Discussion: Where Do You Find Books to Read?

Photo credit: Nomadic Lass on Flickr
Books! Glorious books! I currently have 130 novels in my TBR shelf on Goodreads, and even though I try to make sure I’m always in the middle of reading something, the list is ever-growing. I doubt it’ll ever stop (and I don’t want it to).

Which got me thinking! My method of finding books to read has changed pretty drastically over the years (which I’m pretty happy about, because it’s easier than ever to find good books to read). Nowadays, my book-discovery sources are pretty easy to pinpoint:

  • Twitter. This is easily the biggest one, in part because I follow loads of writers who coincidentally love reading (surprise!) and love recommending books they read (I know, shocking!) and also because I follow writers who get books deals and a few years later, voila! Book in my hands.

    But this is pretty easy proof of how important word of mouth is. I’d wager a guess that most of the books I buy nowadays were recommended to me by either a blog post or someone on Twitter. 

  • Goodreads. I like browsing on Goodreads, particularly a down-the-rabbit-hole-like search where I somehow end up looking for one thing and finding a whole host of new books to add to my list. Considering I keep my list of TBR books on Goodreads, I guess it’s not really a surprise that I also find books to read there. So there’s that. 

  • Bookstores. I do still go into bookstores! I actually love doing this, and I’m happy to report that I do still discover books while in an actual bookstore. This, to me, is the most exciting way to find books (and also most tempting because it’s in my hand and I want to read it and the register is just over there…). 

  • Giveaways. I mean, this isn’t a usual thing for me, but I came home from RT14 with a stack of books I got for free. And while many of them I was already interested in reading, some of them I didn’t really know much about—but now I’ll read them, and if I like them, I’ll buy the sequels. Yay!

So those are my primary book-discovery sources—now I want to hear from you. Where do you find books to add to your TBR list?

Twitter-sized bite:
Where do you find books to add to your TBR list? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog! (Click to tweet)

Vlog: My First Ever Manuscript (a Reading)

Apparently I'm cool with public humiliation because I've decided to share the first page of my first ever manuscript from nearly nine years ago! Yaaayyy.

It involves a super evil antagonist doing something super evil in a super cliché prologue and also a lot of me cracking up at myself.


Twitter-sized bite: 
Writer @Ava_Jae reads the first page of her first ever MS & talks some first MS realities. #vlog (Click to tweet)

Why You Should Participate in WriteOnCon

@lattefarsan on Flickr
It’d be cool if I started off this post saying that WriteOnCon 2013 got me my agent, but it didn’t. Technically. And yet, if I hadn’t participated in the online conference last year, I might not have finally gotten The Call I’d been dreaming about for years. Maybe.

I know that sounds a little contradictory. Allow me to explain.

WriteOnCon2013 took place from August 13-14, 2013. For those who don’t know, WriteOnCon events are like online writers conferences. They include giveaways and excellent forums in which writers can critique each other and ninja agents and editors can make requests. It’s pretty fabulous, and this year it’ll be happening again on August 26-27, 2014.

Back to my point.

Last year when the conference started, I was in the middle of edits on my then-titled Sci-Fi SLAVE & SIRA. I wasn’t yet ready to query, but I’d edited enough that I felt comfortable sharing my first 250 and query-in-progress to the forums, where public critiques were going on.

And holy wow, you guys. The feedback I got? SO HELPFUL.

By the time WriteOnCon was over, I’d written over eight drafts of my query letter (I honestly lost count) based off the feedback. I changed things around in my first 250 and tweaked it until most of the problems were mostly resolved. And I critiqued more query letters and openings than I can count.

I’m not going to say when WriteOnCon was over, my query letter and first 250 were spotless. They weren’t, and I still revised my query so many times over after all was said and done. My opening has also had more than a couple minor tweaks since last year, too.

However! I can’t deny that my query and opening was absolutely better after the forums ripped them apart. And considering it was my first 250 that later piqued my now-agent’s interest (followed by the query shortly thereafter), I am super ridiculously grateful for my experience with WriteOnCon2013.

So if you’re querying, or will be querying soonish, I seriously recommend you make a point of checking out WriteOnCon2014. And even if you’re not querying, there’s so much to be learned from public critiques (even if you only critique and don’t share your work), that I still recommend you take some time to check it out.

It’s an absolutely wonderful opportunity for writers to meet other people (I also found a CP during WriteOnCon2013!), improve their skills, refine their work and maybe even get some requests (I didn’t, but I know of many writers who did). Don’t miss out!

