Looking Back on Published Novel #1

Novel 1

Here are 10 things, in retrospect, that I think/feel about my first novel, and/or how my first book makes me feel about publishing in general. How’s THAT for a random lead-in for a top 10 list?

  1. When someone tells me that they’ve picked up The Next Door Boys, I cringe a little. I didn’t know how to write. I was given almost no edits. I only HOPE that the reader gives me another chance so they can see that I got better! (Every time I hear “got/get/getting/feel better” I think of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I don’t see this as a problem, more like a delightful brain-quirk).
  2. There is nothing like getting that first big YES – I don’t care where or who it comes from. SOMEONE LIKES YOUR IDEA ENOUGH TO PUT MONEY AND TIME AND EFFORT BEHIND IT! That yes never gets old, BTW. And if it does, you should probably step back for a reality/gratitude check. (That sounds way more judgy than I mean for it to, but I’m leavin’ it anyway).
  3. Boy, did I have no idea how little most authors make. And by most, I mean about 95% of authors. (I’m going to exclude category romance authors here b/c their sales are distributed slightly, but just slightly, more evenly)
  4. My first royalty check (for ebook pre-sales) was 42.00. I was still thrilled. My second check for about 1250, was actually less thrilling because it made me realize how little an hour I made on those words.
  5. The characters in my first novel will always hold a special place in my heart, even though I wish with the power of a thousand fiery suns that I could re-edit/re-work the language. The lesson I’ve learned the hard way again and again is this: DON’T RUSH YOUR PROJECT.
  6. I’ll be honest and say that I knew nothing about contracts and also that I would have probably signed away my life to see my book on the shelf. Fortunately, I wasn’t asked to do that.
  7. My first novel was not the first of my novels I saw on Barnes bookshelves, it was one I co-wrote with Nyrae Dawn. My first novel saw the inside of LDS bookstores, and a few Barnes and Nobles in Utah. I lived in Alaska at the time, so…
  8. The impatience to get a second book of a series out in the world, is a force to be reckoned with.
  9. I wish I’d have stood up for myself more in edits, timelines, etc. I wish I’d have spent more time on my novel BEFORE I submitted it for publication. I wish I’d have gotten an agent before I signed my first contract (Only not my first agent, an agent who knows what they’re doing).
  10. As much as I wish I could tweak the inside of my first novel, I do still love the outside. And the longer I’m in publishing, the more I realize that a good cover is something to be cherished, because authors rarely have much say in the final version that comes out into the world.

So, this has been fun reminiscing. I wish I’d have gone to conferences and found more writing partners and friends BEFORE I signed that first contract. I wish I’d have dared to have bigger goals before that first book came out. I wished that I had sat down at some point to see where I wanted my writing to go, rather than being so consumed by the story. At the same time? I do miss the days when I could write with reckless abandon, without hope or understanding of  the heartbreak and/or work that would come after. That being said, I wouldn’t change what I do for anything.

Happy Writing!

~ Jolene Perry

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 6.17.25 PMJolene Perry is an author of young adult novels who was recently transplanted from Alaska to Colorado. She now climbs red rocks, rather than cold, grey ones. Her latest novel, ALL THE FOREVER THINGS, is a 2017 Whitney Finalist, and her teenage heart is happy.

You can find Jo on her website at jolenebperry.com. But at this time of year, most of her time goes to her duties as Chair of the Storymakers Writing Conference, held in Utah each May. And for that community, she is grateful.

Star Wars, Coke, and Other Things to Ponder

I did a whole big branding worksheet not long ago, and it asked questions like – Why do you write? Where do you fit in? How are you different? Only, I had to think beyond my normal answers. Deeper. And man, was it HARD. I’m interested in EVERYTHING. And I’m currently in the switch from writing YA Contemporary to… everything while I figure out what direction I want to go next. In my mind, none of this “everything” or “experimentation in writing” fit with any kind of brand–although, I’m learning differently. Anyway, this is what’s been on my mind lately. (If you’re curious, you can find the worksheet HERE)

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I listened to a great episode of This American Life the other day, the one with the real Coca-Cola recipe. (If you’re curious, you can find that HERE.)

