Fixing the First Page Feature #10

Photo credit: Willy D on Flickr
It's time for the tenth (!) fixing the first page critique! Woot! As always, I'll start by posting the full first 250 excerpt, after which I'll share my overall thoughts, then my redline critique. I encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques in the comments (I'm just one person with one opinion!), as long as it's polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be unceremoniously deleted.

Okay! Let's do this.


Genre/Category: YA Contemporary Fantasy

First 250: 

"To be fair, when I chucked my shoe at the phone, I didn’t think I was going to hit it. It was dark, I was groggy, and my aim is questionable even when I can see. But I threw it and I hit it and the call from Gladys got rejected—oops. 
 'What are we going to do about this?' Grandpa asks. He would yell, but it’s three in the morning, and even he has his limits. 'You know the rules! We always answer the phone. Always! What if Gladys hadn’t called my cell?' 
I squirm under his baleful gaze.  'You wouldn’t know to leave.' 
'No, I wouldn’t!' He runs a hand through his thinning hair and paces the kitchen, nitpicking his thoughts before speaking again. 'I’m a doctor. One of the most experienced doctors the Guild has to offer.' 
'I know,' I say. 
'Can you guess why she called? Hm?'  
I sit up straighter. 'Because her draft is expecting a litter. I do listen, Grandpa—' 
'Then why don’t you act like it?' he demands. 'We are Babewyns, Lindsay—we exist to serve and protect. Shirking your chores? Rejecting our instructions? What does that tell me?' 
'Look, I’m sorry,' I say. 'What do you want me to do? Come with you?' 
'Absolutely not,' he scoffs. 'Go clean the litter box. Or can I trust you with even that?' 
 'Maybe not,' I mutter, throwing him a dirty look. 'But at least I know better than to trust the Babewyn Guild.'"

Okay, so first impression: I like the dialogue going back and forth here—it's snappy and fun to read. Second impression: I have no idea what's going on or where this scene is taking place.

The dialogue itself is fairly well-written, there are just a few things I'll probably tweak below. But to me, the biggest problem is what this opening is missing: context and some sort of grounding details. Naturally, readers don't need to (and definitely shouldn't) know everything in the first 250, but right now I know virtually nothing about what is happening or where this is happening.

Now the in-line notes:

"To be fair, when I chucked my shoe at the phone, I didn’t think I was going to hit it. It was dark, I was groggy, and my aim is questionable even when I can see. Cute! I like this. But I threw it and I hit it and the call from Gladys got rejected—oops. I like this too—nice voice! :) 
 'What are we going to do about this?' Grandpa asks. He would yell, but it’s three in the morning, and even he has his limits. 'You know the rules!Wwe always answer the phone. Always! What if Gladys hadn’t called my cell?' A few things here. First, if he isn't yelling, we need to get rid of these exclamation points (because otherwise it sounds like he's yelling). Second, if they have cell phones, and they knew the call was from Gladys...couldn't they just have called back? I don't understand why this is such a big deal. People accidentally hang up on each other all the time. It takes two seconds to call back. 
I squirm under his baleful gaze.  'You wouldn’t know to leave.' 
'No, I wouldn’t!.' He runs a hand through his thinning hair and paces the kitchen, nitpicking his thoughts before speaking again. The detail about the kitchen is good, but I'd like to see a little more. Not a lot, mind you, but enough so I can picture where this scene is taking place. Just a couple sentences scattered throughout the dialogue and having the characters interact with their surroundings would do the trick. Also, I'm removing the bit about "nitpicking his thoughts" because technically our protagonist can't know what's going on in his head. 'I’m a doctor. One of the most experienced doctors the Guild has to offer.' 
'I know,' I say. This feels too "As you know, Bob," particularly given that she responds with "I know." Is there another way you can subtly slip it in without him directly stating it? It could be a quick thought she has after the next line, even. But this exchange just feels funny to me.
'Can you guess why she called? Hm?'  
I sit up straighter. 'Because her draft is expecting a litter. I do listen, Grandpa—' 
'Then why don’t you act like it?' he demands. 'We are Babewyns, Lindsay—we exist to serve and protect. Shirking your chores? Rejecting our instructions? What does that tell me?' 
'Look, I’m sorry,' I say. 'What do you want me to do? Come with you?' 
'Absolutely not,' he scoffs. 'Go clean the litter box. Or can I trust you with even that?' 
 'Maybe not,' I mutter, throwing him a dirty look. 'But at least I know better than to trust the Babewyn Guild.'" These last couple lines happen in a vacuum—that is, we don't get any sensory information and our characters don't really interact with anything. I'd buff up between the lines and gives us a little about their surroundings and have the characters interact with the setting and/or each other. 

Overall, I think this is fun and interesting and pretty well-written. With the tweaks to the dialogue and more details to ground the readers in the setting, I think this could be a strong opening. If I saw this in the slush, I would cautiously continue reading.

I hope this helps! Thanks for sharing your first 250, Heather!

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 grounding details & avoiding "As you know, Bob" dialogue in the 10th Fixing the 1st Page critique. (Click to tweet

Vlog: What Genre is Your WIP?

50th vlog!! Figuring out what genre and category your work in progress is can sometimes be tricky, but here are some tips.


What tips do you have for figuring out what genre and category your WIP is? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Do you know what genre & category your WIP is? @Ava_Jae vlogs some steps to help identify it. (Click to tweet)

How to Practice Writing a Novel

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So I received a question recently about how to practice writing before writing a novel, and it got me thinking. The writer mentioned writing short stories, and I do think there’s definitely some value in that and it can be a great way to start off learning how to develop characters, manipulate pacing and plot, establish voice, write dialogue, etc.

That said, I kind of believe that the best way to practice for writing a novel is to write a novel.

Writing a book is hard. It’s not just plotting out a full arc, or just getting a cast of characters right, or just developing your protagonist, or just writing an interesting voice, or just putting together snappy dialogue, or just getting world building and setting right, or just keeping the pacing on point. It’s doing all of that simultaneously and more.

The truth is, there are some things you can really only learn by doing. And writing a book, I suspect, is one of them.

But it’s not just writing the book that you learn from—you learn from every stage. From brainstorming, to plotting, to figuring out your characters, to actually writing, to revising, to working with critique partners, and revision, and if you get to it, writing query letters, and synopses, and there’s a ton involved. But I really do believe there’s something to be learned from every stage.

So if you ever find you’d like to write a book, but you don’t feel you’re ready, or you think you need more practice, I encourage you to start writing. That feeling of “I’m not ready” doesn’t really completely go away (writers, after all, are well-known for regularly suffering from imposter syndrome). And the truth is, no amount of practice in the world is going to teach you what writing a book will.

What do you think? Is writing a novel the best way to practice novel-writing? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
.@Ava_Jae says the best way to practice novel-writing is to write a book. What do you think? (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway Winner #10!

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Yet another double post to announce the winner of the tenth fixing the first page feature giveaway! Are you ready?

The winner is…


Yay! Congratulations, Heather! Expect an e-mail from me very soon.

Thank you to all you lovely entrants! If you didn't win, there's another giveaway you can enter right here on Writability—I'm hosting a giveaway of two hardcovers (Something Like Normal and Where the Stars Still Shine) and one The Devil You Know ARC by Trish Doller over on this giveaway here! And, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway next month, so keep an eye out! :)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway #10

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The end of April is approaching which means it's time for the tenth (!!) Fixing the First Page post! Yay!

For those who’ve missed it in the past, 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.


  • 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'm 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 tenth public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below.  Since the end of April kind of snuck up on me, the entry window is short this time around—you have until Sunday, April 26 at 11:59 EST to enter!

Also, in case you missed it, there's another giveaway running on Writability right now in which you can win a pack of Trish Doller books! I would enter if I wasn't hosting. It's pretty awesome.

Happy entering! :)

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So You Wrote a Book

Photo credit: Vainsang on Flickr
So since I’ve started doing this thing where I actually tell people I’m a writer when they ask, it’s come up a couple times that I’ve written “a” book. I put “a” in quotations, because I don’t usually go into the “I’ve actually written thirteen books but only one is getting published so far” thing unless it comes up, which it rarely does.

But last week, when I was having one of these conversations with a well-intentioned non-book person, I casually mentioned “my book” and not thirty seconds later came something along the lines of: “Oh wow, you wrote a book? Where is it published?”

I hesitated when I answered, because now I can say that my book is going to be published, which is awesome. And I did say that. But I couldn’t help but think that if I’d had this conversation seven months ago, that question would’ve really stung. Again.

But this post is not about the well-intentioned nice non-book person. It’s about societal assumptions and how we, as writers, handle them.

Part of the so-called overnight success phenomenon is the idea outside the publishing word that writers always publish the first book they write and basically start calling editors the day after they finished their first draft (because that’s how writers get published, right? Riiiiight?)

If you are here reading this blog there is a 99% chance you know that’s not how it works. Not even close. (And for the 1%—that’s not how it works. Not even close.) But when all we ever hear about are writers debuting on the NYT Bestseller’s list and becoming mega-superstars, the true backstory gets overlooked. No one wants to hear how they spent years and years writing, and getting rejected, and putting away books, and trying again and again. It’s not exciting to talk about the books they wrote and put away because they couldn’t get them published.

So, instead, there’s this image of writers publishing their first book ever and getting rich off it. And while, rarely, it can happen, it is such an outlier. Most writers, even writers who write full-time, did not start off that way.

So you wrote a book, and you mention to someone that you wrote a book, and now you’re staring that question in the face. And it sucks, it really sucks to have to say, “It’s not published yet” and watch the other person smile politely and immediately lose interest. It sucks to watch them go from excited (wow! you’re a real live author!) to condescending (so what’s your backup job?) in the space of a few words.

Unfortunately, it’s just the reality of being a writer, particularly during those long years before you get a publishing contract. And if you self-publish, unfortunately it doesn’t really go away ever, unless you hit it really really big (which, again, outlier).

The thing is, you can’t change the way other people think. And you often can’t avoid that ugly conversation if you’re open about being a writer. This is, unfortunately, part of the writer life. But while non-book people often don’t understand—and probably won’t understand unless someone talks to them about what it’s really like—other writers do.

So when you encounter conversations like this, acknowledge that it sucks. Acknowledge that it hurts and it’s not fair. But know that there are others like you who completely understand, and know that you are not a failure or a disappointment in any way, shape, or form.

This is just another reality of being a writer. And it’s okay.

Has this conversation happened to you?

Twitter-sized bite:

On the "overnight success" story and societal assumptions about writers. (Click to tweet

Vlog: Genre vs. Category

Today I'm clarifying two frequently used pub/book world terms: genre and category. They're not the same!


What other differences between genre vs. category would you add to the list? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Not sure what the difference is between genre and category? Writer @Ava_Jae breaks it down in her vlog. #pubtip (Click to tweet)  
In today's vlog, @Ava_Jae says genre and category are not the same. What do you think? (Click to tweet)

Guest Post: On the Writing Community

Note: Hey all! Today I've got a guest post from Kira Budge, the Associate Online Administrator for Chapter One Young Writer's Conference, which is a conference I'll be speaking at this summer! *confetti* I hope you enjoy (and enter the super awesome giveaway)! :) 

Hi guys! My name’s Kira Budge and I’m the Associate Online Administrator for the Chapter One Young Writer’s Conference (Ch1Con), a writing conference by young writers, for young writers. Today, as part of the Ch1Con 2015 Blog Tour, I’m doing a guest post on the importance of the writing community. There will be a giveaway too, so read to the end for that!

As an arts community, the writing world has a particularly vibrant sense of human connection. Both in real life and online, writers, readers, and industry professionals communicate about the stories they love and the ideas they’d like to see more of. Through these conversations, we all can have an immense effect on both individuals and on the world as a whole. I think this is one of the greatest rewards we get from our art.

As a widespread community and especially through the Internet, our industry has the chance to enact social change, such as in the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Through the expansion of our art to include more and more voices, we give readers the world over a chance to understand different perspectives. Discussions on important topics like these abound throughout our community and help us all to make a greater difference.

On a more personal level, the writing community helps people through the partnerships that writers establish with each other. With the assistance of other writers of all different experience levels, each of us can learn more about the industry, have guidance through the tough times that inevitably come, and gain useful critiques. One of the greatest tangible benefits for me in participating in the writing community has been the critique partners and beta readers I’ve been able to gain. With their help, I’ve improved the quality of my writing bit by little bit.

Our internet community has a way of connecting over funny topics as well as the more serious. Twitter is one of my favorite locales for this. The recent influx of parody accounts, which present real issues in the industry and common cliches in a way that everyone can enjoy, is one example. Another is the hashtags that pop up regularly in regards to the industry, like the #VeryRealisticYA tag created by Ch1Con partner John Hansen at Ava Jae’s serendipitous encouragement. Because we have similar interests, writers on the Internet enjoy a common understanding of what’s being expressed without even having to meet!

When you do meet, however, incredible things can happen. Almost eight years ago, as a young little munchkin with lots of big dreams (not much has changed there), I joined my first writing community, the Scholastic Write It! Boards online. There I met the girls who would eventually become some of my best friends, offering the critique, guidance, and, most especially, support that I’ve needed to make it as far as I have with both writing and regular life struggles. Five years later, after meeting each other on other social media platforms, the incredibly innovative and go-getting Julia Byers decided it was prime time that we all met in person. This experiment of a private writing conference blossomed into the Chapter One Young Writers Conference that I am proud to be a part of today!

Meeting these girls, and all of the other people who have attended and supported our conference thus far, has been one of the best experiences of my life. Something magical happens when you get together with people who have the same interests, shared dreams, and a similar life experience. Last year, while discussing the ins and outs of the industry, talking about high school and college life during lunch, and analyzing Harry Potter and the Hunger Games on the Chicago L, I loved being me so deeply and sincerely I can hardly express it. Through our conference, I’ve made many new friends, learned a hundred new skills, and found a thousand new ways to explore the wonders of storytelling. I wouldn’t give that up for anything.

This year, Ch1Con will take place on Saturday, August 8th in the suburbs of Chicago, IL, Arlington Heights. 2015 registration is currently open on the Ch1Con website for writers from a middle school to undergraduate level and at an early bird discount price of $39.99. Three speakers have been confirmed so far: headliner Kat Zhang, the bestselling author of the Hybrid Chronicles, Taryn Albright, better known as the Girl with the Green Pen, and our very own wonderful Ava Jae! As a special bonus, Ava Jae’s agent, Louise Fury, will open to queries only from conference attendees for up to thirty days after the event. Awesome, right? I am psyched.

Annnnnd I’d love to meet you there! With how great the writing community is, I’m always looking out for more writer friends like those on the Ch1Con team. So if you fall into our age range, take the chance to register ASAP! The early bird discount ends May 31st and there are only thirty slots open. You can sign up this link with adult registration for those 18+ and youth registration (with parental/guardian consent) for under 18s.

Even if you can’t attend in person, we’d love to meet you through the online platforms where our team originally met! Don’t ever let anyone tell you that online friends aren’t as good as real-life friends, because we’re proof of the opposite. We have Twitter chats and other events available for you guys! For more information, check out our website and social media platforms:

In the end, whatever way works best for you to participate in the writing community, with us, with others, online, in person, I promise you’ll find great benefits to the process and, even more importantly, develop friendships that can run soul-deep. I know because I’ve got some of my own.

Now for the promised giveaway! Here on Ava’s blog, we’re giving away a Trish Doller prize pack, which includes hardcovers of Something Like Normal and Where the Stars Still Shine as well as an ARC of The Devil You Know. Enter using the Rafflecopter below! Thanks, guys.

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Book Review: SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli

Photo credit: Goodreads
So as is my MO, before I begin gushing about Becky Albertalli’s adorable Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, here is the Goodreads summary
“Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised. 
With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.”
So first and foremost, if you’re a YA author looking for an example of really spot-on boy POV, I can’t recommend Simon Vs. more. I was really really impressed with just how real Simon sounded, both in his head and in the dialogue—and the dialogue from the other characters was written just as perfectly. But don’t take my word for it. Both Adam Silvera and John Hansen said basically the same thing, and they have way more experience being a teen boy than I do. 

So awesome voice aside, Simon Vs. was just a really freaking adorable book. I connected to Simon immediately, it starts in the absolute perfect spot in the plot (another note to YA writer: this is how you start a book), and there were moments that were just so darn cute I was actually giggling and “aww”ing out loud. 

I don’t often pre-order books from authors I haven’t read before, but I made an exception with Simon Vs. and I’m so glad I did. I whipped through the pages quickly because I needed to know if I was right about who Blue was and I was dying to see Simon and Blue’s happily-ever-after, and I loved that all of the characters, including the minor ones, were complex, layered and realistic. I really don’t have any complaints about this book except, I suppose, that it’s a shame I won’t be able to read it for the first time again. 

If you’re looking for a happy, fun m/m YA romance, I couldn’t recommend Simon Vs. more. 5/5 stars to this one for sure, and I can’t wait to see what Albertalli comes up with next. 

Have you read any diverse YA recently? I’m always looking for recs! 

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae gives 5/5 stars to SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by @BeckyAlbertalli. Have you read this cute m/m YA? (Click to tweet)     
Looking for an adorable m/m read w/ a great boy POV? Check out SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli. (Click to tweet)

Discussion: How Do You Decide Where to End a Chapter?

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Ending a chapter in the right (or wrong) spot can be the difference between unputdownable and “I guess I’ll get back to this tomorrow.” Every chapter ending turns the tables on the readers who now have to decide whether to read one more chapter or take a break. 

These chapter endings are opportunities, but they can easily become lost opportunities if you don’t make the most of them.

While you’re first drafting, however, deciding where to end a chapter can sometimes be tricky. And when someone on Twitter recently asked me how I decide, it occurred to me I hadn’t really written about it. 

I’d kind of glazed over this part largely because the answer is hard to explain—because while I’m first drafting at least, where to end a chapter, for me, is part instinctual and part planning. But even that has changed as my writing process has changed. 

When I first drafting in Word, where to end a chapter, for me, was 100% instinctual. When I wrote a line that sounded like it’d be a good hook, I’d hit enter a couple times and start a new chapter. Sometimes this was in the middle of a scene, sometimes at the end—it was a case-by-case basis but what they had in common was that they ended on lines that I hoped would be intriguing enough that readers would want to read on. 

When I switched to first drafting to Scrivener, however, my process changed slightly. Before I start drafting at all, I plan out just about every scene and write a quick sentence or two or three summary of what will happen for each scene. While first drafting, I think less about where the chapter will end and more about ending the scene in a way that is interesting and will make readers want to read on. Granted, with the way I have Scrivener set up, the “chapters” are automatically split up by scene, and I further split them up while revising, but it’s often less present in my mind than it was when I wrote in Word. 


Sometimes, I’ll write a line near the end of a scene and stop earlier than I expected because I hit a point that would make a perfect chapter ending. Or I’ll break mid-scene while writing because I've reached a great hook. And that stuff is still very much instinctual. 

That said, after drafting in Scrivener I’ve done a lot more chapter splitting while revising than I did before—which, actually, I don’t mind because it really forces me to pay attention to my chapter endings and decide where would be the best place to break. 

Deciding on chapter endings while first drafting, however, can be a really fluid process, so I’m curious: how do you decide where to end a chapter? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
How do you decide where to end a chapter? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Is Your Manuscript Query-Ready?

So you've worked with critique partners and revised your manuscript several times, but how do you know if your WIP is ready to query?



What signs do you look for when deciding if your MS is query-ready? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
How do you know if your WIP is query-ready? Writer @Ava_Jae discusses her process in today's vlog. (Click to tweet)

There Isn't One Way to Be a Girl

So I came across this tumblr post yesterday, and after chatting with one of my CPs about it, it got me thinking.

On one hand, I agree with the quote and the article it came from. I think oftentimes, in books and TV shows and movies, the women who are praised for being strong often do tend to be more masculine than the traditional “norm.” From Katniss to Arya, Mulan to Daenerys, Tris to Black Widow, the image of strong female characters almost always feature girls who (literally) kick ass, and hide their emotions, and rebel against gender conformity. Girls who, conversely, are more feminine tend to come under fire for being too passive, too “girly,” too emotional, too implicitly weak. 

But being feminine and being strong are not mutually exclusive, and I definitely agree with everything said about Sansa in that post. 

On the other hand, I don’t want to come down on gender nonconforming girls either, because they stand as a societal reminder that there’s no one way to be a girl. And that’s something that even now in my twenty-somethings, I’m still re-teaching myself.

Photo credit: Jemimus on Flickr
As a not-traditionally-feminine girl who grew up in a household with a very feminine mother and two very feminine sisters, it was, and still is, refreshing to me to see girls embracing themselves, even when that person doesn't necessarily conform to gender norms. I didn't until just recently ask myself why, for example, Mulan was hands-down my favorite Disney princess and the only one I ever identified with and I suspect it was because she was a strong princess who didn’t look or act like what you'd expect from a princess. She hated dresses (as a kid, so did I!), and rolled her eyes at her mother’s attempts to make her appear more girly (*cough*), and she did everything the guys did and no one could stop her (it will be a surprise to no one, I think, that my favorite sport has always been martial arts). 

It wasn’t until recently that I really began to embrace myself, even when that person wasn’t as girly as years of dresses, skirts, and frilly blouses insinuated I should be. It wasn’t until a year or so ago that I realized I could like makeup, and nail polish, and earrings and yes, even dresses, but also like (very) short hair, and hoodies, and jeans, and blazers, and graphic tees, and beanies. For years I had this idea in my head that being a girl meant liking all the girly, frilly things and because the clothes I often wanted to wear were decidedly less feminine, there must be something wrong with my taste and style. 

There isn’t one way to be a girl, and there isn’t a wrong way to be a girl, either. Girls can be feminine and masculine simultaneously. Girls can be emotional black belts, stoic fashionistas and make-up wearing sword-wielders. Girls can show strength in different ways—whether it’s through Sansa’s controlled political-savviness or Arya’s daring courage. Feminine, masculine and strong can all be used to describe girls—or even the same girl, and I want to see representation of them all. 

There are limitless varieties of girls, and every single one of us deserve to see ourselves as a heroine. We are complicated, and layered, and contradictory, and we are raw, and real, and here. 

What do you think? 

Twitter-sized bites:
"There are limitless varieties of girls, and every single one of us deserve to see ourselves as a heroine." (Click to tweet)  
.@Ava_Jae says there isn't one way to be a girl, or one way to be strong. What do you think? (Click to tweet)

My Favorite (Upcoming) Book Covers

As a bookish person who also loves artsy things, it’s probably no surprise that I love cover reveals. Book covers, to me, are totally fascinating, and lately the book covers just seem to be getting better and better.

I’ve been drooling on so many covers lately, that I wanted to share them with you guys. Specifically, covers for books that haven’t been released yet because there are so many gorgeous ones, I can’t even. 

So without further ado, here we go. 

  • Focus On Me by Megan Erickson:

  • Photo credit: Goodreads
    Why: The (literally) steamy, out of focus cover, the way the title itself is slightly out of focus, the rich colors, oh and those pecs and abs...
    Photo credit: Goodreads
    Why: The gorgeous colors, beautiful typography, shiny gold, stunning sunrise backdrop contrasting on the deep green foreground...what's not to love?

  • Cut Both Ways by Carrie Mesrobian:

    Photo credit: Goodreads
    Why: The simple, but eye-catching design, the hand-painted typography, the clothes around the bed that tells me I'm probably going to like this book... ;)

  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo:

    Photo credit: Goodreads
    Why: This illustrated cover fits beautifully with the previous Grisha books, but is definitely it's own thing. I love the cool tones, the swirly typography, and the fact that the elongated feathers makes six towers is pretty awesome and probably important.

  • A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis:

    Photo credit: Goodreads
    Why: The eerie moodiness, the movement in the cover model (and her hair!), the creepy hand grabbing her foot at the bottom of the cover, and the delicate and refined typography all work together to make this one stunning cover.

  • Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith:

    Photo credit: Goodreads
    Why: This cover is just so unique—I love the contrast of all the colors with the negative white space, the layers with tons of textures are gorgeous, and the more I look at it, the more I see.

  • Dreamland by Robert L. Anderson:

    Photo credit: Goodreads
    Why: The atmospheric, Inception-like imagery with the city in the sky, the clouds with the sun poking through and creating the title, the darkness creeping in around the edges and the creepy shack and dirt road setting down below makes this one of my favorite covers this year.

  • Hello, I Love You by Katie M. Stout:

    Photo credit: Goodreads
    Why: Hello, you're adorable. I mean, c'mon, how cute is this? I love the doodles, the light colors and the fact that they actually used a PoC model for a PoC character (as they always should, but unfortunately don't always) is a nice added bonus.

  • More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera:

    Photo credit: Goodreads
    Why: This cover is so perfectly creepy and awesome. I love the texture of the cracked, flaking smiley face and the bold overlaid text and the fact that it's a closeup showing only have a smile just makes it even creepier to me.

  • We Are the Ants by Shaun Hutchinson

    Photo credit: Goodreads
    Why: This is a simple, but lovely design that I really appreciate. I love how the title is centered down the middle and brings your eye back down to the tree at the bottom, which leads you back up into the cover again, and then the swirl of the stars and yeah. It's a deceptively clever design and I like it. 

What are some of your favorite upcoming book covers?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Writer @Ava_Jae shares her top ten favorite upcoming book covers. What would you add to the list? (Click to tweet

Classes I Never Thought Would Apply to My Writing Career (But Do)

Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360
With finals two weeks away and projects and presentations and essays piling up like Mount Kilimanjaro in the back of my mind, I’ve been thinking, kind of understandably, about school.

Specifically, about those silly classes I thought totally didn’t apply to me and my writerly career goals until, um, they did.

So for fun, I thought I’d share with you some of those classes I totally thought were irrelevant and was totally wrong.

  • Those two HTML classes. I took an HTML class my senior year of high school just to fill an elective space, and my third year of college. By the latter class, I kind of knew it’d be good to pay attention, but in high school, I didn’t think learning html would matter to me at all.

    And boy, was I wrong.

    Between the blog here and tumblr, I open up HTML to fix formatting issues that are rage-inducing to try to fix in the WYSIWYG editor and save myself a ton of time. I know how to read it relatively well, and while I’m definitely not an expert, the little bit I do know has been completely invaluable through many years of blogging. The more you know. 

  • Those two dreaded public speaking classes. I took a public speaking class my senior year of high school and over the summer after my second year of college. I hated them both with a burning passion and I can’t begin to tell you how relieved I was when I walked out of there and thought thank god I’ll never have to do that again.

    Except, you know, I’ll have to do that plenty because authors it turns out don’t just write books. (And my first real life application will be over the summer at a conference in Chicago for those who are interested.) 

  • Every math class ever. This will never apply to my life, groaned high school Ava in every math class. And to be fair, most of that stuff really never will. But I mean, I guess math is helpful sometimes, like with budgeting writer stuff and figuring out statistics for a post and fine math, you win. 

  • All those video editing classes. Fun fact: before I switched my major to English, I went to school for three years for video-related fields. I have an Associates in Digital Media/Film, and I went to a fancy art school where I learned about Visual Effects. It was pretty cool.

    When I switched majors, though, I never really thought the film stuff I’d learned would come into play again. And then I started vlogging and I realized just how useful it was to know how to set up a camera and scene and edit stuff. Who knew?

  • Every design/color theory/art class ever. Unsurprisingly, another thing I did at Fancy Art School was take art classes! And I totally loved them and thought they were a blast, but again, I didn't really think much about how those classes would apply to my writing career.

    But they totally do apply! Because I've designed my own business cards, and this blog, and I'll probably be designing future promo materials and it's all very helpful to have those basics I learned in my head. 

What non-writing skills have you unexpectedly used in your writing career?

Twitter-sized bite:
What non-writing skills have you unexpectedly used in your writing career? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How to Get Traditionally Published

In which I give the super quick version of how to get traditionally published in under four minutes.



Twitter-sized bite: 
How do you get traditionally published? @Ava_Jae breaks down the process in under 4 minutes in today's vlog. (Click to tweet)

Book Review: TRUST THE FOCUS by Megan Erickson

Photo credit: Goodreads
As I like to do with book reviews before I talk about my feels, here is the Goodreads summary:
“With his college graduation gown expertly pitched into the trash, Justin Akron is ready for the road trip he planned with his best friend Landry— and ready for one last summer of escape from his mother’s controlling grip. Climbing into the Winnebago his father left him, they set out across America in search of the sites his father had captured through the lens of his Nikon. 
As an aspiring photographer, Justin can think of no better way to honor his father’s memory than to scatter his ashes at the sites he held sacred. And there’s no one Justin would rather share the experience with more than Landry. 
But Justin knows he can’t escape forever. Eventually he’ll have to return home and join his mother’s Senate campaign. Nor can he escape the truth of who he is, and the fact that he’s in love with his out-and-proud travel companion. 
Admitting what he wants could hurt his mother’s conservative political career. But with every click of his shutter and every sprinkle of ash, Justin can’t resist Landry’s pull. And when the truth comes into focus, neither is prepared for the secrets the other is hiding.”
Okay, so. Megan is a super lovely person, and I really enjoyed Make it Count, which was released last year, so when I heard she was writing a m/m NA, I basically freaked out with uncontained excitement.

Super quick note: this is, indeed NA (not YA), so everything you would expect from NA is here. I, obviously, did not have a problem with it, but I figure it’s good to mention because sometimes people get confused when I say NA. It is not the same as YA. Okay.

As for Trust the Focus! Generally, when I read Erickson’s romances, I expect sweet and sexy NA. This was exactly that. Justin and Landry go on a road trip to honor Justin’s dad with no plans of making anything happen romantically between them (Justin isn’t even openly gay, so there doesn’t at first even seem to be a possibility of anything happening between them), but the more time they spend together, the more they begin to realize ignoring their feelings for each other isn’t going to work for much longer.

Trust the Focus had me smiling, awww-ing, laughing, internally raging and getting teary-eyed—which is to say, making me feel all the things a good romance should. I absolutely loved Justin and Landry’s chemistry, and while Justin frustrated me (as any good flawed romance hero should), I was rooting for them from the first page and loved seeing their relationship pull together.

If you’re looking for some sweet and fun diverse NA, I absolutely recommend Trust the Focus. I’ve already added the next in the series, Focus on Me, to my TBR shelf, and I can’t wait to continue to diversify my collection of NA novels!

Do you have any diverse NA recommendations? 
.@Ava_Jae gives 5/5 stars to TRUST THE FOCUS by @MeganErickson_. Have you read this sweet m/m NA romance? (Click to tweet)    
Looking for a sweet and sexy diverse NA? Check out TRUST THE FOCUS by Megan Erickson. (Click to tweet)

What I’ve Learned From My Social Media Presence

Photo credit: magicatwork on Flickr
As many of you know, I do social media a lot. Every day, in fact. And I do quite a bit of it and have been doing so for several years now.

Over time, I’ve learned some things. And so I thought I’d share these lessons with you.

  1. YouTube isn’t as scary as I thought. When I posted my very first vlog, I was terrified. I’d been camera-shy for years—and in fact, when I first started social media-ing, I couldn’t post a picture of myself even on my super-protected personal FB page because it freaked me out so much. It took a long time to get a handle on my anxiety, then finally build up to being okay with sharing pictures online, and then finally posting that vlog.

    And now? Now I love vlogging. It’s been so fun, and I’ve gotten comfortable in front of the camera (as long as I’m in an isolated room with no one watching, that is), and I’ve gotten a lot of really awesome feedback. There have been a few isolated bleh comments here and there, but the delete button is a very nice thing. And I haven’t had to use it often. So yay. 

  2. There are way more books out there than I can ever hope to read. Goodreads and Twitter are like the best worst thing to ever happen to my TBR list. I currently have 337 books on my TBR shelf and the more I read, the more the list grows. It’s a good problem to have, though, and I’m certainly not complaining. (Though if Hermione could lend me her time-turner, I might be able to make a dent in that list…)

  3. People are generally nice. By and large, I’ve found, people are nice. There are definitely some jerks, creeps, and gross people out there, but the vast majority of people I’ve interacted with online have been genuinely wonderful. And interacting with those lovely people makes putting up with the occasional blah person more than worth it. 

  4. Being yourself is the best policy. While I mostly talk about writing and books online, I’ve been known randomly nerd out about X-Men, or whatever TV show I’m currently hooked on, or some random movie I just saw and loved. I’ll squee about Korrasami and jump up and down about the Deadpool movie and drool over Edward Kenway and Ezio Auditore then go back to talking about writing. And you know? It’s really fun seeing just how many people following me are also secret nerds who I share fandoms with.

    The way I see it, it’s too exhausting to try to be someone you’re not online. And why bother, when plenty of people will love you for you better? 

  5. It can be time consuming and overwhelming. I am all over the internet. Just about every major social media site (except Google +) I use at least semi-regularly. And unsurprisingly, it takes up a hell of a lot of time. Sometimes, when I’m overwhelmed with work, I have to take a step back and ignore the smaller social media sites and cut down on the amount of time I spend on even my favorite sites. Sometimes I only log onto Twitter and make sure my blog is updated and leave it at that. Eventually, I will probably need to take a break entirely, but the point is every site is a commitment, and those commitments can add up quickly. I really do enjoy the stuff I do online, but sometimes I have to remind myself that taking care of me and making sure I work on deadline material is more important. 

What have you learned from being online? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
.@Ava_Jae shares five lessons she's learned from being online. What would you add to the list? (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Write for Yourself First

A vlog about writing in dead genres, paying attention to trends, and writing what you're passionate about.


Twitter-sized bites: 
Worried that your WIP or awesome book idea is in a dead genre? @Ava_Jae vlogs her thoughts. (Click to tweet)  
"In the end agents, editors, and readers don't fall in love with genres—they fall in love with stories." (Click to tweet)

How to Differentiate Your POVs

Photo credit: elliemcc11 on Flickr
Writing in multiple POVs is one of my favorite things to play around with. It’s exhilarating to get into more than one character’s head, and analyze the plot from different perspectives, and really see how the characters view each other. It can also be a great way for easy, built-in hooks because you can end one POV chapter on a cliffhanger and the readers have to read a whole chapter from a different POV before finding out what happened *insert maniacal laughter here.*

Writing in multiple POVs, however, can be really tricky. Because not only are you fully fleshing out one POV character until you can speak and think like them on the page, but you have to do it twice. Or three times. Or however many times depending on the number of perspectives you’re using.

I've found that the hardest part of that is largely getting your characters to sound different.

In a multiple POV novel, a reader should be able to randomly open up to any page in the book, read a sentence, and know whose POV they’re in without any context. Readers notice when characters sound the same, and it can be really jarring because readers realize that they are, in essence, not reading a character’s POV, but hearing the author’s voice come through. (And also, having to flip back to the beginning of the chapter to remember whose POV they’re in is no bueno).

But how do you make sure your POV characters sound different? Here are my top two tips:

  1. Learn the way each character speaks. Some people speak in long sentences, some prefer short. Some characters have a wide vocabulary and use words like “inexplicably,” “horrendous,” and “capable” in every day speech, others do not and stick to more basic words and phrases. Some characters curse frequently, others think “hell” is a bad word. There are regional differences, accents, and varied slang. There are characters who are insecure and ask loads of questions, and characters who are angry and speak aggressively. The possibilities are quite literally endless, and it’s absolutely vital that you understand where each of your characters fit in—and that you make sure they’re different enough that readers won’t get confused.

  2. Always think about the POV character’s perspective. A rich character and poor character walk into a small room lined with bookshelves brimming with old books. These two characters are going to have wildly different perspectives on the same setting. The character used to opulence might notice how dusty everything is, the cracks on the ceiling, the old rug, the cracked bookcases. The character who grew up in poverty might be stunned by the amount of books in the room, and notice how cozy the shag rug is, and wonder how anyone could have the time to read so many books. This is a super basic example, but the point is this: your two POV characters have different backgrounds and personalities coloring how they see the world. It’s up to you, the author, to know the difference.

Unsurprisingly, the key to writing great multiple POV novels is to get to know each of your perspective characters really really well. While you’re writing, it’s vital to remember that ultimately, you aren’t telling the story—your characters are. And when you’re working with multiple POVs, each character is going to tell the story a little differently. Your job is to navigate the differences and make them feel real.

What are some of your favorite multi-POV novels? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
When writing many POVs @Ava_Jae says, "each character is going to tell the story a little differently." Do you agree? (Click to tweet)  
Struggling to make your many POV characters sound distinct? Writer @Ava_Jae shares some multi-POV writing tips. (Click to tweet)
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