Monday, September 22, 2014

The one thing every author wants - word-of-mouth buzz

I think about it often. What makes a person tell a friend, "You HAVE to read this book."

We all know word-of-mouth is the best promotion there is. So what makes people talk about a book? I read many books - so what is it that makes ME talk about a book? I don't think it's necessarily one thing. I think it's a number of things mixed together with a little magic sprinkled on top that create a fantastic reading experience.  

Here's my list of story elements:

1) A gripping story. I think it's usually a story we haven't heard a hundred times before. A story that pulls us in, and it's hard to put the book down once you start reading. It is a unique reading experience, and the story is one you are excited to hear. Examples I can think of: WATER FOR ELEPHANTS by Sara Gruen, MATCHED by Ally Condie, and THE PROGRAM by Suzanne Young.

2) A character or characters we admire. Maybe they make us cheer. Maybe they make us laugh. Maybe they make us feel things we haven't felt in a long time, if ever. Maybe they open up a hidden space inside of us we didn't even know existed! Maybe their strength and determination or their steadfast love and devotion to someone makes us cry. Whatever it is, I think the character(s) have to think and/or act in a way that makes us go WOW. It's not enough to just like a character. To really make a reader grip the book at the end and scream to the world, I LOVE this book, the characters connect with us on a deep, personal level. Possible examples: THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett, THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green.

3) Good writing. Some will argue this is not necessary. Certainly there have been books that have been popular where the writing was less than stellar. But often, it IS a key ingredient in the books that become huge hits by word-of-mouth. THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson is one I'm thinking of as well as DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE (and the rest of the trilogy). Also, a recent middle-grade that comes to mind is A SNICKER OF MAGIC by Natalie Lloyd. I've read books where the premise was fabulous, but in the end, I was let down by the writing. Stilted dialogue or inconsistencies in how the characters talk or act will take a book down a few notches for me. And those kinds of things will often keep me from recommending a book.

4) We can see ourselves there. Some books do an incredible job at making us feel as if we are there. Maybe we want to be, maybe we don't, depending on the story, but regardless, it is easy to picture the setting, the characters, the world, and once we are immersed in it, it is hard to leave. BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys was like this for me. It is a tragic story and yet, it was so REAL and I could not set that book down, as hard as it was at times to read. I also think Sarah Dessen is a master at this.

5) It elicits strong emotions. I often don't remember details in books, because I have a terrible memory, but I can tell you I DO remember how a book made me feel. Sometimes I feel like I'm leaving treasured friends behind as I turn the last page, as it was with ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins. Sometimes I feel changed in how I view life, as it was with THE BOOK THIEF by Marcus Zusack. Sometimes I feel I've read something so special, so perfect, I fear I won't ever read anything that good ever again, like A NORTHERN LIGHT by Jennifer Donnelly.

As I mentioned earlier, I do think there is a bit of magic that happens in a book where everything comes together and it becomes the book everyone talks about. It isn't a formula or an equation - a little of this plus a lot of that will get you word-of-mouth. If it was, someone would have developed it by now and we'd be able to buy it on every corner. 

To those of you who recommend my books to your students or friends or whomever, please know I really and truly appreciate it! I feel like two of my books, I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME and IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES, both sold much better than anyone expected specifically because of word-of-mouth. Both of those stories poured out of me as I was writing them, so it's interesting to me that those are the ones that have sold the best. I wasn't thinking consciously about any of above items, checking boxes off a checklist, so to speak. I simply wanted to tell a good story, and as I went to the computer every day, I was excited about the story and characters I had created. Something to remember, I suppose, as I look forward to getting back into a new story one of these days!! 

I'm curious, what book have you read lately that made you want to shout its gloriousness from the rooftops?

Monday, September 15, 2014

The best thing publishing teaches you

Let's face it, publishing teaches you a lot of things.

Life isn't always fair.
It is impossible to please everyone.
Success is a relative term.

And, the one I'm going to talk about today. Patience is an excellent thing to have.

I think most people know publishing is known for its snail-like pace. Nothing happens quickly in publishing. Like, it generally takes about two years for a book to come out once the book is sold. Sometimes, it's much longer than that. Like, I have one book going on five years. Crazy, I know. I'm hoping it will be one of those things that is very much worth the wait.

Anyway, what I've learned is nothing good comes from worrying about it, thinking about it, wishing things would just hurry up already! In fact, all that does for me is to make me anxious and depressed. So I really try to put the stuff I'm waiting on (and have basically no control over) out of my mind as much as possible. This is how I manage to keep my good attitude while waiting.

Last month I made the big decision to give my home office a makeover. I started by ordering a desk from Pottery Barn that was on sale. It was on backorder and was due to be delivered mid-September to October. I decided this was okay because it gave me time to do other things - go through stuff, pack up boxes of books and sell the old furniture I didn't want anymore, paint the room, etc. etc.

Normally when I decide to do something like this, it is all I think about and work on from beginning to end. Because I want to get to the end result. I don't like the mess and the chaos and the ugliness that happens in the middle, so I try to go as quickly as possible to just be DONE. But this project is taking a long time. Well, a long time in my mind, I guess.

The good news is that the books are packed up and I've donated some I don't want anymore. I've sold some stuff on ebay. I've sold some furniture on craigslist. The room is looking emptier and emptier, which is nice. I think I've decided on a paint color, so the next big thing will be to buy the paint and let my talented handyman husband do his magic over a weekend. I was hoping we might do it next weekend, if the desk will be here in the next couple of weeks, but I checked the status of the order and learned that the shipping date is now not until sometime in October, which means I won't get it until mid-October through the first part of November.


More waiting. I e-mailed Pottery Barn and asked if there was anything they could do, because two whole months is a long time to wait for a desk and maybe I should look for a desk elsewhere. They said it's on back order through the supplier so there isn't much they can do, but the customer service rep did say she'd give me a 15% credit at the time the thing is shipped and my credit card is billed.

The thing is, I looked at a lot of desks before I placed my order, and there isn't a whole lot out there that I like. I really DO want my order. I just don't want to have to wait for it. But I'm going to have to. The nice thing is that extra money does help me keep a good attitude while I wait. It's going to help buy a new bookcase or two. And, it's not like I don't have a desk now - I do. It's ugly and crap, but I've been using it for the past 5+ years, so what's another month?

In publishing, a month is nothing. So, for now, I put the desk and the paint out of my mind. While I look at bookshelves, and look around to figure out what else I can get rid of around here.

Mess. Chaos.

Still, of I can wait two years for a book to come out, surely I can wait another month for my lovely new office.

And now, back to bookshelf shopping!

Monday, September 8, 2014

A bit of a love letter to Taylor Swift

This morning Rolling Stone Magazine tweeted out their cover story on Taylor Swift, titled The Reinvention of Taylor Swift.

Sorry to those of you who don't like T Swizzle, but I do like her, and I'm going to talk about the reasons why today.

Now I'll admit, there's a part of me that is mourning country T Swizzle a little bit. But I'm also excited to hear her latest album and see what she does with the freedom to be who she wants to be instead of trying to be kind of country like her last album, "Red," so she can please the country radio stations a little bit or whatever. And I mean, come on, an album titled 1989 that was influenced by Phil Collins, Annie Lennox, and "Like a Prayer-era" Madonna? I am all over that (especially the Madonna part). The article says when she handed over the album to the head of her record label, he was like, it's your best album yet, but can you give us three country songs? She said I love you, but nope, this is how it's going to be.

The thing is - people change. Artists change. They grow. And in Taylor's case, that's literally growing, not just figuratively. She started out writing songs about teardrops on her guitar when she was a young teenager. Trust me, the stuff I wrote when I was fourteen and fifteen is a lot different than the stuff I write today. Time, experience, maturity - that all makes a difference.

Still, Taylor's music hits the spot for a lot of teens because her music is authentic. She writes about things that matter to her and she writes music that makes you go - yeah, I relate to that. Or even if you don't quite relate to it, it's often like listening to a short little story set to music, and I would argue she is a master at this. I mean, she does in three and a half minutes what lots of authors for teens are trying to do in 325 pages. It's really pretty remarkable when you think about it.

