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Posts from the ‘New York Times bestselling novelist’ Category

Inexpensive Ways To Market Your Novels, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Author-driven marketing efforts are more accessible than ever – and you don’t even need to break the bank.  The next few posts on marketing were taken from a marketing packet that fellow author Lara Zeises and I prepared for a conference.

See what you can do for free:

Freebie Marketing:

Design a free Web site.  Try Google Pages or Yahoo! Pages for a sophisticated looking site that’s easy to produce (if you know how to type in Word, you can master this software).  THERE IS NO MORE IMPORTANT MARKETING TOOL THAN A WEB SITE.

Learn to love social media.  Whether you choose to establish yourself on Facebook, LiveJournal, Blogger, Twitter or all of the above, these social media sites are almost as important as web sites these days.  Bonus points if your blog serves a function or has a distinct personality.

Post to listserves/message boards.  It’s a great way to meet other authors and network outside of your local circle.  Be sure to put your web and blog addresses, as well as info about your upcoming releases, in your e-mail ‘signature’.

Work the online bookstores.  Create an Amazon.com “plog” (their version of a blog), or ask friends and fans to post positive reviews on BarnesandNoble.com. Don’t forget Booksense.com, the online presence for indie stores.

Create and send your own email newsletter.  What better way to let everyone know what you’re up to?

Introduce yourself to booksellers and librarians.  They can be your biggest advocates.

Sign stock.  Don’t forget to do this when you travel as well.

Arrange readings/signings.  Your publicist may be able to help with this, but if not, make an appointment to see a community relations rep or local owner where you’d like to do a reading/signing.  Even if two people show up, you’ve forged a connection.

Attend free literary events.  PEN New England’s Children’s Caucus offers awesome opportunities to hear other authors speak in my local area. Also, find out which authors are coming to your local libraries.

Volunteer at conferences.  Often donating your time will grant you access to the conference at a reduced rate.  So not only are you actively involved and meeting new people, you’re reaping the benefits of the conference itself.

Create reading/teacher guides for your book and offer them for download on your web site.  Better yet, seek out a young librarian or new teacher to do the work for you as a portfolio builder.

Donate your goods/services for an auction or charity.  Whether it’s a 10-page critique or signed copies of your book, you’re giving something back and getting your name out there at the same time.

Send a press release to local publications of interest – and don’t forget your alumni magazines.  Often you can get your publicist to send you their version, which you can then tailor for each publication.  Colleges especially love to brag about alumni accomplishments, and you never know who’ll be reading.

Open up an online store on CaféPress.com or Spreadshirt.com.  It doesn’t take a lot of tech savvy to design these promo items.  Get permission to use your book’s cover art, or have an artist pal whip up a logo for the fictional high school in your novel, or use royalty-free clip art. 

Volunteer to speak at a school, library or conference.  It’s a great way to try out new things.

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Laurie Faria Stolarz’s author website: www.lauriestolarz.com

Laurie Faria Stolarz’s bio page

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Deadly Little SecretDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)Project 17Silver is for Secrets     Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)TracksThe Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)

Writing Teen Novels
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Plot Is The Backbone Of All Page-Turners, by April Henry

As a mystery and thriller writer, I’m all about the plot. A good plot will have you turning the pages at a rapid pace and staying up too late to read “just one more” chapter.

Basic plot

Something happens that forces the character to leave his ordinary world. He does not want to. He faces a series of obstacles, most of which he doesn’t overcome. His efforts to fix things go awry, resulting in more problems. Finally there is a big showdown and he is able to reach down deep to overcome both his own internal issues and the external problem and triumph.

How much plotting do you need to do?

There are more elaborate ways to plot, with dozens of steps. Will your story fall apart if you don’t religiously plan out your plot? Maybe not. You may have unconsciously absorbed story structure through reading hundreds of books and movies. You do not have to have a checklist or fill out forms before writing. But you can.

You can plot something so detailed that your outline has a page for every few pages of finished text. You can plot by just writing each day and seeing where it takes you – although it helps to have the end of the story in mind.EL Doctorow said something about how when you drive at night, you can only see to the end of your headlights, but that turns out to be enough.

What your book needs and your life doesn’t

Conflict, conflict, conflict – plot is ALL about conflict. Your book should start with a conflict – the event that pushes the character out of his ordinary world.

Make it worse, also known as “Put her up in a tree and throw rocks at her.”

Make it bigger. Not only did he look like an idiot playing with the light saber in the garage, but someone put it on YouTube and he’s famous across the nation.

Make choices painful. Force the character to make a choice between two things he or she wants desperately – or the lesser of two evils. Edward or Jacob? Peeta or Gale?

Staying safe at home or risking life and limb?

Secrets

One way to ensure conflict in your story is to make sure that all of your characters have at least one secret. Only one person committed the murder, but the rest should have things in their past or their present that they are hiding. A secret can be something that a suspect doesn’t know – that her boyfriend once dated the murder victim, or that she stands to inherit her murdered uncle’s estate. A character may think a relative or friend is guilty, so they lie and say they were together. Or it can be something about themselves that they lie about in an attempt to conceal: gambling, drug use, embezzling, being on the verge of bankruptcy, cross-dressing etc. Because the characters have something to hide, they may act suspiciously, lie to your sleuth, steal important documents, etc.

Once you give each of your characters a secret, see what they do to keep it a secret.

Author Phyllis Whitney’s advice is: “In the planning stage, I make sure that all my characters have secrets that will be revealed gradually during the course of the novel.

Such secrets will motivate all sorts of unexpected action and furnish the surprise element that I’m trying for. Before I ever get to the writing, I examine my characters for those secrets they may be hiding, and I plan ways in which such secrets may affect the lives of other characters in the story.”

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April Henry’s author website: www.aprilhenrymysteries.com

April Henry’s bio page

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The Girl Who Was Supposed to DieGirl, StolenThe Night She DisappearedShock Point     Raven SpeakHold Me Closer, Necromancer

Writing Teen Novels
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Month In Review (May 2013)

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Young Adult Novels Versus Adult Novels, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Opinions range widely on this topic of young adult novels versus adult novels. Some believe that certain subjects are simply off limits in young adult literature. That may have been the case in years past, but more and more young adult literature is crossing into what some may consider to be adult and/or controversial material: four-letter words, drugs and drinking, sex and sexuality, religion… you name it. There aren’t many topics that you can’t find in young adult literature these days. So, then circling back to the question: What’s the difference between adult and young adult literature?

The easy answer to that question is that young adult literature has young adult characters. Teen characters are very present in teen books. Makes sense, right? Teens want to read about people their age.

The more complicated answer concerns the way in which “controversial” topics are covered. In young adult fiction, for example, the main character usually comes full circle as a result of overcoming obstacles and learning a lesson – one that often involves one or more “adult” issues. In adult literature, on the other hand, there isn’t as much of a need – if any need at all – for the main character to have learned such a lesson. The adult character does not necessarily need to have grown by the end, nor does he or she need to have solved his problem. The writer doesn’t have to address or even acknowledge the “controversial” issue. In other words, there isn’t as much of an overriding “moral to the story” as one might see in young adult material.

When I wrote my novel Bleed (Disney/Hyperion 2006), there was no doubt in my mind that I was writing it for adults. I’d just written a couple of books in the Blue Is For Nightmares series and I wanted to try something new, exploring edgier topics without censoring myself in any way, including the liberal use of the four-letter words and controversial topics. But by the time I went to sell it the young adult market had opened so much that Bleed was published for young adults.

Bleed is told from ten different points of view – all young adult characters. I really wanted to explore how the decisions we make everyday, even the smaller ones, can affect others in ways we may never even consider. The decision whether or not to pick up the phone or let the machine get it; the decision of walking to someone’s house versus taking the bus; or of taking a walk by a cemetery rather than at the beach - how the outcome of those decisions can have a domino effect, affecting other people’s lives… even the lives of people we may not even know. The book takes place over the course of a single day, and starts out with one girl grappling with the decision of whether or not to betray her best friend by going after her best friend’s boyfriend while the best friend is away. We see how the effect of that decision plays out, affecting all the other characters in the book.

As I was editing Bleed, I spent a great deal of time making sure that while some of the characters’ plights couldn’t possibly be solved in the course of one day, there was a glimmer of light, enabling the characters to see the way out of the holes in which they’d dug for themselves. Each character was able to learn something as a result of his or her decision, which I think is also customary of young adult literature.

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Laurie Faria Stolarz’s author website: www.lauriestolarz.com

Laurie Faria Stolarz’s bio page

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BleedBlue is for NightmaresDeadly Little LiesDeadly Little Games    GlowThe Night She DisappearedHold Me Closer, Necromancer

Writing Teen Novels
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Editors: Working With You To Make The Best Book Possible, by April Henry

My first book was published in 1999, so I’ve had a lot of experience working with editors. In fact, I’ve had five of them, plus an unknown number of copy editors and proofreaders. The amazing thing is that, in my experience, each editor has a different approach. What one editor is passionate about may not even be on another editor’s radar screen.

My five editors

My first editor loved characters who were quirky, whacky or eccentric – and if she felt they weren’t quirky, whacky or eccentric enough, she often asked for them to be enhanced. Sometimes her comments were cryptic. I still remember staring at one notation scribbled in a margin. It said, “Pump up the mystery!” I had no idea how to do that and I was too scared to call her. I’ve since learned that just as an email sometimes lacks the emotional nuance that would allow you to completely understand a message, so too can editorial letters and hand-written notes. A simple phone call can go a long way toward making things clear for both writer and editor.

My second editor was a legend in the business. She was in her 80s and everyone loved the idea that she was still working full-time. Dozens of famous authors had been edited by her over the course of her long career. I think she worked right up until she died. Her editing was much more broad-based and she wasn’t nearly as much of a detail person as my first editor was.

My third editor was famous for being able to write an 11-page editorial letter for a 12-page picture book. He used brown stickies to mark changes he had pencilled in green on the manuscript. One draft I got back bristled with so many stickies it looked like a porcupine. For Christmas that year, I gave him a brand new green pencil, figuring he had used one up on my manuscript. One thing I learned from him was that sometimes when an editor asks for a specific change, he or she may be right that something is wrong. However, the writer can often make a different sort of fix than the editor requested and still come away with both parties happy.

My fourth editor writes thoughtful editorial letters that I dread. Why? Because she is skilled at finding flaws I haven’t noticed. Flaws that require lots and lots of thought before I can fix them.

My fifth editor is both a big picture editor and someone who notices the smallest details. She’s pointed out words I tend to overuse - words I wasn’t aware of until she had checkmarked three or four uses of the same word in a single page. Once or twice, she has questioned the veracity of things I write, asking if it’s really true or possible. I welcome that. So much fiction, especially mysteries and thrillers, is riddled with errors about police procedure, weapons or investigative techniques.

The process of editing

Editing used to take place on paper, and you, the editor and your agent would send bulky manuscripts back and forth. I still have some unused manuscript boxes in my basement. They fold up neatly and have a little tab you insert into a slot. It’s probably the equivalent to holding onto a buggy whip. Now manuscripts get emailed as attachments, to be read by agents and editors on e-readers, and to be edited by line and copy editors on computers and then emailed to you with tracked changes. Many editors will still print out a paper copy and mark that up, at least to a degree, although I wonder if that will change as a generation who started on paper retires.

Line editors may make suggestions as to how to burnish the story and are big picture people. Copyeditors are more focused on the details. For example, they make sure that a character who has blue eyes on page 19 does not have gray eyes on page 319. They know the difference between flout and flaunt. They do a certain amount of fact-checking, making sure that, for example, you don’t spell Cheez-Its incorrectly. Oddly, I have had the same freelance copyeditor work on several of my YA books even though they were put out by different publishers. In a further twist of fate, she grew up in Portland, where I base most of my stories.

Both main editors and copy editors have saved my bacon many times. It’s hard to see your story clearly: you always need at least one more set of eyes.

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April Henry’s author website: www.aprilhenrymysteries.com

April Henry’s bio page

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The Girl Who Was Supposed to DieGirl, StolenShock PointThe Night She Disappeared    ResponseHappyfaceA Coalition of Lions

Writing Teen Novels
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Hooking Readers With The First Chapter Of A Teen Novel, by Beth Revis

One of the things I’m really happy about with my own writing is the first chapter of Across the Universe (which you can find online at www.acrosstheuniversebook.com). Before and since, I’ve made it something of a habit to look at first chapters, paying special attention to what makes them tick.

1) Empathetic characters

Empathy doesn’t mean that you feel bad or good for a character; it means that you understand what the character is feeling and why. In my own novel, my main character, Amy, watches her parents undergo a painful medical procedure. This is something that anyone can empathize with – we know how we would feel if our own parents or loved ones underwent a painful procedure. This immediately puts us in the picture with the main character. Possibly the most important thing you can do as a writer is create empathetic characters. Think of Katniss and her love for Prim in The Hunger Games - that was chapter 1. Think of Bella meeting Edward in Twilight or Harry Potter becoming an orphan. These are things with which we can empathize.

2) Sympathetic situation

While your characters need to be empathetic, it’s good to start the story with a sympathetic situation. You have character who you can almost visualize as yourself – you understand where they’re coming from and who and why they are. Now put them in a situation we wouldn’t want to be in. Make us feel bad that these characters we identify with are in a bad situation. This is the Hunger Games and Harry’s cupboard under the stairs.

3) It is what it says it is on the cover

You should also definitely give some hint of what the book is. You’re giving readers a taste of the whole book in the first chapter. If it’s a sci fi novel, as mine is, you need a spaceship or cryogenic freezing. If it’s a survival story like The Hunger Games, have Katniss shoot her bow. Harry mentions magic. Elizabeth Bennet’s mother in Pride and Prejudice mentions marriage. Whatever your story is overall must have a hint of it here, in the first pages. I should know what genre you’re writing not from your cover or your back jacket description, but from your first chapter.

4) Immediate conflict as a foreshadow to future conflict

Writers are often told to start their novels with a bang – but that can often lead to overly dramatic (and melodramatic) first chapters. Instead, try to mirror a larger conflict within the first chapter with something smaller. In my novel, Amy watching her parents being cryogenically frozen mirrors how later, when she wakes up, she has to make tough decisions without them. For The Hunger Games, Katniss’s hunt in the first chapter mirrors the battle for survival that the whole book revolves around. For Lucy Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia it’s the way her brother Edmond treats her.

It’s hard to identify exactly what it is that makes a first chapter work. However, analyze some of your favorites and I think you’ll see the things I’ve listed above.

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Beth Revis’s author website: www.bethrevis.com

Beth Revis’s bio page

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Across the UniverseA Million Suns (Across the Universe)Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)    GlowThe Night She DisappearedMy Brother's ShadowThe Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals Books (Hardcover))

Writing Teen Novels
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First Person Present Tense Narration In Teen Novels, by Beth Revis

The first YA book I read that used first person present tense was Libba Bray’s epically beautiful A Great and Terrible Beauty. I don’t think I really noticed it until one of the characters “says” something rather than “said” something, and once I noticed it I couldn’t un-notice it. It was definitely something new to me, and I found it fascinating.

Many novels, including my own, have been written in first present – including, notably, the Hunger Games books. In fact, it wasn’t until I read The Hunger Games that I realized the real power that first person present tense can have.

There are two features of first person present tense that we have to consider: the appeal of a first person point of view and the appeal of present tense.

First person: This is a point of view that lends itself ideally to YA literature. Most teens – most people, honestly – want to escape into a novel. They want to experience the world of the story along with the characters. By using the first person point of view, the characters have more immediate accessibility to the reader. You’re not reading about Katniss shooting the arrow, you shoot the arrow as Katniss. Ultimately, what a first person point of view gives to the reader is accessibility.

Present tense: This is a tone of voice that also lends itself ideally to YA literature. The key here is immediacy. This is what brings a whole new appeal to high-stakes stories such as The Hunger Games - rather than telling the reader what happened in the past you’re letting the reader experience what’s happening to the character as it is happening. Additionally, when you’re dealing with a life-or-death situation with the characters, you have the additional fear that the characters won’t make it to the end of the story. In a novel told in present tense, the characters – particularly the narrating character – might not survive to the end. If you want to see just how powerful that underlying fear can be in a novel, check out Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner’s These Broken Stars.

