Posts Tagged ‘publishing’

Inspired by The Knight Agency’s April newsletter and the Agents of the Roundtable prompt, I decided to start a regular thing on my blog: “How I Met My Client”. Something like “How I Met Your Mother” only a lot briefer and, sadly, without the benefit of Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris). To that end, I wrote to Christie Golden, the first author I ever sold (nearly right away and to two different publishers in the same week or very nearly!) to do a post on how we met and promised that I’d do the same. Well, she finished hers first and, as she has the tendency to do, she just blew me away.  My piece will in no way live up, so I’ll keep it short and sweet. Or, at least, I think I will.  We’ll see how it goes.

I started working for Spectrum Literary Agency practically right out of college.  When I went for the interview, I happened to be reading (and loving) a book represented by the agency written by Ken Goddard, who runs the National Fish and Wildlife Forensic Lab out in Ashland, Oregon. There were people interviewing who had more work experience, but Eleanor Wood and I just clicked, and I was lucky enough that she gave me a shot.

Less than a year later, I was learning a ton and critiquing manuscripts and attending conventions and ready to take on my first clients.  Christie talks about how we met below—through the amazing Roger MacBride Allen, who I met in turn because he was a Spectrum client and because we were able to talk forensics and freak people out at SFWA Receptions—so I’ll mix things up by telling you how I came to love and represent her work.

Step one: She set it to me.  I know, crazy how that works. Christie followed up on our meeting and sent me one or two of her Ravenloft Books to read and I was hooked.  I believe the first one I read was VAMPIRE OF THE MISTS.  I absolutely fell in love with Jander Sunstar.  I mean, an elven vampire—do you get more conflicted or tortured or awesome than that?  I think not. Plus it had everything. The writing, the pacing, the tension…

instrument of fate She also sent me her original novel, INSTRUMENT OF FATE, which I fell for absolutely. A novel of Gillian Songespynner, a young bard on the run with a magical lute and a relentless enemy licking at her heels. There’s magic, romance, suspense…and again I was hooked.

st spirit walk Step two: Networking for the win. Not only did Christie and I network at that World Fantasy Convention, but I’d spent the year networking, meeting people in publishing—on the phone, in person, at the infamous Malibu lunches (the diner, not the beach), which I miss to this day.  One of the very first people I met was John Ordover, who was editing media tie-in books, particularly Star Trek, for Simon & Schuster. (Wait, I know John, and he’s going to give me a hard time if I leave out a superlative or six for him, so hmm…. Let’s say the gregarious, voluble, unique and, okay, okay, wonderful John Ordover.) He was looking for authors for the various Star Trek series.  Christie wrote awesome tie-ins.  It seemed a match made in heaven.  I was also, of course, sending out INSTRUMENT OF FATE to other fantastically amazing editors like Laura Anne Gilman, who was then at Ace/Berkley and who made us an offer for INSTRUMENT OF FATE and its sequel, KING’S MAN AND THIEF.  We were elated!  I’m pretty certain that it was that same week (or very closely thereafter) that we sold Christie’s first Star Trek novel to John at Simon & Schuster as well.

It was an incredible start.

Step three: Lather, rinse, repeat. Christie has an amazing talent for diving into other worlds, grabbing hold of the feel and the voice and the characters and building something wonderful out of them.  Plus, she’s fast, timely, personable and all good things.  Thus she’s been continuously under contract and under deadline ever since.  Christie has now written many more Star Trek novels as well as tie-ins for Star Wars, Warcraft, Starcraft, Assassin’s Creed and others.  She’s been on the New York Times bestseller list numerous times and won the Colorado Author’s League Award for Best Genre Novel of 1999 for A.D. 999 written under the pen name of Jadrien Bell, and again under her own name for IN STONE’S CLASP in 2005.

It’s been a wild ride, and it’s not over yet!  As Christie says below, ” Here’s to the next 23 years and 47 books!”

 

And now, the woman of the hour—Christie herself!

 

Lucienne and I first met as precocious childhood playmates. She agreed to represent me at the tender age of six, which is the only possible way to explain our incredibly youthful appearances.  That, or those portraits in our attics. Which you didn’t hear from me, no sir.

