Monday, September 30, 2013

Author Interview: Hafsah Laziaf

Today we have Hafsah Laziaf of Icey Books here to talk about her upcoming October release, UNBREATHABLE! Interested in an action-packed and gorgerously written YA scifi that takes place on another planet? Look no further. 

Tell us about UNBREATHABLE! Toxic atmosphere, secrets as big as the Earth, telescopes and aliens, oh my! :)

The synopsis pretty much says it all! But while UNBREATHABLE is science fiction, at its heart, it's about Lissa. Figuring out her parentage, her purpose on Jutaire, and more than anything, finding strength in herself. There's action, of course, but also love and redemption.

What inspired you to write UNBREATHABLE? Was there a particular scene that you kept coming back to or a character that drew you in?

UNBREATHABLE began with a quest to find the perfect first line for another scifi I was finishing up. And then I thought: in how many first lines are people searching for Earth? The rest sprang from there - I can never outline, so I had no idea what would happen in the story. On a side note, my main character was originally a boy named Finn. He lasted the first twenty pages before I realized it needed to be narrated by a girl.

UNBREATHABLE takes place on Jutaire, a red planet inhabited both by humans and Jute. If you could live anywhere on Jutaire and choose to be human or Jute (or something else!), where and what would you choose?

Oh, I'd rather not live on Jutaire at all, but if I had to, I'd choose to be a maid in White Plains. I wouldn't have to meddle with an evil queen but I'd still live in a pretty cool place. And I think I'd be a Jute, breathing that tasty air and looking drop-dead gorgeous ;)

Tell us about your editing process! Any secret techniques for those of us revising? :)

Hah. I have no secrets. But do what I didn't: BACK UP YOUR WORK. I suffered once.
But for an actual editing tip: read every sentence carefully, and remove any word(s) that isn't needed to either move the plot forward or add to your world/emotion/characters. Keep that in mind as you go, it's easy to tighten up your story.

You run a popular book review blog, design kickass websites, all in addition to writing books. (whoa!) How do you make time for all of these?


Just like I can't follow an outline for writing, I can't follow a schedule. I keep lists, which are a huge relief when something gets crossed off, but I don't find time. I do as much as I can in a day and continue the next. While a post goes up on IceyBooks every day, I can't take full credit for it anymore. My sister (who's a writer too!) has been co-blogging with me for about a year now and I'd be a failure without her.

As for dividing my time between designing and writing and promoting UNBREATHABLE? Somehow, it's all getting done. Don't ask :P

Did you always plan to write science fiction, or are there other genres you enjoy writing in? Can you give us a hint or teaser about what you’re working on next?

I've been writing science fiction ever since I started writing, though this is my first space novel, or space opera. But when I was completing a rewrite for UNBREATHABLE a few months ago, I had a fantasy idea that's on a standstill while I ready UNBREATHABLE for October 29th. Up next? If there's enough interest for a sequel - though UNBREATHABLE does read as a standalone - I'll either work on that, or the fantasy.

Since this is the Secret Life of Writers and all, can you share a secret about your writing with us? :)

I wrote UNBREATHABLE in the dark. On my tiny 3.5" screen smartphone (that I no longer own) every night. Yes, the whole manuscript, which was originally 105,000 words long. There was something to the darkness that made it easier to visualize the world and voice. And when I tried to continue the next day on my computer, I just couldn't.

Thanks so much for the interview, Hafsah! Interested in Hafsah and her writing? Follow her here:

One hundred and fifty years ago, Earth was destroyed, and the remaining humans fled to the dusty red planet of Jutaire, where the only oxygen is manufactured, food is scarce, and death strikes often.

When Lissa's father discovers Earth still exists, she accidentally inhales the toxic air of Jutaire, and in one breath, discovers she isn't quite human.

Her father hangs for his discovery, and Lissa knows the Chancellors will come for her, for she saw the Earth that night too. With nothing to lose, she sets out to expose the truth. It isn't long before she meets Julian, a beautiful boy who can breathe the toxic air like she can - and shows her that the Jute, the original inhabitants of the planet, are more tangled in their lives than she knows.

But the Chancellors are only pawns in a greater game - one where the Jute control everything. Worse, the Jute plan to leave Jutaire for Earth, but to get there, they need her. And they'll stop at nothing until Lissa is in their clutches, even if they kill every human in the process.

The race for Earth has begun.

Alright! And because Hafsah is amazing, she's generously agreed to do a giveaway of an e-ARC (open internationally) and bookmarks (US only)!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Friday, September 27, 2013

Instagram YA Book Club

Alright, everyone! For those of you who don't know, the amazingly talented Julie Murphy (@andimjulie) started a YA book club on Instagram a few months back. It goes like this:

(Original post by Julie on her IG feed)

So as it is, I loved this idea so much that every month I'd ask Julie: "What are we reading next? Have we voted yet? IGYABC needs a book for next month!" It got to the point where Julie finally said, "Hey, lady. You seem really excited about this and I haven't been able to give it the attention it needs. Interested in taking over?"

It's not word-for-word, but that's basically the gist. I don't know if you know this, but Julie is not only working a full time job, she is also prepping for the release of her YA debut: SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY, and just sold her second book: DUMPLIN'. So as you can see she's been incredibly busy, and not just that, but she loves IGYABC so much, that she didn't want to see it fall behind as she focuses on her writing. I, of course, jumped at the chance to take over the book club while she's away, and I'm thrilled to have you guys vote for the October pick in light of one of the best holidays ever––HALLOWEEN!

So help me keep Julie's awesome creation alive by voting for the next #igyabc title, and be sure to share it with everyone you know while using the hashtag! Don't forget to follow me on Instagram in order to keep up with all the fun and to have your chance to vote each month. Cheers!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Secrets of a Sale

Hey, lovelies!

So yesterday, I got to share my book deal news and it was awesome. I so appreciate all the love and support! You guys made it so fun for me. And today, I get to tell you some of the secrets behind my sale.

Yaaaaay! It's so small. I don't know how to make it bigger.