In the end, first person present tense is so often used and so popular among teens because of the two simple traits of accessibility and immediacy. That’s one of the things that makes YA literature stand out – and one of the things that keeps the reader turning the pages long into the night.

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Beth Revis’s author website: www.bethrevis.com

Beth Revis’s bio page

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Across the UniverseA Million Suns (Across the Universe)Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)    I Rode a Horse of Milk White JadeDark Hunter (Villain.Net)Code Name VerityHold Me Closer, Necromancer

Writing Teen Novels
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My Novel Writing Process, by April Henry

I used to write books just for me. No publisher was waiting for them (although I certainly had the fantasy that once publishers saw the finished book they would fall all over themselves buying it). And the books were done when they were done.

I’ve had 13 books published in 13 years. Most are written under contract, which means they have a fixed due date. (Although I still sneak off to work on a ‘spec’ book now and then.)

My current writing process is now more like this:

  • One year before the book is due: I have plenty of time. And I deserve to relax after how hard I worked to get the last book done. I might make some notes and brainstorm a little… after I clean out the basement.
  • Nine months before: This plot idea is intriguing. The characters are starting to seem like real people. Maybe I should create a thorough outline… after I finish alphabetizing the spices.
  • Six months before: The outline is finished. This is going to be so easy. I should outline all the time! I’ll just take it step by step, like paint by numbers. The book is practically going to write itself now that I have all the hard work done. I think I’ll call my friend and go out for ice-cream to celebrate.
  • Three months before: Holy crap! This outline doesn’t work at all. And why do my characters keep doing things I never planned on them doing? This one guy was meant to be a secondary character but for some reason he thinks he’s the real love interest. And my main character refuses to do this one dangerous thing the outline says she should do. She says it’s a bad idea.
  • Two months before: I will never be done in time. Never. The only way I can do it is to write two thousand words a day, every single day. Didn’t manage more than three hundred today? No problem, I’ll make it up tomorrow.
  • Two weeks before: There’s too much blood in my caffeine stream. I’m writing like a mad woman. But I can do it. If I just give up on this sleeping thing.
  • Due date: There. Finished. Is it any good? I’ve read it over but, to be honest, I have no idea. I hit the send key. I really should celebrate. Or work on that other book that’s due. But how long has it been since I swept behind the couch?

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April Henry’s author website: www.aprilhenrymysteries.com

April Henry’s bio page

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Girl, StolenThe Night She DisappearedShock PointTorched    FirehorseMary, Bloody MaryTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2

Writing Teen Novels
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Unreliable Narrators In Teen Novels, by Beth Revis

In my first published novel, Across The Universe, one of the things I particularly wanted to do was create an unreliable narrator. I’d just read a wonderful book – Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief - and was blown away by the brilliance of her unreliable narrator. Several other books have used the unreliable narrator to great effect, from the recent Liar by Justine Larbalestier to the famous play Mousetrap by Agatha Christie.

Perhaps because it’s a trope in literature I love so much, and therefore have my eye on, I’ve noticed more and more titles are using the unreliable narrator in YA literature.

It’s important to realise that every first-person narrator is, to some extent, unreliable. Much like history is written by the victors, the narration of a first-person story is written by the hero of the story. It’s important to realise that a truly good book means that the bad guy would be the hero of his story, if the book was told from his point of view. Of course, the hero of the book you’re reading is going to be unreliable to the point that he believes that his actions are good and true – but the villain of the story obviously disagrees. Neither is right or wrong – it’s a matter of perspective. Therefore, any first-person narrator is, in essence, unreliable, as he will add his or her own personal bias to the story.

But for a truly unreliable narrator you have to have a lie. The narrator has to lie to the reader, and the discovery of that lie must be crucial to the story – whether or not the truth is discovered isn’t as important as the discovery that the narrator has been lying.

