Thursday, December 11, 2014

Contracts and Deadlines and Expectations, Oh My!

Hi Secret Lifers!

So, in case you haven't heard, I've had a pretty big couple of weeks, between welcoming my first baby  and selling my second book to Simon and Schuster! And while honestly I'm still in new, totally-enamored Mommy mode and all I want to do is stare at my (currently sleeping and totally cute) daughter, today's post is obviously going to be about that latter bit of big news.

Because that's definitely weighing heavy and shifting to the front of my mind in the few spare moments in-between feedings and diaper changes and getting spit up on--because as awesome and exciting as it is to know that FALLS THE SHADOW will have a real, live companion novel on the shelves in a little over a year, it's also a bit daunting when I think about how said novel isn't actually written yet.

Some of you probably already know this, but a behind-the-scenes tidbit in case you don't: in the case of option novels and second book deals in general, things are often sold on proposal. In my specific case, that means that all that was written of this new book at the time S&S offered on it was around thirty pages and a very basic synopsis. So it's a very different experience, of course, from FALLS, which was already more or less a book (albeit one still in need of editing) when I signed the contract for it.

When I was writing FALLS, I was still agentless, and like every other book I'd written before then, I had no idea if it was going to go anywhere. And to all of you still in that spot-- I haven't forgotten how daunting *that* can be, facing a blank page and filling it with words that people may never see (*cue sad trombone*). What I'm discovering now, though, is a new kind of daunting-ness. The pressure of expectation, of knowing I *can't* quit--or even take a break, really--because I have a deadline and a contract to fulfill. This book has to be written, and it has to be written like, nowish.

While I was waiting for this second book deal to happen, I told myself that I would never complain about deadlines ever again, because deadlines mean you have contracts, which is a very, very awesome thing that I am very, very grateful for. So let me be clear: this is not me complaining. It's more me saying: this is the reality of life after that debut book, and this is how I cope.

And how is that, then?

Well, I'm still learning (still very much a baby published author here!), but a couple things that help:

1. Staying away from reviews. I should point out that I don't (or didn't) entirely do this at first. When FALLS first started getting reviews, of course I read them. It's hard not to. And, at least in my case, it caused more anxiety to not know what people where saying as opposed to just checking and reading all of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Plus, you can learn a lot from reviews--and I want to learn. I want readers to like this second book more than they liked the first, so of course I'm interested in what readers liked and didn't like about FALLS. But there's a difference in interest and obsession. It can be a hard line to draw, too; I draw it by literally blocking both Goodreads and my book's Amazon page on my laptop via a parental control add-on I installed on my laptop.

Trust me, it's better this way.

Besides, I've noticed that after the first few dozen reviews, few of them are saying anything you haven't heard before, anyway.

2. Paying no attention to sales numbers. Two dangerous things I have now: an Amazon sales rank, and an author portal on the Simon and Schuster website that allows me to check the number of books sold in a given time period. I let myself check these things once a week, and that's it. Just enough to satiate my curiosity. And then I remind myself that, regardless of how FALLS is doing, the best way to sell books is to publish more books. It's basic marketing strategy. So the best thing I can do for those numbers, be they good or bad or ugly, is to go back to writing this new book and making it as kickass as possible.

3. Paying no attention to the looming deadline. Are you noticing a pattern of avoidance here? Basically I work in a cave now and the only thing I let myself worry about is getting as many words down as possible on any given day. Of course I know my deadline, and I plan to do everything possible to hit it. But personally? I can't think about it. I don't count the days I have left until it, or sit and figure up how many words I have to write each day to hit it. I know a lot of people operate like that, and that's cool. But for me, that just leads to me being overwhelmed and disappointed with myself when I don't hit a day's wordcount, and that in turn makes me much less productive during my next writing session. Now I just make sure I write everyday, and try not to be too concerned with the numbers. Oddly enough, in this way I think I'm less disciplined now than I was before I was published. But so far I'm proving just as productive, and feeling a lot less stressed.

