Monday, February 22, 2016

Happy Pub Day!

Happy publication day to Taylor Zajonc and his debut sea adventure, THE WRECKING CREW, which releases tomorrow!  

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I love thrillers that keep me on the edge of my seat, and there is definitely nothing expected in this story, which when I first read, I found myself mentally pitching as an underwater Indiana Jones.  Enjoy Taylor's interview below and be sure to pick up a copy of the book!



For everyone who doesn't know, tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to start writing.

I'm a nautical historian and shipwreck expert, I've done everything from accompany a Titanic expedition to dive the deepest wooden shipwreck ever discovered. (You can read more about this on my blog: expeditionwriter.com). A few years ago, I was part of a underwater search effort that uncovered a number of World War 2-era German submarines. In my efforts to identify these U-boats, I became absolutely transfixed by the era's submarine captains ... young, brave men, largely (though not completely) apolitical to the machinations of the Nazi empire who served with distinction despite overwhelming odds and the worst attrition rate out of any service in the German military. I wondered to myself - could such a young, charismatic, intelligent, tragic figure exist in our world? It was the genesis of main character Jonah Blackwell and the series THE WRECKING CREW. I've been writing for years, but I believe that inspiration combined with a greater command of craft and passion for the subject propelled this project into publication.

After the contract was signed, were there any unexpected aspects of the publishing process that surprised you?

I had to get used to being a little out of the loop. Ultimately, it was a good thing - do you really want your agent telling you about every single lunch meeting where she pitches your book? Do you want your publisher going through printing and distribution logistics with you on a daily basis? Of course not! I learned it's best to simply continue moving forward and trust that everybody was doing their utmost at every step. That being said, it was very easy to trust the fantastic team we put together for this project! 

How do you think your manuscript has changed since you started working with your editor?

I was lucky - the editor was very much on board for the story and the way I told it right from the beginning. Kristy Makansi at Blank Slate did an amazing job of bringing out the best in the story, making sure each sentence read as well as it possibly could. I live and breathe this subject matter, so she was also awesome about helping me translate all my obscure nautical jargon into normal people words! 

Did you feel like you were involved in the various stages your book went through?  What kind of input did you have and do you think that is an experience unique to working with an indie press?

Working with an indie press was a great experience. I never felt like just another author, they made sure I knew that this project was just as critical to them as it was to me. They kept me at the absolute center of every step in the process and treated me like their biggest priority at every stage. I can't say I've ever worked with one of the larger publishers - but I can say nothing beats being able to "cc" an entire company when you have a question! 

What part of the publication process has been the most interesting/fun? What part has been the hardest?

My favorite part of this entire process has been the new connections and friends I've made through publishing. It provided me a reason and an avenue through which to contact authors and other figures I had admired from afar since my childhood. I was blown away by how open, kind and supportive they were to this project - even total strangers! 

For me - honestly - the hardest part is stopping to smell the roses. I am always moving forward, always working on the next project, the next expedition, the next idea. I'm the type of person who will finish a novel, have an hour to kill and start the next one. But I'm lucky to have people in my life like my wife, who forces me to slow down and take stock of what I've accomplished, even if I'm totally unaware of it myself. 

What have you had to do to promote your book?  What kind of social media do you think has been the most important in publicizing THE WRECKING CREW?

I am all about making a personal connection, getting as specific as possible. Rather than a generalized marketing strategy, I've been narrowly targeting people and communities that are already fanatical about submarines, history, shipwrecks, adventure and the underwater world. Facebook has been a powerful way of connecting with these communities. I think it's paid off - THE WRECKING CREW has the best presales and largest print run ever done by the publisher. Long term? We'll have to see, but I have high hopes. 

Anything that new authors can learn from your experiences?

Where to begin? The internet is so full of (mostly) wonderful advice on how to write well, learn the industry and ultimately publish. If I were to say one thing, it would be this: cynicism is overrated. Be earnest. Nobody else is going to be excited about your writing if you're dismissive or don't take it seriously. We're cynical to protect our hearts; especially in an industry as difficult and competitive as publishing. Even the best among us will face a gauntlet of disinterest or rejection. Be smart about things, but don't be afraid to keep your heart on your sleeve ... people will respond to that, especially readers.

