Saturday, April 30, 2011

How to Get Published 3: Revisions

Step Three on the road to getting published is… *drum roll please* the dreaded revision. Every author has to revise their work. This could be tiny things like putting ‘ambled’ instead of ‘walked’ or huge changes to the plot or characters. Whichever it is, you have to expect revisions and be willing to completely re-write your manuscript if needed.

There is no way I can cover the topic of revisions in just one blog post—entire books could be written on the subject. I just want to quickly talk a bit about revisions in direct connection with publishing.

Before you start querying (which I’ll talk about next time) you have to have the absolute best book you can write by yourself. Chances are you’ll still have to revise more for your agent/editor, but that doesn’t mean you can be lazy at this stage. Make it as good as it can possibly be. (And just so you know, the manuscript has to be finished before querying. Established authors can sometimes sell a book based just on a proposal, but for debut authors, you should have a finished manuscript that’s already as amazing as possible.)

Sometimes when you start querying agents, one will ask you to do some revisions before offering representation. This means that you’ll put a lot of work into changing the story for them, and they still might not take you as a client. This is a bit of a risk, especially if the agent wants exclusive revisions, so it’s your decision whether to do them or not. I personally think I would make the changes, assuming I thought their ideas were good, but I’ve never been in that situation.

Even after you have an agent, the work doesn’t stop. They’ll almost certainly ask you to do more revisions. And then when they sell your manuscript to an editor, they’ll be an awful lot more, well… editing. This may sound kind of awful—after all, you’ve already slaved over this book for years by yourself—but I’ve heard of many authors who actually enjoyed this step. After all, what could be better than working to perfect your story with an agent/editor who loves your novel as much as you do?

I suppose the crucial thing about revisions is that you have to learn to expect them, if not to love them. Get used to editing everything you write. Get as much feedback as you possibly can, and then use it. Make this novel as good as you possibly can. If you truly love your story, it shouldn’t be that hard to spend hours perfecting it. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Upcoming Release: The Death Cure

By James Dashner

Thomas knows that Wicked can't be trusted, but they say the time for lies is over, that they've collected all they can from the Trials and now must rely on the Gladers, with full memories restored, to help them with their ultimate mission. It's up to the Gladers to complete the blueprint for the cure to the Flare with a final voluntary test.

What Wicked doesn't know is that something's happened that no Trial or Variable could have foreseen. Thomas has remembered far more than they think. And he knows that he can't believe a word of what Wicked says.

The time for lies is over. But the truth is more dangerous than Thomas could ever imagine.

Will anyone survive the Death Cure?

The first two novels in the trilogy, The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials are some of my all time favourite reads. They're relatively clean, heart-stopping, fast-paced adventures. Exactly the sort of thing I love to read. Yesterday the cover for the last book in the trilogy, The Death Cure was revealed. I love how all the covers have a picture of some building on them, rather than the MC. Also, I'm pretty sure the covers were all drawn specifically for the books, so they all fit perfectly.

The Death Cure is coming out on October 11th... almost six months away still. Fortunately, James Dashner has promised sample chapters on his blog at some point before the release. Hopefully those will be enough to keep me from dying of impatience...

Book Review: Impossible

By Nancy Werlin

Lucy Scarborough is only 17, but she carries the burden of a curse that has already struck down several women in her family. Each of her afflicted ancestors failed at completing three seemingly impossible tasks, and each succumbed to madness at the birth of her first child. Facing this tragic fate, Lucy braces herself for a losing battle. Mercifully, she has allies in her struggle: intensely sympathetic foster parents and her loyal childhood friend Zach.

Why I read it: This was something I picked up randomly at the library. I guess I just liked the cover; I’m a big fan of covers with girls in pretty dresses. :)

What I liked: This book had a really original premise. It deals with the song Scarborough Fair, which I’ve always loved. Unfortunately, if I told you much about the premise it would kind of spoil the story. I read too many reviews beforehand, so I already knew a lot of what was going to happen. My advice to you is, don’t read reviews (other than this one). Just go and read the book. You’ll like it a lot better if you don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ll just say that I really enjoyed the way this book combined genres, like romance and a sort of paranormal/fairy story… it was quite clever.

What I disliked: From the premise, this could have been a four or five star book. Unfortunately, it lost major points in the writing category. For starters, it was written in third person, switching POVs between the MCs. Normally I love this, but in this book all the characters sounded the same. The teens sounded too old and the adults sounded too young.