4. When all else fails, taking stare-at-the-baby breaks. I can't help it. She's cute. And at the end of the day, even if the book I'm creating ends up sucking, at least the baby I created doesn't. Win! ;)

 What sort of expectations do you have for your works-in-progress, and how do you deal with them and still manage to be productive? Let us know in the comments!

Stefanie Gaither writes YA novels about killer clones and spaceships, with the occasional romp with dragons and magic-users thrown in for good measure. Said writing is generally fueled by an obscene amount of coffee and chocolate, as well as the occasional tennis and/or soccer break. She's represented by Sara Megibow of Megibow Literary, and her debut, FALLS THE SHADOW, is available now from Simon and Schuster Books For Young Readers. 

You can find her on Twitter @:
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Monday, December 8, 2014

Rainbow Revising

November is dead and NaNoWriMo is over, and now you're probably left with a lumpy, shapeless manuscript that you're not sure what to do with. I hear you. I've been there, and I'm still there now.

The answer is color-coding. (I personally think the answer to everything is color-coding, but whatever.)

I've recently started doing something I call Rainbow Revising, in which I read through the manuscript and tag or highlight portions that relate to a certain aspect, and then go back and change them in the order of the rainbow. (I also like to be passive-aggressive and tell my manuscript to "TASTE THE RAINBOW" when I'm doing it. It's good to get the feels out.) The whole system is effective, and has cut my revision time in half since I started using it. Here are the colors you're looking for:

Red: Main Character
Orange: Secondary Characters
Yellow: Plot
Green: Setting
Blue: Tension
Indigo: Word Choice
Violet: Grammar, Spelling, Punctuation

1. ROYG-ify your manuscript. Read through as many times as it takes to highlight or tab the first four colors only. Those are the big points you're trying to hit and that need to be taken care of before you start worrying about the cool colors on the spectrum. So when you're looking for main character, highlight the thoughts, beliefs, and actions that influence your manuscript's direction. The same goes for the secondary characters, the ones that are essential to the story. Then thread through and find important plot points, and when your setting is described.

2. Red alert! Out of all these colors, red is the most important and the one that needs to be sorted out first. Your character should be directly influencing all other elements of your manuscript, so you need to be clear about how she thinks, what she believes, and how those two things influence her decisions. Go back through your red tabs/highlights and ask yourself if every action and choice make sense based on what your character wants and who she is. You'll find as you do this, how your secondary characters see her (orange), plot points (yellow) and how she uses and sees her natural surroundings (green) will also change. This is awesome; less work for clearing up one color! Once you think you've got red covered, take a few more passes through orange, yellow, and green to make sure they still line up.

3. BIV it up. Now it's time for the silky blues and deep purples of the visible light spectrum. Here's where you do your nitty gritty micro-writing. Take a look at each chapter, and then each scene, and check for tension (hint: there should be some in each one). One question you can ask yourself during each scene is: What's at play here, and how can I make sure the stakes are apparent to the reader? After that, go back and polish those pronouns and punctuation and make this thing sparkly.

I'm not saying this is the end-all, be- all to manuscript revision. In fact, you may need to make your book taste the rainbow in another pass after this one. But it's a concrete system that give you something to start with, which I think is important when you first get going.

How 'bout you, Secret Lifers? Do you color code when you revise? Or what are some of your favorite revision techniques? Share the wealth in the comments!

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 @:
Thursday, December 4, 2014

Let's Talk New Adult

Hey guys, hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! Over here, we are super stoked about Stef's beautiful daughter and Andee finishing her Master's~ *diploma and baby confetti everywhere* so go on and congratulate them!

Today I want to get into NA, aka the New Adult category. My latest manuscript is a NA fantasy and I sort of went on a Twitter Thing a while back about some of this, but I wanted to collect things ~*coherently*~ in a post. So gather 'round the internets, kiddos, bust out the snacks, and let's talk NA.

First, a quick primer if you're unfamiliar:

Wait wait, so what is NA? 

Okay, so this is a legit question and it's one that we're still answering as writers, truthfully.

New Adult is an age category (similar to MG, YA, adult, etc) with protagonists in their "new adult" years, aka the free space after high school where you start work in the professional world, go to college, enroll in the military, or any myriad of life options. Part of the beauty of the category (and also this point in life) is its infinite possibility.