Have you ever participated in a WriteOnCon event? Will you be participating this year? Why or why not? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
#Writers! Are you participating in this year's @WriteOnCon event? Here's why writer @Ava_Jae says you should. (Click to tweet)  
Debating whether or not to participate in @WriteOnCon 2014? Here's why you may want to consider it. (Click to tweet

Fixing the First Page Feature #2

Photo credit: bittermelon on Flickr
Okay! So as per usual, I’m going to start off by posting the full 250 excerpt, then I’ll share some overall thoughts, then my redline critique. As I said last time, I super awesomely encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques, as long ask it’s polite, thoughtful and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be deleted.

Let’s begin! 

Genre/Category: YA Contemporary 
First 250:  
As I waited in the doorway of Rusty’s Dive Bar, Greg the bouncer, and I had become friends. I’d learned about his five cats, his next tattoo, and now, dating advice. “If he ain’t on time, you can’t trust him with a dime.” 
“Whitman’s running late. He’ll be here before the band starts.” I resumed twisting one of my red curls around a finger. Since I wasn’t old enough—or allowed to—drive at night, I’d gotten dropped off with plenty of extra time. “So, which of your cats is the nicest?” 
Before he could answer, the bar’s radio blasted a Union Juliet song. I winced. Greg apologized. “Sorry, dearie. They too rowdy for you?” 
“I don’t like punk rock.” 
“You’re missing out. Back in the day, Union J played the straight up truth.” 
The kids tagging one of Cleveland’s many abandoned buildings next to us must have been inspired by the song, because he started to spraypaint Union Juliet’s logo. IAO, FAA. Two sets of three letters, crossing at the letter A. 
As the tagger circled the A with red paint, changing it from a letter to a political sign, someone shouted my name—or rather the name I’d been using for the last eight months. 
“Elaine Nickels!” 
Bouncer Greg elbowed me. “He’s here!” 
“That’s not my boyfriend.” I said. 
The approaching voice shouted my name again. Logan. Seeing him was all I needed to bolt away from the bar, running until I could no longer hear the song.

Hmmm okay. So overall I think this is a solid start, but it could use a lot more detail and sensory imagery so the readers can really get a feel of the scene, the surroundings, etc. Rusty’s Dive Bar sounds like it could be a really interesting and unique setting, so I’d love to see more about it so I could really get into the character of the place. I like how at the end we start getting a sense of the tension that’s to come, and I’m definitely curious about Logan and why Elaine’s initial instinct is to run. I’m also curious about why Elaine changed her name. But overall, it’s definitely not a bad start—I just think it could use a little extra oomph added to it. 

Now the in-line edits: 

As I waited in the doorway of Rusty’s Dive Bar, Greg the bouncer, and I had become friends. Copyediting is not my area of expertise, but the commas are definitely tripping me up in this first sentence, particularly around “Rusty’s Dive Bar, Greg the bouncer, and I….” I’d learned about his five cats, his next tattoo, and now, dating advice. How does she feel about the dating advice (and cats and tattoo stories)? This would be a good opportunity to give us some of your protag’s personality. “If he ain’t on time, you can’t trust him with a dime.” 
“Whitman’s running late. He’ll be here before the band starts.” I resumed twisting one of my red curls around a finger. Since I wasn’t old enough—or allowed to—drive at night, I’d gotten dropped off with plenty of extra time. I’m not sure what you’re trying to imply with the "allowed to" aside. As for the second bolding in that sentence, does that mean she’s been waiting a long time? How does she feel about Whitman’s lateness? Again, if you give us some insight as to what’s going on in her head, we can really learn a lot about your protagonist’s personality. This is a huge part of voice, which is extremely important in YA (particularly Contemporary). “So, which of your cats is the nicest?” 
Before he could answer, the bar’s radio blasted a Union Juliet song. I winced. Greg apologized. “Sorry, dearie. They too rowdy for you?” 
“I don’t like punk rock.” 
“You’re missing out. Back in the day, Union J played the straight up truth.” 
The kids tagging one of Cleveland’s many abandoned buildings next to us must have been inspired by the song, because he started to spraypaint Union Juliet’s logo. Spray paint is two words. IAO, FAA. Two sets of three letters, crossing at the letter A. Is this two different logos? Or are all six letters layered over each other? I’m having a little trouble picturing this.  
As the tagger circled the A with red paint, changing it from a letter to a political sign, someone shouted my name—or rather the name I’d been using for the last eight months. Be specific—I assume you’re referring to the anarchy moniker with the political sign reference, so say so. “Elaine Nickels!”
Bouncer Greg elbowed me. “He’s here!” 
“That’s not my boyfriend.Comma, not period should be after “boyfriend.” I said. This would be a good place to start to give us a taste of how she’s feeling upon realizing the person who’s calling her is not someone she wanted to see. Give us some physical, visceral reactions so we can really feel her emotions.  
The approaching voice shouted my name again. A mini-description of the guy coming over would be helpful here, so we can picture him. Logan. Seeing him was all I needed to bolt away from the bar, running until I could no longer hear the song. Give us some description—does she have to push through a crowd to get away? Does she run past the taggers in the alley? Down the street? Is it hot? Cold? Rainy? Muggy? Some sensory images would be great here. 

