Monday, November 24, 2014

The Secrets to Co-Writing a Book

I feel a tiny bit deceitful writing this post. First, the title implies that I've co-written many books before, and second, that I have some kind of formula for being successful at it. Neither of those things are true.

I am, however, currently co-writing a book. And I have, however, learned a lot about what works and what doesn't through our many stops and starts along this path to our almost-finished first draft. I figure, why not share those now before you get started with your partner instead of starting and stopping a million times like we did? So, I bestow you with my sorta-kinda wisdom of co-authorship:

Pick the Right Partner. I know, I know. This seems like a no-brainer. But you'd be surprised how many partnerships fail when they stretch from "just friends" into "business partners" territory. And that's really what co-authoring a book, is: a business plan. It's our intent to write a marketable book, present it to our agents, and sell it. This is a business transaction, and then it's a friendship. That means you need to pick someone that has a writing style that gels with yours, who works in the same manner you do, has similar goals for the story and the finished product as you do. And, most importantly, will be honest with you and you're comfortable showing your very crappy rough draft work to. But underneath all that, there's the friendship element that matters too: Do you genuinely enjoy this person? Do you like talking to them, outside of book-related things? Do you feel like this person is caring and understanding of your life situations, if by chance you won't be able to make a writing deadline you set? Both of these elements matter. Choose wisely.

Sign a Co-Authorship Agreement. My partner and I are still working out the details of this, but basically: put something in writing. It doesn't matter so much during the drafting phase, but as you get into the publishing phase, you'll need to set some terms. What if you sell the book and then one of you wants to back out? What if only one of you can't make the publisher's deadline, so the other picks up all the slack and then you both get the same cut of the money? These are all possibilities. Life happens. It's important to protect yourself, your friendship, and your work.

Create a System That Works For Both of You. One of the reason why our first plan to co-write crashed and burned was because we didn't really have a system, or at least not one that made sense. We shared a Google doc with our story, and then we'd text and email each other our thoughts as we went. This did not work, for obvious reasons. Texts get deleted, emails get lost in the void, and stuff did not turn out the way either of us thought. If you're going to have two people with two totally different brains writing a story, you have to get organized. We still have our massive Google doc where we keep adding on chapters, but we also have a folder with separate docs for each chapter. After one of us writes, we'll also create a new doc for the chapter we've finished and jot down our general thoughts, where we think the story is going, and notes about what we'll need to fix in revisions. We also go back and comment on each other's notes before we write the next chapter to clear up any confusion. So far, this has worked well. It's allowed us to still dialogue about our story, but all of our notes are in the same place and will be easy to sort through in the revision stage.

Find a Pace and Keep Going. Momentum is crucial here. I'd say it's even more important with a co-authored project than one you write on your own because you're building off someone else's ideas. When I sit down to write after my partner's finished a chapter, it takes me longer to get back into the project because I have to re-read her chapter, notes, thoughts, and try to put myself into her head before I keep going. Imagine trying to do that when it's been a week since you've worked on this story. You lose passion for the story quickly. For us, it's been important to set a deadline that works for both of us. We started with a 24 hour chapter turn-around, but bumped it up to 48 hours. I have small kids at home, and sometimes it's just damn impossible to get a chapter done within 24 hours. It works better for each of us to have 48 hours to finish a chapter and get it up on the doc, and it's still at a pretty fast clip so that we don't lose our momentum.

With these systems in order, it has been such a blast writing this book with my partner. When you're organized about the nitty gritty stuff, you can allow the magic to happen. Her brain works so differently than mine and it's been fun to watch the direction she'll take the story in before I pull it back in my direction. And bonus: it's created natural tension in the plot, which is awesome.

Have you co-written a book before? Am I missing anything? What system did you put into place to help get you through?

Andrea Hannah writes about delusional girls, disappearances, and darkness with a touch of magic. When she's not writing, Andrea runs, teaches, consumes epic amounts of caffeine, and tries to figure out how to prevent her pug from opening the refrigerator (unsuccessful to date). She's represented by Victoria Marini of Gelfman-Schneider/ICM, and her debut novel, OF SCARS AND STARDUST, is coming from Flux in Fall 2014. You can add it on Goodreads here!

