Fixing the First Page Feature #20

Photo credit: Evangelio Gonzalez MD on Flickr

Which. Um. Means it's time for the next Fixing the First Page feature before I go make a blanket fort. Eeep!

As these things go, I'll start by posting the full first 250 excerpt, after which I'll share my overall thoughts, then my redline critique. I encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques in the comments (because I'm one person with one opinion!), as long as it's polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be unceremoniously deleted.

Here we go!


Genre/Category: YA Historical Paranormal

First 250:

"I sing song after song calling to my Maybelle. I ask the oceans to take the songs to her, to call her back to me. 
Chapter One 
My Da was Petey Langton, the best liar in the Caribbean; he had to be as a pirate captain. I knew he loved me, I trusted him in that unthinking way you do as a child. I never thought he'd lie to me. I was wrong. He lied to me all my life about Mam, even about who and what I was. Back then I knew nothing of that. 
Running over the sand of the bank I leapt out, flying over the water shrieking. Lifting my knees up I hugged them to me, falling with a smack onto the river. It slapped my feet and I sank through the surface, I had to try hard not to gasp at the freshness of the water. My feet hit the mud of the bottom. Pushing down, I flew back up through the water, my arms reaching upwards. Opening my eyes I saw the clear green water streaming past me. I broke through the river into the hot blue air, spluttering. 
I yelled at Billy and the other ship's boys on the bank. 
'Come in, it's great!' 
They stared at me without answering and didn't follow me. Whenever the Silver Cutlass was moored up at Matthewstown me, Billy, and the youngest of the ship's boys had a good deal of fun playing with the village children."

Okay! So, firstly, I am such a fan of the rise in pirates in YA, like, yes. But anyway, the excerpt. I want to start by saying that "Historical Paranormal" would probably be more effectively described as Historical Fantasy, which is an established genre.

As for the excerpt itself, I like the italicized line at the beginning, but I feel like it would work better in the text somewhere, with context. Without the context, it sounds nice, but it doesn't really mean much to me, so as a reader I just skip over it. I also feel like you may want to consider cutting the first paragraph—I understand what the intended purpose is (to establish some conflict upfront), but the whole thing sounds reminiscent to me, like an adult looking back at their child self, which pulls it out of YA. It also gives away a lot of the surprises in the text—I don't want to be told that her father is a liar, I want to be as surprised as she is when she discovers it herself in the plot. Giving away a surprise upfront by telling the readers, to me, lessens the effect of the surprise, and also gives readers the impression that there's likely to be a lot of explaining the plot in the story, which isn't beneficial.

When you remove the first paragraph, of course, you then have a new issue: there isn't really an effective hook in the opening. I think this could probably be tweaked by thinking about the opening scene—whatever the conflict is in the opening scene, is there a way you could allude to it from the start? I can't answer this with just the first 250, but I have a feeling there probably is a way.

Now for the in-line edits:

"I sing song after song calling to my Maybelle. I ask the oceans to take the songs to her, to call her back to me. 
Chapter One 
My Da was Petey Langton, the best liar in the Caribbean; he had to be as a pirate captain. I knew he loved me, I trusted him in that unthinking way you do as a child. I never thought he'd lie to me. I was wrong. He lied to me all my life about Mam, even about who and what I was. Back then I knew nothing of that.  I already said above why I think these should be cut/moved.
Running over the sand of the bank I leapt out, shrieking as I flew over the water flying over the water shrieking. Adjusted for flow purposes—I think this is a little easier to understand. Lifting my knees up I hugged my knees to my chest them to me, falling with a smack onto the river. Again, adjusted to improve the flow of the sentence. It slapped my feet and I sank through the surface, I had to try hard not to gasp at the freshness of the water. This sentence reads awkwardly to me, and it's a bit of a run on. Maybe try something like, "The fresh water slapped my feet—I clamped down on a gasp as I sank below the surface." This cuts some of the wordiness out and also makes the sentence more active. My feet hit the [insert adjective: slick? cold? slimy?] mud of the bottom. Pushing down, ("Pushing down" is confusing with this context—maybe "kicking off"?) I flew back up through the water, my arms reaching upwards There's a lot of wordiness here, too, and the repetition of "up" brings attention to it. Try rewording this sentence by shortening it and removing the repetition (For example: "I rocketed towards the surface with my arms above my head"). Opening my eyes I saw the clear green water streaming past me Filter phrase alert! Try rewriting without "I saw". I broke through the river into the hot blue air, spluttering. I really like the imagery here, especially "hot blue air." Very nice. :)
I yelled at Billy and the other ship's boys on the bank. I feel like she would know the name of the other ship, right? It'd be a nice detail to place here.
'Come in, it's great!' 
They stared at me without answering and didn't follow me You don't need the second half of this sentence—just leaving at the boys staring says well enough that they aren't following her in or speaking. Whenever the Silver Cutlass was moored up at Matthewstown, me, Billy, and the youngest of the ship's boys had a good deal of fun playing with the village children." Technically the bolded is grammatically incorrect...but that could be done on purpose for voice purposes, so I'm letting it slide. :)

Despite my many, many suggestions, I actually do like this opening, and I'm curious to see what happens (did I mention I really like pirate books?). This is a fun start, and with some tweaks I think it could potentially be strong—we could just use a hint of tension, some rewording, and some details here and there to solidify the imagery. If I saw this in the slush, I would tentatively continue reading to see how the scene played out.

I hope that helps! Thanks for sharing your first 250 with us, Kathryn!

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

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks wordiness, details, and avoiding spoilers in the 20th Fixing the First Page critique. (Click to tweet)

How to Make Up Character Names

Photo credit: bump on Flickr
So while I've shared a couple posts on naming characters, I've had some people ask about making names up, which is sometimes required when you're naming characters who are part of a made-up culture, who speak a made-up language. Which was exactly what happened while I was writing Beyond the Red.

Some of the names in the book include Eros, Kora, Dima, Jarek, Serek, Asha, Roma, Anja, Iro, Daven, and Zek. Of course, many of the names in there exist in our world, but one way to create and choose names that sound cohesive is to think about sounds.

The first name I started with when creating Beyond the Red's cast was Eros. I obviously did not make up the name Eros—it's the name of the Greek god of love—but what attracted me to the name was the soft vowel sounds and the way the name flowed. Kora's name followed shortly thereafter, and I began thinking about similarities between their names: they're both two syllables, and have soft vowels connected by an /r/.

I then began thinking about what I wanted the language Kora speaks to sound like. I knew I wanted to use some Spanish influence, given that I know how Spanish pronunciation works very well, but I also wanted to use more hard sounds like /k/, and I knew I wanted "j" to be pronounced more like /y/, like in languages like Swedish.

With those rules in mind I started brainstorming sounds to figure out the phonemics of the language. I did this in a private room, but it probably would've sounded ridiculous to anyone listening in because I was basically blabbering jibberish while deciding what sounds I liked. But it worked, and while I mashed random phonemes together (for example, /ya/ + /rek/ = Jarek) I wrote down the ones that sounded like they could be names.

The more names I had, the easier it was to come up with ones that sounded similar enough to fit, but were still clearly distinguishable. I figured out early on that I liked names that ended in vowels (Kora, Dima, Asha, Roma...) and played with the sound system I was developing until I had a decently-sized group of names that all fit together.

When it came to names for nomads—humans who descended from a large group of people from Earth—I thought more about language change and how I could modify existing names. I ended up with a lot of shortened versions of existing names, like Nol (Nolan), Jessa (Jessica), Aren (Aaron), and so on. I also chose some names based off of English words, like Day and Gray, and altogether ended up with a cast whose names made sense together, but were clearly distinguishable from Sephari (alien) names like Kora and Dima.

There are many different processes and strategies, I'm sure, to creating character names, but being the language nerd that I am, this is the one that worked for me. And maybe it might be effective for you too.

Have you ever made up character names? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
How do you make up character names? @Ava_Jae shares one technique she used while writing her debut. (Click to tweet

Top Ten Querying Tips

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So it occurred to me that it's been a while—a long while since I've posted about querying, probably because querying has been far from my mind as of late and also I have a ton of posts about querying. But! Querying is still very much a very important part of the traditional publishing process, and as I've been reading plenty of queries for work, I realized there's no time like the present to talk about it on the blog again.

So here we go. Top ten querying tips, many of which have existing blog posts to expand upon. Enjoy!

  1. Do your research! I really can't emphasize enough how important research is before you start querying. Your query letter may be absolutely incredible, but if you send it to someone who is closed to queries, or who doesn't represent your genre, it's not going to get read. Furthermore, you want to make sure the agent you're querying is someone you genuinely would want to work with—so do your best to try to get a feel for what the agent is like before you start sending out query letters. (Bonus: here's a vlog on query research.)

  2. Follow submission guidelines. This is so important! Not following submission guidelines is a really easy way to get rejected. Don't send page 30-35 of your book if the submission guidelines ask for the first five pages. Don't use attachments if the submission guidelines tell you not to. Follow directions and you are much more likely to leave a good impression.

  3. Stick to one page. This is the expected format, and considering how many queries agents and editors see every day (that is to say, a TON), you can probably easily understand why. Furthermore, if you can't keep your query to a page, agents and editors may get the impression that you're overly wordy and don't know how to make cuts in your manuscript, either. Which is not in your favor.

  4. The book is the most important. While it's great to know if you have some sort of credentials for your particular book, the focus and bulk of your query should absolutely be on the story. Trust me when I say you don't need three paragraphs about yourself—the story is what agents and editors need to know about the most. (Bonus: here are five things you don't need in your query.)

  5. Use details. This is the number one problem I see in queries and pitches alike—the summary is so general that it sounds like a hundred other books. When writing your query, make sure to include details that are specific to your book. What sets your book apart from others like it? How is this story uniquely geared to your book? What makes yours different? In an industry where thousands of pitches pass across agent and editor desks every year, this is absolutely vital. (Link in title of this point shares tips for writing details in queries.)

  6. Book comps are your friend. I've actually really come to love book comps and use them even now when I pitch a story idea to my agent—or before that, when I'm brainstorming an idea to start with. Book comps are great because they show you know the market, they give an idea of where your book would fit on the shelf, and they show there's a potential audience for your book. For tips on choosing book comps, check out the link at the beginning of this point.

  7. Get your query critiqued. This is a frequently overlooked step, but I think it's really, really helpful. I highly recommend getting your query critiqued by both your critique partners, who have read your book, and by writers who haven't read your manuscript. Their combined feedback will help you determine whether the query fits your book and whether it's intruiguing on it's own without being confusing to those who haven't read your book.

  8. Keep track of your submissions. This is a very helpful organizational step that will ensure you don't send the same query to the same agent, or you don't accidentally send simultaneous submissions to two agents at the same agency. I highly recommend QueryTracker for this purpose.

  9. Pitch contests are cool too. There are pitch contests semi-frequently on Twitter, that are both really exciting and fun and also can be a great opportunity to get requests from agents. I actually found my agent through a blog contest, so I know first hand that these can sometimes be effective. :)

  10. Find distractions. Once you've started querying, I highly recommend you find something to distract you. If you're able to write while querying, working on a new project can be great, but if not, now's a good time to catch up on your TBR pile, or spend time with family, or watch a couple movies you've been wanting to see, etc. Just find something to keep your mind busy. (Bonus: here's a vlog on how to survive the query wars.)

What tips would you add to the list? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Getting ready to query? @Ava_Jae shares her top 10 query tips + lots of linked resources. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway Winner #20!

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Quick pre-post post to announce the winner of the twentieth fixing the first page feature giveaway! Yay!


And the twentieth winner is…


Woohoo! Congratulations, Kathryn! Expect an e-mail from me shortly.

Thank you to all you truly lovely entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway in March, so be on the lookout! :)

Vlog: BEYOND THE RED Unboxing!

So two Fridays ago my editor sent me a vaguely book-shaped mystery package. And so this vlog was born. :)

Bonus: Inside the book tour!


Twitter-sized bite: 
Watch @Ava_Jae see the finished copy of her debut for the first time, plus a sneak peek inside BEYOND THE RED! (Click to tweet)

Exciting Things + Guest Post Contest!

So! Lots of exciting things happening lately.

Beyond the Red is releasing in SEVEN DAYS OMG. Some people who pre-ordered will be getting copies this week (eek!), and I'm basically just waiting for Beyond the Red in the wild pics to come in. (Soon!)

In the meantime, the pre-order giveaway is still live (and will be open for entries until March 1st!)—so if you've pre-ordered or are thinking about it, now's your chance! And my indie is also still accepting pre-orders for signed books, but only until tomorrow so time is running out! (*queues Muse song*) Also, if you're an international person interested in signed pre-orders, let me know through my contact page and I'll get you the info you need!

On March 1st at 7PM EST, Heidi Heilig (author of The Girl from Everywhere) and I will be hosting a virtual launch party on Twitter at the hashtag #BTRLaunch! And everyone is invited! There will be coloring, picture things, teasers, giveaways, a Q&A—it'll be a lot of fun. Details are below.

Then from March 16th to March 22nd I'll be in the Maryland and Virginia area with Kathy MacMillan (Sword and Verse), Janet Sumner Johnson (The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society) and Laura Shovan (The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary) on a mini book tour! We'll be speaking at SCBWI that weekend, as well as making appearances at bookstores, libraries, and schools. It'll be fun, and if you're in the area, you should come say hi! And get signed books and see our faces. :)


But because I will be traveling that week, I've decided to run another guest post contest! I've done this once before, a while ago, and the results are wonderful so I thought it'd be fun to do it again. I've got 4-5 openings for posts in March, which will be up Wednesday the 16th, Friday the 18th, Monday the 21st, Wednesday the 23rd, and (possibly) Friday the 25th. I'll be accepting posts from TODAY to Friday, March 4th, and I'll notify those who have been chosen on or by the 22nd.

Posts should be about writing, books or publishing. I’ll also accept posts about social media geared to writers (i.e.: my tumblr for writers post). Before you submit, make sure I haven’t already covered the topic you’ve written about (or are thinking you might write about) by checking my directory. As of this post, I’ve written 872 posts, so I’ve covered quite a bit.

That said, if I've written about something you'd like to write about, but you have another take on it, or different tips, etc. you're welcome to enter a post on that topic. As long as it's not too similar to what I already have, it'll work. :)

Keep in mind! I’m all for taking a subject that might not traditionally be writing-related and show how it could be helpful to writers. Or put a writerly spin on it. Or something.

As for what I’m looking for, I'd love to host some new voices here on Writability. Bonus points to posts that make me laugh. Or think. Or see something in a new way.

The four to five posts I choose will include a mini-bio of the writer (you!) and up to five links of your choosing, which should hopefully get you some nice exposure since Writability gets pretty steady views. I also expect that you try to answer any comments on your guest post because the community here is wonderful and they'd love to hear from you!

If I don’t get enough entries, I’ll just write up more posts myself. Or if I don’t feel the entries are quite what I’m looking for, I’ll write up posts myself. So as was the case with the last mini guest post contest, whether or not this works entirely depends on you guys.

So you’re interested in entering? Fantastic!

  • Please use my contact form between now and 11:59PM Friday, March 4th EST to enter a guest post that you have written. The very first line should be "GUEST POST CONTEST ENTRY" in all caps. Like that. Copy and paste the whole post into the message box there below the first line.

  • You may enter as many posts as you like, as long as they meet the requirements.

  • Posts should be between 100 and 500 words. 250 is roughly average and anything longer than 500 will probably not be chosen. 

  • Please use block formatting (no indents, single space, double space between paragraphs, plain text) to make my life easy when copying and pasting. 

  • I’ll choose four to five of my favorite entries. What makes them my favorite may vary. Be yourself, write something that would work well subject-wise on this blog and you've got yourself a good shot. 

  • In the event that I get way more entries than I expected, I reserve the right to close the entry period early. Conversely, if I don't get enough entries that I think would fit, I may choose less than four or five (or none at all).

Good luck!

Twitter-sized bite:
Guest post contest! Giveaways! Virtual launch party! Lots of exciting things happening at @Ava_Jae's Writability. (Click to tweet

Book Review: ILLUMINAE by Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Photo credit: Goodreads
Sometimes, when a book gets a ton of hype, I get a little skeptical but I also feel more inclined to at least take a look during a stroll at a bookstore. And I'm so glad I did because Illuminae more than lives up to every ounce of the hype. 

Before I go on, here's the summary from Goodreads:

"This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. 
This afternoon, her planet was invaded. 
The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit. 
But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet's AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it's clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she'd never speak to again. 
Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes."

I started reading Illuminae on New Years Eve, thinking that I'd just read maybe twenty pages or so and continue reading the rest the next day. So I read twenty pages. Then I read two hundred more in the same evening. Because I legitimately could not stop reading.

Teens on two space ships, a mutating, dangerous virus, an unforgettable AI, and an enemy space ship ready to destroy them looming ever closer come together to make this book unputdownable.

I haven't read a found materials book in a long time (maybe ever?) but I have to say, I loved the format. The book is written in e-mails, IMs, interviews, etc. and has intense action and conflict right from the start that kept me ripping through the pages. There are loads of twists (some of which had me cursing out loud while I read), lots of people die, so many scenes broke my heart, and it was just an incredibly good read.

Finally, a note on format: this book is beautiful with some truly creative formatting that had me literally flipping the book around to read certain two-page spreads. I've confirmed with some people who have read the e-book version that the formatting does not work nearly as well in the e-version, so if you get it, I highly recommend getting the print version. It's a brick (nearly 600 pages), but the formatting actually makes it a surprisingly quick read, and I promise you, it is so worth it.

Diversity note: All the major characters, as far as I can tell, were cishet and white with exception to one Chinese character. There's more diversity with minor characters both with race and sexual orientation (mostly really minor characters, to be honest), but representation was lacking in the major cast, aside from PTSD and other mental health issues common amongst trauma victims.

Twitter-sized bites:
.@Ava_Jae gives 5 stars to ILLUMINAE by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff. Is this intense, spacey YA SF on your TBR? (Click to tweet
Looking for an action-packed, creatively-written YA SF? Try ILLUMINAE by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature Giveaway #20!

Photo credit: Phototonic Syntropy
We are officially halfway through February (O.O) which means March 1st is nearly here and also it's time to start gearing up for the next Fixing the First Page feature! Yay!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So that’s it! If you’re okay with all of the above and would like to enter to be the twentieth public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Monday, February 22 at 11:59 EST to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Vlog: 5 Myths About Authoring

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions when it comes to writing books and getting published. Today I'm dispelling five of them.


What publishing myths have you heard?

Twitter-sized bites: 
"You need connections to get published" and other myths @Ava_Jae thinks can go die in a fire. #vlog (Click to tweet
Author @Ava_Jae dispels 5 publishing myths in today's vlog. Have you heard these? (Click to tweet)

Getting Published in 15 Steps: From Post-Book Deal to Release Day

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So wayyyy back in 2013 I wrote a post on 15 steps to writing a novel, then back in 2014 I followed it up with 15 steps to getting published, up to the book deal. Now, with just two weeks and a day to go to Beyond the Red's release, I've got enough background info to finish off the series. :)

Do note that the orders to these steps varies wildly publisher to publisher, and even book to book. For most, all of these steps (or at least most) will happen at some point or another as long as there is a print release, but everyone's timeline is a little different.

That said, here we go. Fifteen steps from post-book deal to release day:

  1. Join a debut group. This is, by no means, a mandatory step, but I very highly recommend it if you're a debut. For me, The Sweet Sixteens and Team Rogue YA has opened up the door for a ton of opportunities (like conferences! and mini book tours!), introduced me to so many wonderful people I now consider friends, helped me feel sane during this crazy publishing process *and* given me access to amazing books early. And honestly, the support alone is so very much worth it. :)

  2. Talk blurbs. As I said before, when this happens varies, but eventually your editor will ask you if you have any ideas as to who you'd like to ask to get some blurbs. This is a terrifying and exciting thing that eventually leads to people you admire hopefully saying nice things about your book. 

  3. Share ideas for covers. This is such a fun part of the process. At some point, your publisher will start thinking cover ideas, and often the first step is asking you, the author, about what you had in mind for the cover/what covers you like that you'd like to emulate. Mood boards are a very fun (and useful!) thing to put together.

  4. Cover mock ups. Self-explanatory—eventually you will see versions of your cover! And it is exciting! And amazing! And YAY! 

  5. Pre-orders open. At some point, your book will magically appear on Amazon, B&N, BAM!, etc. online. And people will be able to pre-order your book, which is a surreal and amazing thing. 

  6. Cover reveal. After you've seen several mock-ups and changes are made and everyone is happy, it's time to reveal the cover to the world! This is the first time people start to associate an image with your book, and it also allows you to start thinking about swag, and daydreaming about holding your book. Woot!

  7. First pass. This is the time when you will finally get your first edit letter. For some, this is a time of wailing and gnashing of teeth. For others, it's scary, but exciting. For some especially lucky, it's both. How much work is involved, and how much time you have will depend on your book and your editor, but rest assured, changes will be made for the better. 

  8. Second, Third, Fourth, Final, etc. Pass. How many passes there are and when they happen, like many of the steps, will vary. But there will be plenty of passes, and you will read your book so many times you can recite passages in your sleep, and there will come a time when you feel as though you'd rather pull your fingernails off rather than read it again. This is normal. Probably. And this too shall pass. (Get it, pass? *clears throat* Anyway...)

  9. ARCs! And then the day will come when you will get to hold your book in your hand because the ARCs have arrived! This is a super exciting/nerve-wracking time because not only do you have a book-shaped thing but many other people will get to read it too, for the first time. Ahhhhh!

  10. More blurbs. If you didn't get blurbs earlier, probably you will start to get them right about now. And even if you did get blurbs earlier, you are likely to get more around now too. So more admirable people saying nice things about your book. Yay!

  11. Early reviews. Now that ARCs are in the world, reviews will start trickling in. This is where you start to decide if you're the type of author that reads your reviews. There isn't a right or wrong answer, really—just make sure you take care of yourself during this kind of terrifying time.

  12. Book jacket comps. At some point, if your book is publishing in hardcover, you will see the comps for your book jacket, and now you'll really get a sense for what your book will look like. It's a very, very cool thing that I totally loved.

  13. Final copies printed! RED ALERT. YOUR BOOK IS REAL. 


  15. RELEASE DAY. Self-explanatory and holy wow it's real. Everything is real! HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY, YOU! 

Twitter-sized bite:
How to get published, from post-book deal to release day, condensed into 15 steps. (Click to tweet)

How to Manipulate Pace

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I'd wager to say that probably over half of the DNF reviews I see on Goodreads for various books are at least partially due to pacing issues not clicking into place. What the "right" pace is can very much depend on the particular reader, but the wrong pace—especially if it's too slow—can often mean putting a book down and not picking it back up again.

It was no surprise to me, then, that pacing is something I often see commented on as problematic in submissions I see for my editorial work as well as reasons readers did or did not enjoy a book in reviews.

When you're writing, however, pacing can sometimes be a little tricky to get right, which is a bummer because hearing that your pacing is off can be a scary critique, as it often means a lot of manuscript surgery. If you do, however, find that you need to adjust the pacing of your manuscript, here are a few adjustments you may want to consider.

Note: As a general rule, if your pace is lagging, you'll want to think about cuts, and if your pace is moving too quickly, you'll want to think about additions. Remember, the more white space there is on a page, the faster the reading will feel.

  • Add/remove scenes. If you're getting large-scale feedback (or just suspect) that your beginning/middle/end/whatever needs pace adjustment, think about where you can add or remove scenes. If you're cutting, what can you remove without losing vital information? What scenes can you merge together? If you're adding, where can you add meaningful breaks or buff up existing scenes to add in some breathing room?

  • Think about chapter length. Similarly, adjusting chapter length can help manipulate how quick or slow the reading feels. Short chapters tend to translate to feeling as if you're reading quickly and the reverse happens with long chapters (though that's not to say long chapters can't be equally excellent or interesting). If you want to speed up the pacing in a certain area of your manuscript, you may want to think about splitting some chapters here and there—or merging them where you need to slow down some.

  • Take a look at paragraph and sentence length. Maybe your pace problem isn't widespread, but it's not quite right for a particular scene. This is where you'll really want to hone in on paragraph and sentence-level changes. If you need to speed your scene up—say, in a fight scene—think about shortening up those sentences and paragraphs, and maybe even playing around with a sprinkle of one-word sentences or one-sentence paragraphs. If you have the opposite problem, think about merging some short paragraphs together and stringing short sentences together.

Pacing isn't always easy to get right, but with enough practice and thoughtful manipulation, it'll be another skill you can add to your writer toolbox.

What pacing tips would you add to the list? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Struggling to get your WIP's pacing right? @Ava_Jae shares some helpful tips. (Click to tweet)

On Writing Realistic Dialogue

Photo credit: kattebelletje on Flickr
Dialogue is a tricky thing to master. Trying to write speech in a way that mimics the way we speak isn't something that comes naturally—like just about everything writing-related, it takes a lot of practice and a lot of reading to get a good feel for it.

I've written some do's and don't's for writing realistic dialogue in the past, so I won't reiterate all of that, exactly, but I think there's still more to be said for writing dialogue that doesn't fall flat, so here are five more points to think about:

  1. Language is always evolving. I recently took a Linguistics class (such a good decision, writing-wise), and the number one lesson repeated throughout the semester was this: language is always changing. This is really important to consider, especially if you write YA, because teens are huge drivers of language change and it changes *so* quickly. Slang that was popular just five years ago is already falling out of favor: teens don't say really "(epic) fail" or "pwned" anymore, for example. It's your responsibility, as a writer, to keep up to date with the way language is changing, especially if you write for teens.

  2. Think carefully about each of your characters. How much education do they have? What regional dialect are they a part of (remember: everyone has an accent)? Do they swear a lot (or at all)? Are they likely to speak formally or informally? Do they tend towards long or short sentences? All of these factors and more will play into how they speak, and it's up to you to make sure each character has their own distinctive speech style.

    When writing Beyond the Red, this was something I had to think about a lot, given that my two main characters come from very different backgrounds and levels of education. It wouldn't make sense for Sepharon (alien) royalty to speak the same way a guy who was raised by human nomads did. Culture, education, and even personality should all be considered when differentiating the way your characters speak.

  3. Not all conversations are straightforward. Real-life conversations can be very complicated and nuanced. People frequently don't say exactly what's on their minds—we speak through subtext, we use tone and body language to add meaning to our words, we answer questions with questions or silence, and we change topics or end conversations when we don't want to talk about something. Consider:

    "I told him we'd go to the afterparty," Leah said.
    Bree laughed. "Of course you did."

    "I told him we'd go to the afterparty," Leah said.
    Bree rolled her eyes. "Of course you did."

    Same exact words in both of these conversations, but I don't need to explain how Bree's body language completely changes what she's saying.

  4. Don't omit contractions needlessly. 9/10 times when I read dialogue that feels stilted, this is part of the problem. People speak with contractions all the time—without them, we sound like robots at best, and laughable at worst. Even if you're writing historical or a formal character, you do not want to omit every single contraction: your characters will only sound stiff and unnatural.

  5. Many teens swear. While not all teens swear, writing teen characters who deliberately don't swear (oh, fiddlesticks!) can often sound contrived. If your teen character doesn't swear, it's okay...but make sure you aren't censoring just because—and definitely make sure your teen isn't surrounded by other teens who magically don't swear either. It's honestly just not very realistic—and teens will notice.

These are just a couple points on writing realistic dialogue, but now I want to hear from you. What tips do you have for writing speech that doesn't sound stilted? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
How do you write realistic dialogue? @Ava_Jae shares five tips to consider. (Click to tweet
Struggling to write realistic dialogue? @Ava_Jae shares five tips you may want to implement. #writetip (Click to tweet)

Vlog: On Writing Sequels

Should you write sequels before selling the first book of a series? Today I'm sharing my take on a publishing question with no one right answer.


Twitter-sized bite: 
Is writing sequels before you're agented/published worth it? @Ava_Jae shares her thoughts in today's vlog. #pubtip (Click to tweet)

BEYOND THE RED Pre-Order Giveaway!

So, incredibly, Beyond the Red will be released in three weeks (eep!). I'm really excited to get it out there so you guys can read and there's a lot going on in March (like a conference! And events in Maryland!) and *EXCITEMENT.*

To further add to the excitement, last week I was able to announce a thing I've been trying to put together for a while: signed pre-orders are now a thing you can get! All pre-orders ordered through my local indie, Nicola's Books, by February 22 will be signed by yours truly. They take international orders, but through a separate channel, so if you're an international reader, please let me know through my contact page that you're interested and I'll get you the info you need. :)

However! I know that many of you have already pre-ordered—which is amazing!—and I want to be able to do something special for everyone who has pre-ordered, and everyone who will pre-order.

So to thank you guys, I'm running a giveaway now until release day, March 1st. All you need to enter is proof of a pre-order—which I'll only ask for if you win. And speaking of winning...

This is my first name in Sephari—the language spoken by the natives on Sepharon, where Beyond the Red takes place. If you've seen a peek at the chapter openers in Beyond the Red, it might look a little familiar to you:

So what does this have to do with the giveaway, you ask? Welllll...

FIFTEEN winners will get prize packs that include:

  • Their first name in Sephari
  • A personalized postcard
  • A signed bookmark

All you guys need to do is pre-order if you haven't already by February 29th and enter the rafflecopter below. I'm going on the honor system here, so it's easy to hit the button below but please have proof of pre-order ready in case you win. 

So that's what I've got! Thanks again to all of you who have supported, regardless of whether or not you've ordered. I appreciate every single one of you guys. :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Twitter-sized bite:

Have you pre-ordered BEYOND THE RED by @Ava_Jae? Enter by 2/29/16 for a chance to win 1 of 15 prize packs! (Click to tweet)

Book Review: CAM GIRL by Elliot Finley Wake (w/a Leah Reader)

Photo credit: Goodreads
So while anything Elliot Wake (Raeder) writes is pretty much on my insta-buy list (and has been since both Unteachable and Black Iris blew me away), when I heard Cam Girl features a nonbinary major character, needless to say I knew I had to buy it ASAP.

So I did. And I'm so glad I did because this book felt really important to me. 

Before I go on, here's the Goodreads summary, as per usual: 

"Vada Bergen is broke, the black sheep of her family, and moving a thousand miles away from home for grad school, but she’s got the two things she loves most: her art and her best friend—and sometimes more—Ellis Carraway. Ellis and Vada have a friendship so consuming it’s hard to tell where one girl ends and the other begins. It’s intense. It’s a little codependent. And nothing can tear them apart. 
Until an accident on an icy winter road changes everything. 
Vada is left deeply scarred, both emotionally and physically. Her once-promising art career is cut short. And Ellis pulls away, unwilling to talk about that night. Everything Vada loved is gone. 
She’s got nothing left to lose. 
So when she meets some smooth-talking entrepreneurs who offer to set her up as a cam girl, she can’t say no. All Vada has to do is spend a couple hours each night stripping on webcam, and the “tips” come pouring in. 
It’s just a kinky escape from reality until a client gets serious. “Blue” is mysterious, alluring, and more interested in Vada’s life than her body. Online, they chat intimately. Blue helps her heal. And he pays well, but he wants her all to himself. No more cam shows. It’s an easy decision: she’s starting to fall for him. But the steamier it gets, the more she craves the real man behind the keyboard. So Vada pops the question: 
Can we meet IRL? 
Blue agrees, on one condition. A condition that brings back a ghost from her past. Now Vada must confront the devastating secrets she's been running from—those of others, and those she's been keeping from herself..."

There are three things you can pretty much expect whenever you pick up one of Raeder's books:
  1. Incredibly gorgeous writing.
  2. Very sexy scenes throughout. 
Cam Girl indisputably delivered on all three points. 

While I found some of the pre-Blue cam girling stuff a bit much for me at the beginning (not a flaw of the book, just a personal taste thing), I'm so glad I kept reading because the story and characters more than made up for it. 

Vada, an artist, deals with chronic pain specifically in her hand and arm from the accident at the beginning of the book. I've read a few books now with characters who struggle with chronic pain, but this depiction resonated the most with me—and the further connection of not being able to do art because of the pain, something I deal with IRL, is something that echoed unexpectedly deeply with me. 

Then there's Vada's relationship with her best friend, Ellis, which I absolutely loved reading. Vada and Ellis have a blurry best friends/more than best friends relationship, but though Vada has accepted that she's bisexual, the thought of having a serious long-term relationship with a girl freaks her out, which is an experience with bisexuality that I haven't seen deeply explored in a book before. It worked really well here in terms of tension and adding a complicated dynamic to Vada and Ellis's relationship, and it felt like a real experience that was important to tackle. 

All of these character elements and more weave incredibly well into the plot, which is messy and complicated and finished off with an ending I totally didn't see coming. I loved the frank discussions about gender and sexuality, and seeing a major nonbinary character figure themselves out and explore their identity is something I really appreciated. 

I loved reading this, will probably re-read in the future, and now I'm even more excited for Raeder's next book, Bad Boy, which features a trans guy major character. If you haven't picked up Raeder's books before and you like (very) steamy, complicated, and dark New Adult books, I honestly can't recommend his writing more.

Diversity note: Vada, the protagonist, is Latina, bisexual, and deals with chronic pain, and another major character is nonbinary (genderfluid). The author is openly bisexual and nonbinary, so it's #ownvoices, too.

