Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lisa: On learning how to write

I've been writing seriously for almost ten years, and during that time, I've often wished I could pursue a formal education in creative writing. But it's not something I've been able to do for a lot of different reasons.

So, I've had to learn the old fashioned way.

That is, by writing a lot. And reading a lot.

Oh, and there have been some conferences thrown in to the mix too, and I always make a point to attend more craft-oriented sessions than publishing-oriented ones.

Anyway, when I say writing a lot, what do I mean?

I mean that if I have an idea I like, and a character I want to get to know, I write the story. Sometimes I check with Sara about what I'm writing, but often times, I don't. Because for me, writing isn't simply about publication. Writing is how I learn. And, there's something sort of soothing about writing a story for myself, just because *I* want to find out what happens.

I wrote some books before I had an agent that didn't sell and I've also written books since having Sara in my corner that didn't sell. And although there may have been some disappointment at times about not selling something, I've never thought of those books as a waste of my time. They are my schooling. They are how I learn. With each book I write, I learn things, and I hope that I become a better writer.

Writers write. And so I do, again and again, each time thinking about my weaknesses and trying to improve in those areas.

I believe writers also read to help them become better writers. In fact, I'd argue, one of the best things a writer can do for his/her career is to read. Have fours a day to spend on your writing career? Spend one of those hours reading. And here's why:

Because I have learned about memorable characters from John Green, Gayle Forman, and most recently Matthew Quick.

I have learned about voice from Cheryl Renee Herbsman and Saundra Mitchell.

I've learned about humor from Kristen Tracey and L.K. Madigan.

I've learned about timing and pacing from Suzanne Collins and Neil Shusterman.

I've learned how to make a setting come alive from Heidi R. Kling and Christine Fletcher.

And I've learned about the importance of connections, big and small, that make all the difference in a story, from Sarah Dessen, Nina LaCour, and Cynthia Lord.

I read so much, I have my 14-number library card memorized. I figure over my lifetime, that memorization has saved me hours of time, since I don't have to find my purse to get my library card every time I want to reserve a book on-line. I visit the library weekly, and usually have two books I'm reading at any given time, one downstairs and one upstairs. Well, I mean, who wants to spend precious reading time climbing stairs?

Reading books also gives me something to talk about with other writers and bloggers. And sometimes, a book can be a point of reference when talking to Sara about a project I'm working on or about editors or whatever (and I'm so impressed that often times I'll ask, have you read XYZ, and Sara will say yes, when she is also reading a manuscript a night! Can you say agent extraordinaire!?).

So, I guess all of this is to say, when writers ask me what do they need to do to get published, I say these things, to start with:

Write a helluva lot, always trying to improve and grow. Don't write the same story over and over if it's not getting you anywhere.

Read a helluva lot, taking in what an author does well and how that can help with your writing.

And sleep with a rabbit's foot underneath your pillow, keep a four-leaf clover in your wallet, and wish on every falling star you see. (Okay, so that's just me, but it can't hurt, right?)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Michael: A Wide Net, Full of Snakes and Caterpillars

As a debut author, you’re expected to do whatever you can to help promote your book. That means, when you’re not updating your Facebook status or tweeting, you should probably be blogging. The posts should be interesting, original, and farm fresh, all of which raises some big questions.

What on Earth Am I Going to Blog About?
The conventional wisdom is basically this: The more you blog, the better. A steady stream of fresh content keeps people coming back, helps build a community, earns you more links, increases your search engine visibility, and all of that good stuff.

But how are you going to find enough motivation and material to blog, if not daily, then at least several days a week? And, even if you do, how are you going to stand out from tens of thousands of other authors doing basically the same thing? For me the answer is this: I write about what interests me.

Three of my last five posts, for example, have involved things with tentacles: the Syfy original movie Sharktopus, Cthulhu, and Paul the World Cup-picking octopus. Every day, the top search terms leading people to my site include one or more of the following: “anacondas,” “assassin caterpillars,” and “animals with big ears.” And that’s just the A’s. Which leads to the next question…

Does It Make a Darn Bit of Difference?
I think so. Some days I’ll get a few hundred visitors to my site, only a handful of whom arrived looking for information about me or my books. And yet, there they are. I am not really competing with other authors for this traffic. In fact, when it comes to my posts about, say, cone snails, I don’t seem to be competing with anyone at all.

Nonetheless, a decent chunk of those visitors end up clicking on the pages about my book, bio, events, and upcoming titles. And whether they’re buying them for themselves, their nephews, or their pet snails, on the heaviest traffic days, a few of these visitors seem to click all the way through and buy books from the Amazon, B&N, or IndieBound links in the sidebar.

Now, a book or three is not all that much, in the grand scheme of things, but it has helped to keep my sales ranks from falling too low, and to keep the online discounts maxed out, for almost a year and a half now. And frankly, who knows how it works, that strange combination of word of mouth, sales algorithms, and general momentum that keeps a book relevant? When I found out that Scholastic was keeping Gentlemen in hardcover for an extra six months, one of my first thoughts was: Thank you, assassin caterpillar of Brazil.

And, of course, when the people who are actually searching for info about my book land on the site, they find a mix of fresh material, new comments, and fun (or at least unusual) posts.

So What Are You Saying?
I am neither a font of wisdom nor a runaway success (having quit my day job, I may in fact be running away from success). But I have been blogging regularly for a few years now, I still enjoy it, and I think it helps, so there is one piece of advice that I feel comfortable giving: Allow yourself to write about whatever interests you, not only regardless of how weird or idiosyncratic the subject may be, but because of it. It allows you to cast a wide net online, and to fill that net with whatever you like.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Carolee: Interview with Simon Pulse Executive Editor - Anica Rissi

Carolee: What got you interested in the field of publishing?

Anica: I stumbled into my first editorial assistant job (working for David Levithan at Scholastic) through pure dumb luck, but I have always been a reader, a storyteller, and obsessed with words. I started out editing mostly middle-grade novels and series, including Candy Apple Books and The Princess School (a series I’m still proud of!), then moved to Simon Pulse in 2007 to focus exclusively on YA. This job is amazing. I get to work with words, stories, characters, and ideas, and with smart, interesting, creative people.

Carolee: Sounds like a dream job. Tell us what you do at Simon Pulse and what distinguishes a book as a Simon Pulse title.

Anica: Simon Pulse is a hardcover and paperback imprint with a focus on commercial fiction that appeals directly to teen readers. Our books range from dark to light, voice-driven to high-concept, realistic to paranormal, contemporary to dystopian, verse to prose.

One of my favorite things about being an editor is the opportunity to nurture and develop the careers of debut novelists. Debut novels from my 2009 list included two-time RITA nominee Nothing Like You by Lauren Strasnick, Crash Into Me by Albert Borris, Pure by Terra Elan McVoy, Break by Hannah Moskowitz, The Hollow by Jessica Verday, Beautiful by Amy Reed, and Stupid Cupid by Rhonda Stapleton. Many of those authors already have second Pulse novels recently published or on the way. In 2010, look for debuts Claire de Lune by Christine Johnson, The Deathday Letter by Shaun David Hutchinson, Losing Faith by Denise Jaden, and Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales.

Carolee: You've said in the past that you like discovering new talent and new voices. What kind of new voices have caught your attention?

Anica: When I read submissions, I’m looking to fall head-over-heels in love. I am a sucker for quirky or dark humor, smart writing, compelling storytelling, and characters that I can’t get out of my head. My tastes tend toward the dark and edgy. I look for truth in character and stories that tap into universal emotions. My favorite kind of voice to encounter is one that could have only come from that writer, that character.

Carolee: What advice can you give to writers trying to create a unique voice for their work?

Anica: You shouldn’t try to create a unique voice, you should write the story the way you know how to write it. Be inspired by others’ work and the world around you, but tell me the story that you were meant to tell, and stay true to your characters. Voice should never feel forced. My advice is, keep at it. All aspects of good writing, voice included, require practice. Writing is hard work!

Carolee: You’re absolutely right. Writing is hard work. So is marketing. The internet has opened up many new vistas for marketing books. Simon Pulse recently created Pulse It, a website where teens can get early access to books, read them online, and write reviews. How is this helping to market new titles?

Anica: Pulse It (simonandschuster.com/pulseit) is an online community for teens ages 14 to 18 who love to read. It’s a great place for them to connect with each other (and sometimes with authors), talk about books they’ve loved or hated, hear about what’s now and what’s next in YA, give us their feedback, and get free access to fantastic new books. It’s also a great way for us to generate buzz for our books amongst a community of teen readers, many of whom are also bloggers.