The plot also moved really sporadically. Sometimes it was too slow, like when the MC has to accomplish three tasks, and with 50 pages left she’s finally starting on the second one. The romance moved too quickly: just 90 pages after figuring out that he likes her, the MC is already marrying a guy (I won’t tell you who, but it’s pretty obvious from the very beginning).

The characters were okay. I didn’t hate any of them, but didn’t really care that much either, probably because of the third person narrative. The villain was barely present and it was made way too obvious that he was the villain right from the beginning. I normally don’t complain about character’s names, but the foster mom’s name was Soledad. It took me forever to realize that she was a woman, and I never really got used to it.

From a Christian Perspective: The MCs in this book are both not religious, so there isn’t much religious content, just one scene where they talk about how they don’t believe anything. There is a teen who gets pregnant and chooses not to abort, but her decision is based more on some weird promotion rather than a pro-life conviction. There was a little swearing, but not very much. In terms of sexual content, it was as clean as could possibly be expected from a book dealing with teen pregnancy. Married characters have sex (it’s not described at all) and there is a rape (which is also skimmed over).

To buy or not to buy: I personally won’t buy this because romance isn’t really my thing. Romance lovers, however, may really enjoy the unique twists in Impossible.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Classic of the Week: Roverandom

Since I’ve been reading a lot of classic books/poems/short stories/plays for literature classes, I decided I’d like to share some of them with you. I’ve also decided to try and read a lot of older stories over the summer, rather than just reading YA. I’m not sure exactly what my definition of ‘Classic’ will be, but it will range from Homer up to Tolkien and other 20th century writers.

Speaking of Tolkien… I’ve decided that my first post is going to be on one of Tolkien’s little known works:


This is a delightful little story, short enough to be read in an hour or two (my version was only 92 pages). Tolkein wrote it after his son lost a little toy dog at the beach during a family vacation. According to Tolkien, the toy dog was actually a real dog that was enchanted by a wizard and became a toy. He then came to Tolkien’s son, was lost, got turned back into a real dog and had all sorts of adventures before he came back home.

Since this was composed and then written down for children its idea is fairly simple and reminiscent of a fairy tale. Roverandom is simply trying to return home rather than saving the universe or anything like that. It’s also not terribly fast paced; despite it’s shortness I read it over about a week. It’s certainly not like anything you’d find in the YA section of a bookstore.

And that’s okay. I absolutely loved Tolkien’s whimsical style, so different then commercial fiction. It was so relaxing to read about Roverandom’s strange adventures, fighting spiders on the moon or swimming at the bottom of the sea. Maybe it’s a kid’s book, but I certainly enjoyed it.

One thing I did love was that Tolkien puts in references to many other works. There were many allusions to Norse Mythology (I didn’t really catch those… I need to take a mythology course) and at one point Roverandom sees the shores of Faery land, also known as Valinor, the land of the Elves mentioned in The Silmarilion. As a die-hard Tolkien fan, I loved these references.

In short, Roverandom is a classic that is a really quick, fun read. It’s the perfect thing to read to little siblings or kids you’re babysitting, but also to enjoy yourself. I’d recommend it to anyone seeking an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Why Beginning Writers Should Learn to Plot

I’ll admit it: I’m a die-hard plotter. Before I wrote WANDER, my outline document filled with character sketches and minor plot outlines clocked in at 45,000 words. It was pretty much a novel in itself. This allowed me to write the entire story in just 19 days, because I already knew what was going to happen. Now, I know some people just can’t outline, and that’s fine. Many of my favourite published books are written by ‘pantsers’. However, I think some skill in outlining would greatly benefit many beginning writers. Here’s why.

Often times when people hear about all their favourite authors writing without an outline, they think ‘I can do that too!’ and so they pull out pen and paper and start writing. Five pages later, the story is already fizzling out. Why? Because they don’t know their characters, or their setting or the conflict. Even pantsers have a pretty good idea of these three things before they start writing. Remember this: Plotting may not be essential, but you need to have a good idea of Characters, Setting and Conflict. Even pantsers do some work ahead of time, especially figuring out their characters.

If you’re writing any sort of mystery or suspense, or basically any novel that has a secret revealed near the end, you’ll need some sort of lead up to it. A classic example would be the detective novel, where all the clues are there for the reader, but it’s only at the end that everything comes to a climax and the secret is revealed. In most novels there will be some sort of big revelation at the end, and some sort of foreshadowing earlier on. I enjoy plotting ahead of time, because that way I can put the foreshadowing in when I’m writing the appropriate scene, rather than forcing it in later to an already completed manuscript.

The main thing I enjoy about plotting is that it forces you to figure out the key areas of Characters, Setting and Conflict. You need to know your characters because you’re planning their actions. You need to know the setting, especially if it’s fantasy or a book that involves travelling. And most importantly, plotting forces you to figure out the true conflict of the story and allows you to plan scenes in order so that the pacing all works out.

Plotting certainly isn’t for everybody. Maybe you just really aren’t a plotter. But if you’re currently struggling with a first draft that isn’t going anywhere, or have five incomplete novels in your drawer, or a story with a main character who seems to be constantly changing, then it may well be a good idea to sit down and write up a bit of an outline. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

New Posting Schedule and IMM

Since it's summer for me, and my posting has been so much more frequent already, I decided I might as well start a new schedule. Here it is: 

Sun- ------
Mon- IMM
Tues- Random writing tip
Wed- Spotlight on a Classic
Thurs- Book Review
Fri- -----
Sat- How to get published

And since today is a Monday, that means it's time for IMM. Nothing physically arrived in my mailbox this week, but I visited the library, and I have a friend who's lending me a book.

I actually just finished it last night. Let's just say that I have really mixed feeling about this book, and a really long review is coming soon. 

I'm currently reading this. It's a book on teen pregnancy, which is normally not the sort of thing I'd read, but it's based on the song Scarborough Fair, which I've always loved, so it intrigued me.

This is a sequel to a companion novel of Ender's Game, which, if you haven't read it already, you really should. Orson Scott Card writes extremely good Sci-Fi.

This is a mystery set in a remote part of Canada, both of which make me really hope it's good. I love mysteries, and stories set in Canada are more relateable to me. I've read some not so positive reviews for it, though, so I'm not sure if I'll care for it. 

Over to you... is there anything you'd like to see more of on my blog? Any books you'd like me to review, or writing issues I should address? Have you read any of the books IMM? And what's on your reading list this week?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

How to Get Published 2: Dealing with Feedback

If you’ve ever written anything in your life, chances are you’ve received feedback. This can range from a teacher’s scribbled notes in the margins of an essay, to a friend’s enthusiastic ‘I LOVE THIS!’ after reading a chapter of your story, to a professional editor’s suggested revisions on your novel. Writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, is a process intricately connected with receiving feedback. Getting comments and criticisms from teachers or peers is one of the best ways to improve your writing.

A professional novelist is going to get feedback of many different kinds, from crazy fans who absolutely love their work to book reviewers who hate it. That’s just the way things will be. There will always be someone who likes your work, and always someone who will hate it. I’ve seen stories in the top five on inkpop that I thought were absolute trash, but they had nothing but positive comments.

So, as a yet-unpublished novelist, what do you do with critiques?

1.       Develop a thick skin. Most people will give well-balanced critiques, but they will always be some who will completely bash your work. Get used to saying ‘It’s just their opinion’ and then learn from it.
2.       Get more than one opinion. Sometimes people will have drastically different opinions, so it’s best to get as many as possible and kind of average them.
3.       Pay attention to who is giving the feedback. Obviously, a professional agent deserves more attention than your six year old sister.
4.       Even professionals can be ‘wrong’. When HarperCollins reviewed ‘Because You Laughed’ they said that changing the ending might make it better. However, everyone on inkpop liked the ending as it was. I’ve decided not to change it.
5.       Don’t get too attached to your story. Especially if you started your story a long time ago, you may need to make major changes to both characters and plot, not just minor writing edits.
6.       If (when!) you get negative critiques, give yourself a little time to rant about it, then go back and see what you can learn.

Hopefully, if your critiquers are nice people, the reason they’re reading your story is to help you improve. Even the most negative critiques can come from people who are genuinely trying to help, but just went a little overboard. It’s then your job as the author to use their suggestions well and make your story stronger because of them. And remember... as the picture to the left says, the only way to avoid criticism is to stop writing. 