You can find her on Twitter @:
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Thursday, November 20, 2014

5 #Subtips from Debut Author and Editor Kate Brauning

Hey Secret Lifers-- Alex here. My CP Kate Brauning just released her debut, HOW WE FALL, a week ago, and she's here sharing some of her secrets with us about writing and revising today. Her book's fantastic, she's one of the coolest people I know, and she has an amazingly content Siberian husky named Charles (who I got to pet when I visited!! ahh! such fluff).

Take it away, Kate!

With my debut novel How We Fall just having been released, I’ve been asked to share some of the things I’ve learned in the past few years as an editor and author.

1)      Keep writing. When you’re querying, when you’re on submission, keep writing. Having another project to put your energy into is a great way to help balance the nerves, waiting, and stress that goes along with publishing. Plus, if you decide to shelve that manuscript, you’ll be well on your way to having a new one completed, and if you do land an agent/book deal, having another project nearly ready is great.

2)      Trust your ability to rewrite. Holding too tightly to sentences and paragraphs and ideas in my manuscripts held me back more than almost anything else. Someone once told me that if I can write one good line, I can scrap it and write another, and if I can have one good idea, I can come up with a second. Doing what’s best for the story and the prose and not keeping myself locked in to something just because I’m proud of it is essential to being a good writer. That’s been a huge factor in reducing the stress of revisions. If you’ve done it once, you can do it again.

3)      Don’t expect your first draft to be magical. Don’t get discouraged when you’re drafting if you’re not seeing magic happen. That magical touch and those insightful moments you see in great books aren’t magic at all. They’re the result of blood and sweat. First drafts are limp and flat and awkward—that’s normal. The depth and layers come as you revise. And revise. And revise.  

4)    Focus on your own writing. When I was querying, it was sometimes a struggle to not be jealous when someone else signed with an agent. When I was on submission, it was hard to not be jealous when someone else landed a book deal. Even though I was happy for my friends, it often made me wonder if it meant I wasn’t as good because it hadn’t happened for me yet. And now that I have a book out, there are other authors’ awards, bestseller lists, and publicity and buzz I could be worrying about. But no one else’s success diminishes mine. One of the most wonderful things I’ve been realizing as I find critique partners and connect and blog with other authors, particularly in YA, is that we’re much more colleagues than competitors. Readers can pick up my book, and they can pick up someone else’s, too. Another author’s success doesn’t limit or detract from mine. What does limit my success is me looking at someone else’s plate, and wishing I had what they had, and letting my own work suffer.

5)      Think of writing and the publishing journey as pursuing any other career. Study, learn from experts, network, study more, practice, take constructive feedback, and work, work, work. Writers sometimes have the expectation that it should take maybe a year to write and revise a MS and a year to get the querying process figured out, query, and hear back. Either way, 2-3 years is about the time we expect to have an agent and be on submission if we’re any good. I don’t think that mindset is accurate or always healthy. Writing is a competitive, demanding, detail-oriented, incredibly complex career. No other career like that gets off the ground in 2-3 years. It takes more than that to become a teacher, lawyer, engineer, graphic designer, or doctor, and even then, most of them have to work their way up. You haven’t failed and you aren’t a bad writer just because your journey takes longer than someone else’s. Treat it like a long-haul career both in your expectations and your work habits, because you are the biggest factor in your career.

Ever since Jackie moved to her uncle’s sleepy farming town, she’s been flirting way too much–and with her own cousin, Marcus.

Her friendship with him has turned into something she can’t control, and he’s the reason Jackie lost track of her best friend, Ellie, who left for…no one knows where. Now Ellie has been missing for months, and the police, fearing the worst, are searching for her body. Swamped with guilt and the knowledge that acting on her love for Marcus would tear their families apart, Jackie pushes her cousin away. The plan is to fall out of love, and, just as she hoped he would, Marcus falls for the new girl in town. But something isn’t right about this stranger, and Jackie’s suspicions about the new girl’s secrets only drive the wedge deeper between Jackie and Marcus–and deepens Jackie’s despair.