You recently signed another contract with Blank Slate for a sequel.  Can you tell us a little bit about what we can expect to read next?

If you loved THE WRECKING CREW, I have some fantastic news for you! The sequel is well underway and you hopefully won't have to wait too long before it comes out. In fact, you hardly have to wait at all--we snuck the first two chapters of the sequel into the end of this book so you can get a head start as the adventure continues! 

What's a fun fact about yourself?

I'm a new dad! Little Samuel Oliver Zajonc is going to turn one month old just a couple days before our February 23 release date. Balancing baby and book has been tough but rewarding - I wouldn't trade either for the world. 

I'm so excited about THE WRECKING CREW and hope you are all, too!  

Monday, February 15, 2016

Three Fun Things

Three fun things to report this week!

1. I am on Twitter and I like it.  For the longest time, I held off on joining Twitter because it seemed ridiculous that anyone would want 140-character updates on my life (which just goes to show that I will never be a successful tech investor) and then once it became clear Twitter was NOT ridiculous, because I didn't want to have to manage another social media account.  

I am really enjoying using it, though, and the #mswl is awesome!  I've already had someone send me something I'm really excited about after using it, so I'm going to try to post something once a week.  

Follow me @literarycarrie to stay up to date!

2. New client!!!  This has been in the works for awhile, but is now official: I am representing Marcus Alexander Hart and his hilarious YA book, ALEXIS VS. THE AFTERLIFE.  We connected during Brenda Drake's Pitch Wars, and I can't wait to send his manuscript out...it's a snarky, fantasy-filled romp that I hope happens to me after I die!

3. I got chocolate candy molds for Valentine's Day, which means there are caramel chocolates in everyone's future!!!*


*(Depending on my innate chocolate-making skills)

Other than that, just scrambling to send a million things out on submission.  For some reason, everything is ready to sent out RIGHT NOW and I'm building a bit of a pile up as I work on lining up editors for each one.  It doesn't help that I've had a very weird ear infection for the past few days...every couple minutes, it feels like a lymph node behind my ear is being very angrily pinched. 

Don't forget: if you have any questions you want me to answer, post them in the comments section with the hashtag #IHAVEAQUESTION!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Query Critique Winner

Daniel was lucky #8 this query critique go-around!  Here is his original query below:

Hi Carrie,

I’m writing to you to seek representation for my upper middle-grade fantasy adventure novel, “The Princess of Tangled Days”, complete at 83,000 words.

Little Princess Athlendora never sleeps past sunrise, yet no one ever knows just when she’ll wake up.

That’s because for the princess, days don't follow one after another like they do for you and me. Oh, her body may look the same each morning, but her mind and her memories?  They’re always from some random point in her future or her past.

Athlendora has been cursed, you see. Cursed to live all the days of her life out of order, so that from her perspective the world has always been little but a swirling confusion, where people and places—even her own body-- are never the same from one day to the next. It’s little wonder she never learned to speak, little wonder she lies in bed staring blankly on her best days, or flails in terror at anyone who comes near on her worst.

But then 12-year-old Mattie, an orphaned, lonely scullery maid, is sent to assist in the royal chambers, and this lowborn, stuttering servant girl manages to accomplish what the kingdom’s best physicians, priests or astrologers never could: Mattie finds a way to connect Athlendora’s disparate days to one another... and begins to teach her.  In the course of just a few weeks (weeks with more than the average share of glowing hedgehogs, secret tunnels, murderous cooks and killer crows) these two luckless children develop a unique bond that, in a way, spans an entire lifetime.  But... when the very same witch that cursed the princess marshals a foul army to invade the kingdom, Mattie and Athlendora are the only ones that stand a chance of altering the grim future that awaits them all.

Problem is, even if you can remember what’s to come, changing it--for the better at least--is another matter entirely.

“The Princess of Tangled Days” is a classically told tale of friendship, time and second third fourth chances, full of colorful characters, smart young female protagonists and a rich plot that avoids the standard fantasy tropes. I’m a first time novelist living in Tampa, Florida where I work for a small software company that makes software for high-end color printers. I have a lovely wife, two barely grown children and a nearly perfect dog named Lucky. With the kids now out of the house, I plan to produce many more books—I’m currently hard at work on number two.