What makes a manuscript NA vs. adult is actually similar to what makes something YA vs. adult: it's the perceptions of the characters and the lens through which the story is told. You can easily (and it's def been done) tell a story about characters in college meant to be read by adult audience, just like how stories about teenagers are not necessarily YA.

Okay, cool. But why are people saying NA is a trend?

This comes back to our age-old adage here on the ranch: publishing changes slowly/is just slow, period. It's hard to tell what's an emerging, permanent thing and what's the latest life-fast-die-hard trend in the market.

I, personally, would like NA to be a permanent thing. I think that it's been around long enough to justify this (keeping in mind that I've just been a literary agent intern and editorial intern and Not a 100% Vetted Industry Professional), and I think it's a category that people are approaching cautiously but optimistically. You look around, you see NAs getting snapped up in PM, you see literary agents listing NA as a category they rep. Indie authors are doing fantastically with NA.

Still, there's a chance it could be a trend, a bubble that will burst, and that we're just riding it out and reaping the benefits of the NA market until it gets over-saturated/the same thing that happened with Paranormal happens.

Okay, primer over. Let's get down the to heavy lifting.

What is NA, really? 

Again, no one is really satisfied on this yet. Search for new adult stories on Amazon, and you'll find that the bulk of them are about kids in college, tend to be contemporary romance, and almost always feature sex.

Which, in itself, is fine! I like those kinds of stories, and I think they are necessary and great. I am glad we have them in NA and I don't want them to go away.

What I don't want is for them to be the entirety of the category.

Imagine if YA were only dystopians. I know I wouldn't read it as much. (And I have nothing against the dystopian genre or its writers-- I just got Way Freaked Out that one time in junior high when we read THE GIVER and my paranoid self has been ruined ever since. Same thing with mysteries. I do read an occasional one and really dig it, but only reading those? Nope nope nope.)

It's the diversity of genres that makes me love YA. Fantasy is my heart and soul, but I've loved getting to explore contemporary, paranormal, and tons of other stories in there. I like reading about Hazel and Augustus navigating the real world with a very real disease, and then seeing June and Day face off in one of the most epic games of cat and mouse I've ever read.

I think NA can have the same breadth, but I also think it's up to us as writers to make that happen.

Is sex a requirement of NA? 

This comes back to how we define NA, what it is now and where it could be going. Right now, it does feel like a requirement to have sex in a NA book, especially graphic sex.

I've heard NA described as "finding your place in the world" versus YA's "finding yourself." I don't think that's wrong, but I also don't think that's totally accurate. As an NA (does 25 still count? I'm still inexplicably in college?) or a former NA, I don't consider myself totally figured out. I view NA as more "finding yourself around other people" or as learning to be interdependent in contrast with learning to be independent as a YA.

Sex is an important part of interdependence. Is it always necessary in an NA? I don't think so. I think it's something that should be addressed, like if a character is choosing to wait, or knows they're asexual, but if we're talking about how NA protags fit into their worlds, then I definitely want to know how they fit into another, most significant other's world, too.

And like in YA, I want to see a variety of sexual experience and levels of explicitness. Right now, the scope is pretty narrow: most NA veers toward graphic of-course-they-have-sex romance. Again, not a problem on its own, but real new adults-- aka the people whose lives we NA writers should be imitating through our art-- have a wide scope of interactions. Sometimes you have a terrible break-up in high school, a fun fling at a house party, and then you're alone again for months.

To sum it up, I really want to see NA exhibit a greater breadth. I know some writers are looking in that direction (and I have my eye on you, 2015 and 2016 releases), but what do you guys think?

What do you want to see in your NA?
Monday, December 1, 2014

Introducing the Newest Little Secret Lifer!

In place of this regularly scheduled Secret Life of Writers post, we present:

Hello Evelyn (Evie) Grace Gaither, and welcome to the world!

Look for another post on Thursday, and then Stef will be back next week with some more big news (not baby-related this time, but still exciting nonetheless!)

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 @:
Drop her an email @:
And visit her website @:

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 @:
Drop her an email @:
And visit her blog at: