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Handling Disappointment To Be A Resilient Writer, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

If you want to be a writer, you have to be tough. The road to publication is full of soul crushing disappointment. Before you find an agent willing to take you on, you might have to endure rejection from several dozen. If you are lucky enough to land a representative, then you might be treated to an onslaught of rejection from dozens of editors before you find the right one. Once you get over the euphoria of your first publication, you might get slammed with a few bad reviews, or worse, you might not get reviewed at all. Then there are the blogs, and the reader reviews, which can get so mean spirited you’ll want to shut off your wi-fi forever.

For a writer, there are endless opportunities to have your tender heart crushed under the wheels of fortune’s dump truck. So how to cope? I’ve been in the business long enough that I’ve developed a few strategies that get me through the tough spots, and I freely share them with you:

Talk to your bestie. I have a wonderful husband who is very good at talking me off the ledge. I’ve also got a best friend who thinks my writing is top notch. Find the people in your life who believe in you and talk about your feelings. A lot of writers keep things bottled up, but that’s just going to make you difficult to live with. Talking it out with a supportive friend can really help you get over a hurt.

Read writers’ memoirs. It always helps to know that you’re not the only one. Every writer knows rejection, and a really honest memoir will talk about it. I remember reading Graham Greene’s A Sort of Autobiography, feeling comforted to know that he chose not to publish his first three books. Knowing that a brilliant writer like him has unpublished works makes me feel better about the dogs I’ve got hidden away. Another excellent memoir is Madeleine L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet, in which she describes pacing her office in tears after receiving her umpteen millionth rejection for A Wrinkle in Time. What writer wouldn’t feel better after reading that?

Read some negative reader reviews for a writer you truly admire. In my opinion, Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games series deserves every bit of success it has seen. Not everyone agrees with me. If I ever need to feel cheered up about a really mean review of one of my books, I’ll check out the one star reader reviews for The Hunger Games, or another great book I’ve loved. Most of the time, really cruel reviews are written by silly people, but I’m only able to see that silliness when the review is about someone else’s book. It always helps me feel a lot better knowing the person who didn’t like my book might be just as silly.

Remember disappointment and rejection are part of the job. Every writer, from Charles Dickens to Charlaine Harris, has been rejected. Sometimes it’s about your work. If you’re sending your stuff out before it’s ready, the rejection is your fault and you need to take responsibility and fix it. But sometimes you just haven’t found the right agent or editor, and you need to keep trying. Either way, move on to the next book or representative or publishing house, and don’t feel too sorry for yourself because just like the brain surgeon sometimes loses a patient, sometimes your work will fail to impress. At least for writers, no lives are lost when we fall short.

Above all, keep writing. If you’re working on the next book, and you’re excited about it, a disappointment about your last book might not sting so badly. As far as my own writing goes, I think each of my books is better than the last, and that always makes me feel hopeful.

You can try your hardest and you still might fail, but you will definitely fail if you give up. You might as well give yourself a chance. In my experience, learning to get over the disappointment that goes along with being a writer is a greater determinant of success than talent. I’ve seen plenty of very gifted people give up when they shouldn’t have, and I can only imagine their regret. So keep your chin up! Keep writing!

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Amy Kathleen Ryan’s author website: www.amykathleenryan.com

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page

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Writing Teen Novels
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Embracing E-Books, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

I know, I know. There’s nothing like the feel of a real book in your hands, the aroma of printer’s ink, the crisp crackle of the spine as you open it, and the weight of it on your lap as you curl up with your tea or cocoa or scotch (or absinthe?) and begin the journey. I get it. I like bookstores too. I like libraries. I LOVE books and I own quite a few of them. I buy them out of principle. They represent an ancient technology that will probably never go out of style completely.

Printed books are not the only way to read anymore. Writers need to deal with the fact that the publishing industry is changing, whatever our feelings about it. Bookstores will become fewer and smaller, libraries will be taken over by even more computers, and the overall market will shrink. I weep about it sometimes, but I can’t change it. So instead, I look for ways to accept it, even embrace it.  Here are a few positives about the rise of the e-book that should get writers on board:

You make more royalties. With e-books, a publisher has a much smaller initial outlay, so they can afford to pay you more for each copy sold. Royalties for print books tend to be around 15% or so, but they run about 20% for e-books. That fives percent can make a lot of difference.

A self-published e-book can provide more mileage. When published only in print form, most self-published writers are able to stock their books only with retailers in their immediate geographic area. But any writer can self publish an e-book for relatively little money and offer it through Amazon and other national outlets.

People can buy your book instantly.  Say you’ve written a series such as, oh, I don’t know, the gripping Sky Chasers series, and your reader gets to the end of your riveting first book, titled, for example, Glow. It is eleven o’clock at night and she can’t get to a bookstore or library to keep reading, but wait! What is that on her nightstand beckoning her? Is that a Kindle or a Nook or an iPad with an account that is conveniently hooked up to her credit card? How fortuitous! She can buy Spark right away and keep reading. Lucky her. And lucky me. There is something to be said for the late night impulse buy, a feature that simply doesn’t exist for a book that isn’t available in electronic form.

Fewer trees bite the dust. We all like forests right?

What about piracy? To this I answer: What about libraries? What about used bookstores? What about the two best friends who get together to trade their latest favorite read? You don’t make royalties when people loan your printed book out, or buy it used. That’s a huge drain on your earnings right there. As for pirates, there will always be some wormlike being somewhere trying to get something for nothing. We can’t change the fact that some people are jerks, so why sweat it?

There are other reasons for writers to like the e-book, and I invite you to mention them in the comments section. I own a Kindle myself, and I really like it, especially when I’m traveling. And I honestly do think about how 20% of my money is going right to the author. That’s cool.

So do not fear the e-book. Make the e-book your friend.

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Amy Kathleen Ryan’s author website: www.amykathleenryan.com

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page

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VibesZen and Xander UndoneGlowSpark    Tarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2Code Name VerityShades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Writing Suspenseful Novels, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

I endeavor to write page-turners.  I love a book that has me so absorbed I will stay up late to finish it, knowing I’ll be tired the next day. I love the tension, the high stakes, the furious pace that makes me deliciously dizzy and frantic all at once. I am forever in awe of writers who can write them, because even if the page-turner is often considered a “commercial” book rather than a “literary” one, there is a world of skill involved in creating one.

Not everybody can be Stephen King, but everybody can learn a few tricks writers use to make their books hard to put down. Here are a few I’ve accumulated along the way.

Judicious use of cliffhangers. If you examine a page-turner, you might find that every chapter ends with a cliffhanger. If the endings of your chapters are too “pat,” you give your reader a natural place to stop reading, and they might not be so eager to pick the book back up again. If you end a chapter with your protagonist in a death embrace with a giant squid, your reader will have no choice but to keep going.

Be succinct. In the history of the universe, there has never been a verbose page-turner. Use details, use setting, use dialogue, write beautifully, but waste no time on words you don’t need.

Let the reader know more than the characters know. If you have a sweet little waif walking up a hillside, and your reader has no idea there is a lecherous troll waiting for her behind a boulder, there isn’t much suspense there. If the reader knows that she’s walking into a trap, you’ve made the reading experience much more harrowing and a lot more fun.

Have consequences. You know how you kind of fall in love with your characters, and you think they’re really great people, and you’d buy them a cup of coffee and have a nice chat if they were real? And you know how you don’t want anything bad to happen to them? Betray them. Torture. Maim. Destroy. Page-turners don’t tend to be sweet little flouncing stories, unless you’re Jane Austen. If you can’t torture your beloveds, forget the page-turner and write a romance, which has its own attractions. Whatever you do, have your character solve his or her own problems. Nothing kills tension faster than a clunky Deus Ex Machina.

Don’t outline. Plenty of people will disagree, but I find when drafting I do better if I don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen. Many times I have gotten to the end of the novel with no idea I was going to kill off a particular character. If you know everything that’s going to happen before you write it, you’ll miss the little breadcrumbs your subconscious is leaving for you about the surprises lurking in the forest. Follow the breadcrumbs. Be willing to stumble off your path, because if you surprise yourself, your reader will be surprised too.

Use the dramatic three act structure. This structure is a bit more involved than the simple ‘Exposition, Climax, Denouement’ we all learned in middle school. I’m leaving a more thorough discussion for my next post, but if you can’t wait, it’s available all over the web in myriad forms.

Perhaps some of you will have noticed other traits of the page-turner. Feel free to leave your ideas about it in the comments. And have fun with your writing!

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Amy Kathleen Ryan’s author website: www.amykathleenryan.com

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page

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VibesZen and Xander UndoneGlowSpark    The Dog in the WoodThe Door of No ReturnGenesis

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

How To Tell Good Literary Agents From Bad Literary Agents, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

In my previous post, I discussed why a novelist should have an agent. What follows is a step by step process for how to tell the good agents from the bad.

A good agent doesn’t ask for money up front. Every book and magazine on being a writer will tell you this. Everything agents earn from you comes out of sales of your work. Most agents make about 15% on domestic sales and 20% on international sales. I’ve heard some agents are asking for a bit more but this is the basic guideline. Many good agents will also deduct some expenses from your take home pay, for example any travel, postage and long distance costs that were incurred during the sale of your manuscript. My agent does this and I’m okay with it. If someone asks for a “reading fee” or charges you for their editing services up front, I’d be very wary.

A good agent has a list of recent sales to reputable publishers and is capable of landing a decent advance. Most agents will list their clients on their website and you can check there for recent sales but the best way to determine an agent’s negotiating prowess is to buy an inexpensive subscription to The Literary Marketplace, where almost every sale to a publisher is trumpeted with a little code key for how much money the author landed for his/her manuscript. If an agent has gotten a “Significant Deal” or a “Major Deal” for a client within the last few years, you know this agent is capable of successfully running a bidding war. This doesn’t guarantee a bidding war for your work but at least you’ll know it’s a possibility.

A good agent gets good reviews from their clients. Before signing an agency contract, you can ask for references for your agent. I believe most agents are very willing to have current clients speak with prospective clients. You might want to ask things like how long it takes for the agent returns the author’s phone calls and emails, how long the author had to wait for the agent to submit their first book, and how the author would describe the agent’s communication style. I would caution you not to be too stringent with the way you evaluate these answers. A good agent will have a lot of clients and can get very busy, and might not always return calls/emails as promptly as you might wish. Also, I had to wait about six months for my agent to submit the first book I sold with her but I’ve never had to wait that long since. In other words, sometimes a good agent is worth waiting for. Only you can decide how long you’re willing to spend waiting for your agent to get around to you.

But how do you get an agent in the first place? My next post will answer that question. Stay tuned!

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Amy Kathleen Ryan’s author website: www.amykathleenryan.com

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page

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Zen and Xander UndoneVibesGlowSpark    The CircleShades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)Code Name Verity

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Setting In Teen Novels, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

First, let’s define the term setting: Setting isn’t just a place and time. Let’s imagine that Jane Austen and Stephen King have both visited the same Georgian era house, and both felt inspired to set a scene in the attic.  In addition to the quaint sewing table and a smoky fireplace, Austen’s setting would include a rigid set of expected manners, an even more rigid English class system, and probably a whole regiment of charming rogues out to ruin the honor of vulnerable yet spunky young women. King’s setting might include a chainsaw with a bit of human hair caught in the gears, a menacing creeping mist, and a universe of bizarre magical beings just waiting for our blue collar hero to prick the membrane between our world and theirs. The place for these two writers is the same. The setting is completely different. Setting can include the history of a place, the people, the culture, the food, the dancing, the music, the assumptions of the characters, their religion, the mood, that intangible atmosphere… the list goes on. Setting is where and when and who and what and how. Setting is how it smells and sounds and feels, what it looks and tastes like. Setting is what makes the hairs rise on the back of your neck, and, if the writer does it right, setting is what transports the reader away from his/her bench in the school cafeteria to a world they want to stay in for a while.

How should setting in teen novels differ from settings rendered in adult literature? First I will tell you that there are no rules. Some YA authors like to dedicate pages upon pages to setting and, because the world is so complete and new and fascinating, the reader will stay with them, even if there’s no action dragging them along.

Some authors, and I’m one of them, prefer to use the action to communicate setting. For instance, sometimes I’ll put two characters in a room and start their conversation before I’ve described where they are, but I’ll move them through that space, and show the reader the physical setting with small brushstrokes as I move them. I’ll seat them on the swayback divan, I’ll have one of them stroke the silk upholstery as the other fingers the glass knob of an antique clock. Their voices are low at first, but increasingly loud and agitated as the conversation progresses. When one character learns of a terrible secret, I’ll have him collapse on his hands and knees on the woolen Persian carpet, where he’ll notice the smell of layers of smoke from clandestine cigarettes that has soaked into it over the years. I’ll have a third character knock on the heavy wooden door and, when he pokes his head into the room, the rusty hinge groans, and he squints into the dim light to find one friend grinning and another sobbing.

But some mixture of the two techniques is probably unavoidable. Even for an action oriented writer, it can be useful to pause the story to explain that this is a private boarding school for wealthy young men, and two years ago a freshman died during a hazing incident. Though the school was put through a grueling investigation, the death, (murder?) was never solved, at least, not to the satisfaction of Mr. and Mrs. DaVinci, the parents of the unfortunate boy. The DaVinci’s own several very lucrative business in Nevada and New Jersey, and they have investigatory methods that aren’t available to law abiding police officers.

And that, at least according to the way I think of it, was ALL setting: the history, the backgrounds of the characters, the significant events from the past, working together to create the nest wherein your story nestles.

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Amy Kathleen Ryan’s author website: www.amykathleenryan.com

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page

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GlowSparkVibesZen and Xander Undone    White LilacsHold Me Closer, NecromancerTracks

Writing Teen Novels
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Voice In Teen Novels, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

I get asked a lot in my classes on writing how I make the voice for the teenager ‘authentic’. I think my answer is frustratingly esoteric, but it works for me: I don’t try to sound like a teenager at all. I don’t try to include current slang, or fads, or anything that actually separates me from teens.  I’m a generation older than they are and there isn’t anything I can do about that. Their youth, their teenaged rambunctiousness, their clingy jeans and their weird hairstyles — if I get bogged down in all that, it alienates me from them too much. In other words, I can’t be really authentic in my YA voice if I think of teenagers as the “other”.

Instead I try really hard to get down to the basics, and simply imagine a young, inexperienced person stuck in the situation I’ve created for them. I focus on creating a real, whole character who behaves in all the unexpected, strange ways people behave when they’re confronted with the challenges of life.

Some writers have a totally different take on this question, and they’re not wrong. Many YA writers I know spend time with teens just so they can listen to the way they talk, notice their clothes, and their many changing fads. This can be a good approach too, but I would suggest that even writers who are observing and studying young people, when they’re in the task of writing, are still thinking of their teen characters as people first. Probably all those anxieties about linguistically masquerading themselves fall into the background when they’re drafting.

My only caveat with this approach is that if one tries too hard to sound “current,” one could end up with a book that doesn’t age particularly well. Imagine reading a book written during the 1970s when all the kids were saying, “Far out,” and “Groovy.” Do you want to read that book now? I’ll bet you if you take a look at the books that have endured over the decades, you’ll find that none of the characters sound like the cast of The Brady Bunch.  If plain old lovely English is good enough for the likes of Judy Blume, Madeleine L’Engle, and Katherine Paterson, it is certainly good enough for me.

Besides, there’s so much more to voice than shallow, faddish verbiage. If you get the concerns of a young person right, their frustration with the limits to their own power, their inexperience when dealing with oftentimes adult issues, their very human fears about not being strong enough or pretty enough or smart enough… If you hit all these notes right, the voice takes care of itself. The concerns of a teenager are, in the final analysis, not too different from the concerns of an adult. Where do I belong? How can I be happy? How can I find love?  Who am I? The older I get, the more I realize that we are all like children, continually bewildered by a random, unpredictable, chaotic world, no matter how old we happen to be. If a writer remembers that, s/he can create believable characters of any age.

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Amy Kathleen Ryan’s author website: www.amykathleenryan.com

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

   

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Australia (and beyond)

GlowSparkVibesZen and Xander Undone    Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)Angel DustPhantoms in the Snow

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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