Category Archives: Author Advice

Fulfilling your contract: So, what is an “option book” anyway?

For the past two weeks I have been working on the “option book” as required by my contract.

What is an option book?

My contract with Month9Books was for a three book series with an option for the fourth.  That means I agreed to write three complete novels. (Already done. Yay!) Once those are done, the publisher has the “option” to request a fourth book.

The next step in the process for me was to provide a summary for the fourth book (This will vary by publisher and by author/book. I have friends who have been asked for outlines, first chapters, first fifty pages, etc.)

So, in my mind, I figured they just wanted a rough idea of what I had in mind. After all, they have three books from me already, right? They are familiar with my writing style.

So what I did was write out a rough, fairly detailed outline.  This is very similar to how I would start any book … just hitting on the key points, figuring I would fill in all the “holes” as I write (Which is my normal process.)

Since I had two large signing events back to back weekends before this was due, I shot it off two weeks early so I could check something off my to-do list.  Yay! I felt accomplished!

Imagine my surprise when the next morning I got an email from Month9Books, asking for a phone meeting that same day.

Yikes!

Well… I found out that I hadn’t quite done my summary right. What they were looking for was a complete, highly detailed summary so they would know, without a shadow of a doubt, that this would be a book they would want to contract even before I had written it.

So then started the conversation … Why did this happen?  What about this? Did you realize that this part contradicts that part? What does this scene even look like? Why? Who? Which? Huh? Etc, Etc, Etc…

As humiliating as this sounds, I found it incredibly useful.  My editor was able to see problems in the manuscript before I had even written it. (This is the kind of stuff my beta readers would see later and I would have to fix) She asked questions that got my wheels turning, and we came up with ideas together to strengthen scenes before they were even written, and come up with a few that weren’t even there yet.

Now I have pages and pages of notes to strengthen my story.  Total score.

Due to the extremely intricate nature of the book I am proposing, my next step is to submit a detailed timeline. Since a few things happen at the same time, she needs to see how the timelines run together, and how they intersect.  I have one month to do this.

This is a lot harder to do this that it might seem, since the book isn’t even written yet. Like I said earlier, I usually plot only major points in the story, and then I write each day trying to get my characters to that point.  A lot of my ideas come “on the fly”. Coming up with them when I’m not completely engrossed in the story?  Really, really hard.

Think GirlBut what this exercise is forcing me to do, is to really THINK about the story scenes, and how they interrelate.  I am finding that I need another scene here, another there. There is not enough time for this scene in this spot. I need to move it over here… and so on. I am really glad they asked for this exercise, because there is a lot to this story, and as she told me, “We need to nail this or it will bite us.” Nope, don’t wanna be bitten.

So, that’s what I’m working on at the moment. Once this is done, if they take the option, it will be interesting to see if this extremely detailed timeline, summary, and subsequent notes from our phone meeting help me to write faster, of if they will stifle my creative mojo.

How detailed a plan do you come up with before you start writing?

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A tiny fish swimming in a pond filled with dino-sized fish. A recap of BookCon. (With pictures!)

It is almost a week now since BookCon. It seems like a dream. Like it didn’t happen.

I realize most of you probably have not been to BookCon, so let me try to paint a picture. While I expected it to be “big” and I expected there to be lines… Well, let’s just say being prepared, and then actually experiencing it are two very different things.

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One of my big take-aways:

The Star Wars Panel - the only one I could get in to

The Star Wars Panel – the only one I could get in to

Reading IS NOT DEAD. And to many people, authors are better than rock stars. Book fans will wait in line for an hour in the morning to get a ticket for the privilege to stand in line again a half hour before an afternoon event, just to hear their favorite author speak.

(This would also entail getting to the venue before it opens, and standing in line to be one of the first people through the door) They will also show up an hour early to get a wrist band or ticket to secure their place in line so their favorite author can sign their books.

And people were signing. And signing. And signing.

"Backstage" during my interview with BookTuber Ginger Reads Lainey

“Backstage” in the press area during my interview with BookTuber Ginger Reads Lainey

It was hard, at times, to walk through the event because everywhere you turned there were lines wrapped around the booths (I didn’t think to take pics of the lines. I wish I did.)

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Readers flocking to the Simon and Schuster booth

Booths ranged from the small one-table displays with banners (Where I was) to huge structures that felt like walking into a building all its own, complete with sitting areas inside.

And thousands of readers were in those booths.

It was pretty cool to think that all these people loved books enough that they traveled, some coming from huge distances, and paid $35.00 to get into an event showing books, and only books.

So, how did my signing go?

Being a teeny weeny guppy in a pond filled with gold-plated mackerel, I think I did pretty well. There were some pretty big names signing at the same time I did, but people still came (Thanks!)

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There’s Miss Jennifer taking care of the selling. Good thing. I was waaay too nervous

I had the lovely Jennifer Million from Month9Books beside me selling books, and the three outgoing ladies holding up my book and waving people in. (Annie Cosby, Sophie, and Lindsay Leggett: You guys rocked it!)

I met a lot of readers who had contacted me through social media after they read Fire in the Woods. Some came with their books for me to sign, and others picked up second copies so they could have signed ones. I would say that 50% of the books I signed were people who had already heard of Fire in the Woods, and the other 50% were walk-ups.

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There’s the Lovely Annie near the back of the line, holding a book in the air and waving people in line. Her shoulders must have been on fire!

 

When I first got there, the Month9Book Squad plumped down about twenty books in front of me. About 30 minutes into the signing I was down to three books and they re-loaded the table. I’m not sure how many books I signed, but I would guess 30 or so during my 45 minute time slot.

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Right before they reloaded the table with books

 

Not too shabby.

My lines were definitely not starting a traffic jam, but I was pretty stoked when I looked up a few times to see people waiting.

Boocon with fan

This girl was adorable. She came up to the booth while there was no one there, looked at the back cover copy of Fire in the Woods, and asked her dad if she could buy it. I signed her book for her, and about ten minutes later she came running back and asked for a picture. I wish I could remember her name!

Shout out to all the parents dropping money on books for their kids. Kudos to you for supporting a healthy reading habit!

Bookcon5All in all, I’d say it was a great day. I had the opportunity to meet fans, and hopefully introduced the book to new fans.

As a newly published author, I took in the lines waiting for fiction superstars with a sense of awe. I’ve always been motivated and driven, but now … well, now I’m even more so.

Bookcon3Now I’m looking to increasing my catalog and broadening my reach. The only difference between us guppies and the gold-plated mackerel is number of books and numbers of readers.

I already have a very well received book. Now I need to get that book into more hands. How am I going to do that?  Yeah… I’m working on it.

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Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper #1: World Building

 Woo-hoo! As promised, here is the first of a running series of posts to help you “get past the gatekeeper” and have your submission read by the actual agent/editor you sent your baby to, and not just the intern. I’ll be popping in with my own comments. I’ll be in pink, because I feel totally pink today.

Are ya ready? Well, here we goooooo…

Get past the gatekeeper

Think GirlBased on personal experience as a first-reader intern for a literary agency, I’m sharing what can get your manuscript past the gatekeeper (the intern!) and into the hands of the agent.

 

Mistake number one:

ADDRESS WORLD BUILDING ISSUES

Note from Jennifer: World building!  We’ve talked about this!  We need to ground our readers in the setting, right? Well, that’s not just me yapping. Here it is coming from a lady who REJECTED MANUSCRIPTS for this very reason!  Read on, fine folks, read on!

This was Donna’s feedback to the agent on the very first manuscript she read:

My First Reader Notes To The Agent: “The writer began with wonderful descriptive details drawing on all senses and then she just stopped – and I stopped reading. She stopped grounding us in the world of her story.”

Okay, stop here guys.  Think this over a minute. And I mean be serious with yourself…

Could there be a richness missing in your manuscript? Answer questions like these: Where are we? Another town? A different world? Are these places what we know, but different? What are the differences?

We also need to ground the reader in the story, otherwise they are lost. Where are your characters in the scene?

EXAMPLES:

Are they outside? “The earth was all gravel beneath my feet.”

Are they in a tunnel? “The stale air threatened to choke me.”

Through dialogue you can show time and distance.

EXAMPLE:  “Tom’s house was two miles away…takes a day’s walk to get there…I hadn’t been back since last fall.”

All stories happen somewhere. Whether you write fantasy, science fiction, or even about the “real world,” world building is key to creating a meaningful story. World building is so that your characters have a backdrop to live, work, and engage! Your favorite books, movies, and TV shows all involve world building. Putting the time into it will improve your writing and enrich your story. No need to give all the details…readers love to fill in the blanks with their imagination. One detailed street in a town can give us the entire town’s flavor.

Alien EweWorld building is just as important for a contemporary teen story set in Wisconsin as it in an alien universe. Why? Because life in a Wisconsin small town is foreign to someone who grew up in the big city of L.A. or NYC. If your character puts cheese on his pie, we may understand that’s part of the world of his Wisconsin town, not L.A.

 
World building is more than “setting,” it covers everything in that world. Money, clothing, land boundaries, tribal customs, building materials, transportation, sex, food and more.

Remember, you’re not writing an encyclopedia but a story with flesh and blood characters put through challenges. Story comes first. World building supports the story.

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WORLD BUILDING TIPS:

  1. Create a story bible of the elements and details in your story.
  2. Build as you go.
  3. Inspiration? Use photos/cut-out collages.
  4. Make sure your details are relevant and have meaning.
  5. Not sure what to cut? Ask yourself when adding in world building elements to your story: does it move the plot along? Does it connect to the theme? Does it support the growth of the characters?
  6. Draw a map to ground yourself and your readers, even if your story occurs in one place.
  7. Build worlds that interest you.
  8. World building supports mood, theme, conflict, character, culture, and setting.

Now go. Build your world! It may help you get past the gatekeeper.

Great stuff, huh? Donna will be popping in to answer questions. This is a rare opportunity to ask someone that’s been inside the trenches, so please take advantage while I have her all tied up graciously offering her assistance for the good of all.

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About Donna: Donna Galanti is the author of A Human Element and A Hidden Element (Imajin Books), the first two award-winning, bestselling books in the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series Joshua and The Lightning Road (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs at Project Mayhem. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. Visit her at www.donnagalanti.com.

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About Joshua and the Lightning Road:

Twelve-year-old Joshua Cooper learns the hard way that lightning never strikes by chance when a bolt strikes his house and whisks away his best friend—possibly forever. To get him back, Joshua must travel the Lightning Road to a dark world where stolen human kids are work slaves ruled by the frustrated heirs of the Greek Olympians who come to see Joshua as the hero prophesied to restore their lost powers. New friends come to Joshua’s aid and while battling beasts and bandits and fending off the Child Collector, Joshua’s mission quickly becomes more than a search for his friend—it becomes the battle of his life.

 

No, I am not crazy. I’m just really, really anal.

Last week I posted an article about word clouds and how you can use them to spot overused words.

One of the comments, from a dear friend and fantastic author, was this:

Think GirlOk, 300 – 400 times out of 80,000+ words? That’s like what, .005% of your words are the same? seriously woman? You crack me up. 

It got me thinking. “Am I crazy?”

Well yes. Just ask my kids.

But also, no.

I don’t look at 400 occurrences as .005% of the words being the same. My mind calculates the problem as “that word appears at least once a page”.

But, you might say, the words won’t be on EVERY page.  Yes. This is true. However, that means if I skip one page, there might be a page somewhere that has the overused word twice in it. Even worse if there are places where the word might appear more than twice on a page.

And in my worst nightmares, something like this happens. This is an actual screenshot of a page in on of my manuscripts, pre-editing.

1 book page

.

Here is the thing: Repetitive use of a word stands out to the reader. Especially when the words appear close together.

As a rule, I try not to use a word more than once every ten pages.

Say_What

Well, that’s what I shoot for. It doesn’t always happen. If I can’t do ten pages (and I try very hard to hit this mark) I try to not repeat in less than five pages.

On rare occasion, I do go less.  But 5-10 pages is what I shoot for.

Is it crazy?

It can take me a week to get rid of a very frequently used word. Sometimes when I’m doing this kind of edit I want to give up and not care… but the end product is unbelievably worth it. I find myself rethinking paragraphs. I find new and interesting ways to describe things. Being this detail oriented takes my writing to a whole new level.

Crazy? Yes.

But for me, it’s a good kind of crazy.cropped-fire-banner-final2.png

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Even after you’ve learned everything you could possibly learn – Find ways to learn more @SJWriters

Helpful_RemindersLast week I attended a talk at SJWG given by fellow Month9Books author Donna Galanti.

It is always interesting to hear how other authors clawed their way through the world of publishing.

But what really stuck out to me, was when Donna discussed some of the mistakes she saw authors make while she was working for an agent. Her job was to cull down submissions and decide which would be read by the actual agent the authors had submitted to.

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While most of the mistakes were obvious to me, a few were obvious… but not so obvious at the same time. They gave me pause.

Had I done that in my current first draft?

Maybe. But maybe not.

Maybe._Maybe_not._00000

Today, I’m going back to a particular scene in my new book, and deciding if a section is “tell” or not. I don’t think it is, but a few things she said made me at least want to go back, take the scene out of context, and decide if it is a valid introspection at that point in the story, or am I forcing information.

Likewise, I have a string of dialog that is there for the sole purpose of explaining where the mother is. I believe that there is a valid reason for this conversation to happen at this point—but again, I want to make sure.

Helpful_Reminders

I guess the “gist” of what I am trying to say is this:  Even after you’ve sold multiple novels, sometimes it helps to listen to people tell you things you already know. That may sound incredibly stupid, but sometimes it helps (at least it helps me) to get kicked in the butt and reminded sometimes.

Writing is art. Art evolves. Listening to others speak about the craft, reiterates what I already know, and helps me make sure that my art does not devolve into the mess it was what I first started out.

Happy_Writing!

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What do you do when your conflict doesn’t work?

Ugh!  I am working off a very loose outline for my book ASHES IN THE SKY, the sequel to FIRE IN THE WOODS that releases September 23, 2014.

Here I am, cruising along with about 100 pages written, and the bad guy starts discussing the reason for being bad.   Ugh_Back_to_the_drawing_board

It totally fell flat.  I mean, the whole idea sounded great in my head. He had a perfectly good reason for doing what he was about to do. I even sympathized with him… until I wrote it all out and read it on the page.

It just seemed… I don’t know… STUPID.

Now I don’t know WHAT to do.

After stewing over it for quite a while, I just skipped to the end of the scene, and kept writing.  Hopefully I will work it all out.

I really HATE doing that, because I find my writing is much more fluid if I write chronologically.  Now, I will need to go back a rewrite that chapter from scratch.

I’m NOT feeling good about it.

Has this ever happened to you… and idea tat sounded great in your head just didn’t work once you wrote it and read it back to yourself?

Jennifer___Eaton

Editing Under Pressure. Yes, It can be done #2

I am knee deep in the content edits for my new novel FIRE IN THE WOODS. The turn-around on the editing is KILLER.

So far, I’ve done okay. Easy changes to make the plot-lines flow more smoothly.

Then I got to the hard stuff.

The editor mentioned three words she felt were over used. So I went back and revised them to a minimum.  However, in doing this, I made notes of what I changed those words to in order to make sure I did not overuse these new words as well.

Ugh.

This is when the editing became a nightmare.  Each overused word I found, I changed. If it was a new word, I added it to the list to check later.

In the end, I had a list of 94 words to check. Each time I made a change, if it was a new word, I added it to the list. My goal was to use the words no more than once every twenty pages. Now, I have to admit they got a little closer than that at the end. There are just so many ways to explode something. But this process was long and tedious for me.

This led to long nights and a weekend behind the computer.

Okay, maybe I did NOT need to do this now. This kind of thing is normally not part of the content edit, but now that I saw the problem, I could not send it back until it was fixed. The perfectionist in me just wouldn’t allow it.

Seriously___Come_on..._Seriously___00000

I mean seriously: Do characters have to shake their heads/hands/or other extremities 94 times?

For your own search-and-destroy pleasure, here is the list of 94 words, and the rabbit trail that followed. Not all of these words were overused, but most of them were. For instance, “spewed” only appears once in my manuscript, but it was a word that I used to replace something else.

My challenge:  Take a look for these in your own manuscripts. Some involving explosions may not apply to everyone, but some of the everyday words might surprise you.  Try to use them only once every 20 pages and feel my pain.

Dang/Darn/Dernit

Shoot

Wow

Woa

Holy cow

Yikes

Sheesh

Geeze

Crap

God/Oh God

Say

Boy

Funny

Screamed

Howled

Shriek

Flinch

Gritted

Trembled

Adjusted

Moved

Shrugged

Pushed

Gazed

Scared

Terrified

Beckoned

Reeled

Burned

Itched

Seared

Handling

Recoiled

Throbbed

Spewed

Echoed

Yearn

Warn

Shuddered

Quaked

Bite cheek

Straighten

Eyes wide

Gape

Hunch

Looked

Spread

Slid

Churn

Singed

Shoved

Shimmied

Shiver

Tremor

Begged

Darkened

Strode

Startled

Gasp

Gulp

Alarmed

Chilled

Dumfounded

Frightened

Petrified

Wheezed

Whimpered

Sigh

Succumb

Groan

Moan

Grunted

Hitch

Shouted

Wailed

Stared

Shift weight

Thunder

Shook

Exhale

Finger

Grimaced

Slumped shoulders

Rub temples

Clenched

Puffed

Spoke

Hollered

Yelled

Called

Barked

Huffed

Sneered

Grumbled

I’ve already handed in my edits, and just reading over that list again made me tired.

What words do you tend to overuse?

_JenniFer____EatoN

Editing Under Pressure. Yes, It can be done #1

My first round edits came back for FIRE IN THE WOODS, which has been contracted with a three-month deadline to publication.  I took a deep breath, knowing that the completed edits were due back in FIVE DAYS.

Yikes!

I was pretty surprised, though.  This is the content edit phase, and they asked for very few changes.  In one spot, they thought the father should have reacted more quickly.  I fixed this simply by editing the dialog a smidge.

The next thing they said, which made me sweat a little, was that they didn’t buy the reason why my MC was afraid of another character. So I thought this over, and realized they were right when they said it felt like a forced conflict.  I really hadn’t developed that secondary character at all. He was too flat, and had no history.

Soooo

So I thought over why she might be afraid of him, and gave him a 100 word history based on a strategically placed inner thought/flashback.  I have to admit, this little change really gave both the MC and the secondary character depth.

Another thing I had to fix was a product of the multiple revisions this manuscript has seen over time.  Jess comes to a conclusion about “what’s going on” with no reason for it.  After thinking it over, she had a very good reason to come to this conclusion. The problem was, I never let the reader in as to HOW she came to this conclusion.  Again, an easy fix with a simple inner thought right before she comes to that little epiphany that drives the story onward.

The other changes were simple. A missing word here or there.

Then I hit the OMG part. And I will admit, this was totally MY DOING. In the spirit of always keeping my posts short, I’ll tell you all about it in my next segment. This is something I usually check for. I don’t even know how I missed it.

JenniFer_EatonF

The Big Announcement! Jennifer M. Eaton signs with @Month9Books for YA SciFi FIRE IN THE WOODS Series

Yay!  Today’s the big day!

I’m thrilled to announce that my young adult contemporary science fiction novel FIRE IN THE WOODS has been contracted with Month9Books for release September 23, 2014.

Did you catch that?

September 2014!!!

Yes, I’m a little stressed, because most books being signed right now are pushing out to late 2015 or 2016, but in my editor’s words (answering a tweet from someone saying how fast that was…)

“Whew! Can ONLY do when work comes in nearly perfect shape. Even then, whew!”

Wow. Nearly perfect shape? I’m still tingling.  Awe, Heck. I think I’ll just show your the entire Twitter stream, before the official announcement was made, so there is no mention yet of my name, or the title of the book.

Twitter Stream

 Wow. Just Wow.

You can’t even imagine what public tweets like that are doing to my ego.

Mostly, though, I’m holding my head and trying to not fall off this fast moving train I’ve suddenly (and a little unexpectedly) found myself on.

Now, that is not to say that I don’t have a whole lot of work ahead of me. My editing timeline is KILLER

Wait! There’s more!

Did you catch the last word in the title?

SERIES.

Yup. Month9Books has contracted a series of 3 FIRE IN THE WOODS books, with an option for a fourth. The first will release in September, 2014, and the next two will release in 2015.

Being that I don’t even have concepts for a second and third book, and the second book is due in two and a half months, and the third book due four months later –

Wow

I am in for a heck of a roller coaster ride.  No – Other than plotting out how many words (YIKES) I will have to type a day, I have NO IDEA how I am going to pull it off.

Be prepared for a stream of FREAK OUT posts to fill you in on how I’m doing.

Here we go.  The roller coaster ride has officially started!

Wahoooo!

_JenniFer____EatoN

How to Publish Topic #4: Qualified Small Houses

I will admit, this is my sweet spot.  Qualified Small Houses are the up and comers that have the big-guys quaking in their boots.  Some of these people have jumped ship from bigger houses.  Some are experts in their fields, while others are succeeding because they are not afraid to break the rules.

These companies have the ability to do everything that the bigger houses do, without the name recognition of the larger houses.  Royalty rates, in general, are higher, and contract terms (in some cases) are easier to swallow.

While these companies may not have the big sales forces of the large houses, that’s not stopping them from publishing best sellers. Not only that, these houses still see the value in MARKETING, and not just the big titles.  They back every book that they publish.

The list of these little gems is not as long as some other lists, because there are not as many “independent publishers” that can boast best sellers. If you know of any that are not on my list, please let me know so I can add them.

Ellora’s Cave (Romance only – Could be considered a big-guy these days.)

Entangled (Strong Romantic Elements Required)

GMMG (Month9Books, Swoon Romance, Tantrum Books)

Lyrical Press (Recently acquired by Kennsington – Romantic Elements Required)

JenniFer_EatonF