On an actual (and factual) note, we met at World Fantasy Con 1993, which was super awesome not just because it was “the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” but because WFC was held in New Orleans over Halloween.  She came highly recommended by science fiction author Roger MacBride Allen, who had kind of adopted me and was diligently steering me toward doing Smart Things with my career (like introducing me to Lucienne) and thus greatly reducing my learning curve. I had recently had my first highly disillusioning publishing experience (buy me a lemondrop martini and I’ll spill more details) followed by my first highly disillusioning agent near-experience, so I was a small, suspicious, feral kitten who grilled Lucienne about pretty much everything.  Which is funny, because I generally err on the side of being super-nice.

She took it in good stride, answering and asking questions, and I had a good feeling about her.  I sent her a copy of my first novel, Vampire of the Mists, and she “got” it at once. We were a good match when it came to my writing style, and we agreed to take each other on.

The rest, as they say, is history. She’s represented me on 47 of my 50 novels, and has gotten to greet me on the phone with insanely stupid and wonderful questions like “Do you like Star Trek?”and “How would you like to write for Star Wars?” Of course I want some Cheezy Poofs. She’s advised me when to walk away, encouraged my patience, and fought hard for my fees and my rights.

She’s also just an amazing person, and someone I’m proud to call a friend.  We’ve been “together” for 23 years, and I’ve never once felt the need to look elsewhere for representation. Here’s to the next 23 years and 47 books!

BTW, the Lemondrop Martini is the secret key to successful writing everyone is always hankering to know about.  It’s the preferred beverage of the Muse. I have it on excellent authority and, hey, you’re welcome.

 

When our awesome newsletter coordinator Travis Pennington sent this month’s Agents of the Roundtable question around, I opened it as usual with no idea that it would provoke such an emotional response in me. You won’t get it either. Not at first. Here’s the question. Read on to the answer.

What were some of the books you read before becoming an agent that made you want to have a career in the industry?

All of them. No, really, all. See, I grew up severely asthmatic with extreme allergies. It seemed like the outdoors was trying to kill me. I couldn’t run off and have adventures like the rest of the kids, so I did my adventuring from the comfort of my own home. I first discovered THE SECRET GARDEN (by Francis Hodgson Burnett) along with Mary and fell in love with Dickon when I was stuck in the hospital in the fourth grade. My mother had cleverly brought the book to read to me and then left it behind when she went home. Of course, I couldn’t wait for her to return to find out what happened, so I finished it off. I think I read at least a book a day from then on. I was hooked. To this day, books are magic for me. They take me to worlds outside my own and expose me to wonder, magic, love and epic adventure on a regular basis. Being part of making books happen…that’s an absolute dream come true.

I had tears in my eyes as I finished typing this. Silly, I know, and yet…

And yet, the next thing I did was open a new Word file and type How Books Saved my Life. It sounds over-the-top—melodrama if not outright hyperbole (see how I just slipped those SAT words in there?) but it isn’t. It really is true.

I did not have a great childhood. I’m sure many of you didn’t have a great childhood. I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m stating a fact. I don’t know how many of you read my piece in DEAR BULLY: Seventy Authors Tell Their Tales, but that will give you some idea. What I’ll say here is that I was constantly in and out of the hospital for my asthma—in the emergency room, usually late at night, several times a month, admitted about once a month when I was very young, trickling to just a few times a year when I was a teenager. My nose constantly ran; I always looked like I had two black eyes (we called them allergy shiners); I almost always had a low-level wheeze even when I wasn’t in full-blown attack. I couldn’t play sports and in cold weather had to wear a mask over my face to heat the air before it could reach my lungs. You can imagine how well that went over. In addition, I was short, skinny, too smart and had Urkel’s fashion sense. I kid you not.