Carolee: Authors are doing more and more of their own internet marketing. What advice would you give to authors wanting to create an "internet presence?"

Anica: Join the conversation! Blog, vlog, tweet, or join facebook, not just to spread the word about your own books, but to be part of the online community that’s talking about reading, writing, and the publishing world. The internet isn’t a place to market to readers, it’s a place to connect with readers, and like with successful face-to-face human interactions, those connections don’t happen through monologues.

Carolee: That’s good advice and an important distinction. Tell us about some of your favorite upcoming titles.

Anica: Am I allowed to talk about your book, Take Me There?

Carolee: Absolutely.

Anica: I can’t wait for readers to meet Dylan—I know they’re going to fall for him just as hard as I did. I still remember reading this manuscript for the first time, how I was pulled in and swept up by this sweet-hearted bad-boy’s story. It was July 2008, and I’d printed out the first 50 pages to read at home over the weekend. I emailed Sara that Monday morning to tell her I was kicking myself for not having printed out the whole thing. There’s just something about Dylan that made me want to keep reading and reading. Take Me There is sometimes sexy, sometimes sad, and always intense—a dark and surprising novel about a boy on the run who’s headed nowhere fast.

A few other favorites coming this fall:

Leila Sales’s Mostly Good Girls is a smart, wickedly funny novel about a girl navigating the cutthroat world of an all-girls prep school, trying to figure out how to talk to boys without choking on her own saliva, and attempting to set things right with her suddenly-distant best friend. Did I mention smart and funny?

Denise Jaden’s Losing Faith is a lyrical, emotionally intense debut about a teenager who encounters more questions than closure while mourning the death of her sister. There are some real twists and turns to this plot, and moments of unexpected humor throughout. It’s awesome.

Lauren Strasnick’s Her and Me and You has first love, broken friendships, heartache, and twincest. It’s moody and gut-wrenching, and if you’ve read Lauren’s first book, Nothing Like You, you already know that her writing is sparse, haunting, and lovely, and her dialogue is sharp and superb.

Carolee: Anica, thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to visit with us here at the Crowe’s Nest.

Anica: Thanks for having me on the blog, Carolee and Sara!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Sara: a sad sort of ALA post, lacking photos.

When I assigned myself this blog date, I should have had the foresight to take photos at ALA, so that I could do an ALA wrap up post showing you, for instance, the unbelievably yummy gelato I had first with John Ford and then again with Kristen Tracy and Nina LaCour, and then again by myself on my way to the train station. I thought about adding drawings, but I am not an artist.

ALA started for me with Kristen's tour event at Books of Wonder in New York on Thursday night, and then I was lucky to ride to DC with all of the fabulous authors of the Disney-Hyperion UnRequired Reading tour including Kristen Friday AM. I should have taken video of them as they are a funny group and should consider sketch comedy. But there are lots of videos of them on the tour website, including Kristen's off limits tour of Alcatraz. Friday evening was the Morris dinner with Nina, where we ate amazingly good Italian food, and got to meet all of the other finalists and the winner, L.K. Madigan. Nina's signing was Saturday AM, and then Karen Kincy's was Saturday afternoon. Heidi Kling's signing was on Monday AM, and we were supposed to have breakfast first, but she was on CA time and did not want to eat. I was sad to miss a meal. I had lots of meals at ALA. I visited Busboys and Poets near the convention center 3 times- with Nina, Karen and then Holly Hoxter. And as I have said, lots of gelato. My overeating gelato was obviously a response to the heat.

I may not have shared pictures of the Courtney Love concert Sunday night as this is a children's books blog. Libby Koponen and I went to a thrift store on U Street on Sunday, because she was feeling a little unsure about her Newbery Banquet outfit (which I saw photos of later and which was gorgeous), except I did not go in, because I was just too hot to look at clothes, which is saying a lot. DC, you attempted to broil me, but you have made NYC summer seem like spring. August no longer frightens me.

Other highlights were meeting a librarian from my home town of Dedham, MA, and drinking a thing 1 at the Random House Dr. Seuss party, which was held at the Newseum. As a newish mom, I really do not get out much, and so having three nights out in a row, four counting the night at Kristen's event in NYC, is pretty much the most exciting thing that has happened to me for awhile. And I am still exhausted. But my first ALA annual was awesome, and I cannot wait to read the pile of arcs and books I collected.