One reason why I think an unreliable narrator is becoming so popular in YA literature is because of the audience – teens. When you’re a kid, you tend to believe what adults tell you. When you’re a teen, you realize how much of your life – from Santa Claus to “don’t worry, everything will be fine” – is a lie. Discovering the extent of lies is a powerful thing and therefore features prominently in teen literature.

Of course, the best literature recognizes not only that people lie to us but that we are also liars. Mankind is brilliant at lying – especially to himself. A good story turns the act of narration onto the reader. The point of an unreliable narrator in a story isn’t to tell us that everyone lies – it’s to remind us of the lies we tell ourselves.

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Beth Revis’s author website: www.bethrevis.com

Beth Revis’s bio page

***

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Across the UniverseA Million Suns (Across the Universe)Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)    My Brother's ShadowAngel DustThe Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-AntoinetteGenesis

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Selling Your Teen Novel Manuscript, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Writing an entire novel that’s rich with character and appeal, and that has a clear beginning, middle and ending in which the character grows, facing obstacles along the way, isn’t an easy task. Once this is done, congratulations are in order.

Then it’s time to immerse yourself in the selling market by doing a lot of research.  Go to the new release section of bookstores armed with paper and pen, find books that are like yours, and take note of who wrote them and which publishing houses published them.  Then go home and do a Google search to find the name of the agent and/or editor for those particular books.  Sometimes, you won’t even have to Google; you’ll get lucky and flip to the Acknowledgements page of the book to find that the author has thanked their beloved agent and hardworking editor.

Start to keep a list of these names.  The editors and agents are the people that you should be targeting for your work.  Write an intelligent and presentable one-page query letter that summarizes your book and gives a brief introduction of who you are.

Sound easy?  It isn’t.  It takes patience and a thick skin.  Some people get lucky and get requests for full or partial manuscripts right away.  For most of us, it’s a much longer process – one that requires a sense of humor, a lot of waiting, and hopefully a cheering squad of writer-friends.

I’d recommend sending out batches of query letters, five at a time.  Once a rejection comes back, send out another, keeping a log of names, dates, and responses.  But, again, always do your homework.  Make informed decisions as to whom you’re sending your query.  Know who that person is, what books are on his or her list, who his or her clients are, and what he or she is looking for (if anything at all).

Once you start to get responses you’ll find there are different levels of rejection letters, from the standard form letter to the more personalized ones.  I’ve gotten fortune-cookie sized rejection letters that simply say “No, thank you”, as well as personalized letters that explain why my work wasn’t a good fit at the time.

Try not to take any of it personally.  Sometimes you’ll get a rejection purely because the market is trending in another direction or because a particular editor already has a novel like yours on his or her list.  Just keep working and learning.  When I was trying to sell Blue is for Nightmares I was continuing to write my next manuscript, Bleed, which became my fourth book published.

Personally, my initial path to publication was a rough one.  I approached editors and agents at the same time, trying to target those who worked with writers like me (namely, writers who wrote in the Young Adult supernatural/paranormal genre).  It took me a long time to sell my first novel.  I have a folder filled with rejection letters – over a hundred. My favorite one is from an editor who said: “While this is an interesting project, I do not feel it is strong enough to compete in today’s competitive Young Adult market.”  That same Young Adult novel, Blue is for Nightmares, has sold over 200,000 copies, been translated into numerous languages and has appeared on many different award lists, not to mention it’s been optioned for a TV series.

So, in addition to doing your homework, my next bit of advice is to persevere.  There are many talented writers who give up after 5, 10 or even 50 rejection letters.  Be open to learning and to getting better at your craft.  If more than one person criticizes the same point in your work – i.e. your main character whines too much – chances are you need to look at that point again.  Lastly, consider joining a writers’ group.  There’s nothing better than being in a group of like-minded writers who can help inspire and cheer you on, and who can provide constructive feedback that can help to strengthen your work.

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Laurie Faria Stolarz’s author website: www.lauriestolarz.com

Laurie Faria Stolarz’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

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Deadly Little SecretDeadly Little Lessons (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels (Hardcover))Blue is for NightmaresProject 17     VibesSaraswati's WayTracks

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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