Like I said above, this is a good start, but it needs some filling in. With some extra sensory details, we’ll really be able to get a better picture so we can experience what the protagonist is experiencing. If I saw this in the slush, I’d probably keep reading, though I’d already be thinking that if there isn’t much more description, it’s probably going to be a pass. In order for readers to connect to a story, they need to be able to become completely immersed in the writing, and that’s difficult to do without enough imagery. 

It doesn’t have to be a lot (and in fact, it shouldn’t be a lot). But a few sprinkles here and there of telling details will really help to make this shine. 

Thanks for sharing your first 250, Carrie Ann! 

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

Twitter-sized bite: 
Writer @Ava_Jae talks sensory details and imagery in openings in the second Fixing the First Page critique. (Click to tweet)

How to Build an Online Platform: Twitter

Photo credit: Scott Beale on Flickr
So I’ve been doing this social media thing for a little over three years now, and it semi-recently occurred to me, after a couple people commented at RT14, that I guess I’m semi-sort of okay at it?

I don’t know you guys, I hadn’t really given it much thought until recently.

Occasionally I’ve had people ask me how I got so many Twitter followers/blog views/etc., so I figured I’d share what I know in a couple convenient blog posts. And really, all I know is what worked for me. Your mileage may vary.

Okay? Okay.

So I was going to include all the social media sites I use in one post…but I quickly realized that’d be a ridiculously long post. So I’m splitting it up! Look for more of these in the future. :)

Today’s focus is Twitter!

  • Twitter birthday: April 10, 2011 (3.3 years, as of this writing). 
  • Followers: Roughly 2.2kish as of this writing. 
  • Time spent weekly: Way too much (read: all the time). (Can’t actually count because…yeah). 

So Twitter was the very first social media venture I started with, and thus the one I have the most experience with. In many ways, it was the scariest (because OMG I’m online now), but I quickly learned that Twitter is actually ridiculously fun and addictive.


  • Getting a ton of followers isn’t the point. What you want are followers who engage with you and genuinely pay attention to and like what you have to say, so that they share your content and remember you. I don’t automatically follow anyone who follows me, but I do follow anyone who fits into this criteria. And it’s how I’ve made some awesome Twitter friends.

  • Don’t spam. I wrote a whole post about what qualifies as spamming. It doesn’t work. Ever. Don’t do it. 

  • Be yourself. I follow some people who swear. I follow some people who talk politics and religion. I follow some people who scream in all caps about the next Sherlock episode and rage about whether or not Korra and Mako should be together.

    Guess what? You’re going to lose followers for being yourself, but it doesn’t matter. Again, you don’t want followers for the sake of having followers—you want people who genuinely like you and what you say. So say whatever you want to talk about and be yourself and you’ll get genuine connects with people who genuinely like you. And that’s pretty awesome.

  • Be professional. This may sound like the opposite of the last point, but it’s not—you can be yourself without being rude or burning bridges pretty easily. If you’re a writer, it means not raging about rejections or screaming about the evil publishing gods or badmouthing industry people (or people in general, really). Be nice. Be polite. And still be you. (TL;DR: Don’t be a jerk, okay?) 

  • Reciprocate. Eventually, the day will come where people share your stuff. I generally advise you pay attention to people who frequently share your tweets and see what content they share—you may very well find you like what they have to say, too.

    I try to make a point of saying thank you to people who share my tweets, but lately it’s become ridiculously difficult to thank everyone because…it adds up quickly and quite frankly, I don’t always have the time to catch up.

    But! Before you reach that point, I totally recommend you take the time to say thank you (and even after you reach that overwhelming point, do your best). It’s a great way to connect with people, and it’s a nice thing to do. Like I said before—be nice. 

So those are my Twitter tips! Now I want to hear from you: what tips do you have for building a platform on Twitter? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Looking to build a platform on Twitter? @Ava_Jae shares her experience and a few tips. (Click to tweet)
"Getting a ton of followers isn't the point," and other Twitter platform building tips from @Ava_Jae. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: On Writing Strong Secondary Love Interests

It's Tuesday vlog time! Today I'm talking about a lesson learned from the fantastic Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo: how to write strong secondary love interests featuring Nikolai Lantsov and the Darkling.


What are some of your favorite secondary love interests from books, movies, etc.? 

Twitter-sized bites:
Do you have a love triangle in your MS? Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs about how to write strong secondary love interests. (Click to tweet)  
So you've written a love triangle—but is your secondary love interest a strong enough competitor? #vlog (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature #2 Giveaway Winner!

Photo credit: The Wildwood Flower Girl on Flickr
Quick post before the vlog goes up! I have a winner for the second Fixing the First Page Giveaway and the winner is...

Carrie Ann Carpenter! 

Congratulations, Carrie! Expect to see an e-mail from me sometime today with the next steps. :)

Thank you to everyone who entered! This feature seems to be getting more popular, so I'm thinking I may very well make this a regular thing. Look out for the next one!

On Writing Practice Novels

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So I recently (as in last week) finished writing my twelfth manuscript. It’s fun and quirky with lots of nerdy references, but by the time I’d reached the end, I kind of had this sinking feeling.

The problem, you see, was that I wasn’t really excited about it. At all.

I’d noticed pretty early on that the first draft excitement that usually lasts me a pretty decent way into the first draft writing process, dissipated unusually fast. I liked the characters, but the more I wrote, the less confident I was about the manuscript. And it had nothing to do with the writing—I don’t expect much, writing-wise, from first drafts—but I was very quickly losing the desire to continue.

I finished it anyway. And I like the manuscript. But considering all the revision necessary to bring a manuscript from first to finished draft, I need to more than like it–I need to love it. Or at least, I need to love something about it, whether it’s the idea, or the potential behind the idea, or the characters or…something.

As of right now, unfortunately, I don’t. So this is going to most likely be an insta-trunk for me.

However! That doesn’t mean I’ll never go back to it. And it doesn’t mean it won’t ever get revised. And it also doesn’t mean it was a waste of time.

Practice novels, to me, are important. I’ve learned from the past, that especially after I’ve taken a first-draft writing hiatus (and considering the last first draft I finished before this one was last year’s NaNo novel, I’d done just that), I sometimes need to pound out a manuscript just to remind myself that I can. Just to prove that I haven’t forgotten how to first draft or I haven’t lost the ability to write something new.

Sometimes I need space to play around with new ideas or genres or whatever the case may be. And sometimes I need to write something that I don’t like as much as I’d hoped before I can dive in to something I adore.

That’s the value of practice novels—not in the manuscript itself that you inevitably put away, but in what you learn from writing it. And sometimes it takes me a little while to figure out what, exactly, I got from writing it, but it does, inevitably, click into place eventually.

In the meantime, I’m happy to be done with it so I can move onto something else. Something, I hope, that I’ll be excited about from start to finish.

Have you ever written a practice novel? What was your experience like? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Writer @Ava_Jae talks about the importance of writing practice novels. What do you think? (Click to tweet)  
Writers! Have you ever written a practice novel? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway 2!

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It’s that time again! 

Since the last Fixing the First Page feature was so fun, I’ve decided to do it again. Yay! 

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

For an example of what this critique will look like, here’s the last Fixing the First Page post


  • 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 Monday at 11:59 EST to enter!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

How to Choose the Right Agent for YOU

Photo credit: bitzcelt on Flickr
So we’ve discussed why you need an agent (if you want to publish traditionally) and how not to get an agent. But now I want to talk about picking the right agent for you.

So here’s the thing about literary agents: the legit ones are all publishing savvy, business-minded, all around nice people who just really love books. Or at least, the ones I’ve come in contact with are. Every agent (like every person) has their own set of strengths and weaknesses, which often dictate what genres they do and don’t represent. And knowing those strengths and weaknesses is just a teensie bit important to know before you query.

That’s right. You need to research agents before you start querying. Why? The answer’s simple, really—not every agent is the right agent for you

Some agents are editorial, some agents are not. Some agents represent a huge range of genres, some are much more focused on a couple genres and categories. Some agents have been in the business for over a decade, others are much newer to the publishing game.

I’ve already blogged about where to go to research agents (see that link above? Click it), so I’m not going to delve into that again. What I want to focus on instead, is what you need to be looking for when deciding what agents to query.

There are a couple questions you should be asking yourself while researching agents:

  • Does this agent represent my genre? This is the basic filter—the very first requirement is to make sure the agent you’re considering querying represents the genre and category your manuscript falls under. If they don’t, don’t query them. No exceptions.

    No, it doesn’t matter if you think they might make an exception for your manuscript (they shouldn’t and they won’t). No, it doesn’t matter if you really like that agent (that doesn’t change the fact that your MS is not a genre they represent). No, it doesn’t matter if your manuscript is supposedly unlike others in its genre or category (if you think that’s the case, are you sure you know that genre as well as you think you do?)—if they don’t represent your genre, do not query them. You’ll get an insta-reject, and you’ll only be wasting your time and theirs.

    Note: if you’re not sure what genre your manuscript falls under, check out this post

  • Does this agent represent other genres I want to (or already do) write in? This is important, because you’re not just looking for representation for the manuscript you’re querying—you’re looking for representation for your whole career. Ideally, you’ll have the same agent throughout your career (though that isn’t always the case, which is okay). If your manuscript is a Historical Fantasy and you know going in that you also love writing Sci-Fi, make sure the agents you query represent both Historical Fantasies and Sci-Fi’s.

    Why? You want an agent who can potentially sell any manuscript you write, and if you write in multiple genres, you’ll want to make sure the agents you query represent all of them. 

  • Is this agent editorial? Is this important to me? As I’ve mentioned before, not all agents are editorial (meaning not all agents go through the extra process of revising and editing your work with you before going on submission). This is an extra job, and agents are not required to edit your work (remember: it’s your job to get your manuscripts as polished as possible before sending it to agents). If you know you want an agent who will help you with some of the revision and editorial process, then make sure you query agents who are editorial. (You can find this out through interviews and sites like Literary Rambles). 

  • What is this agent’s sales record? Do they have a lot of sales? A few things to remember with this one: not having a lot of sales doesn’t necessarily mean the agent is a bad agent. Some agents don’t report all of their sales, and some agents don’t have a lot of sales because they’re new agents, which is totally fine (and in that case, you’ll want to look at the sales for the agency they’re at, instead). But if an agent has been around for a couple of years, they should have some sales reported.

    That being said, how much stock you put into the sales thing is up to you. When I was querying, I personally didn’t query anyone who didn’t list sales or their clients, but that’s just me. 

  • What is this agent’s reputation? What is the reputation of their agency like? Both of these are important to consider when researching agents. If the agent is established, what is their reputation like? If they’re new agents what is the reputation of their agency? (Note: it’s important to check on agency reputation for established agents, too). Check interviews, forums like Absolute Write Water Cooler and sites like Preditors & Editors as well as the aforementioned Literary Rambles to learn about agent and agency reputation.

  • Does this agent seem like someone I would work well with? Granted, this is a little more difficult to determine online, but if the agent has a Twitter, follow them long before you start querying. Also, take the time to read every interview you can find—both of these sources can give you insights into the agent’s personality and what their work process is like. There are a couple agents, for example, that I decided I wouldn’t query based off things they said or the way they behaved on Twitter—after all, if your personalities clash, it’s going to make the relationship between you and you future agent more difficult. 

Finally, two rules to remember while querying:

  1. Thou shalt not query every agent known to man. Use the criteria above to narrow down your list to agents that would work well for you and your manuscript. Consider every agent you query carefully. Think, if they offered representation, would I accept? If your answer is “no” then there’s little point in querying—you’re just wasting everyone’s time.

  2. A bad agent is worse than no agent. I’ve often heard of writers jumping to accept the first offer the get, just because they finally get an offer of representation. I understand this temptation, but the fact is, a bad agent will not help your career. Make sure you do plenty of research on every agent you query, and even more research on every agent who reads your full, and even more research on every agent who offers representation. Know what you’re getting into ahead of time to avoid unfortunate circumstances later on down the road. 

What tips do you have for choosing the right agent? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Are you a currently or soon-to-be querying writer? @Ava_Jae shares some tips on choosing the right agent for YOU. (Click to tweet)  
Writer @Ava_Jae says, "not every agent is the right agent for you" and shares some tips on choosing the right agent. (Click to tweet).  
Does this agent rep my genre? Is this agent editorial? & other Q's you should be asking while querying. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Self vs. Traditional Publishing: Stop Arguing

So Hachette and Amazon are battling and it's made some writers start pointing fingers at each other and arguing about self vs. traditional publishing. It needs to stop—and I vlogged about why. 

Happy viewing! 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Hachette? Amazon? Self-pubbing? Traditional? Here's why one writer says the argument doesn't matter. (Click to tweet)  
In light of Hachette v Amazon, @Ava_Jae vlogs about why the traditional vs. self-publishing argument needs to stop. (Click to tweet)

Book Review: RUIN AND RISING by Leigh Bardugo

Photo credit: Goodreads
I may have mentioned a couple times about my undying love for a YA Fantasy series known as The Grisha Trilogy (okay, I’ve mentioned it a lot). I’ve been looking forward to Ruin and Rising, the last book in The Grisha Trilogy, basically since the moment I finished reading Siege and Storm, so you can imagine my excitement when I finally got my hands on a copy. (If not, think: astronomical excitement).

My excitement, as it turns out, was totally merited because Ruin and Rising is an excellent read. But before I tell you more of that, here’s the Goodreads summary (NOTE: If you haven’t read Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm  you may want to skip over the summary because spoilers):
“The capital has fallen. 
The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.
Now the nation's fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army. 
Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives. 
Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova's amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling's secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.”
I always hope, when reading the end of a series, that it’ll be exciting, have an ending that ties up all the loose ends and fits with the tone and messages of the series, that the climax will be appropriately epic and the characters will evolve, but not act unrealistically for their character.

Ruin and Rising did all of that and more.

I absolutely adore the time and detail Bardugo took to not only create an incredible world that feels entirely real, but delved into the history and mythology of the world she created and wove it intricately into the plot. I adore the characters to pieces (this is actually one of the few series where I love the antagonist and secondary love interest, The Darkling and Nikolai, more than I do the primary love interest, just because they were so epically awesome) and I honestly feel that the ending was perfect for the series. Closing the book, I felt happy and totally satisfied with the conclusion of one of my favorite YA Fantasy series ever.

The Grisha Trilogy is one that I’ll continue to recommend to anyone who will listen. Ruin and Rising is an excellent conclusion to an incredible series, and I, for one, will be insta-buying anything and everything Leigh Bardugo writes in the future.

NOTE: If you're interested in The Grisha Trilogy, I've previously reviewed Siege and Storm.

Have you read The Grisha Trilogy? Also, I'm more than happy to take more YA Fantasy recs! 

Twitter-sized bites:
.@Ava_Jae gives 5/5 stars to RUIN AND RISING by @lbardugo. Have you read this awesome YA Fantasy? (Click to tweet
Looking for a fast-paced YA Fant w/ amazing worldbuilding & incredible characters? Try RUIN AND RISING by @lbardugo. (Click to tweet)

Why Do You Need an Agent?

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Ahhh literary agents. If you’re a writer even remotely familiar with the publishing process, you’ve most definitely heard of them, particularly if you’ve spoken to other writers online for more than five minutes (and if you haven’t or you’re not, that’s okay—I will explain you a thing).

For writers who want to be published traditionally, agents are key. In fact, oftentimes getting an agent is the first hurdle on the path to eventual publication (well, after writing a book, and editing, and everything involved in writing a polished manuscript, that is).

But why are they so important? And what do they really do for writers? Here are just a couple things agents do that make them so invaluable:

  • Get your work in front of editors. The fact of the matter is, most big publishing houses won’t accept unagented submissions. In order to even reach the step of getting big publishing houses to even look at your work (and, more importantly, get your work in front of the right editors for your particular manuscript), you need an agent to represent you and your work. 

  • Contract negotiation. So your agent submits your work to editors, things go well and there’s an offer on the table. Congratulations! But your agent’s work is far from over.

    Most writers know very little about the ins and outs of a publishing contract (and even most who do have a good idea as to what all those terms mean don’t often feel confident enough to argue the finer details). Agents, unsurprisingly, are extremely well-versed in publishing contracts. They know what rights to hold on to and what rights to sell, they know what goes into a contract, and most importantly, they know how to negotiate for the best possible deal for you. 

  • (Possible) editing/polishing. Some agents do this and some don’t, so if this is important to you, you need to make sure to choose an agent who is editorial. Agents don’t have to help you edit your work, but some do before sending your work out to editors to make sure it’s super shiny first. 

  • Professional supporter of awesome/ career guidance. Your agent is always in your corner. They get excited over you and your work, they’re there to help you figure out what direction to go with your career, and all in all, they want the best for you and your career. It’s a business relationship (which is important to remember), and it should be a positive one. 

For extra information on what an agent is (and isn’t), literary agent Carly Watters (PS Literary) wrote two great posts on 6 Things to Expect from Your Literary Agent and 6 Things You Shouldn’t Expect From Your Agent. Definitely worth a read, whether you have an agent or not.

Do you think agents are important for writers? Why or why not? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Why are agents so important? What do they really do for writers? @Ava_Jae breaks it down. #pubtip (Click to tweet)  
How important do you think agents are for writers? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Follow Your Passion

Photo credit: venspired on Flickr
I do a lot of social media things. Probably more than I should, if I’m being entirely honest. And yet, at least for now, I intend to continue it for the foreseeable future. Why? Because I love it. 

If, however, I stopped enjoying one of those social media things, I can tell you right now that I’d stop. 

The thing is, social media, whether it’s blogging, Twitter, tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram or something else, takes time. Time, as I’m sure you’re all aware, is a currency—we trade time to get work done, to get paid, to write blog posts and books and do things we love. But the moment we start trading time and getting little to nothing in return is the moment we should consider why we’re trading that time to begin with. 

To me, all of this bubbles down to passion. I write, because I love writing, and I tumbl and blog and vlog and tweet because I genuinely enjoy it and I think (or hope at least) that you guys like it too. I like to think that my passion shows through in what I share with you guys. 

But if I stopped enjoying it? It’d show. My posts wouldn’t be engaging, my tweets would be dumb and my vlogs would be boring. I’m of the belief that you can’t engage an audience if you’re not passionate about what you’re sharing—after all, if you’re not excited about what you create, why should they be?

The answer? They won’t be. 

So whether I’m writing or working on one of my many other social media projects, I make a point to follow my passion. How about you? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Writer @Ava_Jae asks if you're not excited about what you create, why should your audience be? What do you think? (Click to tweet)  
"I'm of the belief that you can't engage an audience if you're not passionate abt what you're sharing." (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Are You a Writer?

Tuesday vlog time! Today I'm talking about owning the title of writer and why "aspiring writer" doesn't mean what you think it means.

Happy viewing!

Twitter-sized bites: 
Do you call yourself an "aspiring writer"? Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs about dropping the "aspiring" & claiming the title. (Click to tweet)  
"If you write, and you enjoy writing, you're a writer regardless of the circumstances." (Click to tweet)

Thoughts from the Intern Slush Pile: Is Your Voice Up to Snuff?

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As I’ve been going through the intern slush, I’ve noticed that many times, when I recommend a rejection, it’s largely because of voice. Voice, to me, is one of the most important elements in a novel, because if it’s wrong on the first page, it’s usually wrong throughout the whole manuscript.

Being that I read a lot of YA submissions, this post is largely centered on voice-related problems I frequently see with YA submissions. But many of these issues can also apply to NA by looking at the points with a slightly older cast in mind.

YA Voice Red Flags:

  • Lack of contractions. This can actually be a problem in any category, but it’s especially important in YA manuscripts—a voice without any contractions always sounds stiff. This is one of the easiest (and often one of the first) voice-related red flags I pick out. Why? Because we speak and think with contractions, so when they’re absent, the writing becomes stilted and loses a great deal of flow, making it extraordinarily easy to pick it out. “I am not feeling well so I can not go,” for example, doesn’t sound nearly as fluid as, “I’m not feeling well so I can’t go.” Agreed? Good.

  • Outdated slang. If you’re writing YA, you need to be current with the language—no exceptions. For examples, teenagers today don’t really say “talk to the hand” or “phat” or “what’s the 411” anymore. (Note: those weren’t taken from actual submissions, I’m just giving outdated examples). Outdated slang, to me, is an enormous red flag and tells me the writer isn’t reading enough YA. 

  • Forced (current) slang. This is an equally problematic, but harder to spot problem. Sometimes I see submissions that use current slang, but the way they use it feels…off. This is a little harder to describe, but the easiest way to ferret them out of your manuscript is to have critique partners and/or beta readers who are up to date with the current slang read your manuscript. 

  • Corny curse substitutions. This is a biggie. While not all teenagers curse, many of them do—and when they don’t, they don’t often use corny substitutions. “Frickin’” for example, could work as a substitution for a particular four-letter word, but “french fries” probably won’t.

    Note: UNLESS your character makes a point of being corny, or it fits with your voice. I won’t say this never works (because I’m sure there’s a book out there that can make it happen), but to be honest, I’ve yet to see it work successfully with exception to “D’Arvit” in Artemis Fowl, which mostly worked because it wasn’t corny—it was a made up gnomish word. 

  • Teenager stereotypes. This is huge. When I see teenager stereotypes blended into the voice or the characters, it almost always puts me off. Teenagers are not a sum of their stereotypes, and relying on them in your writing, quite frankly, is lazy. You can do better—and teenagers deserve better. 


  • Listen to teenagers talk. A lot. Don’t have a teenager in your life? That’s fine—watch YA-centered TV shows and movies. They tend to feature teenagers who are effortlessly up to date with current slang, references, etc. Or go to your local mall and do a little (subtle) eavesdropping. Yes, really. It’s research. 