The people behind This American Life worked hard to re-create Coke using a recipe they found while visiting the Coca-Cola archives. They found the same suppliers for the specific ingredients of Coke, they learned as much as they could about what made Coke one of the biggest companies in the U.S. The Jones Soda Co even helped them out with the mixing/stirring/creating. In the end, they had a product that was almost indistinguishable from the real deal.

And then… They went to a grocery store and had people take a taste test, comparing the real Coke to the version they’d created. Some got it right, some got it wrong, but the interesting take away for me came from one sentence, spoken by one person… “This tastes like my childhood.”

Coke isn’t just a flavor, it’s a brand. They have DECADES of marketing behind the flavor. So, Coke is about a lot more than just what people taste after they pop open the can.

And before you wonder if I’m getting paid to promote Coke, know that I like Pepsi better.

So, the flavor is the same, the texture is the same, but Jones Soda Co could never recreate Coca-Cola. There’s too much behind that name for them to compete.

And to jump to Star Wars, for those of you who were paying attention and read the title of this post 😉

We went with the masses to see THE LAST JEDI, and love that film, hate it, feel meh about it, millions of people watched that movie. There was much discussion  in my family about what we liked and didn’t like (no spoilers, PROMISE!) And my daughter wondered why anyone would watch any more STAR WARS after seeing the prequels. (She did love the most recent). But again, STAR WARS is so much more than each individual movie. Every time I see those letters scroll up the movie screen and hear the opening music, I’m 8 years old again. STAR WARS is my childhood.

So why on EARTH am I talking about Star Wars and Coke on a website set up for writers? I mean, no one is expecting you to run out and be the Coke version of an author. But there’s still something to be learned.

AUDIENCE IS IMPORTANT. How your readers feel is IMPORTANT. When I open a novel from Stephen King, I know (at least some) of what I’ll get. When I open a book by Sarah Eden, I know (at least some) of what I’ll get.

Do people know what they’re getting from you? As much as I occasionally despise the idea of “branding” it is so important. Find your readers. Find your people. Be conscious of WHO will read your books, and how you want them to feel. Put thought into your posts, newsletters, social media, etc… This isn’t about you, this is about them.

I’m a very slow work-in-progress with this, but being mindful is the first step, right? RIGHT??

Happy Writing!

~ Jo

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IMG_9581Jolene talks about everything, but is most happy when encouraging other writers to be writers. She is the author of 8 traditionally published YA novels, and many indie published romance novellas and novels. She works as a freelance editor, interned with The Bent Agency, and is the current chair for the Storymakers Conference in Provo, UT.

You can find her at BeenWriting.com and joleneperry.com, or just hiding behind her laptop in her bathroom where she (occasionally) hopes to not be discovered by her family.

 

 

Wasted Words Aren’t a Thing

Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 7.58.09 AMI’ve deleted a lot of words.

I’ve left ENTIRE novels to rot on my hard drive.

I’ve re-written some of those “left to rot” novels without opening the original document. This is usually best.

I’ve cut chapters. Words. Characters. Places. Beginnings. Endings. Awkward sentences. Beautiful sentences. Soggy middles. Un-soggy middles…

I’ve re-organized and spent all day deleting and adding and then deleting and then adding… All on my way to some kind of finished product that’s worth seeing the light of day.

What’s sometimes hard to remember is that every word written, every scene, every chapter, every character, every terrible novel that I deleted, re-worked, cut, or left to rot, got me something. Several somethings:

  1. Helped me be a better editor.
  2. Gave me a more critical eye when it comes to my own work. (and WOW can this be hard)
  3. Helped me be unafraid to do a REAL revision instead of a patch revision (don’t shift your eyes, I think we’ve all done the “patch” revision instead of the real one – psst, they never work)
  4. Made me know that sometimes words, chapters, characters, threads, plots, should be left alone, and again, helped me be unafraid of starting over, of leaving things behind.
  5. Helped me to see those cut-able moments AS I’m writing.
  6. Lessened the fear of major changes in my manuscript.

