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Charleston in Spring

In July, I’ll travel up to Vermont (car loaded with a glut of shoes and clothes and books and more shoes – the majority of which I will never use) to begin my first semester in the Vermont College of Fine Art’s MFA program.  My concentration – Writing for Children and Young Adult – of course!  With a slight sense of panic, I’ve been reading the recommended “preparatory” texts, so that when I arrive, I’ll be able to jump right back into the world of literati.  (No matter that it has been twenty years since I’ve written a critical paper, with the exception of the critical work I scrapped together as part of my application.  No worry about that at all.)

The prescribed list is comprised of VCFA’s esteemed faculty’s suggested reading.  In truth, there must have been dozens of books on the list.  With only two months before I leave, I decided to narrow the list down to a good cross-section of books on the craft of writing from several different perspectives.  In case you are looking for some new, inspiring reads on how to improve your writing and your creative spirit overall, or if you simply want to join me in my return to the world of academic reading, I’m sharing my abbreviated list with you.  As I make my way through the books, I will, as usual, be offering up my opinions on the content covered in each volume. If you read them, feel free to share your opinions as well!

Happy Studying!

The Books:

What’s Your Story: A Young Person’s Guide to Writing Fiction by Marion Dane Bauer

The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner

Writing Books for Young People by James Cross Giblin

Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Art of Fiction by David Lodge

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life by Twyla Tharp

Freshman Forty

One of my writing partners, Christine Duval, published her first eBook through Kindle Publishing this past month.  Right now, ePublishing is an interesting option open to all authors, but deciding if / when it’s right for you can be daunting.  I interviewed Christine on her ePublishing experience, and whether or not she feels it’s a success.

 Me:  Christine, congratulations on the publication of your first eBook on Kindle, Freshman Forty.  It must be really exciting!

 Christine: Thanks! I am thrilled. It’s a dream come true.

 Me:  I know you originally pursued publication of your book with a traditional, brick & mortar publisher.  What made you change your mind and try the electronic venue?

 Christine:  It was a number of factors but mainly it came down to two things: timing and the confidence that the book was done and ready to be put out there. I had been reading so much about this “new” genre called New Adult fiction, which is geared to readers aged 18-25. My book is about a pregnant college freshman. I was sending it out to traditional publishers and actually getting the good kind of no’s. They were reading it; they were considering it carefully for their lists; they were sending me long letters with the reasons why they opted to pass on the manuscript. No one ever said anything to imply they didn’t think it was well-written or unpolished; really it came down to it not being right for the list they were putting together. So I thought, do I keep doing this and wait possibly years to get this published, or do I jump on the ebook bandwagon now with all these wonderful New Adult authors who are self-publishing and finding huge success? I decided to go for it.

 Me:  What steps did you have to go through to get your book ready for Kindle publishing?  For those of us who haven’t done it yet, it seems a little overwhelming.

 Christine:  It is a process but it’s not too painful. Although I could have done this entirely for free, on my own, I opted to invest a little money (not much, though) into creating something that could compete with the ebooks that were being put out there by major publishing houses. I paid for a royalty-free, model-released stock image from Getty Images and had a friend who knew what he was doing design the cover for me. I sent the manuscript through two copy edits with a professional copyeditor who was very affordable and very thorough. Then, I paid to have it professionally formatted by a company in the UK who did such a wonderful job to make sure it could be navigated by chapter and by section on
all Kindle devices and that all the margins lined up. They converted it to .Mobi for me, which is the format required for Amazon and then I uploaded it.  It took twelve hours to go “live” after that. When I got word it had been published, I had to pinch myself!

 Me:  Now here’s the heavy question:  how are sales?  One concern I have is over how you make your book stand out against all the other millions of eBooks out there.  Have you found a market for your book?

 Christine:  Slow and steady. So far I’ve made everything back that I put into it and then some in terms of royalties. In 2 ½ weeks on the market, I’ve had 555 downloads and 8 people have “borrowed” it. I put it into a Kindle Select Promotion that allows certain Kindle owners to borrow it in the Kindle library.  It seemed like another good marketing opportunity. I set up a Goodreads Author page and solicited several book bloggers to review it for free. There are many out there that do this in exchange for a free copy. It’s generated some nice reviews and so far 76 people who I don’t know have added it to their “to be read” list. I also was added to the recommended reading list on New Adult Alley after I emailed them. They run a popular blog for readers of New Adult fiction.  Lastly, today, Lifestyle Expert and TV Host Megan Meany made it one of her Must Haves on her website, which I’m hoping will generate even more buzz about it. I read that fifteen minutes a day of arm-chair marketing is all that is needed to get your ebook noticed, as long as it is done strategically. I think you need to be willing to participate in promotions and utilize social media to spread the word. The occasional plug by a family member doesn’t hurt either. My son’s third grade teacher emailed me the other day that she had downloaded it and read it over the weekend after my son told her about it. Now she’s told a bunch of teachers who are emailing me that they’re reading it now. Hey, whatever works! I’ll take it!

 Me:  Thanks for taking time to share your experiences with us!  Freshman Forty is available on Amazon, where it has been getting great reviews.  I recommend everyone to check it out!

 Christine:  Thanks so much for the opportunity! I appreciate it!!

Posted by: Katie B | March 14, 2013

NJ SCBWI Annual Conference – Registration Open!

Registration is open for the New Jersey SCBWI annual conference.  Mark your calendars!  Details of the conference can be found on the NJ SCBWI website here.

