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!

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

5 #Subtips from Debut Author and Editor Kate Brauning

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

Take it away, Kate!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Perfect Humor in Your Writing

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

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


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

Some examples:

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

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

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

Also, anything Meg Cabot.


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

Some examples:


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

Here's more examples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, November 10, 2014

#YAlaunch and the Secrets of Writing Retreats

Hi from Omaha!

Omaha, Omaha! 

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

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

A typical day on the ranch

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

1. Bring business cards

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

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

2. Bring your A-game. 

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

"ask for fire/this was her mad war"

3. Be willing to explore. 

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

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

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

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

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