But you know what? When I look back on my childhood, that’s not what I most remember. I remember the books. SECRET GARDEN was the first book I ever finished. I had no idea how I passed my time before, but I know that after that, I grabbed everything I could get my hands on. I can’t possibly remember all the books I read, but early favorites were THE CHANGEOVER by Margaret Mahy, THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND by Elizabeth George Speare, A WRINKLE IN TIME and other books by Madeleine L’Engle, ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS by Scott O’Dell, THE MONDAY HORSES by Jean Slaughter Doty, to whom I sent my first fan letter (and who graciously answered back), every horse book I could get my hands on (BLACK BEAUTY, the entire Fury, Misty and Black Stallion series…), ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by Lucy Maud Montgomery… It wasn’t long before I graduated to anything I could get my hands on. For instance, the first book I grabbed from my father’s shelves was STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND by Robert A. Heinlein which is…eye-opening at eleven. I’m sure he saw me reading it, but either he didn’t remember the content or he never considered that just because I could read something didn’t mean I should at that age. From his shelves I also discovered Isaac Asimov, Eric van Lustbader, Ken Follett, Tom Clancy and probably a million other suspense/thriller, sf and other writers. From my mother, the dedicated romance reader, I found Regency romances and the wonderful drawing room banter (not to mention characters with actual fashion sense). My godparents were the fantasy readers, and I couldn’t swear to the book that got me started in the genre, but I was soon off and running with Stephen R. Donaldson’s Mordant’s Need and Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince series and millions of others. I don’t know who turned me on to Sherlock Holmes (my grandmother was the mystery reader, so she seems the likely culprit).

Fiction is the providence of the misfit. None of those heroes or heroines fit in, whether it was a wild horse struggling against abuse or the bit or a free-spirited girl who grew up in Barbados trying to adjust to Quaker society and being branded a witch for her differences. Books are not written about the people who mesh and go blithely through society never making waves. Books are written about those who don’t fit in and refuse to let injustice or incarceration or bullying or brainwashing break them. They stand up and they fight and they make a difference. They effect change. It may not be world-bending each time, but changing even is single mind is earth-shattering. It’s amazing. It’s heroic. Don’t think so? have you ever tried changing a single mind set in its beliefs? Have you ever tried engaging one of those “Don’t clutter my mind with facts” sorts of people? Ever get anywhere?

Books do so many things. They make people think, and offer a safe environment for it, because, after all, it’s not your society or election or religious system being called into question. They also offer a place to belong and others (reality-based, however fictional) who have gone through trials and tribulations and come out the other end. They’ve survived. Maybe battered, but better, stronger, knowing they can. They leave us with the same message.

Yes, books provide escape, and they offered up the armchair adventure that I craved. But they also shaped who I am today, not only because I went into publishing to become part of the magic, but because part of each of those heroes and heroines lives in me, and I’d be letting them down…I’d be letting myself down…if I didn’t live up to their example.

_________

As a side note, books are not the only positive things I remember from my childhood. I want to give credit where credit is due. My parents never complained (that I remember) when I woke them up at two a.m. because really, truly, nothing was working to fight back the asthma and I needed to go the hospital…again. In fact, they would, as they could, make it into positive time. They’d play Hangman with me in the ER to distract me. My Mom and I would pick up donuts or Kentucky Fried Chicken or something I considered a real treat on the way home (depending on the time of day or night).

I remember the extremely nice lady in the school office who brought me little things like shells that were a treasure to a child. And the nurses who braided my hair when I was stuck in the hospital. And making hand puppets with the nice lady who came in a few times a week to run a playroom/craft area for the kids so that I could perform my own make-believe.

I was stuck in the hospital with only the five channels they had back then when the Mets won the 1986 World Series, which I was so excited to see and would never have watched had I been home. I also just happened to be flipping through CNN in 1984 when Ronald Reagan, not realizing the microphone was on, “playfully” talked about bombing Russia. Historical events I would have missed otherwise.

And I finally did find my place in the world some time in middle-school when I discovered theatre and all my other misfit friends. I say this with all love and know they’d agree, because my local theatre friends and I dubbed ourselves the Freaks of Duchess County, changing to Freaks of the World when many of us moved on. Because yes, we know all about growing and changing and the power of the word.

I remember so much more, but I’ve taken you far enough down my memory lane.

Writers are my rock stars. Always have been. Always will be.