One of the toughest parts about being on submission is that you have to pretend like you're not slowly developing a psychological problem, like it's normal to find relief in tearing your eyelashes out while you wait, or eating your sixteenth cupcake after you've read your sixteenth rejection letter. You have to play it cool, never mention it on social media, and pretend like it doesn't even matter while you slog through a new draft of something that seems less important. But now that it's over (*sobs*) I want to share my experience with you guys. I want you to know that if this is you, and things seem abysmal, they can still turn around. And you should probably stop pulling out your eyelashes.

Anyway, if you've followed this blog for awhile, you've read my posts about THE DIARIES OF ELLA GRAHAM (now titled OF SCARS AND STARDUST). This is the book of my heart, not my first manuscript, but the one I love more than any of the others. I believed in this book every step of the way. Lucky for me, so did my agent.

In June of 2012, shortly after signing with Victoria, I put SCARS through its first major overhaul. In July (over a year ago), we sent it out into the world and it was fresh and shiny and I was fresh and shiny and I couldn't wait for good things to clutter my inbox.

In came the rejections.

One after another. But the thing is, there were so many close calls. In those rejections letters, there were some of the nicest compliments I've ever received about my writing, which almost made it worse in a way. Victoria and I were both frustrated; no one could quite pinpoint what it was about the manuscript that seemed "off," just that it was.

In January, we had run through our list and I thought that it might be time to drawer SCARS, even though I didn't want to. But Victoria was not having any of that nonsense. We pulled back, we brainstormed for weeks, and I wrote a very detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline of SCARS as it was, at her request. We tore that sucker apart. Actually, she tore that sucker apart and I died a little inside, but it was cool, it was cool. And then SCARS went through its second major overhaul. (It was during this time period that I began referring to it as Frankenbook--a stitched up version of its former self.) I rewrote a third of that book in six days. I was single-minded about it, almost feverish. I still loved it, and I was determined to make this book the first of my book babies to leave the nest.

In March, it went back out on submission.

I prayed to any freaking ethereal being that would listen to me, I compulsively checked my email as writers on sub do, and I waited.

One month went by. Then another. Then a third.

And I gave up.

I don't mean that I gave up in the way that I thought it would never get published and I'd never write another thing and that I was a failure. I mean that I let it go. I stopped having certain expectations for SCARS and what it needed to do and how it needed to enter the world. I stopped thinking of it as a "right now" book and put in in a quiet place. It became a "someday, maybe" book. I finished revising my next thriller, and began writing another. I tucked away thoughts of SCARS and thanked it for being the manuscript that hooked me up with an agent, and taught me the art of perseverance and patience.

And then it sold in July.

Of course, right? Doesn't it always work out like that? (By the way, I have absolutely no tips on how to let things go so that they can happen in their own way. My strategy thus far has been to cling to everything I want like a barnacle until I'm too tired and battered to hang on anymore. Which, you know, don't do that. It's exhausting.)

Victoria and I tried to act "normalish" as the whole thing unfolded, but failed and swore (excitedly) instead.

So, in case you're keeping tabs, OF SCARS AND STARDUST sold one year after it went on submission, and went through two major rewrites during that year. And now you'll get to read it. <3

So, I have several people I need to thank endlessly for helping make this creepy, quiet little book become a reality.

My very first critique partner, Michelle Levy, who asked the question, "WHAT THE HELL DOES ELLA'S DAMN NOTE SAY?" twenty-five times throughout my draft until I figured out I should probably add that in. After Michelle came Leigh Ann Kopans, who has just as fierce love for SCARS as I do, and who has championed this book from the very beginning. And because of Leigh Ann's championing, thank you to all of the people who read and critiqued this book due to her gushing (I don't even know how many of you there are now, but I'm so incredibly grateful anyone wanted to read it at all).

While Leigh Ann was cheering on SCARS from behind the scenes, Victoria took it to the front line. She never gave up on this book, even when things looked dreary for awhile there. She put hours worth of work into her revision ideas and to cutting up my outlines, and because of her there's ten times more creep factor in this book. (Thank you a bajillion times over.)

And thank you to all of the writers that kept me (kind of) sane over the past year by sending love notes in the mail, sweet emails and texts, and pictures of dinosaurs puking up rainbows: Heather Marie, Megan Orsini, Amanda Olivieri, Megan Whitmer, Erica Chapman, Jamie Grey, Hay Farris, Kristen Jett, Dahlia Adler, Kelsey Macke, Heidi Schultz, Dan Hanks, and Becca Weston. (And so, so many more, but it's 1 A.M. and I'm blurry-eyed and I love you.)

And a quick little shout out to my husband, who made my kid magically disappear during the dark days of revision, and to my best friend, Keri, who has talked to me about this book pretty much every freaking day since I wrote it, and has read it almost as many times as I've said the phrase, "But I just really want it to be this book."

And now it is.


*Giveaway announcement: This Friday, September 27th, I'll be giving away six books throughout the day on the @LifeofWriters twitter feed. We'll be playing Name That Book! Join in throughout the day to win FREE STUFF. 

Andrea Hannah is a YA writer represented by Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider. She writes stories about criminals, crazy people, and creatures that may or may not exist. When she's not writing, Andrea teaches special education, runs, spends time with her family, and tries to figure out a way to prevent her pug from opening the refrigerator (still unsuccessful). Oh, and she tweets a bajillion times a day, mostly about inappropriate things. 

You can find her on Twitter @:

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

Monday, September 23, 2013

How to Make Yourself Write When You'd Rather…Well, Not

So the other day I was talking with a good friend of mine, and we were discussing career stuff, and she was explaining how she simply couldn't decide on a career path and stick to it. As a bit of a serial abandoner-of-projects, I could readily sympathize. Seriously. Just in this past month I've decided I would start doing yoga more, train for a 5k, learn how to paint, learn Spanish…the list goes on and on and…well, embarrassing as it is to admit, said list remains mostly unchecked off. I tend to be overly ambitious sometimes, I think, and I'm also easily distracted.

