Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"Promo Advice from an Author Who's Been There" (Guest post by Holly Schindler)

I am so excited to be a stop on Holly Schindler's Feral blog tour. 

Over the years Holly (who is the administrator of my group blog YA Outside the Lines) has become a good friend. Still, I was surprised when she asked me to take an early peek at her newest novel and possibly blurb it. 

I did not hesitate to say YES! Or to provide a blurb: 

"In the town of Peculiar, the cats aren't the only ones keeping secrets... A dark and creepy psychological who-done-it that will keep you guessing until the very end."  

Oh, yes, dear readers, you will be guessing. Also, you may never look at cats the same way ever again.

Holly's written several other books, and I marvel at how easy she makes it all look, particularly marketing and promotion. It's something a lot of new writers wonder and worry about (and something I really struggled with) so I asked Holly if she'd mind sharing a few tips... 

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1. Your first book will be a bit of a stumble-fest. It will. I guarantee. But then, it is for everyone. So just embrace it! You have no idea what your own strengths are, as far as promotion goes. Try as much as you can. Take on the opportunities that come your way, knowing that some efforts will be successful and others won’t. Use the promotional opportunities associated with your first book to learn what your strengths are. Take those strengths into promotions for book number two.

2. Conversely, don’t be afraid to say no—if it puts you 100% completely out of your comfort zone, there’s a good chance you just plain won’t be good at it, either. And life is too short to be living in constant fear of, say, public speaking. You need a clear head to write the next book. You won’t have one if you’re counting down the days to the convention where you’re scheduled to talk and wondering how you might possibly be able to sever a nonessential body part just in time to miss your flight. Trust me—it’s not worth it. Say no.

3. Reach out. Don’t think of it as shameless plugging. You wrote your book to be shared. So shout it from the rooftops. Your enthusiasm will be infectious. You’ll hear it a lot, but it’s true: you really are your book’s best advocate.

4. Don’t underestimate the power of direct emails—to booksellers, librarians, bloggers. An extra bonus: emails are FREE promotion.

5. Fancy swag isn’t as powerful as a free copy of the book. You’re probably better off investing in a few extra review copies of your book than you are in jewelry, T-shirts, etc. intended for giveaways.

6. Teachers are on Twitter—this is especially helpful for middle grade. They hold book-a-day reading challenges in the summer, tweet about the best books they’ve found for their kids, and discuss read-alouds they’ve used. Check out #nerdybookclub, #mglitchat, #4thchat, #5thchat.

7. I’ll go out on a limb and say it: Read your reviews. I know not every author does, but I highly recommend it. Be objective. Look at the patterns. Don’t be so intent on justifying what you’ve done that you don’t learn from your reviews. I would hate, hate, HATE to think A BLUE SO DARK, my first novel, was the best thing I’ll ever write. Of course I want to be better. Bloggers and reviewers are influential in making me a better author.

8. The job is never done. Don’t expect to start promos a month before your book releases and finish two months after it hits shelves, never to be mentioned again. I’m still talking about A BLUE SO DARK (2010) with readers.

9. Finding your promo rhythm is like finding your writing rhythm. Some writers are better off working on their WIPS every day with specific word count goals; others are better working a couple of days a week without the pressure of maintaining a specific word-count pace. Similarly, I work best doing a little bit of promo work each day (usually in the morning), then moving straight into my current WIP. But you might prefer to work on your WIP during the week and devote your weekends to a few promo activities. Some of us are night owls; some of us early birds. Listen to your own internal clock. Don’t worry about how much time other authors are spending online, or how many cities other authors travel to. Do what fits for YOU.

10. Befriend other authors—online, through regional chapters of writing groups, etc. Writing is a unique lifestyle, and no one will understand the ups and downs like another author. Writers also often like to get together for promotion opportunities: debut groups, blogging, school visits, etc. Sometimes, the best promo tool you can have is interacting with other authors!

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FERAL jacket copy:
The Lovely Bones meets Black Swan in this haunting psychological thriller with twists and turns that will make you question everything you think you know.

It’s too late for you. You’re dead. Those words continue to haunt Claire Cain months after she barely survived a brutal beating in Chicago. So when her father is offered a job in another state, Claire is hopeful that getting out will offer her a way to start anew.

But when she arrives in Peculiar, Missouri, Claire feels an overwhelming sense of danger, and her fears are confirmed when she discovers the body of a popular high school student in the icy woods behind the school, surrounded by the town’s feral cats. While everyone is quick to say it was an accident, Claire knows there’s more to it, and vows to learn the truth about what happened.

But the closer she gets to uncovering the mystery, the closer she also gets to realizing a frightening reality about herself and the damage she truly sustained in that Chicago alley….

Holly Schindler’s gripping story is filled with heart-stopping twists and turns that will keep readers guessing until the very last page.

FERAL AND THE PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER:
FERAL falls squarely into the realm of the classic psychological thriller. While the book features mystery, horror, and paranormal elements, the emphasis is on the “psychological” rather than thriller / action. The novel features a Hitchcockian pace and focus on character development (here, we’re exploring the inner workings of the main character, Claire Cain). Essentially, every aspect of FERAL is used to explore Claire’s inner workings—that even includes the wintry Ozarks setting. The water metaphor is employed frequently in psychological thrillers to represent the subconscious, and here is incorporated in the form of a brutal ice storm (that represents Claire’s “frozen” inner state). The attempt to untangle what is real from what is unreal (another frequently-used aspect of the psychological thriller) also begins to highlight the extent to which Claire was hurt in that Chicago alley. Even the explanation of the odd occurrences in the town of Peculiar offers an exploration into and portrait of Claire’s psyche. Ultimately, FERAL is a book about recovering from violence—that’s not just a lengthy or hard process; it’s a terrifying process, too. The classic psychological thriller allowed me to explore that frightening process in detail.


Holly Schindler is the author of the critically acclaimed A BLUE SO DARK (Booklist starred review, ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year silver medal recipient, IPPY Awards gold medal recipient) as well as PLAYING HURT (both YAs).

Her debut MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, also released in ’14, and became a favorite of teachers and librarians, who used the book as a read-aloud. Kirkus Reviews called THE JUNCTION “...a heartwarming and uplifting story...[that] shines...with vibrant themes of community, self-empowerment and artistic vision delivered with a satisfying verve.”

FERAL is Schindler’s third YA and first psychological thriller. Publishers Weekly gave FERAL a starred review, stating, “Opening with back-to-back scenes of exquisitely imagined yet very real horror, Schindler’s third YA novel hearkens to the uncompromising demands of her debut, A BLUE SO DARK…This time, the focus is on women’s voices and the consequences they suffer for speaking…This is a story about reclaiming and healing, a process that is scary, imperfect, and carries no guarantees.”

Schindler encourages readers to get in touch. Booksellers, librarians, and teachers can also contact her directly regarding Skype visits. She can be reached at hollyschindlerbooks (at) gmail (dot) com, and can also be found at hollyschindler.com, hollyschindler.blogspot.com, @holly_schindler,Facebook.com/HollySchindlerAuthor, and hollyschindler.tumblr.com

FERAL Trailer:






Tuesday, August 26, 2014

On Going Back into a Revision (again and again and again and again and again)

One of the items on my to-do list this week seems pretty straightforward:

Read rough draft of BLANK. 

(Side note: BLANK is not the actual title of this manuscript, but I have a thing about not talking too specifically about books while I am still hip deep in the weeds with them. Also, this particular project doesn't have a settled upon title at the moment. It's morphed around a lot over the years. Recently, I thought I'd hit upon the perfect title before realizing there was a new YA book out with the same one. Ah well. BLANK it is.)

I don't know if you caught the phrase "over the years." 

I say this with a mixture of embarrassment and defiance: BLANK is a book that I have been writing and rewriting since 2002. I'm not exactly sure how many distinct versions of it there are. It morphs around too, subtly changing and expanding and evolving, so that now it's a much bigger production than I ever dared dream it could be when I first started writing it. 

Nova Ren Suma has this great blog series called The Book of My Heart. In the intro she writes about why her own book Imaginary Girls "holds a distinct and special place" in her heart, and she invites other authors to write about their special books.  

If I ever get my book BLANK right--(whatever right means--I'll know it when I see it--so far I have not seen it)--I will send my response to Nova and ask if she will use it in her series. 

BLANK is without question the book of my heart.  

Every couple of years I write a version, and I share it with my long suffering critique partner Donna, and she gives me a lovely peptalk. 

Rinse. 

Repeat. 

She's learned, you see. The first time, many versions earlier, when I told her I was thinking about going back in, she asked the obvious question: "Why?" 

I stammered for a bit. At that point I hadn't even begun to articulate my obsession. 

Now I've come to the understanding that I have to write this book. It's my story and I'm the only one who can tell it.

Each time I pick it back up, I am refreshed and excited. This is IT, I tell myself. This is the one. And each time I finish, I'm a raw wound, a burned out shell of my former self, vowing never again. If THIS isn't the one, screw it. Forget it. Forget them, those stupid pretend people. 

Until lo and behold, almost like clockwork, those people wake and rise and whisper, and I am compelled to open up the manuscript and try again. 

I thought I was the only one who did this kind of thing--wrote a book over and over--until I came upon an author's note at the back of a novel: 

I have wanted to write about [this] for a very long time. I actually attempted it several times. First while in college, then again right after. I'd almost given up, but a few years ago--after I'd published three novels and really should've known what I was doing -- I threw myself at the legend one more time. And failed again.

The author is Maggie Stiefvater. The book that she's describing is The Scorpio Races, which is pretty much in my top ten favorite books of all time. 

I like to revisit that book. And I like to revisit Maggie Stiefvater's description of the angsty but ultimately successful behind-the-scenes process.  

It's what I've done just now, as I am about to tackle my to-do: 

Read rough draft of BLANK.

I think you may be able to guess what the next item is on the list...

Begin writing. Again. 

(Just one stack of the many many versions.)




Friday, August 22, 2014

The Non-Writing Days of Summer (also known as: The Slowly Going Out of My Skull with Boredom Days)

To try to explain how loopy I get when I'm not writing-- the other day I posted a picture of a homegrown eggplant on my rarely used Instagram account and was weirdly thrilled to see that 10 people had "liked" it.

When I notice myself thinking/doing stuff like that, I realize it's time I go back to work. 

Which I will do. 

On Monday. 


PS: this IS a really really nice eggplant, but is it truly 10 likes-worth nice of an eggplant?

PPS: no offense to any of the people who liked it. 




Wednesday, August 13, 2014

No Answers. But Thank God for Books

Robin Williams died the other day. Suicide. Which seems to upset and confuse a lot of people. Mostly because we want to understand why. Coping with a death is difficult enough for the ones left behind, but when the death seems to have been preventable, it's even more difficult.

If only the person had asked for help or had gotten therapy or had taken medication or had tried harder to fight his depression or had snapped out of his bad mood or whatever, he'd still be around.

There's also a guilt factor. We wonder if we could've done more. We wonder if it was our fault in some way--to not have noticed the depth of the loved one's depression. Maybe we could've said something/done something or not said something/not done something.

I liked Robin Williams, as most people did.  We liked the version of Robin Williams that Robin Williams showed us. The manic, hilarious, brilliant man who appeared in Dead Poet's Society and Good Will Hunting and The Birdcage and Aladdin. Like millions of other people in my generation, I was introduced to him in Mork and Mindy. I suspect I was not the only kid who put rainbow suspenders on my Christmas list in 1978.

(Side note: I think I wore my rainbow suspenders one time, recognizing that the idea of rainbow suspenders was much cooler than the reality of rainbow suspenders.)

I am not one of those people who thinks suicide is a selfish or cowardly act.

When I was seven years old, my father committed suicide, so I have had a long time to think about suicide and depression and death and loss and grief.

Because I am a reader, I look for my answers--imperfect as they are-- in books.

When I was younger, I did this too. Probably because reading was a nice way to escape from real life. I loved fantasy books like A Wrinkle in Time, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Charlotte Sometimes, mysteries like Trixie Belden, and stories about happy families like One of a Kind Family. 

I didn't read many stories about death. But the few that I did read, I read over and over. I didn't realize it when I was a child, but I think I was grappling with the loss of my father, and reading was a safe way to do that.

Some of those books have stayed with me.

A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry. This is Lowry's first book, interestingly enough. (If you don't know Lowery's work--she is the acclaimed author of The Giver, soon to be a movie.) A Summer to Die is about the death of a sibling, the MC's older sister.

Beat the Turtle Drum by Constance C. Greene, also a book about the death of a sibling.

A Pocket Full of Seeds by Marilyn Sachs. This book is heartbreaking. Main character Nicole is sleeping over at a friend's house when her entire family is taken away by the Nazis during WWII. She ends up in hiding at a Catholic school. There's a scene that's stuck with me where Nicole has a rare moment of fun with friends and a nun yells at her, basically saying that Nicole has no right to laugh when she doesn't know the fate of her family.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, about the death of a best friend.

Some books I WISH I'd had back when I was a kid:

Try Not to Breathe by Jennifer R. Hubbard. Main character who has failed in a suicide attempt befriends a girl whose father committed suicide.

Fall for Anything by Courtney Summers. A girl's father, a famous artist, commits suicide and she teams up with one of his students to figure out why.

Looking for Alaska by John Green. A boy's quest to understand why the girl he loved died.

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt. There's no death in this book, but it could be a life-saver for a kid struggling with a not-so perfect home life.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. Also, a potential life-saver. Romance between a boy named Park and a girl from the wrong side of the tracks named Eleanor.


There are no definitive answers about why some people are so profoundly sad that they feel the only way to end the pain is through death.

Books don't have the answers either. But they give a little bit of comfort. A few hours of escape.

A voice that whispers, You are not alone...














Wednesday, August 6, 2014

I'm Still Standing (because I have a freaking cyst on my spine)

Yeah. So. I wasn't going to blog about this because it's a big bummer. And because I don't want to bum YOU out and also because I try to avoid writing about non-writing and/or reading related topics unless I am writing about cleaning toilets or my Italian grandmother or college searches or cheesy french fries. 

But sometimes life intervenes in the form of a cyst on your spine, and it pretty much consumes your summer, and it's hard to think about anything else to write.

What happened was at the beginning of the summer, June 20th to be exact, two days before I embarked on my book tour, I woke up with "sciatic" leg pain and my foot went numb. The doctor pumped me up with steroids and pain meds and I had a grand old (yet hazy now) time in California parked out at the pool (on an ice pack) at the Beverly Hills Hilton, strolling around beaches (and getting pooped on--and get this, not being stressed about it. See: pain meds), meeting old friends and bonding with new ones, hugging my son, and doing numerous events that also seem a little hazy now in retrospect, and honestly, if I didn't have my tattoo, I might wonder if the trip actually happened.

I just checked and yes, the tattoo of a foot is presently on my foot so no worries. I am not a complete loony tunes.

I am also not on pain meds anymore. Most of the summer--since the CA trip--is all a nice big hazy memory too, and I discovered that I'd rather experience pain than laze around in La La Land. (although, La La Land is a Lovely Land to visit from time to time.)

It doesn't hurt as much when I stand. So I've been standing a lot. Standing, whilst waiting for different meds and treatments and physical therapy to work. And then I had an MRI and found out I had a cyst on my spine and was relieved. THIS problem could be surgically removed. YES!!

Except a few weeks ago I found out it couldn't.

The ten minute appointment I had with the neurosurgeon was surreal.

I don't want to knock this guy. Okay, I do want to knock this guy. While I was standing, he was sitting, rocking back and forth in his rockable comfortable-looking chair. He had his hands behind his head all relaxed looking as he told me that he couldn't do surgery and he wasn't sure what I should do next and maybe the cyst would go away on its own and blah di blah, and I almost started crying, but thank God I remembered this bit from Louis CK and tried to laugh instead.

If you don't know who Louis CK is, he is a brilliant, hilarious, raunchy comedian. See here (and don't be offended) as he has his own run-in with an unsympathetic *%& doctor:


Anyway, the good news is that I am going to get a second opinion before I embrace my new life as a Stander in a world of happy-looking Sitters.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

In Which My Tattoo Teaches Me to Buck Up and Get Back to Work

It's been over a month now since I've returned home from my Summer Lovin' California book tour and some days I wonder if the whole thing was a nice fuzzy dream.

Now I am back to reality, which means stuff like weeding the garden and walking the dog and planning lessons for upcoming presentations and tooling around with a pitch for my next book. For the record, I struggle with pitches. This goes all the way back through my writing life. I just wish there was a way to stick my manuscript into the right editor's hand, and say Read it.

Another for the record: this does not work. So don't bother, kiddos.

A few years ago, after I finished writing and revising my book Thin Space, I actually sat on it for six months because I couldn't think how to pitch it. The truth is, at that point, I was so burned out by writing and submitting and collecting rejections, I couldn't bear to start the whole angsty rollercoaster-y ride again with Thin Space--my sixth book and the book that while I was writing it felt like it might be THE ONE. But I was afraid. What if I was wrong, etc. and it went nowhere like every other book I'd written and hoped was the one.

My writing partner Donna metaphorically slapped me upside the head one day. What are you doing, she asked me. Why aren't you sending that manuscript out?

I whined for a bit about how much I hated writing query letters and she slapped me upside the head again. Oh my God, she said. You're a WRITER. Why can't you write a pitch? Forget it. I'll write the damn thing.

And she did. Ha.

Her pitch was awesome and got multiple rejections and it hardly fazed me.

I don't know if I recommend this approach but it did kinda work for me in the end. The problem with it is that I never really learned how to write a pitch...

Which I am trying to do now.

Donna, where the HECK are you when I need you???

So. forget that for a minute and let me pretend I am back in sunny California. Parked out by the pool and pondering the limes on a lime tree.


Or eating glorious food that I have not prepared myself.


Walking around the San Francisco streets and coming upon an art installation of books flapping in the sky like birds.


And noticing that the words have fallen out of those books and imprinted themselves upon the sidewalk by my feet.


This trip truly does seem like it happened to another person, happened in another life. And I could almost believe this is true, that it was nothing but a lovely hazy dream, but then I look down at my foot.

And see my TATTOO.

It's there.

Which means the trip really did happen, even though now I am firmly back in reality. The weeding, the dog-walking, the lesson planning, the pitch writing.

I can do it this time, write my own pitch. I am not the same woman I was five years ago.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Today Is Yellow Day and Other Reasons Why I Love Teaching

Before I was a writer, I was a teacher. Well, that is not exactly true. I was a writer, always, and then I sorta freaked out about continuing to pursue what seemed like a silly dream (being a published author) and fell into teaching. That's how I used to describe it. Falling, and not a planned career.

My first year as a high school English teacher, I looked around at the experienced teachers (mostly women, many years older than I, at barely 23, and being intimidated. They seemed like MY teachers instead of colleagues.) and thinking, they chose this. Teaching is a calling for them. Something they've always wanted to do.

I felt like an impostor.

After a nightmarish first year, though, I started liking teaching too. I probably could've taught forever, except my husband's job moved us to another state and in the midst of filling out the paperwork to get my teaching certification transferred, I had mini breakdown/midlife crisis.

Did I have the guts to pursue my writing dream or what?

And I realized that leaving a great job that I liked was much harder than quitting a crappy job. (See: Papa Gino's Pizza Place, where my first day on the job they made me wash 5 gazillion pizza pans and wouldn't let me leave until I finished at 2:00AM on a school night. I had no problem whatsoever putting in my two-weeks notice for that job.)  

Leaving teaching behind was hard, but I am glad that I took the chance. Writing is my calling. And pursuing that dream was not falling, but jumping, leaping, flying--off a cliff into the unknown with no teaching certificate to catch me.

I feel extremely blessed that I can write full time. The best perk is the whole Make Your Own Hours/Sit Around In Your Pajamas aspect. I also get a fun kick out of the traveling/promoting (this, after beating back my crazy travel anxiety).

But here's a big surprise: As a writer, I get to be a teacher. This year I've probably visited 30 classrooms to talk about my book or the writing process, or in one case, about the color yellow. (I was in a preschool class and a little girl was wearing a yellow tutu and I asked her if she was a dancer--just trying to make conversation--and she looked at me like I was a weirdo, and said, "No. Today is Yellow Day.") It reminded me how much I loved being a teacher-- all the best parts of teaching--by which I mean actually being in the classroom teaching, instead of dealing with the yucky side stuff like test scores and committee meetings where you talk about test scores.

For a brief horrifying period of time I was a substitute teacher. It was always scary to drive over to a strange school, to check-in with the receptionist, to walk into a classroom of 10th graders or fifth graders or Oh-ma-Lord kindergartners.

In some ways doing an author visit is like being a sub. You don't always know where you're going. Like, where the school is. Or where to park your car. Or how to walk through the, er, metal detectors.

But in a million other nice ways it is not like being a sub. The teacher is sitting there with you, being the main nice thing. So there is no need for you to pull out your rusty classroom discipline skills.What to say to the kid who falls asleep. Or what to do when the fire alarm goes off. Or how to deal with the kid who vomits on his desk.

Not your prob at all when you are a visiting author.

Something that IS the same, whether you are the teacher or the sub or the visiting author, though, and something that I totally forgot (and I don't know how I forgot this!!) is how surprising and funny and smart and sweet and horrible and silly and idiotic and beautiful kids are.

God love that darling boy at the boarding school who saved me from a spider. And the lovely girl who whispered her secret dream and asked what she could say to people who told her it would never come true. And here's hoping that the guy in the front row who'd staggered into class and promptly fell asleep before I even started talking, is getting enough rest these days.

The other day I did a writing lesson at a middle school writing camp and during the idea phase--when we were simply brainstorming memories, one girl was REALLY not getting into the activity. She could think of nothing, she said, and every idea I prompted her with led to more Nothing. The kids at her table, who were supposed to be writing at this point, kept whispering to the girl and she kept whispering back, shooting down their suggestions and writing nothing.

It got on my last nerve to tell you the truth.

Pick up your pencil, I told her (in what I hope was a kind way). Write something. Anything. Writers don't just sit there thinking forever. In the end, if you want to write, you have to WRITE.

Reluctantly, the girl picked up her pencil.

When it was sharing time, she shocked the hell out of me by offering to read aloud.

Her piece was beautiful. I mean, it practically killed me how good it was. After she read it, she smiled sheepishly.

This was a kid that fifteen minutes before I had sorta wanted to throttle, (should I admit that publicly?)  and now I wanted to hug her.

Yeah. So that's why I love teaching so damn much and why it was so hard to leave it behind and why I am ever so grateful that I don't have to.

A bunny in a preschool classroom where it happens to be Yellow Day