Over to you… any other tips for dealing with feedback? Do you have any stories about receiving critiques? I’d love to hear from you, so leave a comment!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Name Game

One thing that every single fiction writer has to do is find names for their characters. This could be as simple as using your own names (I'll admit it: I've written at least two stories using myself as a character.) or it could be an agonizing process where absolutely nothing seems to fit.

Right now, I'm in the latter stage. I spent all afternoon pouring over baby names on websites and a friend was helping me out on twitter, but so far I haven't come up with a name that just clicked. I have a vague idea of the character in my head, and nothing has fit her perfectly. It's either too sophisticated or too boring or old fashioned or too flowery...

Before now, names haven't been hard. The character of Wander, actually, was created to fit her name. I remember searching for Ida's name, and the instant I found it I knew it was right. In 'Because You Laughed' the MC was originally named Maddie; not an ugly name by any means, but fairly nondescript. Her name doesn't actually appear in the manuscript at all, but it'll still always be Maddie to me. :)

My favourite way to find names is to think of a couple words to describe the character. For my new story, a couple would be: Strong, Cheerful and Spider (don't ask!). If you're using an internet database of names (it's easy to find one with Google) then you can often search for meaning. Aside from that, when I think of 'strong' I think of names beginning with 'strong' sounds, like K or T. If I think of cheerful, I might try ones beginning with vowels (I found a lot of 'A' names I like.) And as for Spider, I could chose 'Arachne' which means Spider, or I could go and find a name beginning with S, which could evoke a certain sinister feeling if used correctly...

I think the most important thing about a name is that you, personally, as a writer, have to feel like it is the character. You don't necessarily have to have it on your list of 'Names for my kids whenever I have them'. You don't even really need to like it. For instance, I would never think of naming my kid Phoebe, but for some strange reason I think it just might fit this MC...

That's enough rambling from me. Any thoughts on naming your characters? Do you find it hard to name your MCs? Is it easier to name a minor character? Have you ever given a character a name you loved, and then it turns out people hated it?

On Parents and Evil Villains

It’s so easy to make someone seem worse than they are. It’s so much harder to make them better.

Like that quote? I just made it up. I’ll probably work on paring it down and making it more concise, but for now, the message stands. If you’re a writer, I assume you’ve written both good and bad characters. Which is easier? I’d much rather write a scene with a completely evil bad guy, instead of the good MC. It’s so hard to make a likeable MC, someone that pretty much every reader will identify with, and so much easier to create an evil villain.

I came up with the idea for this post this morning when my mom was giving me a slight talking-to. If I was writing that scene in a story it would be so easy to make my mom into a villain. I’d just need to use a couple well chosen words and my mom would seem like some monster who’s constantly nagging me to clean up my room and who’s paranoid that there’ll be drinking at a party this Friday and who doesn’t trust my driving. How many teen books have you read with parents like that?

The thing is, my mom isn’t at all like that. She’s not a nag. She’s not paranoid (at least, not more than any good mother should be) and she trusts my driving. She’s the best mom ever and I love her so much… but with words I could make her out to be something terrible without even exaggerating events (much).
That’s just a little scary, isn’t it? It’s so easy to give the wrong impression. And it’s so easy to be negative. When you write a story, how many evil/annoying characters do you have? Are the parents portrayed as paranoid and restricting? Are the ‘Mean Girls’ just another cliché clique? Is the bad guy a faceless evil?

The impression we get of your characters completely depends on the events that you decide to show. If I only told you about the times when my mom was annoyed with me then she’d come across as a nasty person, but I’d be skipping the 90% of the time when she puts up with me being annoying to her. To give a fair portrayal of my mom, I’d need to show her as loving and sympathetic most of the time, and whenever I showed her in a ‘worse’ light I’d have to explain that really, she’s probably justified in ‘nagging’ me to clean up my room.

If you have a Mean Girl in your story, why not try giving her one short scene where she does something nice for a change? Maybe your villain actually has a weak spot, or the evil stepmother turns out to love birds…

It’s your choice. Just remember that characters are more interesting when they’re not completely bad. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


I don't know if this will actually be a weekly thing, but I just wanted to share with you some of the books that actually arrived in my mailbox today. Well, the courier brought them. Whatever. About a month ago I won a contest on inkpop involving books turned into movies/TV shows, and for a prize I got these four books:

I'm really looking forward to this read. My friends have told me the movie was good (I haven't seen it yet) and the whole idea of a Beauty and the Beast retelling with modern day highschoolers sounds pretty cool. I'll let you know what I think of it within the next couple weeks. 

 This series seems to be wildly popular, so I'm willing to give it a go. Highschool drama really isn't my thing, though, especially when it involves girls crushing on their teachers, or their female friends, so I don't know...
Same with Pretty Little Liars... If I really don't like the first one, I won't even read this.
In case I don't like them, who's up for a giveaway? :)

Some of you will know that I've already read this book and didn't really care for it that much. Since I already own it, I'll probably be giving this away to my friend. She's lucky that it turned out to be a really nice hardcover with dustjacket and everything. It even has a sneak peak of The Power of Six... Maybe I'll keep this version for myself and give her the other one? 

No... this didn't come in my mailbox. I wish! I read the first hundred pages on HarperTeen and I absolutely can't wait 'till the May 3rd release date. I've read an awful lot of positive reviews, so it seems like this is going to be a big release. 

That's enough of me. What did you get in your mailbox this week? Any big releases you can't wait to get your hands on? I'd love to hear what you guys are reading! 

Book Review: The Book Thief

By Markus Zusak

It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .

Narrated by Death, Markus Zusak's groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a young foster girl living outside of Munich in Nazi Germany. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she discovers something she can't resist- books. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever they are to be found. 
With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, Liesel learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids, as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

Why I read it: I saw this highly recommended on someone’s blog (yes, that was you, Evie) and on my next trip to the library it just happened to be on the shelf. Thanks to a computer error (there were actually 9 holds on it!) I checked it out on one-week loan.

What I liked: The writing is just beautiful. Not usual, not even that easy to read after awhile, but it’s lovely. The descriptions are all so unique and fresh. I know some people have mocked them for being a little ridiculous, but I always felt they were perfect. It’s high time we moved away from the cliché ‘night black as ink’ and got some fresh perspective, like ‘a chocolate coloured sky’ or ‘hair the colour of lemons’. Colour plays a huge role in the story.

The cast of characters in this book was impressively managed. There’s the MC, Leisel, her foster parents, her ‘boyfriend’, the Jew they’re hiding in their basement and a number of other inhabitants on Himmel Street. I loved how each of these MCs had such complex personalities. Her foster mother swears like a sailor, but there are one or two scenes where her soft side shows. Even the minor characters have unique characteristics. Since their names were all German I had difficulty remembering which name belonged to which person, but I never go the people themselves mixed up.

What I disliked: This book has no plot. The story is set in WW2 Germany, so there’s a lot of war stuff happens, like them getting poorer and poorer, bombs falling, hiding a Jew in their basement… etc… It’s a nice historical portrait, but there was nothing really propelling it forward. At the time I was looking for a book that I just couldn’t put down, but this book didn’t do it.

This isn’t exactly a dislike, but the book is narrated by Death. At times it worked, but other times it just felt strange and jarring. At the end it all made sense and Death’s narration was kind of cool, but for most of the story I thought it would have been better with a normal omniscient narrator.

From a Christian Perspective: There’s no sexual content in this book because there’s very little romance (something I found refreshing after so many other YA novels). The biggest issue with this book is the swearing. There’s swearing in German on pretty much every page, and God’s name is taken in vain regularly, especially towards the end. The MC is, as the title implies, a ‘book thief’ and she goes on several stealing expedition, and it’s never really made clear that this is wrong.

To buy or not to buy: I personally won’t be buying this book because I only buy books that I’m absolutely in love with. The three star rating is because I didn't care for it that much. However, I would recommend this book to anyone who loves words. It’s not really a story… more of a work of art. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Author Interview: Jeyn Roberts

Jeyn Roberts, author of Dark Inside was an inkpopper, but she found her publishing contract through a more traditional route and now has a three-book contract with publisher Simon and Schuster. Jeyn is from Vancover BC (yay! Another Canadian!) and she earned a degree in psychology and creative writing at UBC. For a quick synopsis of Dark Inside click here, and then scroll down to read the interview with Jeyn. (and make sure to check out the important links at the end, where you can pre-order Dark Inside so you'll get it right on the November 1st release date)

What was your inspiration for Dark Inside? Dreams. When I was a teenager I started having repetitive dreams about a world in which there was this gigantic evil. I still have them every now and then. And some of the scenes in the book are from actual dreams. 

How has your life changed since getting the publishing deal? In some ways I'm a lot less busy, in other ways I'm more busy! I'm a full-time writer now which is amazing. And I get to work from home which is great! My cats are thrilled to see so much of me. 

Is Dark Inside a stand alone novel? If not, how many more can we expect? Dark Inside is the first of three books. I'm currently working on the second one which will be out seven months after the first. 

I've heard you travel a lot. How have these experiences helped shape Dark Inside? I do travel a lot and it has helped my writing in many ways. Not only do I get to see everything but I'm allowed to learn and understand different cultures. Also, I take the same route every year that Mason takes in his book. I drove through the mountains a few weeks ago and kept thinking "Oh, that's where Mason did that" and "That's where he met Chickadee!" It was quite a funny experience. 

On YAtopia you called Dark Inside somewhat of a horror/dystopia... but not really. In what ways does it fit those genres, and how is it different? I always view dystopia as a something that takes place in the future. eg: Hunger Games, 1984. Dark Inside takes place in the present so that's why I don't like to fully categorize it as dystopia. It's a scary book so that's why I consider it horror. But there's also some romance and lots of drama. I think it really takes on a genre of its own. 

Is there anything you'd like to say to aspiring YA authors? Be patient and never give up. Becoming a writer is a long journey. Enjoy it. Learn to accept and give criticism. Don't be so hard on yourself. Remember, every author starts at the beginning. No one starts out with a blank page and writes a masterpiece.

Important Links
Barnes and Noble
Facebook Fan Page

Saturday, April 16, 2011

How to Get Published

Now that I'm immersed in blogging and tweeting and chatting with authors on inkpop and all that stuff that authors do, it's hard to remember a time when I didn't know any of this. Just five years ago, I had no idea how to get published. It almost seems laughable now, but I didn’t know what an agent was, or how to query, or what an ARC was, or pretty much anything about publishing. The thing is, all this information is hidden away on book blogs or in sneaky places on publisher’s websites. 12-year-old me was absolutely clueless.

I remember asking my mom how to get published and she went and asked on a Yahoo group. I excitedly waited for their answers, but when the responses came in, they were all the same: ‘It’s hard.’

That was all. There was no information about how to get published (other than the suggestion that I should try to get short stories published in magazines first). They only told me it was hard.

True. Getting published is hard. It’s been five years since I decided I wanted to get published, and I’m just as un-published as I ever was. The only thing that’s changed is that now I do know how to get published. Now, this information I’m going to share is fairly basic so most of you will already know it all, but in each case I’ll share a couple links to helpful websites so you can go farther than just my blogposts.

Step to getting published:
1.       Write a REALLY good story
2.       Get feedback
3.    Revisions
4.       Query Agents
5.       The Agent sells your book

For the next three weeks I’ll concentrate on steps 2-5. As for step one… I’ll spend a little bit more time on that. According to the poll in the sidebar, writing tips were the favourite kind of post on this blog, so they’ll be a lot more of those coming up. Any post on writing is going to have something to do with step one: Write a REALLY good story. That can’t be emphasized enough. Without a good story, you’ll never receive helpful feedback. No matter how good your query, you’ll never get an agent. Even supposing you got an agent, it won’t sell to publishers.

For next week, let’s assume you’ve already got a fairly good story. Then you need to get your story out there, and be willing to accept feedback. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why Book Reviews are Useless (and how to make them less so)

This isn’t exactly a post on writing, but I thought it needed to be said, and I just finished my six-part series, so now’s the time for it.

I assume that all of you have a favourite book, or at least a book that you really, really like. I’m also guessing that you have some books you really dislike, ones you think aren’t worth reading and you can’t imagine how anyone could like it. For instance, I absolutely love The Hunger Games and I hated Shiver, and I really don’t get how anyone could dislike The Hunger Games or like Shiver. But lo and behold, if you go on Goodreads, they’ll be a lot of people who disagree with me.

On the whole, people do agree with me on those two books. The Goodreads rating for The Hunger Games is 4.54 (quite high for Goodreads) while Shiver is rated 3.96 (fairly average). When you average it out, The Hunger Games is ‘better.’ However, if you look at individual reviews, Shiver is going to have some five stars (I just check, and some of my friends gave it four or five), and The Hunger Games will have some one-stars (a couple of my friends gave it three). Some individuals will drastically disagree with me.

If that’s the case, why should you bother reading my reviews? Why read reviews at all? I can tell you a book if awful, but then you could go and read it and love it. I’ve read books that people have told me they loved, but I couldn’t stand them. Is there any reason to pay attention to goodreads/amazon ratings?

The thing that a good book review does is give you a sense of why the reviewer (dis)liked the book. My review of Shiver makes clear that I am not a werewolf fan, so that could well be why I didn’t like it. When I read reviews on Amazon for I Am Number Four, I saw that most of them talked about how terrible the characterization was. When I got the book, I had to agree, the characters were boring (though I have had some people say they loved them). If you’re more interested in a fast-paced action story than in riveting characters, then I Am Number Four would be great. If you like characters better, then you probably won’t enjoy it.

Basically, a good book review should do three things:
1-      Make clear that this is only one opinion (Don’t say ‘The only people who would like this book are ones who think Twilight is great literature’)
2-      Show how the reviewer’s personality affected the review (For instance, ‘I don’t normally like Paranormal/Romance, but I loved Paranormalcy’)
3-      Showcase both the books strengths and weaknesses (even the best book has some bad things, and even the worst has some strengths)

I’m not sure if my book reviews always fulfill those criteria, but I try to include them all. It may feel egoistic, but it’s essential to let your readers know what kind of reader you are, so that they know if their tastes are similar or not. You also need to temper that with a fair bit of humility, admitting that yours is only one opinion and even your favourite books have bad parts and even the ones you hate have good points. Basically, think about how your book reviews can be of the most help to your blog readers.

As for you, my loyal followers, is there anything I could be doing with my book reviews to help you out? Do you have any tips, either for me, or for other book bloggers out there? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment! 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Book Review: Shiver

By Maggie Stiefvater

the cold.
Grace has spent years watching the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf—her wolf—watches back. He feels deeply familiar to her, but she doesn't know why.

the heat.
Sam has lived two lives. As a wolf, he keeps the silent company of the girl he loves. And then, for a short time each year, he is human, never daring to talk to Grace...until now.

the shiver.
For Grace and Sam, love has always been kept at a distance. But once it's spoken, it cannot be denied. Sam must fight to stay human—and Grace must fight to keep him—even if it means taking on the scars of the past, the fragility of the present, and the impossibility of the future.

Why I read it: I had seen the third book somewhere on someone’s blog… I think it was inkpop. Anyways, I thought it had something to do with Little Red Riding Hood. I wouldn’t have read it if I had known it was about werewolves. (BTW, I absolutely love the covers for this series. So plain, but they really stand out)

What I liked: There were a number of interesting ideas in this book, the number one being that werewolves only changed from people to wolves when the temperature got too low. I thought that was unique. It was also cool b/c at the beginning of each chapter it would have the temperature written at the top. And the font was blue! All in all, the packaging of this book was really neat.

What I disliked: Well, pretty much everything. Let’s make a list.
1-      The romance went WAY too fast. They start sleeping in the same bed the day they meet, and then they do have sex later on.
2-      Huge plot holes. The ending had a cliff-hanger that was just like ‘What????’ Also, there were two plot points (Two ‘bitten’ teens, and Shelby) who appear and then are barely mentioned again.
3-      I never understood Grace. As a little girl she was nearly killed by wolves, and yet she absolutely loves them, risking her life to save them from being shot. She also got really mad at her friends for keeping secrets from her, when the whole time she was keeping a werewolf in her house and not telling them.  
4-      Sam was just totally in love with Grace, and that’s about all I got from him. I never really understood his emotions towards anyone else. One second he would like Beck, the next he was super angry with him. It just never made sense.
5-      This book just didn’t seem to end. Getting close to the end I thought it was done, but then it just kept going and going, piling up minor events really quickly. The actual ending seemed really anticlimactic.
I could go on, but I don’t really have the time. Basically, I don’t know how anyone could like this book for its literary qualities. It could, however, appeal to fans of Twilight.

From a Christian Perspective: Certainly not recommended. There was a fair amount of swearing, especially in what would otherwise have been some of my favourite scenes. The author seems to think that for a scene to be emotional, the characters have to use God’s name in vain a couple dozen times. And then, of course, there’s the excessive romance between Grace and Sam. They start sharing a bed their very first night, they kiss a LOT, and they do have sex. Sam especially is described as ‘the best of them’ and a sort of self controlled, chaste person (werewolf), but when it comes to Grace, he looses all that.