  • Read YA. By and large, the YA that’s published today (especially if it’s relatively recent) have great examples of successful YA voices. Read them. Learn from them. Write your own. (This step by the way? Not optional if you’re writing YA). 

  • Get critique partners. This is so ridiculously important—make sure you have beta readers and critique partners look at your work. I personally recommend having several rounds of betas and CPs, so you can see if the changes you made in the first round, for example, were as effective as you hoped. 

Would you add anything to either list? Unmentioned problems? Solutions? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Editorial intern @Ava_Jae shares some YA voice-related red flags. Does your MS have any of these issues? (Click to tweet
Working on a YA MS? Writer @Ava_Jae shares some voice-related red flags to look out for in your WIP. (Click to tweet)

So You Want to Write YA Dystopian?

Photo credit: mithrandir3 on Flickr
What is it? 

According to dictionary.com, a dystopia is “a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.”

If YA Dystopian novels are to be believed, dictionary.com is pretty on the money.

Oppressive (and usually horrible) governments, revolution, disease, poverty, strict laws and an all around unhappy (or soon to be unhappy) society are all markers of dystopian novels. Though that’s really just a sampling of dystopian issues.

Note: Post-apocalyptic and Dystopian novels are not always the same thing. Some Dystopian novels do indeed happen after an apocalypse (making them Post-apocalyptic as well), but not all Dystopian novels are Post-apocalyptic and not all Post-apocalyptic novels are Dystopian as well.

Pros/Cons of Writing YA Dystopian: 


  • Insta-conflict. The great thing about Dystopian novels is conflict is a given—it’s literally built into the society and the setting, so all you need are some captivating characters with a little push to get things going. This means most Dystopian novels make for very exciting reads (and, as it happens, really fun writing experiences).

  • Typically fast-paced. Like I said in the previous point, YA Dystopian novels tend to be pretty exciting to read and write. There’s usually quite a bit of action and the stakes are often hugenormous  with dire consequences if the protagonist fails.

  • Play with worst-case scenarios. So many Dystopian novels are based off What If? scenarios and expanded to extremes. These can be really fun to play with when brainstorming and writing, as characters in extreme circumstances are usually pretty enjoyable to write and read. 


  • Extremely tough market. Like YA Paranormal, YA Dystopian, unfortunately is currently a dead genre. As I said when explaining YA Paranormal, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to sell a YA Dystopian novel right now—it just means it’s extremely difficult due to a seriously overcrowded market.

  • A lot’s already been done (several times over). This is related to the first con, but because the market is so overcrowded and there are so many YA Dystopian novels out there, that means there’s very little out there in the Dystopian world that hasn’t already been done to death. That being said, just because it’s already been done doesn’t mean you can’t write it—it just means you need to make yours unique and amazing in a different way.

  • Lots of worldbuilding. If you like worldbuilding, this isn’t really a bad thing, but it is good to keep in mind. While you’re not necessarily making a world up from scratch like you might in a High Fantasy novel, you are still building a world that doesn’t exist—a world with laws and expectations and a culture unlike our own. 

Recommended Reading: 

I say this every time, and I will continue to do so: you must read the genre you write in. No really. You do.

Knowing your category and genre is key to adding something meaningful to the market. So do yourself a favor and read up on some of these fabulous book. (Caveat: I haven’t read all of these, but I’ve heard good things about the ones I haven’t read).

Helpful Links: 

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

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

Helpful Camp NaNo Links

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It’s July 2nd! Which means NaNoWriMo has started! Or at least, Camp NaNoWriMo has.

Since I am indeed participating in Camp NaNo this year (for the first time ever—eep!) I thought it’d be a great time to share my fast-drafting and NaNo posts all in one convenient area for your browsing pleasure.

So here we go!

Before you start (it’s totally not to late to jump in, by the way!):

During NaNo:

Good luck to all participants and happy writing! 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Are you participating in #CampNaNoWriMo? Writer @Ava_Jae shares some helpful links with NaNoing tips for you. (Click to tweet

Vlog: On False Starts & Trunking Novels

It's Tuesday! Which means it's time for another vlog!

Today I'm talking a little about the scariest part of my process: false starts and putting manuscripts away in the drawer. Or hard drive, I guess I should say. Anyway.


Have you ever had a false start or trunked a novel? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs about the scariest part of her writing process: false starts and trunking novels. (Click to tweet)  
"There's no such thing as wasted writing," says writer @Ava_Jae. What do you think? (Click to tweet)
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