on Facebook. You can download a FREE copy of her ebook Champagne and Lemon Drops on Smashwords (all ebook formats).

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Paper Plates—A Letter from the Trenches

by Charlee Vale

Dear Readers,

On Valentine's Day, I participated in the Pitch-a-Partner Festival, hosted by FTWA's very own Mindy McGinnis, MarcyKate Connelly, and R.C. Lewis.

I had a really good day, and I decided that since my query letter was good enough for that, I'd send out some queries. I did. Now what ...

Being in limbo is something a lot of writers go through, and at every stage of the process. In limbo waiting for queries, in limbo waiting for request responses, in limbo waiting on submission, in limbo waiting for your editorial letter. For most of you reading this post, I imagine it's the first one, just like me.

Every writer has their own way of coping with the limbo. Some people, like me, flounder because we haven't quite found our coping mechanism yet. And while I was thinking about how to deal with this, I was reminded of a story my college choir director told me.

I'd like to share it with you:

A classical pianist went into a studio to record an album. As the day went on he became more and more frustrated, as he didn't feel the tracks were good enough—He made mistakes, and had to repeat the songs over and over. Finally he became so frustrated he stormed out of the studio, needing air.

While he was wandering the halls, he passed a studio where an R&B artist was recording. He stopped to watch for a moment and what he saw amazed him. The man recording was having fun—not only that, but there seemed to be joy pouring out of the recording studio. When the man finished his take the pianist went inside and introduced himself, expressed his troubles and asked how it was that the man seemed to have such joy in the recording process. To which the man replied: "You treat your music like fine china, I treat mine like paper plates."


Art doesn't have to be rigid. We can always change it, and there will always be more. We don't have to worry about dropping it or breaking it. If we don't like something, we can discard it and start again.

I know that the query trenches are hard, and sometimes they even feel impossible. I know that when you're in the middle of it, it feels like if something doesn't happen it will be the end of the world—that if this book, this story doesn't reach the world we'll die, but we won't.

We shouldn't stop our lives for it. Keep on living, keep on creating, keep on writing. Know that whatever you need to do to get yourself through the query trenches, you WILL make it, even if making it means a painful parting.

So to all of you in the query trenches, I'm there with you. Carry on.


Charlee Vale is a Young Adult writer, photographer, and tea lover living in New York City. You can also find her at her website, and on Twitter.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tips & Tricks for Writing on the Go

by MarcyKate Connolly

One of the drawbacks of life in general is that it takes up an awful lot of time. Things like work, family, and friends can seriously cut into one's writing days. So what's an author to do if s/he wants to actually, you know, write?

Take heart, dear writer, for it can be done. Here's some tips I've found helpful when I have to write on the go:

1) Always have something to write with on your person. This could be a netbook, iPad, smartphone, or simply a pen and paper. If you don't have those tools, you can't write, can you?

2) Don't waste a minute. Standing in line at a store? Waiting to pick up your kids? Train running late? Take out your writing instrument of choice and get to it. Yeah, you may only jot down a few words, but how many times a day do you find yourself waiting? Those minutes--and words--add up faster than you'd think.

3) Look for every opportunity. It's easy to let those little moments slip by. And hey, sometimes we all just need a break to relax. But if you're drafting or on deadline, maybe take more of them to write instead?

4) Ask for help. Communication is key. Make sure your family knows what you're up against. They might be more understanding than you think.

5) Voice recording and Speech to Text apps. Ideal for those with a long commute by car (though not so much by train or carpool), apps like Dragon Dictation or Evernote can help you save those ideas even if you don't have your hands free. Just keep your eyes on the road, please!

6) Shower Post it notes. GENIUS. Enough said.

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 MG fantasy novel, MONSTROUS, will be out from HarperCollins Children's Books in Summer 2014.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Checklist - Out of the Mouths of Babes

by Jemi Fraser

As many of you know, I teach elementary school (10 - 12 year olds this year). The other day I asked my students what makes a great book. In order, here are their answers in their words (I didn't edit/suggest a single thing)...
  • strong beginning/hook
  • good conclusion - have to wrap it up right
  • interesting characters who act like real people
  • interesting setting
  • no boring stuff in the middle (they loved when I described this as "saggy middles")
  • unique plot twists and surprises
  • strong vocabulary - especially good verbs
  • suspense - you have to wonder what's going to happen next
  • action, excitement and/or horrifying moments
  • cliffhangers
  • more books by the author (they don't like when they can't read another by their favourite author right away!)
  • good cover and title - otherwise who's going to take a risk?
Don't you love kids? Maybe they didn't mention everything, but I think they did a pretty good job!

When I use this as a checklist for my own writing, I realize I'm going to have to work on my cliffhangers. How about you? How does your wip stack up with their list?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs and tweets while searching for those HEAs.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Know When to Just Stop Talking

by Mindy McGinnis

People who know me well are probably double-checking the title of this post, wondering if I'm really the best qualified person to address this particular issue. While I may be a bit of a talker, one thing I do know is when to stop. At least, in a professional setting.

I've been to quite a few conferences, and I admit that I love them. There's no such thing as awkwardness when all you need to start a conversation with a complete stranger is ask, "So, what do you write?" Even though I'm a country girl, I don't mind a room jam-packed with like-minded individuals ... as long as those people aren't standing in front of me and monopolizing the time of someone I'd like to talk to as well.

It constantly amazes me that people who are willing to shell out the money to attend a conference, and perhaps travel a great deal to get there, have no idea how to pitch themselves in a face-to-face environment.

There never fails to be a handful of people who make their pitch to the agent/editor/bookseller, hand them the business card, and then proceed to ask about a mutual friend, or what their favorite book might be, or ... (yes, really) how they've felt about the weather lately.

It's onerous. It's painful for the person you're addressing because they're trying their best to be professional and courteous as well. They can't very well say, "Excuse me, you did your bit. Now move." So instead their eyes glaze over, they nod like a bobble head, and their smile starts to seem suspiciously stitched on.

Meanwhile there are roughly 10-15 people standing behind that Talky McTalkerton who have something to say that's actually relevant, and trust me, Talky just became their least favorite person.

How do you avoid being Talky McTalkerton? Here are some tips.

  • Have a business card with your relevant information on it. Tell the person your name when you introduce yourself, but don't recite your website url or your email address. Put that information on your business card, as well as any other social media that might be pertinent. Hand that useful piece of paper to them, and keep the interesting things about you for conversation. Everybody has links. You've got something better to actually talk about.
  • Have something ready to say. Don't walk up to anyone for a quick FTF and have nothing prepared. Have your elevator pitch ready if you're approaching an agent, or a speedy "Hi there, I'm looking to set up a signing with a group of fellow MG authors if you'd be interested," for the bookseller. Don't walk up and say, "Hi, I'm Talky McTalkerton and I'm a writer." Duh. They didn't think you were a crude oil miner.
  • Ask the right questions to the right people. Don't approach a bookseller or librarian with the pitch for your unpublished book. Don't approach an editor with questions about how many first run printings you can expect from the book you haven't finished writing yet. Don't approach an agent and ask how to succeed in digital self-publishing. Sure, they might have some information that might help you with your question, but honestly they're probably going to redirect you to someone who is better equipped to answer you ... and you just wasted their time plus the time of everyone behind you.
  • Know when Networking is Notworking. It's amazing how dense some people can be about social cues. Is the person you're talking to packing up their stuff as you fling words at them? Yeah ... that means they're ready to leave and you're stopping that from happening. Are you following them and throwing words at them sideways while they're walking? Yeah ... they're trying to get away from you (unless they invited you to walk with them to their next panel). Are they purposely looking over your shoulder or smiling at the person behind you to encourage them to step up and say their piece? Yeah ... they're done talking to you.
Everyone wants to stand out at conferences, but in my experience the best way to do that is to be prepared and polite. Dress nicely, do your thing, and then get out of the way in under 90 seconds. The person you're talking to will thank you, and so will the person behind you.

Especially if it's me.

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, Not a Drop to Drink, is a post-apocalyptic survival tale set in a world where freshwater is almost non-existent, available from Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins September 9, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs Book PregnantFriday the ThirteenersThe Class of 2k13The Lucky 13s and The League of Extraordinary Writers. You can also find her on TwitterTumblr & Facebook.