Monday, March 31, 2014

The Thing About “Original” Ideas

Here’s the thing about them: there are none.

We’ve likely all heard it before: there are no new ideas.

And yet.

Yet, even knowing and agreeing to that, I don’t know of much else that takes the wind out of my writer sails than to be explaining a WIP to someone only to have them say “oh, that sounds exactly like “insert book/movie/show title here!” Or to be almost done with said WIP, and then stumble along a Publisher’s Weekly deal announcement for a book that somehow sounds exactly like yours. And that just sold for six figures. That could have been yours. But now your idea is old news. Aaaaaand *cue sad violin song*

On the world's smallest violin

And even once your book sells, the comparisons continue. Some of the first few comments on FALLS Goodreads’ page compared it to a book I’d never even heard of, and so of course, I looked said book up, and realized they were right. As we'd sent FALLS off on submission, this book that had many of the same ideas about cloning as mine had already hit the shelves that same month.

And it totally sucked.

Because even though we’ll probably all admit that complete originality is impossible, most people don’t like being called copy-cats. I know I didn’t. For years, I’ve had this idea that I must be original, that real artists/writers can’t be compared to anything else. Heck, I used to freak out when I was reading a book and came across a name too similar to one of the ones in my WIPs.

But the more I think on it, the more books I write, and the closer I get to FALLS’ pub day and see more and more people excited about it (despite its supposed unoriginality), the more I think that maybe “new” ideas are less important than genuine ideas that you want to write about, even if they’ve been explored before. Because chances are, you’re going to explore them in different ways, from different angles, through the eyes of different characters. Two stories based off the same basic idea can have wildly different plots. And in some cases (I’ve observed personally) some people who loved the book that yours is constantly compared to will actually be all the more excited for your book, because it gives them another chance to explore more of what drew them to that first book to begin with. 

So take heart, dear writers; even if people have seen your story before, chances are a lot of them will still give it a chance. Then it’s up to your writing and story elements to win them over from there (no pressure!). Originality exists in details, in the way you tangle and untangle your plot and characters and spin each unique sentence together. Since after all, if you boil stories down to just a few basic lines (like we see in blurbs and on covers) it's sometimes hard to see all of these little things that make your story, well, yours. Because essentially, when you get down to the bones, all stories are about the same things anyway

Hey! That's my story in a nutshell!

And one last thing before I go: I’m not saying ignore what’s already been done. I think it is a good idea to pay attention to the market, and to fill in gaps where any exist, IF the books that fill those gaps are what you want to write. Because bottom line? A book that you’re genuinely passionate about is always going to be a better book than one you wrote just because it seemed unique at the time.

So what do you guys think? Is it more important for a book to be completely original, or completely well-written? Or maybe a bit of both? Tell us your thoughts 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 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, March 21, 2014


Hi Secret Lifers! Just a quick note to let you know that we're all a little burnt-out and mind-melted at the moment which means it's time for us to head off on...


Try not to miss us too much :) Our regularly scheduled posts will return on Monday, March 31st! Bye for now!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Happy News!!!

I started writing seriously a couple of years ago. I started a blog. I updated it regularly. I even made it public. In other words, I told people in my real life and on Facebook *gasp*. I dove into the online community which I soon found to be amazing!

That's right, Dean. The writing community is awesome.

While I was realizing that my first book was crap, I was researching. I personally looked at agent researching as window shopping. It's fun to daydream that one day, that fabled, beautiful day, you'll land that agent. That you'll have what they're looking for.

For me, things developed crazily. I happened to draw the attention of Heather Howland, a genius editor at Entangled Publishing. She wanted to publish my book about nerds in love. I went with it. Why? Why wouldn't I? It was a day that will live in infamy in my memory, the day I signed that contract. 

Things rocked on. I learned even more about how things work like what the process really is when your book is being published. The Summer I Became a Nerd released. And people actually liked it! 

"This is crazy! What is air? What is life?" Those were the questions I was asking myself.

It took me a while to figure out what I needed/wanted to do next. I found that I love this business despite its craziness. I wanted to continue doing this. 

So, I came up with more ideas. After a favorable response from many people, I decided I should shoot for the moon. So I did the thing you're supposed to do at the beginning. I queried.

Now, remember, I've done my research. Almost three years of it (some people have researched longer, just sayin'). Research research research! That's always the advice I give. 

 I worked up a query that would hopefully show off my writing style and my experience. I'm still not sure if it did that, but I queried my top agents and got interest. 

I got requests.  

And after making sure that she had good opinions about all the things that are important to me like Sriracha and Prince (unfortunately, Tom Hiddleston wasn't really on her radar, but I'm taking all the credit for the inevitable Hiddles obsession she will develop), I signed with Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency!!!!