Conference date:  June 7-9, 2013 – Princeton, NJ

Summary:  We are proud to welcome picture book illustrator/author Peter Brown (Children Make Terrible Pets, You Will Be My Friend, Creepy Carrots) and YA/MG author Lauren Oliver (Pandemonium, Before I Fall, The Spindlers), as this year’s keynote speakers. Both speakers will be giving an additional presentation workshop at the conference, too, so this is not to be missed folks!

Registration Deadline:  April 30th, 2013.

Hope to see you there!

Posted by: Katie B | March 13, 2013

Freshman Forty by debut author Christine Duval

Freshman Forty

One of my critique partners, Christine Duval, ePublished her first book this past month, a huge accomplishment.  Even though I’d read versions of Freshman Forty as it was being edited, downloading the final product and reading it in its official format was like reading it for the first time.  It’s sold on Amazon for $2.99 and is well worth the purchase.  If you read it and like it, too, be sure to rate it on Amazon!  With fledgling authors, every review helps their status and sales.

I wrote the following review for Freshman Forty on Amazon and Goodreads where I gave it the full five stars:

Considering the subject matter of teen pregnancy, I was pleasantly surprised at how quick and easy this book read. Even more, when I had to put it down, I found myself thinking about the storyline, wondering how it was going to play out, and anxious to return. For me, that’s the sign of a well-written book. It was also really well paced, with just the right touch of suspense, which kept the pages turning. I immediately connected with the main character; she was likeable and sympathetic; and I couldn’t believe the circumstances in which she found herself. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick escape – it would be prefect as a spring break read or to unwind before bed.

Posted by: Katie B | March 12, 2013

Spring Break Reading

Spring break is right around the corner!  Kind of.  At least it’s getting close.  If you’re planning out your break from the winter blues already (like I am) take a look at these titles.  They’d make great airline companions!

Every single one of these fall into the “Books I Liked A Lot” category:

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins.  Middle Grade.  It’s no wonder Suzanne Collins went on to super-fame with her Hunger Games series.  The evidence of her skill at crafting believable, imaginary worlds, fascinating characters, and fast-paced, nail-biting plot is evidenced here in her first series.  I was immediately drawn in to this bizarre world far below the Earth’s crust and found myself unable to put the book down – a big compliment.  Any middle grade reader interested in a big adventure should pick this up.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech.  Middle Grade.  In a word – wow.  No wonder it won a Newberry!  This book layers a story within a story so seamlessly that the reader floats between the two without question.  Sharon ties together her multiple story lines with a subtle touch, such that you don’t feel manipulated, only elated at the outcomes.  The main character is quirky, humorous, and sees the world with such originality, you delight in living her life alongside her.  The only catch to this book is that it violates one of my pet-peeves with some middle grade writing.  Sharon’s story is hinged upon the absent mother – the one who runs away to find herself and then gets killed in a violent bus accident.  Yeah.  I struggle to recommend these books that use the crutch of the dead parents to young readers.  The absence of the parent creates a heartfelt and moving tale, but I wish the same sort of touching tale could be told without having to kill off the mother.

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler.  Young Adult.  This multi-award-winning book deals with several oh-so-familiar issues on the way to teens becoming comfortable in their own skins.  However, the concepts of being kind to yourself, sticking up for yourself, and becoming connected with who you are on the inside can speak to readers of any age.  Sometimes it’s good to be reminded to appreciate your unique self, even if the reminder comes in a teen-themed, glossy package.  Also – for any parents out there – this book is a nice reminder of parenting techniques you shouldn’t use.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.  Young Adult.  Hands down one of the most absorbing tales I have read to date.  From the very beginning, there’s a feel to the writing – a distant longing that draws you in – which is framed by the most lyrical writing.  Maggie’s other book, Lament, had the same effect on me.  I was lost, unable to think of anything but the characters, their circumstances, and the words Maggie used to create her world.  When I finished the book, I had to read it again, to see what nuances I’d missed and to savor her more memorable phrases.  Admittedly, on the first pass, it took me some time to fully understand the players and the rules of the water-horses upon which her story is based.  The second read was certainly richer and fuller and no less impactful.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.  Middle Grade.  A fast-paced, unique storyline set in olden-day France and exquisite artwork blend together in this thick book to develop an exceptional, one-of-a-kind story.  Using both parts together, story and art, creates a reading experience not found in other books.  This is one to pick up in hard copy and by-pass the eReader.  You’ll miss out by not touching it, toting it’s weight around, flipping the pages, admiring the art.

After I posted my last entry regarding the SCBWI W-I-P grants being open to applications, I went to submit mine.  Guess what I found out?  The information had been changed since I first researched it!  So:  if you haven’t started your application, you have more time!  The application period opens on 3/1/13 and closes on 3/30/13.  Now there’s no excuse not to try it.

Sorry for the error!  But I figure it’s an error in the right direction.  A beneficial mistake, not a game crusher.

Details and the entry form can be found on the SCBWI website here:  http://www.scbwi.org/Pages.aspx/Work-In-Progress-Grants

 

Posted by: Katie B | February 19, 2013

SCBWI Grant Application Window is OPEN

Do you have an unpublished picture book, middle grade or young adult novel that you’re working on?  Want help covering the costs of completing said piece?  Then the SCBWI Work-In-Progress Grant is for you!

Offered annually, applications for grant money (underwritten by Amazon) are accepted from now (February 19th, 2013) until March 15th, 2013.  Winners are announced in September 2013.  There’s no fee for entry (only verification of a current SCBWI membership) so you have little to lose by applying.  And a great deal of recognition comes along with winning – it’s not only about the money!

Details and the entry form can be found on the SCBWI website here:  http://www.scbwi.org/Pages.aspx/Work-In-Progress-Grants

Fingers crossed!

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