I’m sorry I’ve been so quiet here on the blog.  Last weekend we were off for some family time — a wonderful wedding, followed by the NY Renaissance Fair with friends and family…and then two strokes for my grandmother the day we came back.  Yesterday was the first day I felt like the sky might not be falling.  (My amazing grandmother, who brings us all together with her heart and humor, is 96 and right now eating through a tube and unable to speak, but she’s still here and finding ways to express herself. She’s still thinking of others and her eyes are lighting up at the sight of her family, so…)

Anyway, I’m popping in quickly to post an article I thought you all might find useful, one that Nupur Tustin put together for Sisters in Crime’s Guppies group on Marketing your way to Success: September 2015 First Draft_ AgentInsight.

Enjoy!

Publishing Possibilities

Posted: September 3, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Now that the new Knight Agency newsletter is out, with an article by Elaine Spencer, an interview with Chloe Neill, an Author Tip of the Month from Tammy Kaehler and other goodies, I’ll post up here my article from the last newsletter, drawn from the panel that Elaine and I did at the Romance Writers of America national conference along with Nephele Tempest, Nalini Singh and Deborah Blake (our esteemed moderator). And so, I give you…

Publishing Possibilities

I’ve talked a lot on panels recently about working with others, whether they be critique partners, fellow writers, bloggers or whathaveyou—to improve your work and your reach.  This past Thursday this came up at the Romance Writers of America Conference on the panel Beyond Business:  Taking the Agency/Author Relationship into the New Era, which featured Knight Agency clients Nalini Singh and Deborah Blake and TKA agents Nephele Tempest, Elaine Spencer and me.

My portion of this talk was about how an agent, a good business manager, helps you navigate through all of the possibilities out there in publishing.  In addition to traditional, small press, self-publishing and the hybrid model, there are also subrights to consider, international markets and so much more.

But you all know this.

What you probably don’t know is that agents don’t just sit back and discuss opportunities you bring to them—like what to do with your new romantic suspense novel.  We’re always beating the bushes, making the acquaintance of new editors, conversing with those we already know to keep abreast of what they’re looking for at the moment.  But here’s the best part: they regularly coming to us as well.  Because our agency handles so many well-respected authors, editors will contact us if there’s something in particular they want but aren’t seeing or approach us with proprietary ideas (concepts generated in-house that they feel are particularly marketable and for which they’re seeking out just the right author) or with tie-in work (novels, novelizations, manuals, etc. that tie in to successful media franchises like Star Wars).  We can then see what authors might be a good fit, both in terms of material and scheduling, and connect people together.

And it’s not just editors who come to us.  More and more, we’re hearing from producers, film people, gaming companies, even musical groups who want fiction based on their work.  Some have their own book production arms, some have partnered with publishers or have generated funds and interest with Kickstarter campaigns…  The important thing is that there are a wealth of possibilities and big agencies with a deep and amazing talent pools draw these opportunities out and facilitate/negotiate the deals.

Sometimes it’s authors who come to us, putting together an anthology on a theme and wondering if we have any clients who’d be interested or working on a continuity in which they’d like to get others involved.

Then there’s working together for visibility and marketing, of course!  As an agency (and as individual agents), we tweet, Facebook and all as much else as we can, but getting authors together to support and promo each other is important as well.  With so much out on the market, signals can get lost unless they’re boosted, and social cred (having others enthusiastic about your work and not hearing all about it from the author him/herself) is crucial.

Well, I think I’ve used up my allotment of words, but I hope that you’ve found this informative and maybe even inspirational!

When I asked on Twitter what questions people would like an article about agents to address, there were a bunch that didn’t fit into the post I was writing, which you can find at BTS Book Reviews blog. Thus, as promised, I’m answering them over here on my own blog. If you have a question that isn’t answered in the “All About Agents” article or this Q&A (that is not “would you read my book”), feel free to ask it here and I’ll do my best to answer.

Q. Assuming the writing is good, what is the difference between a partial that grabs you and one that doesn’t? (Since this is similar to the question “How can an agent tell if said ms has potential?” I’m combining the answers here.)

A. Here’s the thing—we’re not just looking for something with potential. Many writers have potential. We’re looking for someone who’s achieved their potential. We want someone who blows us away and keeps reading late into the night or makes us miss subway stops because we’re so absorbed. We want a manuscript that we can’t help but pitch to friends and family as well as editors. In short, we want something that excites us and that we can truly champion. You don’t want an agent who’s ambivalent to your work or on the fence about it. You want someone who’s thrilled to be working with you and who will keep on even when those inevitable rejections come in. (In my 22 years in the business, I’ve never had a work that everyone wanted. Never.)

The difference between what grabs me and what doesn’t is not easy to articulate. The novels I fall in love with spark something in me. They make a connection; they’re original; they have a wonderful, unique voice. Voice, in fact, is often what makes something stand head and shoulders above the rest. That said, just because I don’t connect with a work strongly enough to take it on doesn’t mean it’s not ready for prime time. It only means that I’m not the right agent for it.

Q. What are you hoping to see when you ask for revisions and offer to take another look?

A. When I ask for revisions, it’s because I see a spark. I’ve made that connection, but the work is still far enough from being ready that I’m not sure if the writer isn’t there yet or if the manuscript just needs another pass. Seeing the work again after revision will answer that for me. It may be that the pacing was too slow previously…or the main character was too distant or tangential to the action…or that the storyline itself wasn’t strong enough regardless of the intriguing set-up… Having the author tackle a revision lets me know that they’re open to critique and putting in the work necessary. The outcome of the revision itself demonstrates how well the author applies notes and whether he or she can bring this particular manuscript up to the level it needs to be to stand out.

Q. I’d love advice about the comparison in the query–ie “Fans of __ will love my book.” “I’m __ meets __.” Should we do this?

A. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying that you hope that your work will appeal to the same audience as that of Author X. Unfortunately, I’ve seen people phrase it poorly too many times so that it comes across sounding like, “Move over Stephen King, I’ll take it from here.” It takes the right blend of confidence and humility to say it the way you intend it to come across. Likewise, describing your work as ­this meets that is fine as long as it really highlights your concept for the agent or editor with whom you’re corresponding. I describe my Vamped young adult series as Clueless meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I think/hope that the person I’m talking with immediately sees Cher Horowitz with fangs. At the very least, they’ll know that it’s a snarky, fashion-conscious vampire series. I scratch my head, though, when I hear something like this is the Jack Kerouac, Peter Straub and Jude Deveraux all rolled into one. My response to that is…huh?

In other words, it can be a useful tool if done right, but I highly recommend running comparisons by critique partners and others you work with to be sure you’ve struck the right notes.

Q. What working relationship do you look for outside of contract with a client? Level of professionalism?

I’m not sure whether the person asking the question meant “contract” or “contact” here, but I get the spirit of the question. What I look for is someone who’s going to be a publishing partner. In other words, someone who’s willing to invest the same amount of effort in his/her career as I am. If I comment on a manuscript or proposal, I want to know those comments are well-received, even if the author may not agree with everything I have to say. I look for someone who’s personable and plays well with others. Publishing is such a village that it’s important to prop each other up and promote each other rather than tear down. I want someone who’s professional and communicative, who asks the questions that need to be asks and who keeps me on the loop on their end of things.   Also, someone who’s reliable with deadlines and with the quality of his or her work.

Q. If a book by a debut author is the first in a series, do you want that mentioned in query? Or treat it as a standalone?

A. Yes, if a book is part of a series, I want to know it. When advice says don’t pitch more than one project at once, it’s not saying pretend you don’t have a series (although you don’t want to tell us you have a ten-book arc necessarily). It’s saying don’t pitch two or three different series or genres at a time.

Q. Do agents look for something that will sell immediately? Or are they willing to work with an author at revisions to make a future sale?

A. When an agent takes someone on, they’re making an investment in the writer’s career. They don’t necessarily expect that a book will sell instantly. Responses can take months. And most of us do work editorially with authors to make the work as strong as it can possibly be prior to submission, which involves time before the book ever goes out to editors. A work doesn’t have to be perfect before we’ll take it on, but it does have to be really close. Unfortunately, agents don’t have the time to nurture a diamond in the rough. There are a lot of good writers out there. It’s not our job to train them up into great writers. It’s our job to sell their work and help them succeed once they get there.

Q. When querying, what time(s) of the year are the best to do so? Or, when is NOT a good time of the year to query you?

A. Conventional wisdom is that you don’t send submissions out at the end of the year (say between Thanksgiving and New Years) because agents and editors are burnt out and just trying to wrap up all their current projects before the end of the year. There’s some wisdom to this, but I’ve sent submissions out during this time and made some great sales. I think the answer here is “it depends.” The best way to be sure you’re querying at a good time (or at least not at a bad one) is to check the agency or publisher’s guidelines to see if there’s any window when they’re open or closed to submissions and make sure you don’t submit at a time when they’re not reviewing queries.

Q. If a project originally rejected is revised and mostly rewritten, does it count as a new book/okay to query again?

A. If you received an encouraging response and your book has been significantly revised or rewritten, then it’s absolutely okay to query again. If you haven’t, it probably means the book wasn’t right for that particular agent. However, the worst they can say is “no” to a new query, so I don’t think it hurts to try. That’s my two cents, of course, and if an agency’s guidelines say differently, then following them would be the way to go.

I promised my friends at the Colorado Gold Conference this past weekend that I would post my presentation on When is it YA? on my blog, and I’m keeping that promise here.  Some of this may be a bit familiar, since I’ve written on the subject before, but there’s new here as well.

So, when is it YA?

It’s important when targeting editors and agents to how where your work fits, and there’s often confusion about when something is middle-grade or young adult vs. new adult or adult fiction. Is it just the age of the protagonist? Well, no.

For a quick overview:

Middle grade is considered fiction for kids 8-12. There’s, of course, a range within this from chapter books like the Magic Treehouse to series like Percy Jackson and the early Harry Potter books, which I would argue aged up with the reader. These books mostly have protagonists on the older side of the reader scale (kids will read up in age but not down). So, it’s very likely your hero or heroine would be 11 or 12. Word count generally hovers around 40-55,000 words, give or take.

-Young Adult is for ages 12-18. Of course, there’s a range here as well and again you want to aim for older protagonists to give yourself the broadest readership. Word count is generally 60,000-80,000 words though, of course, this varies as well. It’s not just about the age of the protagonist, but about themes and where the protagonist is in his or her life.

New Adult this is for older heroes and heroines and has more adult, often sexual themes. It’s generally the next step in the protagonists’ lives—the first really adult relationship—and it’s mostly seen and shelved in romance. Heroes/heroines will be late teens or early twenties and the books will generally be the length of adult fiction.

Adult: adult fiction can, of course, have younger protagonists, like Mark Haddon’s THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME or Jodi Picoult’s MY SISTER’S KEEPER or Orson Scott Card’s Ender series, but the themes and situations are adult. The characters aren’t dealing with high school and issues of identity, but having to deal with adult situations even at their young age.

So when is it YA?

Young adult and middle-grade novels do not simply have young characters dropped into an adult world, dealing with their issues.  They have young people in situations and settings that are relevant to their current experience and to what they’re going through. Generally, the characters are in a school and/or familiar setting, dealing with family and social issues that are universal to that period in life.

Common themes (and I say “I” and “you” because what any writer needs to succeed is to become his/her character while writing):

Finding belonging – where do I fit in? Whether your character discovers s/he belongs in the wizarding world or the in crowd, finding a place in the world is a major theme.

Rebellion – young adulthood is definitely a time for questioning the status quo and deciding what you really believe in and what you’re willing to fight for.

Survival – sometimes you’re fighting just to survive. Zombies. High school. Minefields. Mazes.

Self-reliance or the flipside, allowing others in – no matter who your character is, he or she won’t be the same by the end of the story. If she’s a loner, she might learn that she needs people and that there’s sometimes strength in numbers. If he’s used to a certain amount of safety, whether it be in financial or social status, something will happen to teach him how to stand on his own.

How to make a difference – change is sort of the buzzword. Whatever’s going on, there has to be a way for the teens themselves to make the difference and affect the change. Control and coming into their own are all important.

Overall, the most important thing is that the young adult protagonists in your story are the agents of change. They’re not catalysts or observers, they’re active participants, without which…nothing.

What about Language?

Just like it isn’t all about the age of the protagonists, it’s not all about language either. Here are some important things to keep in mind:

-Don’t talk down to your readers. Ever.

-Don’t preach

-Make sure you use relevant cultural references and not those that will be gone in a year. Your heartthrobs will not be theirs!

-Know how kids talk. Dialogue should be natural and contemporary. Language and sentence structure appropriate for your viewpoint character. They know when you’re faking it.

-Cursing – sometimes it’s necessary. Good rule of thumb, always make sure it is. Don’t use it gratuitously and be aware that for some lines, even that’s too much.

Taboos

Here’s a hint – teens know about sex and drugs and drinking. It’s part of their experience, so it will often factor into to realistic portrayals, although some publishers are certainly more open to this than others.

Young adult fiction isn’t adult lite.  It’s not the place to preach to kids or present things as you’d have them appear rather than as they are.  It’s the place where you address teens’ actual world, experiences, insecurities, pressures, etc.  Even if you throw vampires or werewolves into the mix, you’re still dealing with peer pressure, bullying, friends/parents/faculty/enemies with agendas of their own.  And the big secret…none of this ends with high school, which might be why so many adults are attracted to young adult fiction as well.  We’ve all been there, and in many ways have never left. 

The LA Times had a wonderful article recently on the widespread appeal of young adult fiction, where one author (Lizzie Skurnick) speculated that part of the attraction may lie in the fact that “a YA book is explicitly intended to entertain.”  I think another factor may be that young adult fiction isn’t broken down along genre lines, but is a category all by itself, which means that writers are less tied to any particular conventions.  A book doesn’t have to be A or B, but can be something all its own.  (Not that genre boundaries haven’t become increasingly blurry in the adult fiction market as well.)

I don’t think there are taboos of subject so much as differing levels of graphic presentation.  There are times where something might happen off stage or that different language might be used, but the world is not always a perfect or pretty place, and fiction should reflect that. 

That said, if what you want to write about is sexual awakening, you might be writing New Adult rather than YA. It’s a matter of the focus and the nature of the experience.

But death – yup, got it – THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green. Drugs –yup, that too—Ellen Hopkins. Eating disorders – HUNGER by Jackie Morse Kessler. Suicide – THIRTEEN REASONS WHY. Reproductive issues – UNWIND by Neal Shusterman. And those are just examples.

The important thing in young adult fiction is to be authentic and to make sure you truly understand your characters, their struggles and the significance of their triumphs.

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J. Kathleen Cheney’s second novel, THE SEAT OF MAGIC, came out last week.  It’s an amazing novel, sequel to THE GOLDEN CITY, which was a finalist for the Locus Award for Best First Novel and received special acclaim as a best book of 2013 from Library Journal and Ranting Dragon!  She’s here today to talk about what she’s learned since then.

The Second Time Around… by J. Kathleen Cheney

For a bit of background, my novel The Seat of Magic debuted last week, right before the July 4th weekend, which was wonderful timing. The sequel to The Golden City, it’s a Historical Fantasy set in an alternate 1902 Portugal, with nonhumans and humans working together to stop two strings of murders in a city where the nonhumans have been banned.

Yes, my new book is a sequel. I’ve been through this book debut business before, and I learned some things from my first debut that have made this one much easier. So here are a few hints—for those aspiring writers out there—of what to expect when your turn comes around.

 

1) Reviews trickle in.

I don’t know why I had this perception before, but I believed (wrongly) that all the major outlets (Publisher’s Weekly, RT, Library Journal, Kirkus, etc.) would review my book months in advance.

Where I got that idea, I have no clue. They’re human, just like me, and they have to juggle a TBR pile far larger than mine. So this time around, I haven’t spent hours refreshing the webpages, wondering when they’ll get my review up. I’ve been more patient, and it’s been a less stressful experience for me. (The same goes for reader reviews, by the way. Not everyone will read your book the day it comes out…because hundreds of other books will come out on the same day!)

 

2) Things will go wrong, and it won’t be the end of the world.

Of the three signings I had set up for the debut of Book 1, two were hit by ice storms. Yes, even though you plan months in advance for everything to be perfect, things will happen that are simply beyond your control.

 

3) You don’t control those sales numbers either, so spend your time elsewhere.

As a brand-spanking-new writer, it’s easy to get hooked on refreshing Amazon every few minutes to see your author ranking change. (Going up, one hopes.) But knowing your sales figures doesn’t improve them. Concentrate on the things that you can affect to build readership instead, whether it’s blogging, making appearances, of writing something good. In fact, that has to be your first priority, because as a writer, you always need to be working on something new.

 

4) Expect a troll or two.

I’m a fairly inoffensive person online, so I was surprised to be hit by a troll reviewer within a day or two of my book’s debut. I couldn’t imagine why this reviewer was passionate enough about my book to write two full pages on why she didn’t like it, but she did. The truth is, someone is always going to dislike my writing, and they are going to talk about it online. I learned very quickly to spot that kind of reviews and walk away. It’s going to happen, but I don’t have to read them.

 

5) Enjoy where you are.

Not enjoying your novel debut is a bit like climbing to the top of Mt. Everest and not stopping to look around. Thousands of people would love to be where you are.

So expect a few things not to turn out like you’d hoped. That’s inevitable. Enjoy all the ones that do turn out the way you planned. Enjoy the signings and tweets from happy readers. Enjoy the blog posts and good reviews and friendly FB comments. Enjoy.

 

And then get back to writing…

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seatofmagic_100dpi BLURB for The Seat of Magic

Magical beings have been banned from the Golden City for decades, though many live there in secret. Now humans and nonhumans alike are in danger as evil stalks the streets, growing more powerful with every kill….

It’s been two weeks since Oriana Paredes was banished from the Golden City. Police consultant Duilio Ferreira, who himself has a talent he must keep secret, can’t escape the feeling that, though she’s supposedly returned home to her people, Oriana is in danger.

Adding to Duilio’s concerns is a string of recent murders in the city. Three victims have already been found, each without a mark upon her body. When a selkie under his brother’s protection goes missing, Duilio fears the killer is also targeting nonhuman prey.

To protect Oriana and uncover the truth, Duilio will have to risk revealing his own identity, put his trust in some unlikely allies, and consult a rare and malevolent text known as The Seat of Magic….

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Great Quotes for the Series

THE SEAT OF MAGIC

“[A] killer sequel…Intriguing and fun, the mystery unfolds like a socially conscious tour through a cabinet of curiosities.” —Kirkus Reviews

“[M]esmerizing.” —Publishers Weekly

“This second entry in the Golden City series is even better than its predecessor. Readers will be completely enthralled with the characters and the organic development of their relationship. It is a sheer delight to see more of Oriana and her people… Add to that an engaging world filled with selkies, sereia and the prohibition of magic and you won’t want to put The Seat of Magic down. This reviewer couldn’t help falling for the hot hero, whose banter with Oriana is awesome; their sweet romance is utterly charming.” —Romantic Times

goldencity_100dpi THE GOLDEN CITY

“VERDICT Cheney’s debut is a masterpiece of historical fantasy, set in early 1900s Portugal, a time and place rarely explored in English-language fiction. The fascinating mannerisms of the age and the extreme formality of two people growing fonder of each other add a charmingly fresh appeal that will cross over to romance fans as well as to period fantasy readers.” —Library Journal, Starred Review

“Cheney’s The Golden City pulls readers in right off the bat, as the story kicks off with our heroine in a desperate situation that will leave you rooting for her almost instantly. Oriana’s “extra” abilities are thoroughly intriguing and readers will love the crackling banter and working relationship between Oriana and Duilio.” —Romantic Times

“An ambitious debut from Cheney: part fantasy, part romance, part police procedural and part love letter to Lisbon in the early 1900s.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The Golden City is easily my vote for this year’s best debut novel, and Cheney has made her way to my must-read list.” —Ranting Dragon

“I honestly cannot wait to read what Cheney writes next.” – Bookworm Blues

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Author Bio

J. Kathleen Cheney is a former teacher and has taught mathematics ranging from 7th grade to Calculus, with a brief stint as a Gifted and Talented Specialist. Her short fiction has been published in Jim Baen’s Universe, Writers of the Future, and Fantasy Magazine, among others, and her novella “Iron Shoes” was a 2010 Nebula Award Finalist. Her novel, “The Golden City” is a Finalist for the 2014 Locus Awards (Best First Novel).

Social Media Links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CheneyJKathleen

Twitter: @jkcheney

Website: http://www.jkathleencheney.com