How To Survive and Stand Out at a Book Event: 5 Essential Strategies

Monday, April 11th 2016 • Advice, Books, Events

Yesterday, I was signing at the LA Times Festival of Books at the SCBWI booth. It was my second year participating and one of many, many book events that I have participated in. I was surrounded on either side by several different authors, each of whom had come prepared with a variety of decorations, swag, and book displays. One played music related to her book while another brought battery-operated lights and an astronaut helmet. Another showed up with five books and looked around at the various displays and told me that she thought she’d thought of everything but felt woefully unprepared. She asked me what had proved successful for my signings in the past, and it made me think. What were the questions that I had before my first signing, and what had worked for me?

For example, how many books do you bring? How do you get people to buy your book? How do you sell books without turning people off? How do you promote signings? How can you make the most of your book signing?

Luckily, the advice I have for book signings boils down to five essential strategies.

Please note that most of these strategies are geared to a signing at an event, panel, etc. where you are competing for attention. For your own personal signing, these will still be helpful, but realize you won’t necessarily have to seek the spotlight in the same way.

1. Bring something for people to admire, to take home, and to keep them thinking about your book.
These three things are all you need to pull a passerby’s attention to you AND they’ll fit on a small table if you’re sharing with other authors. For the “something for people to admire,” think about that astronaut’s helmet that the author next to me had. Her book was about a young child in space, and it drew kids to her picture book immediately. Once they were in front of her, she could talk about the book and hook them on the content. For me, I love the cover art of Mara and Miyuki, so my “something to admire” was simply my books propped up on small display easels. (Continue Reading…)

The 5 Biggest Roadblocks All Writers Face

Wednesday, February 3rd 2016 • Advice

Writers face a seemingly insurmountable number of roadblocks on their way to publication. Whether you’re at the plotting, writing, revising, or querying stage, these are the top five roadblocks that you will face and how can you can knock them down.

Roadblock #1: How do I choose the right story to write? I’ve got so many ideas! I can’t write 70,000+ words and then realize it was the wrong story.

I totally understand this very real struggle. The idea of spending months or years on a story that could end up shelved is excruciating. And yet, that is our pursuit. New (and experienced!) writers start out without knowing whether their idea will be marketable, and that is a reality that writers must accept.

However, there is a way to choose the story that you should NOT write. Do not write a story idea because it’s trending or because you saw an agent or editor tweeting about a manuscript that they want. By the time you finish that novel, the trend will be over and the agent and editor will have found their winning manuscript. Instead, write the story that you feel most passionately about that you can keep chipping away day after day at it. Plot out your novel with a strong outline (if outlines are you’re thing) and follow it through to the end.

Choosing between two tales? Write the first chapter and sketch out a story arc for both stories. Then, grab some critique partners and have them review the two. Ask them which one grabs them and makes them want to read more. If you agree with them, write that story. If you strongly disagree and want to prove them wrong, then write the story that’s really burning inside you.

Roadblock #2: How do I find the time to finish writing my story?
(Continue Reading…)

Thinking #NaNoWriMo? Think again.

Sunday, November 1st 2015 • Advice, Writing

Tomorrow, National Novel Writing Month will descend on us all and Twitter will explode with posts, word counts, and increasing cries of panic as the month progresses. Thousands will rise to the call to write a novel in the month by rushing to their computers and notebooks. Success stories will be pointed to as models. Message boards will be flooded with pleas to read scenes or identify the source of writer’s block (which doesn’t really exist).

It’s a time for creativity to flourish and some of the world’s future bestsellers will be written this month. You’ve probably already signed up for the NaNoWriMo e-mails and are ready to start. But before you do, please consider the following before you begin that new novel.

1. You are joining a community, not barreling into one.
The writing community is, by and large, a welcoming one. Many writers are eager to cheer each other on and offer guidance. Many forums exist to provide feedback on titles, scenes, and more. Feel free to join these communities, but please remember that it is a two-way street. Don’t show up asking for critiques and then disappear. Comment on writing blog posts, send encouraging messages to the #amwriting tag on Twitter, and offer your feedback when you have something to say. The more you participate, the more likely you are to learn something that you can apply to your own projects.

2. Being an author is a job, not a hobby.
I’ve seen it said by agents, authors, and editors that nothing irks them more than to hear someone say that they’ll write that novel “when they get around to it.” Authors pay rent with their books. They put in hours to plan and write the book in the same way that others clock in to work. Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t write a book if you don’t see writing as a career. Writers come from all different paths and walks of life. However, I am saying that you should respect the fact that writing a book is a job unto itself and should be treated like one. Don’t expect this to be easy. It won’t be.

3. No one will respect your writing time unless you do.
Friends, family members, and co-workers will not take kindly to the “I need to write” excuse, or at least not right away. You need to communicate that what you’re undertaking is valuable and that you won’t break your writing time for dinner dates, errands, or anything else. You may need to go clock in at a coffee shop for this message to be clear, especially if you have roommates.

4. Consider an outline or some form of planning first.
Some people like to develop the plot as they go, but I am not one of those people. Having an outline helps me stay focused and speeds my writing along. Consider using the first few days of NaNoWriMo to write out an outline (even a brief sketch) so that the rest of the month will go smoother. Even answering a few questions about what your character wants and what stands in his or her way will go a long way to developing your story.

5. It’s okay if you don’t finish the entire novel.
Aim as high as you want. 40,000 words or 60,000 words. Maybe even 80,000 words. Set goals, do the math for how many words you need to write in a day, and be ambitious. But if December 1 rolls around and you don’t have a completed book, don’t fret. Just keep writing. Remember that setting up a routine takes time, and half a book is easier to finish than no book at all.

6. Don’t query your novel in December or January.
This is the most important point on this list. Agents are inundated with queries in December because writers have just finished up NaNoWriMo books. They’re expecting the books (and the writers who wrote them) to be unpolished. They’re expecting writers who completed minimal research on their guidelines and are new to the game. So, wait. Better yet, put the finished book in a drawer for all of December. Come to it with fresh eyes on January 1 and edit the hell out of it. Then, give the book to beta readers and let them tear it apart. Edit again in February. Then, maybe, if you’re ready, send out a few queries in March. See if you get some bites. Edit again. Repeat until you find success.

In short: use NaNoWriMo to make the best book you can. Set goals and guidelines. Be respectful of the writing community. And above all, write the damn book.

Why I Write YA

Sunday, September 13th 2015 • Advice, Writing

On nearly every panel I’ve ever participated in, there’s a question that bubbles to the surface about why or how I write young adult. Some people assume that, as a teacher, it’s natural to write about YA because I’m plugged into the young adult world. It’s true that I do pull snippets of my teaching life, but it’s usually logistical stuff like scheduling or how a school day would run. Mostly, my experience from writing young adult is pulled from my own teenage experience and my own experience now as an adult human being. It comes from observation and eavesdropping and reading young adult stories and watching young adult films and a basic empathy and understanding for that horrifying time that we call adolescence. But above all, I believe that I write young adult literature because I have a deep and profound respect for young adults and their varied and incredible lives.

Many people want to write young adult because it seems easier than writing literary fiction or science fiction or some form of adult fiction. Young adults are easy to understand, right? They all have the same problems (relationships, school, relationships, school, school, school). They do the same things (study, party, ditch, party, make out, drugs). They want the same things (acceptance). They go through the same emotional wheelhouse (fear, sadness, anger). I mean, the books write themselves, right?

Wrong. (Continue Reading…)

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