It's risky anytime an artist wants to change it up. I know. I was so afraid of what people would say when I went from writing verse to prose in YA. FALLING FOR YOU was a departure for me, not just because of how it was written, but the content also. It's a bit...darker than my other YA novels. But it was the book that wanted to be written at the time. I'm always curious about how the muse works for other authors, but for me, when my muse decides on an idea and can't let it go, there's kind of no stopping it. Unless I share too much too soon and get funny looks or comments from people and then the idea is basically dead in the water. Which is why I share very little, if anything, when I'm working on a project. I've learned over the years it's safest to treat it like a special secret between me, myself, and I.

But I also think changing it up and challenging yourself over time is important. It keeps the work exciting. Invigorating. I know when I was writing my most recent YA, ALL WE HAVE IS NOW (coming summer 2015), which does some interesting things as far as POVs and timeline, I felt invigorated the entire time. It made me stretch as a writer, and that's never a bad thing.

Taylor gets a ton of criticism. She's also swarmed by fans all the time, everywhere. The apartment across from hers is for her security team. The amount of people it takes to keep the girl safe is unreal. And yet, she keeps writing music that comes from her heart. That is true to who she is at that moment in time. And, that makes a lot of young females across the world really, really happy.

So, this is all to say...

Dear Taylor,

You go, girl!


Artists really can learn a lot T Swizzle. I know I have. And I can't wait for that album to drop on October 27th. In the meantime, I'll be over here shaking it off. "'Cuz the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate..."

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Happy September!

Lately I've been trying to update the blog every Monday. And here it is...Wednesday. Gah! It's back-to-school week around here, so that's part of the problem, although only one of my boys goes back this week. The other one is in college and his classes don't start up for a few more weeks. Although he has something else going on this week that is keeping me busy (not to mention a little stressed) as well.

ANYWAY, it is very much a just-trying-to-keep-my-head-above-water week, which is always so much fun. Not.

Plus, I'm still cleaning out my office. And trying to get back to work. I took the month of August off, basically, except for copy edits on the new YA coming out next year. And it was great, but it's time to get back to a routine of writing every day. Soon, hopefully.

Here are some book-related things to share:

1) FROSTING AND FRIENDSHIP comes out in paperback next week! Tuesday, September 9th, to be specific. This is the third and final book in the Sweet Treats trilogy (IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES and FROSTING AND FRIENDSHIP are the other two). A lot of kids don't seem to know the third one exists. So here I am, posting the cover and shouting to the world on my blog that is regularly read by about 48 people, it exists, it exists!

2) MY SECRET GUIDE TO PARIS is up and available for pre-order at the various on-line sites, with the cover and the description. I need to get it added to my site here! It comes out February 24, 2015.

3) Notes from teachers and librarians are always nice to get.

And with that, I'll sign off for now. Until next Monday (maybe. Hopefully).


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Writing Contest for Teens - Win THE BRIDGE FROM ME TO YOU

Gah, I should have mentioned this earlier. But there's still time to enter, so if you are a teen and you like writing, this contest is for you!

The great folks at the site have featured THE BRIDGE FROM ME TO YOU as the book of the month for August. They are doing a fun giveaway to reward readers who like to write - is that you? If so, check it out!

Read all about the writing contest, which ends THIS Sunday, 8/31 so there's still plenty of time, especially since it's only about 250-500 words. Basically, write a short piece of fiction that combines poetry and regular prose somehow. That's all there is to it. One person will win a signed book, while two others will win a signed bookplate + bookmark.

Happy writing and good luck!!!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Doing the work

I get a lot of emails from kids and teens asking about writing a novel. They often say that they start out excited, but then they get writer's block and they don't know how to keep going.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could wave a magic wand and have the idea in our brain magically turned into a book without doing the work? I always have to tell them, as nicely as possible, there is no magic wand. There is only you putting in the time, writing down the words, one at a time, until the book is finished.

Lots of people love the idea of writing a book. But the actual writing of a book, not so much. Because it's writing down word after word, yes, but trying to do so in such a way that there is a compelling plot and characters you care about and pacing that doesn't bore a person to tears.

I think it's very important, early on, for wanna-be-authors to simply finish a book, no matter how bad it is. The first novel I wrote was not good. Oh, I suppose there were some promising pages in there, but the premise was odd and it just didn't work, overall. But finishing that novel proved to my ever-doubtful self that I could do it! Perseverance is a writer's best friend. You have to be able to keep going even when it's REALLY hard. A completed manuscript reminds you that the only way out is through. Keep writing. Keep plugging away. Every day, add words to the word count and some day, it will be a finished book.

For a long time I've wanted to redo my office. It's a mishmash of furniture that we've collected over the years, none of which was specifically purchased for my home office. Finally, this past week, I decided, it's time to make my office the way I want it to be. I spend lots of time in here, and soon the days will get shorter and darker, and it would be so nice if I had something light and bright and cheerful to greet me each day.

Just like writing a book, figuring out where to begin with a room makeover is not easy. But, as I've learned with my writing, the important thing is to simply begin. So I went out Friday and looked at furniture. I didn't find anything I liked. I came back and look online, specifically at Pottery Barn, knowing it was going to be expensive but also knowing there would probably be something there I'd really love. And there was. Thankfully, I got the desk and hutch that sits on top of it on sale. The downside is it won't be here for a month or so. But that's okay - I'm telling myself it will be worth the wait. In the meantime, there is plenty of work to do to get ready for its arrival.

Here's part of my office as it is now. The walls are darker than they look here - kind of a rust color. While it's pretty, I want something lighter. Peach? Lilac? I'm not sure - we'll see. Anyway, I've been going through stuff, figuring out what I want to keep and what I don't want anymore. It's not a fun job. It's work! A lot of work. Since I don't have Nate Berkus or someone else coming to my rescue and sending me off to enjoy a day at the spa while he redoes the room.

Here are some of the boxes I've packed up already, and there will be more before I'm through.

It is so much work! Packing stuff up and moving furniture out and selling and/or donating the furniture I don't want anymore. Picking out the paint color and painting the room (although my husband who is a really good painter will probably do that part).

But I know the only way out is through. Do the work, and there will be something cool to show for it when it's all done. What do you know...just like writing a book.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Finding beauty every day

This morning I ran across a tweet I really loved, retweeted by someone I follow.

As I often do, I clicked over to see who Lisa Adams is. The very first words in her profile? "Living w/ stage 4 breast cancer."

Stupid, ugly, lots-of-bad-words-here, cancer.

Lately, it seems like no matter where I look, there is hard, painful stuff happening. Anxiety rises up in me, as it feels like everything is lined with razor-sharp edges. People are hurting. Suffering. And I feel guilty looking away, but for my own sanity, I have to. It is not because I don't care. I do. But what can I do? Tell me, and I'll do it. I give money to help with research for the stupid, ugly, lots-of-bad-words-here cancer. And I give money to charities who try to make life better for those who are suffering, both overseas and at home.

I do what I can, though it never feels like enough. And then I think of Lisa's plea today. "Find a bit of beauty in the world today. Share it. If you can't find it, create it."

People probably wonder why I post lots of flower and sunset pictures on instagram. Do you know why? Because they are beautiful, and because it's one small way I can bring some beauty to the world. We each need as much beauty as we can find, because God knows there is more than enough ugly out there. The ugly is everywhere. Those of you who have been following the news this past week know we don't have to look far to find it.

But really, we don't have to look far for the beauty either. It's everywhere, too. And every day, I seek some out, because it helps me feel better. It reminds me that things aren't hopeless, though at times it may feel that way.

Yesterday, we went to the gorge to get away for a few hours. It was wonderful. Quiet and serene. I could practically feel my soul being restored, breath by breath, as I walked amongst the giant trees that have stood there, guarding the precious land, for hundreds of years.

It will be okay, they seemed to whisper.

I always try to enjoy the journey and not put too much emphasis on the particular destination, but it was pretty wonderful to come to this beauty after our one hour hike into the woods.

Still, I thought later as we drove away, toward a favorite little drive-in hamburger/ice cream place we like to eat at after our hikes, it's easy to find beauty out here. I need to be better about recognizing it in my every day life. In those moments that are easy to take for granted.

Lisa's words were a reminder of that today.

After our hike, we had to wait in a long line to place our food order. Long lines are not very beautiful. Waiting is not very fun. But this place is known for its amazing ice cream cones. Someone didn't know you should never order a large cone - the small cone is large enough! Everyone in line gasped and/or laughed when the person behind the counter handed this lady her large cone. Pretty spectacular, right?

I hope you can find some beauty today.

If you're having trouble, go have an ice cream cone. Ice cream is always pretty beautiful in my book.