Then Marcus is forced to pay the price for someone else’s lies as the mystery around Ellie’s disappearance starts to become horribly clear. Jackie has to face terrible choices. Can she leave her first love behind, and can she go on living with the fact that she failed her best friend?

Kate Brauning grew up in rural Missouri and fell in love with young adult books in college. She now works in publishing and purses her lifelong dream of telling stories she'd want to read. This is her first novel. Visit her online at or on Twitter at @KateBrauning
Monday, November 17, 2014

How to Perfect Humor in Your Writing

When I was sitting in workshops at SCBWI, someone asked a question about how to write good humor. This wasn't a humor workshop, but the subject happened to come up. The leader of this workshop was saying that really good humor has to be super on point and it has to work, which can be hard to do.

I agree with this. I think it's very easy to tell if someone's trying to force humor in writing. Maybe you know what I'm talking about. In case you don't, I've broken down humor into three different categories with examples that I personally believe have worked--and hopefully will help you in your writing!


There are many, many novels out there (not just YA) that have an excellent voice that invokes LOL moments. This voice is typically witty, uses unique references, and is super original. This can usually be carried out through sarcasm, bringing light to a difficult subject, through comparisons, etc. WITHOUT demeaning or hatefully offending anyone. The voice of your main character is consistent and clear throughout the book and delivers a humorous voice at exactly the right moments.

Some examples:

"Oh, no. He's not going to cry, is he? Because even though it's sweet when guys cry, I am so not prepared for this. Girl scouts didn't teach me what to do with emotionally unstable drunk boys."
- Anna and the French Kiss

“When uncle Eddie does his impression of 'Like a Virgin' it's like Madonna is coming out of his body!"
Christ what an image.
- Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging

"The police officer interviewing me seems completely baffled by the fact I just admitted to setting my school on fire. He said they were lucky enough to stop the blaze from spreading past the auditorium, and also that I should stay away from the firefighters because they don't take kindly to casual arsonists. Which I'm not. It's only arson if it's on purpose: I Googled it."

Also, anything Meg Cabot.


I bet if I asked you to name a character from any YA book who brought comic relief to a book, you could do it. These characters are usually funny because they bring LOL moments through voice and dialogue--which I'll get too in a minute. These characters don't HAVE to be thrown in for comedic relief. They can just have a genuinely funny personality. But the timing and placement of these characters are vital toward gaining that LOL reaction from your reader.

Some examples:


Timing and delivery are very important for humor in dialogue. The delivery of the lines also cannot be overplayed. Personally, I think this works best if you really establish your characters beforehand so your reader gets an idea of who they are. I know everyone suddenly has a beef with the fast dialogue in Gilmore Girls, but as a long time fan I think the witty banter works well for the characters.

Here's more examples:

“Hey, it’s-!”
“Who? Oh. Oh.”
“Shut up.”
“I haven’t said anything yet!”
“How can I shut up if I haven’t said anything?”
“I know you. You’ve got a monologue coming up.”
Audrey, Wait!

“Weren't you wearing a purity ring when we got here? Aren't you supposed to be saving yourself?" Shanti asked.
"Yeah," Mary Lou answered. "And then I thought, for what? You save leftovers. My sex is not a leftover, and it is not a Christmas present.”
- Beauty Queens

"I don't believe it! I don't believe it! Oh Ron, how wonderful! A prefect! That's everyone in the family!"
"What are Fred and I, next-door neighbors?" said George indigently.
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

I'm not a humor expert, and I know there are a lot more components that go into successfully delivering good humor. But I appreciate it when I read it, and I do love reading good humor through certain characters, dialogue, and voice.

I know there are TONS more books and characters I'm missing that are definitely LOL-worthy. I want to know your favorites! Who's your favorite funny character? What book has made you LOL? Leave yours in the comments!

Farrah Penn enjoys staying up way too late and making up for it in large quantities of coffee. On top of her love for reading books with memorable characters, she also enjoys internet memes, yoga, and her adorably bratty dog. When she’s not rushing to complete marketing projects at work, she’s writing and daydreaming about traveling the world. Farrah writes YA and is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary.

You can also find her on Twitter @:
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Monday, November 10, 2014

#YAlaunch and the Secrets of Writing Retreats

Hi from Omaha!

Omaha, Omaha! 

My good friend Kate Brauning whose debut HOW WE FALL releases tomorrow, is holding a massive release party with Nikki Urang of THE HIT LIST called YA Launch. Nine other authors and I are working on our projects (you guys, I love mine) on the retreat part and are gearing up to launch these two fantastic books. 

I love writing retreats. One of the best things about these is getting to meet people who are as passionate about their work as you are. Still, it can be a little intimidating, especially if you're a) traveling to a new state b) an introvert who only knows like three of these ten people c) going on your first retreat, or d) all of the above.

A typical day on the ranch

The thing to remember is that everyone probably feels the same way. So, having survived most of my first retreat, I'm dropping by with a couple tips before Kate and I roadtrip back to Iowa for the livestream tonight.

1. Bring business cards

If you don't have business cards for your writing, consider making them. One of the good places that we talked about was Moo, and there are many others. Even though a lot of us have our laptops here, it's still nice to be able to hand someone a card and be like "hey, think about me if you need a crit partner, okay?" 

They'll also come in handy if you go to conferences later, where everyone and their mom will be asking for your card.

2. Bring your A-game. 

Come prepared to work hard and play hard. We've been working on WIPs, revising, coordinating launches, and comparing publishing stories. On the flip side, we have re-christened Omaha as "Omaha, City of Dreams" and had an excellent time playing with fridge poetry.

"ask for fire/this was her mad war"

3. Be willing to explore. 

You're in a new place with cool people-- it's time to make things happen! Go out on a limb. Last night we all shared snippets from our WIPs (with the caveat that these suckers are all highly unedited, etc) and that was awesome. It's really neat getting to see what's in the pipeline for other writers, even if it means putting yourself a little out of your comfort zone. 

Even better, we got to brainstorm together and talk about how to handle first pages, helping balance out conflicts and tensions, and a whole lot of other things, like whether or not we prefer writing via laptops or by hand. 

look for adventure! you too could find a grain elevator!
I've got to split and get ready for the launch, but if you have some free time this evening, then def stop by the twitter party tonight! We'll be livestreaming, interviewing each other, giving away one hundred books, celebrating our friends' debuts, and being goofy on the internet. You can find us here on twitter or check out this page for the list of events. 

When Alex Yuschik isn't writing her next YA novel, she's working on someone else's as an intern at Entangled Publishing. She writes about lock picks, ghosts, the abandoned places in cities, and how not to strike bargains with stars. Between sneaking in time to game and rocking out to indie music, Alex spends the rest of her free time working towards her PhD in mathematics. You know, as one does.

You can find her on Twitter @:
Or drop her an email at:
And also visit her website @:
Thursday, October 30, 2014

After the Book Launch: Now What?

Hi, lovelies,

It's so great to be back to The Secret Life after our blog hiatus and my own self-imposed shut down. I can't wait to catch up with you guys!

While The Secret Life was re-launching, I was off launching my first book baby, OF SCARS AND STARDUST, into the world. It officially came out on October 8th, although not everything went as planned, and some people got their books early.

Now launch month is winding down, and I've been feeling a whole mix of anxiety and, well, flat-out fear that I hadn't expected. And since this blog is all about authenticity, I want to share with you what it's really like post-debut. For me, anyway.

In the past few weeks, I've felt pretty good. I think that's because launch kept me busy with a party, two panels with some other super awesome YA authors, a writing workshop, and signings. But that, too, is dwindling down and I'm finding myself standing here with…nothing.

I don't mean nothing, like, I have no other projects going on. I do. I have plenty of things in various stages of planning/drafting/revision to work on. What I don't have is this book to work on. I thought I'd be happy about that, relieved even. And sometimes I am, when I remind myself that this is a huge accomplishment, that I'm so lucky the book of my heart got published. But mostly, I feel a little empty.

I've been thinking/praying/dreaming about this book for three years. And up until this past summer, I had been researching/planning/drafting/revising/editing/somehow working on this book for almost as long. While I'm happy and proud, I'm also grieving a little because this book is no longer mine. It's yours.

Which is every aspiring author wants all along, right? To be read. To have a book belong to someone other than me. I just didn't expect how mixed up I'd feel about that.

What has been helping, and what always helps, is the Next Thing. For creative people, there is always a Next Thing because making stuff is in our DNA. We can't not make stuff. So I'm working on the Next Thing(s) and truly lettings SCARS do its own thing in the world. No checking ratings or reviews or sales. No googling it (or me). I've done the best I can with it, and now I have to trust that it will get into the hands of the people who need to read it, for whatever reason.

The more I think of it like that, the less consuming the emptiness feels. My job is to write the book. That's it. I've done my job with SCARS, and I'm doing it again (and again, and again) with the next books. Your job is to read them, and I'm forever grateful for that opportunity. Thank you for making this transition from writer to author, empty to full again, that much easier.


Andrea Hannah writes about delusional girls, disappearances, and darkness with a touch of magic. When she's not writing, Andrea runs, teaches, consumes epic amounts of caffeine, and tries to figure out how to prevent her pug from opening the refrigerator (unsuccessful to date). She's represented by Victoria Marini of Gelfman-Schneider/ICM, and her debut novel, OF SCARS AND STARDUST, is out now. You can add it on Goodreads here!

You can find her on Twitter @:
Drop her an email @:
And visit her website @:

Monday, October 27, 2014

Can we talk about stuff and things?

Hello!!! It's been so long! And I'm so happy we're back! If I could, I'd hug you all!

So, unlike the other ladies who've all been out and about and making awesomeness happen, I have been doing, um let's see, NOTHING! I mean, I've been writing and stuff, but mostly I've just been watching A LOT of TV. But that doesn't mean I haven't been honing my story-telling abilities.

Someone once said that I seem to have really studied my craft. But I never finished college, not even close. How did I respond to this awesome individual? I said, "Actually, I've just always watched a lot of movies and TV and stuff." Just like we're supposed to read a butt load if we want to be good writers, I think there's something to be said about studying all forms of story-telling, as well. So, please allow me to fangirl over, I mean, analyze my favorite thing at the moment.


It's no secret that I'm a character person. You could set an entire story inside an infinite, white void and if the characters had multiple layers, great dialogue, and maybe a romance thing happening, I'd be all over it. And that's the thing about TWD. Sure, there are zombies and they sometimes make stuff and things happen, but mostly, this is a character driven show. Everyone has goals. Everyone has a personality, opinions, and fears. And they're not afraid to introduce new characters. It's fun to watch those new characters go from distrusted and untested to beloved or hated.

TWD also has a reputation of having those jaw-dropping scenes. Those reveals that make your eyes pop out of your head and your hands go to your mouth in surprise. They don't pull any punches and because of that, when the good things happen like reunions or escapes, the watchers are tearing up and punching the air in triumph.

So what can we as writers learn from TWD? Make complex characters! Know who they are, what they want, and how far they're willing to go to get it. Know their history, their opinions, and their morals. Also, don't pull any punches! They say to think of the worst thing that can happen to your characters and do that. That's what this show totally does. Yes, I know these are things we always hear as writers but it doesn't hurt to be reminded every once in a while.

And don't feel guilty about a good ol' TV marathon. Just put on your writer hat and call it research!

I wish I had more to talk about, but I wasn't kidding when I said I haven't been up to much at all.

Please share your TV obsessions in the comments. I'm willing to bet we'll have some in common!

Born and raised in northern Louisiana, Leah Rae Miller still lives there on a windy hill with her husband and kids. She loves comic books, lava lamps, fuzzy socks, and Cherry Coke. She spends most of her days reading things she likes and writing things she hopes other people will like. Her YA novel, THE SUMMER I BECAME A NERD, released Summer 2013 from Entangled Teen. You can add it on Goodreads here!

You can also find her on Twitter @:
Drop her an email @:
And visit her blog at:

Friday, October 24, 2014

Setting is a Ghost

So I've been trying to think up things that fall under the categories of "secrets," "Halloween-y," and "cool, hopefully useful writing knowledge" but most of what I've got is: well, I traveled a bit this summer. 

You got me-- it's not really a secret and not useful writing advice. It's not even Halloween-themed.

But I can talk about setting. 

BALCONIES maaaan I love balconies
Over the summer, I went to New Orleans and it was kickass. I had a scene in my last manuscript set there, and I really wanted to capture as many details of the city as I could. I'd never been that far south before, and while I'd done a ridiculous amount of research on the city and the culture before visiting, it was still really interesting seeing what stood out about a place versus what I was writing about it. 

Setting, in many ways, is like a ghost. It follows you through the pages of a book. It never contacts you explicitly or anything, but you see traces of its presence as the characters go about their business-- balconies housing dangling plants, strings of lights, and deck chairs, and the rank oyster smell loitering outside some of the bars and restaurants. 

As a reader, I love seeing the ways that a book's setting influences the plot. As a writer, I subscribe to the idea that the setting has to be integral enough to the book that the story can't be set any other place and still be the same thing

I visited the French Quarter during nights when it wasn't even Mardi Gras (aka the middle of May) and the streets still get closed to through traffic during the late evenings because the foot traffic is just that intense. It's crazy! And it's those weirdo, super-specific details that draw people in and make your setting a compelling one. 

Characters that are from certain regions of the country (or from different countries!) may also behave differently, or even if they don't adhere to their native region/homeland's mores, they'll still see a certain set of behaviors as normal/acceptable and others as rude. 

And it all comes from setting. 

fun fact: tiny birds will perch on your table here and try to eat your grits (not cool, bro)
The setting can also collude with you in making characters' lives harder. Protag need to go somewhere immediately? Have the cab get snarled up in traffic around a tourist trap or monument. Two characters gearing up for a fight? Find either the worst or most interesting place for them to do it-- what cool environment can they use in battle? 

In last ms, I had one character chase after another. Simple enough, yeah? Then I set that scene on Bourbon Street at night, and suddenly, tons of conflict: one character is breaking curfew, he can't see where he's going because there's too many people, his own personal phobias start kicking in, he gets cheap drinks spilled on him-- it kickstarts a whole mess of details and tensions. 

And you don't have to campy with it-- while I believe that details do help ground us in a setting, most of what a setting is is the feeling it invokes in us. A ghost's goal is to make you feel something. 

another fun fact: over half the pictures I took are balconies 
The specifics matter less. It's less important that there are foreboding knocks on the bedroom wall and more that the person sleeping there feels threatened (though obvs to do this, you'll want to include some specifics to show it). Ultimately, it's up to you to choose the details that stand out to you as touchstones of a location-- short, sweet punches that capture the essence of wherever your story is set. 

Especially in contemp, I think it's important to let the setting shine. Places, like ghosts, have their own histories. Nowhere stays the same forever.  

Same deal for fantasy--setting can add a unique spin and flavor to old tropes. What about your particular fishing village makes it an interesting/terrible place for the protag to grow up in? I adore Jodi Meadows' INCARNATE books for a ton of reasons, but one is that her world and setting are so interesting and constantly affect the characters. 

My current WIP is an urban fantasy and I'm researching geology, mine disasters, and all sorts of esoteric facts and beliefs about rocks for its monsters and magic system. I want the history of coal mining and those specific details associated with it to haunt my readers-- not beat them over the head with HEY COAL HELLO but to give that story a specific flavor.

And yeah, I had an awesome time in New Orleans and I promise I was not thinking about setting 100% of the time, though I did occasionally split off to wander Bourbon Street or prowl the WWII Museum. Moment of drooling for the memory of the beignets we consumed.

~*they were so good*~

And I got to meet Leah!! (You guys, she is every bit as amaze in real life as she is online.)

Leah's phone is also nine zillion times cooler than mine
So what do you guys think? What are some of the best examples of setting that you've come across in books? I also really adore ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD and (duh of course) THE SCORPIO RACES and THE RAVEN BOYS for this as well. Share your favorites and we'll tweet recs through the day! :)

Alex Yuschik writes about lock picks, ghosts, the abandoned places in cities, and how not to strike bargains with stars. Between sneaking in time to game and rocking out to indie music, Alex spends the rest of her free time working towards her PhD in mathematics. You know, as one does.

You can find her on Twitter @:
Or drop her an email at:
And also visit her website @: