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 @:
Or drop her an email at:
And also visit her website @:

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!)