Vlog: Why You Need Critique Partners (Really)

I once thought family members and friends were all I needed as far as critique partners go. I was wrong. And this is why. 

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts! 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs about why critique partners are so invaluable. What do you think? (Click to tweet)  
Do you REALLY need critique partners? Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs about why CPs are so important. (Click to tweet

Writer Bucket List Challenge

Photo credit: anitacanita on Flickr
So the super sweet Tammara Webber tagged me in a writer bucket list challenge thingie, and I actually really love her take on it—she wrote her bucket list as it would have been a couple years ago so she could check stuff off she’s already done. Which I think is awesome and that’s the way I’m going to handle it.

So if I’d written a writer bucket list a couple years ago (or any time before a year ago, really) this is what it would have looked like:

  1. Get an awesome agent. (Yay!) 
  2. Go to a writer’s conference. (More yay!) 
  3. Get a publishing contract. 
  4. See my book selling at Barnes & Nobles. 
  5. Make a living off my writing. 
  6. Becomes a NYT bestselling author (what, I can dream, right?). 
  7. Become someone’s favorite author. 
  8. Write someone’s favorite character. 
  9. Participate in a book signing. 
  10. Go on a book tour. 
  11. Be on a panel at a writing conference. 
  12. See one of my books adapted to film. 
  13. Live somewhere outside of the States. (Not really writing-related, but still). 

So those are the ones I can think of at the moment! Next up, I’m going to challenge my CP Vicki Leigh (whose book is coming out in A MONTH. What?) and NA author of adorableness Megan Erickson.

But I also want to hear from you—what items are on your writer bucket list? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
.@Ava_Jae shares her writer bucket list. What's on yours? (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature #4

Photo credit: Hadi Zaher on Flickr
Okay! So as per usual, I’m going to start by posting the full 250 excerpt, after which I’ll share some overall thoughts, then my redline critique. I totally encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques (I’m only one person with one opinion!), as long as it’s polite, thoughtful and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be removed.

Okay? Okay. Let’s get started. 

Title: EXODUS 
Genre/Category: NA Sci-Fi (*high-fives*) 
First 250:  
It was his first blue sky in twenty years. 
All around him Roy Barrows heard the obnoxious chorus of slot machines and spilled coins, while tobacco smoke fogged the room and dizzied his head.  But what a view!  Roy was the only person stationed at the casino’s great window—a section of the enormous protective dome that enclosed the city—and he was the only one who seemed to care that a world existed beyond the card table and the spinning wheel.  Below him, on the other side of the dome, mighty ocean waves crashed against formidable cliffs, leaving white pools of foam sloshing around the jagged rocks at the bottom.  The captivating scene was just how Em had described it in a letter once.  But the sky was even bluer than her last picture. 
Two decades had passed since mankind left the planet.  With its dome Fortuna was the only terrestrial city left, and you needed bags of money or a job with the Protectorate government just to get there.  Though a Sentinel like Agent Barrows never got a day off, an assignment on the planet was almost as good.  Roy had been sent there for a light security detail to clear his head; and already, as he soaked in the scenery outside and the ambient tunes of a piano across the gambling hall, he was beginning to relax.  
At length the stage drew Roy’s full attention when the piano flourished and a deep voice announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, tonight’s entertainment: Emiline Gray!"

Okay, so my very first impression here is that nothing is really happening in the opening. Roy is admiring the view, thinking about the world history (more on that in a minute) and about to enjoy some kind of show. But as is, on the first page, all Roy is doing is sitting and thinking. Which is a bit of a problem. 

I always recommend that writers start with their characters doing something. Introspective openings often fall flat because they tend not to be the most interesting openings, and they also tend to lead to info-dumping. Which is the second issue. 

In the third paragraph you immediately start giving us a mini-history on Roy’s world, and I don’t personally feel that this is the right place for it. While openings need some grounding information, it’s much more effective to spread that information out and show us as much as you can through dialogue, action, thought, etc. By telling us everything upfront (or a lot upfront, like you do here), you’re essentially pausing the action to give us background information, then starting with the actual action, which is especially problematic in openings because you need to catch the reader’s attention as quickly as possible, and giving us a mini-history lesson on your world isn’t the most effective way to go about it. (Don’t worry—this is something a lot of writers have a tendency of doing with early drafts. You are most certainly not alone). 

Now the in-line notes: 