Twitter-sized bites:
.@Ava_Jae gives 5 stars to CAM GIRL by Elliot Wake (w/a Leah Raeder). Is this twisty, diverse NA on your TBR? (Click to tweet)

Looking for a NA w/ major nonbinary, disabled, & bi characters? Check out CAM GIRL by Elliot Wake (w/a Leah Raeder). (Click to tweet)

Discussion: What Do You Want to See More of in YA?

Photo credit: studieforbund_vofo on Flickr
I've been thinking lately about what I'd like to see more of in YA, which is a thing I tend to do whenever I'm in the figuring out what to write next stage, because oftentimes, asking this question helps me story ideas I really want to write. But more than that, I like discussing this in general, because it often brings up book recommendations for books I'm really looking for.

So! Here we go. Some elements I'd really love to see more of in YA include...

  • More nonbinary major characters. So far, I've read three novels with nonbinary major characters—two of which weren't YA (*waves to Cam Girl and George*), and one of which was released yesterday *waves to Symptoms of Being Human.* I've got some others on my list that I definitely want to read, including some new releases this year, but this is something I'd really love to see more of in general. 

  • Chronic illness representation. I wrote an entire post on the lack of chronic illness representation in YA, so I won't go into super detail about this, but things haven't gotten any better since I wrote it, so this is still I think I really want to see. Specifically, new releases and double bonus if the representation isn't epilepsy or diabetes, as that seems to be, like, 70% of the representation out there.

  • More LBTQIAP major characters. There are a lot of great books out there that cover the G, and I will still very happily read more, but I'd very much love to see more of the other letters in the spectrum covered. This is something I have seen a bit of an improvement with recently, but there's definitely room for more. Bring on the LBTQIAP major characters! 

  • Marginalized characters in stories not *about* their marginalization. Contemporary books are awesome, and issue books are absolutely 100% important, so I don't want to ignore that. But up until recently, the majority of books featuring marginalized characters were about the marginalization, and while this is also a thing that is slowly changing, I'd definitely love to see more books with marginalized characters having adventures totally unrelated to their marginalization. Like Six of Crows, and The Girl from Everywhere, and The Abyss Surrounds Us. More, please!

  • More disabled characters kicking ass. This is related to the last point, but I specifically want to hone in on disabled characters because this is something that is still extra rare to find. Six of Crows and Far From You did a really fantastic job with this, and I absolutely want to see more of it. 

So those are five things I'd really love to see more of in YA—now I want to hear from you. What do you want to see more of in YA?

Twitter-sized bite:
What do you want to see more of in YA? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: On Writing & Income

There are a ton of misconceptions regarding a writer's income, and not a whole lot of information to help manage expectations. So today I'm covering general (realistic) income expectations for writers who want to be traditionally published.


Twitter-sized bites:
Curious about how authors get paid? @Ava_Jae vlogs about income expectations w/ traditional publishing. (Click to tweet
Not sure how a writer's income works? @Ava_Jae breaks it down in today's vlog. (Click to tweet)

On Bending (and Breaking) Writing Rules

Photo credit: Hernán Piñera on Flickr
So given that I've been running this writing blog for close to five years now (whoa), I've written rather frequently about various writing rules. Where to start a story, for example, or things you should/shouldn't do while first drafting, or when and how to tackle revisions. I try to remember to mention from time to time that writing strategies and tips only work when they work for you, and that writing rules aren't completely set in stone, and that writing is subjective, etc., etc., etc.

So when I saw this tweet from Pantomime author Laura Lam, recently, it occurred to me I hadn't really talked about rule breaking in regards to writing, recently.
So fun fact, Beyond the Red also starts with one of my MCs waking up. Granted, he wakes with a knife to his throat and a phaser pressed to his head, so it's not a typical this is my morning routine wake up, but it starts with waking up nevertheless. I didn't make that decision because I didn't know about the rule of not starting a book with a protagonist waking up—I knew about it and went ahead with this opening anyway because that is, legitimately, where the story starts, and it's just before the inciting incident.

In fact, I don't think I would've been able to pull off that opening if I hadn't known the don't start with waking up rule and why it was a rule to begin with. Because if I hadn't understood why it was in place, I wouldn't have known how to work around it.

And that, right there, is the key. Bending or breaking writing rules successfully depends entirely on understanding the rule and why it's there to begin with.

This is why, even if you plan to break or bend the writing rules, it's still important to learn about them. This is why throwing the rules out entirely without understanding them first rarely works.

All writing rules are in place for a reason and your job, as a writer, is to learn and think about them seriously before deciding whether or not you'll apply them to your own work.

Have you ever (purposefully) bent or broken any writing rules?

Twitter-sized bites: 
"Breaking writing rules successfully depends entirely on understanding the rule and why it's there." (Click to tweet)  
Is it okay to bend or break writing rules? @Ava_Jae weighs in with her thoughts. #writetip (Click to tweet)
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