Thanks so much for your time!

Daniel E. Barrett

And here is my critique:

Hi Carrie,

I’m writing to you to seek representation for my upper middle-grade fantasy adventure novel, The Princess of Tangled Days, complete at 83,000 words.

Little Princess Athlendora never sleeps past sunrise, yet no one ever knows just when she’ll wake up. [This sentence really confuses me, which is not good, especially since it starts off the query!  If she never sleeps past sunrise, wouldn't everyone know she'll wake up then?]   

That’s because for the princess, days don't follow one after another like they do for you and me. Oh, her body may look the same each morning, but her mind and her memories?  They’re always from some random point in her future or her past. [The tone of your voice hear seems a bit too childish and more lower MG than upper MG.  Also, how does this have to do with waking up at sunrise?] 

Athlendora has been cursed, you see. Cursed to live all the days of her life out of order, so that from her perspective the world has always been little but a swirling confusion, where people and places—even her own body-- are never the same from one day to the next. It’s little wonder she never learned to speak, little wonder she lies in bed staring blankly on her best days, or flails in terror at anyone who comes near on her worst. [The idea of her just lying in bed, catatonic, or flailing about also confuses me--how is she going to be an engaging character for your readers?  Will we see the world from her POV? 

But then 12-year-old Mattie, an orphaned, lonely scullery maid, is sent to assist in the royal chambers, and this lowborn, stuttering servant girl manages to accomplish what the kingdom’s best physicians, priests or astrologers never could: Mattie finds a way to connect Athlendora’s disparate days to one another... and begins to teach her.  [HOW?????] In the course of just a few weeks (weeks with more than the average share of glowing hedgehogs, secret tunnels, murderous cooks and killer crows) these two luckless children develop a unique bond that, in a way, spans an entire lifetime.  But... when the very same witch that cursed the princess marshals a foul army to invade the kingdom, Mattie and Athlendora are the only ones that stand a chance of altering the grim future that awaits them all.

Problem is, even if you can remember what’s to come, changing it--for the better at least--is another matter entirely.

The Princess of Tangled Days is a classically told tale of friendship, time and second third fourth chances, full of colorful characters, smart young female protagonists and a rich plot that avoids the standard fantasy tropes. I’m a first time novelist living in Tampa, Florida where I work for a small software company that makes software for high-end color printers. I have a lovely wife, two barely grown children and a nearly perfect dog named Lucky. With the kids now out of the house, I plan to produce many more books—I’m currently hard at work on number two.

Thanks so much for your time!

Daniel E. Barrett

This query is off to a good start, but needs some clarification and polish before it is ready to go out.  Although I get the general gist of the story, it needs to be told in a more dynamic way to grab an agent's attention.  There are also several problem areas I would want to see fixed: mainly, editing the part about Princess Athlendora waking up at sunrise, clarifying if then novel is from her POV, and explaining a bit about how Mattie is able to fix the witch's curse (and perhaps why the witch bothered to curse the princess in the first place).  Other than that, I thought this was an engaging query and particular enjoyed the last half--I really love the idea of a story along the lines of ELLA ENCHANTED, set in a unique fantasy world with a classic fairy tale-esque problem.  Chime in with your thoughts on Daniel's query in the comments section below, and if you have any questions you want me to answer, post them there, too, with the hashtag #IHAVEAQUESTION!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Happy Pub Day(s)!

It's a double publication interview!!

Happy pub day to Erin Peabody and her spectacularly reviewed A WEIRD AND WILD BEAUTY: THE STORY OF YELLOWSTONE, THE WORLD'S FIRST NATIONAL PARK, which publishes tomorrow, and to Katherine Fleet on her exciting YA book, THE SECRET TO LETTING GO, which debuts today!  

Take a look at Erin's Kirkus and Publishers Weekly review, and read her interview below!


Tell us a little bit about your background and what made you want to write this book.