It was his first blue sky in twenty years. I’m a little torn with this first sentence. On one hand, you’re giving us world information in a subtle way, which is nice, but on the other hand, looking at the abnormal sky is a relatively common opening with Sci-Fi/Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic novels. This isn’t a bad opening, but I think you could do better. 
All around him Roy Barrows heard the obnoxious chorus of slot machines and spilled coins, while tobacco smoke fogged the room and dizzied his head.  While you have some really nice imagery here (I particularly like the tobacco smoke fogging the room), you’re filtering here a little with “[he] heard.” Chuck Palahniuk wrote an excellent article that completely changed the way I look at filter phrases, and I super recommend you (and everyone reading this) read it if you haven’t already. (As my CPs well know, this is an article I throw at them all the time). Because it’s brilliant. But what a view!  Is he looking at something other than the sky? What else is in this awesome view? Rather than telling us about how amazing it is, it'd be much more effective if you showed us. Roy was the only person stationed at the casino’s great window—a section of the enormous protective dome that enclosed the city—and he was the only one who seemed to care that a world existed beyond the card table and the spinning wheel.  You say “the city,” but what city is this? This would be a good place for some specific grounding details. Below him, on the other side of the dome, mighty ocean waves crashed against formidable cliffs, leaving white pools of foam sloshing around the jagged rocks at the bottom.  The captivating scene was just how Em had described it in a letter once.  But the sky was even bluer than her last picture. If this is the first time Roy’s seen a blue sky in twenty years, then I’m guessing he’s not from this city? So where is he from? What kind of sky is he used to? I don’t recommend you give us a huge info dump or anything, but maybe comparing this view to what he’s used to briefly would help us better understand Roy’s world. 
Two decades had passed since mankind left the planet.  With its dome Fortuna was the only terrestrial city left, and you needed bags of money or a job with the Protectorate government just to get there.  As I mentioned above, I think it’d be more effective to show this information instead, if possible. Though a Sentinel like Agent Barrows never got a day off, an assignment on the planet was almost as good.  As opposed to what? Roy had been sent there for a light security detail to clear his head; and already, as he soaked in the scenery outside and the ambient tunes of a piano across the gambling hall, he was beginning to relax. Wait. If he’s supposed to be security…why is he relaxing? Shouldn’t he be fully alert to his surroundings and looking for a threat? And what is he protecting, exactly? (Again, if you show us this information, it’d be much better than telling us).  
At length the stage drew Roy’s full attention when the piano flourished and a deep voice announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, tonight’s entertainment: Emiline Gray!

The biggest red flag to me is, as I said earlier, nothing much really happens in your opening. Combine that with the mini-info dump, and I would probably be anticipating a pass if I saw this in the slush. I think you can probably fix this by possibly starting a little later in the scene, and by taking the information you tell the reader in this opening and showing us instead. In the end, of course, it’s 100% up to you what changes you do or don’t make (remember—it’s your story!), but those would be my recommendations. 

Thanks for sharing your first 250, Nathan! 

Would you like to be featured in a Fixing the First Page Feature? Keep an eye out for the next giveaway! 

Twitter-sized bite: 
.@Ava_Jae talks choosing the right place to start your WIP & filter phrases in the 4th Fixing the First Page crit. (Click to tweet)

How to Make Up a Language for Your WIP

Photo credit: quinn.anya on Flickr
So I’m a pretty huge nerd.

Over the course of several years, I’ve had more than a couple WIPs that take place in a made-up world, whether an alien planet, some alternate fantasy realm or something of the like. And on three different occasions that I can think of at the moment, I decided that those worlds or peoples deserved their own languages.

So I made them up. You know. For fun.

(I also thought it’d be fun to take Japanese as an elective in college because LANGUAGES, but I digress).

If you’re like me and decide at some point you’d like your made up world or culture to have a language of their own that you will actually put together, then you may be wondering where to start. And since I’ve had some experience with this, I figured I’d share some of my process:

  1. Decide how in-depth you want to get. Just because you’re making up a language for your book doesn’t mean you have to develop enough to become proficiently fluent—but it also doesn’t mean you can’t if that’s what you want to do. Generally, I like to work out very basic syntax, phrases and words that I’ll need for the book right up front, and then develop more as I write the book and need more words in context. Meanwhile, I have a very good friend who is basically a language master and works out conjugations and more advanced syntax and can put together whole sentences in her made up languages like nothing before I’ve had time to figure out “he” and “she.” So. Your mileage may vary. 

  2. Decide what you want to model your language after. Do you want this language to flow like romance languages or sound more guttural and harsh like germanic languages? Will their language be made up of characters that represent phonetic syllables and/or ideograms (i.e.: many asian languages) or will it be about stringing letters together to make up sounds? Will they have the same sounds as your native language, or will they have more (or less) sounds? These are all questions you want to have some idea of an answer to before you even begin to attempt at creating words and sentences. 

  3. Think about how your language will be written (if at all). I’ve found that learning how a language is written can be a hugenormous help in learning a language, and made up languages are no different. If the culture does indeed use written language, how is their alphabet structured? Will it be like the English Latin alphabet where every letter has a sound and you string letters together to make different sounds? Or will it be more like Japanese hiragana where every kana equates to a sound (i.e.: ka, ko, sa, se, etc.)? Or will it be more like Japanese kanji where the kanji can represent entire words in their own right? There isn’t a right or wrong option, but deciding this ahead of time can really help you develop the sound and structure of the language. 

  4. Create a reference document. This is going to be your language bible. I like to use Excel because spreadsheets lend themselves really well to this kind of thing, but what format you do is really up to you. The important thing is that you put all of your made-up language-related notes in this document. 

  5. Start with the basics. After I’ve figured out the sounds and alphabet and I’m ready to start creating words, I like to start with subjects and possessives (I, you, he, she, my, your, his, hers, etc.) At this point, there isn’t really a right or wrong—the thing to think about is to make sure that the words you create sound like they fit together. Spanish doesn’t sound like Japanese, and Korean doesn’t sound like English, and Dutch doesn’t sound like French for obvious reasons—they’re different languages with different sets of sounds and you need to make sure that the words you create sound like they belong in the same language. This often requires verbally sounding out gibberish, and your family members or roommates may look at you weird, but hey! You’re a writer. It’s okay. 


  • Take many language courses/study several languages. Over the course of many years, I’ve taken classes in Spanish, French, Italian and Japanese. I’ve also listened (and memorized) music in Korean, Romanian and Swedish. I can’t speak any of them perfectly (or even close to it, for most of them), but studying and paying attention to all of those languages has helped me so much when I’ve sat down and tried to create my own. Learning how different languages are put together, conjugated and created can go a long way in teaching you how to put together your own language, and I couldn’t recommend it more. 

Do you have any tips for language creation?

Twitter-sized bites:
Thinking about making up a language for your WIP? Writer @Ava_Jae shares some tips on language creation. (Click to tweet)  
Want to make up a language for your WIP but don't know where to start? @Ava_Jae shares some pointers. #writetip (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Why I Don't Have Guilty Pleasures

It's Tuesday vlog day! 

So someone asked me what my guilty pleasures were in terms of reading. And this is (the more eloquent version) of what I said.

Now I want to hear from you: do you have guilty pleasures in terms of books, TV shows, movies, etc.?

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae says guilty pleasures "perpetuate this culture of shaming people for what they like." What do you think? (Click to tweet)  
Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs about why she doesn't have guilty pleasures. What do you think? (Click to tweet)

Do You Make Playlists for Your WIPs?

Photo credit: William Brawley on Flickr
Once upon a time, (over two years ago, if we’re being specific) I wrote a post about my music-listening habits while writingAt the time, I listened to a lot of Pandora (specifically a K-pop station based off SHINee) and generally upbeat music.

I’m not really sure when that changed, but as of late, I’ve started doing this one band per manuscript thing. Or almost one band, anyway.

For my NA Sci-Fi, I listened to Imagine Dragons' Night Visions album on repeat, while occasionally switching to 30 Seconds to Mars’s Love Lust Faith + Dreams for more intense, dark scenes.

For my YA Fantasy after that, I listened to Fall Out Boy’s Save Rock and Roll album (again, on repeat).

For my NA Paranormal after that, I listened to a ridiculously huge Maroon 5 playlist (thanks to Spotify, I didn’t have to choose an album). Also on repeat.

And lastly, for my most recent YA Sci-Fi, I listened to Muse on repeat (mostly their The Resistance and The 2nd Law albums, with a couple other songs thrown in there).

I also started listening to music while editing, something I used to not be able to do at all, though mostly dancey upbeat music with few lyrics, like Swedish House Mafia. And that’s been a little less consistent.

At any rate, I noticed that by listening to the same band, it helps me get into a singular focus mode and I'm not often jarred out of it by a random song, which sometimes happened on Pandora (though Spotify ads were still a thing). Any song that I noticed distracted me I removed from the playlist and it wasn’t an issue again.

Maybe it’s because the songs all have a similar sound (after all, same band tends to have a similar tone throughout their music, particularly within the same album) or maybe it’s because my brain started associating those particular songs to that particular WIP, but I found it really helpful to have that same playlist going every time I wrote (and weirdly, I didn’t get sick of it—I actually still like all of those albums and bands).

I know, however, that some people even set out specific playlists for specific types of scenes, or create mixed playlists for their WIPs, and I’m curious—do you make playlists for your WIPs? If so, how do you put them together (and if not, why not)? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Do you make playlists for your WIP? Why or why not? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature #4 Giveaway Winner!

Quick off-schedule Sunday post to announce the winner of the fourth fixing the first page feature giveaway! Are you ready?

The winner is…


Yay! Congratulations, Nathan! Expect to see an e-mail from me very shortly.

Thanks to all who entered! I'll have another one next month, so keep an eye out! :)

Book Review: MAKE IT COUNT by Megan Erickson

Photo credit: Goodreads
So I know I’ve used the word “adorable” to describe a lot of NA reads as of late (especially the Contemporary Romances), but, well…I’m going to do it again. Because Make It Count by Megan Erickson is just that—super ridiculously adorable. And it was so very fun to read. 

Before I go on, as per usual, here’s the Goodreads summary:
“Kat Caruso wishes her brain had a return policy, or at least a complaint hot-line. The defective organ is constantly distracted, terrible at statistics, and absolutely flooded with inappropriate thoughts about her boyfriend’s gorgeous best friend, Alec…who just so happens to be her brand new math tutor. Who knew nerd was so hot? 
Kat usually goes through tutors like she does boyfriends—both always seem to bail when they realize how hopeless she is. It’s safer for her heart to keep everyone at arm’s reach. But Alec is always stepping just a little too close. 
Alec Stone should not be fantasizing about Kat. She’s adorable, unbelievably witty, and completely off limits. He’d never stab his best friend in the back… 
But when secrets are revealed, the lines of loyalty are blurred. To make it count, Alec must learn messy human emotions can’t be solved like a trigonometry function. And Kat has to trust Alec may be the first guy to want her for who she is, and not in spite of it.”
So Alec may actually be one of my favorite NA love interests ever—I mean, hot, nerdy beta male? SO much yes, please.

What’s great about Make It Count is not only is it a really fun, cute, light-hearted NA read, but Erickson also tackles a subject that really doesn’t get enough representation—learning disabilities. Not only that, but Erickson handles it really well—we see how a learning disability affects one of the characters (I won’t say who, but you can probably guess), as well as what stigmas are attached to it, which is something, I’ll admit, I hadn’t really thought much about before.

Also! I haven’t seen a whole lot of third person in NA, but if you like third person I so very highly recommend you pick up some of Erickson’s books—she has such a great (and super-NA appropriate and fun) third person voice that’s just as entertaining and real as any NA first person voice I’ve read and enjoyed.

My one peeve is I found Kat’s crippling lack of self-confidence a teensie bit annoying to read at times—however! That was a deliberate character development choice, and by no means ruined the reading for me in any way, and I would still (and do) recommend this one for anyone looking for a light, fun NA read, especially in third person.

So if you like Contemporary Romance and you haven’t yet checked out Make It Count, I recommend you do! And you may also want to check out Make It Right, which is now out, and I really need to get.

Twitter-sized bites:
.@Ava_Jae gives 4/5 stars to MAKE IT COUNT by @meganerickson. Have you read this nerdy NA romance? (Click to tweet)   
Looking for a light & fun 3rd person NA w/ a nerdy love interest? Try MAKE IT COUNT by @meganerickson. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway 4!

Photo credit: Simply Bike on Flickr
It’s time! For another first page giveaway! Woot! *confetti*

The first page critiques have been fairly popular, so I’ll keep doing them as long as people keep entering. :)

For those who missed it the first time and second and third time, the Fixing the First Page features is a public first 250 word critique. Using the lovely rafflecopter widget, anyone interested in winning a PUBLIC (as in, featured in a post on this blog) first page critique can enter.

For an example of what this critique will look like, here's the last Fixing the First Page post (and the one before that and the one before that).


  • ONLY the first 250 words will be critiqued (up to finishing the sentence). If you win and send me more, I will crop it myself. No exceptions.

  • ONLY the first page. I don’t want 250 random words from your manuscript, or from chapter 3. If you win the critique and send me anything other than the first 250 words of your manuscript, I will choose someone else.

  • I will actually critique it. Here. On the blog. I will say things as nicely as I can, but I do tend to be a little blunt. If you’re not sure you can handle a public critique, then you may want to take some time to think about it before you enter.

  • Genre restrictions. I am most experienced with YA & NA, but I will still accept MG and Adult. HOWEVER. If your first page has any erotic content on it, I ask that you don’t enter. I want to be able to post the critique and the first 250 in its entirety without making anyone uncomfortable, and if you win and you enter a page with erotic content, I will choose someone else.

  • You must have your first page ready. Should you win, you need to be able to submit your first page within 48 hours of my contacting you to let you know you won. If 48 hours pass and I haven’t heard from you, again, I will choose someone else.

  • You’ll get the most out of this if it isn’t a first draft. Obviously, I have no way of knowing if you’re handing me a first draft (though I will probably suspect because it’s usually not that difficult to tell). I won’t refuse your page if it’s a first draft, but you should know that this critique will likely be of more use if you’ve already had your betas/CPs look over it. Why? Because if you don’t, the critique I give you will probably contain a lot of notes that your betas & CPs could have/would have told you

  • There will not be a round 2 (unless you win again in a future contest). I hate to have to say this, but if you win a critique, it’s NOT an invitation to send me a bunch of your revisions. I wish I had the time available to be able to look at revisions, but sadly, I don’t. If you try to break this rule, I will nicely say no, and also remember to choose someone else should you win a second contest. Which would make me sad. :(

So that’s it! If you’re okay with all of the above and would like to enter to be the fourth public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Saturday, September 20 at 11:59 EST to enter!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Vlog: Do You Need Connections to Get Published?

It's Tuesday! And today's vlog answers a question asked all too often: do you need connections to get published?


What do you think?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Do you need connections to get published? Writer @Ava_Jae responds to this frequent misconception in today's vlog. (Click to tweet)  
Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs about why the "you need connections to get published" myth is so damaging. (Click to tweet)

5 Hard Writing Truths

Photo credit: Victoria Nevland on Flickr
It’s been a while since I’ve done a writing truths post, so I figured now, as I eek out the last couple scenes of my latest WIP, would be as good a time as ever.

I’ve written about general writing truths and truths I wish I knew before I began writing. Now here are five hard writing truths, that may not be the most enjoyable to consider, but are true nevertheless (and thus, worth knowing, I think).

  1. Writing isn’t always fun. Recent example: I decided it’d be a good idea to draft two first drafts back to back, during a time that I’ve basically been busier than ever. (Spoiler alert: I was wrong). It usually takes me a month (or less) to get through a draft, and with both drafts combined I’ve been first drafting since…oh…beginning of June? Something like that.

    Anyway, I finally finished yesterday (after writing this post), but it felt like forever for me. And I was tired. And there were many many days where the writing dragged, probably because I was a little burnt out, but the book wasn’t going to write itself and so I kept showing up. And sometimes (a lot of times, really) it wasn’t fun. But if your goal is to make a career out of your writing, then you need to learn to show up even when you don’t feel like it, even when you aren’t particularly inspired, even when you’re tired and would rather…not.

    And you know what? Sometimes it starts off not fun, but as you get into the zone, it becomes fun. And even if it doesn’t, at least you’re progressing, which is always a pretty big plus. 

  2. Sometimes you won’t do anything wrong and your MS still won’t sell. Whether sell to you means getting an agent, getting a publishing contract or selling reasonably well in the self-publishing market, this still applies.

    Sometimes, writers write really awesome books and they revise and revise and revise and the book is totally not the least bit bad but…it ends up trunked anyway. It happens. It happens a lot, unfortunately, whether because it wasn’t the right time, or the market just didn’t like it, or whatever the case may be, but it’s a reality of publishing.  

  3. A second job is (often) necessary. This applies to both self-pubbers and traditionally published authors. Most writers have to wait years after publishing their debut before they get enough steady income to be able to support themselves on just their writing. It often takes several published books and a lot of time to be able to establish yourself and get some consistent sales in. It’s not an easy thing to accept, particularly if your dream is to make a living just writing (which is the case for many many writers), but it’s the truth.

  4. So. Much. Stigma. If you write YA, you will face book snobbishness stigma. If you write NA, you will face book snobbishness stigma. If you write romance, you will face book snobbishness stigma (especially if you’re a woman). If you self-publish in any genre, or publish with a small press in any genre, you will face publishing snobbishness stigma. If you’re a woman who writes in a traditionally male genre (or a genre viewed as traditionally male) you will face sexist book snobbishness stigma.

    It’s irritating. And infuriating. And completely unfair and needs to change. But it is, unfortunately, a very prevalent (and mostly unavoidable) issue.

  5. It never really gets any easier. A lot of times new writers have a tendency of thinking that once they get published, life will be sugar rainbows and rose petals. You’ll get into the swing of things, make some money, start publishing book after book like a dream come true.

    I’m not yet published, but judging from the experience of authors way more experienced than myself (like, say, Sarah Dessen), this is pretty far from the truth. (By the way, that Dessen link? You should read it. It’s a post written by Dessen about recovering after trunking a novel, because even multi-published authors face writing struggles).

    The kind of great thing about writing (and also difficult thing) is there’s always more to learn. Writers never really reach a point of mastery where the words come permanently easier and they can confidently proceed into every book with full confidence that it’ll be awesome and published. There’s always self-doubt, there’s always a struggle, there’s always more to learn and while writers do eventually learn what routines and tools and strategies work for them, writing itself doesn’t really ever get any easier.

    And you know? I think it’s kind of okay. Because yes, it’s hard, and yes, it’ll continue to be hard, but to me, the struggle makes the end result that much more rewarding. 

What hard writing truths would you add to the list?

Twitter-sized bites: 
"Writing isn't always fun" & "it never really gets any easier" are 2/5 writing truths @Ava_Jae shares. Do you agree? (Click to tweet)  
Writer @Ava_Jae shares five hard writing truths in today's post. What would you add to the list? (Click to tweet

5 Things You Don’t Need in Your Query

Photo credit: smlp.co.uk on Flickr
Querying is a tough, sometimes soul-crushing business—and writing a query letter can in many ways be the most difficult part. After all, being asked to condense your 60-100k (or more?) manuscript into a page-long letter that makes your book sound intriguing and also personalizes to that specific agent with the teeny tiny stakes of  the agent reading your manuscript (or not)? It’s ridiculously tough.

I’ve read my fair share of query letters over the years, and with the WriteOnCon query critique forums still fresh in my mind, I thought now as good a time as ever to write about five things you don’t need in your query.

  1. Explanation of the lessons the reader/your characters will learn. I understand the impulse to include this, I do—English teachers have told us for years that a book isn’t really literary gold unless it has some grand, over-arching, bigger than thyself message. But here’s the thing—even if your book does have that kind of message (and, um, you know what it is?), it’s best to leave it out of your query letter.

    Now, I can already hear what you’re thinking (apparently my online self is a telepath)—but Ava, I worked so hard to get those messages into my book—why wouldn’t I talk about them? The why is pretty simple actually: 99% of the time writers include the message or lesson the characters or readers (or both) are going to learn when reading their book in their query letter, it sounds preachy—and worse, it sounds like your manuscript is preachy (or teacher-y, which isn’t any better), which leads to a ginormous no thank you.

    I know that seems a little unfair. It’s totally possible that you have messages in your book that aren’t preachy at all and are woven really nicely into the story, and if that’s the case, that’s great, it really is. But don’t mention it in your query if you don’t want someone to assume your book is going to be preachy/teachy. 

  2. Vague phrases. I actually wrote a whole post about why details are so important in queries and pitches, so I won’t rehash the whole thing, but in queries, vague phrases are you enemy. Mentioning your protagonist's dark secret or life-changing quest or how they meet a mysterious stranger or will have to make a life-altering choice whose consequences will affect all of humanity? Yeah, it’s not helpful.

    The thing is, agents and editors read thousands of queries a year. They have books getting pitched to them all the time and the only way you’re going to pique their interest is if you show them how your book is unique. If your query is full of vague phrases, not only can I guarantee they’ve seen someone else (or many many many someone elses) describe their manuscript the same exact way, but you’re completely missing out on a vital opportunity to show them how your book stands out from the crowd. 

  3. Quotes from your manuscript. I did this in my first ever query (spoiler: it so didn’t work), and it’s something I’ve seen especially amongst new writers.

    Again, I get the temptation: you’ve worked so very hard on your manuscript and you want to share some gems with the agent/editor in the hopes that it’ll pique their interest. But the query is not the place to show off your writing (or at least, not the writing of your manuscript)—the query is the place to explain your manuscript in a condensed, interesting way to make the reader want to learn more (and hopefully read) your book.

    But Ava, you’re thinking (boy, telepathy is fun), this super amazing quote isn’t in the first sample that I’m attaching to the query letter. What if they don’t see my really awesome quote because they don’t read enough? Well, my friend, I’m going to share a little tough love: if they don’t read far enough to get to your super awesome quote it’s because a) it wasn’t for them b) your query wasn’t strong enough to represent your manuscript or c) your manuscript wasn’t ready.

    Leave the quotes for the actual manuscript. Your query is not the place for them. 

  4. A huge bio. Let me start off by saying that bios are definitely important—and a vital part of the query. However, the focus of the query letter should absolutely be on your manuscript. Not you.

    Your bio should be a few sentences to a paragraph long. That’s it. And that paragraph, quite frankly, really doesn’t need to take up all that much space.

    Agents don’t need to know that you worked on this book for four years. They don’t need to know that your mom thought it was the best book she ever read, or that you won that online poetry award, or that you’ve known since kindergarten that you were meant to be a writer. All that should be in your bio are publishing or manuscript-related credentials (i.e.: you’re writing a medical drama and you’re a surgeon, or you’ve published short stories in The Glimmer Train, etc.). If you don’t have publishing credentials, that’s totally okay! Just say it’s your first book (or, you know, don’t? There’s some debate on this point) and let your manuscript do the talking (no debate on that one). 

  5. Anything in either of these two posts. Self-explanatory, really. For your sake, (and the agents’ sakes) don’t do anything in those posts. Please. 

What would you add to the list?

Twitter-sized bites:
Working on a query letter? Writer @Ava_Jae shares 5 things you DON'T need in your query. (Click to tweet)  
MS quotes & vague phrases are 2/5 things writer @Ava_Jae says you don't need in your query. What do you think? (Click to tweet)

Manuscript Wish List (MSWL): A Hugely Valuable Resource for Writers

Photo credit: Julie Edgley on Flickr
So just recently, the amazing Jessica Sinsheimer (Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency) and K.K. Hendin (author extraordinaire whose book I’ve raved about in the past) announced the launch of their new Manuscript Wish List site. 

For those who haven’t already seen it’s incredible hashtag version #MSWL on Twitter on tumblr,  MSWL is a site where agents and editors share what projects they wish they had in their inbox. That’s right—it’s a peek directly into what agents and editors are hoping to find right now.

For more information about how this supremely awesome idea came to be and what it’s all about, check out MSWL’s About page.

So while I’m no longer in query mode, I did find the MSWL Twitter event extremely helpful (and exciting!) while I was querying, and I know without a doubt that had this site existed a year ago, I would’ve been living on it.

You see, the tough thing about the MSWL Twitter event is it’s much harder to filter (not impossible, mind you, just takes some Twitter savviness and anyway, digression). There also tend to be a lot of tweets and it’s so very easy to miss something in the fray and well, this website? It’s basically genius.

The extra bonus fantabulousness of the MSWL site is you can filter the results by genre (Fantasy, LGBTQ, YA, NA, whatever) or tag (Crossover, Literary Style, Boarding School, Dual POV,  TV/Book/Movie comp, time periods, etc.). From there, you can see the entries, which vary from a couple sentences to a full paragraph all about what that particular agent or editor would love to see.

I mean, c’mon you guys, HOW AMAZING IS THAT? (Rhetorical question: it’s obviously the bomb).

Querying is tough, and doing your query research can be excruciatingly difficult at times, but I suspect this will really help a lot of writers in their search for an agent or editor who will love their work. So if you’re a querying writer, make sure you take some time to browse this amazing site, and don’t forget to thank Jessica Sinsheimer and K.K. Hendin for their awesomeness!

Will you be using this incredible resource? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Like #MSWL? Don't miss out on @jsinsheimer & @kkhendin's new MSWL website for your query research! (Click to tweet)  
Getting ready to query? Make sure you check out the new MSWL site for agent and editor wish lists. (Click to tweet

Vlog: Why Writers Must Read

Are you a writer who doesn't have time to read? Here's why you may want to seriously consider making it a priority: 

Also, here's the blog post version from several years ago. 

What do you think? Is reading really a top priority for writers?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs about reading and why it's not optional for writers. #writetip (Click to tweet)  
Is reading really a top priority for writers? @Ava_Jae weighs in her thoughts. (Click to tweet)  
"Just about everything you need to know to write your book is available in other people's books." (Click to tweet)

Discussion: Are You a Re-Reader?

Photo credit: jamelah on Flickr
I’ve been thinking about re-reading, lately.

Largely because of my never-ending TBR list (and not-so-infinite allotted time), I don’t re-read quite as much as I used to. And yet, I’ve recently met some people who frequently re-read novels five or six times (sometimes in a row!) and it got me thinking about why we re-read and re-watch and re-consume our favorite media.

I mean, from an outsider perspective, one might think it’d be a little boring to re-read something—after all, don’t you already know what’s going to happen? But as anyone who’s ever re-read a favorite book can tell you, you come out of every reading with something a little different. You notice things on the second and third and fourth readings that you hadn’t picked up on the first time. The nuances become more clear, the foreshadowing obvious, the character development easier to understand.

That, and re-living a favorite book, quite frankly, can be a lot of fun.

Nowadays, the main reason I re-read books is to remember what happened before I dive into the sequel, so I can pick up on the nuances and references from the previous book without pausing to try to wrack my brain to remember what happened. This, of course, really only applies to when there’s been a decent amount of time between the reading of book one and book two, but I find that it really does help me fully understand the sequel.

That being said, I don’t re-read every book before picking up the sequel, especially if it’s a particularly long book (City of Lost Souls, for example? Probably not going to get a re-read before I pick up City of Heavenly Fire, even if I did enjoy it. Which I did). Mostly because of the aforementioned time constraints and mountainous TBR list.

But I’m curious. Do you re-read books? Often? Sometimes? Three or five times? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Do you re-read books? Often? At all? Several times over?  Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

On Censoring and YA

Photo credit: CCAC North Library on Flickr
I was a pretty sheltered kid growing up. 

Though I moved around a bit, I always lived in safe, upper-middle/middle class areas. I had a religious (Christian) upbringing and went to church almost every Sunday. It’s something I am, actually, very much grateful for, even if my worldview has shifted quite a bit since Sunday school times.

That being said, it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

Largely because of that upbringing, I didn’t really read many books with cursing or sex as a young teen. (I did have a healthy dose of violence in my books, largely thanks to my Ted Dekker obsession, but that’s another matter entirely). The first book I read with an f-bomb in it was The Catcher in the Rye my sophomore year of high school. I remember rather vividly coming across the first f***—it was followed by a nervous smile as I glanced around and thought, we’re allowed to read this in school? 

Oh little, sheltered Ava. You were so adorable.

Come to think of it, we read Brave New World that year, too. Also shocking to my sheltered mind, though for entirely different reasons. Sophomore year was an interesting school-reading year. Anyway.

Despite my relatively sheltered upbringing, I did not, shockingly, learn vulgarity from Holden Caulfield. I’d heard cussing in movies, in music, from my peers, from my peers, oh and did I mention from my peers? I mean, I had a bilingual best friend in middle school who tricked me into saying curse words in Swedish—after all, the forbidden is interesting and fun to kids (and adults, really). You can’t go to a public high school (or middle school, for that matter) without hearing all about sex, drugs and students expanding their vocabulary to a couple choice four-letter words.

My point? Sex, drugs, cursing, and yes, even violence, are all part of a teenager’s life. Exposure is inevitable. And trying to imply that those things aren’t a part of the average teen’s life by pushing for a censoring of YA, quite frankly, is disingenuous.

Literature isn’t about escaping reality, not really—it’s about diving into reality in a whole new way. Maybe that reality isn’t necessarily the same as yours, but that’s also part of the point. It’s about exposure to different world views, different lives, different experiences that you yourself haven’t (or can’t) experience. It’s about a deep, human connection; it’s about reality reflected back at us in a way we’d never considered before.

It’s not about hiding.

It’s not about pretending the world is something it isn’t.

It’s definitely not about sheltering.

Here’s the thing, I think it’s important to represent all aspects of teen life—and yes, that includes the swearing, the sex, the drugs and the violence. Because whether we like it or not, teens are swearing, are having sex, are using drugs, are dealing with violence on one level or another—whether it’s a heated argument or something much more dangerous. And no, not all teens do all of the above (or even one of the above). But the point is there are teens that do—a hell of a lot of them—and don’t they deserve to see their experiences, their struggles and their realities reflected in fiction as well? Don’t they deserve to know they’re not alone? That their struggles aren’t impossible to overcome? That they can each have happy endings, that regardless of what they are or aren’t involved in, they’re people who deserve to be loved and respected? That they aren’t somehow lesser for their decisions or circumstances?

I don’t know, you guys, but it just seems insanely important to me.

I understand wanting to protect your kid from the world, I do. And one day, when I’m a parent, I’ll probably understand it even better, but for now, I sympathize.

But here’s the thing: censoring literature, whether it’s by banning books or trying to keep your kids from reading certain novels? It’s not going to do much of anything, except maybe limit their ability to empathize with people unlike them.

Barring bubble-boy over-the-top-type sheltering (which I really don’t think is going to do anyone any favors), teens are going to be exposed one way or the other. Maybe it’ll be through their peers, maybe it’ll be from a book, or movie, or TV show, or video game they watch or read or play under the radar. But one way or the other, your sheltered kid is going to face reality, and you know? They’ll probably be okay.

What do you think? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
"Literature isn’t about escaping reality, not really—it’s about diving into reality in a whole new way." (Click to tweet)  
.@Ava_Jae shares why she thinks NOT censoring YA is so important. What do you think? (Click to tweet

Discussion: How Do You Know When Your MS is Query-Ready?

Photo credit: Mullenkedheim on Flickr
Entering the query wars, is, by and large, somewhat terrifying. It’s when you release the book you’ve been slaving over for several months (or even years!) to be reviewed by publishing pros. It’s when your first rejections will inevitably come in and you’ll hop onto the emotional roller coaster that’s the life of a writer trying to get published.

I’ve often talked about being careful not to submit your manuscript too soon—something that can lead to rejections that could’ve been otherwise avoided. But trying to determine whether or not your manuscript is ready for submitting can be tough—after all, it’s extremely difficult (maybe impossible?) to be completely objective about our work.

So how do you know when your manuscript is query-ready?

  1. It’s been through several drafts. When I say “draft” I don’t mean you’ve gone through it and fixed spelling errors. When you revise your work, you need to really revise—that means making plot, scene, character, world building, pacing, and voice changes. That means writing new scenes and deleting unnecessary ones and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting until you get it right. How many drafts that’ll take depends on you and your manuscript, but it will MOST LIKELY be more than one. 

  2. Your critique partners think it’s good to go. I encourage writers to have several rounds of critiques with their critique partners and beta readers, with edits in between. That way, you can see if the changes you’ve made based off previous feedback was effective, or if it needs more work, etc. If you do the multiple-round method with your partners, eventually you will likely start to get comments along the lines of “if you make x and x changes, you’ll probably be set!” and that’s when you know you’re THIS close. Make the changes. Then you might be ready. 

  3. The only changes you can (honestly) think of are sentence-level tweaks. At some point, you’ll be staring at your manuscript after many many edits and you’ll catch yourself moving commas around and changing that word back and forth and obsessing over tweaks that quite frankly? Aren’t going to be a deal breaker. When you hit this point, you either need more beta/CP feedback (if you haven’t had some already) or you’re likely ready to submit. 

All of that said, you might go through those steps then years later look back and say, “yeah, it wasn’t ready.” It happens to all of us (including me, several times over). But I do think if you pass those three stages, you’ll be much closer to being query-ready than you were before.

Also, here are four signs that your manuscript absolutely isn’t ready.

How do YOU know when your MS is query-ready?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Is your MS query-ready? Writer @Ava_Jae shares three signs to look for when deciding.  #writetip (Click to tweet)  
How do you know when your MS is query-ready? @Ava_Jae shares three signs to look out for. (Click to tweet

Getting Published in 15 Steps: From Querying to Book Deal

Photo credit: derivativeofcourse on Flickr
So a (long) while ago I wrote a post about 15 steps to writing a novel, from the initial idea, to starting the query process. However, as many of you know, starting the query wars is really just the beginning to the whole trying to get published thing.

So I figured I’d continue.

Do note that this really only applies to traditional publishing. If you’re self-publishing you don’t need an agent (though some self-publishers are very happy with their agents) and your steps will be very different.

  1. Query agents. Oh, the joys of the query trenches. This is where writers agonize over writing the perfect query letter (and hopefully don’t do this or this), critique the hell out of them, then press send and…well…

  2. Try not to check your e-mail every five minutes. And, if we’re being honest, probably fail to resist. 

  3. Receive rejections. Rejections are inevitable. I did this thingie with query statistics last year, but the short version is this: rejections are 100% normal and expected. And they suck. But you are absolutely not alone. 

  4. Distract yourself with another project/lots of reading/TV/ice cream. Working on another project while you’re querying can be a great motivation booster/emotional bandaid/ super productive distraction. I highly recommend it. It’s also a great time to catch up on your overflowing TBR pile, gorge on ice cream and (try to) relax a bit. 

  5. Get requests. YAY! Requests are exciting. And nerve-wracking, because after you send you have to wait again. But go you! Go requests! Make sure you celebrate and enjoy this happy, super-exciting step. 

  6. Receive rejections. Of course, rejections do sometimes (oftentimes) come in after requests, too. These suck even more than the query rejections, but they too are part of the process. But remember, you only need one yes.

    That being said, sometimes you’ll go through the query process and this is the step where it’ll end. You’ll receive rejections and more rejections and your list of possible agents will run low and you may have to ask yourself if it’s time to move on. And sometimes, the answer will be yes. But the thing to remember is it’s okay. I had to go through this five different times before I finally got my fantabulous agent. It happens, it’s normal, and it’s hard, but if you don’t give up and keep writing new projects and querying said projects, eventually…


  8. Edit your book (again). This step actually depends on your agent—some agents are editorial and will go through several rounds of editing with their clients to make sure their manuscripts are as shiny as can be before going on submission, while others or not. There’s no right or wrong as far as this goes, it’s just preference, and if you know which you’d prefer, make sure you research ahead of time and query the right ones. 

  9. Go on submission. Oh, the joys of being on submission. It’s kind of like querying again, except this time your agent is in your corner, which is pretty awesome. You are, however, doing a lot of waiting…

  10. Try not to check your e-mail every five minutes. Boy, this sounds familiar. Oh, is that an e-mail? 

  11. Receive rejections. Sadly, you do not leave rejections behind when you finish querying. They’re still very much a part of the submission process, and will continue to be every time you go on submission again (did I mention you’ll be repeating this step with close to every book you write? YAY). 

  12. Distract yourself with another project/lots of reading/TV/ice cream. Not unlike query distractions, working on a new project is a golden way to focus your energy on something productive and hope-making. Reading and TV and ice cream are also winners. 

  13. Get requests. And dance with your agent! Because yay! ALL THE REQUESTS. 

  14. Receive rejections. And be sad with your agent because rejections still are un-fun. Sometimes, like querying, this will be the final step for that particular manuscript. The fact of the matter is, not all writers debut with the book that got them their agent—and that’s totally 100% okay. It’s hard, and not fun, and massively disappointing, but it does happen, and if it happens to you? You are absolutely not alone.

    Work on your next book. Edit it to awesomeness. Go out on submission again. Until…


Twitter-sized bite: 
How to get published, from querying to the book deal, condensed into 15 steps. (Click to tweet
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...