Then I proceeded to happy cry, drink wine, and eat chocolate!

I did things really differently, guys. It worked for me and I wouldn't have it any other way. So, here's what I think you should do: Follow your heart. 

Do your best, write the best words you can. (then edit the mess out of them)
Research, research, research!
Decide where you want your career to go, then go there, but be smart about it.
Be nice. Be respectful. 
And above all, never give up!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Tips for Using Scrivener to Revise Your Novel

Hey, lovelies!

I'm back in the revision cave (again). I've been working on this book on and off for over a year now, and let me tell you, it's been a tough one. The first few drafts were just me trying to sort through the plot, and now I'm finally at the point where I'm tightening everything up. This is the last draft. I swear. For real this time.

Anyway, seven drafts later, I've learned a thing or two about how to maximize my efficiency when I'm revising or rewriting. Here are some tips for using the gloriousness that is Scrivener to help you finish that draft and not lose your mind.

1. Start a fresh document
I generally draft in Scrivener and revise in Word, so I already have a Scrivener doc with my entire manuscript. However, for this purpose, I'm going to start a fresh Scrivener doc and label it something like Manuscript Title_Revisions.

2. Make a separate section for each of your chapters. 
If you take a look at my screenshot above, you can see that I've added in (some of) my chapters on the left. I've also added in an old outline doc, and a brainstorming doc at the bottom.

3. Organize your thoughts within the chapters.
The first thing I do is take that snippet of my old outline (see the top of that doc) and put it in the appropriate chapter. I make an outline for every draft that I finish, just because it helps me to easily see the whole picture when I'm revising for big ideas and themes. Anyway, I put in that old outline at the top so I can see where I'm coming from before I get to where I'm going. Then I re-read the old chapter.

After that, I make two sections: Notes and Darlings. Notes is the place where I dump all of my thoughts, where I talk through revisions ("Okay Andrea, you're a nut ball. What were you thinking? None of this makes sense.") and where I make notes on things that need to change. The chapter in my example is a fun, light chapter and therefore is pretty light on the revision. Some (okay, most) of my chapters are filled with tons and tons of notes.

Darlings is the place where I put any of my old writing I've cut that I think I may want to use, if not in this chapter, later in the manuscript. Mostly this is important information that needs to show up somewhere in this book, I just know it's not supposed to go in this chapter anymore, so I'm holding onto it until I know what to do with it. I also use Scrivener's keyword function to help me find those darlings later when I need them.

Overall, this makes it easier to find everything I'm looking for, and to go back and see my thought process for each chapter. This way, when I'm re-reading my manuscript later and I notice something that doesn't make sense, I can go back to that chapter in Scrivener, see what I was thinking, and change accordingly.

I hope that helps! How do you guys revise? Do you use Scrivener, or do you have a different process?

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

You can find her on Twitter @:
Drop her an email @:
And visit her website @:
Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Your Secrets Revealed! (Also Known As: Pretty Please Take Our Survey?)

No, we're not putting all your deepest, darkest secrets on parade. This survey has to do with our theme! Writing + secrets.

A year or so ago, I was talking with someone (I can't remember who right now, maybe it'll come to me later) about writing and how they get into the "groove" of starting up again where they left off. This person was like, oh I go back and read a few pages of what I wrote last so I can get right back in my world. Then I was like, AH NO WAY ME TOO.

But that got me thinking: how alike ARE writers? Do we have similar processes, or are we all different with how we approach things?

So that's how I came up with the first official Secret Life survey!

Here's a few things you should know:
  • It's completely anonymous. 
  • It consists of writing-related questions (they're really fun, I swear!) 
  • It doesn't take too long to fill out.
What will I do with this information?

I basically want to chart our answers to see how alike or different we really are. So in the near future there will be a post that has a ton of colorful graphs that gives these anonymous results. For instance, "40% of writers drink coffee when they write, 20% of us drink tea, etc."

We're not one of THOSE websites and can't pay you to take our survey, but we'd love you if you did. If you do fill it out, imagine us riding on unicorns whilst throwing glitter up in the air in celebration and giving you high fives. That's incentive enough, right?

But really. I hope you find this fun. :)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Make it Hurt

credit: Cinema Fanatic

I watched Roman Holiday last night with my mum-- there's a local theatre showing some classics during the spring, and we caught this one. I forgot how much I liked it, both for the actors, but also its last scene.

It made me think about how much books and films get characterized by single moments that showcase character change. Harry Potter would not be Harry Potter without Harry walking to his death in book seven. The Great Gatsby wouldn't be the same without that scene where Nick is calling people from the wake, wondering where on earth people are.

But without the emotional build-up behind these scenes, what are they? Just a boy with a rock walking in the woods, and a man with a phone by a casket.