But enough about me. The point of this post is a particular thing that she said to me during this conversation, which I've been thinking on for a few days now--partly because it's not the first time I've heard it. Essentially, she said that I was lucky, of course, because I love writing so much, so it's not really work. And she wished she could find something like that and make a career out of it.

First things first: she's right about much of that. I'm incredibly fortunate to be where I am. Some of it's because I've been lucky, yes, and then some of it's because I've worked my ass off. She's also right about the fact that I LOVE writing. On good days, it consumes me, fills me with a passion that gives me purpose, and makes me feel like I could take on the entire world. And I wouldn't give up that feeling--or those days-- for anything.

What I don't think most people on the outside looking in realize, though, is that there are also bad days.

And sometimes those days stretch into weeks. Sometimes, like say, when you've gutted your entire manuscript and are knee-deep in a revision that's going nowhere fast, those weeks stretch into months. That's when this becomes work. Still a dream career, yes. But still very much work, and don't let anyone else tell you otherwise. Because writing for a living means meeting deadlines--whether self-imposed, agent-imposed, or publisher-imposed--which sometimes means writing even on days you don't feel like it.

I'm not saying I never take days off. But if I had never forced myself to write during at least some of those times I didn't want to, there's no way I'd be where I am right now. So how do I make that happen? 

I wish I had a secret, surefire formula to get the muse going that I could share with you guys. But sadly, I don't. Heather talked about what gets her writing here, and below are some of the things I do that usually help me:

  • "Just one more sentence". That's my mantra on tough days; that, and "word by word". I actually have the latter written in sharpie along the top of my laptop. It's a lot less overwhelming to think about just writing one more sentence than it is to consider how much further you have to go in an entire manuscript. One sentence more, and then one more after that…and you can make it all the way to the end like that. It's like magic.
  • New music, new surroundings--anything to change up the writing atmosphere. This might be just me, but I'm a bit of a gypsy writer; I've written in bars, on roofs, on park benches, in my closet--anywhere and everywhere I happen to wander. New places and new music are especially helpful to me when I reach the point where it feels like I've been working on a particular manuscript foreverrrrrrrr. (like my current WIP). 
  • Go back and look at old writing. Every time I read my old writing, it's a nice reminder that I don't suck as much as I used to. Woohoo!
  • Keep a document full of your writing achievements. In it, copy and paste gushing comments from betas, positive replies from agents/editors, that sort of thing--and when you need an ego-stroke to get things moving, pull that baby out and don't be ashamed to read it. You always read about people keeping their rejections and wallpapering their room with them and all that jazz. Why? Don't be that miserable writer. Keep those rejections if you must (as badges of honor, if you will), but remember to celebrate every little success, too--especially on days when you don't feel like doing this, if only to remind yourself that you can do it, and that it feels amazing to get it right and read those comments. Is it cheesy? Sort of. Egotistical? Most definitely yes. I do it anyway. So there.

  • Get off the internet. Yes, even your pinterest board that serves as inspiration for your WIP. Yes, I have one too. But no, pinning stuff to it doesn't count as writing time.
  • Drink a glass of wine. Or several. I'm not judging. (I'm also just kidding on this one) ((sort of)) (((okay I'm not really kidding at all. Drink up!)))

And lastly, imprint this quote from Stephen King deeply into your writerly brains:
“Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”

Right, so I'm off to go shovel some shi--er, to go finish my FANTASTIC BOOK YAY (no but seriously I'm going to finish this bottle of wine first).

Happy writing, secret lifers! Oh, and feel free to share your tips and tricks for getting the words flowing in the comments. I'm always looking for more!

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 Nelson Literary, and her debut novel, FALLS THE SHADOW, is forthcoming from Simon and Schuster Books For Young Readers in 2014. You can add it on Goodreads here!

You can find her on Twitter @:
Or drop her an email at:
And also visit her website @: 
Friday, September 20, 2013

A Quick Tip on Creating Authentic Characters

Hi, lovelies!

I'm bouncing onto the blog today to talk a bit about character creation and a trick I've found useful in making my characters unique. I've never actually blogged about characters before, and a big part of that is because I don't have a specific formula for that like I do outlining or revising. I don't even have a method for choosing character names. It's all very loosey-goosey up there in my head, a lot of "Does that sound right?" and "Does that feel right?"

But there is one little trick that I've adopted recently to make them unique, and I want to share it with you today. 

I don't know about you guys, but sometimes it's hard to come up with flaws, strengths, and interests that haven't been done before (or haven't been overdone!). We've all seen the strong-willed, female lead that loves sports or the shy, kind of nerdy male love interest that plays video games. And there's a reason for that. In fact, we've probably encountered a lot of people like that in real life, movies, TV shows, etc. So our brains start attaching certain traits with certain interests and it gets difficult to think outside of the box, right?

Here's where the tip comes in, I promise. 

I'm a pretty visual person, so there are two different things I do when I want to come up with a new interest/trait for a character in question:

Tarot cards. I know this sounds weird, but hear me out. If you've ever looked at a deck of tarot cards, there are a ton of really cool, unique images on them. So when I started my latest WIP, I was looking for a unique hobby for my love interest, who isn't really an emotional guy. I picked one of those cards out of the deck and found that it had an image of a field, flowers, and trees all over it. That's when it dawned on me: How cool would it be to have this kind of burly dude be really into horticulture? Maybe he's in 4H club? And the ideas grew from there. (There's also a book called Tarot for Writers, which is fun and insanely helpful in figuring out how to use the images on cards to make memorable characters.)

Pinterest and Instagram. Sometimes I browse through random people's Pinterest pages, especially hobby or craft pages, to find something unique that my character could be into. I also browse Instagram's "most popular page" to see if there's anything cool in there. Sometimes I find a setting that would be an awesome backdrop for a story, or a picture of a girl that looks like someone I would want to write about, etc. I recently got some inspiration from a girl I follow on Instagram: She's fifteen, and she runs her own Etsy business, making little odds and ends like hair bows, mugs, and knitted sweaters. I thought that would be a kind of cool person/hobby to write about. In general, I've found these to be pretty great places to pull up random inspiration.

Anyway, I hope this helps. Happy writing, everyone!
Andrea Hannah is a YA writer represented by Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider. She writes stories about criminals, crazy people, and creatures that may or may not exist. When she's not writing, Andrea teaches special education, runs, spends time with her family, and tries to figure out a way to prevent her pug from opening the refrigerator (still unsuccessful). Oh, and she tweets a bajillion times a day, mostly about inappropriate things. 

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

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Why Your Publishing Degree Isn’t a Golden Ticket to Success in the Industry

Okay. I know some of you read that title and immediately in your head went, duh. But I feel like there are actually some misunderstandings about this and you know what? That worries me.

School. Ah, school. To our parents and a large part of society it’s highly important we attend this educational systematic hierarchy so that we can parade around a degree or two in our home and land that dream job. Some people want to seek a degree because school does make them happy and they actually need it for that dream job. I’m not talking about those people.

The people I’m talking about are those who believe that by gaining a BA in Creative Writing, Publishing, MFA, etc. will bring them success. If you believe this, then I’m sorry for what you’re about to read next. Because having that degree isn’t a guarantee that you’ll land an agent/editor + publishing deal.

Your degree isn’t a golden ticket to success in the publishing factory. Just because you know X, Y, and Z and studied under A, B, and C really isn’t going to mean anything to an agent or editor. They aren’t going to ask to see your BA/MFA/etc. before offering you a contract.

But you know what is? Your writing.

Your writing is the #1 thing that will prove yourself to these industry-folk. The second thing may be how catchy and original your plot is, but the big thing is your writing.

And yes, school does help with that in some cases. Will it help you improve your craft? Sure. Will you get one-on-one time with professors to discuss where you’re going wrong? Possibly. Will you meet and work with critique partners? Most likely. Will you watch your work get evaluated and build tougher skin? I would say this is highly possible.


There are some things you should ask yourself if you’re in a program. Are you happy? Truly happy? Do you feel overwhelmed with the amount of work and constantly think to yourself, I’d rather be working on my own stuff? Or do you feel like this is taking away from the things in your life that makes you happy—family, friends, special events? Because if so, I would really reevaluate my decisions.

I say this because I know how it is. I had the chance to gain my masters for free and once my mom found out she insisted I go for it. It was a business program. I knew this was a rare opportunity, and I didn’t want to disappoint her. But was I happy? Hell. No.

I was so overwhelmed with the course load work. I hated that I was crunching numbers or evaluating hypothetical situations when I could have put that time and energy into writing. I cried a lot out of frustration. A lot. I told my boyfriend more than once I was going to quit. He knew how miserable I was and was like, I just want you to be happy. Do what you need to do.

And no, I didn’t quit. Maybe that makes me a hypocrite, but I wish I did. Sometimes it’s okay to be a quitter if it’s going to make you happier in the long run.

I was talking to a few different friends of mine within, oh, maybe the last 5 months. Three of them were debating whether or not to go back to school. This is always what I ask: is getting this degree going to make you happier in the future? And if the answer is yes, I’ll totally support you. But if you’re someone who wants to study overseas just to be somewhere else with a purpose, I’ll say something like, well why don’t you spend that money on a work visa instead of wasting it on an education you don’t want if you want to be somewhere else so badly?

And I get it. I get that degrees mean a lot in our society. But in the long run you have to go with what’s going to make you happy.

There are successful people out there who’ve never gone to college and landed a book deal. Authors who don’t have fancy MFAs have received a deal from one of the Big Six (or Big Five? Idk anymore). There are successful authors who haven’t even graduated high school! Or college! People who have had ZERO connections going into this industry have made it.

So am I saying quit your program? No. Am I saying don’t even consider school? No. I’m not telling you to do anything. I’m only telling you that 1) having a degree won’t guarantee you that publishing deal and 2) to take a step back when it comes to how school is affecting your happiness.
And on that note I ask you this: have you seen the Jenna Marbles video about what to do with your degree? Oh my god. Just. Watch and relate. (Because I mean really wtf are we supposed to do with these things?)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Behind the Scenes with a Publishing Intern

Hey guys! It's Alex and today I'm going to talk a little about what us ~mysterious~ interns get up to. *cue flickering lights and spirit fingers*

Probably, if you've read posts on this blog or elsewhere, you're aware that a lot of people in publishing-- editors, agents, etc-- have interns to help them out. Internships are a great opportunity to break into the publishing industry if you're interested in becoming an editor or agent yourself, or an immersive introduction to queries and submissions. You get to help publishing professionals do cool stuff with books, read stuff years before it's published, as well as get a firsthand look at what trends are popping up. It's pretty neat!

I work as a remote intern-- meaning that I work from my laptop at home. There are other internships that take place in person in NYC, too (which sound wicked fun and also involve meeting publishing people face to face instead of over a keyboard).

So okay, what exactly does being an intern entail? 

Reading. (Haha, yes, you should've seen this one coming.) Whether you intern for an agent or a publisher, be prepared to buckle down and do a lot of reading. You'll also have to write up these things called reader reports, which I'll talk about a little later, after you've read. But reading is always going to be your number one task.

Depending on the type of internship, you might have access to a query inbox. When I was working with agent Mary Kole, one of my intern duties was to read incoming queries and sample pages and pick out which I'd be interested in reading more of. Seeing queries in large quantities really makes you aware of what works and what doesn't. When you have anywhere from ten to fifty queries to read through (and sometimes a couple hundred if you go on vacation or forget to check the inbox daily), your eyes glaze over fast.

This is why people critique each other's queries so much --and coincidentally, why we're happy to crit queries you guys send when we do SeCrits :) -- if you've worked for months or years on a story, you want your query to be so good that it makes an agent or editor or intern sit up straight and fire off an email asking for more.

If you want an idea of what the query inbox experience is like, I recommend checking out Query Shark. Read as many queries as you can in one sitting, then add in a smattering of LinkedIn invites, and several very random queries too strange to mention in a public arena without breaking an NDA, and you'll have a good idea. You can also check out WriteOnCon's crit forums for more ideas and also to get your query checked out, too.

Wait, what's an NDA?

NDA stands for Non-Disclosure Agreement, which is pretty standard when you start an internship. Basically, it means that as an intern I don't talk publicly about specifics in queries or submissions that I read (respecting the privacy of the author) or what the agent or editor I'm working with is doing. Signing the NDA is a promise of professionalism-- you agree to keep things on the dl until it's cool to talk about them.

Also, signing NDAs makes you feel like a complete and total badass. Like whoa, I get to know things other people aren't supposed to know? Bring it on.

So about those reader reports...

Reader reports' formats differ from internship to internship, but their overall goal is the same: condense your feelings on requested material (partials and fulls) into anything from a few paragraphs to a short essay. Reader reports aren't exactly like reviews; they're more a direct strengths-and-weaknesses digest with your estimate of how much work is ended on the agent/editor's part to make a submission publication-ready.

Keep in mind that the time that agents and editors invest in reading submissions is all pro bono (which is part of why they're awesome people). Sure, everyone is hoping to find an amazing author and rep/publish them, but this involves a lot of unpaid reading hours and the more time you work unpaid, the less time you have to clock in the hours that make rent happen. As an intern, you want to streamline the process for them as much as possible with your reports so that the person you're interning for can go directly to the submissions that are closest to being publication-ready.

Sometimes in an internship, you'll have to read something in a rush-- and this is super exciting and also really stressful, because it usually means that the agent or editor you're working with has been notified of another agent/editor's offer on the submission, and needs your intern input fast on whether or not they should make an offer/try to acquire it. The first time this happened to me, I pretty much spent an entire day reading in a Starbucks, chugging caffeinated drinks and subsisting on muffins until the report was done. It can be really fun but also really draining-- it's like you're on call to drop everything and dash into the manuscript fray.

To sum up, you will learn a ton about what makes a manuscript compelling by being an intern. You'll also learn a ton about what makes a manuscript compelling by just reading books and figuring out what you liked about them, what you didn't, what felt strong, and what you as a reader felt like the author glossed over. It's not necessary to get an internship to know what makes a great query letter or manuscript-- that's researching what queries are and a lot of revisions.

I personally like having an internship because it kicks my ass into learning new things about writing, both the art and the industry. I have to think about why I'm not connecting with a character, or what about a plot doesn't make sense if I want to make a convincing case to the editor I work for. If you're like me and maybe are looking for an immersion experience into publishing, give it a shot. If not, then being a beta reader or critique partner will show you many of the same writing strengths and weaknesses.

Have questions about being an intern and a writer? Ask me in the comments! :)
Friday, September 13, 2013

Losing Heart and Finding It Again

So it's no big secret that I've taken a break from social media and writing. Heck, the girls of Secret Life know, I've kind of checked out of everything. For a while there I was completely consumed by my writing/querying that I completely ignored how completely unhappy I was with my real life. And I don't mean with my marriage or anything, (my husband is all the awesome) but work was slowly beginning to weigh on me, and I got to the point where I just didn't want to go anymore. I was miserable.

Not only was work taking its toll, but I've spent my entire summer querying a manuscript I truly love that never seemed to find a home. And maybe I didn't give it enough time. Some people may think that my decision to leave my agent was a mistake. Believe what you will, but I don't regret that one bit. Did it cause a major set back? Most definitely. But it was the best decision for me at the time and still is.

But here's the thing: I reached that point where I was unhappy with everything. With work. My time writing a manuscript that will never be finished at this point. And querying for what seems like forever for something that I'll probably end up shelfing any way. I realize that my newest manuscript will never be done in a timely enough manner to query this year, and who knows if I'll ever finish it. I still have plenty of queries/submissions out there that could potentially turn out to be amazing opportunities, but for now I'll never know. The problem was: I was putting too much pressure on myself to make something happen writing wise, and when it didn't, well, it only made me feel worse.

The most important thing I've realized the last few months is that in order to be happy, I have to work on my real life first. So even though I intend to participate blogging with Secret Life and eventually working on my writing again, I took a step back and started focusing on the things I truly have control over. I feel pretty good about it. Of course, I miss writing like crazy, but sometimes you lose heart and you have to find it all over again. So, my friends, I'm writing you today to tell you that it's okay if your writing isn't going where you want it to go right here, right now. Everything happens at its own pace, and sometimes you have to focus on the things that you CAN control. Keeping yourself busy isn't always about working on that next manuscript, but focusing on those real life people/things that are standing right in front of you.

So for those of you that have been in the trenches that, at times, seem endless: Yes, it's good to push yourself to move forward, but don't be afraid to take a step back every once in a while. Don't think about it like you're being left behind. Everything takes time, and your time will come. I know mine will, and when I come back after this little break, I'm gonna own it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Leah's Top 3 Essential Writing Craft Books

Here's a secret for you: I am a self-taught writer, kinda... Not completely... Okay, maybe that's not such a big secret considering my on-going battle with commas and em-dashes. I didn't go to school for creative writing. I didn't even finish college even though I plan to in the future. One day, I just got it in my head that I was going to write a book. "How hard can it be?" I thought.

Yes, Ryan, I know. Old me was so funny!

Once I'd written what I thought was the best story ever, I knew I had to edit it because poor Stefanie could only tell me the difference between "its" and "it's" so many times before her brain was going to explode. So, I researched how-to books. I'd like to share them with you today!

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King

Oh boy, was this an eye opener! From chapter one, Show and Tell, to chapter three, Point of View, all the way to the last chapter on voice, I was blown away at how many mistakes I was making. This book stays in arm's reach for me at all times. If I could recommend one book on the craft of writing, this would be it.

Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks

I know this says "for Young Adults" but I really think this book gives great advance for writing for any audience. I can open this book to any page and find a great piece of writing advice every time. For example: *opens book to random page* "Every element of the story should have significance. It if does not advance the plot, it shouldn't be in the story." See what I mean?

It also has a chapter on finding an agent and a "Publishing Process at a Glance" list.

Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder

This book says it's for screenwriting, but it's another one of those that gives great advice for every type of fiction writer, I think. My editor originally suggested this book to me and I'm forever thankful that she did. Seeing as I am a huge movie buff, I could understand all the examples and references he used in the book. It discusses the importance of having the perfect title, which I don't see discussed that often personally. It also has a beat sheet and exercises at the end of every chapter!

So, there you go. Have any of you read these? Do you have any books you'd like to recommend on the craft of writing?
Monday, September 9, 2013

The Secret About Fear

Three hours ago, I sat down at my computer with the intention of getting some serious writing done, as I’m woefully behind on my wordcount. Since then, I’ve done the following, roughly in this order:

  • Made myself a cup of tea
  • Drawn a self-portrait on a series of nearby post-it notes
  • Concluded that I’m a terrible drawer
  • Researched online drawing/painting classes I could take
  • Read a few sentences from the WIP, cringed, minimized Word and started flipping through real estate magazines instead
  • Tried (unsuccessfully) to teach my dog to play dead
  • Stared off into space. A lot.
  • Realized that three hours had passed, and that in that time I had written a grand total of 250 new words in this revision/rewrite
  • Did the math, and concluded that, at this rate, I’ll be done in approximately 320 days
  • Remembered that I recently sent my agent an email in which I cheerfully declared that I could have her a revised version of this book by mid-October, no problem
  • Panicked
  • Made more tea

Once the panic had faded (haha just kidding I’m super neurotic it never really fades), I started to think. Why couldn’t I focus? Why couldn’t I even stand to look at my WIP, much less work on it? Especially since, when I woke up this morning, I had been excited about the amount of time I would have to actually write today? I loved this story only hours ago, but suddenly the thought of facing it made me want to dig the deepest hole I could and bury myself alive in it.

And then I realized, all at once with a cold sort of swiftness: I knew exactly what this feeling was.

My old, familiar friend Fear.

Distracting myself with all of the things above almost made me forget about it, but in the end, it's there just the same.

A rockstar agent that loves my writing hasn’t made it disappear. Neither has a big five book deal. One incredibly smart editor drawing hearts on my manuscript later, and I still don’t sit alone at my keyboard with only my brilliant thoughts for companionship; instead, there’s a near-constant weight keeping company around my shoulders. And some days—like today—it’s still heavy enough to make me want to lay face down on my desk and just close my eyes for awhile, because I can’t stand the thought of typing another terrible word.

But now for the secret, in case you haven’t heard: I’m pretty sure we’re all scared—the published, the agented, the aspiring. All of us. Some of us more so than others, maybe. And some who would never admit to it, and that’s okay too. If fake it until you make it works for you, then go for it! But me? I’m scared every day, and I know it. Every. Single. Day. I could list all of the things I’m afraid of, but that would take entirely too long and it also wouldn’t be very helpful, so I’ll spare you. Let’s just call it a general fear of failing and leave it at that.

I’m not ashamed to tell you I’m afraid, either, because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. Which is why this post isn’t titled “The Secret to Getting Rid of Your Fear”. I don’t want to get rid of it. Fear is a natural, healthy reaction to things. Fear of failure drives me to succeed, and it keeps me from doing stupid things. And I’m not sure any amount of “success”—be it agent, book deal, whatever—really makes it go away, anyway. So you probably shouldn’t expect it to. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news! But I used to tell myself: “this fear, this doubt in my ability will go away once I get a few full requests”, and then it became “once I get an agent”, and then “once I get a book deal”, and now it’s “once I get another bookdeal”…

Vicious, never-ending cycle, right?

Right. So cut it out. What I’m learning to do instead (although not always successfully, as today has proven, haha), is to write in spite of that fear. Most days I acknowledge it. I shake it from my shoulders so I can say hello to it, face-to-face. And then I command it to sit quietly in the corner, because I’ve got books to write and, quite frankly

And on that note, I'm off to get that serious writing done (no, really).

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 Nelson Literary, and her debut novel, FALLS THE SHADOW, is forthcoming from Simon and Schuster Books For Young Readers in 2014. You can add it on Goodreads here!

You can find her on Twitter @:
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And also visit her website @: 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Overcoming Hot Mess Status So You Can Write Stuff

I used to be a hot mess.

I'd go to pull out my sweater boots from my closet and find one mysteriously AWOL, even though they hadn't seen the light of day since last fall. (Still haven't found that second boot, by the way.) I'd never know which bills were due when, whose birthday party I was supposed to attend that coming weekend, and I'd have to call the doctor's office about three times before my appointment because I couldn't remember when I'd scheduled it. And I'd lost the convenient little reminder card they give you.

Disaster to the millionth degree.

It was also around this time that I decided to start writing seriously, and by seriously I mean everyday and with the intent of publishing my work. So, you know, adding in a few hours of creative work everyday was super helpful in my organization process.

I did this for a few years, and it never seemed like I could find balance. I'd write my heart out for a few weeks, and then look up from the end of a draft and notice that I had, like, no clean underwear. So then I'd do all the cleaning/laundry/organizing for a few weeks, and zero writing (but at least I had clean underwear). Rinse and repeat. It was...exhausting.

That's about the time I figured out this is an ass-backwards way of going about a creative kind of life. (Hey, I never said I was quick to catch on.)

I think that some people have this pre-programmed stereotype that organization and creativity are mutually exclusive. I mean, I know when I think of a writer or artist, I see them sitting at a desk littered with crumpled papers and half-empty Chinese cartons, angsting over a deadline in the middle of the night. But it totally doesn't have to be that way.

Creative people can also be organized people. And, dare I say, probably should be organized people. 

Because here's the thing: our brains are pretty messy, and that's a good thing. When thoughts about epigenetics and pterodactyls and leftover cheesecake are rolling around in there, our brains have a chance to make connections between ideas that shouldn't really go together. And voila! A shiny new idea is born. But how can you relax and let the magic happen if you can't find a matching pair of socks, or you're constantly dodging the curveballs you keep throwing at yourself because you forgot about your kid's bake sale that's tomorrow and you have to cut your writing time to make freaking cookies at 1 AM?

Here are my binders. I know, I have a problem.
So do me a favor, okay? Take some time to get yourself together. Let go of the stereotype that creative people are disorganized disasters and put a system into place that will run smoothly, even without your constant attention. In my house, I'm the Binder Queen. In my cleaning binder, I keep a checklist of chores that need to get done daily, another for weekly, and another for monthly. And, because I have a bit of a chart-making problem, I also include obnoxiously specific instructions for each major chore, and a list of a cleaning supplies needed for that chore. You know why I'm that crazy? So that when I crawl into my writing cave at the end of the day, any of the other people in my house can (and do!) crack open that binder, check things off, and most importantly, don't have to ask me questions. About anything. I don't have to interrupt a kick-ass revising session to show someone which cleaner to use on the tub. It's already in there. Now leave me alone.

In my cooking binder, I keep grocery lists, a weekly and monthly meal plan, and a plan for my son's lunches. I also keep a calendar of special occasions coming up where I might be expected to make something. This act alone usually keeps the random trips to the grocery story in the middle of the week at bay, so that I can just do it all one time, once a week, and not waste any precious writing time running to get something stupid like a stick of butter so I can make those 1 AM bake sale cookies.

The finance binder is mostly just weekly and monthly budgets and receipt trackers, but I've recently included a section of every single password for every single website I've ever used since the beginning of time. Once again, this is so that everyone will leave me alone. You want to order something from the Amazon Prime account? Good for you. Just go find that binder, check the budget for the week, and then look up the password yourself. And don't bother me. Please.

I'm not going to lie, making all of this stuff was a pretty Herculean task at first. But once it's done, it's done, and all you have to do is maintain the binders once in awhile. Not only has this system saved my sanity, but also oodles of time. Honestly. After my kid goes to bed, I can escape and write for a few hours every night if I want. Hell, I can even read something for fun sometimes. I know, I know, a dream, right?

If you're interested in making your own organization system, a good place to get started is with Clean Mama Printables on Etsy. She makes all these handy-dandy organization kits for everything you can imagine. They're pretty cheap, and you can instantly download (and modify!) them. I've used them before and love them.

And remember, binders are a writer's best friend. xo.

Andrea Hannah is a YA writer represented by Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider. She writes stories about criminals, crazy people, and creatures that may or may not exist. When she's not writing, Andrea teaches special education, runs, spends time with her family, and tries to figure out a way to prevent her pug from opening the refrigerator (still unsuccessful). Oh, and she tweets a bajillion times a day, mostly about inappropriate things. 

You can find her on Twitter @:

Drop her an email @:
And visit her website @:
Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Howdy from Farrah Penn: The Writer Who Made All The Mistakes So You Don’t Have To

Hey readers! I wanted to take a minute and thank everyone from Secret Life for allowing me to become a contributor on this blog. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that Secret Life gives gives readers a more personal insight into writing and publishing. I definitely wish this was around when I was first getting started in the writing community, and you’re about to find out why.

I want this kick off post to talk about the awkward things we hope we don’t have to face in publishing: the mistakes.

When I graduated from my university with my bachelor’s, and I had no idea what I really wanted to do. A friend of mine told me we should start a book blog and after a few months, I became extremely passionate about reading and writing again. (Let’s be honest: who really has time for that in college? And if you do, may I borrow your superpowers sometime?)

I finished my “NA” (I hate putting labels on things, but that’s what the large part of publishing would describe it as) novel that was largely inspired by Megan McCafferty’s Jessing Darling books. When it was done, I was ready to rock and roll with querying.

Mistake #1: Your Second Pair of Eyes (AKA Critique Partners)

I queried this book for the first time in 2009 (I was still in college at that time but I wasn’t really serious about writing or querying) without having anyone read it other than myself. It wasn’t edited, not really. Needless to say, that round of querying got me nowhere.

Here’s what I would have done and for most of you it will seem obvious: I would have sought out beta readers and critique partners. I would have made changes based on similar advice, put the MS away for a while, and then cleaned it up with a fresh pair of eyes. I would have asked for help because, trust me, you don’t want to go through publishing alone.

Mistake #2: Querying

When the first round of querying this particular book failed, I sought out beta readers (who were also my friends) and pretty much rewrote the entire thing after I’d graduated (aka when I had way more free time). During that time, I began to use Twitter more and discovered there was a writing community out there. I didn’t exactly do my research on the second round of querying, but I should have.

Here’s some mistakes I made: Not formatting the query according to guidelines, attaching more pages than asked for, replying to rejection queries, querying multiple agents within the same agency, so on and so forth.

Ugh. Cringe, right? Now I see agents blog and tweet about how much that bothers them and want to smack myself. Follow directions, y’all. It’s not that hard (although apparently it was for me). Also, not following guidelines will sometimes result in your query heading straight into the trash box, ruining any opportunity you’d have with that agent.

Another mistake with querying: My query wasn’t that good. If I could navigate into my old hotmail account and find it, I would find it so I could tear it apart for you. (I deleted that email account, so I have no idea where a saved copy would be, if I even have it). It didn’t have a hook, it was too cliche, and my voice didn’t stand out. (I’m self-critiquing it because I know better now) Again, this is where critique partners and beta readers are great! It always helps to have a second pair of eyes on things, even something as simple as your query letter.

Mistake #3: The Call

This post is already getting long, so if you want to read more about my novel that got me my agent, you can read this post from my blog. For now I’ll just say that I became more active with blogging, twitter, and the writing community, pushed aside that “NA” novel, and wrote a YA dystopian. This was around the beginning of 2011.

I had that feeling where I was like, “hey, I got this.” I read so many blogs that gave querying advice. I wrote an actual YA query with a hook. I painstakingly followed every agent’s querying guidelines down to the smallest details. I was determined to get this right.

Bright side: I apparently did do something right because I gathered a few requests on my first round. Fast forward through doing revisions for person-of-interest, agent Suzie Townsend, and she requested to call me.

Here’s where mistake #3 comes in. I was so well-versed in querying information that I totally forgot to research what to expect during a call. I literally had no idea what we were going to talk about other than that Suzie wanted to talk about my novel.

Ugh. Cringe again. I was so nervous and excited to speak with her. Luckily Suzie has a great phone personality because she was confident and was able to lead our conversation.

But when she asked if I had questions? Yeah that would have been the time to be prepared. Instead I just asked her questions about my novel that she already answered via email. Your book is important, but I should have been asking her about the submission process, her personal revision process, how the agency works together (or individually), time frames, business questions, etc. etc. etc.

(Sidenote: I’m going to link Andrea’s post here if you happen to be reading this and ARE curious about what questions to ask during the call. She does a great job at explaining.)

Lucky for me, Suzie spun the conversation to explain some of those things to me since I was an idiot and wasn’t asking about the important stuff. Then I believe she offered, which was absolutely awesome.

This is turning into a really long post, so I’ll try and wrap it up. These are 100% my mistakes that I own up to throughout my publishing process. If I could have done it differently, I would have researched more. THAT’S really one of the big reasons why I wanted to join Secret Life. I wanted other writers to know that it’s not the end of the world if you make mistakes and not only that, but to also learn from the ones I made.

Before I sign off, I want to leave you with some really useful blogs that I feel would be helpful for publishing research:

  • Almost everyone knows this one but in case you don’t, Agent Query is a great tool for those just getting started querying. There are informative articles about query letters as well as agent information.
  • Dahlia Alder, Writing Guru and Extraordinar, has an entire section of her website dedicated to helping querying and agented writers. It’s awesome. You can read more about it here.
  • This may seem like I’m plugging my agency, but in all honesty I feel like it’s super useful. New Leaf Literary’s tumblr has an ask box where you can ask questions and receive professional answers from established agents. Don’t be afraid of asking dumb questions (there is no such thing!) but if you ARE worried, you can ask anonymously.

Anyway, I hoped this helped you! I’m looking forward to writing more posts in the future. If you have any specific topic ideas you’d like me to cover, please let me know 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:

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Secret Handshake from Alex Yuschik: The Writer Who Interned

Hey, guys! I'm Alex, one of two new additions to the Secret Life of Writers talking to you this week. I write YA contemporary and fantasy (because polar opposites are the best, obvs) and I intern at Entangled Publishing.

Also, I promised a handshake, so let's handshake:

handshake handshake handshake hi I'm just so excited
Now that we're besties, it's time for the secret-spilling portion of this broadcast:

 I've always loved writing (duh), but I didn't treat it as a career until much later.

I mean, your eyes do not deceive you. I'm a publishing intern preparing to query my own manuscript, but it took me a long time and some pretty dire straits to realize that this writing thing I loved was also the thing I wanted to do. Which should sound like a no-brainer, but stay with me. 

My original career of choice was rock star. Like, you know, gold-tasseled leather jackets, hip, philosophical lyrics, power ballads screaming out on electric guitars, crowd-surfing victoriously into the sunset. 

That didn't pan out. (Just kidding! It totally did and I'm a super famous musician. Haha, no.) I spent eleven years playing cello, never moved up to guitar like I'd planned, forgot about singing, and my parents started encouraging me to join youth orchestras and gently suggested that I get an amp for my cello so my wounded pride and I could at least play something electric. 

I wrote a lot, too, and I was pretty good, but I really only wrote when I felt like it. With any musical instrument, there's this idea of constant practice. I played cello at least half an hour each day, unless I had overwhelming homework or I was like projectile vomiting or something equally attractive, because it was supposed to further my dream career. Writing was just a for fun thing back then. 

After I graduated college, I took a gap year and worked a job that I wasn't that into. I realized pretty fast that I wasn't okay with this, I wasn't doing what I loved, and I sure as hell wasn't a rock star, unless it was a one-hit-wonder tracing out a sad, lonely downspiral that tabloids follow with scare headlines. 

It was, hands down, the worst year of my life.

it went just like this, even the shark (metaphorically)
But, happy ending: that year made me think about what career really meant, so I rolled up my sleeves and hopped on the do-what-you-love train for reals. I'd always written stuff before, whether it was fanfic or NaNo projects, but now I started working with a career goal in mind. I wanted to submit my stuff to agents, but the more I researched, the more I saw that none of what I'd written was close to ready.

(Seriously, my flagship manuscript was about a corporeal specter. I'm going to give you a moment to try to wrap your head around that one.)

I started keeping musician's hours again, only this time with writing and from 8pm-2am instead of half hours in the afternoon. By the time I'd quit my job and moved to my new grad school, I'd also started an internship with literary agent Mary Kole, which meant a lot more reading and a lot more analyzing what worked and what wasn't working in a submission. 

The experience taught me a lot, not only about what goes on behind the scenes in slush, but also that if you want something, you go after it with everything you've got. The key for me was seeing my writing more as its own career and less like something I did when I felt like it. Having internships showed me what standard I had to aspire to, how much time I needed to put in, and reaffirmed that it isn't all peaches and sunshine. This fall, I'll finally be ready to query.

Maybe I didn't end up a rock star, but it's not like that original dream was all that far off. When you get down to it, writers and musicians aren't that different. We're all entertainers trying to connect with a group of people out there who might dig the things we've created. And we're willing to work damn hard to make our dreams happen.

Alright! To celebrate becoming part of the blog, I'm doing a giveaway! UNSPOKEN has so many of the elements in stories that I love, snappy dialogue, cool characters, and it's not afraid to break your heart, which has made it one of my favorite YA reads (and it's a hardcover copy, oooh~). I'm also offering up a chapter critique. The giveaway goes until Friday and we'll have two winners, so get in there and enter!

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