The thing is – as long as we’re writing, we’re moving forward. People don’t start running and then head to a marathon. Every word we write is training. Some of those words stay. Some go. Some ideas stay. Some go. But they all help us further our writing goals, and they all get us a step closer to a finished product.

So. Next time you’re faced with the awful realization that your fav character doesn’t need to be there, or that the one super funny scene doesn’t quite fit, or that your book isn’t going to sell without a complete re-imagination, I hope you remember a few things:

  1. When you’re a writer, there’s no such thing as wasted words — just lots of steps that get you to your finished novel.
  2. There is no “right” way to start and finish a novel.
  3. Your process is your own.
  4. And there’s a reason that the phrase, “Kill Your Darlings” is so prevalent.

Happy Editing!

~ Jo

Jolene is an on and off literary intern, the chair for the 2018 Storymakers Conference, and a writer of both young adult and adult fiction. You can find her online HERE.

Set the MOOD…

Screen Shot 2017-06-09 at 2.47.15 PMPlay a game with me for a moment and pretend that you’re sitting in a movie theater, and a picture of a field, grass blowing in the wind comes into view.

Trailers for the new films have begun.  

The music starts, and immediately you know what kind of movie this is going to be – or you at least have an idea.

A certain type of score would have you looking on the horizon for zombies. Another would have you looking for a couple racing through the field, laughing and smiling together. Another would be the pre-empt to an explosion.

Take the examples of theater seating in the graphic – each one has a VERY different feel, even though they’re all theater seats.

Too bad we can’t supply our novels with scores, huh? And unless we’re picture book or graphic novel writers, we don’t get pictures either…

We’s stuk wif usin’ wordz.

I began re-reading Pet Sematary (Cemetery) by Stephen King, and it got me to thinking about mood.

What is it about the beginning of this book that sets the tone for a horror story?

I mean, really… Here’s the bullet list of what happens:

  • A family moves into a house.
  • They visit the friendly, elderly neighbors who offer them goodies and beer.
  • The kid happily explores the new house. The younger kid is unsure, or not born, or… I can’t remember now, I re-read a few months and SO many books ago…
  • The dad begins his job.
  • The family take a hike up a flowered hillside and through a lovely forest to a little cemetery where kids bury their pets.

So, why does the hair on my neck stand on end as I read about the family’s trek through the woods? Or when they cross the highway to their friends’ house? Or when the door creaks during the day? Or when the elderly neighbor is telling a story?

Is it because I know this is Stephen King?

Is it because the blurb revealed more information than blurbs normally do? (Random thing to never forget – sometimes MORE information can up the tension, not lessen it)

Is it the odd hints that the neighbor mentioned? Or the fact that a large truck had killed more than one living thing in front of the man’s new house?

Or is it more subtle? Is the tone hidden in subtext?

Did the author use words that aren’t used in general fiction but in horror?

The tone or mood of this book is created using ALL of these things. Given the bullet points of things that happen in the first third of that book, the novel could be a general fiction, literary fiction, coming of age, romance, MG adventure, almost anything… But because of the small clues laid out by the author, that novel sets up the horror from the beginning.

Mood comes from setting, language, actions, and thoughts of the MC, and the words the author chooses to use to convey those things.

What does your character notice in the room? Is it the pretty inspirational cross-stitched image? Or the knife that sits on the edge of the counter?

Do legs create a feathering caress as they cross, or do they cross like bent scissors?

Does your MC notice lips, eyes and build, or do they notice the escape routes in a room?

Very often an allusion or mention of death is made near the beginning of a horror or thriller. Very often the idea of kissing, swooning, love, or forevers is brought up in a romance. A hint of longing for something more interesting often accompanies the beginning of an adventure novel.

I still remember when I was in a class at a writing conference, and the teacher said – I always think about what I want the reader to feel when I sit down to write a scene.

And those words totally struck a chord with me, followed by a very loud DUH.

HOW DO I WANT MY READER TO FEEL WHEN THEY READ THIS SCENE? Excited to see the new guy the MC will notice? Anticipating the next clue? Covered in goosebumps afraid for the MC to move forward?

So.

Lay clues in movements, gestures, reactions, setting, dialogue, which all tie in to characterization. (YES, this post comes from a lover of fab characters).

Easy, right?

My two pieces of advice are this:

  1. Read first chapters (or whole novels, of course) of books similar in feel to yours.
  2. Study authors who are brilliant at subtext and craft.

Michelle Hodkin, V.E. Schwab, King, Gaiman, Laini Taylor, Adam Silvera, and Maggie Steifvater are all authors whose words I love. They’re all people whose novels have a very particular tone that is reflected in word choice EVERYWHERE, right from page one.

There are a TON more names that could be added to this list – I’d love to hear yours.

Happy Writing!

~ Jo

15542025_1223168831094378_3374041445764046667_nJolene Perry is the author of 9 nationally published YA titles. She edits queries at Quirks and Commas, and occasionally posts about writing, being a literary agent intern, and writerly life, on Been Writing? You can find Jo on her website HERE.

13 Ways to Get OUT of Your Writerly Funk

FUNKSometimes we have a retreat, and we want to write ALLLLLLL the words ALLLLL day, but we get there, and… our brains don’t cooperate.

Sometimes we’re trying to finish a project over several months time, and it’s just not…happening.

 

Here are few tips to help you reset and start writing again:

1. Take a break. I know there are a TON of writers who say you have to write every day. You do not have to write every day. And most importantly, you need to not feel guilty about taking breaks. (If you’re at a retreat, don’t be afraid to step away from the computer for a while).

2. Remember that publishing is not personal. Sometimes passes (the nice way to say rejections) can get you down, but you HAVE to keep in mind that it’s the RIGHT project, in front of the RIGHT person, at the RIGHT time. That’s a lot of things that have to fall into place for a YES. Move forward. Prove them wrong.

3. Sometimes we have this precious chunk of time – a couple hours with a babysitter, or away from work, or at a writing retreat, and the words just aren’t coming. Remember there are a TON of non-writing things you can do to move your MS forward. Character sketches, character and setting pictures, storyboards, use a pacing or plotting tool to set up where your story is going next… Just because you’re not putting WORDS into your story, doesn’t mean you’re not putting WORK into your story.

4. Pick ONE thing you know is coming up in your story, and write that – even if it doesn’t come next, which brings me to…

5. Don’t be afraid to write out of order. Now, if you write the ending early on, chances are you’ll have to redo it when you get there, but it gives you SOMETHING to write. Sometimes writing ANYTHING will lubricate that sticky brain.

6. THEATER EXERCISES! Look up breathing, and characterization exercises. Getting into your character’s head can be a brilliant way to unlock those words, which leads me to…

7. Write something unrelated from your MC’s point of view. Maybe an essay on their thoughts after the end of the novel. Maybe an essay or their thoughts on one of the things you’ve put in your story to torture them.

8. Ask yourself, Did I make this big enough? The plot, the plot points, my main character – will be people be rooting for this to work out? Is there something else I can do?

9. Set the mood: Gum, snacks, drinks, music, smells… Maybe go a step further and pick stuff your MC would like.

10. Prep before your writing time. Try to think ahead…

11. Set a timer – YOU HAVE TO WRITE ANYTHING FOR XX MINUTES, and then you can break.

12. MOVE YOUR BODY. I promise that moving your body, lubricates your mind. Yoga, walking, stretching, running, swimming, biking… Bonus if it’s something your MC would like too 😉

13. DON’T PANIC. Finding yourself in a funk happens to everyone 🙂

HAPPY WRITING!!

~ Jolene

17361785_1313033622107898_5983686946276267719_nJolene Perry writes YA fiction for AW Teen and Simon Pulse. She writes about writing on BEEN WRITING? And you can stalk her on her website HERE. She’s also the vice-chair for the LDStorymakers Conference. YOU SHOULD COME…. Join the Tribe…

 

 

Author Websites 101

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You want to be published? You want to have a career as a writer? Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re building your website. Because you NEED a website. And your website should show you’re a professional–even if you’re a goofy one.

INFORMATION:

YOU – A biography. On my site I have a brief bio on the front page, and a more in-depth one later on. You need an author photo that wasn’t taken by your child or by your phone held at arm’s length. Professionalism counts.

YOUR BOOKS – What they are and where to find them. I like to have one page with everything, and then individual pages for each novel so I can talk about inspiration or share bits of trade reviews – I LOVE it when other authors do this. If you write in different genres, separating by genres is smart. And just like a resume, put the most recent up first – you may argue w/ me if you’re writing a series, but otherwise? Most recent book gets top billing.

EVENTS OR APPEARANCES – Even release dates, or cover release dates… Sometimes it’s more about making yourself LOOK busy and/or important. Yes, I just said that. I’ve seen authors write up things like – attending launch party for XXX, which is promo for the both of you – WIN-WIN)

LINKS TO SOCIAL MEDIA – You don’t have to take on the whole world in social media. Choose what works for you and keep your audience in mind (Yes, this could be a post on its own. Maybe several).

LINKS TO BLOG – If you blog, if you group blog…

AN OFFER TO SIGN UP FOR A NEWSLETTER – If you have one. The pros and cons of this would be much better discussed by someone other than myself 😉

THE FEEL OF THE SITE:

You’re selling YOU. You need to have a website that reflects both you and what you write. Your website could/should follow the feel of your stories, but as more people branch out into more genres, the more important it is to have a website that encompasses YOU, and second, what you write.

A few examples:

I wanted to show Lindsey Leavitt’s site because she writes in several genres. Now, if she wanted to build a site specifically for a series, awesome! She can link to it from the site that is about HER.

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Her tagline, right at the top, tells you what you’re in for. Social media is easy to find, and her tabs help readers of different genres find what they’re looking for. The colors are bright and fun, and match the tone of her book covers. www.lindseyleavitt.com Just under her header – fab white space (I’ll show examples later on).

Maggie Stiefvater’s website is also fab. Her novels/series are all quite different, so her website is neutral. Want more info on a series? She has links for that. The rotating headers all involve MAGGIE and things she likes as a person rather than as an author. Just under the lovely headers is very simple with lots of white space.

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OK. We’re not all Brandon Sanderson, but this is his sidebar:

All of his upcoming events are right on the landing page. No one needs to hunt around on his website to find his fan club or where he’s going to be next.

Simple and brilliant. AND the artwork falls in line with his books without taking over the site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How beautiful is KATHRYN PURDIE’S SITE??? I know right away what she writes from the background, but it’s so subtle! I love it.

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And then it gets even better when you press ENTER:

All her links are interesting, and there’s some great info here without this feeling overwhelming.

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And now we’ll talk about – THE WHITESPACE. Cluttered sites are SO hard to navigate. Kathryn Purdie put this subtle background in instead of white space, which I think works SUPER well, but it’s so easy for a website to be so busy that visitors don’t know where to direct their attention.

Veronica Roth’s website does a brilliant job with clean white space:

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Jennifer Weiner’s site is gorgeous, simple, and you can see how effective white space can be – even at the bottom of her landing page (BELOW):

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I will readily admit that I’m a sucker for simplicity, but ANDREW HARWELL’S site? Simple & interesting. He wears a lot of different hats, so simple is going to be better.

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My best advice to you is this:

Go to a TON of websites of authors you admire. Authors who write what you do. Authors who write something completely different from what you write. Take note of what works. What doesn’t work. And then spend some time thinking about how you can tailor what works, to yourself. You may need to hire a designer. You definitely need more eyes than just your own.

My inspiration for today’s post came from the fact that I really want to re-work my own site. Something I’ll be tweaking over the holiday break 🙂

Happy designing!

~ J0

Jolene Perry has written young adult titles for Entangled/Macmillan, Albert Whitman Teen, and Simon Pulse. She is represented by Jane Dystel of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. You can find her on her BLOG, her WEBSITE, or chillin’ with her family in Alaska (pun intended).

Reading for Agents: What I’ve learned (so far)

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-8-03-07-pmSince May I’ve read over 30 full submissions for AGENT X. I have learned so so so so so much. Now, I’m a huge believer in the importance of reading good published works, but this has been (and continues to be) an awesome experience.

IF you’re curious about what genres  I’ve read:   Adult Historical Fantasy, YA Urban Fantasy, YA Sci/Fi Dystopian, YA Fantasy II, YA Historical ghost story, MG Fantasy II, YA Fantasy III, YA Thriller IIIII, YA Contemp, YA Magical Realism, Literary II, YA Historical Magical Realism, YA/Adult paranormal, NA, Romance II, General, memoir, non-fic, Historical Thriller

I recommended Agent X sign 7, give an R&R to 2, and pass on the rest.

Now. I know that there is NO WAY Agent X is going to sign all 7 of those people, but when I love something, I’m gonna say yes – that is AGENT X’s cue to maybe read the MS and to research the author. My guess is that Agent X signs between 1-4 clients a year, and I’ve given X twice that many in three months.

A few things I learned:

  1. There are a TON of amazing ideas out there – but don’t always have the solid writing to go with them.
  2. There are some incredible writers out there – people who put words together in SUCH interesting ways – but can’t tell a story that’s going to sell.
  3. An MFA does not equal a good writer. I read just as many AH-mazing books from non-MFA holding people as MFA holders, and I read just as many terrible books from MFA holders as non-MFA holders. The lesson? You get out of your MFA what you put into it, and you get out of your work on craft what you put into it.
  4. Your book needs to have a readership. You have to know WHO your target reader is.

TOP REASONS I RECOMMENDED A PASS:

  1. Sometimes books are good. The story is good. The writing is good. But it lacks something indefinable, and those are the most frustrating because there’s nothing “wrong” for the author to work on.
  2. CHARACTERIZATION IS KEY. I don’t care how well thought out the world and the plot is, if the character’s motivations aren’t clear enough (or feel convenient to the plot, which I see a lot of), the book probably won’t sell.
  3. A LOT of submissions fall flat after the first 50 pages or so. If you’re getting a lot of passes, invest in edits that go beyond the first 50.
  4. Too many things happening in the plot without the author bringing the reader into each of those things.
  5. Too many scenes in a row that have the same characters on the same slow build.
  6. TOO MANY COINCIDENCES – You’re allowed ONE, maaaaaayyybe two.
  7. More than one novel’s worth of story in a novel–I read a few with interweaving storylines that were so different, they’d appeal to very different audiences. Or books that try to cram 2 novels worth of story into one.
  8. Too many holes in the basic premise.
  9. Too many inconsistencies with reality.

What made me recommend a YES:

When I recommend a YES, it’s because the novel is the perfect marriage of a marketable interesting idea that snags and holds my interest to the end. It’s one with rich characters who are relatable but different. One with solid, good writing (no lazy descriptions or emotions). A story that’s different enough to be unique, but familiar enough to find comps and to be relatable. The novel has EVERYTHING. Nothing gives me pause or hesitation about the characters, the plot, or the world.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER:

Every novel that’s been traditionally published with an agent found the right agent at the right time, and then the right editor at the right time… And then the HOPE is that it’ll be the right time for the audience.

All that tedious work that feels like your book will take FOR-EVER? That’s often the difference between people who are published and people who aren’t. There will always be exceptions. But put the work in, get the feedback, and GO FORTH AND CONQUER!

~ Jo