I’m a nature enthusiast who grew up hiking, camping and spending time outdoors. Like so many who grew up in the 1970s and earlier, I enjoyed a fair amount of freedom playing outside. As kids, my neighborhood pals and I spent summers roaming the woods, prying fossils out of the dirt, building forts and picking giant bouquets filled with daisies and Queen Anne’s Lace. There were fewer fears then about stranger dangers, etc.—and we benefited enormously from those experiences. That juncture of nature, freedom and imagination can be pure bliss. 

From there, I went on to study environmental science in college, then onto to an internship with the National Park Service in Yellowstone that set me on my current path. I worked several years as a park ranger interpreter (or educator) connecting visitors to the incredible natural, cultural and historical resources of our country. The rewards of those experiences were so great, that when planning started for the National Park Service Centennial a few years ago, I knew I wanted to share something with young people—and adults too—about the origins of our parks  and how unique the concept is to our country. The National Park Idea is a feel-good American story, something that’s too rare in these overly politicized times.  

What was researching the book like?  Can you tell us how you chose to write the story in a way that would be interesting for children, and some more adult information about the park's history that didn't make the cut?
I enjoy researching immensely! Probably too much. For me there comes a point where I must acknowledge that I’ve pretty much exhausted all the materials associated with my book’s topic and start synthesizing and writing. Nonetheless, I think good nonfiction writing requires you to be almost obsessively familiar with the characters, events and historical periods featured in your story. This frees you, creatively, to construct a narrative that’s both compelling and as true to the facts as it possibly can be.  A compelling narrative is the key to any great story—that’s true for both kids and adults. Good storytelling is an art, but there are great resources out there that can help writers deconstruct the process and present the facts of their story in more meaningful and entertaining ways. One good source is: “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction from Memoir to Literary Journalism to Everything in Between” by  Lee Gutkind. Even better is reading authors whose work inspires you. For me, for instance, that’s John McPhee, Rachel Carson, and Erik Larson.

What are some things you've learned about the publishing process that you wish you'd known before you began the journey?

All the conventional wisdom on this topic is true, but I’ll just add: write. Write sooner, write more, just write! For every opening paragraph or closing one, for instance, you want to feel as if you’ve exhausted all ways of using your words to make the most impact, of engaging your reader the most. 

Also, more mundane, but if you’re responsible for acquiring the images and photos for your story, do so early and often. It was a major time commitment of mine.

And in general, don’t be afraid to reach out to your editor with any questions. The sooner you can develop a solid rapport with him or her the easier it will be to discuss concerns or difficult issues that may arise.

Tell us about your experiences being with a small publisher.  Do you have any advice for writers who are thinking about signing with a small press?
Quite positive. I think, and as my agent so wisely pointed out to me early on :) it’s the relationship you have with your editor that is most important, regardless of the size of their house. And, as mentioned, feel free to voice any concerns or questions you have. The more earnest your communications, the more feedback you’ll enjoy.

You've been experiencing a lot of interest from both adults and children about this project.  What do you think it is about the history of Yellowstone that attracts so many different kinds of readers?
I think the nexus is really nature. Americans have a curious relationship with the outdoors that I explore in the book. That our Euro-American ancestors feared wilderness, detested it, associated it with witches and sorcery, is rather provocative. It took Americans time to develop a connection to the woods, mountains and deserts—places we ultimately praised for their ability to invoke wonder and awe, and for their capacity to restore and heal too. National parks are Americans’ ultimate expression of our relationship with nature— our acknowledgment that  “weird and wild beauty” is vital to our lives. Yellowstone was our first national park. It’s a place that still amazes—that beckons people from all over the world for a chance to see a spontaneously erupting geyser or wild wolf or grizzly on the prowl. Where else can you do that?

What are you thinking about working on next?
Fearful fungi. The strange, bizarre-looking ancestors of our modern-day crops.  Animals, like fish, locusts, bees, and even humans, that school, swarm and crawl en masse.Not sure which one. Whichever piques my curiosity the most! 

Any advice for non-fiction writers out there?
Stay curious. Read. Write about something ONLY if it's a topic you won’t grow bored with. You will dedicate a few years of your life to it—it must excite you!

***

And now for Katherine's interview for THE SECRET TO LETTING GO, which officially releases today!  Isn't her cover gorgeous?


For everyone who doesn't know, tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to start writing.
Hi everyone! I’m originally from Newfoundland, Canada, but I’m now lucky enough to live in the Caribbean with my husband and three kids. I love to travel, read and bake. I started writing because I was constantly making up elaborate stories in my head, so I figure it was time to start writing them down!

What was your road to publication like?
Long…really…long. I wrote my first novel in 2003, submitted it and was rejected.  At that time, I was really busy with a career and young kids, so I put the writing on hold. In 2007, we moved to Curacao, and with more free time, I committed to the goal of becoming published. I wrote an adult paranormal, a YA paranormal, and then the contemporary YA that is debuting today. But even after finishing “The Secret to Letting Go” in early 2013, it took a solid two years of querying, rejections and revisions, before attracting the attention of Carrie and Entangled Publishing in late 2014.

After the contract was signed, were there any unexpected aspects of the publishing process that surprised you?
I wouldn’t say that there were any surprises, but I’ve definitely learned a lot about the publishing process. It’s longer than most people realize – from signing a contract to release day. There’s also a lot of responsibility on the author to be pro-active with respect to marketing and promo. I’d been told this before and read about it, but I didn’t truly realize how time consuming these activities can be.

How do you think your manuscript has changed since you started working with your editor?
It’s definitely stronger. I was very lucky to work with an editor (Karen Grove) that had a vision for the story that matched my own. I knew the latter half of the book needed work, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on the problem. Karen quickly and clearly identified the issue, but never told me how to fix it. She left that part to me, which was perfect. 

Did you feel like you were involved in the various stages your book went through?  What kind of input did you have?
I definitely felt involved in all the revisions the book went through. As I mentioned above, editors at Entangled were great at pointing out concerns, but letting me come up with revisions that addressed the issue. I was also asked for input on cover design and other aspects of promotion and marketing.

What part of the publication process has been the most interesting/fun? What part has been the hardest?
I really enjoyed the revision process, because my role was clear and I could see the improvements in the book with each round of edits. In my day job, I work as a technical editor, so I also just enjoy the editing process. The hardest part was after I finished the edits and before I started actively working with the promotion team. There’s a gap between the time you finish revisions and when the promo really kicks in, where it feels like you are in limbo, just waiting for something to happen. In my personal life, I like having control and tend to micro-manage, so I’m sure I’ve probably driven the promotions team crazy with all my questions and e-mails. 

What have you had to do to promote your book?  How important do you think social media is in promoting THE SECRET TO LETTING GO?
I had to do my part to make sure my social media presence was as strong as I could make it – so making sure my website was up-to-date and picking social media forums to focus on. I personally like Twitter and Instagram, so that is were I am most active. My gut feeling is that social media is very important in book promotion. It’s certainly where I find the next book I want to read, so I assume other readers, especially YA readers, are also getting their book recommendations online.

Anything that new authors can learn from your experiences?
Be patient, but also be clear in what you want. I like that you (Carrie) encouraged me to come up with my “dream” marketing plan as a starting point for conversation with my publisher. Also, I’m finding it hard not to obsess over the preliminary feedback I’ve received about my book – ARC reviews, comments by bloggers, etc. It’s a very surreal feeling to know that strangers are reading your book and making their own connections with the characters and plot you’ve created. I’ve talked to other authors and they’ve experienced similar feeling. So happily it’s not just me! I was starting to feel a little crazy. Fortunately, they tell me it will pass.

What's a fun fact about yourself?
Hmmm…I have two fun facts. First, I learned how to fly a glider and a plane before I finally learned how to drive a car. Second, I love over-the-top, Hollywood-explosive, kick-ass, cheesy-one-liner action movies. I don’t even care if they are bad. I will still go and see it, because then I get to make fun of it for years to come.

I'm so excited to have both of these wonderful authors releasing their books.  Be sure to pick up a copy of A WEIRD AND WILD BEAUTY andTHE SECRET TO LETTING GO today!!  And don't forget to post any questions you want me to answer in the comments section with the hashtag #IHAVEAQUESTION!