A Note to New Writers

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Deciding you want to be a writer is scary. It’s also exciting, depending on the day of the week, and difficult, and fun and sometimes overwhelming. On especially interesting days, it’ll be all five.

I often get e-mails from new writers asking for tips—something to help them write their book, whether they’ve just started, haven’t started, have tried and failed to finish several times, or are just stuck with a particularly challenging WIP. So I’m going to share with you the advice I repeat most often: finish the book. 

IMO, the first book is the hardest to finish. It’s the one where you fight the most doubts about your ability to finish a novel, where you haven’t yet figured out the process that works best for you, where you question whether or not you’re really an actual writer. (Those doubts, struggles and questions never really go away, but they’re often the loudest when writing that first ever book).

Finishing a book isn’t easy. There are going to be days when you seriously doubt your ability to reach the end. There will be days when you think your writing completely sucks, days when you hate your characters or your plot or you think your dialogue is stupid. There will be days when you start to wonder if maybe you should give up and try something else.

Don’t give up. Don’t stop. Don’t look back.

The truth is, your first draft will probably suck. Many published writers will tell you that their first drafts are laughably bad, but here’s the thing to remember: it doesn’t matter. The first draft isn’t about getting it right, it’s about getting it done. That’s it.

Next, you need to be reading. This isn’t optional. Read the popular and obscure, read whatever you can get your hands on, and most importantly, read the genre and category that you’re writing in. You need to know what’s out there in order to be able to write a book that’ll fit on the shelf. Not only that, but you’ll discover so much when reading—for example, I never would have learned how much I love dual-POV novels or Sci-Fi if I hadn’t read Beth Revis’s Across the Universe.

Read read read read read. You won’t regret the time you take to keep aware of what’s on the market (but I promise you, you will regret it if you skip this step).

Now you’re writing and reading. Awesome. The next thing you need to accept is you have to edit. A lot.

One of the best things I’ve done for my career thus far is to learn to love to edit. That’s right—I didn’t always love it, in fact, I kind of skimped on it with my first couple WIPs (learn from my mistakes, writers: do not skimp).

But even if you don’t learn to love to edit, you need to accept that it’s going to be a part of your life if writing is truly what you want to do. And yes, for those of you editing while first drafting, you will still have to edit again. Most likely several times.

Related to this note, you need critique partners that aren’t close friends or relatives. You need feedback from other writers, and not only that, you need the experience of critiquing someone else’s work. Make the effort to find some good critique partners, because they are truly invaluable to the writing process.

The next unfortunate truth is you’re going to get rejected. This doesn’t apply to just new writers—you’ll face rejection throughout your career, regardless of where you’re at. You’ll be rejected by agents, by editors and by negative reviews.You’ll learn the difference between a form rejection and a personalized rejection (and you’ll learn that personalized rejections are a thing to be cherished).

You may hear a lot of no’s for many many years before you hear your first yes (for me, it took eight years to hear the yes that landed me an agent). You may have to trunk manuscripts and write book after book that you then have to put away, but I promise you, this is normal and it’s okay. It’s not a waste of time—you’re learning and growing and beginning to get a feel for the tough part of the writing life.

The good news is this: the writing community is wonderful. I can’t encourage you enough to get involved—start a Twitter and follow other writers, read writing blogs, check out forums, whatever you have to. The writing community is full of people in all stages of their journey, people who understand the rejection and the tough days when you want to give up on this writing dream. People who are there to help you when they can and encourage you when you’re feeling down. People who will dance with you when good things happen and beam when you share good news.

If you don’t listen to anything I’ve written, please please please do this: get involved with the writing community. You’ll learn so much from that alone.

Finally, know that you are, actually, a writer. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have an agent, or a book contract, or a published book. It doesn’t matter if you don’t write every day, or you’re not getting paid, or no one knows your name. If you write and you love to write, you’re a writer. Embrace it. Love it. Live it.

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae shares an open letter to new writers, with truths, tips and encouragement. (Click to tweet)  
Writer @Ava_Jae shares a letter on the hardest aspects of writing & some encouragement for those just starting out. (Click to tweet

How to Write a Great Antagonist

Photo credit: _Teb on Flickr
So while working on my last couple manuscripts, I’ve been thinking a lot about antagonists. Specifically, on antagonists that I really actually love.

I already wrote a post listing my top five favorite antagonists (spoiler: they include the fabulousness that is the Darkling, Warner, Khan, Moriarty and the Graceling baddie), but as a writer, I’ve known for a while that I wanted to write antagonists that I cared about just as much as I did the protagonist.

Happily, I’ve started to work toward exactly that, and I’ve been picking up a couple tips along the way:

  1. Get to know them (and love them) first. This, by far, has been the biggest help to me in writing antagonists I care about. By thinking of them as characters first, rather than the evil force that makes my protagonist’s life difficult, I’ve been able to connect with them better in the brainstorming stages, so that when they arrive on the page, I don’t see them strictly as the evil obstacle.

  2. Understand their motivation. The thing about the antagonist, is most times, they don’t think they’re doing the wrong thing (or if they recognize what they’re doing is wrong, they have a way to justify it to themselves).

    Very few people do evil for the sake of doing evil. The choices they make are based on beliefs, experiences and some kind of worldview that shapes their way of thinking and ultimately influences their decisions. By understanding why your antagonist does the things he (or she) does—and even better, why he thinks what he’s doing is the right choice—your antagonist will turn out to be a much more interesting and developed character, than they would have otherwise.

  3. Make them sympathetic (or at least understandable/relatable). This is related to the last point, but not entirely the same. Lately I’ve been thinking about what my antagonists’ lives are like off-screen (or off the page). Who do they care about? What do they like to do? What are they afraid of? What do they dream about? What secrets do they hold dear to them? Even if most of this information never comes up in your manuscript, knowing the bigger picture of your antagonists’ lives can give you plenty of opportunity to make them a little more relatable or human, so that the readers don’t view them as just the opposing force. 

  4. Make them formidable. There are few things more disappointing than an awesome bad guy who is easily defeated. You antagonist should be a major obstacle for your protagonist—the hero of your story should struggle to overcome him. In order for us to truly appreciate the protagonists victory, his journey there has to be a struggle, and the moment that your protagonist fights the antagonist should be a battle that won’t easily be forgotten. 

  5. Avoid the clichés. Basically, everything in that linked post is what you should avoid if you want your antagonist to be taken seriously. Evil monologues, twirling mustaches and maniacal laughter are best saved for the corny movies. 

So those are my tips for writing a great antagonist, now I want to hear from you: What tips do you have for writing awesome baddies? 

Don't forget, you can win a first 250 word critique to be featured on Writability by entering here until 4/19/14 at midnight EST! 

Twitter-sized bites:
Do you struggle when writing antagonists? Writer @Ava_Jae shares 5 tips that may help. (Click to tweet)  
"Very few people do evil for the sake of doing evil" and other antagonist-writing tips from writer @Ava_Jae. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature Giveaway!

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So way back when I wrote a post on first page clichés, one of you lovely readers asked if I’d consider starting a public first page critique thing. And I’ve considered it and decided it might be fun.

So! Depending on how popular this feature is, I’ll be doing a public first 250 word critique every once in a while. 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. Some things to note:

  • 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 first ever public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Saturday at midnight EST to enter!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Why Tumblr is Useful for Bloggers

Photo credit: Julia Roy on Flickr
Way back, I wrote a post about tumblr for writers, so if you don’t know what a tumblr is or why it maybe useful for writers, that’s where you want to go. This is related, but more blogger-centric.

When I first created a tumblr blog several years ago, I signed up thinking it might be good for inspiration and a little social media fun. I definitely didn’t think it’d one day become the fifth largest traffic source for Writability. But after many years and more than a couple posts becoming way more popular on tumblr than I ever expected, I’ve come to realize tumblr can be a fantastic way for bloggers to share their posts.

As a rule, I generally share every post I publish on blogger in full on tumblr. When I first started experimenting with this, I initially just shared a couple paragraphs then included a “read more” link, but I found that people usually didn’t click to read more and they often didn’t share because the post was incomplete. So I tried sharing the posts in their entirety instead, including a link to the original post on the blogger blog, by sharing it as a link post rather than a text post.

Much to my surprise, that worked about a thousand times better. Sometimes literally.

Because of this happy success, I thought I’d share with you a couple steps to maximizing your tumblr reach:

  1. As mentioned above, share your posts as a LINK post. See the screenie up there? That’s the button you want to press. The reason this works better is it allows you to share the URL of the original post, so if people are interested they can click back to your blog and check it out. As proven by my traffic, people do click.

  2. Make sure you title your link post. I’ve often seen posts shared that were just a URL. Those tend to get less shares, because they look messy and aren’t as clear as those that are titled. Titling your post is easy—just type in whatever the title of your blog post is in the box that says “Title.” Pretty self-explanatory.

  3. Use tags. I read somewhere that tumblr only pays attention to the first five tags that you include, so make sure you choose your tags carefully. These are important, because oftentimes people will search certain keywords for a post they’re looking for, and if you tagged your post with that keyword, they’ll come across your post even if they’re not following you. It’s an easy way to get a little extra exposure.

  4. Follow blogs that are similar to yours. As I run a writing blog, I follow other blogs that often share posts about writing, like The Writers Helpers, It’s a Writer Thing, The Writing Cafe and How to Fight Write, all of which are excellent blogs that you should definitely be following if you’re a writer on tumblr.

    The reason this helps you with exposure is because oftentimes, bloggers will notice when a certain follower often shares their posts, which can lead to said bloggers checking out your blog, which can lead to them following your blog, which can lead to them eventually sharing some of your posts. The tumblr community is pretty awesome like that. :)

The great thing about tumblr is your posts have a shelf life of basically forever. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a post suddenly get tons of reblogs (or shares) months after I originally posted. It happens, and it happens pretty frequently.

So if you’re a blogger whose been considering starting a tumblr blog, I definitely recommend it. It’s been a wonderful experience thus far, and one I intend to continue for a long time.

Do you use tumblr? Why or why not?

Twitter-sized bites:
Blogger @Ava_Jae shares how tumblr unexpectedly became her 5th largest traffic source. #bloggingtips (Click to tweet)  
Bloggers, do you share your posts on tumblr? Writer @Ava_Jae talks how and why you may want to consider it. (Click to tweet
Why tumblr is useful for bloggers and how to maximize your shares there. (Click to tweet

So You Want to Write YA Paranormal?

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What is it? 

Angels, demons, fairies, occult, vampires, werewolves, witches, shapeshifters, grim reapers, ghosts and just about anything else that’s not quite human are all within the paranormal realm.

A few exceptions include aliens, which are Sci-Fi, and Greek gods, which tend to be viewed as mythology/fantasy. Oftentimes, there’s a romance involved (though that’s not mandatory) and there’s nearly always tons of action—which is part of the reason I love it so much. :)

Pros/Cons of Writing YA Paranormal: 


  • Tons of variety. When most people think of paranormal, they tend to jump straight to vampires, but that’s just one option available in this huge world that is YA Paranormal. The list I had above include just some of the options available to paranormal writers—the possibilities really are endless. For example, one of my CPs wrote a pretty awesome YA Paranormal about Dreamcatchers who fight Nightmares, which is releasing later this year—like I said, there are loads of possibilities. 

  • Everyday life with a (huge) twist. This is the other part of paranormal novels that I adore—more times than not, the books are set up so that it seems like our everyday world, except for this often hidden element of whatever flavor of paranormal the book has. Many paranormal books even operate under the assumption that the paranormal aspect is there, but most people don’t know about it, which I personally love, because it allows me to imagine that paranormal stuff operates IRL. 

  • Exciting reads. Paranormal books tend to have pretty exciting plots, because the element that makes them paranormal also tends to be rather dangerous. If you like to write fast-paced novels, YA Paranormal definitely qualifies. 


  • Very tough market. I’ve already written about dead genres here, so I won’t go into that again, but YA Paranormal is very much considered a dead genre. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to sell or find representation for a YA Paranormal manuscript, but it’s definitely tough. If you have a great idea for a YA Paranormal manuscript, however, I don’t think this should deter you from writing it—it’s just good to be aware of the state of the market. 

  • Some stigma. The whole Twilight effect is still in play with paranormal, so many people tend to automatically equate YA Paranormal with Twilight and make judgments. This is especially true if your book has vampires or werewolves (which is a shame, because there are plenty of awesome vampire novels out there). Again, this shouldn’t deter you if you’re passionate about YA Paranormal, but chances are you’ll encounter this when you tell people what you write. 

Recommended Reading: 

As I’ve said before, reading in the genre you’re writing is not optional. No really.

Note: While I haven’t read all of these, the ones I haven’t read I either want to read, have heard good things about, or were rating highly on Goodreads (or all three).

For more books, Goodreads has a whole section dedicated to paranormal books, with breakdowns for each category (angels, ghosts, werewolves, etc.) and a list dedicated solely to YA Paranormal

Helpful Links: 

Do you enjoy reading or writing YA Paranormal? Share your experience! 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Thinking about writing YA Paranormal? Writer @Ava_Jae shares some tips, recommendations and more. (Click to tweet
Do you write YA Paranormal? Share your experience at @Ava_Jae's So You Want to Write series. (Click to tweet)

How to Choose Book Comps

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If you’ve been researching query tips for some time, chances are likely you’ve probably heard someone suggest that you use a book comp within your query (and if you haven’t heard, you’ve heard it now).

For those who don’t know, a book comp is a comparison of your manuscript to one or two books, movies, TV shows or authors (or a blend thereof). Usually these are some sort of mashup, for example, x book meets x book, or x book meets x element.

Book comps are great for several reasons:

  • They show the agent/editor you know the market. 
  • They give a specific sense of the uniqueness of your book. 
  • They show there’s a potential audience for your manuscript. 
  • They’re fun. (Well. To me.)

When you’re first starting out, choosing a book comp can sound a little terrifying—there are so many books to choose from, and initially and it can seem a little overwhelming to have to choose one or two that fits your manuscript. But once you get the hang of it, choosing book comps isn’t nearly as difficult as it may seem.

Before I go on, here are some actual examples that were used successfully, whether to land an agent or book deal (or both):

So when you’re trying to come up with book comps, here’s how to begin:

  1. Make a list of books/TV shows or movies similar to your book. By similar, I don’t mean “exact.” What you’re looking for are elements that could be pulled from a book that your manuscript has. For example, if you wrote a Middle Grade Fantasy with a humorous vibe, you may comp the Artemis Fowl series, or if you wrote a YA Fantasy involving time travel and medieval-like assassins, you may say Hourglass meets Throne of Glass. A YA Contemporary Fantasy-like Beauty and the Beast retelling could be Cruel Beauty in the 21st century. The possibilities are pretty endless. 

  2. Figure out the unique aspect of your book. Remember, the idea isn’t to say how your book is exactly like another book—it’s to say your book is similar to another book, but different enough that it’s unique. You can explain this by mashing two books together like some of the examples above, or by adding a twist like “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for teens” above. 

  3. Start mashing. It might take a couple combination attempts before you figure out something that really fits your book, and that’s okay. Bounce some ideas off your beta readers and critique partners to see if they think it fits. Play around with a couple options until you settle on one you really like. Once you’ve chosen, you’re done! Yay!  

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Stay away from mega-bestsellers. The problem with using hugely successful books, is it doesn’t really show you know the market (because everyone’s heard of that book) and it also insinuates that you have mega-high expectations of instant bestsellerdom. Which hopefully isn’t true. 

  • Make sure it makes sense (or explain if it’s a stretch). Be careful when you’re choosing your comps that they’re not so out there that it doesn’t make sense. For example, Vikings meets House is a bit of a stretch, however if you can concisely explain how it works, more power to you. 

  • Stick to one or two comparisons, tops. Hourglass meets Cruel Beauty meets Shatter Me meets The False Prince meets Ocean’s Eleven doesn’t work. Why? Because you’re throwing way too much at once, and instead of giving a specific idea of your books, you’re just throwing a bunch of titles in the air to see what sticks. And in that case, nothing is going to stick. It’ll just look like you don’t really know your manuscript well enough to narrow it down to one or two comparisons, and that’s definitely not the message you want in your query. 

  • Bonus tip: come up with your book comp before writing the manuscript. I did this with my last two WIPs, and not only did it make me even more excited for the WIP, it helped me keep focus of the big picture of the manuscript. Also, I had a quick description of the WIP when people asked what I was working on, which helps. 

So that’s it! Now I want to hear from you: what tips for book comps do you have to share? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Getting your query letter ready? Writer @Ava_Jae discusses how and why to include book comps. #querytip (Click to tweet)
Do you have a book comp in your query? Writer @Ava_Jae discusses why it's important and shares some tips. #querytip (Click to tweet)

World-building Tip: The Ripple Effect

Photo credit: Kansas Poetry (Patrick) on Flickr
So this is something I’ve really had to think about lately, while revising one of my WIPs and preparing to revise another WIP, which is also in need of major world-building. 

Once you’ve established your world-building elements, whether it’s technology, magic, setting, culture, etc., step two is to isolate each of those major elements and think about how it affects your protag's world.

For example, if you’re incorporating some form of magic into your world, you need to think about the implications. Does everyone use magic? If so, is it considered normal? If so, is it considered unnatural or weird for someone to not use magic? If this is a more modern-day setting, do they have technology that works with the magic, or are they two very separate entities? Do they cancel each other out?

This works the same way with technology or fun gadgets. Say you have a Sci-Fi world with a technology that extends lifespan. How does that affect population growth? Does everyone have access to that technology? Is it free, or extremely expensive, so only the wealthy can afford it? How does this affect society’s perception of youth and old age? Does it affect how society views illness, whether chronic, terminal, or the flu?

The ripple effect demonstrated here, to me, is key to effective and believable world-building. Every element of world-building you write into your novel has some sort of influence on your characters’ world—and sometimes it takes a little extra brainstorming to realize that any one element has more of an effect than you may have originally imagined when you first dreamed up the element.

Can you think of any ripple effect world-building examples from a book, movie or TV show? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Have you considered the ripple effect of your worldbuilding? Writer @Ava_Jae discusses this important step. (Click to tweet)  
"Once you’ve established your worldbuilding elements...think about how it affects your protag's world." (Click to tweet)
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