To buy or not to buy: I certainly won’t be. I can only see this interesting Twilight fans, for people who'd rather have romance than action. I don’t know if I’ll even bother looking at the sequel, Linger. The only reason I would is because I want to read the first chapter and figure out if the ending of Shiver makes any sense at all. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Author Interview: Leigh Fallon

Leigh Fallon, author of The Carrier of the Mark, is the first author to be published through inkpop. Leigh describes herself as 'a South African born, Irish writer, living between the US and Ireland... interesting!' For a synopsis of Carrier look here, then scroll down and read this exclusive interview with the author. 

What was your inspiration for Carrier?
I was sitting in my jeep outside of my daughters’ ballet school [in Ireland]. My twin babies were in the car bawling their eyes out with boredom. I was looking for a way to escape it all for a few moments when something my dad said popped into my head, ‘everyone has a book in them’. So taking these pearls of wisdom, I picked up some scraps of paper and started jotting down notes about a story that was stirring in my head. Each of the characters became very clear almost immediately and the magical element was at the forefront. The inspiration for it? Well probably the town of Kinsale, the old buildings, the eclectic mix of people, the beautiful views. But the story went from inspiration to the makings of a book in less than 30 mins on the backs of receipts and napkins.

How has your life changed since getting the publishing deal?

Well, since I got my publishing deal I’ve moved to the US. Getting the publishing didn’t make me move to the US, but it coincided with the move, so things have changed greatly. I’m also super busy. I spend so much time answering emails, tweets, Facebook messages, and interview requests, it’s bizarre. I’m still getting used to all the attention, but it’s great, I’m really enjoying it. I’m also writing full time now -Yay.

Can you share any details of your query letters?

I could, but I’m not going to because my query litter sucked! Seriously, it would benefit no one. LOL. When I think back to that letter I cringe, it was so amateurish. I guess it wasn’t my fault; I was new to the publishing world and didn’t really know what was expected of a query letter. It’s amazing what you learn in a few months when mixing with your writing peers. My advice to anyone embarking on the search for an agent… Stop! Wait! Read agent blogs. Get on twitter and follow the good agents. Read their tweets religiously, listen to what they are saying. They are very honest. They’ll tell the twitter world what they are looking for at the moment, what they are NOT looking for. They also tweet about things that irritate them or things that are the pet peeves. Get to know the agent BEFORE you send in that query letter. You only get one shot at it, so make a good impression. Your manuscript could be amazing, but if you press the wrong buttons in your query, the agent won’t even get as far as your signature at the end of the page before they toss it in the shredder.

How many books will there be in the Carrier series?
I’d originally planned for three books in the series, I’m still aiming off for that, but it might end up being four. But (and there is always a but), I’m only under contract to write one book in this series, HarperTeen do get first pass on the second, but there are no guarantees. So I need The Carrier of the Mark to do VERY well if I am to secure a future for the rest of the series. So we have to get the word out there. Please… buy the book!

What makes Carrier unique?
The Carrier of the Mark is a totally different spin on Paranormal. It delves into the ancient world of Irish history and folklore. The story is set in places that actually exist. Every monument, castle, or building mentioned in the book is there for all to visit. The core of the paranormal element, is one that is deep rooted in Celtic tales, symbols, and structures and I’ve built the story around the very fabric of those stories, intertwining history, folklore and magic to make it that little bit more real.

Is there anything you’d like to say to aspiring YA authors?

The publishing industry is a tough nut to crack, but stay with it, don’t get disillusioned. The way to success is through persistence. Grow yourself very thick skin, and stick your neck out. Get out there. Join writers’ forums, start networking, and reach out to people. There is an amazing, diverse group of exceptionally friendly and supportive people out there who will help guide you towards your goals.

I'd like to thank Leigh for doing this interview. Anyone who thinks Carrier sounds interesting (and who wouldn't? Irish folklore is the best!) should check out some of the important links below. Leigh's ramblings on 
her blog or Facebook will help pass the time until the release date: October 4th. 

Important Links:
Barnes and Noble
Leigh's Blog
Leigh's Facebook Page