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Posts tagged ‘YA author from Colorado’

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

How To Find A Literary Agent, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Based on the writers I’ve known, there are four basic ways to find an agent:

1. Query an agent through Literary Marketplace, or another reference book that lists agents who are accepting solicitations. Write up a very polished letter, no more than a page or so, in which you describe your book, say why it has commercial appeal, tell the agent why you are contacting her in particular to show you’ve done your research, and if that agency says you can do so in their submission guidelines, send in the first chapter of your book. Repeat a few dozen times until you find an agent who wants to take you on. This is how I got my first agent, who managed to sell my first book before we parted ways for mutual reasons, and though the partnership didn’t last, I’ll be forever grateful to her.

2. Go to a writing conference and pitch your book to an agent. This is how I got my second agent. I met her in person, we had a certain simpatico, I showed her the first paragraph of something I was working on, and she said she’d be willing to look at my work. I sent her my novel and she accepted me as her client. The nice thing about finding an agent this way is that most writing conferences aren’t going to invite bum agents to their gig. They want only reputable agents from competitive agencies, so you can be fairly certain that an agent at a conference like this is going to be a real professional. (This isn’t an excuse not to do research of your own, though!)

3. Go through a writer friend you know. If your friend has a good agent and doesn’t mind sharing, you can ask him/her to put in a good word for you. Then write an excellent query letter, and send in a fabulous piece of writing that doesn’t make your friend look bad to her agent. The only problem with this approach is that it can be really hard to get turned down by a friend’s agent, and unless you are super-cool about it, your friendship can be affected.

4. Sell your first novel yourself, then hire an agent to negotiate the contract for you and represent you thereafter. I know two different writers who found their agents this way, but I think this is getting harder to do these days and fewer publishing houses accept un-agented manuscripts.

Finding an agent can be time consuming and difficult, and the task is so daunting that some beginning writers want to skip this step. They do so at their own peril, because if they can’t find an agent who wants to represent their book, they’re going to have an even harder time finding an editor who wants to publish it. In other words, if your work isn’t good enough for an agent, it’s definitely not good enough for an editor. Yet. So if you’re going to put in all that work to make your book good enough, you might as well find someone who can be your business partner and defender. It’s tough out there; it’s good to have someone you can rely to always be on your side.

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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    The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-AntoinetteDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)Shock Point

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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)

   

United Kingdom (and beyond)

   

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

On Writing Imperfect Characters, by Alane Ferguson

Writing for young people is an incredible fit for me, underscored by the fact that my husband just called me an ‘Adult Teenager’!  (Okay, so maybe I made up a twist where every time Ron loses at Rumikub, he (or I) has to eat a Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Bean, and it’s possible that I laughed until tears streamed down my face when he bit into ‘skunk’!)  So there is some truth to the idea that I’ve never completely grown up.   Fortunately, my inner-teen gets channeled into Young Adult novels that I love to read as well as write, and that’s important if you want to write for an audience as specific as YA.  Additionally, as a YA author, I have the opportunity to teach up-and-coming authors through The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators by way of their workshop classes.  When I read through those manuscripts, I see the same problems time and time again.  I thought I’d take this month’s post to dish on common mistakes and how you, dear potential writers, can head off some pitfalls as you create your own dynamic worlds!

The first thing I like to remind YA students is that a writer’s job basically mimics creating a movie, only in our world we get to be the writer, director, actor, cinematographer, and, well, you get the idea.  A writer’s job is to make the setting tangible to the reader.  More importantly, your work must focus on a teen protagonist who reads as a believable, breathing, complex being.  That may sound like a straightforward point, but you’d be shocked at how many times I’ve seen an adult channel their thoughts/ideas/morals into their teen character’s point of view, with alarming results.  Their characters tend to be wise, pious, respectful young people who beg enlightened adults to rain pearls of wisdom upon their grateful, young heads.  Wrong!  It not only reads as inauthentic, but no teen will be able to relate to a person who turns to their mom or dad for ‘the answer’.  It’s what I call ‘adult-writing-for-teens-fantasy-syndrome’ and it is simply the kiss of death when it comes to storytelling.  The teen protagonist is on a journey.  He or she must make the climb.  Adult characters may help, of course, but a story for a young person must have a nuanced teen at its center, a person who will, at times, make a wrong decision.  But isn’t that what happened when we were young?  And, if we are honest, isn’t it still happening?  It is the realistic parts of ourselves that translates into an interesting character.

My protagonist Cameryn Mahoney is currently pulling up Colorado stakes and moving to Hollywood in order to participate in a reality show.  In terms of her future, it’s not the best idea, but it’s an adventure!  The wise Dr. Moore warns Cameryn of the danger, but no one can tell my protagonist what to do – she tosses his advice to the wind and goes for it.  Remember, a perfect character is perfectly awful.  You can’t have light without the dark, and so it is when you create a protagonist.  They must have shades of gray in order to keep the character you create relatable.

This gradation of color is of vital importance.  (As a rule of thumb, the peripheral characters can and will be less fleshed out, which is fine.  Right now I’m honing in on main characters.)  When I write from Cameryn’s point of view, I know her foibles as well as her strengths, and I dutifully record her stumbles as well as her triumphs.  Here’s one of the ways I illustrate this in my classes: I’ll ask my students to point out the flaws of various, well-known personalities.  What, I will ask, is Harry Potter’s character flaw?  Invariably, someone will say, ‘His scar.’  No, his scar is his physical imperfection, but his personality flaw is that he refuses to accept help, which is essential to becoming a fully rounded human being.  (This from the amazing JK Rowling herself!)  Do you see the difference?  For those of you who dream of passing from ‘reader’ to ‘creator’, don’t be afraid of writing an imperfect character.

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Alane Ferguson bio page

The Hunted: A Mystery in Glacier National ParkValley of DeathThe Christopher KillerThe Dying BreathVivaldi's Virgins: A NovelGenesisDead Time

Rewriting and its Strange Parallel to Project Runway, by Alane Ferguson

Okay, I admit it. I LOVE Project Runway, especially when they require their poor contestants to make an outfit out of some ungodly product, like lettuce or garbage or maybe chicken soup.  For the uninitiated, Project Runway showcases up-and-coming designers who have yet to break into the fashion world.  The show begins with a dozen or so designers/contestants, and week by week the judges whittle that number down to a lucky three.  The final trio goes on to compete in the very prestigious New York Fashion Week, after which the judges crown an ecstatic winner.  So how does this relate to me as a writer and the act of revision?  Believe it or not, the parallel is a strong one.  I’m thinking in particular of the infamous ‘the-clothes-off-your-back’ challenge, which consists of the contestants removing their jeans, skirts, shirts, jackets – whatever they happened to have on when the challenge was announced – and then remake those materials into something new and amazing.  It’s hard, painful work, and yet, when they are finished and their models walk down the runway, the transformations are incredible!  The new creations are almost always better than the original.  And that reminds me an awful lot of something that is the backbone of what we writers do: revision.

Right now, I am deep into a revision for The Dead Giveaway, the fifth book in my forensic series.  With my editor’s notes at my side, I’ve spent day after day with the equivalent of a seam ripper, that small, pointed tool that cuts through a garment’s threads.  Like the Project Runway contestants, I take my metaphorical ‘ripper’ and unstitch scenes I’ve previously sewn together, line by line, word by word.  My chapters are like pieces of fabric scattered across the floor, just waiting to be re-stitched into something better.  Sometimes, scenes end up getting tossed completely.  As an example, I just (sob) cut an entire chapter out of my novel because I found it to be redundant. So far, in this revision, a new character has been introduced, forty-plus scenes have been rearranged, and a new ending has been sewn (I mean, written) in.  Do I like this part of the writing process?  Honestly, in a word, no.  But it is essential, because it is my job as an author to listen to my editor, who has a fresh eye, and then make my work the best that it can be.

It’s a given that my writing makes sense to me, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into clarity for my reader.  All professional writers know and accept this.  So I weigh my editor’s words very carefully.  Most suggestions are incorporated, some are not, but a revision always takes place.  Like the Project Runway designers, I take the individual pieces of my novel and re-form them into something tighter, and, hopefully, something better.  It’s exactly like the ‘clothes-off-your-back’ challenge, except that mine consists of scenes instead of cloth, words instead of thread.  When I send my novel down the proverbial runway, I always hold my breath with the hope that the judges (in this case, my readers) will like the finished product.  The published novel represents a lot of work, lost sleep, and creative blood.  To all of you who would like to write your own novel someday, remember that this, too, will be part of your job.  When you face the daunting task of reworking your words, don’t despair.  Take a look at ‘the-clothes-off-your-back’ challenge and see the possibilities.  Then roll up your sleeves, take a deep breath, and get to work!

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Alane Ferguson bio page

The Christopher KillerThe Circle of BloodThe Angel of DeathWolf Stalker: A Mystery in Yellowstone National ParkFear: 13 Stories of Suspense and HorrorThe Broken BladePandemonium (Delirium (Hardcover))

Life and Death in Fiction: The Ultimate Stakes, by Alane Ferguson

When I speak at conferences, people often ask me why I write about dark topics like murder, forensics, ghosts and…death.  One of my biggest reasons as an author is that I believe there is no alteration more profound than moving from life to death – both for the victim and for the loved ones they leave behind.  To me, stories that revolve around such a dynamic issue are just more interesting to write, because the characters are playing for the ultimate stakes.  It’s another painful moment of clarity I learned first-hand.

Years ago, when my daughter moved into her first apartment, my telephone rang just as rays of dawn were breaking through my window.  I remember stumbling to get to the phone, wondering who on earth could be calling when it was barely past five in the morning.  “Hello,” I said, my voice ragged.  On the other end of the phone was a man I didn’t know.  He said he’d been out jogging and that he had found my daughter’s wallet, hairbrush, and lipgloss scattered in a downtown alleyway, an area I knew was home to Utah’s most unsavory element.  Did I know if she was okay, he asked?  At that moment, my heart stopped while my mind whipped into overdrive as I imagined the unthinkable, that my daughter had been kidnapped or worse.  Immediately, I hung up, telling the man I would call my daughter.  I can never describe the fear I felt as I punched in her number, my fingers shaking so hard I could barely hit the telephone keys.  Panic is far too small word to describe my emotion as I waited for her to pick up, pick up, pick up!  And pick up she did, groggy but alive.  The sweet relief at hearing her voice literally sent me to my knees as I burst into tears from sheer joy.  My daughter was safe!  Kristin had left her purse in her car, and someone had busted out her window, stolen the purse, and then dumped the remains (after helping himself to her cash and credit cards) miles away in that dark, seedy place.  Her expensive flute had also been stolen, but did I care?  Not at all.  Because my Kristin was safe.  That lesson drilled into my very marrow; things are things, but people are irreplaceable.

Life and death are the ultimate stakes in a novel, and so I am drawn to them.  It’s an easy mental line to follow in my work.  My Forensic Series allows my protagonist, Cameryn Mahoney, to give a voice to the dead.  My paranormal series, Dragonfly Eyes (still being written) tells the story of a life lived from the ‘other side’.  I write of death, yes, but more importantly, I write of hope for the living, of love triumphing over the most radical transition any of us will ever face.  The ultimate question flows into the stream of my plot lines that laps onto the shore of my pages.  No, I don’t think I write about death.  Rather, I write about what it means to live.

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Alane Ferguson bio page

The Christopher KillerThe Circle of BloodFear: 13 Stories of Suspense and HorrorValley of DeathThe Hunted: A Mystery in Glacier National ParkPowder MonkeyShelter

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