So too is it with any manuscript.

One of the neat things that being in poetry workshops and working with poems in undergrad taught me was to focus on an image. And yeah, oftentimes there's a particular scene that captures everything about your characters that have changed in a single perfect moment.

Come back to Roman Holiday. What makes this last scene hurt so much? Joe Bradley's just revealed to Princess Ann that he's a member of the press corps and that he's not going to publish his story about the fun times they had running around Rome yesterday, even though it would enable him to move back to New York and show up his boss.

His character has changed-- he knows who Ann is and, whatever his feelings are towards her, they've changed since he first found her on the park bench. She's no longer some royal kid he's happy to screw over for a quick buck.

What I love about the last scene, though, is how much the power dynamic has changed. All throughout their trip around Rome, it's always Bradley in control, following Ann places, setting things up with his photographer friend to score pictures of Ann in un-regal situations. In the last scene, it's Ann giving the press conference, meeting people, and then leaving. Bradley waits for her to come back out, but she doesn't. The holiday is over.

He walks the whole way to the end of the embassy hall by himself, turning back at the end to see if she's behind him before he leaves. She's not.

This is what a pivotal scene in a manuscript needs to do. It's got to show a character acting in a way that is different from how we meet them (Bradley gives up the money, Ann accepts the rigors of royal life) and punch us in the gut (having the power to destroy someone's life, where both you and the other person know it, it would be to your advantage, and then not).

The nice thing about these scenes is that you don't have to explain them-- it's your job for all the manuscript that comes before them to make them plausible, and then let the reader work it out on their own. All you have to do is lay the groundwork for the pivot point, and when the reader gets there, make it hurt.

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

You can find her on Twitter @:
Or drop her an email at:
And also visit her website @: 
Friday, March 7, 2014

Your Name Is Your Brand

I think the title of this post is self-explanatory. Being a writer means becoming your own Brand. If there's one thing I've learned since my book deal, it's definitely the importance of this fact. Recently I asked the people of Twitter for suggestions for my new website domain. I wasn't sure whether I wanted to use the handle I have for all my social media accounts, or something entirely new. Now, obviously, if were available, I definitely would have snagged that up. But as it is, I didn't have many options. (There are about a billion Heather Marie's in the world, I've come to realize.)


I came to a decision shortly before announcing my book deal, that I was going to change all my social media to one handle: HeatherMarieYA. I'm so glad I did that before the announcement, because since then things have really taken off. The only thing I failed to change was my Facebook page. Ugh! So yeah. I can't tell you how many times I've gone to writer meet-ups and had someone say: "You're Heather Marie YA right?" It's kind of crazy to think that people actually remember me, but that's the point, isn't it?

Now, if I had HeatherMarieYA on one handle and HeatherLovesCats on another and FireFlyForever for another, you get my point; it kind of throws things off a bit. Wouldn't you say? Personally, I always match Twitter/Instagram handles to faces. I've even had conversations with friends where one of us will say: "You know SarahGraceWrites on Twitter?" And I'm like: "Ooh yeah. I totally know who you're talking about." It's weird, but that's just the way it goes.

So you have to ask yourself, how do you want to be known? What is the best way to promote/market yourself so people remember you and your books? I'm not saying you have to do what I'm suggesting, but is it gonna hurt? Not at all. Will it help you in the long run? Most certainly.

This is just something to think about now, in case you haven't given it much thought before. I can tell you that this has made a big difference for me. I hope you find it just as helpful. Cheers!

Heather Marie is a YA writer who loves all things creepy. She enjoys writing horror/supernatural stories that make you question that feeling of someone watching over your shoulder. Heather spends most of her days reading and writing and plotting her next idea. When she's not in her writing cave, she enjoys watching creepy TV shows with her husband and picking apart plot holes in movies.

Her YA debut, THE GATEWAY THROUGH WHICH THEY CAME, releases August 25th, 2014 from Curiosity Quills.

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

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Basically, what Stefanie said.

If you read Stefanie's post on Monday, you probably know that she and I went to a writers' retreat this past weekend. And you probably also know that it was AWESOME! I can honestly say that it was one of the best five days of my life. Not only did I meet people I've gotten to know over the internet, but I also learned a few things.

It's often said that writing is a very solitary endeavor. This is very true, for the most part. But it doesn't have to be completely true. I've been a member of the Facebook writing group called The WraHMs for a long time, but it wasn't until this retreat that I realized how important they are to me and my writing career. Meeting all of these lovely ladies was practically a game changer for me and my outlook on life.

Before this trip, I was in a hole. A deep one. I will admit that I was depressed. I couldn't seem to get happy about life in general. I couldn't seem to remember why I loved to write. Sure, I was writing, but I wasn't focused or excited. I needed a huge smack in the face and I didn't even know it. And that's what this past weekend turned out to be.

I realized that I'm really not alone in this. That I do have friends and they are genuinely concerned for and invested in my happiness and my career. For this, I feel extremely lucky. I can't begin to express how much I love these ladies.

Trying real hard not to get emotional at the moment.
I was also reminded of how essential laughter is to one's mental health. I haven't laughed like that in months.

On the trip home, I felt like a different person. My eyes were open. I was picking up what the world was laying down. I wasn't nervous about being on my own in a new place. Instead, I was excited about what life would hit me with next. I got so many ideas for stories on the way home. Plus, I met a bunch of unique characters that I probably wouldn't have had the guts to converse with a few days earlier. This one guy was a professor whose main area of study was, get this, tapeworms! He was so excited about tapeworms, you guys! And his enthusiasm made me excited about them, too. Did you know a guy named a genus of tapeworms "Serendip" so that when you talk about the family you would say "Serendipidae"? Or at least I think that's right. I'm a writer, I don't science well.

I guess what I'm trying to say is basically the same thing Stefanie said, I'm just not doing it as elegantly. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just take a leap. Put yourself out there and hope for the best. Remember: The magic happens outside your comfort zone!

Monday, March 3, 2014

On Writing Retreats and Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone

Happy Monday everyone!

As I'm writing this post, I am currently 1500 miles and two timezones away from home. I spent these past few days traveling to and around the gorgeous state of Colorado, my ultimate destination being a beautiful cabin in the mountains, where I joined 17 other authors on a retreat that involved lots of writing, occasional dance partying, and shenanigans involving a cardboard cutout of Loki.

In case you thought I was kidding about that last part

And before I ventured up the mountain (with Leah Miller at my side, of course), we stopped over in Boulder, CO, to lunch and visit with my agent:

Yes! She is in fact a real, live, sweet and fantastic person

Once we made it up the mountain, the cabin awaited, with its fantastic views:

Seriously? We were supposed to write when we could just stare at this all day?

So, yeah. All in all? Fantastic weekend, and I am SO grateful to have had this retreat opportunity, and to be a part of this fantastic group of writers who attended.

But now for the secret.

Guys, I was also absolutely terrified to get on that plane and go on this trip.

Not really terrified of the plane part (I love planes and traveling and getting lost in new places and all that good stuff), but the "holy-crap-I'm-going-to-be-meeting-a-TON-of-people-this-weekend" part. So terrified that, if I could have backed out (and hadn't already paid deposits and plane tickets), sad to say that there's a decent chance I would have. Small talk, groups of people and bonding activities and just...yeah. These things freak me out. I'm not good at these things. I've spent the past four days moving so far outside of my comfort zone that I might not ever find my way back to it.

But I'm pretty sure that's a good thing.

Because see, my comfort zone has moved, and now I have new scenery to enjoy and be inspired by. I saw this picture about comfort zones on pintrest awhile back, and it kept flashing through my head on this trip; and since I am such a FANTASTIC artist, I decided to recreate it for you guys:

If writing doesn't work out, I plan on becoming an artist

So I kept telling myself this all weekend (magic happens outside your comfort zone! magic happens outside your comfort zone!), and it eventually occurred to me that it didn't just apply to social situation comfort zones; it's true of writing, too. Because during one of the retreats writing sessions/stare out the window at the pretty mountains times, I had an idea for a book. A big, scary, "this-could-be-awesome-if-done-properly-but-also-I-could-screw-it-up-reeeeally-easily" sort of idea.

Not a comfortable sort of idea, in other words.

But thinking back, I guess that's how my most recently completed book started off, too: that is, way outside the zone of what I considered myself comfortable with writing. But I pushed on anyway, and even though its publishing fate is still to be determined, I still feel confident that it's my best-written book to date. Funny how that works out.

And before the new book, it was the same with FALLS. Scary in the beginning, eventually breaking through to places I didn't think my writing could go, and then ultimately it became the book that got me an agent and book deal.

So as I'm standing here at the beginning(s) of new book(s) that seem scary and bigger than anything I've done before, I just keep telling myself: this is how it's supposed to be. With every book, (I hope) I'm getting better, and sometimes getting better means growing outside of safe and familiar things; it means meeting people in a cabin in the woods and telling them your writing dreams and goals, and it means dancing with those people even if sitting on the couch and playing with your phone seems safer. And then it means sitting back down at the keyboard, surrounded by new fears and uncertainties and everything that could go wrong, and then writing anyway.

I hope you're all challenged by whatever you're working on today--and that you all manage to overcome it and breakthrough to where the magic happens :)

And now I'm off to see more mountains and do other Coloradoey things. Bye!

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 @: